June 07, 2011

BCOE: Science and the Bible

Note: I'm starting a new series of blog posts on the "Biblical Case for an Old Earth" (abbreviated as BCOE).  I will lay out the basic reasons why an old earth is consistent with the Bible.  Dr. Hugh Ross does a much better job of this in his book A Matter of Days, but hopefully my version is more concise and covers a few distinct ideas.

We probably wouldn’t be interested in this topic until we had modern technology and science.  Science is the impetus behind the idea of an old earth.  So, the question becomes, should we allow ourselves to be influenced by science?  Shouldn’t we just accept whatever the Bible says without questioning it and interpret science in light of the Bible as opposed to the other way around?  These are serious and reasonable questions.

In my search for the truth, I was struggling with this very issue.  It occurred to me that either the Bible was wrong (unthinkable!) or science was wrong.  The problem is that “nature” is God’s work.  Science is merely the investigation of nature.  We could obviously assume, as it is right to do, that interpretations of nature are not always correct.  Ah, but therein lies the secret of everything!  Nature needs to be interpreted.  There is evidence that needs to be weighed.  Evidence can be overwhelming or only a hint of something.

My first belief was that it is not wrong to analyze the evidence in nature.  I doubt anyone would seriously question that belief.  Nature is God’s work and a witness to the world.  If it were wrong to examine nature, then we’d need to come up with an adequate answer as to why it is wrong.

My second belief was that if some evidence in nature is overwhelming, then if there is room to reinterpret Scripture without doing damage to it, such to have Scripture be harmonized with the overwhelming evidence, we should carefully do so.  Now, I’m sure there are people who would disagree with this point, so I’ll take a moment to explain why I would believe it.

First, we must understand the nature of Nature.  The Bible tells us that nature was given as a witness—something to be looked at and considered and from which to draw conclusions about the nature of God (Romans 1; Psalm 19).  That is, nature can even be useful in showing us the rudimentaries of theology!  If it speaks to a small degree about God, then surely it speaks volumes about itself.  I think it is evident from the Bible that the creation is a faithful and true witness.  We must assume, then, that creation isn’t deceptive or out to confuse us.  It is God’s natural testimony to man, and can be trusted as long as we carefully interpret the evidence.  The natural world speaks volumes about itself and its history.  This too can be trusted.  What am I saying?  I’m saying that the evidence in nature wasn’t created to confuse us and distract us from the Bible, but rather it was given to point people directly to the Bible.  Do you think of nature that way?  If you don’t, then you are rejecting the general revelation of God.  You are essentially assuming that God might set up mounds of evidence just to tempt people to reject the Bible and Him.  Such a god is disturbing to me and should be to you.

Second, everything is interpreted.  The Bible is interpreted and nature is interpreted.  It’s true that the Bible is generally much clearer and direct and needs less interpretation.  However, let’s not miss the basic point.  The Bible is often open to interpretation.  Many passages are interpreted two or more different ways by different godly people.  There is only one correct interpretation of a passage, however.  Now, I’d ask you, what if you found that the evidence in nature was overwhelming for some conclusion—that is, that the interpretation of the evidence was clear to you—and you saw two different interpretations of a passage in the Bible, both reasonable, but one interpretation was in contradiction to the conclusion drawn from nature?  Which Bible interpretation would you go with?  Would you not be sensible and reasonable to concluded that the Bible should be interpreted consistently with what you saw clearly shown in nature?  Now, notice what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying that an interpretation of the Bible should ever be forced upon the Bible due to some evidence from nature, no matter how strong it seems.  All interpretations of the Bible need to be reasonable and respectful of His Word.  However, again, I remind the reader that nature is also a kind of word from God.  It would not be right to reject overwhelming evidence in nature for a slightly more preferred interpretation of a passage of the Bible.  The Bible and nature will never contradict when they are both properly interpreted, for they are both God’s work.

So, in context of this paper, we must carefully examine Genesis 1 to see if an old earth interpretation is reasonable.  We must also examine the body of evidence in nature to see if the evidence is overwhelming or highly subjective.

Third, God’s nature is one of Truth.  This is crucial to believe.  God is not a deceiver.  That is Satan’s title.  This universe was entirely designed and created by God.  If we have to say of the evidence in nature, “Oh, it just looks that way, but there is a complex reason why it really isn’t that way,” then we are unintentionally ascribing deception to God.  We have to ask ourselves, does nature point to God?  Did God make nature in such a way that when scientists study it they are more and more convinced that the universe is ancient, even though it is really young?  These are questions that need to be carefully answered.

Fourth, the Bible teaches that every “charge” must be established by two or three witnesses (2 Cor. 13:1; Deut. 19:15).  If there are countless evidences for an old earth—and we shall see many later—and there are no clear examples of evidence for a young earth, then we find that creation is attesting to its age with many witnesses that cannot easily be disregarded.  I have heard many young earth creationist claim that there is “the appearance of age” throughout nature.  Even they are forced to admit the evidence seems to favor an old earth, unless you do try to reason your way around the evidence.  They are basically suggesting that the witnesses of creation are wrong.  They are claiming that we should favor the few small witnesses whispering “the earth is young” over the multitude of witnesses shouting that “the earth is old”.  Why?  Because the Bible seems to say that the universe is young.  They pit the Special Revelation of God against the General Revelation of God.  This is an improper way to handle God’s revelation.

Fifth, we certainly must not distort the Scriptures in favor of any supposed evidence in nature.  Let me say that another way: the Bible is always right and true when properly interpreted, even if other evidence seems to contradict it.  We can easily bend Scriptures to a breaking point.  I want to be clear in saying that I do not want to do that, nor do I want you to do that.  Now, on the other hand, there is usually some flexibility in how we interpret Scripture.  What follows is mostly an analysis of the Bible to see if the Bible can be reasonably and fairly interpreted to accommodate an old earth rather than a young earth.  If I “break” the Bible, then by all means reject this paper.

I’d challenge you to consider this point seriously, however: if there is a literal translation and interpretation of the creation passages—Genesis 1 in particular—that coincides with the mainstream view of the history of the universe and the earth, is that not noteworthy and seemingly beyond mere coincidence?  It really doesn’t matter what might be considered many to be the most likely interpretation of Genesis 1 when science is out of the picture.  Even if it is possible to literally translate the creation passages in such a way that it is consistent with the basic record in nature, it is worthy of consideration because of the shear improbability of it.  Perhaps like me, you will come to understand that studying Creation itself can be helpful in rightly interpreting a passage that is speaking about the history of Creation.  All I ask you to do is consider that concept as you read this article, and to try to put away your natural prejudices to a young earth.  If you are anything like me, these prejudices run deep.

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