Monday, January 12, 2009

Science versus Scripture?

I've commented over here (my apologies to the brave reader for the brevity/terseness, and general messiness of it... time is precious!):

Justin said:

“like what the church had to do when we learned the earth was not flat”

Umm, when and where was this? The ‘church’ largely accepted the common scientific view of a Ptolymean astronomy. That categorically eliminates a flat earth - and that view comes from the 2nd century AD. That and the circumference of the earth was calculated long before Christ was even born. People weren’t stupid. They could see ships disappear over the horizon, etc.

Moreover, goo-to-you evolution is hardly undeniable. Creation on the Web, Answers in Genesis, and even a number of Intelligent Design advocates have pointed to significant problems (such as irreducible complexity).

It relies on suspect interpretations of fossils and a massive and blind faith in the power of mutations.

Btw, I have a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from a Canadian University. I have no problem accepting the six-day or analogical view of Genesis. Even a mature creation view isn’t that hard to defend. I think the science is actually stacked in our favour.

” I do not think that a ‘humble’ Christian can reasonably discount evolution (note that I did not say neo-darwinism) using any argument other than intuition and I think that pitting science vs. scripture is a false dillema.”

Humility isn’t saying “i don’t know.” Unless you’re buying the new brand of epistemic humility. Humility is submitting to the Scriptures, and believing what God has said. The 6 day view and analogical view are exegetically tenable - and the others aren’t - and moreover, the doctrine of federal headship and our guilt in Adam’s sin precludes evolution.

Just wondering - are you a scientist? Do you work in a scientific field? Are you familiar with the sociology of science? How scientists actually go about, in practice, dealing with experimental data and how it relates to a thesis? Have you seen the arguments against evolution? They aren’t exactly mere ‘intuition.’ You seem to be speaking as though scientists are objective individuals who don’t make inferences beyond what the most minimal interpretation of the evidence requires, and therefore there is a mountain of undeniable evidence for evolution, because, well, scientists said so. Having graduated magna cum laude from a secular university with a science degree, I’m still not impressed. The volume of ‘approximations’, guesses, assumptions, and worldview informed interpretations is mind-boggling.

A Christian cannot, on both evidential and exegetical and theological grounds, reasonably do anything but discount evolution.

The strongest exegetical argument is that from Romans 5. If you deny that death came to man because man sinned, so as to allow for man’s evolution - which requires life and death - you deny the very foundation of Paul’s argument for how it is we are saved at Calvary. In other words, the book of Romans should be tossed to the side as a worthless lie.

That’s what’s at stake.

So I don’t see anything but arrogance in thinking that a person cannot reasonably discount evolution, because it rejects the Creator’s inspired word on the matter, which is utterly incompatible with it.

"Humility, when it comes to scripture, is realizing you are a fallen vessel whose interpretation is not infallible."

By this definition, Jesus was a fallen vessel: "And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (I would add other passages, e.g. Matthew 21:5)

"Now, I will grant that it could have happened in 6 days, i'm not God, I wasn't there."

Right. God was. And He has said:

Exodus 20:11 "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day."

This would have been understood by an Israelite as a day, defined by his work cycle - not clock time. More on that in a moment.

"But you are shooting yourself in the foot by saying it is tenable. Unless, of course, you mean it is tenable so long as you make up things that aren't expressed in the bible to help out."

Sure sounds expressed:

Exodus 20:11 "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day."

"For example, the sun wasn't created till the 4th day, yet one might claim a 6 day creation. In which case, since there was no sun, there would be no 24 hour periods and the 6 day would be impossible if you are counting 24 hour periods."

1) You're ironically assuming a standard North American way of thinking. An ancient Israelite didn't think in clock time – a day wasn't a strict 24 hour period. A day was defined by cycles of work, etc. Could that be 24 hours, tick tick tick? Potentially. But not likely.

2) You're still assuming that light required the sun. But light was created on day 1. The sun and moon are set in place to govern the light and dark: "16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness."

Your assumption is that there cannot be light and dark, or a cycle, apart from these luminaries, which are God's instruments for governing them. Why is that? Only if you fall under the same sort of critique that Justin seems to bring against me – by denying that God works directly and indirectly, by direct involvement, and by means. Through direct command, and by upholding an instrument by His hidden word.

Indeed, this shows the supremacy of God over the sun and the moon. That these things depend upon God. Not upon His instruments, which are His means of upholding these cycles. [e.g. God governed directly before delegating natural means to do so and upholding those means by the laws of mathematics, gravity, etc]

"Morning and evenings would be impossible too without a sun."

Really? This expression delineates a work day. 'morning and evening' are the definition of a day – the start and stop of a work cycle (depending, of course, which point is the start, which can be either evening or morning). This is what this expression communicates here - a cycle of beginning work and ending work. cf. Psalm 104:23. It's an analog to a human day. If you asked an Israelite how God worked on creation, he would say, six days, and he would mean six days - not 24 hours - but with respect to his own daytime/nighttime cycle.

And I've already addressed the idea that it would be impossible. Only under mechanistic assumptions about the creation.

Is this strictly 24 hour? Could be, could not be. The text doesn't specify. It's not written in the context of clock time. So these are 'days' as understood by an Israelite. And there were six days, evenings, and mornings - six rhythms of work.

But the chronology of the creation account is quite deliberate.

Moreover, I already mentioned that I find the analogical view tenable. So why did you bother bringing up the 24 hour day issue – unless you aren't familiar with that view. And if this is the case, and you aren't familiar with even the basic issues around the interpretation of Genesis at this point, why are you so sure about evolution, and the interpretation of Scripture? It seems you simply accept evolution, and then the text just must fit it. And you didn't answer my question about your scientific credentials. Nothing wrong with having no credentials. But scientists disagree on a lot of things. Which ones do you accept? Which arguments from which scientists? How do you know which is right? Did you check the journals? Review them yourself?

I said: "A Christian cannot, on both evidential and exegetical and theological grounds, reasonably do anything but discount evolution."

You said: "And that statement, my friend, is the epitome of pride."

I suppose, then, that you apply this to your own statement?

"I do not think that a 'humble' Christian can reasonably discount evolution (note that I did not say neo-darwinism) using any argument other than intuition and I think that pitting science vs. scripture is a false dillema"

My reply is directed at this statement. You can make a claim that a humble Christian cannot reasonably discount evolution. I can make a claim at the same level. I can answer you on your own grounds. So it is humility for you, and arrogance for me? What makes it arrogant? Trusting that God spoke so that laymen could understand that He created in six days that are analogous to six days of their labour?

"When he mentions "death" don't be fooled into believing he means physical death. Paul is talking about spiritual death - the eternal separation from God (or as some believe, the presence of God's wrath)."

That's a part of it. But don't be fooled into leaving it at, as it brings in a world of problems.

1) What happened to all the many people who died before man sinned? Reincarnated? Did they go to heaven?

2) Genesis defines what this death entails:

"19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.""

That's part of the curse, and it is physical death. The curse was postlapsarian.

3) Our hope is a bodily resurrection. The problem of sin is what necessitated this resurrection. This resurrection is necessitated because we physically die.

"Sin is not the cause of our physical death. We know this because our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died for us never sinned a day in His life. Even those who believe in "original sin" will claim Jesus had none of it. Sin is the cause of spiritual death in the world."

Actually, you just proved my point. Jesus died BECAUSE of human sin, as a substitute for them. He died for us because He, who knew no sin, was made to be sin. (2 Cor. 5:21). His death was for our iniquities: Isaiah 53:8, 12.

So sin was EXACTLY the reason Christ died.

How do you take Adam, exactly? Is Eve the mother of all living? Is Adam? That doesn't work in an evolutionary scheme. Are we punished for a sin of a man who isn't our father? Or a metaphorical sin?


Hey Justin,

"Why do you try to put both of God's revelations at odds with one another by pushing special revelation above general revelation? Since both of them are revelations from God, they should be given equal standing."

1) I don't think that 'special revelation' and 'general revelation' are the best delineating terms. They're ok. But I think revealed speech and general/hidden speech is a better way of putting it. The former categories are a bit too hard to define. I can go into that more if you want. True science is the inference of God's hidden word to sustain and govern the universe by way of experimentation and observation.

2) There's a lot of suffering in the world. How do you know God isn't a cosmic fiend? Sitting there laughing at the suffering. How do you know that isn't the case? Experience shows us that a lot of people get hurt and killed - even those trying to do nice things. And the wicked get to live happily. One might infer God is just laughing away, enjoying the mayhem. That he just set it in motion - "watch the bugs burn!" Like a child with an ant under a magnifying glass.

So I ask you, how do you know this isn't the case? General revelation and special revelation have equal standing. What do I do with this apparent conundrum? Which has interpretive primacy? Where do you go to explain what happens in the world? General revelation? Or special revelation?

And moreover - who was God's special revelation revealed to? Who was His general revelation revealed to? And who at what times?

How do you interpret [general] revelation? What presuppositions? Categories of thought? Do you hear [general] revelation? What if someone sees differently?

"Special revelation shouldn't be held higher than general revelation. If we discover a truth in God's revelation, whether general or specific, we should humbly acknowledge it."

So if I see a hand of malevolence in the way creation operates – say, the fact that a cat will toy with its prey – how do I know that God isn't a cosmic fiend?

General revelation is on equal footing with special revelation. Both therefore have interpretive primacy. Both testify to the handiwork of God. But, isn't it relying primarily upon special revelation to establish that fact about general revelation?

Paul Helm has written well on this issue, since general revelation is frequently employed in apologetics: Design Arguments and Apologetics

You don't need a dichotomy - anymore than there is a dichotomy between archaeological artifacts and history. And history provides the context to interpret and understand the artifacts.

And you're implicitly denying sola scriptura. And I mean sola, not nuda. So don't make that objection. I understand sola scriptura.

"I really don't understand the trend in modern evangelicalism, specifically modern calvinism, of promoting special revelation above general revelation. A revelation of God is a revelation of God, whether it's written on paper, from the mouth of a prophet or in creation."

More avant-garde modern Calvinism finger-wagging?

The primacy of special revelation is nothing modern - don't blame them.

e.g. Hippolytus, 170-236: "There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source..."

Or Cyril (318-386): "Concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures..."

"Why then do you busy yourself about things which not even the Holy Ghost has written in the Scriptures? You who do not know the things which are written, do you buy yourself about the things which are not written? There are many questions in the divine Scriptures; what is written we comprehend not, why do we busy ourselves about what is not written? It is sufficient for us to know that God hath begotten One Only Son."

"Let us then speak concerning the Holy Ghost nothing but what is written; and whatsoever is not written, let us not busy ourselves about it. The Holy Ghost Himself spoke the Scriptures; He has also spoken concerning Himself as much as He pleased, or as much as we could receive. Let us therefore speak those things which He has said; for whatsoever He has not said, we dare not say."

Now Scripture directs us to outside sources. But if you go to God's general revelation, or general speech, how do you interpret it? If you say it is comprehensible human language, then why can't someone understand God to be a cosmic fiend from the knowledge he sees poured forth in creation?

Moreover, as I said, those aren't categories that I strictly like, although I won't debate the language when it isn't that germane to the discussion. I view the upholding of the universe and the Scriptures as both the speech of God.

1) There is plenty of patristic evidence in favour of the primacy of the Scriptures as determining what we believe.

2) Indeed, this truth was underneath the protestant reformation.

"Every significant biologist that actually studies God's general revelation in biology agrees with evolution and common descent. The only significant scientist who rejects neo-darwinism is Michael Behe."

I really hope you just typed that a little too fast. Your italics indicate otherwise, though:

1) It's patently false: - I'm hoping that you just weren't aware of this, and you should drop this as an argument for evolution, and perhaps re-evaluate your certainty in the matter. Your statement on the flat earth was hasty, and so is this. If you were aware of this, you're either lying, or....

2) Unless laymen - do you have a science degree, Justin? - are of the ilk to say that creationist scientists aren't significant, and you define a significant scientist as one who accepts evolution. If surely hope this isn't the case. That would be rather circular. Begging the question, as it were. The antithesis of good science. Only those who agree with the current paradigm get to stay in!

Or do you mean the scientists who get media facetime? Somehow I don't think you mean that.

3) This is an argument from the majority - that's a blatant fallacy.

4) Do you understand how a paradigm shift works in science? Have you studied any Thomas Kuhn? Any other sociologists of science?

You seem to be operating on a real idealistic view of the reality of the practice and history of science.

"And if you read his latest book, he admits that most life evolved, the earth is old, and common ancestry [including humans] is true. He only rejects the power of genetic mutation to provide the necessary information to form microorganisms."

Yes, I know he affirms common descent/guided evolution.

This is rather self-defeating, though, the way you've put it.

If guided divine intervention is necessary for evolution - to add information, how is this divine intervention measured in experimentation? Secular scientists reject this intervention. They don't see it. Their studies don't produce it. So non-Christians recognize that it isn't there. You appeal to their capacity to recognize below. Are they right or wrong? If they don't see this intervention, are they bad scientists? If so, why believe them – they don't seem to competent - if this guidance is really so central? If this intervention isn't there, then is the argument for guided evolution wrong? It must be. If guided evolution is wrong, then is God the god of deism? Is this what general revelation is communicating? This argument is caught between a rock and a hard place.

And this brings us to the problem I mentioned before - how do you know which scientist to trust? And which argument of which scientist to take?

An unbelieving scientist may think your quasi-belief in evolution is laughable. And I'm pretty sure that there are more unbelieving scientists than otherwise.

Moreover, there is a difference between historical science and observational science.

You said:

"In a commentary on the book of Genesis, St. Augustine [the church father we can thank for almost every doctrine concerning Christ's work we now believe, including the one you were speaking about above] said this about general revelation:"

Really? St. Augustine formulated the Jesus we know today? Does Dan Brown know this - because that would help his case better than Constantine. Is this the correct Jesus? The work of Christ as we know it seems pretty important. That doesn't bode well for our faith - do we have the correct conception of His work? OR, did the first few centuries of the church have the wrong conception? No better off than the Mormons? Wrong beliefs in the work of Christ? We checked our beliefs with the Scriptures. Or do you mean that they never talked about the work of Christ before Augustine as we do?

I don't accept this assertion. I think that we have Paul and Peter and John to thank for almost every doctrine concerning Christ's work. That, and...

Mathetes: "As long then as the former time endured, He permitted us to be borne along by unruly impulses, being drawn away by the desire of pleasure and various lusts. This was not that He at all delighted in our sins, but that He simply endured them; nor that He approved the time of working iniquity which then was, but that He sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able. But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors! Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was formerly impossible to save, by both these facts He desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life (Mathetes, The Epistle To Diognetus, 9)

This is an early second century work (circa ~130 AD).

Substitutionary atonement: "He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us"

(and) Divinity: "Son of God" ... "the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal."

Imputation of righteousness: "For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness..." "the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!""

That's well before Augustine.

You said:

"We should think critically about his warning. How terrible it would be for Christians to attribute scripture as being in opposition to obvious truths that even non-Christians can recognize."

One could just as easily counter that for Christians to attempt to fit evolution into their worldview is embarrassing. You’re simply assuming you’re right. I don’t buy that assumption.

Careful with that argument. Appealing to things that 'non-Christians can recognize' can make it difficult to make a consistent argument later (as I showed above). Moreover, evolution could be an erroneous footnote in fifty years. Or is it dogma to you? Will you stake your life on it? Would you affirm it if someone put a gun to your head, and told you to deny it? You can only make this argument if you really think that it is an 'obvious truth.' And if you take scientific inquiry as the production of dogma, you have a very idealistic - almost naive - view of the way science operates.

If it is dogma, as Gregory of Nyssa would say: "We make the Holy Scriptures the canon and the rule of every dogma; we of necessity look upon that, and receive alone that which may be made conformable to the intention of those writings."

You would have me accept something like common descent goo to you evolution based on faith. I don't see evidence for it. Not even in the Ecoli experiment. And not in the fossil record. Should I accept it, then?

Justin, I do NOT think that there is a dichotomy between God's speech in upholding the universe and His revealed speech in the Scriptures. Indeed, you're asking me to reinterpret His revealed speech and disregard what I understand of His general/hidden speech, in asking me to accept evolution.

The evolutionist scientist reads the evidence with his worldview. A creationist scientist who denies evolution does the same.

You asked:

1)Do we have to deny reason and science to stay true to scripture? Are we actually stuck between a rock and a hard place?

2)Should we stay with the plain reading of Genesis and deny science or should we interpret Genesis through the scope of scientific knowledge?

The latter isn't an option because it involves imposing your North American modern view on the author of Genesis.

The former question prejudices the issue by simply assuming that reason and science actually support evolution. When there is dramatic debate over evolution right now, this 'thought initiative' is lacking.

[NOTE: In case it actually needs to be said, much of this is an internal critique. e.g. I know the same things applies to me - how can I know which science is correct, etc? My point is precisely that; for, given the open-ended nature of science, what reasonable Christian would reject God's revealed word - or tamper with it, rending it from its original context and the meaning as understood by the original audience - so as to capitulate to unproven scientific theories?]