The bible trumps science?
Views 107 | Time to read: 6 minutes | Uploaded: 12 - 6 - 2016 | By: Savannah Husmann
“You’re caving into science!” many theologians declare. “The Bible trumps science!” But Dr. Longman doesn’t think so. He believes that the inerrancy of Scripture doesn’t have to be at odds with what the scientific community discovers in nature.
Last Thursday night, Westmont’s own beloved Old Testament professor gave a talk for the Science and Faith Club on one of his areas of expertise: Can science help us read the Bible better? Dr. Longman argued that it can.
Dr. Tremper Longman III paraphrased the Westminster Confession of Faith that states that there are two books by which the Lord makes Himself known: the Bible (the words He inspired/special revelation) and by nature (His tangible works/general revelation). If we believe that the Bible is the divine Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16), then we must agree with what is found in Psalm 19:1, that, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (NIV) and in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
The perfect author of the Bible and the perfect author of creation are one and the same, so His books will never contradict each other when rightly understood. However, the interpreters of these works are far from perfect. Dr. Longman referenced the Chicago Statement on inerrancy (referenced in Westmont’s own Statement of Faith). It concludes that the Bible is the true Word of God and is true in everything that it intends to teach, meaning there is room for interpretation, and therefore room for error on our part.
The bottom line is this: while the Bible is inerrant, the interpreters are not. Anyone reading Scripture can understand the plot of the Old Testament and the fundamental message of the Gospels without experts’ help (after the experts translate it from Hebrew and Greek into English). But to seek a deeper understanding, sometimes we need a little extra-Biblical contextualization.
This is the fun part: How does this apply to the particularly complex parts of Scripture like the creation of man, the fall, and the flood? Since human beings need to always be open to correction, and since the same author writes order into chaotic nature and meaning into the Bible, we need not fear what we’ll find in either book. We also ought to resist the urge to just point to the “gaps” in science (the things science cannot yet explain) as evidence for the existence of a creator.
Dr. Longman pointed to the “Galileo incident” to further illustrate this point. Hundreds of years ago, theologians took the phrase “the sun rises and sets” (Eccl 1:5, Ps 113:3) as an absolute and irrefutable cosmological proof of a terra-centric solar system, instead of taking it as a phenomenological statement, as it was meant to be read. He argued that a correct interpretation of Scripture is one that takes resources and information other than our own biases into consideration. Evolution and creationism can still coexist with the traditional belief that God made man in His own image. Evolution doesn’t have to imply a contradiction to the foundational tenant of our faith that God chose to passionately pursue us after the fall and redeem us instead of destroying us like we deserve.
Dr. Longman even went so far as to say that evolution helps describe, “what we should see pretty clearly anyways” in Genesis 1-2, which uses figurative, not literal, language. For example, God, a spiritual being doesn’t have literal lungs, but this personification is a rhetorical tool to illustrate the innate dignity of man. This may have been meant to contradict the creation story of the Babylonians and Mesopotamians who existed at the same time as the early patriarchs, and claimed that man was the product of the gods’ mixing dirt, demon blood, and spit together.
Adam and Eve, Dr. Longman argues as well, are just figureheads to represent the gradual emergence of homosapiens who, as a group, collectively had the title of “imago dei” bestowed on them. And even though they were capable of moral choice, they chose to rebel against their Creator. This rebellion eventually led to the great flood described in Genesis 6-9.
Geologists still have not been able to find determinative evidence of a global flood, suggesting that the early chapters of Genesis were possibly subject to the same kind of hyperbole so common in Joshua 1-12, and that there was actually a more localized flood. But to put it in Tremper’s vernacular, “Ain’t no way Genesis 6-9 describes a local flood.” So how do we interpret these two accounts of the flood from the Bible and from scientists? This hyperbole doesn’t undermine the inerrancy of scripture. Rather, it simply highlights the theological/moral lesson readers are meant to extrapolate from the text: man was sinful so God allowed the people to be punished with a (very bad but not global) flood, and extended His graceful mercy to a group who didn’t necessarily deserve it, but received it regardless.
Religion can keep science from becoming an idol. Dr. Longman describes himself as an evolutionary creationist because science alone can’t tell us just exactly how nothing became something. Dr. Longman is a strong advocate for the secondary causes explanation in reconciling seemingly contradictory views of the events in Scripture and evidence in nature. But a healthy understanding of providence doesn’t mean God isn’t involved.
These arguments should not scare away anyone from a young earth, literal six-day creation church background (like this writer). Rather, in the pursuit of truth and on the journey of overcoming personal biases and preconceptions about our faith, Dr. Longman’s perspectives as a renown scholar on the subject should spur us to study the Bible even more so as to come into a closer relationship with its author. As Tremper put it, we believe in order to understand, not the other way around.