Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Bible and Science

The B I B L E, yes that's the book for me.
I stand alone on the word of God.
The B I B L E.
I grew up singing that song and for pretty much all of my life that I can remember the Bible has been at the top of my reading list, providing guidance and instruction.  But just what is this book that many Christians hold so dear and what role should it play in our lives?  You have likely heard many terms used in relation to the Bible, like inspiredinerrancy, infallibility, authoritative, ...  I must confess that I am never too sure just what a person means when they use those words in relation to the Bible, and I disagree with some of what I do understand the terms to mean.

The Bible has this to say about itself:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV
This is, as far as I know, the primary passage used in support of inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.  This passage does indeed affirm the inspiration of the scriptures, although it is uncertain just how that occurs.  But I fail to see that it really says anything about inerrancy.  What it tells me is that the Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness to thoroughly equip me for doing what God wants of me.  It is God's instruction for me on how to live a holy life in his service.  I do believe that in matters of faith and service to God that the Bible is trust worthy and authoritative.

Science is, according to Wikipedia:
Science (from Latin: scientia meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. ... In modern use, science is "often treated as synonymous with ‘natural and physical science’, and thus restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics. This is now the dominant sense in ordinary use
In simpler terms science is the study of the world around us, trying to understand the nature of the universe and all it contains and how and why it works the way it does.  I find it unfortunate that to many people, both believers and non-believers, the Bible and science are thought to be at odds with one another.

I believe that the reason for this is that too many believers attempt to make the Bible be something that it is not; an inspired science and/or history text.  For example, how old is the earth?  The Bible doesn't actually say, but the implication from Genesis is that the earth is not really all that old, in the range of 6-10 thousand years.  However, modern science claims that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old; certainly quite a contrast to 6-10 thousand years.  As a believer, how do I choose which to believe?

Those who hold to Biblical inerrancy would say that the Genesis account must be historically and scientifically accurate because it is the inspired word of a God who cannot lie.  And I hesitate to challenge that statement because I would then come across as one who claims that God lies, which I will never do.  But, does belief in a young earth better equip me for serving God than belief in an old earth?  I would argue that it does not, and that is some ways it actually hinders it.  Part of my service to God is in sharing the good news with a world that is in need of it.  But how can I effectively do that when I deny the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of the age of the earth and hold to a contrary belief that has no scientific support.  St. Augustine wrote:
 “It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are... In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.” The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (De Genesi ad Litteram) 1:19–20, Chapter 19
I do believe his words are instructive to us when dealing with the debate between the Bible and scientific findings.  We make ourselves a laughing stock to the world around us when we hold so strongly to something that is so obviously at odds with what we can see around us concerning the creation.  Let us hold tightly to the Bible in matters of faith and service to God, and less loosely in matters that are not central to our faith.  Really, what difference does it make how God created the heavens and the earth and the life that populates this planet?

We often apply the following verse only to unbelievers:
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. - Romans 1:20 NIV
But does it not have application to believers as well?  Should I not be able to look at the creation and see what God has created without twisting it to fit an ancient cosmology?  And is that not what science does; look at the creation and try to make sense of it?  In my mind science is a tool that can help me to better understand God's working, the revelation of himself in the natural world.  I follow the Bible in matters of faith and service to God; but in understanding the world around me I am willing to learn from those who have invested their lives in revealing the mysteries of creation.

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