Theologian Roger Olson has written a post on his blog titled Christianity and Science: How They Relate to Each Other in Modern Theology. Along with others, I have been commenting on it.
My comments have mainly been questions about what rationale self-identified believers use when they attempt to embrace both the Bible and evolution. I am willing to accept scientists’ word about evolution, but I cannot see a way to do so without trusting the Bible less. One of the other commenters on Roger’s blog (Bev Mitchell) recommended the work of Denis O. Lamoureux.
I spent several hours going over what Denis has made available on line. I commend him for the effort he put into these resources. He is an excellent communicator and teacher. He also exudes a healthy respect for others while he maintains a confidence in his own views. All that said, I find the logic of his arguments problematic.
To summarize his position, he doesn’t believe Adam or Eve ever existed. In fact, he seems to think that hardly anything in Genesis 1-11 can be taken as historical. (This would include Noah’s Flood.) Nevertheless, he identifies himself as an evangelical Christian committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. Denis reconciles these seeming irreconcilable positions by declaring, essentially, that God accommodated His teaching to the erroneous ideas ancient people had about the universe, and that we should therefore accept God’s teaching while rejecting their erroneous ideas.
In this material, Denis is telling us that evolution is true and that therefore anything in the Bible which contradicts evolution must be wrong and therefore rejected. That idea is troubling enough when applied to evolution, but, as presented, its use could not be restricted to that subject only. Therefore the other 1, 178 chapters of the Bible seem likewise subject to revision. But we’ll leave that problem aside and just focus on the evolution issue.
The fundamental problem with Denis’ “solution” for reconciling evolution with the Bible is that he doesn’t follow his own advice. He starts off rightly rejecting “scientific concordism.” (Good teacher that he is, he defines this and all other specialized terms that he uses.) He then rightly declares that the Bible is not a science book. So far, so good. However, from that point on in his argument he treats the Bible as if it were a science book – albeit a primitive one.
Denis describes the Bible as presenting “ancient geology,” “ancient geography,” “ancient biology,” and so on. (How he does this in the wake of saying that the Bible is not a science book leaves me scratching my head.) He then points out, basically, that we know better today so we should trust our science instead of theirs.
Denis should have stuck with the view that the Bible is not a science book. A science book seeks to observe the world and explain it. By contrast, the Bible is not interested in explaining the observable world. Rather, it is interested in using the observable world to explain the one we can’t see: the spirit realm.
Sure, through telescopes and microscopes, we can see much more of the physical world than could ancient humanity, but that’s irrelevant to the Bible’s mission of teaching us spiritual things.
Now, just because the Bible does not intend to teach us about the physical world it does not follow that the Bible is not accurate when it talks about the physical world. It just describes the world as it is seen by the naked human eye. Denis recognizes this and talks about this “phenomenological perspective” – that is, describing the world as it appears (“sunrises,” “sunsets,” and such). Yet he wants to distinguish the “ancient phenomenological perspective” from the “modern phenomenological perspective.” That is, he wants to make clear that even though our meteorologists says “the sun will rise today at…” they know that the sun doesn’t actually rise – but the ancients didn’t know this. Why that difference is important, Denis never explains. He just seems intent on portraying ancient man as being ignorant of modern science. Well, of course, he is, but that does not mean he’s ignorant. Nor does it mean that he thinks something is always what it appears to be.
Another flaw in Denis’ methodology is that he promotes something called “the message-incident principle.” Denis presents it as if its validity is self-evident, but I didn’t find it so. Essentially, it says, for example, that even though there was no Adam and Eve, and therefore Adam and Eve didn’t commit the first sin and thereby bring death into the world, God allowed the Bible to say so; and that we today, therefore, should believe that death entered the world through sin but that there was no Adam and Eve. That is, we should believe the “message” that there was a first sin and that death came through it, while not believing “the incident” that was described: Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden being the protagonists. As one unbeliever commenting on this “principle” put it, “And, being omniscient, god must have foreseen that the science-loving denizens of the 21st century would easily distinguish between the parts of the Bible that count as “Divine Theology” and the parts that count as “Cave-People Folk Science.” Alas, Denis’ cure (science trumps the Bible) is worse than the disease (science and the Bible are sometimes at odds).
Imagine that science, archaeology, history – whatever – one day determined that there had been no sheep or shepherds in ancient times. Denis’ “message-incident principle” would have us regard as false all the references to sheep, sheperd, and related terms in Psalm 23 (that would be verses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 – well, er, all of them) and yet take as true the spiritual message that the Lord will care for us.
Scientific knowledge is a good thing, but spiritual knowledge is an even better thing. God’s prophets used the observable world to teach spiritual concepts. That same observable world is before us today. We have the same sun, moon, and stars. Our naked eyes see the same things their naked eyes saw. Let science teach us about things we cannot see with the naked eye, and let the Bible teach us about things that science will never be able to see.