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DG Hart on General Revelation

October 1, 2015 5 comments

One of the things that got me going a little bit was the idea that we need to interpret natural law or general revelation through the lends of Scripture, the spectacles of Scripture. That would also seem to fit with the idea of the importance of regeneration because not everyone would interpret Scripture well apart from regeneration. So its the regenerate that need to interpret or understand general revelation or natural law.

And in my mind, I am just struck by how much, I think I said this in the first round, there are authors who are remarkably gifted at interpreting natural law or general revelation. And so much wiser than most Christians whom I read. And part of that has to do with how much time they spend thinking about general revelation and its structures, its categories, its givenness, in a way that oftentimes Christians don’t. And I think Christians don’t for good reasons because oftentimes they’re more inclined to read the Scripture than nature.

Now, there would be Christian scientists who would read nature more than the average Christian, or artists who might read parts of nature more than the average Christian. But still, when it comes down to on average, it seems more Christians are inclined to interpret Scripture or go to Scripture as their norm for their lives, and not look at general revelation. But that means that the people that don’t go to Scripture and are looking at general revelation all the time kinda have a leg up on Christians in their capacity to understand, at least how general revelation works, and if they’re theists, how that, in some ways, reflects God, or the creator.

http://reformedforum.org/ctc124/

If your doctrine of general revelation leads you to say what Hart just said, you need to go back to square one and re-assess what general revelation is. No unregenerate pagan has a “leg up” on the Christian reading Scripture, in terms of understanding God’s revelation.

First, general revelation does not contain anything that is not more clearly revealed in Scripture. That’s why Calvin said:

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any books however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly…

Let the reader then remember, that I am not now treating of the covenant by which God adopted the children of Abraham, or of that branch of doctrine by which, as founded in Christ, believers have, properly speaking, been in all ages separated from the profane heathen. I am only showing that it is necessary to apply to Scripture, in order to learn the sure marks which distinguish God, as the Creator of the world, from the whole herd of fictitious gods. We shall afterward, in due course, consider the work of Redemption. In the meantime, though we shall adduce many passages from the New Testament, and some also from the Law and the Prophets, in which express mention is made of Christ, the only object will be to show that God, the Maker of the world, is manifested to us in Scripture, and his true character expounded, so as to save us from wandering up and down, as in a labyrinth, in search of some doubtful deity…

Therefore, while it becomes man seriously to employ his eyes in considering the works of God, since a place has been assigned him in this most glorious theatre that he may be a spectator of them, his special duty is to give ear to the Word, that he may the better profit.69 Hence it is not strange that those who are born in darkness become more and more hardened in their stupidity; because the vast majority instead of confining themselves within due bounds by listening with docility to the Word, exult in their own vanity. If true religion is to beam upon us, our principle must be, that it is necessary to begin with heavenly teaching, and that it is impossible for any man to obtain even the minutest portion of right and sound doctrine without being a disciple of Scripture. Hence, the first step in true knowledge is taken, when we reverently embrace the testimony which God has been pleased therein to give of himself. For not only does faith, full and perfect faith, but all correct knowledge of God, originate in obedience…

For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men. It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God;—we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved Judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth. If, as I lately said, we turn aside from it, how great soever the speed with which we move, we shall never reach the goal, because we are off the course.

Institutes 1.6 THE NEED OF SCRIPTURE, AS A GUIDE AND TEACHER, IN COMING TO GOD AS A CREATOR.

Second, the scientific process is not, in any way, general revelation. John Byl explains:

In the traditional evangelical view general revelation consists of God’s self-revelation: the invisible character of God is made known through His works of creation and providence (e.g., Rom. 1:20). Thus general revelation is considered to be quite distinct from nature, which is merely one of the means by which general revelation is mediated…

The term “revelation” carries the connotation that the knowledge which is revealed goes beyond our mere observations of nature. It implies that through the visible workings of nature certain invisible characteristics of nature are made manifest. We must then ask precisely what the contents of such revealed knowledge are and how it may be acquired.

In the case of God’s self-revelation, the step from the visible creation to the invisible God is made largely via the rudimentary knowledge of God that has been naturally implanted in the human mind…

The notion that God has revealed truth in two books, Scripture and nature, has been advocated as a means of reconciling science and Scripture from the beginning of the scientific revolution. And from the beginning it has been abused… Historically, the doctrine of the two books has frequently led to a demise in biblical authority.

General Revelation and Evangelicalism

Finally, general revelation does not consist of trees and ants and stars. General revelation is propositional revelation of God and what He requires of man revealed innately within man. Prior to the fall, it was as readily present in man’s mind as the words you are reading now are in your mind. Starting with this innate knowledge of God, man could look out upon creation and see His creator reflected in it. But he does not start with creation. He starts with God already revealed within his mind.

Natural or general revelation is self-authenticating because it is the revelation of the Creator to the creature made in his image… Romans 1:18-32… asserts that such revelation leaves men without excuse because it actually imparts to them a certain knowledge of God. By it that which is known about God is made evident in them and to them. His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen and understood by men… Let it be clear what the force of the testimony of Scripture is. It is not that men may know God; nor that they potentially know God and will come to know him if they will use their reason aright. It is not that men by natural revelation have a certain vague notion of some undefined deity. It is rather that men are immediately confronted with a clear and unavoidable revelation of the true and living God.

Samuel Waldron, Exposition of the London Baptist Confession of Faith, p. 38-42

Charles Hodge:

That this opposition is wicked because inexcusable on the plea of ignorance, is proved in this and the following verses. They wickedly oppose the truth, because the knowledge of God is manifest among them. Agreeably to this explanation, this verse is connected with the immediately preceding clause. It may however refer to the general sentiment of Romans 1:18. God will punish the impiety and unrighteousness of men, because he has made himself known to them. The former method is to be preferred as more in accordance with the apostle’s manner and more consistent with the context, inasmuch as he goes on to prove that the impiety of the heathen is inexcusable.

Since that which may be known of God, is manifest in them.
This version is not in accordance with the meaning of γνωστόν which always in the Bible means, what is known, not what may be known. Besides, the English version seems to imply too much; for the apostle does not mean to say that everything that may be known concerning God was revealed to the heathen, but simply that they had such a knowledge of him as rendered their impiety inexcusable. We findγνωστός used the sense of γνωτός, known, Acts 1:19; Acts 2:14; Acts 15:18; γνωστὰ ἀπ ̓ αἰῶνός ἐστι τῷ θεῷ πάντα τὰ ἔργα αὺτοῦ; and often elsewhere. Hence τὸ γνωστόν is = γνῶσις, as in Genesis 2:9, γνωστὸν τοῦ καλοῦ καὶ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

The knowledge of God does not mean simply a knowledge that there is a God, but, as appears from what follows, a knowledge of his nature and attributes, his eternal power and Godhead, Romans 1:20, and his justice, Romans 1:32.

φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς, may be rendered, either is manifest among them, or in them. If the former translation be adopted, it is not to be understood as declaring that certain men, the Pythagoreans, Platonists, and Stoics, as Grotius says, had this knowledge; but that it was a common revelation, accessible, manifest to all. In them, however, here more properly means, in their minds. “In ipsorum animis,” says Beza, “quia haec Dei notitia recondita est in intimis mentis penetralibus, ut, velint nolint idololatriae, quoties sese adhibent in consilium, toties a seipsis redarguantur.” It is not of a mere external revelation of which the apostle is speaking, but of that evidence of the being and perfections of God which every man has in the constitution of his own nature, and in virtue of which he is competent to apprehend the manifestations of God in his works. For God hath revealed to them, viz., the knowledge of himself. This knowledge is a revelation; it is the manifestation of God in his works, and in the constitution of our nature. “Quod dicit,” says Calvin, “Deum manifestasse, sensus est, ideo conditum esse hominem, ut spectator sit fabriae mundi; ideo datos ei oculos, ut intuitu tam pulchrae imaginis, ad auctorem ipsum feratur.” God therefore has never left himself without a witness. His existence and perfections have ever been so manifested that his rational creatures are bound to acknowledge and worship him as the true and only God.

This correct understanding of general revelation explains how all men, even if they are not scientists or philosophers engaging in complicated supposed theistic proofs, are inexcusable before God. Infants, those who are blind, and those who are mentally impaired – that is, those whose interaction with nature is hindered – are just as equally inexcusable because their knowledge of God is implanted in their heart at conception. It is not derived from nature.

Gordon Clark sums it up “[O]ne may note that nobody can recognize a flower as God’s handiwork, unless he has a prior knowledge of God. As Calvin said, the knowledge of God is the first knowledge a person has. It is innate; not derived from experience.”

And therefore, no, the unregenerate pagan does not have a “leg up” on the Christian in understanding God’s revelation because that revelation starts in his heart, and because of the fall “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” So we need the spectacles of Scripture, and regeneration to properly use the spectacles, if we are to know anything of God’s revelation.

I recommend John Robbins’ MP3 series Thinking Biblically (Collection 7), particularly Knowledge of God.

John Byl: Cosmology: Explaining the Universe

September 29, 2013 1 comment

Great lecture. Share your thoughts on 35:45 (and the rest, too)

Categories: science

Science as an Aid to Interpreting Scripture

July 12, 2013 11 comments

Last year I came across a blog post from George P. Wood titled Science as an Aid to Interpreting Scripture. Wood is the executive editor of the Assemblies of God magazine Enrichment. The post is a response to geocentrists – give it a read first to understand the context. Here’s a summary:

I find it odd that anyone would stake the inerrancy and authority of Scripture on a particular scientific theory, especially a disproved scientific theory. Actually, I find it blasphemous, as it makes God out to be an incompetent astronomer. But I also find the authors’ error instructive. So let’s consider their argument.

Stated as a syllogism, the geocentrists’ argument looks something like this:

  1. Geocentricity is a biblical doctrine.
  2. Whatever the Bible teaches is true.
  3. Therefore, geocentricity is true.

This is a deductive argument. If its conclusion follows logically from its premises, then it is valid. If its premises are true, then it is also sound.

Clearly, the geocentrists’ argument is valid. The question, then, is whether the argument is also sound. Since Premise 2 is true, the question must be whether Premise 1 is true. In support of Premise 1, Bouw cites Psalm 93:1 (KJV), “the world also is established, that it cannot be moved”; 1 Chronicles 16:30 (KJV), “the world also shall be stable, that it not be moved”; and Psalm 96:10 (KJV), “the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved.” These are not the only Scriptures he cites, but they are representative.

Quoting Scripture is not enough to prove Premise 1, however. For example, I could quote Proverbs 14:30 (KJV) to prove that envy is the cause of osteoporosis: “envy [is] the rottenness to the bones.”[1]In fact, however, “Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn’t keep up with the removal of old bone.” Envy has nothing to do with it.[2] The proverb writer is not speaking literally here, but figuratively. This is an important point.

…I don’t see why science itself can’t be used as a tool of interpretation. If we know, from medical science, that envy is not the cause of osteoporosis, why can’t we know, from astronomy, that Sun does not revolve around Earth? And if we know that, interpret the Bible accordingly?

…good science—as opposed to “junk science” or “the latest scientific study”—can correct bad interpretations of Scripture, can’t it? Can’t it be an aid to interpretation of Scripture? I see no reason why not.

There is some good interaction in the comments section of his post, and I added a few thoughts there as well. I find this to be a wonderful example of the dangers of exactly what Wood is arguing for. He is using “good science” to determine the literary form of Scripture. Anything in Scripture that is contrary to “good science” must be metaphorical.

Science and Truth

The first and primary problem is that Wood has a poor understanding of science. We cannot “know” anything from science. All scientists admit that science does not “prove” anything. They admit that it may only disprove a theory. But they throw out the idea that we can ever know truth and settle for a continual progression “towards truth” that never reaches it’s destiny. Scientific philosopher Karl Popper explained:

First, although in science we do our best to find the truth, we are conscious of the fact that we can never be sure whether we have got it. We have learnt in the past, from many disappointments, that we must not expect finality. And we have learnt not to be disappointed any longer if our scientific theories are overthrown…

Thus we can say that in our search for truth, we have replaced scientific certainty by scientific progress…

But this view of scientific method . . . means that in science there is no ‘knowledge’, in the sense in which Plato and Aristotle understood the word, in the sense which implies finality; in science, we never have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth. What we usually call ‘scientific knowledge’ is, as a rule, not knowledge in this sense, but rather information regarding the various competing hypotheses and the way in which they have stood up to various tests; it is, using the language of Plato and Aristotle, information concerning the latest, and the best tested, scientific ‘opinion’. This view means, furthermore, that we have no proofs in science

Karl Popper and the Emperor’s Clothes

So, to answer Wood’s question “why can’t we know, from astronomy, that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth?”: because we cannot know anything from astronomy. We can hold it as useful opinion that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, but we cannot know that. Gordon Clark, in a discussion of archaeology, noted:

To test any Scriptural historical account by means of any theory of archaeology is to test that which cannot be false by means of that which cannot be true. It is the height of absurdity… Scientifically, we do not know if the Bible is true, and we never will. That, of course, does not derogate from the truth or authority of Scripture, for two reasons: Scripture is self-authenticating; and science cannot prove anything true.
Archaeology and the Bible, see also The Biblical View of Science

Good Science

Furthermore, Wood claims we need to interpret Scripture based upon “good science” as opposed to “the latest scientific study”. But what is good science other than the latest scientific study? He, like most people, have a ridiculously high and inaccurate trust in the institution of science. In an excellent article in The New Atlantis titled The Folly of Scientism, Austin L. Hughes discusses the inherent problem in defining what good science is:

the “institutional” theories, which identify science with the social institution of science and its practitioners. The institutional approach may be useful to historians of science, as it allows them to accept the various definitions of fields used by the scientists they study. But some philosophers go so far as to use “institutional factors” as the criteria of good science. Ladyman, Ross, and Spurrett, for instance, say that they “demarcate good science — around lines which are inevitably fuzzy near the boundary — by reference to institutional factors, not to directly epistemological ones.” By this criterion, we would differentiate good science from bad science simply by asking which proposals agencies like the National Science Foundation deem worthy of funding, or which papers peer-review committees deem worthy of publication.

The problems with this definition of science are myriad. First, it is essentially circular: science simply is what scientists do. Second, the high confidence in funding and peer-review panels should seem misplaced to anyone who has served on these panels and witnessed the extent to which preconceived notions, personal vendettas, and the like can torpedo even the best proposals. Moreover, simplistically defining science by its institutions is complicated by the ample history of scientific institutions that have been notoriously unreliable. Consider the decades during which Soviet biology was dominated by the ideologically motivated theories of the geneticist Trofim Lysenko, who rejected Mendelian genetics as inconsistent with Marxism and insisted that acquired characteristics could be inherited. An observer who distinguishes good science from bad science “by reference to institutional factors” alone would have difficulty seeing the difference between the unproductive and corrupt genetics in the Soviet Union and the fruitful research of Watson and Crick in 1950s Cambridge. Can we be certain that there are not sub-disciplines of science in which even today most scientists accept without question theories that will in the future be shown to be as preposterous as Lysenkoism? Many working scientists can surely think of at least one candidate — that is, a theory widely accepted in their field that is almost certainly false, even preposterous.

Confronted with such examples, defenders of the institutional approach will often point to the supposedly self-correcting nature of science. Ladyman, Ross, and Spurrett assert that “although scientific progress is far from smooth and linear, it never simply oscillates or goes backwards. Every scientific development influences future science, and it never repeats itself.” Alas, in the thirty or so years I have been watching, I have observed quite a few scientific sub-fields (such as behavioral ecology) oscillating happily and showing every sign of continuing to do so for the foreseeable future. The history of science provides examples of the eventual discarding of erroneous theories. But we should not be overly confident that such self-correction will inevitably occur, nor that the institutional mechanisms of science will be so robust as to preclude the occurrence of long dark ages in which false theories hold sway.

The fundamental problem raised by the identification of “good science” with “institutional science” is that it assumes the practitioners of science to be inherently exempt, at least in the long term, from the corrupting influences that affect all other human practices and institutions.

The Folly of Scientism

Osteoporosis

As a wonderful example of how these principles apply to Wood’s scenario, consider osteoporosis. Wood said

 I could quote Proverbs 14:30 (KJV) to prove that envy is the cause of osteoporosis: “envy [is] the rottenness to the bones.”[1]In fact, however, “Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn’t keep up with the removal of old bone.” Envy has nothing to do with it.[2]The proverb writer is not speaking literally here, but figuratively. This is an important point.

First of all, Wood doesn’t acknowledge the difference between a description and an explanation. What he quoted is a description of osteoporosis, not an explanation of its causes (which is what he’s trying to refute). Gordon Clark has a great discussion of this problem as it relates to gravity:

Gravity is used chiefly to explain why planets “fall toward” or revolve about the Sun instead of continuing in a straight line according to the first law of motion. But now that the law of gravitation has been worked out with the mathematical precision of inverse squares, do we find explained quod erat demonstrandum?

The difficulty may be illustrated with a still simpler example. If we ask a person why a stone, when dropped, falls to the ground, and he replies, “Oh, that is because of gravity,” has he explained anything at all?… The general law of gravitation is that any two particles attract each other in proportion to the product of their masses and inversely as the square of the distance…

The questions have been asked, Why does a stone fall? What makes it fall? What makes it fall faster? The usual answer is, the law of gravitation. This law as applied to freely falling bodies is that the body falls with an acceleration of thirty-two feet per second per second. Now, to substitute the law itself for its name, the question, Why does a stone fall? is answered by saying that it falls because it falls with an acceleration of thirty-two feet per second per second. But how does a statement of the rate of the fall explain what makes the stone drop in the first place? And how does the rate, ever so carefully measured, explain what makes the stone fall constantly faster? Does it not become clear upon reflection that the law of gravitation is not an explanation? It explains neither the fall of the stone nor the revolution of the planets.

The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, Gordon H. Clark

Second, apparently Wood has not kept up with his PubMed reading. Clearly, if he wants to be consistent in his theory, he needs to buy a Logos PubMed packaged add-on so that pastors can consult the 22 million medical papers (aside from all the other fields of science) that are so necessary to properly interpret God’s Word. And if they don’t stay up to date with “good science”, then they could end up preaching false doctrine. While it may have been true previously that the author of Proverbs was speaking metaphorically, it is now true, according to good science, that he was speaking literally:

Negative emotions can intensify a variety of health threats. We provide a broad framework relating negative emotions to a range of diseases whose onset and course may be influenced by the immune system; inflammation has been linked to a spectrum of conditions associated with aging, including cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, frailty and functional decline, and periodontal disease. Production of proinflammatory cytokines that influence these and other conditions can be directly stimulated by negative emotions and stressful experiences. Additionally, negative emotions also contribute to prolonged infection and delayed wound healing, processes that fuel sustained proinflammatory cytokine production. Accordingly, we argue that distress-related immune dysregulation may be one core mechanism behind a large and diverse set of health risks associated with negative emotions. Resources such as close personal relationships that diminish negative emotions enhance health in part through their positive impact on immune and endocrine regulation.

Emotions, morbidity, and mortality: new perspectives from psychoneuroimmunology. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, McGuire L, Robles TF, Glaser R.
Department of Psychiatry The Ohio State University College of Medicine, 1670 Upham Drive, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA. Kiecolt-Glaser.1@osu.edu

Psychonueroimmunology is the study of the soul’s (psyche) affect upon the body.

The empirical evidence in the field of psychoneuroimmunology (Ader, R., 1981) has shown that immune activity, as well as some psychological parameters, can be modified by classical conditioning processes. This young discipline is providing scientific facts of the interrelations between emotions, stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and the immune system. Proinflammatory cytokines play a key role in cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Type II diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, periodontal disease and some cancers [5]. Negative emotions like depression and anxiety enhance the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, leukocytosis and increased natural killer cell cytotoxicity, as do psychological stressors [6].

Psychosomatic Medicine, Psychoneuroimmunology and Psychedelics

 

Here we explore connections between religion/spirituality (R/S) and endocrine functions involved in the stress response (i.e., stress hormones). While many neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and hormones are involved in the stress response, we restrict our discussion to glucocorticoids (cortisol), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and epinephrine (adrenaline). These chemical messengers are thought to mediate the relationship between psychosocial stressors and immune function, and may help to explain how R/S influences immune functions…

As more research emerges on how the immune system affects the brain and influences sickness behaviors, there has also been a tremendous expansion of information on how the brain modulates immune functions through the action of stress hormones. Recent studies indicate a complex circular relationship that involves psychological states influencing endocrine functions, which in turn affect immune functions, which feed back to affect endocrine functions, with both influencing psychological states (see Irwin and Miller 2007)…

As noted above, cortisol increases in response to psychological or physical stressors, and is often viewed as a primary mechanism by which psychological stress gets inside the body to cause disease (G. E. Miller, Chen, and Zhou 2007). Cortisol has many physiological effects aimed at either maintaining homeostasis or regaining it after a stressful experience. These effects include increasing blood glucose, increasing retention of sodium and water, increasing excretion of potassium, increasing sensitivity of vascular system to epinephrine and norepinephrine, anti-inflammatory effects (reducing histamine release and stabilizing lysosomes), increasing vigilance and cognitive performance, and increasing memory of short-term emotional events (called “flash-bulb memories,” designed to remember what to avoid). Many of these functions serve to incrase arousal, focus attention, enhance fear memory and learning, and mobilize energy (glucose) for confronting short-term threats. While in the short term these effects of cortisol are highly adaptive, over the long-term (as in chronic stress or depression) these effects can result in numerous problems: elevated blood pressure, accelerated atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, slower wound healing, cognitive impairments due to damage to hippocampal regions of the brain, and especially, impaired immunity (McEwen 1998; Graham et al. 2006).

Handbook of Religion and Health, Second Edition, Harold G. Koenig, Dana E. King, Verna Benner Carson; p. 420-421

(See also: Psychotropic Drugs & Biblical Counseling for more on psychoneuroimmunology from a Biblical perspective.)

The Bible and Science

Given all of the above, what should our approach be to the relationship between the Bible and science? John Byl offers some helpful thoughts in his book “God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe”

One possible approach is that of concordism, which strives to reinterpret the Bible so as to bring it into harmony with modern cosmology… [Wood’s approach]

Others, convinced that such concordist interpretations are invalid, may adopt more drastic methods. Perhaps the Bible, written in a prescientific age, is in error when it addresses scientific matters. Perhaps the Bible is concerned only with theological matters. A view that has recently become quite popular is that of complementarianism, which sees cosmology and theology as totally independent, each dealing with different matters: they give complementary descriptions of the same reality…

An alternative approach is to adapt cosmology to the Bible, or at least, to the traditional reading of the Bible as it has been accepted by the vast majority of Christians throughout the ages.

He notes the plethora of scientific theories of the universe.

In short, a major problem in reconciling science and Scripture is what we can refer to as the problem of scientific knowledge: we have no justifiably valid criteria for finding true theories… science in general – and cosmology in particular – is plagued by the lack of definite, objective criteria that might allow us to easily separate true theories from false ones. It is at this crucial point that we must often be guided by extra-scientific factors.

And finally, he addresses the problem with concordism:

But what would constitute a valid proof of the correctness of any item of extra-biblical knowledge? Since the sixteenth century, with the advancement of scientific investigation, various aspects of the traditional interpretation of Scripture have been challenged: for example, its apparent geocentricity, the account of Noah’s flood, biblical chronology, the story of Adam and Eve, and the existence of heaven and spiritual beings. Some Christians have held on to the literal reading of Scripture, denying that the ne w scientific ideas had been adequately demonstrated. Most, however, felt the need to modify their reading of Scripture, at least to somedegree.

At first the troublesome portions of Scripture were merely reinter- preted so as to be reconciled with modern learning. Elastic methods of interpretation were advocated. To take just one typical example of this concordist school, consider Davis Young, a Christian geologist, who writes:

We need not twist or misinterpret the facts in order to get agreement between the Bible and science. Christians m u st realize that the Scrip- tures donot require us to believe in six twenty-four-hour days of creation. There is legitimate internal biblical evidence to indicate that the days of creation may have been indefinite periods of time. Moreover, the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 need not be taken in a rigidly literal fashion . . . It is not entirely clear that the Bible is talking about a geo- graphically universal flood . . . There is considerable room for legitimate variation of interpretation of the creation and the flood.‘

The obvious difficulty with such a flexible approach to Scripture is the danger of merely reading out of it what we put in. Scripture is reduced to a mirror of human thoughts rather than a source of divine light. The inadequacies of concordism have been stressed by none other than Young himself in a more recent work, where he repudiates his earlier concordistic position:

All the variations of the concordist theme give us a Bible that is constantly held hostage to the latest scientific theorizing. Texts are twisted, pulled, poked, stretched, and prodded to ‘agree’ with scientific conclusions, so that concordism today undermines honest, Christian exegesis.‘

In short, concordism is inconsistent with an epistemology that stresses the supremacy of God’s Word. It is crucial that we adopt a hermeneutic that is not unduly influenced by human theorizing. If we are to listen to God’s Word with an open ear, then we must strive to interpret the text objectively, applying sound hermeneutical principles. The most direct, natural interpretation is thus generally to be preferred, unless internal scriptural evidence indicates otherwise.

Categories: science

ETS 2012 – “Caring for Creation” Panel Discussion on Global Warming

January 18, 2013 15 comments

Free MP3 of the ETS 2012 – “Caring for Creation” Panel Discussion on Global Warming (warning: most of the mp3s on Wordmp3.com are Federal Vision)

Speaker: Dr. Douglas Moo
Type: Lecture
Organization: ETS National
Price: $3.00 FREE
Download Download Stream Stream

A lively debate from the 64th annual Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) meeting (November 14th-16, 2012 in Milwaukee, WI). This panel discussion on the theme for this year’s meeting, “Caring for Creation” with plenary speakers Richard Bauckham, E. Calvin Beisner, Douglas Moo, and Russell Moore. An observer noted that, “The panel discussion after Moo’s talk quickly became contentious. E. Calvin Beisner began by arguing that we must not lose the distinction between scientific models and reality . . . Bauckham really turned up the heat when he started his response by saying “Remember Galileo.” He noted that Galileo was initally condemned due to Scripture, but his example shows how trying to “predict from Scripture what science must observe is extremely dangerous.” He said that we need to stop playing “silly games with pseudoscience” [clearly aimed at Beisner’s use of arguments against the consensus Moo and the others argued was in place] and step outside of the Amero-centric view of the world.” (Quoted from JW Wartick).

Categories: politics, science, theology

The Folly of Scientism

December 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Good article The folly of Scientism

While not agreeing with the author’s philosophy, I appreciate his rebuke of Scientism.

These questions include how we define and understand science itself. One group of theories of science — the set that best supports a clear distinction between science and philosophy, and a necessary role for each — can broadly be classified as “essentialist.” These theories attempt to identify the essential traits that distinguish science from other human activities, or differentiate true science from nonscientific and pseudoscientific forms of inquiry. Among the most influential and compelling of these is Karl Popper’s criterion of falsifiability outlined in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).

An additional strength of the falsifiability criterion is that it makes possible a clear distinction between science properly speaking and the opinions of scientists on nonscientific subjects. We have seen in recent years a growing tendency to treat as “scientific” anything that scientists say or believe. The debates over stem cell research, for example, have often been described, both within the scientific community and in the mass media, as clashes between science and religion. It is true that many, but by no means all, of the most vocal defenders of embryonic stem cell research were scientists, and that many, but by no means all, of its most vocal opponents were religious. But in fact, there was little science being disputed: the central controversy was between two opposing views on a particular ethical dilemma, neither of which was inherently more scientific than the other. If we confine our definition of the scientific to the falsifiable, we clearly will not conclude that a particular ethical view is dictated by science just because it is the view of a substantial number of scientists. The same logic applies to the judgments of scientists on political, aesthetic, or other nonscientific issues. If a poll shows that a large majority of scientists prefers neutral colors in bathrooms, for example, it does not follow that this preference is “scientific.”

The fundamental problem raised by the identification of “good science” with “institutional science” is that it assumes the practitioners of science to be inherently exempt, at least in the long term, from the corrupting influences that affect all other human practices and institutions. Ladyman, Ross, and Spurrett explicitly state that most human institutions, including “governments, political parties, churches, firms, NGOs, ethnic associations, families … are hardly epistemically reliable at all.” However, “our grounding assumption is that the specific institutional processes of science have inductively established peculiar epistemic reliability.” This assumption is at best naïve and at worst dangerous. If any human institution is held to be exempt from the petty, self-serving, and corrupting motivations that plague us all, the result will almost inevitably be the creation of a priestly caste demanding adulation and required to answer to no one but itself.

Thus a (largely justifiable) admiration for the work of scientists has led to a peculiar, unjustified role for scientists themselves — so that, increasingly, what is believed by scientists and the public to be “scientific” is simply any claim that is upheld by many scientists, or that is based on language and ideas that sound sufficiently similar to scientific theories.

The Eclipse of Metaphysics
There are at least three areas of inquiry traditionally in the purview of philosophy that now are often claimed to be best — or only — studied scientifically: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Let us discuss each in turn.

Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity, scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous, both because it pretends to be something very different from what it really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical adherence. Continued insistence on the universal competence of science will serve only to undermine the credibility of science as a whole. The ultimate outcome will be an increase of radical skepticism that questions the ability of science to address even the questions legitimately within its sphere of competence

Categories: science, theology