Saturday, March 14, 2009

Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 4a - God's Two Books, Part I

#6 in an ongoing series on Perspectives on an Evolving Creation edited by Keith B. Miller. Previous post in this series: Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 3 - Theological Issues Related to Evolution. First post in the series: Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 1 - Introduction.

For several years, now, I have noticed old-earth creationist thinkers speak of God's "two books"--the Bible and creation (or "nature"). "We need to permit each of these books to help us interpret the other," they say.

As I have been reading the Haarsmas' and Glover's books, and, now, Miller's work, all of which quote various scientists and theologians on the matter, I have been astonished at the relative antiquity of the "two books" analogy and the manner in which various stalwarts of the Christian faith have expressed themselves about it through the centuries.

I would like to quote the historical figures first, and then discuss some of the arguments that arise because of the use of the analogy.

The following statements by Calvin, and comments upon those statements, come from Chapter 2 in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation--"Comparing Biblical and Scientific Maps of Origins" by Conrad Hyers:
In the last five hundred years two main areas of contention between religion and science have been space and time. Controversies over the spatial character of the universe came first with challenges to the earth-centered, flat-earthed, domed-stadium picture of the cosmos. This cosmology had become so universally accepted in so tightly interval woven with the Churches faith and doctrine that it seemed that the new scientific views were a profound threat to the grand medieval synthesis. Gradually, however, the new views of space were accommodated to the point that it [is] rare indeed to find defenders of geocentricity and a flat Earth within scientific or religious communities.1

The central thesis of this study is that the same general approach taken in resolving alleged conflicts between science and religion over space may be used relative to time.

As an example of an early effort to resolve apparent conflicts over space I will take John Calvin, writing in the 16th century.

Calvin argued that alleged conflicts arose because of linguistic and literary confusions. Biblical references to nature were not scientific statements, which then might be said to be in conflict with scientific data, observations, and theories. The Bible uses the common, everyday, universal language of appearances. . . .

In this phenomenal use of language, it appears that the Sun rises and sets, and, like the Moon, orbits the earth. It appears that the earth is flat and is the center of the universe. It appears that the stars and planets orbit about us, and that the directions of north, south, east and west, as well as zenith and nadir, have a fixed rather than relative meaning. . . .

Calvin pointed out . . . that the biblical statement that the Sun and Moon are the two great lights of the heaven (if construed as a scientific statement) is in error since "the star of Saturn, which, on account of its great distance, appears the least of all, is greater than the moon."2

But, Calvin argued . . . : "Nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere."3 Or again, "Moses does not speak with philosophical acuteness on the occult but relates those things which are everywhere observed, even by the uncultivated, and which are in common use."4

--Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, pp. 19-20

Edward B. Davis, in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation Chapter 3, "The Word and the Works: Concordism and American Evangelicals," writes:
During the early years of the scientific revolution, as natural philosophers [i.e., nascent "scientists"--JAH] turned their attention increasingly to the book of nature itself and gave less deference to the books of traditional authorities, a new model for the relation between Christianity and science rose to prominence, challenging the traditional view that science is merely a "handmaiden" to theology. . . .

The catalyst for this change was the gradual acceptance of Copernican astronomy, which seemed to challenge the very words of Scripture by affirming the motion of the earth rather than the Sun. (In several places, the Bible speaks of the motion of the Sun through the sky, as if it were a real motion rather than an apparent one, or else of the stability of the earth.)5 . . . In the preface to his most important book, The New Astronomy (1609), Kepler used the Augustinian principle of accommodation6 to justify the figurative interpretation of biblical references to the motion of the Sun. The Bible, he noted, speaks in a very human way about ordinary matters in a manner that can be understood, using ordinary speech to convey loftier theological truths. . . .

Galileo made an identical argument just a few years later in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615): their respect for the ignorance of the vulgar "made the sacred authors accommodate themselves (in matters unnecessary for salvation) more to accepted usage than to the true essence of things." . . .

[B]y using the principle of accommodation to gain acceptance for the new astronomy in spite of biblical passages that seem to contradict it, [Kepler and Galileo] were implicitly raising the status of science from that of an obedient handmaiden to something more like an equal partner in the search for truth. . . .

But the principle of accommodation was hardly new. The scientists did not invent it, nor was it crafted to meet a particular challenge from science. Galileo mentions explicitly Augustine's treatise On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, a work about the larger subject of biblical hermeneutics written long before the controversy over the motion of the earth.

John Calvin (1509-64), . . . stated in the century before Galileo that "the Holy Spirit had no intention to teach astronomy; and in proposing instruction meant to be common to the simplest and most uneducated persons, he made use by Moses and other prophets of popular language that none might shelter himself under the pretext of obscurity."7 Elsewhere, Calvin allowed that the Bible might even contain erroneous statements, if they reflect common beliefs and are used to make correct theological points.8

In context, then, the effort to reinterpret the Bible in light of Copernicanism must be seen as part of a broader issue of interpretation, arising out of the fundamental theological problem of understanding how the infinite God speaks to finite human beings in imperfect human language. The resources were already there for Kepler and Galileo to draw on, yet the fact remains that the acceptance of the new astronomy underscored this problem and ultimately brought from theologians the admission that scientific conclusions could bear directly on biblical interpretation--something most thoughtful Christians take for granted today, but at the time a controversial idea.

--Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, pp. 35-37

Davis goes on to speak of the scientific and theological work of several leading evangelical professors of science in America during the late 18th and early 19th centuries--Benjamin Silliman, Edward Hitchcock, and James Dwight Dana. [See footnotes 1 and 2 in my last post to learn about Silliman and Hitchcock. Their biographical sketches are fascinating to me, and it grieves me to think that most of us are wholly unaware of their vibrant Christian faith and their considerable contribution to the advance of science in America. (Reality: I was wholly unaware of these men until I read Davis' article.)] But their biographies are off-subject for this post.

I think, however, that Davis' quote from Francis Bacon is pertinent. (In case you're unaware, Bacon (1561-1626) is perhaps the leading practitioner of and advocate for the "scientific method" during the very earliest days in which experimental science was coming into its own.) Bacon wrote:
. . . [O]ur Saviour saith, "you err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God"; laying before us two books or volumes to study, if we will be secured from error; first the scriptures, revealing the will of God, and then the creatures expressing his power; whereof the latter is a key onto the former: not only opening our understanding to conceive the true sense of the scriptures, by the general notions of reason and rules of speech; but chiefly opening our belief, in drawing us into a due meditation of the omnipotency of God, which is chiefly signed and engraven upon his works.9
Despite everything I have already quoted on this subject, several things in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation Chapter 4 really caught my eye. The chapter is titled, "Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield on Science, the Bible, Evolution, and Darwinism," a study adapted and abridged from several articles by the authors Mark A. Knoll and David N. Livingstone.

Why did this chapter catch my eye?

Partially because I am a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, an institution that likes to tout its spiritual roots in the old Princeton Theological Seminary (before that school went liberal). Princeton Seminary was the institution where Hodge and Warfield held sway throughout much of the 19th century. Moreover, Hodge and Warfield are recognized, broadly, as two giants in the battle against the forces that were pushing for modernism in the American churches of the late 19th century.

Indeed, Warfield's Inspiration and Authority of Bible is pretty well considered the standard evangelical reference work on the subject of biblical inerrancy as "even" Henry Morris and John Whitcomb state in the Introduction to their seminal young-earth creationist work, The Genesis Flood:
We accept as basic the doctrine of the verbal inerrancy of Scripture, to which Benjamin B. Warfield has given admirable expression. . . .

--Whitcomb & Morris, p. xx

So I was shocked when I read what Hodge had to say about Scripture and science . . . or God's Word and His works.

Noll and Livingstone write:
Hodge, Warfield, and most of their colleagues at Princeton shared a common attitude toward science in relation to theology. Their steady goal was to preserve the harmony of truth. Hodge and Warfield refused to countenance any permanent antagonism between the two realms of knowledge: what humans, by God's grace, could discover about the natural world (which owed its origin to God), and what they could learn, again by grace, about the character and the acts of God from special revelation in the Bible. . . .

A letter to the New York Observer in March 1863 showed clearly how Hodge felt science and theology should interact.

In this letter, he first affirmed that the Bible could "teach no error" on anything that it touched. But then he hastened to say that the Princeton theologians had always held, "in common with the whole Church, that this infallible Bible must be interpreted by science."

--Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, pp. 62-63, 66

Talk about a shock! This is so completely opposite what leading young-earth creationist spokespersons advocate! How could Hodge make such a statement?

Noll and Livingstone continue:
. . . Hodge took pains to spell out what he meant by "science": "ascertained truths concerning the facts and laws of nature." . . .

[O]nce having made a careful definition, Hodge forcefully affirmed the hermeneutical value of scientific knowledge: "The proposition that the Bible must be interpreted by science is all but self-evident. Nature is as truly a revelation of God as the Bible, and we only interpret the Word of God by the Word of God when we interpret the Bible by science." Hodge then provided an example of what he meant: "For five thousand years the Church understood the Bible to teach that the earth stood still in space, and that the sun and stars revolved around it. Science has demonstrated that this is not true. Shall we go on to interpret the Bible so as to make it teach the falsehood that the sun moves round the earth, or shall we interpret it by science and make the two harmonize?"

Hodge closed with a word in the other direction: just as legitimate science must be used to interpret Scripture, so must Scripture be allowed to shape the interpretation of science. . . .

--Ibid., p. 66

When I read this passage, I thought, "That's what I used to say (more or less; I'm sure I wasn't quite so eloquent)."

But the memory got me to look again at my Young- and Old-Earth Creationists: Can We Even Talk Together? paper to see what I had written.

And I was shocked!
Our understanding of science and our understanding of Scripture, I believe, ought to work together in a virtuous cycle of interactive and mutual correction. . . .

Scripture, in that sense, is made to submit to science. But science, too, is forced to submit to Scripture. Scripture, ultimately, must have the last word. But when do we know we have made it to the end? When do we, as limited, fallible human beings, know that we have fully and accurately comprehended what the Word of God is saying? --I think we will never arrive at that destination until we stand before God face to face. Until that day, we will continue to "see in a mirror, dimly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). And for as long as that remains true, we ought to conduct ourselves with appropriate humility and grace . . . before both God and man.
That's what I wrote some six or seven or eight years ago. And I still believe it.

But I've felt so beaten up by the young-earth creationists who say such thinking is dangerous (at least) and misguided (at best), that I haven't done much thinking or talking about such a perspective.

Before I address this matter of feeling beaten up, let me complete my quotation from Hodge via Noll and Livingstone. They write:
In his words, Hodge wanted to to avoid both sides of "a two-fold evil." One evil was the overwillingness "to adopt the up pinions and theories of scientific men, and to adopt a forced and unnatural interpretations of the Bible, to bring it to accord with those opinions." The opposite evil was to "not only refuse to admit the opinions of men, but science itself, to have any voice in the interpretation of Scripture."

--Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, p. 66

So now that we have heard from these older brothers in the faith, what do the young-earth creationists say?

John D. Morris of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) writes,
Can man, with a brain and reasoning powers distorted by the curse, evaluating only a portion of the evidence, accurately reconstruct the history of the universe? Should his historical reconstructions be put on a higher plane than Scripture? Or is man and his mind locked in the effects of the curse--a poor reflection of the once glorious "image of God"--now blinded by sin and the god of this world, seeing things through a glass darkly?"
Dr. Danny Faulkner takes Hugh Ross to task for his use of the two books analogy:
Scripture teaches that the creation is cursed (Gen. 3:17—19, Rom. 8:20—22), but Scripture itself is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Tim. 3:15—17). So how can a cursed creation interpreted by a fallible methodology of sinful humans determine how we interpret the perfect, unfallen Word of God? As the systematic theologian Louis Berkhof pointed out:
. . .Since the entrance of sin into the world, man can gather true knowledge about God from His general revelation only if he studies it in the light of Scripture, in which the elements of God’s original self-revelation, which were obscured and perverted by the blight of sin, are republished, corrected, and interpreted. . . .

‘Some are inclined to speak of God’s general revelation as a second source; but this is hardly correct in view of the fact that nature can come into consideration here only as interpreted in the light of Scripture.’
And then there is AiG president Ken Ham making a kind of general statement of faith for himself and Answers in Genesis:
AiG’s main thrust is NOT ‘young Earth’ as such; our emphasis is on Biblical authority. Believing in a relatively ‘young Earth’ (i.e., only a few thousands of years old, which we accept) is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God as an infallible revelation from our omniscient Creator. . . .

Let’s be honest. Take out your Bible and look through it. You can’t find any hint at all for millions or billions of years. . . .

[T]he reason [many well-known and respected Christian leaders] don’t believe God created in six literal days is because they are convinced from so-called ‘science’ that the world is billions of years old. In other words, they are admitting that they start outside the Bible to (re)interpret the Words of Scripture. . . .

[By contrast,] I understand that the Bible is a revelation from our infinite Creator, and it is self-authenticating and self-attesting. I must interpret Scripture with Scripture, not impose ideas from the outside! . . .

[A]s a ‘revelationist,’ I let God’s Word speak to me, with the words having meaning according to the context of the language they were written in. . . . I accept the plain words of Scripture in context. . . .

And the fact is, every single dating method (outside of Scripture) is based on fallible assumptions. There are literally hundreds of dating tools. However, whatever dating method one uses, assumptions must be made about the past. Not one dating method man devises is absolute! Even though 90% of all dating methods give dates far younger than evolutionists require, none of these can be used in an absolute sense either. . . .

Question: Why would any Christian want to take man’s fallible dating methods and use them to impose an idea on the infallible Word of God? Christians who accept billions of years are in essence saying that man’s word is infallible, but God’s Word is fallible!

This is the crux of the issue. When Christians have agreed with the world that they can accept man’s fallible dating methods to interpret God’s Word, they have agreed with the world that the Bible can’t be trusted. They have essentially sent out the message that man, by himself, independent of revelation, can determine truth and impose this on God’s Word. Once this ‘door’ has been opened regarding Genesis, ultimately it can happen with the rest of the Bible.

--To be continued.

1 I should note, however, that when I wrote my paper on young- and old-earth creationists talking together--way back seven or eight years ago--I found an adamant Christian geocentrist, a man with a Ph.D. in astronomy, and, now, a professor emeritus in computer science at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.

Indeed, argues this man, Gerardus Bouw, anyone who suggests the Earth is not at rest in the center of the universe has abandoned the clear teaching of God's Word:
[T]he Bible's authority is weakened by [any other view]; . . . the Bible teaches geocentricity. Geocentric verses range from those with only a positional import, such as references to "up" and "down"; through the question of just what the earth was "orbiting" the first three days while it awaited the creation of the sun; to overt references such as Ecclesiastes 1, verse 5:
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
Perhaps the strongest geocentric verse in the Bible is Joshua 10:13:
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.
Here the Moderator of Scripture, the Holy Ghost Himself, endorses the daily movement of the sun and moon. After all, God could just as well have written: "And the earth stopped turning, so that the sun appeared to stand still, and the moon seemed to stay. . . ."
I will return to Bouw's arguments in a while. But I thought this note was worthy of insertion at this point. Return to text.

2 Referenced to John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, trans. John King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 1:85. Return to text.

3 Ibid., 1:79. Return to text.

4 Ibid., 1:84. Return to text.

5 Davis suggests we consider Joshua 10:12-14; Job 9:7; Psalm 19:4-6; 93:1; 104:5; Ecclesiastes 1:5; Isaiah 38:8; and Habakkuk 3:11, "among others" to demonstrate these points. Return to text.

6 I wish I knew the specific reference on which Davis comes up with the idea of "Augustinian principle of accommodation." He says (just a few paragraphs below this one), that Galileo references Augustine's On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis. I have just now scanned my copy of Augustine's The Literal Meaning of Genesis and don't find anything that makes sense as a foundation for this concept. Return to text.

7 Referenced to Calvin, Commentary on the Psalms edited by James Anderson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), pp. v, 184-85. Return to text.

8 Writes Davis: "See, for example, his comments on Ps. 58:4-5, where he doubts that snake charming is genuine, although those verses liken the wicked to deaf adders that do not respond to the charmers."Return to text.

9 Referenced to Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, Book I, Sec. I, para. 3. Return to text.
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