Friday, March 20, 2009

Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 4c - God's Two Books, Part III

#8 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, 4b - God's Two Books, Part II. First post in the series: Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 1 - Introduction.

It took a while for me to realize I had forgotten an important point I had intended to make in my last post in this series.

What I had intended to note--and forgot to mention--is a valid observation Dr. Danny Faulkner of Answers in Genesis makes concerning a fundamental imbalance between Science and Scripture. Specifically (in criticism of some things Hugh Ross says), Faulkner comments:
Ross argues as follows. There are two books: the book of nature and the Bible. God is the author of both, so both must agree. So far this seems reasonable.

Then Ross subtly equates science for [sic] nature, from which one could infer that science and the Bible should be equated in authority.

Most of Ross’s intended audience would have abandoned him had he made such a claim, because this is precisely the sort of equation that most liberals have made. Science is the (man-made) way that we have to study nature. If Ross wants to make the correct analogy, it should be to exegesis, which is the (man-made) way of studying the Bible.
I want to applaud Faulkner's observation about science and exegesis. He is absolutely correct. They are the correct/true corrollary entities. Science is not a good analog for Scripture (or the Bible) anymore than exegesis is a good analog for creation or the physical universe.

Moreover, Faulkner is correct to point out that we need to keep clear about the distinction between science and the physical realm (God's creation) on the one hand, and exegesis (or biblical interpretation) and the Bible itself on the other.

"Science is to creation as exegesis is to the Bible" and "Scripture is to exegesis as the physical universe is to science." But it is absolutely inappropriate to suggest that "Science is to creation as Scripture is to exegesis" or "exegesis is to Scripture as the physical universe is to science." These latter proposed equivalencies are exactly backwards.

So, assuming Ross makes the error Faulkner attributes to him, Faulkner is correct to call our attention to it. [By the way: I can see how Ross could equate science to nature. He could do that (legitimately--though potentially dangerously!) if he used the word science as a synecdoche for nature (or vice versa).]

But/and/so let us look at how the young-earth spokespeople distinguish--or fail to distinguish--Scripture from interpretations of Scripture. And as they distinguish--or fail to distinguish--these two: What do they say--or, at least, imply--about the possibility properly to interpret Scripture?

My sense: To the extent that their suggestions are correct that true (accurate, useful, informative) science is impossible, to that same extent they are really saying that true (accurate, useful, informative) exegesis is also impossible. Conversely, to the extent that they say true (accurate, useful, informative) exegesis is possible: to that same extent, they should be telling us that true (accurate, useful, informative) science is also possible. If they can have the one, then they should be able to have the other; if they can't have the one, then they should not be able to have the other, either.

But you tell me.

Dr. Faulkner notes (as I have quoted in the last two posts of this series; and these comments are in the same article in which Faulkner criticizes Ross):
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?
Please concentrate, here, with me. I'm not sure I can interpret accurately whatever-it-is he is attempting to say.

It sounds to me as if Faulkner is intending to suggest that, because God's Word is perfect, therefore, somehow, that means we sinful human beings, using a fallible methodology, are able accurately to interpret the perfect, unfallen, "God-breathed" Word of God.

Is that what he's saying? If so, then I would like you to consider the other half of this "equation."

If it is true that because God's Word is perfect, therefore, somehow, that means we sinful human beings, using a fallible methodology, are able accurately to interpret the perfect, unfallen, "God-breathed" Word of God; is it then also true that, because the creation is cursed, therefore we human beings are absolutely unable accurately to interpret whatever-it-is we may want to discover about our world? (I mean, really. Forget the talk about fallible methodologies and human beings being sinful. At root, really, isn't Faulkner saying that it is the fallenness of creation, on the one hand, and the perfection of God's Word, on the other, that makes all the difference when it comes to our ability to interpret either of these things accurately? . . . If so, then where are we to go with disagreements like the one we saw between Dr. Bouw and Dr. Faulkner?

Consider, then, too, the questions raised by Dr. Morris of the Institute for Creation Research about human capabilities properly to understand or interpret much of anything:
Can man, with a brain and reasoning powers distorted by the curse . . . accurately reconstruct the history of the universe? . . . 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?"
Am I understanding Morris accurately when I say he appears to be asking rhetorical questions whose answers, he wants us to believe, must be "no"? Moreover, do his questions--and answers--equate to this: "Humans' brains and reasoning powers are so distorted by the curse and our minds are so blinded by sin and the god of this world that we are incapable of interpreting anything accurately"?

If I am wrong, then what is he saying? I don't see any other possible interpretation than the one I have just put forward.

But if my interpretaton is correct, then that leaves me wondering: Where does he think that leaves us with respect to Scripture? If we can't properly interpret anything else, then how and why does Morris think we can properly understand and/or interpret the Bible?

If Morris wants to reference a verse like John 16:13 (in which we read that Jesus said He would send His Spirit, the Spirit of truth to guide His disciples into all truth), I would want to ask:

1) If we are to believe his pessimistic view that all humans' brains and reasoning powers are so distorted by the curse and our minds are so blinded by sin and the god of this world that we are incapable of interpreting anything accurately: then why should we believe Morris' interpretation of John 16:13 (or whatever Scripture he actually is referencing)? And,

2) If the Spirit of truth, meant to guide us into all truth, is able to overcome our curse-caused blindness and/or distorted perceptions with respect to the Bible: why can that same Spirit (meant to guide us into all truth!) not also help us overcome those same limitations with respect to the physical world? And,

3) Why shouldn't our God-informed interpretations of His creation not help us interpret His Word . . . every bit as much as our God-informed interpretations of His Word should help us interpret His works (His creation)?

Finally, however, let us consider Ken Ham's comments:
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? . . .

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.
--I have already called into question Ham's final suggestion that evangelical "two-books" advocates believe or promote the idea that the Bible can't be trusted. Perhaps some self-proclaimed evangelical somewhere has said the Bible can't be trusted. And, as Davis noted, I guess it could be said that, at least in one sense, Calvin suggested the Bible can't be trusted. ("See, for example, [Calvin's] 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.")

But more significantly, I would like to return to one of the key points for which I lauded Faulkner earlier in this post: the important matter of maintaining cognizance of the fact that the interpretation of a thing (i.e., science in relation to physical phenomena and exegesis with respect to the Bible) . . . --The interpretation of a thing is different from the thing being interpreted. Science is not the same thing as the physical universe or physical phenomena within the universe; nor is exegesis or an interpretation of Scripture the same thing as the Bible.

Yet what does Ham say? When Christians interpret God's Word in a certain manner, they are saying thereby--by their interpretation (NOTICE: not by a statement to this effect, but by the fact of the method of their interpretation!)-- . . . They are saying that the Bible can’t be trusted.

Right? Isn't that what Ham says? "If your interpretation doesn't agree with mine, then--because of your interpretation, because you have disagreed with me--you obviously don't believe the Bible can be trusted."

And if that's what he is saying, isn't he confusing the Bible with a certain interpretation of the Bible?

Put another way: "If you disagree with my [young-earth] interpretation of Scripture, then you are not merely disagreeing with my interpretation of Scripture; you are disagreeing with the Bible itself."

Right? Isn't that what he is saying?

If I am misinterpreting Ham, please help me see where I have gone wrong.

But if I am interpreting him correctly, then please pay attention to the following.

In the same article from which I took my other quotations from Faulkner, Faulkner writes,
It is not clear whether Ross consciously made this slippery switch [equating science with nature]. More likely, this swap escaped his notice. If that is so, then such a logical fallacy would cast doubt on his competence.
Okay. Fair is fair. Following Faulkner's reasoning with respect to Ross' equating science with nature, then what are we to make of Ham when he equates his interpretation of Scripture with Scripture itself?

Again, I'll leave the answer to that question for you to think about on your own. [--Or maybe not. Let me make the same comment, here, that I made concerning Ross: I can see how Ham could equate the exegesis of a passage of Scripture with the Scripture itself. He could do that (again, legitimately--but with serious potential danger!) if he used the word Scripture as a synecdoche for biblical interpretation (or vice versa). --We must beware the dangers of thinking our interpretations of Scripture are as infallible as the Scriptures themselves. We must similarly beware the dangers of ever imagining our science expresses a definitive understanding of nature.]

As for me, I'm driven back to a (slightly modified--Thank you, Dr. Faulkner!) version of what I wrote seven or eight years ago:
Our . . . science and our [exegesis], I believe, ought to work together in a virtuous cycle of interactive and mutual correction.

[Our interpretation of] Scripture, in that sense, is made to submit to science. But science, too, is forced to submit to [our interpretation of] Scripture. [The] Scripture[s themselves], 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.
May we all--young- and old-earth creationists, God-spoke-it-into-existence-in-the-moment-He-spoke-it creationists as well as God-spoke-it-into-existence-over-millions-of-years creationists . . . --May we all conduct ourselves with appropriate humility and grace: humility and grace before God, humility and grace toward one another, and humility and grace in light of the data before us--the data of Scripture and the data of the physical universe in which we live, the book of God's Word and the book of God's Works.
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