Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Philosophy of Science, Part 2: Biblicism

Continuing my three-part series exploring Christian approaches to science...

NOTE: I realize this post is on the long side. But if you really want to understand the philosophy behind "creation science" textbooks, this is it -- as succinctly as possible.

Last time we talked about " compartmentalism" which is generally the approach used by theistic evolutionists. But before highlighting the differences between the other two Christian positions on science and Scripture —biblicism and dual revelationism— it may be helpful to briefly mention key points on which their adherents agree.

• The Bible is the error-free word of God—historically, morally, and theologically—and it is authoritative on all matters it addresses.
• The Bible is not a scientific textbook, but where it speaks on matters related to the natural world, it is completely reliable.
• God created and sustains the world and everything in it.
• God did not create new life-forms through natural-process evolution.
• God miraculously created the first humans: Adam and Eve.
• Adam and Eve were charged with "subduing" the earth, which at least included studying it and understanding how to judiciously use its natural resources.
• Adam and Eve's sin—which was a real, historical event—plunged the first humans, as well as all their descendants, into sin.
• The study of the record of nature has been complicated by Adam and Eve's sin at the Fall.

With these agreements in place, attention can be focused on the vastly different ways these two Christian positions understand the relationship between the record of nature and the words of the Bible. The primary difference between the two position is connected the biblicist skepticism of secular scientists' ability to understand the record of nature as a result of the Fall.

The biblicist approach asserts that the effects of the first sin were so devastating that they impede the non-Christian's ability to accurately study and apprehend the natural world. For this reason, the record of nature must be interpreted through the lens of the Bible; we cannot study the natural world on its own terms. God's Word furnishes a lens through which to interpret life and the world. See diagram.

Young-earth (creation science) textbooks use the biblicist approach to science. Students are taught to first construct a framework based on the Bible and then interpret the record of nature through that framework:
The thoughtful Christian researcher uses the statements of Scripture to guide his thinking. He puts different portions of Scripture together and draws up a broad outline of truth that is called the Bible-derived framework. This framework is the "skeleton" upon which he later places the "flesh," the detailed findings from his scientific investigation. If his findings fail to fit the framework, he immediately suspects that he has made a mistake in his research. Realizing that he is a fallible human being, he reviews and carefully checks his work. He knows, whatever else may happen, that his framework is correct and that true science will fit that framework. Anything that does not fit the Bible-derived framework must come under the heading of "science falsely so called" (1 Tim. 6:20). True science always agrees with the Bible. (Earth Science for Christian Schools, p. viii)

The key biblical support for the biblicist approach to science largely rests in its interpretation of Genesis 3. After the serpent tempted Eve, God pronounced a series of three curses: one against the serpent, one against Eve, and one against Adam that also involves a curse on the ground. The curse against the ground has particular relevance for this discussion.
To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." (vv. 17-19)

The biblicist approach generally asserts that this cursing of the ground makes nature flawed and, therefore, an inferior revelation to the Bible. The cursed creation is pitted against the non-cursed Word of God. Young-earth astronomer Danny Faulkner aptly summarizes this perspective:
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? ("The Dubious Apologetics of Hugh Ross," Technical Journal, vol. 13, no. 2 [Nov. 1999]: pp. 52-60)

The second tenet of the biblicist position rests in the fall of Adam. It asserts that humanity's fall into sin so affected the human intellect that scientists cannot study the world accurately unless they use the lens of the Word of God. Biblicists frequently use the analogy of "peering through a glass darkly" (an allusion to 1 Cor. 13) as a description of sinful humanity's attempt to study the record of nature. For example, John Morris from the Institute for Creation Research writes:
The doctrine of man becomes skewed. 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? ("Should a Church Take a Stand on Creation?" Impact, no. 41 [May 1992]: p. d.)

Biblicists use young-earth creationism as its "framework" for interpreting the record of nature. This is the approach taken by any textbook that labels itself "creation science." Consequently, they need to jam the entire account of history into about a 6,000 to 10,000 year window. They interpret the creation "days" described in Genesis 1 as being six consecutive 24-hour solar days. They usually understand God's creation miracles this way:
On the first day of Creation, God created light and divided the light from darkness, making day and night . . . On the second day, God created the firmament, which He called heaven. The firmament is the atmosphere that surrounds the earth. God gathered the waters together to make the dry land appear on the third day. On that same day, God also commanded the earth to bring forth in abundance the wonderful variety of plants we enjoy today, each with the ability to reproduce new plants of the same kind . . . The sun, moon, stars, and other heavenly bodies appeared on the fourth day . . . On the fifth day, God created the birds and all the animals that live in water . . . The sixth day was the last day of Creation. God made the land-dwelling animals, from the largest dinosaur to the smallest insect. For His final act of Creation, God made man, the only creature that He made in His image (Gen. 1:24-31). (Observing God's World, 355-56)

Young-earth creationists arrive at a specific date for the age of the universe by working backward from the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11. This date generally falls between 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. Young-earth creationists also tend to view other interpretations of Genesis 1 as compromising the authority of Scripture and the result of caving to the social pressures of Darwinian evolution beginning in the mid-1800s.

In my opinion, the major flaw with the biblicist approach is that it doesn't see any need to test its interpretation of Scripture. To them, their interpretation is the same thing as Scripture itself. This is very similar to the error the church made in Galileo's time. They confused their interpretation of verses like Psalm 104:5 which seem to teach the earth is stationary with the actual words of Scripture themselves. Galileo used the third approach to science -- dual revelation -- that we will explore in our final installment of this series.

For more on this subject and how it affects science education, I would recommend: Teaching Science from a Christian Worldview.

1 comment:

elbogz said...

The major flaw of the Young Earth Creationist approach is they have made their belief an ultimatum. It goes something like this:

If you can’t believe the bible is the literal truth of God and word for word history of the earth, then you have to throw it all out. If Adam and Eve was a story and not the actual history, then Jesus died to cleanses us of the sins of a story. Therefore, you either believe things our way or you can not believe in God.

I listened to Christian radio long enough to realize that if I kept listening, I would eventually stop believing in God all together. They have taken over radio and TV and even in our churches the children are singing “Behemoth was a dinosaur”

The major flaw is that when people think that in order to have a relationship with God, you have to believe absolute foolishness about the earth, they will choose not to believe. The children of the church will grow up, and then, one day, look at 300 million years of geology in a Utah canyon and realize the church lied to them. They will walk away and then they will be singing, ‘there is no God’.