Our Modern Quest For Truth

Science continues to create theological problems that we have never been presented with before. This isn’t going to go away. We live in a scientific age where science is the dominant method for attaining truth.

Science is no conspiracy. While there is a degree of error, every scientific theory is under constant scrutiny and peer review. If someone were to find an alternative to, say, germ theory, they would instantly be famous. So how do Christians and other religious believers deal with our faith in light of such a science-dominated culture?

The Authority of Scripture

 

I recently had a dispute with a friend on Facebook. This individual (falsely) accused me of not accepting the authority of Scripture because of my views on Genesis 1-3. I have not doubt that this friend was well intentioned and was genuinely looking out for me as a fellow believer, but I think he missed the point. As Christians, our faith is centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Anything that threatens those truths can rightly be seen as diminishing to the authority of Scripture. I do not see how one can say Genesis 1-3 affects that truth. This is not an issue of authority. It is an issue of interpretation. While an alternative to the literalism of Genesis 1-3 does present significant theological problems (death before the fall, historical Adam, etc.), none of them affect the authority of Scripture.

The History of Young Earth Creationism

While it is important to note that 7-day creationism was a view that some theologians had before the 20th century, it has not been, by any stretch, the dominant view. Ellen White, a Seventh Day Adventist in the 19th century, has been considered by many to have developed modern Young Earth Creationism. Later, Henry Morris and John Whitcomb wrote The Genesis Flood as a way to explain the fossil record. In 1925, we had the Scopes trial. Combine these three events together, and you have modern day Young Earth Creationism. Origen, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, and many others saw the Genesis account of creation as having a very poetic nature to it and did not see the creation of the world as being bound by seven literal 24-hour days.

The problem is that Ken Ham and many others today have made a literal interpretation of Scripture as being the only way to properly understand the Bible as the authority of God. This is not true. In fact, in some ways, this it is the opposite. True authority comes from God, who inspired certain men to write the biblical texts, which are communicated through a specific cultural context. If we are to take the authority of Scripture seriously, we have to understand what exactly the author of any given text is saying. To just assume post-Enlightenment literalism does a disservice to Scripture. Literalism is a hermeneutic, just like any other, and it has to be defended on the same grounds.

Galileo Galilei

 

Not only did Galileo provide sufficient evidence for a heliocentric solar system, but he also set a precedent for a particular kind of hermeneutic. It was widely accepted, without question, that the heavenly bodies did revolve around the earth, and the earth was fixed and could not be moved (Psalm 93:1; 1 Chronicles 16:30). It would not be seen as very sophisticated in this day and age to make a claim that these verses are literal, scientific texts that ought to overpower our basic understanding of astronomy. Galileo was vehemently accused of heresy in the Catholic church, but he stuck to what he believed is right, and now we have a proper understanding of the astronomy of our own solar system. “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” We should listen to Scripture on the basis of how we are to be reconciled with Christ, not what the material world has to teach us.

Charles Darwin

 

Darwin was no Christian, but he did not see his theory and Christianity as being in conflict. He had many friends who were Christians, and none of them saw evolutionary theory as a threat to their faith. Darwin developed his theory based off of his own observations. It had nothing to do with his lack of belief in God. Asa Gray, a friend of Darwin’s who was a Christian, wrote him after he developed his theory and said that it actually helped him make better sense of his theology. Charles Kingsley, another theologian who was acquainted with Darwin, wrote “We knew of old that God was so wise that he could make all things; but, behold, He is so much wiser than even that, that he can make all things make themselves.” Charles Spurgeon, one of the most popular pastors of the 19th century, said in a sermon once that the notion of millions of years should not be a threat to biblical theology. YEC pastors and theologians were not widely known in the 19th century, and Darwin was seen as giving a rational method that God used to create.

Interpretation

The Bible is a very old book. It is easy to take it literally, and when any given literal statement contradicts objective reality to just assume it is literary or some sort of metaphor. People in the Ancient Near East really did think that the heart, intestines, and other body parts controlled intellect. People really did think hell was actually underneath the earth. People really did think there was a dome above the sky and the stars and other heavenly bodies were carved into it. This is ancient science, and nobody actually accepts it. Just because Ancient Near East writers had a false conception of what the cosmos actually looked like does not diminish the inspired theological truth of the Scriptures. The Bible is not a book to the universal truths of every field of study; it has a very specific message just like any other piece of literature.

The Quest For Truth

Literalism is easy. After all, if God wanted to convey truth to us through His Word, wouldn’t He make it easy to understand? Sadly, it is not that simple. Nobody, and I mean nobody, takes the whole bible literally (at least in the post-Enlightenment sense). Many only take the Bible literally when it doesn’t conflict with common sense or their prior convictions. This is not a consistent hermeneutic, however. Culture plays a huge part in how the Bible was written, and it plays a big part for us when we go about interpreting it. God speaks to cultures. There is not one objective way to speak to a human being, it is done differently depending on the understanding that person has about the nature of reality. In an age of science, where much of the data we acquire in the fields of biology, geology, physics, anthropology, etc. contradicts a literal reading of Scripture, we must be careful to take the Bible for what it is. The Bible is the Word of God, but it does not define every aspect of truth that can be discovered. God created the natural world, so it will not contradict His Word. Science and religion are not in conflict; they both point us toward truth.

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Biblical Literalists Need to Be More Critical of the Bible

biblical literalism

Biblical literalism is a very unfortunate result of post-Enlightenment thinking.  This kind of thought seems pretty attractive on the surface, but if you really want to get a grasp as to what the biblical writers were saying, it would be much more sophisticated to look at the ancient meaning of the text.  The big problem with biblical literalism is that nobody actually takes the whole bible literally.  I have recalled many different Facebook conversations that I’ve had with different people in which they claim to take the Bible literally from beginning to end.  This is just plain false.  The Bible literally says to gouge your eye out if you look upon a woman lustfully.  The Bible literally says to sell all of your possessions and give to the poor.  The Bible literally says that the earth is held up on four pillars.  The Bible literally says that there is a solid dome covering the earth.  The Bible literally says a lot of things that are just simply not true in the Post-Enlightenment literal sense.

The main problem with this line of thought sort of transcends over into the way that biblical literalists actually live their lives.  The Bible says that it is God’s Word.  I agree, but why should we assume this?  The literalist assumes right off the bat that the Bible is the Word of God without even questioning the actual content in the Bible.  This is problematic just as much for the Christian who withholds the view as it is for the non-Christian who’s trying to rationalize the Bible.  Here’s where I’m getting at.  We are not to question the Bible simply to get understanding about it.  We are to question it in order to tear Scripture apart into it’s little bits and question even the validity of the thing we are reading.  This is how we gain true understanding.

One thing that many Evangelicals don’t seem to understand is that there are actually people who simply don’t view the Bible as divinely inspired.  Why is this?  Because it makes sense.  It actually makes sense that the Bible is not divinely inspired…. From a LITERALIST point of view.  Taking every scientific, historical, mathematical, and sociocultural aspect of reality that we have discovered into consideration, it just simply makes no sense to think that God divinely inspired Scripture to be read literally.  If the Bible is either literal or false, many people are going to choose that it’s just false.  This is where Biblical criticism comes into play.  Biblical criticism allows one to see the Bible through a much more objective lens where we study the anthropological mindset behind each and every verse in the Bible and learn how to properly interpret it.  This is good hermeneutics.  If we were to educate the average layman on how to interpret the Bible critically, much of these problems and misconceptions about Christianity will fade away.

Ken Ham’s False Views on Genesis

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This post is going to be a critique of Ken Ham.  Ham is the most well known Christian Young Earth Creationist in the world right now.  He is the president of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. Now, having respect for Ham as a Christian, I do not have any respect for him as an apologist.  He has devoted his entire life to one section of the Bible, and he has done so in a very poor manner.

 

Ham believes that the earth is 6000 years old.  Not only is this embarrassingly unscientific, but it is also unbiblical.  To go with this assumption, he has to believe that the biblical language has stayed the same throughout all cultures of all times in all contexts.  Ham takes the Bible at face value, and assumes that the text is being written to him.  This is a very naive and intellectually lazy way of reading scripture.  The Bible was not written TO us, it was written FOR us.  We have to come to this understanding if we want to make proper sense of the Bible.

 

One of Ham’s arguments is that there was no death before Adam’s fall.  Really?  Where does it say this in Scripture?  Even reading the Bible in a literal manner, I cannot get this idea.  Animals die, and they have been dying for millions of years, but Ham seems to be perfectly fine with ignoring basic scientific facts to maintain his childish reading of Scripture.  Not only is this manner of reading childish, but he puts things into the Bible that are not there.  Ham will do anything and everything to preserve his dogmatic view of the Bible, even if that means making it say things that it really is not.

 

Ham claims that all of the Christian doctrine is founded in Genesis.  On this point, he could not be more wrong.  The central truth of Christianity is that we are fallen beings, we need a Savior, and this is why Jesus came and died for our sins.  If we accept His gift of eternal life, we can spend eternity with Him.  Now, part of this can be found in Genesis, such as the fall, however HOW it actually happened is irrelevant.  Ham doesn’t seem to understand this, and it may be due to the fact that his entire life is centered around a couple chapters of the Bible.

 

The final point I want to talk about is Ham’s point on the definition of “day.”  Ham claims these are literal twenty-four hour days.  On this point I agree with him, however it is irrelevant.  The people who were living during this time had a very ignorant view of what actual science is, therefore they wrote out a story that the people of their time could understand.  What was “literal” back then is not “literal” now.  Things change as the culture changes.  Ham does not understand this concept, and He seems to think that the Bible was written directly to him in terms that he can understand on a literal basis, and ignores what the Bible actually says.  I question whether he has actually truly looked into other arguments for Genesis.  Ham takes one of the most dangerous approaches to the Bible.  He believes that you can read modern science straight out of the Bible.  I find this laughable, mainly because modern science was not around whenever Genesis was written.  You should NEVER try to read science into the Bible, or out of the Bible.  You lose biblical authority and the proper meaning of the text.  The people during the time that this book was written had absolutely no concern about ancient cosmology or a very old earth.

 

Why am I writing this post?  Not to insult Ken Ham, but to show how flawed his arguments are.  I truly care about the gospel and, in order to further the Kingdom, we cannot be afraid of what is out there, but we have to embrace it.  The mountains of evidence that we have for an incredibly old earth where life evolved is an issue for people who are taught their entire life that God created the world in six, literal twenty four hour days.  Their first thought is to abandon the Bible and just go with science, and this is a tragedy.  As Christians, we have got to embrace the truth of science if we want to save the truth of Christian Theism in our culture.