Thursday, May 28, 2015

Two Beautiful Books: Science... err... correction: Nature and Scripture (Part 1)

Last week I got the opportunity to speak on science and Christianity at Reformed University Fellowship's (RUF) Summer Conference (SuCo) in Panama City. At their SuCo, RUF offers a number seminars in the mornings that students can attend, and I led a two-day session that I did twice over the course of four days. I knew this was an issue that is on the minds of many Christians today (obviously), but with so many other great options for students to attend, I did not expect the attendance or response the seminar received. I am not complaining (quite the contrary), but after doing the seminar twice and talking with students informally throughout the week, I realized church leaders have not done enough education on this subject (and, of course, my vocation makes me one of those "leaders," so the indictment is on me just as much as it is on anyone else). Certainly good books have been written on this subject, and I have written some about it myself on this blog. Yet, of all that I have read by others and written myself, I still feel like more can be done in providing a concise guide for thinking biblically about science. So, I am going to take my talk (with some additions based on questions and feed back) and write a series here. Over the next few weeks we will talk about thinking biblically and consistently as a Christian about science.

Now, I know the students attending the seminar came for a number of reasons. For some of them, this may not just be an academic question brought on by some opinion piece they read or a challenge by their classmate but a deeply bothersome subject that makes them wonder if they are just fooling themselves with this Christianity stuff. For others, it might be that they wonder if they can live as a Christian in the science or engineering professions towards which they are headed. Some of you may also have similar questions that come from a deep, heartfelt need. Let me say, as someone who struggled with this while he was in science academia, I think I can understand to some degree where you are. Now, others probably came because they were hoping to find answers to questions like the age of the universe or is evolution heretical or how do they convince their roommate that creationism is true. Some of you out there may also have started reading this looking for answers to those questions. And, if that is the case, I might disappoint you with this series because we are not going to talk in detail about that those subjects.

The seminar I gave to RUF and this series is about the big-picture relationship between science and Christianity, and my goal for them and you is not to tell you what to think on particular subjects when it comes to the finer details like the age of the universe or Darwinian evolution. I have stances on those and many other subtopics of science and Christianity. But, for this series, my goal is to help you to think biblically about science and consistently as a Christian. I am going to use an analogy throughout these posts of building a house. What I want to do for you is to help you build a metaphorical house that gives you a place "to live" as a Christian in a culture that puts a great deal of weight on science. And, hopefully from that house, you will be able to read, study, and struggle with the apparent conflicts and land on a position that is faithful both to God's revelation of Himself in Scripture and God's revelation of Himself in nature. Now, let me say up front, this metaphorical house that I will endeavor to help you build is not going to be perfect. It will have some leaks in the roof and holes in the walls because we are imperfect beings who are not going to get everything right when it comes to our study of Scripture and our study of the physical world. But, it will, I pray, be enough for you to live confidently as a Christian in our world.

Before we get too far and into the topic at hand, because of the scope of the seminar and this blog series, there are some things I am going to have to assume as true and just cannot take the time to prove to you. I would argue these are orthodox, Christian presuppositions, though not all Christians agree with all of these, and so I need to be honest and upfront about them so you know why and how I am proceeding in the direction in which I am going:
  1. The God of the Bible exists, and He is the Creator of all things that are outside of Himself (e.g. this universe, angels, heaven, etc.). For some reading on this assumption I am making, check out this talk by Christian philosopher Kenneth Samples or the book The Reason for the Hope Within, ch. 2-3. There are, of course, a number of other great resources on this subject, but these will be enough to get you started. 
  2. The inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture: Basically, by those I mean that Scripture is God's Word and is free from all falsehood or mistake and is entirely trustworthy in everything it says. For more reading on this, I would recommend Kenneth Samples' blog series on inerrancy (part 1 and part 2) as well as the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy
  3. The authority of Scripture: Basically by this I mean that Scripture is God's inspired, inerrant Word, and therefore is the highest authority for the Christian faith and the life of the believer. We don't have time to prove this, but for further reading, check out this paper by J. P. Moreland (by the way, the title of the paper is provocative, to say the least, but it is orthodox and very helpful). 
  4. God has spoken by His word and revealed (communicated) Himself in a way that we humans can perceive, contemplate, and interpret to get at the truth He wants us to know. This is the very first truth of the Bible--that God spoke the universe into existence--and He has been speaking ever since through His Word. 
  5. There is truth and humans can study it. By truth I just mean all that which conforms to reality. I know postmodernism has brought the very idea of objective truth and reality into question, but we cannot deal with that here. Here we must assume that truth is real, accessible by man, and that there is a reality which truth can properly describe. For more information on the subject of postmoderism and truth, see Postmodern Times by Gene Veith or Is There a Meaning in This Text? by Kevin Vanhoozer
Those are the things we have to assume to move forward. If you do not agree with them all, I think this series can still be helpful, and hopefully the links above will give you more to consider on those subjects.

Now, in my seminar, I began with a question for the students: "What is wrong with the title of this seminar?" For RUF, I entitled the seminar "Two Beautiful Books: Science and Scripture," but from an epistemological or philosophical perspective, there is an error in that title (hence the "correction" in the title of this series). Here, of course, we do not have the luxury of dialogue, so I will just tell you what I told them because it helps introduce this topic: The title makes it sound like science is a source of knowledge--like it is a "book" that provides us with information--but it is not. This is a fundamental mistake made by many, many people today--both Christian and non. Nature--and by that I just mean the physical universe in which we live that is made up of energy and matter--is the source of knowledge. Science (which we will define in more detail later) is a tool or method by which we study nature--the physical world of energy and matter. On the other side, Scripture is a source of knowledge (i.e. revelation from God Himself) and the tool or method by which we study Scripture is exegesis--and that is basically studying the text to find its meaning. If the title were phrased properly, it would say, "Two Beautiful Books: Nature and Scripture" (again, hence the "correction" in the title of this series). Those two "books" and their relationship will be the main subject of this series, and they will help us to think biblically about science.

If we are going to talk about a biblical view of science, we need to start with God's revelation of Himself. Now, "revelation" is simply God's communication of Himself--His attributes, His knowledge, and His truth--to mankind. (Remember, one of the assumptions of this seminar is that God has spoken to mankind.) So, when it comes to science, its truthfulness, and the Christian's use of it, we need to start with God's revelation. We need to understand that revelation biblically.

The first thing we need to establish when thinking about God's revelation, or thinking biblically about science, is the source of all truth. What is the source of truth? What is the source of all that which conforms to reality--"the way things are"? From a biblical perspective, the answer has to be "God." If God is the creator of all things, then whether the truth comes from Scripture or from some other source in nature, all truth is God's truth--He is its ultimate source. This is why Jesus can say in Jn. 17:17 while praying for the Church--for all Christians throughout space and time--"Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." This is why the David can say in Ps. 119:160, "The sum of your word is truth." God is not just true but is the source of truth itself.

There are some Christians who take issue with this statement because they think it either contradicts the doctrine of sola Scriptura or because it is "not a Reformed understanding of truth." I think those concerns are understandable, but ultimately I want to argue that they are unwarranted.
  1. First, it has been argued that sola Scriptura means all "real truth" is only found in the Bible, and anything else from any other source is, at best, secondary and unreliable. But, sola Scriptura does not mean that all reliable truth is found only in the Bible. It does not mean genuine truth cannot come from somewhere other than Scripture. Sola Scriptura means the Bible is our highest authority in all it addresses and is our sole source for normative, infallible truth for all things concerning the Christian faith and its practice--things like worship, salvation, how to live in general as a follower of Christ. This is why the WLC says in the third question, "The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience," i.e. Christian doctrine and Christian life. This doesn't mean, however, that truth does not come from other sources like the sciences--e.g. the orbitals of electrons in atoms or how to treat diseases like cancer. There is genuine truth there, but it does not come from the Bible and it is not necessary for faith and obedience. The Bible does address some things about this world like the origins of our universe, but sola Scriptura does not mean that it is the only source of genuine truth about this world. Again, J. P. Moreland's article (mentioned and linked above) on this subject is quite helpful. 
  2. Second, "all truth is God's truth" is a thoroughly reformed doctrine held by the great theologians of the our tradition and the Westminster Confession itself. 
    • John Calvin wrote in the second book of his Institutes: "Therefore, in reading secular authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we remember that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the Giver." (Emphasis mine) So, to say that the statement "all truth is God's truth" is not a reformed statement is tantamount to saying that John Calvin is not reformed, which would be quite an ironic thing to say.
    • Herman Bavinck (a Dutch Reformed theologian and major force in the Dutch Reformed Church) wrote in his Reformed Dogmatics, "God is the truth in its absolute fullness. He, therefore, is the primary, the original truth, the source of all truth, the truth in all truth." (Emphasis mine)
    • The WCF itself says in the first chapter, "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself)…" (Emphasis mine)
So, saying "all truth is God's truth" is consistent, biblical theology for if something is true, it is because it has been revealed by God, because it has been decreed by God, or because it is an accurate understanding of the nature of something God created. Whatever way, the truth is God's truth. He is the ultimate author of everything, even what we think of as reality itself, and He cannot lie or deceive (as we learn in places like He. 6:18), so therefore if we find truth in this universe, it is from God. All truth is God's truth is the first piece of information that we need to build our house, and this statement is like the concrete that we will use to lay the foundation for a biblical view of science.

Now, a corollary to this statement is that all truth, in some fashion or another, reveals something about God. If He is the ultimate source of all truth, then when we learn a truth, we can trace it back and learn something about its source. Now, this is obviously the case when it comes to Scripture, for there we learn detailed truths directly about God. Yet, this is also the case with truths learned from nature; we just do not get the detail about God from nature that we get from Scripture. But, we do get something, for as Paul says in Ro. 1:20, "For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." Paul tells us that we learn about God from nature. This is the source of all religions in the world--they perceive from the world around them that there is some kind of God behind it. Now, because they do not look to Scripture as the sole source for details about that God and His plan of redemption (i.e. sola Scriptura), other religions are false religions, but they still perceive what Paul says here in Ro. 1:20--"God's power and divine nature… in the things that have been made." So, to say "all truth is God's truth" is also to say that when we encounter truth, we get a glimpse of God's divine nature and power. It may be a specific and detailed glimpse like the doctrine of the trinity that Scripture shows us, or it may be a general glimpse from nature like God's omnipotence, which is just an attribute of God's ultimate power over everything in existence.

But, that leads us into the question of "How does God reveal--communicate--His truth or how do we discover His truth?" And, we will cover that in the next post, for this one is already too long. Until then, remember that the concrete for the foundation of our metaphorical house is this: all truth is God's truth.

By His Grace,

1 comment:

A. Taylor Rollo... said...

Here is a great recent article that brings out some of the details of what it means to affirm that all truth is God's truth: 10 Ideas Embedded in the Slogan "All Truth is God's Truth".