Biblical Inerrancy and Biblical Science

I recently read the draft of a brilliant paper by one of the leaders in the science-and-faith field, my friend Denis Lamoureux. Denis is well known for his outspoken views and the fact that he is in possession of not one, nor two, but three doctoral level degrees, one in dentistry, one in evolutionary biology, and one in theology. In this paper (which I read as a draft, but which will be published shortly), Denis writes about one of his favorite subjects, the scientific consensus about the nature of the world in the ancient near east (ANE).

Reading his draft article gave me some ideas about the use of the word “inerrancy” as applied to Old Testament descriptions of cosmology, biology, and geology. What follows is a rough summary of those ideas.

At any period of history, there tends to be a general consensus about what is true about the world, whether based on basic observations or more scholarly efforts in logic and experimentation. This doesn’t mean everyone agrees or holds the same views as the consensus—we need only examine the present day to find millions of people who believe all sorts of nonscientific and extraordinary things. Likely this has always been true. But at least among the intellectual and cultural elite, scientific understanding about how the world works tends to spread and take root in the culture, and often the entire civilized world. This was no less true in the ANE than in Classical Greece, medieval or Enlightenment Europe, or today.

There is little question that the Biblical treatment of scientific knowledge reflects the scientific consensus of the ANE, including Egypt, Mesopotamia and probably other ANE cultures as well—with some regional variations, of course. Most of the details of that consensus have been since proven to be false or, at best, incomplete.

This fact has fueled a long-standing controversy about the issue of Biblical inerrancy. The thinking goes, if God inspired the writing of the Bible, why would He allow the human writers to get it wrong? God surely knows the truth: there is no firmament in the sky, and the Sun doesn’t circle the Earth. Why wouldn’t an omniscient God correct those mistakes?

One approach to this thorny issue has been various flavors of concordance, meaning attempts to interpret the words of Scripture in a way that would show that they weren’t really wrong, because instead of referring to actual physical reality, they were either allegorical or metaphorical, or somehow meant to imply something other than what they say.

Biblical literalists, including YECs, dismiss such arguments, based on the difficulty of knowing how to interpret Scripture. Of course Scriptural interpretation is always being done (by everybody) and we are able to distinguish between different kinds of Biblical texts (poetry, history parable, etc.). Still, the problem with concordance is that it doesn’t really address the central question of why God would allow something false to be written in His Book.

But where does that leave us? If we acknowledge that there are incorrect scientific statements in the Bible, we are admitting that inerrancy is a myth. That acknowledgment then brings into question everything in the Bible and weakens the basis of our faith. Or does it?

Let’s imagine that a group of scientists of Christian faith decided to rewrite the Bible today, in a revised modern version that would correct all the scientific errors of the original and produce a truly inerrant version. We would add our knowledge of the universe: the laws of physics, evolution, microbiology, and so on.

But would such a revision really be scientifically inerrant? Would it be true? Not likely. We now know that scientific truth is subject to rapid and dramatic change, and I am sure no one would doubt that our current version of the true nature of cosmological and biological origins and mechanisms would appear terribly errant to readers 5000 years in the future.

So we are left with the unanswered question posed by Pilate in John 18:38 “What is Truth?”

My point is that describing the complete scientific truth about our universe (which inerrancy would require) is impossible for any human at any time. This is a fact we now know, and clearly it has always been known by God, which is why He did not attempt to correct the erroneous information that the inspired Biblical writers committed to paper. On this view, it is a mistake to even discuss any scientific treatment as being either errant or inerrant outside of its historical context. Does anyone attack Darwin for not knowing about genes? Or Pasteur for ignoring viruses? Why didn’t Galileo discuss Black holes? And so on.

It has struck me that when God appeared on earth, hundreds of years after the composition of Genesis, He spoke of many things and taught many lessons, but He said nothing about science. Jesus could have corrected some of the earlier errors about nature. After all, the science of that time had progressed thanks to Greek philosophy, and some of that new knowledge probably had spread to Judea. But no such modernization of the original text was ever recorded among the sayings of Jesus. When He spoke of fulfilling the law, Jesus was talking about moral and behavioral statements, not the understanding of nature or how the world was built.

The theological statements of Scripture are inerrant. The scientific and nature-based statements of Scripture are errant because they must be, since we cannot know the final truth of any part of them. Therefore, I propose that when we discuss Biblical inerrancy, we remove any scientific descriptions of the world (including the details of its creation) from the discussion and focus on the universal and timeless truths of God’s Word.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Biblical Inerrancy and Biblical Science

  1. ElectricBlue91 says:

    I love this post, Sy. Great stuff; it’s given me a lot to ponder, as well. Hope you are having an excellent 2019 so far.

    Peace of Christ,

    Ethan

  2. Bruce says:

    Hi Sy, not being a scientist I hesitated responding to your post but I don’t think your recommendation strengthens the case for the inerrancy of the Bible, but in fact diminishes it. While I understand your logic it strikes me as a weak response. Books I’ve read by Hugh Ross and Michael Strauss have strengthened my trust in the Bible with respect to scientific and nature based scriptures. Strauss indicates that the most important key for unlocking everything in the story, from the order to the timing of creation, is to look in the passage for the proper perspective, or point of view, from which the story is being told. The biblical description of the motion of the astronomical objects is accurate from the perspective of the observer. You can read the entire post here: https://www.michaelgstrauss.com/2018/10/unlocking-genesis-one.html And I also know that Hugh Ross spent a couple of years going through the Bible specifically looking for scientific and nature bases statements and comparing them with science, which subsequently played a substantial role in convincing him of the Bible’s authenticity. I am aware that your perspective on creationism is different than there’s so I don’t know if this helps at all, but thought that it might. Grace and blessings my friend.

    • Bruce, thanks for your comment. I am very familiar with Dr. Ross’ arguments, and find some of them convincing, but not others. Also, while he mostly addressed the cosmological issues in a thoughtful manner, he does not address things like the Raaqa (firmament) and some of the other less important ancient science. I am not familiar with Strauss, but will read your link. I myself am still working out my own ideas on these issues, so comments and input from informed people like you are much appreciated. Blessings for the work you do on behalf of our Lord.

  3. I believe the important question that each of us needs to ask ourselves is this; Which is more important, the technical (scientific) details or the underlying spiritual truth that God is and was and will always be and that there is none other like him? He is our creator and we are his children (creation).

    Most importantly, I believe it helps to understand that the creation account in the Bible is a poem quite unlike what we consider poetry to be in our time and culture. Enough people have already wrestled with the scientific facts because it is easier to wrestle with that than with the truth of God.

    As Samuel Clemens once commented; “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that give me the most trouble. Rather, it is the parts of the Bible that I do understand.”

    Grace and peace to you and yours.
    kdr

    • Thanks for the comment, Karl, and I totally agree with your point. I have begun to understand that wrestling with the scientific content of Genesis (and elsewhere is foolish, and I dont think its what God wants us to do. That’s why he inspired people like Bacon, Newton, Copernicus Faraday etc. to use science to understand more about the world, and why that effort will have no ending, since I believe the nature of reality is such that we will never finish the task of understanding it all. And if we do get to the top of the proverbial mountain, we will find the theologians there already, as the old joke goes. But I believe it seriously.

  4. I used to constantly look for scientific accuracies in the Bible, but now realize that’s taking it out of the historical context of ancient Near East creation stories. It’s treating the Bible as some sort of coded message that people back then were dumb to understand that contains scientific wisdom modern times are just now discovering. But not only is that hallucinating something that isn’t there (I.e. the Behemoth in Job being a dinosaur), it’s really missing the point.

    Great read, Sy. Thanks for sharing.

    • It’s an honor to see you here, Philip and thanks for your comment. As you know, I am a great fan of your blog, and everyone should check out Depths of Pentacost. A wealth of information and knowledge on Christian history and theology.

      • SheilaDeeth says:

        I’m now subscribed to Depths of Pentecost. Enjoyed visiting there. And I love this article too; nice to have a peg on which to hang inerrancy (one labeled theology).

  5. Dizzel says:

    Science is errant and often so. Evolutionary theory is still just theory as no real evidence has been presented to confirm it, and known scientific laws refute it. I believe God, not fallible men.

    • Yes, science is errant. That was my point. Evolutionary theory has not been refuted by any scientific laws, however. Which parts of modern science (other than evolution) do you think are correct, and which are not? And how do you know?

  6. Gerrit Viljoen says:

    Hi Sy don’t you please want to look at the concept of the pattern God used to create the Universe as found at http://www.thepatternbook.com. Also the concepts of duonity and disduonity. I’m sure you will understand it. Regards. Gerrit

  7. Sy, thank you for being prepared to say what you believe about inerrancy.
    I think most Christians accept total Scriptural inerrancy as a given and have not been exposed to any debate about it. Some may have questions, or have concluded that the doctrine of inerrancy is flawed, but do not want to stick their head above the parapet for fear of the consequences (or, in the case of a pastor I know, do not want to ‘stumble the weak’).

    I note that you say, “The theological statements of Scripture are inerrant”. I wonder why it is necessary to make that claim. Or if it is logical to do so. If God is content to allow errancy in some areas of Scripture, for example those influenced by the scientific beliefs of the time, why not in other areas, for example those influenced by the cultural beliefs of the time? How would we know that those statements that we deem to be theological are inerrant?

    For my own part, I have come to terms with the cognitive dissonance that I started to experience as a Christian teenager (some 50 years ago!) when I tried to hold onto the belief that the Bible was inerrant when I could plainly see that it was not.
    I have not lost my faith. It is not dependent on the reliability of scientific, cultural, historic or theological statements made in the Bible. Yes, the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit but it also reflects the world views of, and information available to, the writers. We need the same God who inspired the Scriptures to lead us into all truth.

    • Thanks for the comment, Peter. I must confess that when it comes to theology, I am late coming amateur, and must rely on others for understanding and insight. You could be right, and I can think of several examples, especially from the OT. OTOH, I am reluctant to extend my own head to far above the parapet, without being more certain of the ground Im standing on (to mix metaphors shamelessly).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s