Does The Bible Portray An Unscientific View of The World?

science 1Modern man is regarded as thoughtful and rational when he actively tries to think of the world in scientific terms. He who lays superstition aside and recognizes that the world is compromised of natural causes and effects is the one who has ascended to a staggering intellectual height that would have been unknown to many of our ancestors. Mankind needs explanations. We are philosophical creatures and enjoy asking why things happen. Mysteries are insufficient and leave us unsatisfied. Even if there are no answers, we will feel inclined to just invent them. It is easier to believe a lie than to admit that the truth is unknowable. Some think that this is the method of the Judeo-Christian tradition manifested in our holy writ. Is that the case? Does the Bible portray an unscientific view of the world?

The Bible Teaches Theology, Not Science

science 2Theology is the study of God and his interactions with the world. Science is the study of the natural world. There will certainly be some overlap in these disciplines. But the theology of the Bible generally does not answer scientific questions. People in the ancient world did not think about things in the same way that the contemporary man does. We think in scientific terms and tend to read that into Scripture. This is particularly prevalent because many people either have an anti-theological agenda and are actively looking for scientific errors, or they have a theological agenda and are interested in providing an apologetic for the Bible. Either way, this is to read something into Scripture that is not there. The Bible does not teach science.

science 3That is not to say that the Bible is unscientific. Rather, it is to say that science is a category that just does not apply. Even if the authors believed something that is unscientific, they did not teach it as truth because they were not actively trying to promote Ancient Near Eastern cosmology. When Job and Isaiah say that God defeated the Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1), the author is not expressing that there is literally a giant sea monster that will devour the world. Rather, he is expressing that God is powerful and we can put our trust in him. We do not need to fear other gods or give our devotion to them out of fear. God crushes the Leviathan. But this is a theological teaching rather than a scientific one.

Isn’t God In Control?

science 4The ancients would often find divine causes in all of the mechanisms of the universe. The gods were responsible for all mechanisms of the natural world. In fact, they were the mechanisms. This would leave little room for scientific discovery. If the gods are the mechanism of all natural events, it would follow that there were no scientific mechanisms. Accordingly, every time we discover another scientific mechanism, the divine hypothesis is further refuted. Is this the view of the natural world that is explicitly taught in Scripture? After all, the Bible says in Job 36:32, “He covers his hands with the lightning and commands it to strike the mark.” Job is expressing a high view of sovereignty and divine control. But if God is in control, then would that not mean that there were no scientific mechanisms?

Well, that seems to overlook the fact that there are different types of causes. Aristotle distinguished between efficient and material causes. In theology, we often say that there are primary and secondary causes. God is the primary cause, but he uses secondary causes to bring about his end. This means that there is abundant room for scientific discovery. We can understand the naturalistic reasons for lightning while believing that God is the primary cause of the lightning. It is sort of like if I used a wrench to repair my bicycle. I am the primary cause and the wrench is the secondary cause. But the presence of one does not negate the other nor does it render the other redundant. Accordingly, God’s sovereignty does not mean that the Bible portrays an unscientific view of the world.

Talking Snakes, Jonah In The Whale, And Resurrections

The physical and bodily resurrection is the center of the Christian faith. I could not say that it is a metaphor or that it is merely spiritual. If I did that, I would literally be departing from the Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:17). It would mean that Jesus died on the cross, condemned as a blasphemer and a heretic and that is the end of the story. After all, they would identify blasphemers by condemning them to a shameful death. Deuteronomy 21:23 tells us that anyone who is hanged on a tree is under the curse of God. However, if Jesus was raised from the dead, then God vindicated Jesus. As Paul said, he became a curse on our behalf (Galatians 3:13), so that our sin became his sin and his resurrection is our resurrection. If he did not rise from the dead, then all that happened was that he was under a curse. But if he did rise from the dead, then it would appear that the project of science would be undermined, because men do not rise from the dead.

Well, it may surprise you to learn that we are not contesting the scientific truth that men do not rise from the dead. That is not something that occurs in nature. Rather, we are suggesting that God raised Jesus from the dead. He did not rise naturally. He rose supernaturally. If we hypothesized that he rose from the dead naturally, then this truly would be a violation of the laws of nature and the biblical worldview would be unscientific. The same could be said of all of the accounts of miracles. When Jonah survived for three days in the belly of a whale, he was sustained supernaturally. The “talking snake” would have been supernatural. Since these are not natural hypotheses, it is therefore not relevant to the project of science. The existence of miracles undermines only the sovereignty of science.

Demons Or Bacteria?

Throughout the New Testament, we see several occurrences of exorcisms. Demons would invade an individual and cause them to display symptoms of physical or psychological illness. When Jesus or the disciples exorcised the demon, these individuals were healed. This has led to many illegitimate health practices, such as exorcising demons when an individual legitimately has a disease. If an individual were going to start a medical practice with only the principles that they learned in Scripture, wouldn’t they think that all illnesses were caused by demons rather than by bacteria? (Well, as an aside, if I were going to be philosophically precise, I could say that demons could be the primary cause while bacteria are the secondary cause. I could also say that this individual could have multiple problems, including both demons and bacteria. But I will not do that.)

If you read the New Testament and conclude that all diseases are caused by demons, you have arrived at an illogical conclusion. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever taught that all diseases are caused by demons. That would be an inductive conclusion that is guilty of the fallacy of understated evidence. One is guilty of this fallacy when they come to a conclusion without examining all of the relevant data. Even if every single illness in the Bible was associated with a demonic plague, that would still be insufficient. The authors would need to teach that this was a rule to which there was no exception, a point that you will not find anywhere. Further, and more critically, there are several instances in which people are ill and do not have any demonic inhabitants. In Matthew 8:1-4, a man has a skin disease and he is not exorcised. Therefore, the Bible teaches that not all diseases are the result of demons.

What About Young Earth Creationism?

The creation controversy is often one of the most heated of discussions, even among believing Christians. Young earth creationists will often tell us that theirs is the only legitimate interpretation that can even be considered by a faithful Christian. They will react in hostility to the Theory of Evolution, common descent, and the idea that the earth is billions of years old. Similarly, atheists will react in rage when somebody questions the Theory of Evolution or says that they are a bit skeptical of whether it is true. Both of these positions are unquestionable and immovable dogmas. But if the Bible does teach young earth creationism, then we may say that it truly is unscientific, as I argued in the linked article.

The young earth creationist interpretation is determined by counting the generations throughout the Old Testament and determining how much time passed. Then when you add 144 hours from the creation week, you determine that the earth is only 6000 years old. Well, there are several reasons to think that this is an illegitimate understandings of Genesis. First, it is assuming that the author has a scientific agenda rather than a theological one, which is not how people in the ancient world thought.

As I argued in my article Is Young Earth Creationism Dangerous? there is a cultural context through which the author and the audience would have understood Genesis. Second, there are several good reasons to think that the days in Genesis 1 are metaphorical rather than literal. One of the most obvious is that Hebrews 4:1-7 specifically says that we are still in the seventh day. If we are still in the seventh day, then they are obviously not literal days. So when Exodus 20:11 says, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day,” the author is referring to the metaphor in Genesis 1 to establish a theological point.

Isn’t this the part where you will tell us about all of the scientific truths revealed in Scripture?

Some apologists have done that. There are scholars of the Bible who think that it teaches scientific truths that could not have otherwise been known. Dr. Hugh Ross will refer to the stretching out of the heavens referenced throughout the prophets and suggest that it is a reference to the cosmic expansion of the universe. Many will say that the so-called “circle of the earth” found in Isaiah is a reference to the fact that the earth is a sphere. You might even be able to find something like that on this site if you look hard enough (Please tell me if you do so that I can add an addendum). But I am no longer sympathetic with that position.

As I have said, I think that the Bible teaches theology, not science. I do not think that God was giving little clues that would only be understood tens of thousands of years later. When you are trying to understand a text, you need to ask what the author would have written and how his audience would have understood it. It seems to be an extremely self-centered way to interpret Scripture to think that it is all about us.

You might as well say that there is a clear reference to your family and that God is speaking directly to you. How would the people in AD 500 have understood that reference to your family or the various scientific mysteries that were revealed? The Bible is for all people at all times. If you are going to abandon the historical-grammatical method and say that the reader can relate it to themselves in any way that they would like because it was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then you could truly conjure up any interpretation of anything.

With that in mind, I do not have any scientific miracles to share with you. Even if I did have one, that would not establish anything. Perhaps the author learned from a brilliant philosopher. The roundness of the earth, the cosmic expansion of the heavens, the idea that the earth floats on nothing, et cetera, do not require divine intervention. However, I could imagine an inductive argument from several accurate scientific truths, but they would need to be properly interpreted. With all of that in mind, I think that there are other, better arguments that the Bible is God’s word. But the category of science simply does not apply to Scripture. It is neither scientific nor unscientific.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment! But please make sure you read before commenting.