Science in Christian Perspective
An Evaluation of The Christian View of Science and Scripture by Bernard Ramm from the Standpoint of Christian Theology
ROBERT D. CULVER, Ph.D.
Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
It was the reviewer's good fortune to be able to spend some time with one of the early review copies of this book shortly after its publication in the fall of 1954. Upon the impressions derived from this cursory examination he prescribed it as required supplementary reading for two large classes in Apologetics at Wheaton College in the Spring semester. During this period of class use two careful readings were given most of the book and class reactions were tested. As reviewer and user of the book I can report my own appreciation of the high value of the book as an addition to Christian apologetical literature together with one general observation and several critical evaluations.
The general observation is that most of the leading theological ideas of this book are not original. Positions taken on the antiquity of man, the flood, phenomenological language of the early portions of Scripture, creation, the creative week, evolution, and kindred subjects are in few cases new ones. Almost without exception they are at least partly described and/or advocated in the 1950 edition of the American Scientific Affiliation's science symposium Modern Science and Christian Faith. In fact, none of the diligent ministerial students who have studied Strong's Systeinatic Theology, and who read and remember the fine print in that noble work will be surprised by many truly fresh ideas. Geo. Fred. Wright's article, "The Deluge of Noah," followed in part by Ramm, has been in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia for over a quarter of a century. The older conservative introductions, both to Old and New Testaments, including such venerable works as Horne's Introduction, read now for over a century, advocate in whole or part most of the positions taken or described by Ramm. In fact, he might be interested to know that Harry Rimmer frequently spoke at length in favor of the local flood theory.
These remarks are not intended to reflect adversely on either this book or its author. Ramm. is very carefill to give complete documentation and to give proper credit to his sources. They are rather to point up two very important facts: 1) This book gathers into one volume the data lying dormant and almost forgotten in scholarly works now fifty to one hundred years old. Fundamentalists, in the main, for a generation or two have been fighting (and quite necessarily so) on other fronts. We have been the have-nots institutionally and educationally. Fundamentalist education has even now hardly come of age. In this connection it should be noted that the A. S. A. science symposium, above mentioned, has done the same for a small section of the conservative evangelical public-mainly for teachers and college students. And, on account of the composite authorship of that work it has not made quite the impact, even in the limited circle of readers, that Ramm's book has already made. This new book has brought the fundamentalist reading public up to date-or will soon do so, for, blessed or damned by its reviewers, it seems destined to be read. 2) This book and its author should be treated with the same courtesy and reserve of temper that we have given believing scholars such as Green, Strong, Kyle, Wright, Orr, and others whose ministries have been appreciated and respected but whose ideas in certain areas were received with caution or even rejected. If I may let reviewer's reserve be hanged a minute, what I am trying to say in as nice a way as possible is this: Do not rush out and hang this good man's hide oil the fence because lie happens to be saying before the sun what a good many fundamentalists scholars have been saying in small circles for ten years or morel Was it not Poe who wrote something about "Dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before"?
Questions and objections related to the theological positions of this book will come later. Before getting down to that business the record should be set straight as to Ramner's basic position in theology. Some may 'get their only impressions of the book from reviews and should not be led astray on this point by the emphasis usually given in reviews to defects, real or supposed.. In the past few days I have read the book through for the third time mainly to draw from it the author's own theological beliefs. The fruit of the search has been reassuring.
He takes his stand (pp. 37-39) as "Protestant, Biblical, Conservative, and Trinitarian." In doing this he further dissociates himself from that rather variable system called Neo-orthodoxy by rejecting one extreme of the movement in Bultmann (a European N.T. scholar who holds the Bible to be a congeries of mythology pp. 119-122) and the other in Brunner's (following Kierkegaard) strong rupture between the spheres of revelation and of history (p. 38). Ramm asserts that "The Incarnation and Resurrection are in the strealn of history." He likewise frequently names and rejects modernism or liberalism (p. 108, e.g.). It is of interest to know that contrary to some evangelical theologians he believes in old-fashioned "natural theology" (pp. 80-82).
Orthodox doctrines which he plainly receives are: the virgin birth of Jesus (pp. 39, 293-296), the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus (p. 38), the resurrection of the body (p. 82), creation (many pages), etc.
Last mention is given here to "Inspiration" inasmuch as this is the precise point at which Ramm's difficulties with contemporary fundamentalists are bound to come. It seems to be clear that Ramin accepts a high view of inspiration. "The author of this book believes in the divine origin of the Bible, and therefore in its divine inspiration; and he emphatically rejects any partial theory of inspiration or liberal or neo-orthodox views of the Bible. If what follows disagrees with cherished beliefs of the reader, be assured it is not a difference over inspiration but over interpretation" (pp. 41, 42). On page 305 he appears to associate himself, by way of contrast to Brunner, with those who accept "the plenary inspiration of Scripture" (Plenary means full.). He accepts "the a priori of Divine Creation and the inspired account" (p. 256). In similar fashion he takes the position of " a Christian believer in the inspiration of the Genesis record." He further specifies: "We believe that the true position is that the revelation of God came in and through the Biblical languages and their accompanying culture. Coming through these culture,,; it became meaningful and relevant; and being inspired of God the writers -were restrained froin error (italics mine). In view of what we know of pre-scielitific cultures, ancient and contemporary, it appears iniracidons (italics mine) that the writers of the Bible are as free of the grotesque, the mythological, and the absurd" (1). 71 ). It is probable, being quite precise ill his diction, that Dr. Ramm really means miraculous by nilractilotis and not merely marvelous. Considering that these are incidental reniarks and not studied definitions of a doctrine of Holy Scripture, these are about as satisfactory statements as may be fairly asked. Those farniliar with the works of Hodge and Gaussen among the older writers, and or Warfield, and still more recently of a number of their disciples among contemporary fundamentalist writers will quickly observe obvious acquaintance and approval of their ideas in Ramni.Although he is careful to avoid specifically using the terni of himself, and though he is obviously embarrassed by connotations of the term (and who isn't?), Bernard Ramm, B.D., M.A., Ph.D., is a Fundamentalist. And, I think he should admit it. Furthermore, we had better claim him and keep him. There has not been one like him among us for quite a while and we might not get another right away. Now, further inquiry must be directed to discovery of evidence of any inconsistency in the book. Does the author at any place in his book champion ideas which are inconsistent with his own stand on the inspiration of Scripture? And, further, granting that he honors the Bible as the very Word of God, does he misinterpret it in any way? He aims to believe in an inerrant book and also to accept the results of contemporary scientific inquiry. Where there is apparent disagreement he feels that either the results of science are faulty as yet, or else the interpretations of Scripture are wrong. Now, whether he realizes it or not, Ramm has made most of the adjustments from the side of reinterpreting Scripture. Has he mis-interpreted it as well ? Furthermore, is it possible that in accepting so much from science, as if it were final science, has he become inconsistent with his view of Scripture?
Suppose the questions be reduced to one: Can Ramm's positions be consistently squared with legitimate Biblical interpretation? There are some areas in which a distinction between legithnate and correct must be made. Devout students frequently disagree as to the meaning of portions of Scripture-yet these same students may have drawn legitimate conclusions. There is a large area within which legitimate difference of opinion must be allowed. Let selection be made of four prominent items: the antiquity of man, the nature days of the creative week, the extent of the flood, and the place of death in nature.
Ramm accepts the findings of anthropology as to the remote antiquity of mankind. He leans heavily upon the work of Smalley and Fetzer in Modern Science and Christian Faith. Periods of up to half a million years are suggested. Very reluctantly this reviewer has come to the place that he feels that the genealogical material in Genesis is not to be used as a basis for chronology, but that gaps must be recognized. The reasons for this change are too lengthy to be reported in this connection. However, when once the principle of gaps in the genealogies is adopted there is hardly any limit to be placed on the number that might have occurred. So while it must be insisted that the Bible does not require such remote antiquity for man, it seems to be legitimate to suppose that Scripture allows it.
As to the nature of the days of the creative week, the author adopts a view very similar to that which Strong called the "Pictorial Summary" View, and which was advocated also by M. G. Kyle. The work of God in creation is said to be pictured to the Bible reader under the figure of six successive days, which six days also in a general way correspond to the actual order in which things came into existence. Thus it combines elements of the Revelatory View and the Indefinite Age View. A necessary accompaniment of this view is either theistic evolution or progressive creationism. Ramm, seemingly without misgivings, forthrightly adopts progressive creationisin (as do several other recent and contemporary fundamentalist writers). This view is that the various basic (microevolution is adopted) forms of life were fiat created by God at important junctures in geological history and introduced into the natural order. This reviewer fails to see anything contrary to the spirit or genera teaching of Scripture in this. Various elements of the theory have been held for years by wellknown conservative scholars. The casual or naive thinker who equates creation with a simultaneous snap into existence of the world order will have scarcely more difficulty with creations over a period of geological ages than over a period of 144 hours.
Ramm adopts the local flood theory-a rather special form of it. Being faced with evidence of man's presence in almost all quarters of the globe at a time far previous to the earliest possible date of Noah he is also faced with the rather well-recognized problems connected with a universal flood. It is precisely here, in the synthesis of the exegetical and scientific data that I think Ramm makes the great error of the book.
He does not suspend judgment, as at certain other places, but insists on a solution's being made. He appears to arrive at one in direct contradiction to the exegetical data. He claims that the interest of the Genesis account is only in the group of cultures from which Abram was to come (p. 240). Therefore, it is to be assumed that that culture alone among several antediluvian cultures was obliterated by the flood. Present-day mankind is not derived in whole from Noah since a majority of the earth's population survived the flood in the areas which it did not reach. This helps us out of difficulty with fossil men many thousands of years old in Oregon and Java, but what does it do with Genesis? No one should question the possibility of holding to verbal (or plenary) inspiration while holding also that certain universalistic statements like those in Genesis 6-9 concerning the flood really should not be interpreted universalistically. Certain have questioned this possibility. Yet, however inconsistent it may seem to the reader, this very phenomenon of exegesis is as common as good Calvinistic commentaries and theologies. A strong Calvinist must bring his doctrine of limited atonement to such universalistic passages as II Cor. 5:19, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto him," and Isa. 53:6, "All we like sheep have gone astray ... and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.' Others are John 3:17, 1 John 2:2, 1 Tim. 2:6. When he does so he usually argues that these universalistic terms include only the elect. He may be right or be may not be. The point is that the staunchest defenders of verbal inspiration have frequently been Calvinists who argued in this manner.
Ramm, therefore, is following a long line of interpretors reaching back to the patristic age in this aspect of his procedure. His mistake is in failing to come to grips w' th the obvious fact that the destruction known as the Flood was intended of God to go as far as the human race had gone.* How does Ramm know that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are interested only in the ancestors of Abram? It appears to be mankind as a whole that the record is treating. The striking appearance of HA) ADHAM (mankind) and the cognate HA) ADHAMAH (ground) make it clear that the race, the origin of which is described in precisely these terms (Genesis 2:7) is under consideration. This is only part of the data. He rejects the well-formulated argument of G. F. Wright, who in the I.S.B.E. ("The Deluge of Noah") sets forth a theory of a. limited flood that also accounts for the obliteration of the human race except for Noah and his family. Wright presents evidence to show that however widely scattered the race may have been previous to the flood, the glaciers of the last ice age had
Ramm holds that death 'In nature has no relation to the fall of maii--that only in the human family is death the fruit of sin. Whatever may be said as to the irrelevance of predictions of the elimination of death (at least of carnivorousness) among animals in the mllennial earth (Ramm contends they are irrelevant), there is other Biblical evidence that is relevant. This evidence he appears to ignore studiedly. There is Romans 8:19-22, which reads in part: "For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (A.S.V.). That this has some relation to the state of nature before the fall and to the effect of the fall on nature is close to a certainty. This reviewer has no final answer to the problem of death in nature-It has obviously been a part of earth's history previous to Adam's sin through eons of time-witness the fossils, oil deposits, etc. Ramm requires a harmony of science and Scripture at this point, and in the opinion of this reviewer, achieves it at the expense of Scripture. He doesn't misinterpret the Bible appreciably at this point, he simply ignores it. Several readings did not turn up a reference to the above mentioned Romans passage. The Scripture index passes from Romans 5 to Romans 10 without any notice of Romans 8. This reviewer has no certain solution to offer to the problem, but neither has he written a book oil the harniony of science and Scripture. Rather than to ignore this important passage, perhaps the most significant in the whole Bible in relation to a Christian philosophy of nature, would it not be better to simply recognize the problem and suspend judgment. Might I even timorously suggest the possibility that Ramm exhume the reconstruction hypothesis? It displays some superiority at this point at least. The author believes in fallen man-is quite orthodox on the point. He does not believe that nature is fallen, or abnormal in any way. It appears that once more lie is hung up, not this time oil faulty exegesis, but oil want of exegesis.
This book can be further criticized adversely for the failure of the author always to indicate whom he cites or quotes with approval and whom not. It is doubtful if he believes in a "mythological" interpretation of the early narratives of Genesis (see p. 324) but it is difficult to know that he does not because of this failure, He probably does not accept the Vellhausen analysis of the Pentateuch, but at least one other reviewer has gained the impression quite excusably, that lie may, on the account of this same lack of care.
Perhaps the most excusable defect is the reactionary intellectual and emotional level at which some of his judgments are made. An example is the treatment given the Scofield Bible. The defects of that book, which is after all really a commentary on Scripture rather than a Bible, are fairly well-known and wellrecognized by scholars. But the fact that a note on Genesis 1 :2 appears to advocate the gap theory (or reconstruction theory) while on the word "day" later in the chapter another note appears to support the " geological ages" theory does not mean that Scofield and company were as addlepated as Ramm seems to think. It only means that it is a composite work that the editors were not in full agreement, or were reserving judgment, and aimed to represent differences of opinion within limits. His caustic reference to the "Plymouth Brethren Theology" (p. 9) along with a decidedly loaded crack at "narrow evangelical Biblicism" is in poor taste, far below the mature standard set for the main part of the book, the author of which well knows how much he owes to some of the unnamed gentlemen covered by those phrases. Let Dr. Ramm remember the "pit from which he was digged." He is most objective and reserved except at the point of reaction against his own theological ancestors. It is understandable, but hardly fair.
In the main the book is written in good spirit. Opinions expressed are generally presented with proper reserve. It is clear that many judgments are tentative-ones the author will feel free to abandon for better ones if they become known. Some of these the reviewer hopes will at least be revised. Bernard Ramm is not afraid to face criticism, or he would not have published this book. Let all who share with him "the faith once for all delivered" pray that lie will keep a cool head as he responds to the critical reactions.