Science in Christian Perspective
Summary and Comments
From: JASA 7
(September 1955): 54-59.
I was assigned a three-fold task. It was to endeavor to summarize the discussions to this point; to suggest some conclusions as to procedure from this point; and to bring a brief word of a devotional character.
Not all of us have been at the conference since its beginning. For those who have not, and for a review for the rest, let me. present a resume of our work to date. Yesterday afternoon at the meeting we had presented to us the point of view of each of the two societies. Dr. Mason and I were supposed to have been there to answer the questions which might have arisen about the societies. I am glad you got your questions answered; even though neither one of us happened to be there!
I think I should here, in view of the conclusion tha I would like to present a little later, refresh our mind on the purposes of these two societies. I note by the constitution of the E.T.S. that their purpose is very briefly stated in just one sentence. "The purpose of the society shall be to foster conservative Biblical scholarship by providing a medium for the oral exchange and written expression of thought and research in the general field of the theological disciplines, as centered in the Scriptures." As I understand it, Dr. MacRae pointed out very clearly yesterday that the purposes of the two societies (E.T.S. and A.S.A.) are quite different. The E.T.S. has as its purpose the meeting of minds and the exchange of ideas. The A.S.A., at least as it was conceived, and as it is expressed in the constitution, has quite a different purpose. I will read very briefly the purpose of that society, and then a few sentences from the story of the starting of the society, so that we may see its purpose. The purpose of the society, "to integrate and to organize the efforts of many individuals desiring to correlate the facts of science and the Holy Scriptures. To promote and encourage the study of the relationship between the facts of science and the Holy Scriptures. To promote the dissemination of the results of such studies."
The purpose of the A.S.A., then, is not only to meet together to exchange ideas on scientific or Biblical items, but to bring together the product of the minds of the scholars in secular fields with the work of the exegete in the Biblical area, But it is more. The A.S.A. published its constitution in a small booklet together with the very interesting story of the founding of the A.S.A. I would like to refer to the start of this society and then read just a sentence or two from it . In 1941, September, for a week, a group of men met in Chicago to discuss the problems out of which this society grew. These men recognized a certain situation among students in colleges, particularly in colleges where the philosophy is a materialistic one, the problem of reaching those minds, nurturing them in the faith, and not allowing them to gain the impression that all scholars are agreed. I suppose that is oversimplifying it. "These men had all read books, pamphlets, and articles by Bible teachers which deal with scientific matters. Although the Biblical truths are presented in a commendable manner, some of the attempts to demonstrate the reliability of the Bible are shot through with inaccuracy, mistakes, and unscientific conclusions. . . Most of the authors are genuine Christians, but are either unprepared to write in the scientific field selected, or are definitely misinformed. . . . While to many of the lay public this may give a modern touch to the sermon and leave the impression that the speaker is well informed, to any college freshman a barrier is raised, which grows higher and higher with each succeeding similar incident. . . . How is it possible to help these authors, ministers, Bible teachers, evangelists, and college students? . . ." One more sentence: "This group of scientists can prove to the world that the principles of our Christian faith welcome investigation and that the Bible, being the Word of God and thus infallible, will withstand any encounter with science, which might be proposed."
To work on these problems was the reason that the A.S.A. was formed, as I understand it. The purpose of the A.S.A., then, is to study those particular areas where the harmonization of science and the Bible is not obvious, to try to determine the approach in these areas, and to determine the best presentation of the conclusions for the theologians in the use of that material in their pulpits and classrooms. Now, the fact that we have failed in accomplishing that purpose or have really only scratched the surface in accomplishing that purpose, I believe is highlighted by a book review of Dr. Ranim's The Christian View of Science and Scripture. I would like to quote the last part of that review. It brings rather forcefully before us the manner in which we as members of the A,S.A. have failed. In this part of the talk I address the members of the A.S.A. because, by their constitution, the F.T.S. does not have that as its purpose. In this joint meeting, however, we in the A.S.A. may have the advantage of the surn total of the exegetical and biblical and systematic theological ability of the theologians in furthering this particular aim of one of the two societies. The review to which I refer is from one of our most highly respected Christian publications. It illustrates the tremendous need for this aspect of the work of the A.S.A.: "Good old-fashioned Bible believers will be disturbed to see the confessions the author makes, including beliefs in the pictorial day theory of the Genesis days." That review raises a question, whether Ramin has here made a concession or not. The author of this review considers it so. It may be, however, and it may not be. That should be one of the problems of this society. Ramm rejects the idea of a universal flood. That too may be bad or it may not be bad; some of our leading Christian scholars in this country have no particular problem in that area. But these are positive conclusions with which the particular reviewer happens to agree, and, presumably, it is the position of the journal which carried the review. The review to which I refer states: "It is the type of work that will be accepted and approved by some academically-minded theological seminary staffs and students, and rejected by the no less academically minded, but more Biblically-influenced Bible institutes and colleges." A very successful and bad wedge has been driven in an area in which it should never have been driven. I think perhaps it is the fault of the A.S.A., or at least that this Association has not been in operation long enough to make a successful impact, that such a conclusion can be expressed.
In accomplishing the purpose of the A.S.A. what may we do? There are those in the Association who feel that the best way to accomplish our purpose would be for us to pattern our society after such an association as, for example, the American Chemical Society. It would then be our principal purpose to read original papers of a caliber sufficiently high that no scientist could afford not to be present at our meetings or at least could not afford to miss the statements made at them if he desired to keep up to date in his area. I think that is a very worthwhile objective and I think it certainly one for which we ought to strive. Christianity will be clothed upon with a certain degree of respectability if those who are scientifically minded and who are scientists are able to make significant contributions in their own fields. That aspect of the work should certainly not be forgotten by either of these two societies, It is a very important and vital part. On the other hand, there is probably a larger percentage of the members of these societies who consider the work of the societies largely a matter of fellowship and getting together for devotional exercises, and so on.
Both of those are important considerations. Neither one of them happens "to ring the bell" in terms of the expressed statement of the A.S.A. as it is expressed in the constitution and in the preamble to the constitution. There the problem is the consideration of problem areas as between various scientific fields and expressed statements in the Bible. It is to consider what advice we will be able to give the people who have to make pronouncements in these areas. So we have met together in the first of what I certainly hope, personally, will be only the first of many such meetings to try to arrive at some methodological conclusions. How shall we proceed to do this job which is ours in the area of faith?
This morning we listened to a group of theologians, (I am not making a distinction between the theologians and scientists, but, primarily, they were members of the E.T.S.) talking to us about the problems of interpreting the Bible. I am not entirely certain in my own mind that all of us reached right conclusions. I happen to believe that the right conclusion is that the interpretation of the Bible is a very big job. It is not something that can be put aside lightly on the pretext that the Bible is perspicuous. Certainly the Bible is perspicuous. But when you say that you really have not said a lot, and you have said nothing that relates to the area of our problem at this conference. The Bible is perspicuous relative to salvation. The Bible is perspicuous in many areas. The Bible is perspicuous about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and about the authority of the Scriptures today.
Let me take a very simple illustration. In the Book of Ruth she says, "Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people and your God my God: where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me." I am using my own private reading of the King James Version! The A.S.V. comes to essentially the same conclusion. The conclusion is that the only thing that will separate Ruth and Naomi would be the death of one of them. If you observe your King James you will see that the 'ought' is in italics, which means, obviously, that it is the interpreter's attempt to get that Hebrew idiom over into English. Supposing that we make the observation, which is correct for Hebrew syntax, that after the formula of an oath, a positively expressed statement is actually negative and vice versa. If I say in Hebrew, af ter an oath, "As the Lord lives' I will do so and so," it means I will not do it. The sense is "As the Lord lives, if I will do so and so." This is negative. Supposing that that is applicable in this case. There is certainly a formula of oath introducing the statement. Is Ruth then saying that only death will part them, or is she saying that death itself will not part them. Your God is my God, death itself, will not part us. Now here is a case where every Hebrew word is perfectly clear. The thing is perspicious, but there are two quite different conclusions reached. The theology that would come from it, is quite dissimilar. What was the theology of Ruth, relative to the after-life? In one case nothing is said. In another case a very clear statement is made. So when we say the Bible is perspicuous let us not be easily moved away from the position that the last word has not been said on most of the doctrines of the Bible. And when we say the Holy Spirit indwells me and therefore, we can make a pronouncement on this or that subject, let us think that through a little bit. Can every Tom, Dick, and Harry say what this or that verse means, categorically, on the pretext of the fact that the Holy Spirit could never make a mistake in leading the child of God? Well, presumably we wouldn't be Methodists, and Baptists, and Calvinists, and Arminians, and I don't know what all else, we just wouldn't be them if the Holy Spirit always made people think exactly alike. He does not do that. Therefore, it must be perfectly clear, and it is clear to me, that not everyone of us has the right to say about a given Bible verse, this is what it says. Certainly, the man who is not a specialist in the Greek language or the Hebrew language, and the Aramaic, ought to think twice before he makes some statements that he does make. The problem right here is an emotional problem. It is very difficult for us to leave our emotions out of our thinking. Because I happened to be born in this locality and reared in that particular church and went to that particular theological school I am ernotionallv involved with my system of theology. It is very difficult for me to leave that out, in any scientific consideration of verses of Scripture. I think one of the great victories in my life personally, was when I finally recognized the truth of that very simple proposition. But it is perfectly clear to me that it is a proposition that not everyone who writes for either E.T.S. publication or A.S.A. publication has actually thought through. We still find scientists making statements about the Bible that are naive in the extreme, and we find preachers making statements about science that even I can see through, and that is saying quite a bit since I am not a scientist. But that is our problem. The problem of leaving the emotional factor out in the calm, cool, deliberate consideration of something that may have vital implications for me in my whole ministry and in all my thinking. Which one of us does not want to be considered popular? Which one of us does not want to make an impression on the college students in our contacts or that come to our churches? So we make the kind of statement that the preamble to the A.S.A. Constitution refers to. Or the scientists make elemental blunders in interpreting the Bible. Far better for both to say, "I don't know, that's not my field, let's look into it." But there is a tendency not to do that, If we can really come to the place where we believe that the problem of interpreting the Bible, and science, is one of major significance that can be entered into actually only by a skilled technician, then I think we will have laid a very excellent plank number one in the problem of the interrelationship of these two societies.
Dr. MacRae, in his address, made a very excellent transition between the presentation of the members of the E.T.S. in the morning and the presentation of the A.S.A. members In the afternoon. He presented the problem of the "hazy" question of Biblical interpretation versus the `facts" of science. (See MacRae article.) The ants reached wrong "scientific" conclusions because they did not have all the data although they thought they controlled it all. When we met in the afternoon, we were told that the facts of science could very conceivably have quotation marks around the word facts, and with parenthesis around it and with at least a small question mark. Then we were also told that there are certain definite restrictions on the application of the scientific method so that even the So-called assured results of man could be questioned and could, with changed environment, not be as they appear today. The end result was a certain confusion in all of our minds. It was expressed on the floor, I think, by one or two of the speakers. What we ought to conclude is that we all have problems, and that we all have the same problems. The problem of the theologian who tries to interpret the Bible is not one whit different, I believe, from the problem of the scientist who tries to take the data that he observes tinder the microscope, by the telescope, or in the test tube, and tries to draw conclusions that relate his data, and then tries to draw conclusions that relate those conclusions to other data, eventually expanding into the area of meta-physics, as the physicist does in certain parts of his field. So, we all have problems, and the problems I believe, are identical.
Methodologically what should we conclude? If you permit, I will use two very simple illustrations. I have said what I ani saying tonight before, at least twice, at other A.S.A. or F..T.S. meetings. The situation still prevails, however. I am not Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. but I am repeating just a little bit, because I believe very firmly that a certain approach to this problem could be effective. The members of the E.T.S. could help us in reaching the objective of the A.S.A. Some years ago my son fell and broke his arm and we had to take him to the hospital. He was quite young then so "Pop" went in with him. He had a rather bad break, and it was Saturday afternoon. None of the resident physicians were in, and a group of interns took charge of the situation. I observed a very interesting thing. I had had some Red Cross training and remembered how they had trained us. They insisted that once you get traction on a broken bone, you must not let it go for any reason. Well, they had traction on and off my son's arm three times. They couldn't find a way to maintain that traction. Finally, I made a suggestion. Here I was, a preacher, an outsider, not a medical man at all, or a scientist, but I knew what they were doing was wrong. I observed to them, "If you'll do it this way, you will get a traction that will hold." But I was a preacher and they were paying no attention whatsoever. Then a foreign student who was interning there came in. He had a little more practical know-how than the rest of the interns and he came up with the same conclusion that I had mentioned a couple of hours earlier. They used that method and it worked. Well now, why weren't those interns interested in my observations as to how the job might be done? The answer should be obvious, Let me answer by another illustration. If I should take my wife down to the doctor's office, and go right into the doctor's office, and say, "Now look Doc, you're overlooking this, you're overlooking that, and since this is the case, therefore that's the result." Can you imagine what would happen to this preacher? Well, he'd get thrown out in a hurry. Yet, in some measure that is the way we are operating presently. If I happen to be a good blacksmith and something goes wrong with my watch and I go down to the watchmaker and I say, "Now mister, look! In my business, this is the way we do it. If you try that method, it would probably work with the watch repair business, too." Well! It wouldn't work! So then, what is our problem?
Once I taught a course in evolution and the Bible. That was twenty-five years ago, give or take a dozen years! I feel that I knew a lot about it. I majored in biology in college and they had trained me some place as a preacher so I thought that was all I needed to know. I sounded forth on evolution and the Bible. I thought I did a good job, and I still think I did a reasonably good job considering the tools I had to work with. I showed the mimeographed notes to Larry Kulp a few years ago. They came back all marked. I showed the same notes to Jim Buswell, an anthropologist, and they came back with all kinds of suggestions. After that I figured that this was beyond me. I decided that I had better let the experts handle it, and that I had better stick to my own knitting. I reached a very elemental conclusion. It was that there is an area in which I am vitally interested, but in which I am not competent at all. Then what is my feeling when I pick up an article by some scientifically trained person and find in it references to Biblical terms that are not Biblically correct. "This Hebrew word means this," they say. They say, "If you read that meaning into this context, it solves the problem, science and the Bible are reconciled." Then I hunt all over the place for that Hebrew meaning for that word and it just cannot be found. It does not happen to mean that at all. And even if the word might approximate the definition given to it, the context or the syntax would preclude the possibility of the passage teaching what they alleged it taught. Thus the problem still remains unsolved. I think I could multiply illustrations, but I would not know then upon whose toes I might be treading, whether one of yours or even on my own, from something I wrote myself in more illiterate days. We might all be embarrassed! I think it will illustrate the problem that I am getting at, however.
Let us go back to the scientific method which was discussed this afternoon. There was a statement made somewhere along the line, I believe I am stating it correctly, that the difference between the scientific method and what the preacher does is that the scientist can demonstrate his conclusions. I think the illustration was used of pouring water in a hole. If you do this it will go down, then the next fellow can pour water in the same hole. It too will go down. Thus you can demonstrate a conclusion in that area. But wait a minute! Can you demonstrate that conclusion? In the light of the discussion this afternoon, what assurance do we have that some circumstances might not arise to change the picture between the time I make the statement and the time I perform the experiment intended to be corroborative? Rather unlikely, and highly improbable, but still you have to hold it out as a possibility. So what is demonstration then? Can I transfer that problem of demonstrating from the field of science, where it is more probably stable, to the field of hermenetics where it is less used usually. I think you can. I think we can take it over with a very high degree of usability and success. Let us take a concrete case that has been discussed in some of our institutions, with definite conclusions reached pro and con. Let us take the case of universality or limited character for the flood. Did the water cover all the earth, or all the earth in the context described? In the "all" one of those alls that speak of every last particle on the earth or every last particle in the context in which the story is told?
We have often heard it said that all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph. North American Indians did not. And presumably, if Carbon 14 is okay, North American Indians were living. They didn't go to Egypt to buy grain. And yet, all the world went to Egypt to buy grain. So here is a very real problem. Some say all parts of the earth were covered with water; some say, No. Can we approach that problem with a scientific attitude and scientific method and reach any likelihood of demonstrable certainty in the conclusion? I believe we can. I believe that if we get a group of people together, some of whom are linguists, some of whom are philosophers, some of whom are systematic theologians, some of whom are scientists of one kind or another, and if we would weigh the evidence pro and con, leaving our own personal, emotional predilections out of the picture and not coming to the conclusion, "Well, if you don't see it the way I do, you're a heretic and we'll not discuss it any more." (Presumably none of us would do that but I have been in meetings where almost the same has been said). If we would get a group of men with various points of view together on a particular problem ' and if, after careful investigation and study, all of us would agree in toto or all of us would agree about certain aspects of the problem, then we could approach very closely to a scientific demonstration, it seems to me. This would be a scientific demonstration with a very high statistical likelihood of being correct. That, it seems to me, ought to be the next step in this problem of methods between the various societies.
When the Revised Standard Version Committee met they spent many years, but ten concentrated years, in the problem of interpreting the Hebrew and the Aramaic and the Greek. They met in smaller committees and in larger committees. The smaller committee gave the results of its work to a larger committee and the larger committee had the right to make suggestions. Eventually, perhaps over some protest, but with majority agreement, the Revised Standard Version came from the press. Now it seems to me that if men who really are not involved theologically, that is, those men who for the most part are not particularly concerned whether the Bible is true or not, but consider it only as a document that is used and usable, are willing to spend ten years on a project like that, we who believe in the Bible as an infallible revelation from God ought to be ashamed to consider spending any less effort in giving the public a clearer understanding of the Bible and of science.
If there are problems in the minds of our college boys and girls, if they are confused, we should rise to the challenge. If one preacher says this and one preacher says that and the A.S.A. Journal says something else, there is bound to be confusion. If such confusion exists, and it does, then the hour calls for committees of these two societies, and the entire societies, working toward the solution of the problems that created the confusion.
With a good representation of linguists, philosophers, theologians, and scientists on these committees working on particular problems, in meetings and by correspondence, something worthwhile should eventuate. If there is a marked difference of opinion between the members of any given committee they could refer the problem back to the whole, or to both the societies meeting together. The society or societies could lay the matter on the table or appoint a new committee. It might take time to come to a solution either to agree or to agree to disagree. Either solution would be important and significant.
It seems to me that we have all been made aware that interpreting the Bible is not easy. Hermeneutically, it is difficult, There are lots of problems. There are also lots of problems that relate to interpreting science also, but some of the other brethren understand these matters and can throw light on them. It ought to be possible for us to appoint committees which could bring almost to demonstration a conclusion in many of these areas we face. We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to the constitution to which we subscribed. We owe it to the unborn generations yet to follow us, to Christian boys and girls across this nation and around the world to take our talents and our time, and to put these two and two together and really make four out of them.
In the New Testament there is one thought that is many times repeated. I will take them up in chronological order.
Romans 12:4-8: "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness."
I Corinthians 12:7-8, 11,27-28: "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; . . . But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will... Now ye are in the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues."
Ephesians 4:7, 8 11-13: "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." To prove that assertion Paul goes back into the Psalms to take a statement which proves that doctrine. He is not teaching a decensus ad infernos, but that all Christ's are gifted and given to His church. The doctrine of the descent to Hades is completely out of context in this place. Paul did not quote the Psalms to prove that Christ went into Hades. He used that verse to prove that unto everyone of us is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. That is why the Scripture says, "When He ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Some of these gifts were "apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
I would like to think that God has given many different talents. He certainly has. The contribution that we need to make now is to take these talents in the various specialized fields and put them to use on the interpretation of the so-called problem areas in the Bible. If we will do that, it seems to me, we will have a lot of wonderful fellowship, as we have had; we will be producing some good scholarly productions; and we will be doing the job that some of the brethren think is primary for the society, the job stated in the constitution.