Science in Christian Perspective
[on Review of Dr. Ramm's book]
From JASA 8 (June 1956): 21-22.
As a member of the A.S.A. and as that reviewer of Dr. Ramm's book who called it "desperately bad," may I request space in the Journal to reply to a few of the strictures. against my review? I have reference especially to the sentences on page 6 of the December, 1955 issue, where my review is said to exhibit "the negative, reactionary type of mind which does not analyze what is actually written, but revolts at the impact of first impressions. One is tempted to conclude that the mind was made up that 'this is a desperately bad book' before it (or the mind) was ever opened."
As for my approach to the book, at first I was favorably impressed. It was good to note, among other things, the desire that Christian statements on science should be informed; the views on the chronology of the earth and of man and the elasticity of the creative "kind"; and the opposition to the flood view of the fossils. But in the course of thorough reading it became very clear to me that the book- is far from salutary when considered as theology. It seeks to set up a harmony of true science and fundamental Christianity, but in the process some of the bulwarks of the latter have begun to crumble away, or at the very least have been greatly undervalued.
I refer not to such matters as Dr. Ramm's view that the flood did not necessarily extend to the whole human race, although I believe that he is wrong at this point and that the Bible is unequivocally on the other side. There are two far more ultimate and decisive issues: the treatment of Scripture and of evolution.
In the treatment of Scripture there are concessions which surrender the full objective authority of the Bible. To be sure Dr. Ramm sincerely desires to adhere to a full doctrine of inspiration. At the same time he is apparently willing to continue responsibility for statements in his book which in my opinion give over the issue to the enemy. It is not my concern to attack Dr. Ramm as a fellow evangelical Christian, but to examine with the utmost objectivity certain concessions which he has made public. In objective discussion I herewith concentrate upon two of these concessions: they should be evaluated with the question, what is their significance in respect to Christian truth ?
On pages 78 and 79 Dr. Ramm. sets up a distinction between the "cultural" and the "transcultural" in the Bible. "Whatever in Scripture is in direct reference to natural things is most likely in terms of the prevailing cultural concepts." But the cultural vehicle itself is not inspired: "Because the Scriptures are inspired, the truth of God is there in the cultural, but not obviously so. The truth under the cultural partakes of the binding character of inspiration, not the cultural vehicle." He contrasts "a typical religious liberal" who would "write too much off as cultural" with the orthodox Lutheran scholar Francis Pieper, who "is so strict in his view of inspiration that he makes no room for the cultural, and so makes too much of the cultural binding." As an example of this supposedly extreme strictness Dr. Ramm then quotes a statement from Pieper: "But, remember; when Scripture incidentally treats a scientific subject, it is always right, let 'science' say what it pleases; for pasa graphe theopneustos." Dr. Ramm's immediate comment is: "The truth is somewhere between the two" (that is, between Pieper and the liberal).
To all this I would observe that Dr. Ramm leaves the definite impression that we ought to have a less strict view of inspiration than that held by Pieper, so as to allow that the Bible contains relative or cultural elements which as they respect science may not always' be right. But Pieper stands on incontestable ground (11 Tim. 3:16, quoted in Greek) and correctly insists that all other knowledge whatsoever, if opposed to the actual teaching of the Bible, is false. 'If Dr. Ramm merely means that the phrase "the sun rose" is popular rather than technical scientific language, he as chosen the worst terminology to say so. Everything in the Bible is fully inspired. Dr. Ramm's criticism of a "strict view of inspiration" allows for a view indeterminately weaker.
Again, Dr. Ramm contrasts the views of Leander S. Keyser and Emil Brunner on the first three chapters of Genesis. As is well-known, Dr. Keyser held to the objective historical truth of the Biblical account of the creation and fall of man; while Brunner, as Dr. Ramm observes, believes "there was no historical Adam nor historical fall" and "takes evolution as an established fact" (p. 319). Nevertheless we find Dr. Ramm saying that the true interpretation of man's creation and fall "will be somewhere in the territory between the literalness of Keyser and the symbolism of Brunner" (p. 322).But Brunner's symbolism is inseparable from his view that Genesis 1-3 are not historical. His view of Biblical interpretation is determined by his attitude toward the Bible itself. Between Keyser and Brunner it is no mere matter of the interpretation of the Bible; it is the decisive question, Is this the infallible revelation of God? Keyser says yes, Brunner says no. How our interpretation could be somewhere between Keyser's literalism and Brunner's symbolism it is impossible for me to see. May we be delivered from alleged "interpretations" which in any way resemble the symbolism of Brunner. God created the world and man, and man fell, as described in Genesis 1:3; this is historically true; we may go on from there to study all interpretations of these chapters which place them in the realm of historical truth. Other "interpretations" are falsifications. Dr. Ramm does not agree with Brunner; but why must he say what he does say? With reference to evolution Dr. Ramm declares - although he is not an evolutionist-"the charge that evolution is anti-Christian, and that theistic evolution is not a respectable position, is very difficult to make good . . . Orthodox thinkers (Protestants and Catholics) have affirmed that evolution, properly defined, can be assimilated into Christianity. This is strong evidence that evolution is not metaphysically incompatible with Christianity" (Dr. Ramm's italics pages 289 and 292). At once we must ask, how is evolution properly defined? This is discussed by Messrs. James Buswell and Ramin in the December issue of the Journal with the valuable conclusion that "development" rather than "evolution" is a clearer word to designate changes within the Biblical "kind." It is possible, of course, after defining "evolution" in some such way, to use the word, and so Dr. Ramni does at places in his book. At many other places, however, he quotes "orthodox thinkers" who embraced 4tevolution" or made provision for it within Christianity; and the evolution for which they allowed was the malignant type, that is, continuous development of life on earth from simpler to more complex types culminating in the body of man. Such evolution, even though allowed by Gray, Dana, McCosh, James Orr, J. C. Jones, A. H. Strong, Short, Pieters, and various Roman Catholics such as Messenger, should have no standing with evangelical Christians because it is contrary to the Word of God. Dr. Ramm's "orthodox thinkers" were heterodox on this point; and as we all know it is possible for a Christian to take a false view on an essential doctrine of the faith. Either the Biblical account of creation is trustworthy or it is not trustworthy. If it is trustworthy, we must reject all forms of "theistic" evolution which holds that the process designated above as "malignant" was in fact the means whereby God "created." There is no value in disguising a view of evolution under the vague epithet "theistic." There is no clearness in supposing that if a Christian holds to evolution he must necessarily hold to "theistic" evolution, just because he is a Christian. It is a fallacy to say that the views of Christians on science must necessarily lie within the scope of Christian theology. This line of approach suf fers us to drift away from Christian theology in the winds of current speculation, without first making sure of our moorings. I must also ask, is it a Christian metaphsysic with which, according to Dr. Ramm, evolution is by strong evidence not incompatible? If it seems plausible to say, after quoting a list of authorities, that we cannot deny that evangelical or even dogmatic Christians may properly hold to evolution, then I would reply, let us beware the defection which the inconsistencies of these same authorities have historically brought upon their followers. Let us take no comfort in their inconsistencies. At various times Christians have adopted a great variety of fatal errors. Let us not seek to see how comprehensive our theology can be in allowing for this error or that, but rather how faithful it can be to Scripture.
What I object to, then, in Dr. Ramm's book, are the theological concessions. I feel that I must regard them as concessions because they are made, repeatedly and plainly. These concessions are entirely unnecessary from the standpoint of science, and from the standpoint of the views on science which are held in the A.S.A. as a whole, as I understand them from the pages of the Journal. I rejoice, for example, in the solid scientific contributions of Dr. Kulp. But Dr. Ramm's theological concessions are introduced in a book which seeks to harmonize science and Scripture, and the impression is given that the concessions are necessary on the part of an enlightened evangelicalism in order to present a reasonable case to the modern world. Nothing is farther from the case.
As I see the situation the A.S.A. is confronted with a possible change of course. I do not mean the question of uninformed methods. We are beyond that. I mean the question, how fundamental and Scriptural is that Christianity to which we are committed? We must adhere to fundamental Christianity as the purpose and bond of our existence. And there is no reason for the A.S.A. to turn away either from good science or from Scriptural theology.