Science in Christian Perspective
REACTION AND REBUTTAL
"THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE BIBLE AND SCIENCE"
(See Journal ASA, 21, 97-124 (1969)
Bruce Erkilla, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Los Alamos, California
David L. Dye, Kirtland MB, New Mexico
Paul H. Seely, Portland, Oregon
It is not my purpose to argue, debate or try to change the convictions of Mr. J. D. Albert, but I would like to point out a completely opposite point of view.
To me the Bible is the foundation to all physical and spiritual knowledge including "science". The Bible does much more than to answer the question why. It answers such questions as what is man, where did man come from, and when did man arrive here on earth. It also provides the answer to why was man born and where is man going. The Bible is the true foundation if we know how to use it.
Scientists do not like to include the study of the spiritual world with the study of the physical world. They like to keep the two separate because it is more comfortable that way. True knowledge and True science must include both the spiritual and the physical worlds to have total understanding.
As a physicist I probe nature to understand more about physical laws which regulate the motion and structure of all matter, Until I understand these laws I know I will not be able to begin to understand this world I live in. At the same time I do not hope to have a complete understanding of this physical world and the laws which regulate it without having understanding of the spiritual world and its laws. I am limited in my understanding of the physical world until I receive knowledge about the spiritual world too. The human mind will never really understand what life is or what such things as gravity is until our creator and lawgiver gives us the necessary understanding of the spirit.
To me the Bible does not just contain truth about spiritual matters. It is obvious to me that the Bible contains truth about many physical processes and historical events. The geologist who is ignorant of the Bible cannot possibly understand what he observes in the rocks of the earth. The Bible is the only source which I am aware of that reveals the truth about the great floods in the past. Without that knowledge scientists misinterpret scientific evidence.
Here is a simple example. I as a physicist seek to better understand the nature of nuclear forces and the structure of nuclear matter. Most people would ask bow can this study be related to the Bible? From the Bible I learn that a great designer, creator mind is behind all the patterns and designs I observe in this physical world. I learn that this great mind was responsible for putting laws into action which regulate this physical world, and then He created the physical world in harmony with those laws. I learn from the Bible that there is order to all of these inventions, so I am not at all surprised when I find order in every thing in the physical world around me. I now expect to find order and perfect design in everything I study from now on. In fact I look for it. When I seek to better understand the nature of nuclear forces and the structure of nuclear matter I am not surprised to find a design and a perfect pattern. The closer man looks at this physical world the more great design he finds in it. This fact points directly at a great designer mind behind the world. It just could not have happened that way. At the same time I do not become frustrated when all my questions are not answered by men's knowledge because I know that we still lack the required spiritual knowledge to perfectly understand even this physical world. The Scientist who does not know God and the Bible misses a great deal even in his understanding of this physical world.
Is a study of human nature science? The Bible has much to say about human nature. In fact without the Bible man would not know much truth about the nature of man. Who knows more about man than the One who made man? The Bible provides the foundation to understanding the nature of man in my opinion.
The Bible contains truth and information about government, geology, meteorology, astronomy, biology, sociology, history, psychology, agriculture, economics, health, business, and education to name a few. Important principles in each of these areas are contained in the Bible or I do not understand the Bible. I am certain that men would have to change many of their ideas of knowledge and understanding if they would take the Bible as their foundation and build understanding from there.
I am enclosing an article that may give you an idea of what might happen if "scientists" would first take the Bible and build knowledge and understanding of evidence from there. When I study the Bible and articles such as this one I begin to wonder just how much misunderstanding and mis-education I have and the great "scientists" of this world have. The possibilities are interesting to say the least.
(The enclosed article is "Dinosaurs Before Adam?" by
Robert E. Gentet, Contributing Editor of The Plain Truth,
Herbert W. Armstrong, Editor. It espouses the "Gap Theory" between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.)
David L. Dye, Kirtland MB, New Mexico
My own views on the relation between the Bible and science have been published elsewhere in a larger exposition.1 I was pleasantly surprised to note that most of the contributors to the Symposium expressed or implied quite similar views, and that there is apparently emerging among evangelical scientists a recognition of the need for reinterpretation of data to arrive at a consistent position on the issues that have unnecessarily divided Christians and scientists. This fact was commented on also by David Moberg in the same issue.
The correspondence between many of the statements in the Symposium essays and statements in reference 1 were so striking that I have made a partial correlation. In the following, first the Symposium is
quoted, in italics; then reference 1 is quoted, with a page number.
(1) Jerry Albert: "The Bible tends to answer questions beginning with "why" ... Science tends to answer questions . . "how"... The Bible is concerned with ultimate purpose; science is concerned with mechanisms." Science tells us how things happen, not why. (p. 52) (See also below (IA) on the philosophical neutrality of science.)
(2) Marie Berg: "I refuse to look upon the scrip
tures as a scientific textbook.. ." Remember that God's
purposes in revelation are not to give man a complete scientific treatise on cosmology, zoology, or history. (p. 123) (See also the quote from p. 134 in (17) below.)
(3) Dick Bube: ". . . The Christian must not react in fear to the fossil
record. The reliability of the Bible and the vitality of a life with
do not depend ... on the proof or disproof of even the general theory
. . . The facts of science, which are so readily interpretable on the basis of
evolution, are as philosophically neutral as any other scientific
even applied to homo sapiens, is not a philosophical principle, but a means of
biological description . . . . Evolution is not ammunition for one view against
another, nor the exclusive property of the irreligious. The
needs some such hypothesis to assist him in accounting for the vast amount of
physical data he has which is not explicitly discussed in the Biblical record.
. . In addition the Christian has the spiritual data to show him he
is a created
spiritual being with moral responsibility to God. . . (p. 150)
(4) Wilbur Bullock: "We must honestly admit that our knowledge of spiritual . . . and scientific truth is really infinitesimally small. . . The apparent conflicts become exciting and challenging areas of study."
Tentativeness is another important principle of interpretation, since we may yet have acquired neither the broad view of scripture nor the complete detailed scientific understanding needed to harmonize the data (p. 123) Advice to the reader: Keep reading!
We orthodox Christians have everything to gain by aggressively pursuing truths from all sources (p. 176-7)
(5) Stephen Calboon: ". . . If it looks as though evidence at hand warrants a conclusion contradictory to scripture, he can he sure that further evidence is needed..." They (revealed data) neither support nor preclude any of the current scientific (i.e., descriptive) hypotheses on the origin of the universe. Gamow, Hoyle, Alfven, or Opik, or none of them, may be correct in his scientific views . .; the correct interpretation of observed data will be found eventually to be consistent with the simple statements of Genesis. (p. 135)
(6) Gary Collins; two examples among many agreements: A. ". . . two basic assumptions (in science)
first that the world contains facts and events which can be observed. Second . . . observables are
related to logical and consistent ways.. ." Science, that is, the scientific method, describes the physical universe by means of (a) data observation, (b) generalizations into explanations that account for data, and (c) further experimental verifications of the consistency of the descriptions. The practice of science depends on the three corresponding presuppositions: (a) that there is such a thing as observable reality, (b) that this reality is such that its description is logical or self-consistent, and (c) that this reality is casual. (p. 178)
B, "Emotional involvement with our pet ideas, and selective perception as we look to the data, probably contribute much to the heated conflict that surrounds issues such as evolution." The world view's task, to provide a framework of meaning on which we may hang the data we constantly receive, involves all facets of our personalities. . . It is natural and easy to have emotional involvement. . . So people, including scientists and Christians, approach their respective data with philosophical pre-conceptions. . . The world view may even influence the way data is taken, as we sub consciously try to bolster our positions . Such an argument is circular. . . (p. 71-2)
(7) Roger Coffey: one example among several res onant ideas: "Exegesis is further limited as a scientific tool because ancient writings can be interpreted only in terms of the languages and concepts . . . available to their authors, . ." The Christian view recognizes prescientific language and ancient cultural contexts as such, and symbolism of literary language. For example we do not hold dogmatically that heaven is a physical place, up in the sky somewhere... Perhaps the ancient writers did, but the revelation of God to modem man is not assisted by this concept, and the language of scripture hearing on this point is interpretable of a reality too wonderful to be contained in the notions of mere fourdimensional space-time. The Christian interpretation . . . accepts (by faith) the reality being symbolized. . . (p. 127)
(8) Harold Hartzler: "The main purpose of the Bible is to show that God is a loving heavenly Father and that Jesus Christ came . . . to seek and save the lost. Science ... is interested in formulating as complete a description as possible of the universe." To understand the Bible as history, we must seek the Bible's own statements . . . concerning the purposes for which it was written . . . God reveals himself through Jesus Christ . . . the data given throughout all the Bible subserve that personal revelation. (p. 108) As scientists we believe that more data will serve to narrow the possible range of interpretations of existing data, and thus ultimately lead to correct descriptions of physical reality. (p. 25)
(9) George Homer: ". . . a literalist interpretation of (Gen. 1-3) forces one to focus on man's physical origin rather than on man's relationship to God, the origin of man's spiritual nature . . . in God's image It is the implanting of God's image in man which is the point of these chapters." This was a new departure, an act of creation; not the creation of a new physical body, but of a personality . . . (p. 148) The "image of God" is certainly nonphysical, for "God is a spirit . It is this spiritual side of man that character izes him, in the Christian view, and the bodily form is quite incidental. (p. 149)
(10) Russell Heddendorf: ". . . The particular concern is with a general theory of society. The Biblical description of society is based on the fact of man's alienation from God and resultant sinfulness ." An
area of application . . . to which the Christian view is especially relevant, is social action. The Biblical . view . . . implies approaches to all social problems. These problems normally have common roots in ego centric human nature. . . It is our total world are. (p. 141) view that is to be applied to these cultural problems. (16) John A. McIntyre; one example among the (p. 176)
(11) Irving Knobloch; two examples: A. "No scientist ... in his daily work as a scientist ever deals with matters of morals, with the soul, or with the after life. . . They are conducting themselves properly by keeping these areas separated." Our assumption regarding an external physical reality is equivalent to the assertion that . science deals ex clusively in the realm of the physically observable... science may be articulate if tentative, in its description of (the) observable . . but it must be mute on other questions. (p. 49) If science is to be the objective discipline most scientists consider it to be, it must be limited to descriptions of an objective observable reality. Questions concerning a scientific basis for ethics, the moral un-neutrality of science, or support for any world view, are valid only when understood as philosophical rather than scientific questions. (p. 35)
B. "We must stay flexible in all non-essentials. Inflexibility in the past has led to ludicrous consequences." The church's reaction to Roger Bacon, Galileo Galilei, and Charles Darwin exemplify both the inadequacy and the disastrous consequences of a traditionalist world view that fails to allow for scientific data. (p. 14) A more flexible view of science within conservative evangelical churches will prepare believers not only for their encounters with alien views, but for a richer experience within their own views. (p. 15)
(12) T. H. Leith; among many new and beautifully deep insights, one example: "The ultimate test for any scientific theory is how well it fits what we know from experience in the physical world.. ." The process of scientific verification involves acquisition of data that relate in a predictable or implicit way to some generalization (theory). . . Either it fits or it does not; or, more likely it partly fits the predictions. . . When data begins to fit into consistent descriptive explanations, we are tempted to conclude that we are on the verge of proof of a theory. . . (p. 26)
(13) Gordon Lewthwaite; one example among several: ". . . inspiration did not necessarily breach or exclude some occasional elements of the prescientific thought forms of ancient culture.. ." God has worked in and through various men throughout history in more or less overt ways, and both with and without their knowledge of his working, to record the words and concepts He wanted to use to reveal Himself to us. . ... God guided in the choice of words, normally using the vocabulary and mentality of a local prescientific cultural context to express or exemplify concepts with universal meanings which could later be seen to have validity for other cultures, (p. 121-2)
(14) George Mavrodes: ". . . The Bible contains the true answers to some scientific questions and not to others" (No implication that answers are untrue, merely that they aren't there!) Science, of course, cannot say why these events occurred. . . The Bible gives only a sketchy description of how they occurred, but does state that God caused these events to happen. The laws of chemistry and statistics are God's laws, so the processes are at once natural and supernatural. Science speculates that it could have happened as we have briefly outlined, and the Biblical data are remarkably consistent with what physical facts there are. (p. 141)
(15) [not found in the original manuscript]
(16) John A. McIntyre: one example among the many in which fellow nuclear physicists agree: "...
cannot the scientist recommend to the theologian the use of some of
and attitudes . . . fruitful in the study of the natural world? . . .
If our interpretations
of scripture are to develop in a healthy way as new scientific
we must capture theologically the free thinking as well as the
of the scientific enterprise. ."
Observed data in physical reality (is to be) interpreted jointly with the objective statements of scripture. In addition to objective scientific data (there are) subjective data (which) are observable, though they may originate in or result from an interaction between the Spirit of God and the physical person . . . (p. 75) (There is) a need of all people to (1) be tentative in forming conclusions, (2) distinguish raw from processed (interpreted) data, and (3) recognize presuppositions and the influence of one's world view on his data interpretations. (p. 74) ... With a healthy world view that honestly, yet critically, accepts all data, the Christian possesses criteria by which to relate his faith. . . (p. 14)
(17) Russell Mixter; one of several examples: The Bible is to be commended for what it does not say
as well as for what it does reveal . We need not read any preconceived cosmological model into these revealed statements (Gen 1:1-2); none is there intrinsically. . . God's purpose in revealing this datum is to let us know that He is the Creator of the universe. Apparently He didn't want to force the prescientific Hebrews to wade through some technical pargon on the astrophysical processes involved, since they might have stopped reading before they got to the really important parts of His revelation of Himself. (p. 134)
(18) Jim Neidhardt; two of many examples of agreement: A. "It is not the Bible's purpose to reveal
the details of physico-chemical mechanisms." (See the quote from page 134, ref 1, in (17) above.)
B. "Biblical descriptions of nature ore phenomenological. . . Such language . . . frees the reader to respond to the primary purpose of scripture ... Biblical revelation and scientific explanation are thus seen to be different yet equally valid perspectives of the same God given reality; the two . . . are complementary. The implication of our five presuppositions is that general and special revelation are mutually consistent. In short, "all truth is God's truth." The facts of nature and the statements of scripture must together constitute a harmonious total structure of truth. That is, raw data to be interpreted jointly. . . (p. 69) ) (See also the quote from p. 141 in (14) above, about the laws of nature being God's laws.)
(19) John W. Montgomery: ". . extra-Biblical data can never determine the meaning of the scriptural text (though of course such data can and must pose questions for the Bible interpreter...)" In this case (Sennecharib's seige of Jerusalem) the two records can be correlated-the Assyrians' silence is significant, and an additional data source (Herodotus) is available. In other cases, present evidence from extra-Biblical sources is too meager to make a good correlation. In a very few cases, there is outright conflict between sources, but it is significant that new archaelogical discovery has always tended to confirm the accuracy of the Bible. (p. 107) (See also quotes in (5) above.)
(20) James A. Oakland: "Psychology is an extremely broad and heterogeneous field. . . With which 'psychology' are we to discuss the relationship (with the Bible)? Similarly, the multiplicity . . . of Biblical in terpretations raises the same problem. . . Given this mutual state of affairs, the best response is a generous portion of humility, not dogmatism, on both sides." ... Tentativeness of all scientific conclusions, which is a truly scientific attitude is analogous to humility. (p. 72) (See also quotes from p. 74 in (16) and from pp 14-15 in (11B) above.)
(21) C. E. Walker: ". . . science is impartial regarding values and goals. . . Values pertain to men, not to science. . . The bulk of the revelational truth found in the Bible deals with values, goals and sin
observables.. ." Science, as we have seen, is amoral; i.e., neutral on the ethical quality of personal actions. (p. 100) The scientific method can provide us with the means of rational consistency, if not the goals and meanings of our existence. . . This is the proper function of science. (p. 52) ". . . Man's needs are more basic than the types of problems science can solve. We need ethical guidance for life which the increasingly accurate scientific descriptions do not contain. Indeed we need more than standards . . . at a deeper level we need the goals in life that can provide the desire and ability to live according to those standards To borrow a mathematical phrase, science is philosophically indeterminate. One's goals and purposes in life, which are intertwined with one's world view, are therefore also not uniquely determinable by scientific means. (p. 12) When a finite human personality comes into the vital relationship with the infinite spiritual Person of God, that human soul is no longer left to drift whimsically among cross-currents of its own egocentricity. Love for the Heavenly Father becomes a driving force and purpose . . . . Not only ethical standards are thus provided, but also the desire to meet the standards rather than to rebel against them in self-will. The ego is still present, but egocentricity, that is sin, is no longer the dominant trait of a person related to God. (p. 96)
(22)Robert L. Wilson: ". . . The scriptures ... are written in the language and a culture far removed from the scientific era. . . For this reason . . . it is a gross injustice to the scriptures and also to science to make use of them in a manner ... which was never intended," (See quotes regarding purposes of revelation and prescientific language and culture in (2), (7), (8), (13), (17), and (18) above.) (The philosophical neutrality of science) potentially allows science to proceed unfettered by personal philosophic bias. Parallel to this feature . . . the human mind is free to pursue religious truth with the conviction that scientific description can complement them . . . . Our quest for personal meaning proceeds unfettered by the limitations of science, rather using science as a means of consistency. . . (p. 52)
Of course, we all owe a lot to Bernard Ramm's 1954 book2, on which most of us teethed way back then, or at least chewed over. Some of the agreement noted here between Symposium writers must stem from this. His clearly reasoned lead-in article on Biblical inerrancy sets the stage nicely for the rest of the Symposium. He sees the need for tentativity in interpretation of the raw data of scripture, recognizing the purposes and prescientific cultural contexts of the revelation of God to man; just as several others did in the Symposium. And, he shows the logical inadequacy of insisting on (idolizing?) inerrancy for its own sake, a point well worth emphasizing. I would particularly second Rarnm's assertion on page 100 of the Journal, that Christians do not stick to their faith because of inerrancy of the scriptures but "because of their experience with Christ and of the Spiritual content of Holy Scripture which has no effectively spoken to their own hearts." This experience also gives us the confidence that bits of Biblical data we cannot now reconcile with currently known physical data are actually consistent, if they could be interpreted in the eternal context.
Another factor in this developing agreement between us evangelical scientists is the recent publication and wide acceptance of Dick Bube's book3, which also clearly and succinctly states a position underlying many of the Symposium statements.
The encouraging thing about the Journal ASA Symposium was that among nearly all the contributors there was a general consensus. This fact, that so many of the evangelical Christian (Bible-believing) scholarly community represented in ASA agree on these basic issues, bodes well for the communication of the gospel to our professional colleagues. I trust that we can continue the interchanges and developments of views with increased love for one another.
1David L. Dye, Faith and the Physical World: A Compre hensive View, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966, paperback.
2Bernard Bamm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture, William B. Eerrlmaas Publishing Company, 1954.
R. Fl. Bube, Editor, The Encounter Between Christianity and Science, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968.
Paul H. Seely, Portland, Oregon
In "The Relation Between the Bible and Science" I noticed that H. Harold Hartzler and J, Warwick Montgomery both subscribe to the same basic logic: Possibly errant descriptions of nature must be subjected to and corrected by inerrant descriptions of nature. This is sound logic. Is it feasible? Is it Biblical?
Hartzler and Montgomery believe that descriptions of nature from Science (a) originate with men who do not know the absolute truth, and (b) are given in conceptual forms which may be mistaken-possibly errant descriptions. They seem to lose sight here that men are working in science under common grace; but, essentially these propositions are sound. They believe, on the other hand, that descriptions of nature from the Bible (a) originate with God who knows the absolute truth, and (b) are given in veracious propositional form-inerrant descriptions. We can only agree with part (a) and will show why below.
If all the propositions of Flartzler and Montgomery were true, one could easily subscribe to their logical formula: Examine what the Bible says on a subject, accept it as true; and then place all human scientific propositions on a secondary level to be interpreted and corrected by the Biblical statements. But, unfortunately their idea that all Biblical descriptions of nature are veracious is unbiblical and on occasion must appear false even to themselves.
The Correspondence Theory of Truth is Not the Predominant Biblical Theory of Truth
The Bible nowhere teaches that its descriptions of nature are in exact correspondence with God's omniscience. This idea is a purely human assumption (and therefore "possibly errant"). The Bible nowhere teaches that God will only speak in exact correspondence with what lIe knows to be true-correspondence theory of truth.
This idea that God can only speak in absolute correspondence with His omniscience arises from approaching God scholastically, abstractly, and academically instead of as Father. It arises from reading into Biblical statements about truth (and lies) an unbiblical philsophical definition of Truth. It arises from treating figurative statements on the authority of Scripture as literal scientific statements.
Truth in Scripture is preeminently personal-moral-existential and only secondarily a matter of correspondence theory. God is a Father, not a Philosopher. Pilate with his unbiblical view of Truth (John 18:38) could not understand Christ's personal-moral-existential view of Truth (John 18:37). Biblical "Truth" is not essentially a proposition that one knows, but the will of a Father that one does (John 3:21; I John 1:6). In the Bible a knowledge of the Truth is grounded in the existential world, it is not an abstract proposition (John 7:17).
Not that the Bible is unaware of the correspondence theory of Truth, but accomplishing God's will is a prior consideration. Deception is of God if it accomplishes His will. Rahab's lie, the sine qua non of her saving God's spies is done in obedience to the Truth and she is justified (Hebrews 11:31). The deceptive ambush at Ai is God's plan (Joshua 8:1-23). The deception that Samuel practiced on the elders of Bethlehem (he had not come "peaceably" as he said) is of God directly and overtly that David might be anointed King (I Samuel 16:1-5). In the Bible, correspondence to God's will (personal-moral-existential truth) is more important than correspondence to "reality" (abstract truth) -and the former Truth may negate the latter.
"Inerrant Biblical Propositions" Are an Abstraction
Even if the Bible gave inerrant descriptions of nature, these descriptions would not be inerrant for men. Even a perspicacious Bible that is self-interpreting leaves us with less than apodietie certainty. Peter could not always understand Paul (II Peter 3:16); and Paul "saw in a mirror darkly" (I Cor, 13:12). Even when Jeremiah received the Word of God directly (Jeremiah 32:6, 7), he did not have absolute certainty about that Word til he saw it come to pass with his own ("possibly errant") eyes (Jeremiah 32:8).
Even if the Word of God contained only inerrant propositions, those propositions would have no meaning for men until they were interpreted. When a Christian says, "The Bible says. . .", he means, "I interpret the
Bible to be saying . Every Biblical proposition comes to men only after having passed through a "historical-grammatical-critical" hermeneutic; and this "historical-grammatical-critical" grid is rooted and grounded on every side in the "possibly errant" observations of fallible men. Every would-be inerrant Bib lical proposition having passed through this "possibly errant" grid partakes (as it enters men's minds) of "possible errancy."
So, the would-be inerrant Biblical propositions by which Hartzler and Montgomery would interpret and correct the "possibly errant" propositions of Science are themselves "possible errant"-for all practical purposes. They are only inerrant in an abstract, unreachable world. They cannot be used by men without becoming "possibly errant," Even when we rise by faith to "know in whom (note the personal relationship) we have believed," we do not become infallible. Faith is not sight!
Biblical Propositions Are Conditioned by the Minds of the Immediate Recipients of the Revelation.
Not only are the Biblical propositions conditioned and made to partake of "possible erraney" by the act of interpreting the Scriptures; the Biblical propositions are sometimes conditioned and made to partake of errancy by the minds of the immediate recipients of the revelation-at the time of the giving of the revelation.
The idea that all Biblical propositions are unconditioned (so far as truth-correspondence theoryis concerned) by the minds of the recipients of revelation is an autonomuous Fundamentalist idea invented to defend Scripture, but foisted upon Scripture.
The Bible plainly shows us that truth (correspondence theory) is sometimes lost because of the minds of the recipients of revelation. Thus the Word of God was conditioned by the hardness of people's hearts-so that divorce, which so far as absolute truth (correspondence theory) is concerned is immoral, is allowed by God (Matthew 19:7, 8). And if a Biblical proposition can allow for immorality, how much more can it allow for deviation from a mere correspondence with "reality" on an amoral, scientific point?
From Deuteronomy 24:1-4 we can properly derive the truth that God allows divorce, but that truth is not
in absolute accord with God's mind. Hence, we learn from Matthew 19:7, 8 that not all Biblical propositions (or more properly, legitimately derived truths from Biblical propositions) are in absolute accord with God's mind.
The Mustard Seed: A Concrete Example
The parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31, 32) makes it concretely clear that the Hartzler-Montgomery formula is false.
According to Matthew 13:31, 32, the mustard seed is the "smallest of all seeds," This is a description of nature given to us by God who knows the absolute truth-it is supposedly inerrant. According to the Hartzler-Montgomery formula this "veracious Biblical proposition" cannot be overturned by any findings or propositions of Science. Indeed, according to Montgomery "extraBiblical data can never determine the meaning of the Scriptural text."
However, even though the Bible is supposedly inerrant whenever t touches upon science (to quote the popular dictum of Fundamentalism), 99.44% of the interpreters of Matthew 13:31, 32 believe that the findings of science are valid-the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds. These exegetes categorically deny that this proposition of Jesus Christ is veracious-at least, it is not veracious as a description of nature. Furthermore, they do not believe that the mustard plant becomes a "tree", nor that birds "dwell" in it. And they note that normally the mustard plant does not become very large.
As a description of nature by which scientific descriptions may be interpreted and corrected, these Biblical propositions are complete losers. Taken literally (as Hartzler and Montgomery must take these propositions since they cannot appeal to science), these propositions are scientifically incorrect at every point.
However, most Biblical expositors are not stopped for one minute by all of these scientific "lies". If as touching upon biological science, these Biblical propositions are dead wrong, they are still the bearers of valuable spiritual truth.
And if one considers that the purpose of the propositions was to teach spiritual and not scientific truth (even indirectly), the propositions are easily exempted from the charge of being lies. Having set out to communicate spiritual truths, Jesus Christ is not a liar because he employs propositions which are scientifically errant. Nor is there any real difficulty in the passage. For Jesus is simply employing popular thought (scientifically errant), popular proverbs (scientifically errant), and a variety of literary devices (scientifically errant) to convey spiritual truth.
We doubt that anyone will use the Hartzler-Montgomery formula on the mustard seed parable. No one will subject (and correct) the "possible errant" description of Science ("other seeds are smaller") to the "veracious Biblical proposition" ("the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds"). No one will even back into the hopefully respectable corner of "Let the matter wait. Someday scientists will find that the mustard seed is the smallest seed."
No one will use the Hartzler-Montgomery formula because they know beyond a shadow of a doubt (having seen with their "possibly errant" eyes) that the mustard seed very simply is not "the smallest of all seeds." Rather, they will both contradict the Biblical description of the mustard seed and interpret the parable in the light of their extra-Biblical knowledge. In order to save the unbiblical theory of Biblical inerrancy, some will perhaps even deny that Matthew 13:31, 32 ever touches on matters of science at all.
In any case, the Hartzler-Montgomery formula is dead. It is not Biblical. It is based on an unbiblical definition of truth, or at best a half-truth definition of truth. It is an abstraction that cannot touch the world of men. It is in conflict with the Bible's teaching that some Biblical propositions do not reflect God's absolute mind on a matter. And it falls to the ground, stunned in the forehead by a mustard seed.