Science in Christian Perspective
INERRANCY, REVELATION AND EVOLUTION
RUSSELL W. MAATMAN RICHARD H. RUBE
The meaning of Biblical inerrancy and the relationship between the natural revelation and the Scriptural revelation, with special application to the scientific theory of evolution in the light of Genesis 1-3.
From: JASA 24 (June 1972): 81-88.
This is the first of what is hoped will be a series of Dialogues to be presented in the pages of the journal ASA. We have described these Dialogues as "unique journalistic presentations, and this is what we believe them to be. Each published Dialogue is the result of many months of correspondence and feedback between the participants, during which time every effort is mode to eliminate extraneous claims and criticisms. The chronological schedule for each of the participants in the Dialogue follows a pattern soniething like the following: (1) prepare a position statement, (2) prepare a critique of the other position, (3) revise one's own position statement in respouse to its critique, and revise one's own critique in response to revisions of the other's position statement, (4) repetition of step (3) until bath participants agree that the positions and critiques are fair, equitable and devoid of misunderstanding, and finally (5) prepare a rebuttal to cover those matters in the critique that could not be met by revisions in the position statemeat. When all of these steps have been completed, the final copy of the Dialogue is submitted far the approval of both participants. A period of nine months was necessary to complete this first Dialogue between Professor Russell SV. Maatman and Professor Richard H. Rube. We hope that readers of the Journal ASA will participate in these Dialogues in two ways: (a) by indicating their own personal position as indicated in the special form an page 77, and (b) by suggesting topics and participants for Dialogues to be presented in the future.
THE POSITION OF RUSSELL W. MAATMAN
Bube's Critique of Maatman's Position
(Professor Russell W. Maatman is in the Department of Chemistry at Dordt
College, Sioux Center, Iowa. He is the author of The Bible, Natural Science
and Evolution, Reformed Fellowship, Grand Rapids, Michigan 1970.)
The Bible is the Word of God written, prepared under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. Scholarly research indicates that the best texts available today agree on all points of substance, and therefore may be concluded to he close to that of the autographs.
Such a teaching about the nature of the Bible is derived from the Bible's teaching about itself. In fact, some part of this teaching can be learned solely from the Bible. Only the Bible could reveal to us that it is indeed the Word of God written, prepared under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit. Only the Bible could reveal to us that it teaches only that which is consistent with absolute truth. This uniform agreement with absolute truth is Biblical inerrancy.
We know that the Bible is inerrant because it teaches that whenever God speaks, He speaks absolute truth. Since the Bible consists of the words of God (II Peter 1:21, Hebrews 3:7, and Hebrews 4:7 teach that God is the Author), we therefore know that the Bible is consistent with absolute truth, or inerrant. Neither the kind of error being discussed here, i.e., inconsistency with absolute truth, nor any other kind of error devised by man, could possibly apply to the words of God. An historian could be guilty of historical inaccuracy, or error, because he has faulty knowledge. God's knowledge, His words, and His Word cannot be faulty. If someone says that he has detected error in the Bible, he implies that his knowledge is superior to the knowledge of God the Author. (For a more complete discussion of what error means in this context, see Reference 1.)
Jesus teaches us how far we can push this matter of incrraney or consistency with absolute truth. In Matthew 5:17,18 He guarantees us that the smallest details of the Bible, all the jots and tittles, will stand until all is finished. (His statement also assures us that the best texts we now have are reliable.) In some passages Jesus emphasizes this teaching by resting an argument from the Bible on a detail as small as the difference between the singular and the plural of a noun (John 10:34-36) or the tense of a verb (Matthew 22:31,32).
Since the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and not to he criticized, it is its own authority. The Bible speaks on whatever it speaks, and whatever it says is true. If the Bible speaks on geology, it speaks true geology. Similarly, the Bible speaks truly of all other sciences if it discusses them: of cosmology, biology, geography, history, etc. The reliability of the Bible on any scientific matter it speaks about is demonstrated by imagining an attempt to draw the line between the reliable and the unreliable in the Bible. Any method of line-drawing chosen would then be given authority equal to that of the Bible; but the Bible grants no such authority. What seems to be lacking on the part of those who maintain that the Bible contains error is a careful delineation of what method of line-drawing is used, and what the authority is for the use of such a method.
Is it possible, however, to draw the line by considering the Biblical purpose? A Biblical passage is without error, the argument is sometimes proposed, when that passage is interpreted in the light of its purpose. The line can then be drawn. If use of a passage is outside the Biblical purpose, the passage cannot be considered without error. But this procedure begs the question. It is certainly true that the Bible is without error with respect to its purpose. But what is its purpose? Is it enough to cite some passages, and maintain that here is a complete statement of Biblical purpose? The passages usually cited do not say the same things; they are complementary. An exhaustive statement of the Biblical purpose using a limited number of passages cannot be formulated. The best position is to allow the entire Bible to give us the entire Biblical purpose. Thus, for a given passage, we must simultaneously interpret it and determine its role in giving us the entire Biblical purpose. We should neither presuppose the Biblical purpose as it applies to the passage in question, thus forcing the interpretation of the passage, nor should we interpret the passage by abstracting it from the remainder of the Bible and therefore from the Biblical purpose. By this means, we will not force a preconceived idea about purpose on the passage. It can speak for itself.
What has been said so far does not answer the question as to whether the Bible actually contains geology, cosmology, etc. It is far too easy to remove a few sentences of the Bible from their context-and the true context is nothing less than the entire Bible-and make unwarranted conclusions about geology, cosmology, etc. Correct interpretation is necessary. The Bible teaches us much concerning how we are to interpret it. Because of the nature of the Bible, the principles of interpretation (hermeneutics) can be derived only from the Bible. Some of these principles are as follows: (1) the Old Testament is to be understood in terms of what is taught in the New Testament; (2) whenever possible, Scripture is to be compared with Scripture; (3) all power is in God's hands and therefore He is not limited; (4) Christ's work is the central message of the Scriptures; and (5) the Scriptures cannot teach error. We may use extraBiblical information in our attempt to understand the Bible, but no such information can possibly contradict the principles of interpretation derived from the Bible. No archaclogical findings, for example, could show that the New Testament is not to be the guide for understanding the Old Testament, or that Christ's work is not the central message of the Scriptures. No archaeological findings could prove that the Bible contains error.
Even with these principles of interpretation, there are two problems in applying them to actual Biblical passages, (1) We seem to discover evidence that the Bible after all does contain error. Passages may seem to conflict. Or, extra-Biblical information and the Bible might seem to conflict. With additional work, we can resolve some of these conflicts, but some of them may remain unresolved.
Attempts to resolve these conflicts can be rewarding and give us new insight. Concerning the question of supposedly conflicting passages, we can gain an insight into the method God used in communicating with us. For example, it has been claimed that the chronology at the beginning of Matthew is in error because it does not agree with the Old Testament. It is significant that those who claim a conflict here universally assume that Matthew is wrong and the Old Testament is right. In other words, it is unintentionally admitted that there is something in the Matthew passage and its context which reveals Matthew's "error." In fact, this "something" is so evident that we may conclude that Matthew himself knew of his "error." At this point his "error" ceases to be error. By studying this passage and its relation to other parts of the Bible, we come to realize that God uses various means of communication. We ourselves use language in various ways; but we do not claim such a practice is erroneous. Understanding that God communicates by these various means, we are helped in the analysis of other supposed conflicts, instances in which it is not so readily evident which of a pair of passages gives us history, science, etc.
Concerning the question of a supposed conflict between extra-Biblical information and the Bible, it is instructive to examine the phrase "the sun rises." The idea expressed here is found in the Bible and sometimes it is claimed that the idea is in conflict with the scientific discovery that the earth rotates on its axis. Yet it is no more fair to claim that the Bible errs in this matter, than to claim we err when we say, "the sun rises." Similarly, does the Bible err when it seems to say that the seat of the emotions is in the reins, or kidneys? It errs in such an instance no more than we err when we say, "I feel it in my bones." Also, we fail to comprehend the universe of discourse being used when we claim a Bible writer thought God lived so many miles above the earth, just because he said God is on high. We say the same thing, and we maintain we do not err in this matter.
(2) Another problem that arises in applying our hermeneutical principles is the apparent existence in the Bible of various forms of literature, such as poetry, fables, letters, sermons, allegories, and history. This diversity presents questions of interpretation. The best way to answer such questions is to study the text in its context as exhaustively as possible, never forsaking our Biblically-derived principles of interpretation. When we use this approach, we will arrive at some conclusions not so easily seen on a first reading. Thus, even though talking trees and donkeys are both outside our experience, it is possible for us to conclude (by arguments not given here) that the Biblical passage (Numbers 22:30) describing the talking donkey is historical, but that the Biblical passage (Judges 9:8-15) describing the talking tree is a fable.
In solving the problems arising from this diversity of communication which God uses, we need to know to what extent we can use extra-Biblical information. For example, is a given portion of the Bible historical or non-historical? A fundamental principle can be derived from our Biblically-derived hermeneutics given above: no part of secular history-political, economic, social, geological, biological, or any other kind-can be used to prove that certain events referred to in the Bible cannot have occurred, and that the account containing them is therefore non-historical. An apparent conflict between a Biblical passage and secular history occurs for one of two reasons: either the Biblical passage is non-historical, or the secular account is in error. Even though our interpretation of the Biblical passage in question can be wrong, the passage itself is absolutely true. We cannot say the same for the secular account, even though it, like the Biblical passage, is based upon raw data (i.e., general revelation for the secular account) with which we may not differ. The secular account is itself, unlike the Bible, an interpretation, and as such it can he in error. Therefore, the secular account, which is not necessarily absolutely true, cannot he reliably used to determine the content of the Biblical passage, which is necessarily absolutely true. We are left where we started: the apparent conflict arises either because the Biblical passage is nonhistorical, or the secular account is in error. We cannot use the secular account to decide whether or not a Biblical passage is historical.
Using the conclusions developed above, we conclude that Genesis 1-3 is historical. With respect only to the creation of man, for example, we have the following evidence: (1) secular history cannot be used to answer the question of the historicity of the Genesis account of the origin of man; (2) comparing Scripture with Scripture, we note that "generations," used in the introduction to the account of the creation of man in Genesis 2:7 refers to "history" in various other parts of the Bible; and (3) again comparing Scripture with Scripture, we note that the historicity of Adam is considered on the same level as the historicity of Christ Himself in Romans 5 by Paul, who discusses even some of the details of the creation of man in I Timothy 2:13,14. Other passages which assume the historicity of Adam are I Chronicles 1:1, Luke 3:38, I Corinthians 15:22,45 and Jude 14.2
THE POSITION OF RICHARD H. BUBE
Maattman's Critique of Bube's Position
(Professor Richard H. Bube is in the Departments of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, Stanford, California. He is the author of The Human Quest: A New Look at Science and Christian Faith, Word Books, Waco, Texas 1971.)
The Bible is the Word of God, written in the words of men who were guided by the Holy Spirit so that they faithfully conveyed the purpose of God's revelation to man. Thus, when we inquire as to the content of the Biblical revelation in terms of the purpose for which it was written, we are assured of a completely authoritative and trustworthy Word.
Such a teaching of the nature of the Bible is consistent with the Bible's own testimony concerning the purposes for which it was written. These purposes can he conveniently summarized under three major categories: (1) to reveal Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and through Him, God as Redeemer, as shown, for example, in passages such as John 20:31; (2) to confirm and strengthen the faith of believers, as shown, for example, in passages such as Luke 1:3,4; and (3) to provide a guide for Christian living, as shown, for example, in such passages as II Timothy 3:16. A reading of Paul's prayers also helps us understand the kinds of purpose for which the Biblical writings were made, in agreement with the above texts, as in Ephesians 1:6, 18-20; 3:16-19; 4:12-14. We have also the abundant testimony of Jesus and of His disciples concerning the authoritative reliability of this revelation.
It is possible to affirm that on the basis of God's faithfulness in the Scriptures, there is no error in the Bible when it is properly interpreted. This statement, however, has no definite meaning unless we are able to establish a criterion by which the definition of "error" is established. The only criterion which is consistent with the Bible's own testimony is that which establishes that an error exists in the Scripture only if it can be shown that the revelation of Scripture fails to achieve the purpose for which it is given. Statements of contemporary culture and worldview, which would have to be judged as "error" on any kind of arbitrary criterion for "error," are seen not to constitute a revelational error because of the proper and effective role they play in conveying that revelation to us.
It is clear that our ability to evaluate correctly the nature of Biblical purpose is of fundamental significance for our interpretation of the Biblical record. It is important that we turn to the Bible's own testimony concerning the purposes for which it was written. Here we follow a timetested and evangelically honored set of principles in Biblical hermeneutics: 1 that the New Testament should be used to interpret the Old Testament, that the Epistles interpret the Gospels, that systematic passages interpret incidental passages, that universal passages interpret local passages, and that didactic passages interpret symbolic passages. Passages which state the purpose for the Biblical writings must be used to interpret those which do not. To claim that every passage declares its own purpose is to do violence to Biblical hermeneutics.
When the Biblical writers use contemporary cultural terms or worldvie\v perspective, we do not automatically know whether that expression or perspective is indeed an accurate representation of the absolute reality of God's creation, or whether that expression or perspective is totally effective in conveying God's revelational content to us and men of all ages in spite of the fact that it does not present an accurate representation of that absolute reality. The Bible is after all communication: communication between God and man, in which the language of the hearer must play as large a role as the content the Speaker wishes to convey. This relationship is emphasized to us by the Incarnation, in which God made the supreme accommodation to man's limitations by becoming a man for all of us to see and learn from. Some sects maintain that to say truly that Jesus the man was also God, requires that God be a man; historic Christianity rejects this position and recognizes the limitations of human understanding and the accommodating response of a loving God.
The recognition of the Bible as communication emphasizes to us the necessary role of interpretation in applying the revelational content of the Bible to ourselves. This application can be (lone successfully only if we take account of the purpose of the Biblical writings, as well as the historical and cultural context in which the various books were composed. We cannot be content with the illusion that it is possible to believe "what the Bible says," as though that act could he separated from our own interpretation. Rather we must be diligent in determining what is the proper interpretation from a careful examination of other aspects of the Scriptural revelation on the same or similar material, and from a careful examination of other aspects of reality to which we may have access. We do not introduce this other extra-Biblical material to see whether or not there is an "error" in the Bible; we introduce it in order to make sure that we ourselves do not interpret falsely and so generate our own "error."
As creatures living in a created universe, we have in addition to the special revelation of God through the writers of the Bible, i.e., a spoken revelation, also a revelation ill the created word itself, i.e., something that God has made. We accept the Bible as the authoritative and trustworthy Word of God. Our interpretation of the Word must be carefully made; our interpretation of the Work must he carefully made. We may be wrong in both our theology and our science; we cannot in either case impugn the reliability of the Word or the Work of God.
The partial and incomplete knowledge which we can obtain from our interpretation of the natural world
must he ultimately consistent with the partial and incomplete knowledge which we can obtain from our interpretation of God's Word. In developing this knowledge we must be completely open to the guidance of God's Word in our interpretation of the natural world, and to the guidance of God's Work in our interpretation of the Bible. Interpretations of the Bible cannot ultimately contradict interpretations of the natural world. Specific scientific theories can, of course, contradict specific theological interpretations. Sometimes it may be that the scientific theory is wrong; sometimes it may he that the theological interpretation is wrong; sometimes it may be that they are both wrong. When such apparent contradictions occur and cannot be resolved, dogmatism is ruled out and each individual before God must proceed in love in accordance with his best understanding.
In most cases the Biblical revelation must have priority over the natural revelation. This is because no interpretation of ultimate significance can be made without the Biblical revelation, because the Biblical revelation alone has the ability to let man see himself as he is, because the Biblical revelation alone has the ability to guide and judge the directions and motives of scientific research, and because the Bibical revelation informs us of Cod's activity in history that we cannot deduce from scientific procedures alone.
There are portions of the Biblical revelation, however, which deal with subjects for which the authors could not be eye-witnesses and which so deeply probe the significance of the future and of the past that their expression must be given in a universally comprehensible form. Two portions which particularly stand out are the final book of Revelation and the early portions of the first book of Genesis. These portions of Genesis take on the qualities of the last pages of Revelation and appear as a kind of "prophecy of the past," as Revelation stands as a prophecy of the future. It is not clear how such passages should be interpreted; extensive Christian scholarship through the years has shown that hermeneutics alone does not yield an unambiguous guide. Any insights we can obtain to guide this interpretation are welcome. It may well be that these passages are to be interpreted as a literal historical description (even after the pattern of a 20th century newspaper reporter viewing the scene) of actual events in space and time. It may also well be that these passages are to be interpreted in a more symbolic and universal way. In those instances that deal with the vast patterns of the past or of the future, we may well expect to find true insight into reality set forth with a minimum of specific scientific mechanisms so as to maintain the purpose for which it was written and its universal application. To insist that every passage of the Biblical revelation that seems to present a scientific mechanism must do so with absolute authority and finality, that the Bible must be literally and completely true whenever a scientific matter is apparently mentioned in the text, may well be to miss the kind of hook the Bible is. In a misguided effort to preserve and defend a "high view of inspiration," the very spirit of the book and its purpose may be misrepresented.
Genesis 1-3 provide profound insights into the basic structure of the world, the nature of God and man, and the relationships between God, man and this created universe. These profound insights transcend in importance any possible theories of the age of the earth, cosmology or biology, by as much as the insight that love is foundational to a happy marriage transcends instruction in sexual mechanics. And, as instruction in sexual mechanics may be inappropriate in communication with a 5-year-old, so instruction in the details of "modern science" may be inappropriate in communication with men with varying degrees of personal, cultural and technological sophistication. For the individual man it is vastly more important to know that God created the world than to know when God created it, vastly more important to know that God created man than to know how God created him. For the scientist, it is sufficient to know that if the world appears to be a certain age by scientific methods, then scientifically it is that age; that if man appears to be the product of evolutionary processes according to scientific analysis, then scientifically evolutionary theory is a profitable guide to research. It is tragic when efforts to make the "when" and "how" of creation into items of Christian doctrine (on grounds that must be intrinsically uncertain) lead others to reject the very fact of Creation itself. We do not know how much of Cenesis 1-3 should be taken as literal historical fact; we must be open, however, at least to the possibility that the principal purpose of these chapters lies elsewhere.
On this basis, a comparison of the Biblical record and of the General Theory of evolution forces one to the conclusion that dogmatism is ruled out. With all of its admitted difficulties, some form-possibly not understood completely at present--of the General Theory appears to be the best scientific interpretation of the data available from the natural world. As long as this is true, it is not possible to for a dogmatic interpretation of the "how" of creation out of Genesis 1-3. Advocates of a dogmatic acceptance of the General Theory are embarrassed by scientific problems with the theory and gaps in its data. Advocates of a dogmatic rejection of the General Theory in favor of Divine fiat creationism are embarrassed by the negative stance vis-a-vis the General Theory into which all of their scientific efforts must be directed, since fiat creationism itself would by definition be beyond the reach of scientific verification.
Finally, since the possibility of the "how" of God's creation being related to an evolutionary process need have no direct conflict with the revelational content of Genesis 1-3, it is perhaps more productive to consider whether some kind of scheme of General Evolution might he interpreted in a Biblical and Christian framework,2 than it is to insist that the General Theory must be rejected because of the ways in which nonChristian men have used it to advance their own nonChristian philosophies and goals. There are all too many historical examples of Christians refusing to accept some particular scientific interpretation until considerable damage had been done to their witness.
1.E. J. Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 1959. Chapter IV.
2R. H. Bube, "Biblical Evolutionism?" Journal ASA 23, 140, December 1971.
Maattman's Critique of Bube's Position
Even though Bube and I obviously agree on some matters, for the sake of brevity
this critique is limited to areas of disagreement. Much of what might be said
here has already been incorporated into my position statement; I
shall not repeat
those matters here.
I hope that the reader will re-examine my remarks concerning Biblical purpose. Bube assumes without proof that it is not the whole Bible which gives the entire Biblical purpose. The core of his approach to the question assumes the correctness of this assumption. His procedure is approximately equivalent to the fallacy in formal logic of "reasoning from the general to the specific." Thus, in his first step he deduces the general nature of the whole Bible from an examination of certain passages. In his next step, he applies these results to specific passages not used in the first step. Such a procedure is unjustified, and therefore his argument is basically weak. There should be a simultaneous determination of the dependence of the interpretation of a given passage upon the entire Biblical purpose, and the contribution of that passage to that purpose.
Bube suggests that the early portions of Genesis "take on the qualities of the last pages of Revelation and appear as a kind of 'prophecy of the past' as Revelation stands as a prophecy of the future." This concept appears at first to be very attractive. It remains attractive only if it stands up under close examination of the Genesis text. The text is interpreted correctly only if correct hermeneutical principles are used. These principles show, for example, that secular history cannot be used to answer the question of the historicity
of Genesis 1-3. It is precisely with the application of these principles (see my position statement) that Genesis 1-3 is shown to be historical, not a "prophecy of the past" in the sense that Bnbe uses this phrase. Bube does not deny the validity of hermeoeutical principles, but in his treatment his unproven assumption concerning Biblical purposes overrides all other considerations.
Bnbe says, "To insist that every passage of the Biblical revelation that seems to present a scientific mechanism must do so with absolute authority and finality, that the Bible must be literally and completely true whenever a scientific matter is apparently mentioned in the text, may well be to miss the kind of book the Bible is," I want to maintain that the Bible is always true to its purpose. Bube maintains that the Bible is always true to its purpose-as he defines the purpose. No doubt some of our difference is semantic. Even so, the question of whether or not an apparent scientific mechanism is an actual scientific mechanism should be answered with the use of Biblically-derived hermeneutical principles. These principles will not help us answer a question we ask about a passage if the wrong question is asked. But if for a certain passage it is deduced with the use of these principles that a scientific mechanism is presented, then the Bible is the kind of book which presents a scientific mechanism in the passage in question. It cannot be decided finally what kind of book the Bible is until "all the returns are in," including an understanding of the passage in question. It should then be no surprise if some of the passages which seem to present a scientific mechanism do not do so; but it should also be no surprise if part of God's Biblical purpose is to present scientific mechanisms in certain other passages.
In all of these considerations an emphasis has been put on
interpreting a passage
only after the context of the passage has been determined. In the
context of the
account of the creation of man there are elementssuch as the tree of life and
the talking serpent-not ordinarily found in an historical account.
Why do we nevertheless
conclude that the account of the creation of man is historical? We can reason
in this way concerning the tree of life and the talking serpent because there
are many clearly historical passages in the Bible which contain elements just
as strange as those just mentioned in the early chapters of Genesis.
donkey has been mentioned. There is bread which seems to fall from the sky, a
fire which consumes water on command, a rod which becomes a serpent, a disciple
who walks on water, a man who lives inside a fish, a great light from
by a voice, a transfigured face on a mountain top, persons arising from their
graves, a voice from heaven saying, "Thou art My beloved Son," fiery
tongues appearing on many persons at the same time, a man who walked with God
and disappeared, a fiery chariot which descended from heaven and took
away a man,
and much more. Were we to reject as historical such passages because
of the presence
of strange elements, the Christian faith would evaporate. It is true that there
are passages containing strange elements that are not historical; but
concerning historicity must be made on grounds other than the
strangeness of such
Concluding that the account giving the creation of man is historical means that man was formed by a specific and unique instantaneous creative act of God; that woman was formed from the body of man by a second specific and unique creative act of God; that these first two human beings, created in a perfect and sinless state, disobeyed God, fell into sin, made it necessary for God to send His Son to die for the redemption of their sins and the sins of all their descendents, who were tainted by the first sin of their ancestors.
With these considerations as a basis, the validity of the General Theory of evolution can be simply challenged. It is evident that the hypotheses of the General Theory with respect to the origin of man are completely inconsistent with the Biblical revelation and hence must be false. The existence of many scientific problems with a full exposition of the General Theory, as well as the historical evidence that acceptance of the General Theory has led to a wide variety of dehumanizing philosophical systems, confirm the correctness of this conclusion.
Bube suggests that those who accept "Divine fiat creationism" are embarrassed because they must be negative with respect to scientific tests of the General Theory of evolution, "since fiat creationism itself would by definition be beyond the reach of scientific verification," and that it is productive to consider "whether some kind of scheme of General Evolution might be interpreted in a Biblical and Christian framework." But suppose for the sake of argument that special creation did occur? Could not God have revealed this fact in the Bible? And would it then not be better to accept the scientificallyincomprehensible concept of special creation, than any scientifically-comprehensible (but wrong) concept of origins? Finally, could not part of God's purpose in giving us the Bible he that we learn that special creation did occur?
IR. W. Maatman, The Bible, Natural Science and Evolution, Reformed Fellowship, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1970)
2For a more complete discussion of the question of the creation of man, see (a) Reference 1, (b) Critique 0i "Biblical Evolutionism?" in Journal ASA 23, December 1971, and (ci Response to R. H. Bube's review of Reference 1, Journal ASA 23, December 1971.
Bube's Critique of Maatman's Position
The key to the difference between Maatman's position and mine lies in our interpretation of the meaning of "inerrancy." We both agree that one of the principles of Biblical hermeneutics is that the Bible can show no error when properly interpreted. Theoretically, Maatman takes this affirmation as an absolute dictum defining an absolute inerrancy; I take the statement as a guide to what it means "to interpret properly" and define thereby a revelational inerrancy.
Two major criticisms can be directed against Maatman's position. First it can be argued that his theo
retical position on inerrancy is philosophically and not Biblically grounded. Second, it can be argued that not only is his operational procedure contradictory to his own theoretical position, but also that it is in substantial agreement with my own consistent position on revelational iuerrancy. I have previously attempted to give a critique of the kind of position espoused by Maatman; the reader may wish to refer to these treatments for more detail.1-3
Before entering into this discussion, it is necessary to clarify one
When two persons engaged in dialogue use the same word with two
only confusion results. When Maatman speaks of error, one would expect that it
would always be in terms of his opening statements, i.e., failure to
with absolute truth. In actual fact, as we show below, he does not always use
the word in this way, since he is able on various occasions to affirm that
relative truth is equivalent to absolute truth. On the other hand, when I speak
of error in the Bible, I mean only what must be considered error if Maatman's position of absolute inerrancy
were consistently applied; to refer, then, to my position as one that
is error in the Bible is a misrepresentation. I claim that there is no error in
the Bible properly interpreted, but that if Maatman's position of
were to be consistently applied, we would have no alternative but to conclude
that error was present.
To clarify this distinction let us call a statement a Type 1 Error if it is in error with respect to the criterion of absolute truth, and a statement a Type 2 Error if it is in error with respect to the criterion of the author's revelational purpose. For example, the statement that "the sun rises" in the Bible is clearly a Type 1 Error, but it is not a Type 2 Error. Using this terminology, I then claim that Maatman argues theoretically for the absence of both Type 1 and Type 2 Errors in the Bible, but is able in any critical specific case to defend the Bible against only Type 2 Errors. My position is that neither theoretically nor operationally are there Type 2 Errors in the Bible, but that if one insists on using the criterion appropriate for Type 1 Errors, he may well find Type 1 Errors.
The first major criticism of Maatman's position is that his use of the concept of "absolute truth" is derived from philosophical or theological presuppositions not derivable from the Bible. He argues, to be sure, that the Bible reveals "that it teaches only that which is consistent with absolute truth," and that the Bible reveals "that whenever God speaks, He speaks absolute truth." These assertions, however, do not prove the case. In fact, the case rests not on the Biblical passages cited, which hardly are sufficient to establish a correspondence with "absolute truth," but rather on an implied syllogism which runs something like this:
a. God is Absolute Truth.
b. All of God's spoken words are absolute truth.
c. The Bible is one of God's spoken words.
d. The Bible is absolute truth.
Now the full analysis of such a syllogism requires a good deal of logical sophistication. In particular one needs to look for presuppositions that are implied but are not explicitly stated. One needs to consider exactly the effects of communication between God and man that make the Bible truly both the Word of God and
the word of man. Maatman recognizes this fully in his operational treatment of critical issues; he fails to admit it only in advancing a theoretical position. Maatman's implied syllogism does not take into account that the Bible is truly God's Word and truly man's word, in such a way that partial truth, (faithful, authoritative, human truth) is revealed without error (absence of Type 2 Error), but not necessarily in such a way that "absolute truth" is conveyed (absence of Type 1 Error). Maatman may presuppose that "absolute truth" is conveyed because of his personal philosophical presuppositions, but I do not think he can argue that "Biblebelieving" Christians must accept it.
If Maatman does make such a presupposition, it then leads him to the basic contradiction of his own position, which is the ground for the second major criticism. Apparent conflicts or errors in the Bible are of at least three types: (a) those that are clearly only apparent and must be contrived, to argue even for Type 2 Errors; both Maatman and I dispense with these quickly; (h) those that appear to be real enough, but can he shown not to be Type 2 Errors; while maintaining his theoretical position of no -Type- I -Errors, in this situation Maatman joins me in arguing that these are indeed not cases of Type 2 Errors; (c) those that may indeed be real, but on which sufficient data are not available to make an unambiguous decision; in this situation Maatman insists that his theoretical position must become operational, whereas I maintain the same operational no-Type-2-Error position I have consistently advanced. In order to be somewhat less abstract, let us consider an example of each of these types of situations.
A situation of type (a) is the description of the death of Judas in Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18. This case has often been cited as an example of a Biblical contradiction, but both Maatman and I would agree that no necessary contradiction is involved and that no error of either Type 1 or Type 2 is necessarily implied, e.g., the two accounts can be put together for a single consistent narrative.
Situations of type (b) are like those cited by Maatman. When Matthew's chronology in Chapter 1, especially the statement of Matthew 1:17, or Jesus' statement (Matthew 13:32) about the mustard seed being the smallest of all seeds, or even such statements as ,,the sun rises," are considered, not all the argument in the world can prevent these statements from being Type 1 Errors. They simply do not convey "absolute truth." Maatman, under these conditions, joins me in arguing at great length that, nevertheless, these should not be considered Biblical errorsType 2 Errors. This reaction is in fact what occurs whenever an advocate of absolute inerraney must face a Biblical statement which is clearly and demonstrably not in correspondence with "absolute truth;" in order to defend any inerraney, it is inerrancy with respect to Type 2 Errors that must be defended. We believe this to be necessary because no other criterion for error can be Biblically defended.
An example of a situation of type (c) is given by the possible contradiction between an evolutionary development and origin for man and an interpretation of Genesis to propose a fiat creation origin. In this ease all the evidence is not in, and the question cannot be settled dogmatically. Christian scholars disagree about the conclusions of Biblical hermeneutics applied to exegesis; scientists disagree about the conclusions of the
scientific method applied to the natural world. My position is that there can be no Type 2 Errors in the Bible, and that therefore, in the absence of unambiguous data to guide either scientific or Biblical interpretation, we need to explore what it may mean to affirm that there are no Type 2 Errors. Maatman, in spite of his failure to defend the absence of Type 1 Errors in any other critical situation, now in this situation is dogmatic that the absence of Type 1 Errors must be taken as the guide to interpretation.
In order to understand Maatman's position statement properly, it is necessary for the reader to go through the statement carefully and decide in every instance whether a Type 1 Error and/or a Type 2 Error is in mind whenever the word "error" appears. As pointed out above, this is particularly important when he speaks of others who assert that there is error in the Bible; in the present context, Maatman uses the word as if it were a Type 2 Error, but those of whom he speaks use the word only in terms of Type 1 Error, i.e., an error arrived at by false criteria not intrinsic to the Bible itself.
As another example, consider Maatman's statement, "No archaeological findings could prove that the Bible contains error." We could agree with this statement in terms of Type 2 Error. But to claim categorically that this is impossible with respect to Type 1 Errors seems to solve no problems. If the Bible were to state that such-and-such happened at X in the year Y, and reliable archaeological finds were to show that the same such-and-such happened at Z in the year W, and not at X in the year Y, this would constitute the discovery of a Type 1 Error in the Bible. Now we may still wish to assert that such a finding would not be found; but to assert that it could not be found seems both unwise and unjustified. A scientific theory which is impossible to falsify is held in little regard; so also is a theory of Biblical inerrancy which is impossible to falsify.
Maatman claims that no part of secular history can he used to show that an event referred to in the Bible is non-historical, His argument rests on the fact that the secular account can never be proved beyond the shadow of a doubt. But surely such an approach mistakes the requirement of logical proof for the less restrictive (and far more common) requirement of reasonable evidence. It may be admitted freely that any historical evidence is capable of producing only a probable description of what actually happened in the past. The question is not whether such evidence can on any point indicate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Biblical account is nonhistorical, but rather whether such evidence can indicate a high probability for a nonhistorical Biblical presentation. The question deals with when dogmatism is justified, and when dogmatism must give way to an open consideration of alternate possibilites.
Maatman says that "the Bible speaks on whatever it speaks, and whatever it says is true." The difficulty enters in determining when and to what extent the Bible does speak on any subject. The principles of revelational inerrancy also affirm that when the Bible does speak on a subject, it speaks without error to achieve its purpose. It may not always be possible, however, to settle these "when" and "on" questions without help from some extra-Biblical source. Ramm4 has treated these questions at some length, and concludes for example that it is possible to teach the doctrine of creation from the point of view of the cosmological systems of Ptolemy, Newton or Einstein. I think the kinds of things Scripture wants to say can be said in context of any of these three theories without dignifying the theories as revealed truth.
It would seem that according to Maatman's view of absolute inerrancy, any astronomical system referred to by the Bible must be invested with absolute truth. In the course of his presentation, Maatman implicitly offers another syllogism, which has striking similarities to Anselm's ontological proof for the existence of God. Maatman's syllogism can be cast into the following form:
a. The Bible is the greatest book that can be conceived.
b. Suppose that error exists in the Bible.
c. A book without error is greater than a book with error.
d. A book without error is greater than that book than which a greater cannot be conceived.
e. This is impossible. Therefore the Bible is without error.
The difficulty comes, as usual, with the definition of "error" in the second statement, and with the truth of the third statement. It makes a great difference whether Type 1 or Type 2 Errors are in mind in the second statement, and whether the "greatness" of a book or of any other source depends on the absence of Type 1 and/or Type 2 Errors. Again while claiming to speak of Type 1 Errors, Maatmao argues against extra-Biblical evidence on the grounds that it cannot detect what would really be a Type 2 Error in the Bible; I argue for extra-Biblical evidence on the grounds that it can prevent Type 1 Errors from being read into the Bible by faulty interpretation.
Finally Maatman advances several technical reasons for arguing that the account given in Genesis 1-3 must be historical. While such arguments should certainly be taken into account insofar as they are relevant to the question, I believe they are hardly conclusive. Space does not permit a detailed consideration of the alternative interpretation of these chapters, but this has been attempted by several authors.5-7 Although "strangeness" by itself cannot be taken as final evidence for non-historicity, as Maatman argues, the direct application of non-physical properties to physical objects (e.g., tree of life, tree of the knowledge of good and evil) allows for little else but a symbolic interpretation. The argument that the theological use of the Adamaccount by New Testament authors does not constitute an irrefutable proof of the historicity of these accounts-in an absolute literal sense as required by Maatman-has also been advanced earlier.8
It is appropriate for those who reject the interpretation of the data given by the General Theory of evolution to provide an interpretation of their own which is consistent with the data. This has not been successfully done.
1R. H. Bube, "A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy,"Journal ASA 15, 86 (1963)
2R. H. Robe, The Encounter Between Christianity and Science, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1968). Chapter 3, "Biblical Revelation."
3R. H. Rube, Book Review of The Bible, Natural Science and Evolution by B. W. Maatmau, Reformed Journal 21, No. 4, 22 (1971); Journal ASA 23, December 1971.
4B. Ramm, "The Relationship of Science, Factual Statements and the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy," Journal ASA 21, 98 (1969)
5A. van der Ziel, Genesis and Scientific Inquiry, Denison, Minneapolis (1965)
6H. Thielieke, How the World Began: Man in the First Chapters of the Bible, Fortress, Philadelphia (1961)
7R. H. Bube The Human Quest: A New Look at Science and Christian Faith, Word, Waco, Texas (1971)
8R. H. Bube, See Reference 2, pp. 93-98.
Maatman feels it is unjustified for me to deduce "the general
nature of the
whole Bible from an examination of certain passages," when I
apply this procedure
to determining Biblical purpose. But certainly this is exactly what
we all must do-when we treat the question of the inspiration and inerrancy of
the Bible. For Maatman to claim that every passage must declare its own purpose
is as pointless as to argue that every passage must declare its own
Maatman argues that "the question of whether or not an apparent scientific mechanism is an actual scientific mechanism should be answered with the use of Biblically-derived hermeneutieal principles." With this principle I would certainly agree in whatever cases there may be where it is possible to accomplish such a goal. But what of those many cases where we cannot answer such a question by Biblical exegesis alone? At the very least, is not the claim for dogmatism unsuitable in such cases? Given such a case, is there no place for extra-Biblical evidence to help in guiding to a probable interpretation, if not a certain one?
God's purpose in giving us the Bible could be to convey all kinds of particular information; our concern must be, however, with what God tells us that purpose is.
Underlying Buhe's critique is the idea that possible errors in the Bible can he divided into two types. Elsewhere in this Dialogue I attempt to prove that any such attempts to divide the Bible are arbitrary. I shall here try to show specifically why Bube's division into types is not helpful.
Phrases like "the sun rises" are not erroneous when the writer's universe of discourse is taken into account. We should attempt to ascertain Matthew's meaning in the Matthew 1 chronology, assuming a priori that he did not err given his universe of discourse. When we turn to the first chapters of Genesis, we assume again that Moses did not err given his universe of discourse. We could make a similar statement about any part of the Bible which is claimed by some to contain error, and it makes no difference if the supposed error is a Type 1 or Type 2 error.
For example, Buhe encounters difficulty concerning the division of error into types when he says that an archaeological discovery could reveal a Type 1 error (contradicting absolute truth) but not a Type 2 error (contradicting revelational purpose) in the Bible. I assume that Bube is willing to give assent to a rather detailed list of non-negotiable Christian beliefs. Is he willing to state-given the usual possibility of scientific error -that no archaeological "finding" could contradict any of these non-negotiable beliefs? I think he would admit that there could be such a "finding," but that he would not then jettison his non-negotiable belief. (For example, archaeologists could claim to find either the dead body of Christ or an ancient account of finding his dead body.) Bube would reject the archaeological finding if it purported to discover a Type 2 error in the Bible. How, then, can he say that an archaeological finding could detect a Type 1 error in the Bible? The archaeological finding could be just as wrong in the latter ease as in the former. Using an extra-Biblical method does not enable us to find error in the Bible, regardless of whether or not these possible errors are classified into types.
Relating cosmology to the Bible-a matter Bube refers to-raises similar questions. I have shown elsewhere (pp. 25-28 of Reference 1 of my position statement) that the concept of a threestory universe which some persons claim to find in the Bible, cannot actually be present in the Bible because the concept conflicts with certain non-negotiable Christian beliefs. (One such Christian belief is the belief that answers to moral questions can be found only in the Bible. For, if the Bible told early believers that the universe consists of three stories, it also told them-for example-that it would be morally wrong to dig deep into the earth, the supposed place of hell. But hell is not deep in the earth, and therefore it is not morally wrong to dig deep into the earth.) In Bube's terminology, finding the concept of a three-story universe in the Bible can be shown to he the same as detecting a Type 2 error in the Bible. Bube's position is questionable to the extent that he holds the teaching of the Bible to be independent of the cosmological system found in it.
It is significant that Bube is willing to make a judgment concerning "the sun rises," Matthew 1, and other passages, but concerning the first chapters of Genesis he says, "In this ease all the evidence is not in, and the question cannot be settled dogmatically." It is always safe to say concerning a scientific matter that all the evidence is not in. But is the Biblical evidence in? Is it actually not possible to make some conclusions concerning whether or not the first chapters of Genesis provide some information concerning origins which is of interest to the scientist? Bube gives rather scant treatment to my rather specific reasons for accepting the historicity of these chapters.
With regard to the syllogism Bube finds in the third paragraph of my position statement, I fail to see why "logical sophistication" is necessary for arriving at (d) when (a) through (e) are without doubt taught by the Bible. Bube suggests, but does not offer proof, that the introduction of the human factor in the authorship of the Bible necessarily casts a shadow over (d).
Bube is mistaken in stating that opponents of the General Theory of evolution have not provided an interpretation which is consistent with the data. The principal data used to support the General Theory of evolution are data showing that older organisms are simpler and that there is a similarity of structure among living things. I shall deal only with these aspects of the question here. The position of the anti-evolutionists with respect to these data has generally been as follows. In the first place, ecological studies have shown that in general, simpler organisms can exist without the more complex, but the reverse is not true. In the second place, at the molecular level, there is only one element, carbon, which comprises the skeleton of the longchain molecules found in all living things. Living things are similar to each other in this respect because no other element is capable of forming long chains; and this relation between the elements can in turn be shown (using quantum mechanics) to exist because of the very nature of the universe. Likewise, at the macroscopic level, God made similar structures in living creatures because only these structures can carry out the functions intended for them. Again, the basic reason a certain function can be carried out by only one structure lies in the very nature of the universe. Such an explanation of why the older is simpler and why there is similarity in structure accounts for the data, but does not-unlike the General Theory of evolution demand the existence of a continuum in the spectrum of living things. Significantly, the continuum has not been found.