Science in Christian Perspective

 Letter to the Editor


Comments on Dialogue on Inerraney (June 1972)

Peter Rust, John A. Cramer, Gordon E. Fish, and David L. Newquist


From: JASA 25 (June 1973): 76-77.

Peter Rust

Bube's distinction between different types of errors seems to be necessary indeed, but it may nevertheless be argued for Maatman that what Bube calls Type 1 Errors in the Bible cannot be properly called errors at all, since this would imply ignoring the writer's universe of discourse: the conflicts may he interpreted as being semantieal rather than factual ones. We might call these errors Type 3 Errors and maintain with Maatman that the Bible contains neither Type 1 nor Type 2 Errors.

Bube would agree with Maatman that the error in the statement "the sun rises" may be dismissed very easily, although he insists on calling it a Type 1 Error. In matters liable to be subject to scientific investigation, the Bible's language is phenomenological. In fact, any other kind of language would not be understood by all people of all times, and would, furthermore, risk being in conflict with the scientific opinions of any one time period, even if entirely free of Type 1 Errors.

Some examples of Type 3 Errors: The Biblical writer would state: "The sun rises"-the Holy Spirit implying in addition "as men see it". Jesus talks of the "mustard seed-smaller than any seed"-implying in addition "of those you know". These might look like ad-hoc hypotheses, falsely attributing to God a "reseroatio men falLs", but everybody uses language in exactly the same way in ordinary, every-day speech-indeed it would he quite impossible to go back, each time we say something, through all the steps of logical reasoning and define each axiom underlying our expressions.

Mark says "All Judea and all the Jerusalemites came out to him (John) and were baptized"-even though he and all his readers know perfectly well that many stayed hack. Stephen's account in Acts 7:4 concerning Abraham's leaving Haran "after his father's death" seems to be in conflict with the combination of Terah's age when his first son was born (70), Terah's age at his death (205) , and Abraham's age when he left Haran (75). One might, however, suggest that Stephen meant to say "immediately after we read, in Gen. 11:32, of Terab's death, we read, in Gen. 12:1, of God removing Abraham into this land". It is difficult to imagine that Matthew, with his wealth of Old Testament quotations, ignored the four Judean kings he left out of his genealogy in Mat. 1; nevertheless he states: "There are ]A generations..." (one might have to find a different translation for "genca"); one gets the impression he purposely arranged the genealogy in this way, in order to make it three times 14 generations, as a help for memorizing it, or for reasons of symbolism. That the expression "X begot 1" need not necessarily imply direct fathership can be seen, for instance, in 1 Chr. 4:8, where we read "X begot ... the families of Y the son of Z".

Although I agree with Maatman that there are lots of scientific problems the General Theory of evolution has not solved, and that this theory is an unprovable hypothesis, I do not endorse his belief that a correct interpretation of the Bible requires "specific and unique instantaneous creative acts of God" for the creation of man and animals. Gen. 2:7 does not indicate how long God took to form man; the fact that he takes nine months to form a baby and 20 years to form an adult does not detract from his glory. In Gen. 1, the expressions "God created", "God made", and for instance "the earth produced' are apparently used in a parallel fashion, suggesting that the same occurrence might possibly be considered either a creative act of God, or an act of forgiving by God, or even a natural growth process.

It certainly was not God's primary purpose to give us any kind of scientific historical sequence of creation, in Gen. 1, yet I am astonished at bow well Gen. 1 can he harmonized with what we know of Earth's history; and here I tend to go somewhat further than Bube in interpreting details. God being the designer of this historical sequence of events, he might have arranged them in a way that teaches us spiritual lessons: the report might present both a theological and a historical sequence at the same time.

My main reason, however, for feeling that some kind of generalized evolution might he true is the impression that it would give the history of creation a cosmic, majestic dimension somewhat like the impression we get when reading Gen. 1, providing for even greater possibilities of our glorifying the Creator than we would have on the basis of a few acts of instantaneous creation. The more we learn of the immensities of space around us and time behind us, and the more we learn about the intricacies of the design of "natural mechanisms" chance in the scientific sense of the word does not rule out a first cause, the more deeply we can appreciate the greatness of our God in creation.

Peter Rust CH-3148 Lauzenhausern Switzerland

John A. Cramer

Bube's critique of Maatman is really extremely generous. At best, Maatman's article appears to be hastily written. Surely a careful rereading would have dictated the attention of "The Bible speaks on whatever
it speaks to something less tautological. I would hope that in a second reading it would have occurred to Maatman that his recommended imaginary line-drawing effort could at best only demonstrate the impossibility of drawing lines. Surely it cannot demonstrate Biblical reliability as he claims it does. The total unreliability of scripture is an equally possible conclusion to this demonstration.

Bube passes over a glaring error in Maatman's hermeneutical methodology with a mild comment on inconsistency. It is clear that what Maatman calls "the best position" can never be carried out. The difficulty is that if each passage of scripture can only be interpreted in the context of all of scripture, the interpretation of each passage requires a procedure with an infinite number of steps. To interpret any given passage requires knowledge of all the rest of scripture. But such knowledge can only be obtained by examining all of scripture and since scripture is composed of different passages which must be interpreted in light of all of scripture, we must proceed through an infinity of steps. We are caught in an endless loop. No interpretation of scripture is possible under such a method. Since Maatman, I presume, is not of infinite age and yet he appears to have an interpretation of scripture, I conclude that he has abandoned his own method and drawn a line between relevant and irrelevant passages for this interpretation of a given passage. How he does this in light of his own insistence on the impossibility of drawing lines is beyond me. But it seems grossly unfair of him to deny Bube the right to draw lines when he himself does so.

John A. Cramer Texas A & M University College Station, Texas

Gordon E. Fish

I. Maatman's position would benefit greatly from careful linguistic analysis. In general he is not precise in his use of ordinary language.

1. Typical of this problem are Maatman's parallel statements, "No archaeological findings ... could show that the New Testament is not to he the guide for un derstanding the Old Testament and "No archaeo logical findings could prove that the Bible contains error" (82, italics ours). "Could" is used equivocally. The mistake is similar to the philosopher's analytic/ synthetic distinction. There is no logical contradiction involved in a Bible containing errors of fact. (That there is a theological issue is not the present question.) On the other hand, Bube's thrust is that principles of interpretation are not falsifiable on the basis of archaeological data, for example. Principles of interpretation are at a prior level of logic. Hence there is a category mistake in an assertion that archaeology could prove or disprove the New and Old Testaments disjoint. We might, in this case, be forced into agnosticism.

2. The syllogism Buhe formulates in his critique (86) cannot he blindly accepted by Maatman as conclusive logical proof for inerrancy. Like the ontological argument, this reasoning must be given careful analysis to discover hidden flaws in the use of ordinary language. Buhe emphasizes a crucial distinction by using "Absolute Truth" in proposition (a) and "absolute truth" in proposition (b). If these terms are not equivalent in both uses, then the whole argument fails to be logically certain.

II. Bube's position would benefit from better definition of the operational principles one uses to determine minimum revelational content of the Bible, and hence a minimum orthodox Christian confession.
Suppose, for example, one decides that the bodily resurrection of Jesus is not a part of the revelational
content of the New Testament-that what is being taught is a romantic triumph of good over evil, The
creeds and writings of the early Church notwithstanding, how does one argue for or against this position?

Gordon E. Fish, Physics Department, University of Illinois, Urbana IL

David L. Newquist

I agree mostly with Maatman's position and mostly with Bube's arguments, but have some definite disagreements with each.

I agree with Maatmaan's basic position that the Bible is completely free of error, and that no successful classification of errors into acceptable and unacceptable types has been produced. (This is my one large disagreement with Bube's argument.) The revelational content of the Bible is too closely' interwoven with its historical and descriptive contents for any error in the latter to have no effect on the former. An error in most cases cannot be Buhe's type 1 without also being type 2.

Buhe states more clearly than Maatman the general principles and cautions necessary in interpretation of the Bible, and Maatmnan emphasizes the importance of considering each specific passage by itself as well as by general principles stated in other passages. Both are right, with each slightly over-emphasizing his point, although that may be unavoidable in a debate-like situation. Both would probably come out more balanced in a simple, careful exposition of their position by itself, not in contrast with the other's.

I agree with Bube's argument that archaeology and other fields of research could prove the Bible contains error. Such proof is nonexistent, but it is not impossible or inconceivable. Maatman bases ton much on philosophy and too little on facts; Bube correctly replaces logical proof with reasonable evidence as an adequate basis for questioning the historical accuracy of the Bible.

As for the question of the definition of "error", the definition that best satisfies me is one based on the intended meaning of the author. I believe that that meaning must he taken to be absolutely' correct, but also that great care and caution must be applied in determining what that intended meaning is. It seems that often those who believe the Bible authors' meaning to he infallible are too ready to be dogmatic about many details of what that meaning is, and often even mistake their own feelings and opinions for the Bible's. This does not mean there are not a number of points on which the Bible is unmistakably plain; it also does not excuse those who over-react to the one extreme by going to the other extreme of saying the authors' meaning is not necessarily inerrant. I hesitate to refer to Bube's position as an extreme, when it is so conservative compared to much that is said in the name of theology, but I do believe he goes beyond the point of balance on this particular question. The outlook that satisfies me on such questions as whether the Bible is in error in saying the "sun rose" is that the writers are using the universal, theory-independent language of appearances. They mean to he reporting that they observed, and there is no sense in which they are thereby in error. Similarly, the mustard seed was the smallest seed with which they were familiar, and Jesus' referring to it as such is in no sense an error. All in all, this view seems to me to avoid the problems that Maatman encounters with his concept of complete agreement with absolute truth, and also the problems Bube encounters in trying to determine the purpose of the writers and thus distinguish acceptable errors from unacceptable errors.

Finally, a comment on Bube's final challenge to creationists to produce a theory consistent with all the facts: I'm not sure what extent of detail in interpreting the facts Buhe is challenging creationists to produce. Be that as it may, the point is that evolution has been developed quite explicitly and in detail, and encounters some explicit and serious difficulties with the facts. It is not necessary to develop a workable detailed alternative before criticizing an existing theory; Bube's challenge is not valid as a reason for tentatively accepting evolution for now, nor for dropping the basic creationist view. I believe the Bible rules out anything resembling the fullblown theory of biological evolution from amoeba to mail, by very clearly describing a series of separate creative acts and emphasizing "after their kind" to the point of tedium. I do not, however, dogmatically endorse any one of what seem to me to he several Biblically possible specific views of the "where" and "when" of the creative acts. Bribe's challenge is valid as a goal toward which creationists should work, and as a criterion for choosing among the several possible interpretations of the Bible. It is valid as a challenge to creationists who have proposed detailed theories; for instance all versions I have seen of the pre-flood vapor-canopy theory are physically impossible. Exactly' how Bnhe's challenge should be taken by Maatman, I won't presume to judge, but he definitely need not take it as a reason to quit rejecting evolution or advocating the basic points of creationism.

David L. Newquist 2928 N. 15th Ace. No. 26 Tucson, Arizona 85705