Science in Christian Perspective
Reply to Geisler
Richard H. Bube
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Stanford, California 94305
From: JASA 32 (March1980): 58
It is important to realize that the partial truth we have is truth because it partially corresponds to reality, but it is partial truth because it does not correspond wholly to reality. There are similarities between partial truth and parabolic statements. Parables present a truthful message in terms of a story with its own characters, script and scenario; to confuse the latter with the truthful message, however, can often lead to confusion. In the same way our models of reality tell us something truthfully about reality, but we may be in serious error to suppose that the model itself faithfully mirrors reality.
Certainly all theological language is not metaphorical. Metaphors are essential when trying to describe something outside our experience. Such descriptions must be given in terms of categories that are within our experience. Thus biblical statements about human actions and crucifixions etc. are not metaphorical, but biblical statements about the origins and consummation of the universe and about the nature of God are necessarily metaphorical.
The existence of an objective reality given to us by the creative activity of God is accepted solely on faith. Our experience tells us that scientific descriptions of this reality have always fallen short of its full description (as witness the continual change in scientific paradigms throughout human history), and it is hardly an act of scepticism to conclude that any particular scientific description is likely to prove inadequate or incomplete in the future. The history of science is replete with examples of situations where scientists believed they had the final true description of the universe, only to be promptly or gradually proved incorrect.
The Bible does tell us something about the way God really is. It tells us in what ways God is like things and persons we know, and in what ways God is unlike things and persons we know. Such descriptions take the form of "inspired pictures."
I am surprised that Dr. Geisler apparently confuses paradox with contradiction, and believes that acceptance of paradox is a sign of neo-orthodoxy. Nowhere did I state that God's attributes are paradoxical, and certainly not that they are contradictory. Still, no less an orthodox theologian than Vernon Grounds writing in the orthodox Christian Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society [7, 3 (1964)] has described seven basic paradoxes in the biblical revelation. I would not think that Grounds fits in the category of a " 'modern' existential theologian." And of course a paradox is an apparent contradiction, not a genuine logical contradiction.
I do indeed mean that God cannot state the scientific truth in Scripture. But this is not a limitation on God; it is a limitation imposed by human communication. It is highly likely that the scientific truth about nature requires concepts, categories, and thought processes as far removed from us as would a description in terms of quarks, leptons, photons, supernovae etc. have been for the people for whom the communication of the Scriptures was given. The baste question remains unanswered: Why would anyone suppose that God would choose to reveal scientific information in the Scriptures when it is evident that such a revelation is far from the total context and purpose of the scriptural writings?