Letter to the Editor


Repeating Error: Another Perspective

Tom PittmanP.O. 
Box 6539
San Jose, CA 95160-6539


From: PSCF 53 (March 2001): 69-70.

After carefully reading John McIntyre's communication, "Repeating the Catholics' Galileo Error," (PSCF 52, no. 4 [December 2000]: 255-9) and discussing it with him at length, it is clear to me that McIntyre's position has some serious, perhaps fatal, flaws:

1. McIntyre says "Christians should wait for the scientific verdict before interpreting Scripture." [p. 256] I understand this to mean (and McIntyre confirmed my correct understanding in his final response to me) that whatever topic we might choose to address from Scripture, if the scientific community should choose to address the same topic from their materialistic perspective, the church is obliged to back off and defer to the scientists. I am unable to see how this differs from the rightly criticized "God-of-the-gaps" mentality, where the church backed off of every theological statement as science encroached on it. McIntyre was unable to help me see the difference, if he even tried to do so.

2. The atheists in the scientific community have a (materialistic) "scientific" explanation for every phenomenon of our existence. Since they are (by definition) offering a "scientific verdict," the church therefore is obliged to retreat from "all" pronouncements about anything at all--except perhaps a Mammy Yokum-ish "Good is better than evil, because it's nicer." This is the same as no church at all, and the atheists win. McIntyre did not reply to this point.

3. McIntyre offers essentially a David Hume definition of science, the "faithful report of the senses." Hume argues from the uniformity of the senses against the possibility of miracle, and I see no way to refute that from McIntyre's position. The "faithful report of the senses" tells us that the only way to get wine from water is to pour it on the ground in the vicinity of grapevines, wait some months, gather the fruit and crush it so that the yeast on the surface will ferment the juice, then wait some more for the flavors to chemically interact. Scripture has a different story, which McIntyre would have us interpret in the light of the "faithful report of the senses." In other words, it did not happen that way. The "faithful report of the senses" (aka science) tells us that a human body in which the heart and brainwave activity has been stopped for three days cannot be resurrected. If Christ be not raised from the dead, then we are yet in our sins, and our faith is futile. McIntyre did not reply to this point.

4. The Big Bang theory is not the "faithful report of the senses" but an interpretation of an interpretation of the dials and printouts of our instruments. Nobody has ever "sensed" the 3-degree radiation with their senses, and they certainly have never sensed the Big Bang. Except God. McIntyre was unable (or unwilling) to explain to me why we should believe the interpretations of the cosmologists over against the clear historical record offered by God. It is important to realize that in the Galileo example offered by McIntyre, the church attempted to interpret poetry as history; McIntyre now seems to wish to re-interpret history as poetry. Both are invalid interpretive techniques, whether applied to Scripture or to the musings of atheistic cosmologists. The Big Bang theory may be the best science we have today, but the historical grammatical interpretation is the best exegesis we have--and we use it to read the scientific papers.

5. The Galileo example cited by McIntyre is misleading as presented, as he admitted to me by email. Hummel clearly points out that the church actually sided with the scientific community in this case. For fifteen hundred years the "faithful report of the senses" was (and remains today) that the earth is stationary and the sun and stars move around it, and this was the position of the scientific community until Copernicus thought up an abstraction based on Scripture, in which he supposed that circles better reflected the glory of God in his creation than the complex epicycles of the Ptolemaic model. With Galileo the church followed exactly the procedure McIntyre recommends, and they were wrong. McIntyre did not reply to this point.

6. This is not to say that the Big Bang is wrong or that the Recent Creationists are right; there are other, more compelling arguments for making that decision. McIntyre chose rather a weak argument to defend his perspective in a very important controversy. I find it particularly disturbing that PSCF regularly publishes papers arguing this position, and says "we've seen enough of this discussion" when I ask why the other side is not given more print.