How should we interpret

the Two Books of God,

in Scripture & Nature?

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

This page is in two related parts:
      1) How can we wisely use the information in scripture and nature, in God's Bible and God's Creation?
      2) When we disagree, in our interpretations of scripture or nature, what should we do?

      We'll look at the interactions of people with ideas (in Part 1) and with each other (in Part 2).
      The main goal is summarized in a question:  How can we improve understanding and respect in the Christian community, so we can more effectively bring glory to God in our thoughts and actions?

      an option:  If you want to get a quick overview of the main ideas in this page, you can first read a condensed-and-revised version in Sections 2B-2C of my FAQ about Creation-and-Evolution.   (and 2A looks at the historical myth of "warfare" between science and religion)


      Part 1 — Using Information from Scripture and Nature

      God has graciously provided us with two sources of information: in the Bible and in nature.  How can we more effectively combine what we learn from our studies of the Bible and nature?  How can we more effectively love God, and love each other?  What principles will help us achieve all of these goals?
      Of course, for the most important things in life — for learning about God and how He wants us to live and love — the Bible is more important.  But we don't have to make an either-or choice, and by using both sources of information our understanding of total reality (spiritual plus physical) can be more complete and accurate.

      How can we use God's revelations with wisdom?
      A good way to think is illustrated in Psalm 19, where an appreciation of God's dual revelations in nature ("the heavens declare the glory of God") and scripture ("the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul,... giving joy to the heart") inspires a personal dedication: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."

      By contrast with this wisdom, consider another way of thinking:
      When we ask, "What is the relationship between science and Christian religion?", one answer — inherent conflict and science-religion warfare — was proposed in the late 1800s by John Draper and Andrew White.  The metaphor of "war" is dramatic, is useful for anti-Christian rhetoric, and has exerted a powerful influence on popular views about the interactions between science and religion.  But this view of history is oversimplistic and inaccurate.  It does not accurately describe what really happened, and is rejected by modern historians.
      Viewing the relationship between science and Christianity as "inherent conflict" is wrong, but is common.  When I tell someone that I'm a scientist and a Christian, a common response is, "Wow, how do you do it?"  Sometimes this is a "why" question, challenging my intelligence and rationality because — if there really is a conflict between science and faith — one or the other should be rejected by a logically consistent person.  But often it's a genuine "how" question, an invitation to explain how I cope with the disagreement (assumed by the questioner) between conclusions in science and statements in the Bible.
      In responding to the question "How do you do it?", what should we say?  How can we reconcile science and the Bible?  The next section explains why "science and Bible" is the wrong question, and why — because perceived conflict is not actual conflict — we can have confidence in both of God's revelations, in scripture and nature.

      Realities and Interpretations

      There is no actual conflict between the realities of scripture and nature, but sometimes there is a perceived conflict when we compare our interpretations of scripture and nature.  The important distinction between reality and interpretation is illustrated in a three-level diagram:

      On the top level is God, the ultimate source of everything.
      On the middle level are God-produced realities: the scripture God inspired, and the nature God created.  On the lower level are human-produced theories: our theology (based on interpretations of scripture) and our science (based on interpretations of nature).
      The two levels illustrate an important principle:  We cannot compare scripture with science, because they are on different levels, but we can compare theology (a fallible human interpretation) with science (another fallible human interpretation) while trying to search for truth.

      On the bottom level, the goal descriptions are oversimplified, but are useful for thinking about theology and science and their interactions.  In theology, the main goal is to understand spiritual realities.  In science, the main goal is to understand physical realities.  But the main goals aren't the only goals, and our theories about spiritual and physical realities are interactive.  The interactions are indicated by two horizontal arrows on the lower level, which show mutual influences:  theology affects science and our views of physical reality, while science affects theology and our views of spiritual reality.  {diagram is adapted from Deborah Haarsma}

As explained above, the main goals of theology and science are not the only goals, and our interpretations of nature and scripture influence each other.  These mutual interactions, general and specific, are examined below in the next two sections.  

      General Interactions (between Theology and Science)

      What does theology say about physical reality?
      First, instead of thinking "natural" means "without God," Christians should see natural process — which is the focus of study in science — as being designed and created by God, and perhaps guided by God.  We believe that God can use natural process to change our situations and our thoughts and actions, and that He responds to prayer, usually in ways that appear normal and natural.
      Second, the Bible teaches that although God's activities in physical reality usually appear natural, occasionally His actions appear miraculous.  Therefore, when we are trying to understand what is happening now and what has happened in the history of nature, the range of possibilities is expanded because we believe that God can act in ways that appear either natural or miraculous.
      How are these theological beliefs — about spiritual reality and physical reality, for the natural and miraculous — related to science?  To get an accurate understanding of the relationships between theology and science, we must distinguish between derivable and compatible.  Christian theology, based on the Bible, cannot be derived from science (so it is nonscientific) but is compatible with science (so it is not unscientific).

      What does science say about spiritual reality?
      In principle, science can reach no scientific conclusions about the ultimate source of natural process, although evidence for a design of the universe may decrease the scientific plausibility of atheism which claims an "accidental universe" with no designer or creator.  And scientists should be humble about their naturalistic theories (by claiming "if it occurred naturally, then ___") so they can remain open to the possibility of miracles, whether or not they choose to acknowledge this possibility in their scientific theories.
      In practice, however, our views of spiritual reality can be influenced by our perceptions of science and by the personal views of scientists.  These personal views vary widely and usually remain private, but occasionally scientists make public statements about theology.  For example, Carl Sagan began Cosmos, his highly acclaimed film series and book, with a clear declaration of atheism: "The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."  And the National Association of Biology Teachers, from 1995 to 1997, claimed that “natural” means “without God” when they declared that natural evolution is an “unsupervised” process.
      Although these bold declarations about theology were made "in the name of science" by a scientist and by the leaders of a science education organization, their claims were personal opinions, not scientific conclusions.  Unfortunately, however, such claims can exert an unhealthy spiritual influence on readers who respect science, and who — because they don't understand the difference between what science can and cannot logically conclude about theology — think the claims are scientific.
      Why do some scientists make these theological claims, and why do some intelligent people mistakenly think the claims are scientific?  Usually, confusion occurs when we fail to distinguish between science (our investigations of physical reality using observations, imagination, and logic) and scientism, which is "an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science... to provide a comprehensive unified picture of the meaning of the cosmos." {from Webster's Dictionary}
      Scientism begins with a good idea that, when exaggerated, becomes a bad idea.  Science has earned our trust because it has been useful for understanding many aspects of physical reality and for developing technology.  But this trust should not be extended into areas where it is not justified, where science is not useful.  We can trust science for some things and not others.  When confidence in science is misplaced and becomes scientism, it can lead us to wrong conclusions.  For example, scientism (but not science) might claim that events which "violate scientific law" cannot occur.  Two ways that scientism (but not science) can lead to naturism — an atheistic belief that nature is all that exists — are explained in Science and Christianity: Are they compatible?
      In the ASA, we think that science is good but scientism is bad, that when a Christian embraces science but rejects scientism, the result should be stronger faith.  When science is used wisely, to help us answer only appropriate questions, we learn more about God's creation, and this gives us more reasons to praise God.

      Here is an interlude about Natural Theology:
      When we're "reading the two books" we should not try to use either book to "teach us" what it isn't intended to teach, since this can lead to wrong ideas.  Above, I explain why we shouldn't let naturalistic science teach us that all of history is totally naturalistic, with no miracles.  Below, I explain why we should be cautious when using scripture to teach us about the detailed workings of nature, especially when the "message from nature" is clear, as it was for our solar system (in 1700) and (now) as it seems to be for the age of the earth and universe.
      Another question is the relationship between scriptural theology (based on our study of the Bible) and natural theology (based on our study of nature).  Eventually, I'll revise these two sections (above and below) to include this.  Until then, here is part of the "Natural Theology" section in a links-page about THE TWO BOOKS OF GOD:
      Our science can influence our theology, thus moving it in the direction of natural theology, when we ask, "Does God exist?  What does God do?  What is God like?", and we use our understanding of nature to construct our understanding of God.   It's important to ask, "How should science influence our theology?"
      These questions — about what the interactions between science and theology can be, and should be — are difficult, and they won't be "answered" here.  But here is a useful principle:
      In the ASA journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, George Murphy (March 2006) looks at the "two books" concept, and explains why it's better to use scriptural theology (based on the Bible) instead of natural theology (based on what we see in nature) as a foundation for building our understanding of God, especially the character of God: "We should begin with the knowledge of God revealed in the history of Israel which culminates in Christ.  Then we know that the creator, the author of the book of nature, is to be identified with the crucified and risen Christ, and we can read the book of God's works in that light. ...  We can learn about nature simply by reading the book of nature.  But that book will tell us something about its author only if we have first read the Bible and understood its witness to Jesus Christ."


      Specific Interactions (between Theology and Science)

      This section looks at science-theology interactions that are focused on specific passages in the Bible.
      We should agree that in holy scripture the main purpose is to help us understand spiritual realities, but is this the only purpose?  Do any passages in the Bible contain scientific information that should be used in our scientific theories?  Or should we use information from nature to help us interpret the passages?  When thinking about these questions, one useful principle is illustrated by changes in our theories about the solar system:
      In 1500, we had a coherent system of false beliefs.  Everyone thought that planetary motions were earth-centered, and that the Bible taught this science.  Our interpretations of nature and scripture were both wrong, but they agreed with each other and were thus in harmony.
      In 1620, there were debates among scientists, who didn't agree with each other about how to interpret nature.  And there were debates about how to interpret scripture;  some theologians, but not others, agreed with Galileo's interpretation of biblical passages that seem to indicate a moving sun and stable earth, when he said "the intention of the Holy Spirit is to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."  At this time, some interpretations of nature conflicted with some interpretations of scripture.  { In addition, scientists and theologians were influenced by other factors, including personal interests and Aristotelian philosophy. }
      In 1700, science and theology were again in harmony, with both agreeing that planetary motions are sun-centered.  But unlike 200 years earlier, now both interpretations corresponded to the reality in nature and scripture, and were therefore true.

      What was the change in theology?  In 1500, people claimed that the Bible teaches an earth-centered universe when it says "the sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises," when it describes a mobile sun that "rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other" and a stationary earth: "the world is firmly established; it cannot be moved." (Ecclesiastes 1:5, Psalm 19:6, Psalm 93:1)  In 1700, almost everyone agreed that the Bible authors were simply describing what seems to be happening when we observe the sun, just as we now talk about a sunrise or sunset.
      What caused this change?  Our interpretation of the Bible was influenced by information from nature, interpreted using science.  This influence was beneficial, since it helped us recognize that in these passages the Bible was not making a scientific statement teaching us "how the heavens go."  {two ways to achieve harmony}

      In this reinterpretation of scripture, we are not comparing the Bible (which says "the sun rises") with science (which claims "the earth moves") and deciding which is more important.  Instead, we are comparing different interpretations (of the Bible, and of nature) and are wisely using all available information in our search for truth.
      We are trying to find the correct answer when we ask, "Does this Bible passage teach science?"  For questions about whether a particular passage is intended to teach us about nature, information from nature — gathered and evaluated using scientific methods — can be very useful.  This principle of interpretation was recommended by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (1982) when they affirmed that "in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations."

Part 2 — When we disagree, what should we do?
      The first part of this page explains why, even though there is no conflict between the realities of scripture and nature, our differing interpretations of scripture and nature can produce a conflict between ideas.  When interpretations differ, how can we evaluate the ideas, and how can we handle our disagreements in a way that glorifies God?  These questions, about understanding and respect, are examined in the following sections.

      Students in my high school learned valuable lessons about understanding and respect from one of our favorite teachers, who sometimes held debates in his civics class.  Monday he convinced us that "his side of the issue" was correct, but Tuesday he made the other side look just as good.  We saw him do this with many different questions, and we learned two important lessons.  First, we realized that if our goal is to get an accurate understanding, we should get the best information and arguments that all sides of an issue can claim as support.  Second, when we investigated more thoroughly and understood more accurately, we usually became more respectful, because we realized that even when we have valid reasons for preferring one position, people on other sides of an issue may also have good reasons for believing as they do.
      Let's look at some ways to improve our understanding and respect when we ask, "How old is the universe?"

      To get an accurate understanding, we should "get the best information and arguments that all sides of an issue can claim as support" in science and theology.

      Science (from studying nature)

      In ORIGINS EVIDENCE you can find pages explaining the principles of modern science, and giving old-universe and young-universe arguments for a wide range of observed phenomena.
      Based on observations in dozens of areas, logically evaluated using scientific principles, most scientists have concluded that the universe and earth are billions of years old.  But some scientists think these conclusions are wrong by a factor of a million, and the universe is only thousands of years old.  How can you decide which interpretation of nature, old universe or young universe, is more plausible?
      In this case, two commonly used evaluation criteria — credentials and character — must be used very carefully when we're trying to evaluate views about age, because proponents of both views include intelligent scholars with expertise (theological and/or scientific) who are devout Christians with high moral character, who sincerely want to find the truth.
      What about consensus?  In dozens of independent areas, most scientists have reached old-universe conclusions.  Is this an impressive argument in favor of their views?  Yes.  Is it conclusive?  Probably.  In the past, occasionally scientists have been correct when they challenged a majority consensus, but this is rare.  Even if a well established theory eventually is rejected, usually it has survived many unsuccessful challenges before its rejection.  And in this case, dozens of major well-established theories, spanning a wide spectrum of science, would have to be rejected.
      But you shouldn't just accept the "authority" claimed by proponents of either view.  Instead, you can learn thoroughly and think carefully, using basic principles of logic, as explained in The Methods of Science Applied to Age-Questions.  When you compare the claims made by proponents of each view, in each area, what are their points of agreement and disagreement?  Do they disagree about the observations, interpretive principles, or logic?  In each area, which view is more plausible when you use scientific logic to evaluate the differing interpretations of evidence from nature?

      Theology (from studying the Bible)

      For differing interpretations of scripture, similar questions arise.  How can you evaluate different views about the intended meaning of a Bible passage?
      First, carefully study the text.  In this linguistic study you can take advantage of what scholars have learned about word meanings and sentence structures in the original language, and how these are affected when the text is translated into English.
      Second, consider the context (cultural, spiritual, and situational) in which the passage was written.  In this contextual study, ask "Who was the author writing for, what was the intended purpose, and in what ways did the context affect how the passage was written?"
      Third, in a theological study you compare the theology of each interpretation with theology from other parts of the Bible, to check for consistency.
      Fourth, sometimes information from nature, logically interpreted using the methods of science, can help you choose between different Biblical interpretations that seem satisfactory based on other criteria, because "in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches."
      As in science, however, credentials and character usually don't help us distinguish between differing views that are held by intelligent truth-seeking scholars with theological expertise and high moral character.

      An important question — "What is the intended meaning of Genesis 1?" — won't be examined in depth here, since in other pages you can find detailed descriptions of different interpretations, along with arguments for and against each view.  I encourage you to read these pages, to study the views and think carefully about the arguments, so you can evaluate for yourself.  The brief section below simply describes the main views (without arguments) and does not evaluate:
      Does Genesis 1 describe history in chronological sequence?  In a young-earth interpretation, each "yom" is a 24-hour day, and the entire creation process occurred in six consecutive days.  Or creation might have occurred in six nonconsecutive 24-hour days, with long periods between each day.  Or maybe in six "days of proclamation" God described what would occur during the process of creation.  In a day-age view, each "yom" is a long time period of unspecified length.  In a gap view, there was an initial creation (in Genesis 1:1), a catastrophe (in 1:2), and a re-creation on the earth (beginning in 1:3).
      In a framework view, the six days form a logical framework in which history is arranged topically, not chronologically.  The two problems in Genesis 1:2 — the earth was "formless and empty" — are solved in Days 1-3 (by separations that produce form) and Days 4-6 (by filling each form).  And if you compare the separation and filling in each pair of parallel days (1-and-4, 2-and-5, 3-and-6) you will find parallels between related aspects of creation.  When the text is studied carefully, it's easy to see this logical framework.
      Another view, which can be combined with some views above, proposes that Genesis 1 was written specifically for its original readers, and the purpose was theological rather than historical or scientific.  In this view, Genesis 1 uses theories about physical reality from surrounding cultures (it uses their ancient near-east cosmology) for the purpose of more effectively challenging their theories about spiritual reality (their polytheistic "nature religions").
      All interpretations should emphasize the clear statements of creation-theology in Genesis 1:  Everything in nature was created by God, and is subordinate to God.   There are no polytheistic "nature gods" so we should worship only the one true God who created everything.   God's creation is good but is not divine, so nature is placed in proper perspective.   God declared His creation to be "very good" so we can reject the idea that physical things are intrinsically bad;  our problem is sin, not physicality.   And humans are special because God created us in His own image.


      When all things are considered — when you carefully and prayerfully evaluate all information provided by God in both of His revelations — what can you conclude about plausibility?  Which set of internally consistent interpretations (young-universe for scripture and nature, or old-universe for scripture and nature) do you think is most likely to be true, to correctly describe reality?  And what level of confidence, or humility, is justified?
      Is one type of interpretation, but not the other, hindered by sin?

      • RESPECT
      Emotions often rise during disagreements between people who feel strongly about important ideas, who think they have found the truth and want to share it with others.  During a vigorous discussion, sometimes it's difficult to remember that treating everyone with respect will improve interpersonal relationships, and that respect is a Christian behavior which glorifies God because it is one aspect of "loving your neighbor as you love yourself."
      When we're thinking about controversial questions, our personal interactions will be more enjoyable, productive, and glorifying if we publicly acknowledge the rationality of other positions (by recognizing that "people on other sides of an issue may also have good reasons for believing as they do"), adopt an attitude of respectful humility that honors the dignity of individuals holding those positions, and remember that ideas and people are both important.
      Treating others with respect is easier if we develop an appropriate humility when estimating the certainty of our own theories about theology and science.  But appropriate humility is difficult to define and achieve.  It requires a balance between two desirable qualities — confidence (which if overdeveloped can become rude arrogance) and humility (which can become timid relativism) — that are in tension.  But most of us tend to err in the direction of overconfidence in our own theories, so trying to develop the virtue of modest humility usually has a beneficial effect.
      During his Monday-and-Tuesday debates the intention of our high school teacher, and the conclusion of his students, was not a skeptical postmodern relativism.  I think we should use rigorous logic when evaluating all views, in order to reach conclusions about the plausibility of each view.  Combining this rigorous logic with a respectful attitude is difficult.  But a combining of logic (in an effort to gain understanding) with respect (in the process of loving each other) is a worthy goal.  God wants us to search for truth, and He wants the people who love Him to love each other.  Trying to achieve both of these noble goals — truth and love — can be challenging, but it will be an opportunity for growth in Christian character when it inspires sensitivity, compassion, and good judgment.
      Some words of wisdom — useful in all areas of life, including our examinations of scripture and nature — come from St. Augustine: "In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, diversity. And in all things, charity."  Behaving with charity requires either a humility in estimating the certainty of our own theories, or a willingness to be kind even when we feel certain that another person is wrong.  Above all, it requires a love that transcends our differences, so everyone will know that we are disciples of Jesus because we love one another.

      Essential Theology

      St. Augustine says, "In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, diversity."  This is good advice, but how can we decide whether a doctrine is essential or nonessential?  We can use our estimates of the doctrine's importance and certainty.
      For example, consider the claim that Jesus died and was brought back to life.  Is it important?  Yes, this is emphasized by Paul: "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14)"  If this resurrection is false, our hope for a future resurrection is a false hope.  The resurrection of Jesus is very important.  It is also taught with certainty, beyond any doubt.  For example, it was clearly stated (and was the most important topic) in Peter's first sermon, in Acts 2:14-36.  A person who doesn't believe the resurrection of Jesus is missing an essential core-belief of Christianity.
      Human interpretations of the Bible are fallible, but are not worthless.  We should adopt appropriate humility, so we should reject postmodern relativism.  For essential doctrines, we should not be "tolerant" by accepting the credibility of alternative interpretations.  Instead, we should say "this is what the Bible clearly teaches, and it is important."  But for nonessential doctrines that are less important or less clear, we should adopt an attitude that is more appropriately humble.  It is wise, for personal faith and for evangelism, to focus our attention on doctrines that are most important, are most clearly taught in the Bible, and — when all things are considered, including information from nature — seem most likely to be true.

      Is a young earth an essential doctrine?  Is it both important and certain?  Most theologians think that:
      1) a young earth isn't intrinsically important, and the truly important Christian doctrines are compatible with either an old earth or young earth;
      2) the Bible doesn't teach a young earth with certainty, since old-earth interpretations of Genesis 1 are credible, both linguistically and theologically.
      3) In addition, abundant information from nature indicates that the earth is not young, so instead of supporting claims that a young earth is certainly true, this information leads almost all scientists to conclude that a young earth is almost certainly false.
    Despite these three reasons for caution (regarding importance, certainty, and information from nature), prominent advocates of young-earth views boldly proclaim that "if the Bible is true, then certainly the earth is young," and they link the gospel of Jesus with their young-earth interpretation.  They don't think young-earth beliefs are necessary for salvation, but they do claim that their interpretation is necessary for believing the Bible's historical accuracy and spiritual authority, to provide a solid historical and theological foundation for Christianity. {examples}  They claim that if we do not adopt their literal interpretation of Genesis 1, if we question its chronological historicity and scientific accuracy, then we are on a "slippery slope" and we will ultimately question and reject other historical claims and doctrines in the Bible.  Although these claims are made with good intentions, we should ask — when the gospel is linked with a young earth — "Is it justified, and is it wise?"
      Is it justified?  As described above, most theologians think a young-earth doctrine is neither important nor certain, so it should not be considered an essential doctrine.  And based on information from nature, most scientists think a young earth is certainly false.
      Is it wise?  Unfortunately, a claim that "if the Bible is true, the earth is young" is logically equivalent to saying "if the earth is not young, the Bible is not true."  When a person who thinks the Bible requires a young earth examines the scientific evidence and concludes "the universe and the earth are old," another conclusion may be that "if the Bible is wrong about the earth's age, maybe it's also wrong about other things it teaches" so the spiritual authority of the Bible is weakened, and faith is weakened or abandoned.  Or an earnest seeker of spiritual truth — convinced by young-earth advocates that a young earth and Jesus are a "package deal" that includes both or neither — will reject the combination due to their conviction that the earth is not young.  Therefore, Christians should not encourage (and should not accept) any implication — whether it is made by fellow Christians who want to strengthen the Gospel, or by non-Christians who want to discredit the Gospel — that "if the earth is not young, the Bible is not true."  And we should help our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling with this dilemma (some examples) so they can emerge from the experience with renewed faith in God and the Bible.   {a link-argument and two options}

      This page ends with a summary of essential doctrines that are compatible with believing in either a young universe or old universe.
      We can all agree about the essential theology in Genesis 1:  Everything we see in nature was created by God, and is subordinate to God.  There are no polytheistic "nature gods" so we should worship only the one true God who created everything.  God's creation is good but is not divine, so nature is placed in proper perspective.  God declared His creation to be very good, so we can reject the idea that physical things are intrinsically bad; our problem is sin, not physicality.  And humans are special because God created us in His own image.
      The Bible clearly teaches that human sin led to human death, and that Jesus offers us salvation from sin and death.  In Genesis 3:6, Eve and Adam ate from the "tree of knowledge," choosing to make moral decisions for themselves instead of trusting and obeying God.  In Genesis 3:22, the "tree of life" was removed because sinful humans "must not be allowed forever," and without God's supernatural "tree of life" protection Adam and Eve immediately began to perish, with natural processes temporarily allowing life but eventually leading to their death.  We needed a savior, and God is merciful, so Jesus accepted the penalty of death that we earn by our sinful disobedience, and by his life of sinless obedience He earned the right to make his own eternal life available, as a gift of grace, to all who will accept.  Because of what Jesus did, the eternal life taken from us in Genesis will be given back to us in heaven: "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)"  In heaven, for humans there will be no sin and no death, and God's goals for us will be permanently actualized.
      The full gospel of Jesus — including His deity, virgin birth, teachings and miracles, sinless obedience to the Father in life, substitutionary atonement in death, victorious resurrection, ascension into heaven, and second coming — is fully compatible with a young earth or old earth.

      When we ask whether certain Bible passages are intended to be sources of scientific knowledge, sometimes we disagree.  But we can all agree that the Bible should be our main source of spiritual knowledge, and that the main goal of Christian living is to learn from the Bible, to believe it and do what it says, thereby bringing glory to God in our thoughts and actions.


with ideas that will be
useful for interpreting

the Two Books of God

The three-levels diagram is adapted from a diagram (on Page 7 of Two Books) by Deborah Haarsma.
And I adapted the argument-and-responses below from Deborah Haarsma and Loren Haarsma:

A logical argument (two claims and a conclusion) could be made in 1700:
    1. Christianity requires planetary motions to be earth-centered.
    2. Science shows the planetary motions are not earth-centered.

    3. Therefore, Christianity is false.
Here are three ways a Christian can respond to the claims in 1 and 2:
    A) reject a claim that Christianity requires earth-centered motions. (this is very justifiable)
    B) reject a claim that science shows motions are not earth-centered. (this isn't justifiable)

    C) accept both claims and also the conclusion. (this isn't logically justified, because in Response-A we should reject Premise-1)
Since 1700, most Christians have chosen A.  Do you think this is wise?
Do you think there is analogy between earth-centered claims and young-earth claims?

      Advocates of young-earth interpretations often ignore an important principle:  "We cannot compare scripture with science [because they are on "different levels" *] but we can compare theology (a fallible human interpretation) with science (another fallible human interpretation) while trying to search for truth."   * Trying to compare the Bible (uninterpreted scripture) with science (an interpretation of nature) is an "apples and oranges" comparison that isn't possible.
      For example, according to Ken Ham (president of Answers in Genesis) old-earth views depend on assuming that "man, by himself, independent of revelation, can determine truth [by interpreting nature using scientific evidence and logic] and impose this on [my interpretations of] God's Word." {source}  Similarly, John Morris (president of the Institute for Creation Research) asks, "Can man, with a brain and reasoning powers distorted by the curse, evaluating only a portion of the evidence, accurately reconstruct the history of the universe?  Should his historical reconstructions [his interpretations of nature] be put on a higher plane than [his interpretations of] Scripture?  Or is man and his mind locked in the effects of the curse — a poor reflection of the once glorious ‘image of God’ — now blinded by sin and the god of this world, seeing things through a glass darkly?"  { a word game: Try reading these quotations with and without the clarifications [in square brackets] added by me. }
      Morris claims that his theology (his young-earth interpretation of scripture) is not being affected by "a brain and reasoning powers distorted by the curse" but their science (their old-earth interpretation of nature) is affected.  He is skeptical about human competence in one area (for some people) but not another area (for other people, including himself and Ken Ham).  Why does Ken Ham think the earth rotates and orbits?
      Later in the same page Morris declares his interpretation of scripture to be an essential theological doctrine (both certain and important) when he recommends that "no church should sanction a pastor, Sunday school teacher, deacon, elder, or Bible-study leader who knowledgeably and purposefully errs on this crucial [young-earth] doctrine."
      These ideas are examined more deeply in a page that explains why historical science can be useful in our search for truth.

      In everyday life we constantly make complex evaluations about certainty and importance, of the type required for determining whether a doctrine is essential.  We are quite capable, for example, of deciding that the resurrection of Jesus is true (and is taught in the Bible) but a 144-hour creation is false (and is not taught in the Bible).
      Consider a simple physiological analogy:  There is no distinct dividing line between "cold" and "hot" because temperature varies continuously, so this is a "slippery slope" situation;  but we can make a rational decision that a bathtub full of ice water is too cold for a bath, and boiling water is too hot.  Similarly, instead of "slippery slope" logic, demanding that we must accept all claims that "the Bible teaches this" as being equally well supported, we can rationally decide that The Resurrection is essential (because it is more certainly taught and is more important) but a young earth is not essential.

Cosmos was the most widely viewed series in PBS history (seen by 500 million people in 60 countries);  it won Emmy and Peabody Awards, and was the most widely read science book ever published in English. (source)   Sagan received the Public Welfare Medal, highest award of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, "for distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare."

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
 a NON-ITALICIZED LINK opens another page.  Both keep everything inside this window, 
so your browser's BACK-button will always take you back to where you were.

Here are other related pages:

Two condensed faq-versions of this page,
Using Information from Nature & Scripture,
are in Sections 2A-2C of a
short FAQ and medium-sized FAQ;
and Sections 4A-4D in these FAQs cover
some parts of this "Two Books of God" page.

 Science and Religion in Conflict?  is it "Warfare"? 
 (what about a Flat Earth?  and Galileo vs Church?) 

Can historical sciences help us
understand the history of nature?
Historical Sciences for Age-Questions

Biblical Theology for young-earth Christians

This page is part of a set of pages — including
Whole-Person Christian Education and more
  written in 2004 for a multi-author book project.  

and pages by other authors:

which is related to
AGE OF THE EARTH (theological perspectives)
and, in another page,
AGE OF THE EARTH (scientific perspectives)

This page is

Copyright © 2004 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved