[Originally published as part of the treatise on Coming to Grips with History: A Response to Luke Nix and Cross Examined]
A misunderstanding of the nature of evidence, science, and general revelation
Drawing from his erroneous argument above, Nix concludes the following: “Affirming that God’s actions (the creation) can be used to interpret God’s words (Scripture) is not a matter of “man’s fallible ideas versus God’s infallible Word,” rather it is a matter of affirming that God’s infallible actions are necessarily consistent with God infallible Word.”
Of course, Nix is correct as far as his claim is able to go. The problem is that it doesn’t go quite far enough.
As briefly mentioned above, the dominant cosmological view during this time was wildly other than big bang cosmology.
By Nix’s reasoning, this consensus should have, at the time, been infallible on a level equal to reading the Hebrew Bible. Surely, when put in these terms, it’s clear that Nix’s reasoning is wanting at best.
Further, nobody who holds to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible would disagree that God’s infallible word will match his infallible actions (creation, in Nix’s understanding). The question is how does one come to understand the “truth” taught by each of these mediums?
The Bible is made up of propositional statements.
Most ideas in Scripture are easy to understand because they are written plainly, and those that aren’t usually become clearer over time as we study more, our brains develop further, and we are able to piece together more abstract concepts.
Nature, on the other hand, must be interpreted first according to a number of philosophical assumptions, and many times only those who’ve been educated in a particular field have the tools and knowledge necessary to comment on it with any degree of authority. Only after first deciding on what nature seems to be “saying” can scientists formulate these thoughts into propositional statements on paper.
Scripture, of course, is in the business of “truth” for at least two reasons:
- First, that propositional statements (such as the one you are reading) may be properly considered “true” or “false.”
- Second, the Bible claims it is making true propositional statements about many things, not the least of which is God himself.
What about the project of science?
Science is in the business of probabilities, not truth.
The reason is that the scientific method, properly speaking, is a logical fallacy (how can any truth be based on a logical fallacy?)! This article takes good care of laying out the issue. Of course, this does not mean I disagree with the scientific method. Again, the way we use it is useful, but only as far as it goes.
And it does not go far enough to produce truth, almost by definition.
Finally, Nix seems to ignore a major distinction given by the biblical authors as to what the Word of God is capable of accomplishing as opposed to general revelation. Writing in his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul crafts the following rhetorical argument:
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
We know from Paul’s instruction to his protege, Timothy, that what one “preaches” is “the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Thus, one’s having heard the Bible taught accurately and coming to accept its truth is enough to move from “death to life.” By contrast, we must ask what general revelation is able to tell us.
There is no indication in any of the passages cited by Nix (including Romans 1) that general revelation is a sufficient condition to lead one to the knowledge of the gospel. Such passages are apparently sufficient for condemnation (see Romans 1:20), but not for salvation.
In Acts 10 we find the account of Cornelius’ conversion—a man who evidently responded favorably to general revelation but needed to be shown the gospel in order to understand that only Christ could save. Of course, we understand that Cornelius was not shown a New Testament; but he was given instruction directly from one of its writers—the Apostle Peter himself—about our Savior!
Nix’s suggestion here is committing an egregious error, one the Church has committed before: pressing the Bible to line up with specific scientific models suggested by experts of the day. If the 16th-century Copernican debacle did not teach us this lesson, what will?
A fundamental misunderstanding of how science affects our understanding of ancient texts
According to the historical-grammatical hermeneutic, which both Nix and I affirm, texts should be interpreted according to the plain sense meaning of the words found within, taking into account the historical context of the writer and the genre of the literature.
While many dear brothers and sisters today are opting for a view of the biblical authors which draws much inspiration from other cultures in the ancient Near East, it’s likely that Nix and I would lock arms in boldly heralding the uniqueness of Israel.
As an example, neither Nix or I would affirm that the Bible teaches an incorrect cosmology, and we’d likely resist the idea that the Hebrews actually held an incorrect cosmology (at least pre-Hellenistic influence).12
There, our similarities virtually end.
I have written on the relationship between science and the Bible here and elaborated further on this podcast episode. At the risk of losing your attention, allow me to repeat a lengthy excerpt from the article:
Generally speaking, there are two ways in which one can hold information in relation to the Bible: magisterially, and ministerially. The first requires us to change the plain meaning of Scripture, the second allows us to bolster the plain meaning of Scripture.
For example, interpreting the Bible in terms of evolutionary thinking would require taking Genesis 1-11 in a very figurative sense. But scholars are nowhere close to agreement on what this even means! Some say allegory, some say poetic, and some merely say “non-literal.” But Jesus, Paul, Peter, and many other writers of the Bible understood these passages literally and historically. [At the very least, one would be hard-pressed to show that they didn’t.] This would be a magisterial relationship. Science requires that we alter the plain meaning of Scripture.
On the ministerial view, we could turn to Job 40 and consider the description of what seems to be a giant beast of some sort called Behemoth. For centuries, Bible commentators described the creature as possibly being some sort of hippopotamus-like animal. But that hardly fits the description. Upon the discovery of sauropod dinosaurs, however, we found a real-life beast that existed in the past matching almost perfectly this description. We did not have to change what the Bible said; rather, we altered our understanding of the natural world.
Therefore, I don’t at any point allow modern science to alter my understanding of the Bible per se. Rather, I take Scripture at face value and alter my understanding of the natural world accordingly. Most scientists say there was no global flood, the Bible says there was. Thus, there was a global flood.
And, thankfully, many Bible-believing scientists have come along and done great work under this presupposition to show that, indeed, the Bible has it right!
We must always remember that the Bible is concerned with history. While we are in agreement with most (if not all) observational science, forensic science [what I’ve called “historical science” in this study] must be carried out with certain axioms in mind. If one’s axiom is that the Bible is to be taken at face value, he will come to a very different conclusion than the one who says the axioms of modern scientists are correct, and that understanding must be integrated with the information from the Bible.
Such an “integration” will, as it has in the past, inevitably lead to the reinterpretation of the Bible instead of the natural world. This we must do our best to guard against.
Let’s return to Nix:
“And when God’s actions unequivocally reveal an ancient universe, we need to change our interpretation of what God’s Word in Genesis means to reflect His actions and not our fallible ideas.”
An admission such as the above is astounding! Nix here seems to think the Bible is a sort of “science textbook” which, along with the Prentice-Hall at your local high school, should be updated to reflect each new relevant discovery.
What precedent is there for Nix’s claim? Is the evidence unequivocal? Hardly. (I refer the reader to the many books which clearly and succinctly deliver a young age creationist view with plenty of physical evidence.)
What’s more, it seems that Nix has somehow concluded that God’s actions are infallible (which can only mean our interpretation of them, since we’re not God) and that “our fallible ideas” are apparently those associated with our interpretation of Scripture!
Does anyone else find it difficult to believe that Nix would suggest it’s easier to discern the truth about reality from the natural world than it is to draw from the inerrant, inspired Word of God that was intended to communicate the Truth to all generations? I scarcely think that Nix believes this himself; try as I might, however, I can’t see what else his above statement could possibly mean.
Thus, for Nix (if I’m understanding him right), it is easier for us to accurately draw conclusions about modern science than to accurately interpret Scripture. Not only does this seem highly unlikely and flies in the face of biblical scholarship to this point, but this is a view foreign to the biblical writers.
In Acts 17:11, Paul (God’s physical servant) show up to the Bereans, and Luke commends them because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” They tested the claims of God’s physical, in-person witness against the claims of Scripture.
If anything is unequivocal, it is that God places the supreme authority in his Word, and intends for it to primarily communicate its truth to men—not science.