Two Books of Revelation: Scripture and Nature

Today, we go off topic and present another excellent piece from KOATAP (Knower of All Things Astrophysical). It is sad that the Christian community has become divided on secondary issues. That division grows even deeper and wider when one side accuses the other side of theological heresy.

If you are reading this and have never heard that there is a Christian  view beyond Young Earth, you need to start reading because your church has kept you profoundly ignorant of the varying orthodox viewpoints on this subject. If you have never read another point of view, we urge you to do so. I have read much of the Answers in Genesis web site and watched countless DVDs as I sought to understand the Young Earth point of view.

It is important to understand a few simple points.

 

1. One can be theologically conservative and believe that the earth is billions of years old. Anyone who says otherwise shows profound ignorance of the other side of the argument.

2.The evidence for an old earth and old universe is so overwhelming that it requires intellectual gymnastics to even continue arguing that the earth is young.

3.Well over 95% of committed scientist who are Christians believe that the earth and the universe is very old.

4.Most people fear science and therefore do precious little reading on this subject, preferring instead to take the easy and dogmatic way out which is what Ken Ham and those like him are banking on.

 

TWW is committed to bringing a deeper understanding of this topic. We are fortunate to know the author of the following piece who has written for us before. He is in the early stages of planning a book and our readership is blessed to have explain some of his thoughts on this matter. This man is a deeply committed evangelical with impeccable, conservative, evangelical roots.

 

On Monday we plan to publish Doug Pittman's comprehensive list as to what constitutes the Baptist (or Religious) Mafia. Please feel free to add your own thoughts to the list.

Also, we found two more posts (Whops) on spiritual abuse and Wonderland that we neglected to post. They are perhaps, the best ones.

 

 

 

“Two Books of Revelation: Scripture and Nature”

 

 

This topic hits at probably one of the more difficult and perhaps controversial issues in the Science/Faith debate – at least for Christians. Orthodox Christianity has always acknowledged the ability of Nature itself to ‘speak’ or ‘reveal’ certain aspects of the nature of God. And it has certainly been built on the belief that the Bible, Scripture, reveals to us the nature and plan of God. Further, it is generally accepted that both of these ‘books’ or ‘revelations’ is true, as God Himself is true and the Truth. Yet one of the key drivers for the conflict we see between Science and Faith has been the apparent contradiction between what we see Nature reveals about the Creation, and what we have thought Scripture reveals about the Creation.

 

 

To establish that this has indeed been a historical view of the church we can look to both the Early Church Fathers and founders of the Protestant reformation. For example, St. Augustine, the “de Civitate Dei (City of God) book 16 (written 413-426 AD) says:

 

“Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?"

 

 

Or consider also this lengthy quote of St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD):

“For if God had given instruction by means of books, and of letters, he who knew letters would have learnt what was written; but the illiterate man would have gone away without receiving any benefit from this source, unless someone else had introduced him to it; and the wealthy man would have purchased the Bible, but the poor man would not have been able to obtain it. Again, he who knew the language that was expressed by the letters, might have known what was therein contained; but the Scythian, and the Barbarian, and the Indian, and the Egyptian, and all those who were excluded from that language, would have gone away without receiving any instruction. This however cannot be said with respect to the heavens; but the Scythian, and Barbarian, and Indian, and Egyptian, and every man that walks upon the Earth, shall hear this voice; for not by means of the ears, but through the sight, it reaches our understanding. And of the things that are seen, there is one uniform perception; and there is no difference, as is the case with respect to languages. Upon this volume the unlearned, as well as the wise man, shall be alike able to look; the poor man as well as the rich man; and wherever any one may chance to come, there looking upwards towards the heavens, he will receive a sufficient lesson from the view of them”

 

 

We may also look to the reformers for lessons in this arena, as here I quote non other than John Calvin from his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” 1599 AD:

“The creation is quite like a spacious and splendid house, provided and filled with the most exquisite and the most abundant furnishings. Everything in it tells us of God.”

 

 

Or Article 2 of the Calvinistic Belgic Confession from 1561:

(we know God): “First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God.”

 

 

And even more recently, Charles Hodge, a champion of Biblical Inerrancy in the 19th century said:

"For five thousand years the Church understood the Bible to teach that the earth stood still in space, and that the sun and stars revolved around it. Science has demonstrated that this is not true. Shall we go on to interpret the Bible so as to make it teach the falsehood that the sun moves round the earth, or shall we interpret it by science and make the two harmonize?"**

 

 

Scriptural justification for this historical view of can be found in both the OT (Psalms 19) and the NT (Romans 1). In Psalms 19* David contrasts the works of God and the Word or Law of God. The first half of the Psalm tells us “The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge”. The second half then sets up a beautiful parallel (a common component of Hebrew poetry) with: “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul, the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple”. Both the works of God in creation and the Law of God in scripture speak to us, and together they bring us knowledge and wisdom.

 

 

Turning then to Romans 1:19,20 we see

“… because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them,. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

 

 

So what then is going on when we see certain texts of scripture which appear to imply God made the Heavens and the Earth a certain way, yet Nature’s witness appears to be in contradiction? Clearly there are only two practical options. One of the ‘books’ is wrong, or something about how we understand one or both ‘books’ is wrong. Clearly as believers then, we must acquiesce to the latter, or our reason for belief will be compromised.
But which is wrong – our understanding of Scripture, or our understanding of Nature? I would propose that as concerns to topic of the history of creation, it is the former – our understanding of Scripture. Not Scripture per se, but rather, Scripture’s role in communicating ‘truth’ about Nature.

 

 

We all tend to intuitively understand that Nature, even though it grants us a certain general revelation of God, can’t necessarily lead us to a precise and necessarily correct understanding of God like the Bible can. I would propose that the same is true of the Bible as it communicates to us about Nature. That the two ‘books’ stand as complements to each other, filtering and guiding the generalized revelation of the other. That is, what nature tells us about God can lead to several different ideas about who God might be, within a generalized framework of His glory and majesty. The Bible gives us the specifics. Likewise the Bible in speaking of Nature gives us a generalized picture which also can lend itself to several different possible understandings of nature, and Nature itself helps us to filter these options and arrive at the correct one.

 

 

Historically, the mistake the Church has made over and over again is to refuse to allow Nature to guide our understanding of the general prose we see in the Bible as regards its descriptions of the natural world. Here are a few examples.

 

 

The scripture speaks of the heavens in a way consistent with the ancient view of them as a dome or sphere in which the stars and sun are placed. And though there are other ways of looking at the texts which so describe the heavens, there is nothing in the text that alone – sola scriptura – that would ever lead one away from that understanding of the heavens. And in line with this, we see in church history debates over the common idea the heavens where a firm structure. Indeed, if you’ve ever wondered why the KJV uses the world ‘firmament’ to describe the sky, it is because the idea the sky was a firm dome precedes Christ and when translating from Hebrew to Greek, and then later from Greek to Latin, and finally into the English of the KJV, this idea was retained.

 

 

And, although there were some debates over the issue as men pondered the heavens, it was not until Galileo pointed his telescope at the sky that it became clear the ‘firmness’ of the firmament was not the truth. Modern translations, in line with our current knowledge, tend to translate the term which was translated firmament with an eye towards its speaking of an ‘expanse’, rather than to its connotations of firmness.
Likewise, and through the same mechanism of discovery – Galileo’s telescope – other scriptures that were consistent with the idea the Earth did not move and the Sun, Moon, and stars revolved about them was shown to have been improperly understood for thousands of years.

 

 

And so now, once again, ancient, traditional ideas of what the Bible is telling us about nature stand in opposition to what Nature itself is telling us about Nature. Can we learn from the mistakes of the past and realize God’s primary purpose for Scripture is to teach us about Him, not Nature? That the prose of Scripture as it describes Creation lends itself to many possible understandings, but that the original writer’s perception is likely the one we see in the most simplistic rendering? As such, should we not then honor the complementary relationship of these two ways God speaks to us in knowledge and in wisdom, allowing Scripture to drive our understanding of God’s Law and purpose, and Nature to drive our understanding of God’s works, seeking an understanding of both that is self-consistent – revealing a God who is true in all areas of life?
 

Zeta “KOATAP”
 

*Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)

 

**It should be noted that Hodge, though espousing the above, did have problems with Darwin’s theory of evolution (relatively novel and as yet not well established at the time of his writing). Thus, it is clear regarding Nature as arbiter in certain areas of scriptural interpretation is not a paradigm which can be applied simplistically or without careful consideration of all the data available, both spiritual and physical.


Comments

Two Books of Revelation: Scripture and Nature — 12 Comments

  1. We must also keep in mind that the scriptures were first read by (to) people of limited knowledge of nature (e.g., microbiology, DNA, sedimentary formation of rocks, carbon dating). Thus, to have provided them with a modern understanding of nature in the OT would have led to it being rejected as crazy nonsense.

    That means that we must look for a larger truth in the OT scripture. One such truth is that everything worshipped by the neighbors of the Israelites was created by the God of the Israelites. What a powerful idea! Worshipping the creator rather than the created.

    Some other great truths: God seeks to have a relationship with us. God is not only creator but sustainer. Human sin is destructive of a relationship with the God who loves.
    etc.
    None are dependent upon the Bible being literally historically and chronologically exact as a scientific account of creation. The highest form of Truth is not literal, but theological, as in what does the text teach us about God and our relationship to Him.

  2. Arce,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree completely. For some reason we seem to expect that when God revealed these texts, He was making sure that even on the most superficial of reads, the text would conform to what we now know over 3000 years later. And for many this assumption is so deeply ingrained it actually occupies the place of scripture itself. That is, the idea this assumption is wrong is viewed as equivalent to saying scripture itself is flawed.

    The problem, of course, is that for many the truth of the scripture rests on the world being created in 6 literal days somewhere between 6 and 10,000 years ago. For them, they are forced to forever flee what has been learned over the last 200 years about the natural world.

    In addition, what is generally added to this is great fear of what science shows in general. That the scientists are ‘evil’ seeking to undermine the credibility of scripture (and to be fair, some are). That looking at the scientific evidence is tantamount to looking at the ‘lies of the devil’. And so many do not even know what it is they are supposedly against.

    This is why I am writing this piece. There is a historical precedent for the recognition that nature is part of Gods revelation to us. And note that while wisdom is ascribed to scripture in Psalm 19, knowledge is ascribed to nature.

    If we can recognize that in looking at nature we are looking at God’s works and we have nothing to fear in looking at them except to have our own ignorance of the natural world dispelled. Keeping in mind a concept even groups like AIG and ICR hold, that the two, nature and scripture, can never actually be in conflict, we do not then need to fear asking questions of both when our understanding of them shows apparent conflict.

    And in asking those questions, we must take courage and realize the only thing we really have to lose is ignorance – if we but seek God in prayer and humility as we study both nature and scripture.

    Zeta

  3. Coincidentally, I was just reading “An impartial history of Michael Servetus” written in 1724. After a long correspondence in which Servetus dared to disagree with some of Calvin’s teachings, Calvin had Servetus burnt at the stake for “heresy”. The book remains the best source of information on the subject (you can get it in pdf form at google books!)

    Anyway, there’s a good examination in the book of the extreme to which people like Calvin take “heresy” -one of Calvin’s stated reasons for Servetus’ slow, horrible death was his opposition to infant baptism.

    The fourth century bishop Philastrius is given as another example for condemning as heretics those who believe “that earthquakes are produced by natural causes” or that “the number of years from the beginning of the world is uncertain”.

    The writer comments:

    “I cannot believe that it is laudable to call a man an heretick, when he is not so nor do I think that any truth in natural philosophy and astronomy ought to be slighted if those truths raise in us a greater admiration for the wise author of nature, and must needs be great helps to religion. No christian ought to be afraid of philosophy: tho I have a due esteem for the writings of the fathers, I may be allowed to say, that Philastrius wanted judgement; and if a divine would write such a catalogue of heretics now-a-days, he would Iose his reputation forever.

    How strange that almost 300 years later, our “divines” want to make it heresy again.

  4. Ken

    Thank you for your excellent examples from history. I find it interesting the lengths some “Calvinistas” will go to defend Calvin and the Servetus incident. They will claim that he wasn’t “in charge” and couldn’t have stopped it. I have read enough now to believe that, had he wanted to, he had the means to stop this incident.

    Calvinistas spend too much time defending Calvin instead of accepting the Calvin was just another fallen being like them. I think Calvin would agree. There is only one Man who was perfect and that was Jesus. As Christians, the moment we try to make any individual sound “perfect” we deny the basic facts of the fall of man.

    A former pastor, who was ill educated on the creation issue and a rabid young earth creationist (do they go together?), became incensed when I brought up the issue of Galileo. I implied (and meant to do so) that today’s young earth types could fit into the category of the church during Galileo’s day. Poor guy, jailed, called a heretic, etc. just for saying the earth revolved around the sun.

    Today’s Ken Ham types would probably do the same. My former church booted people out of Sunday school classes for pointing out the antiquated science they pushed as “new discoveries” was bogus. Thankfully I am back among the living and the thoughtful. Also, great Christian scientists are making inroads in the backwaters.

    Ken, you are certainly well read!!!

  5. Not having a television helps!

    I’d recommend the book I mentioned, An impartial history of Michael Servetus, which I understand is still considered the best book on the subject, to anyone interested in Calvin’s role in Servetus’ murder. It reprints Calvin’s letters, his written accusations, the court’s verdict, and Servetus’s response among many other relevant documents.

    You can download a pdf of the entire book at google books; http://books.google.com/books?id=S_g6AAAAcAAJ

    Calvin was nothing less than a vicious revenge-mad murderer, having written years before the conviction “if he comes here, if my authority is worth anything, I will never permit him to depart alive.” What earned Servetus Calvin’s endless ire was nothing more than private letters vehemently disagreeing with Calvin’s doctrines.

    Calvinistas need to know this story. But I assume it’s swept under the rug. I was raised Lutheran and had never heard of Luther’s murderous screed “The Jews and Their Lies” until decades later.

    I suppose bad as our “spiritual leaders” can be, none of them have gotten as low as Calvin or Luther. At least not yet.

  6. Ken

    We have all fallen short of the glory of God. So many leaders seem to forget this fact. We raise men to the height of Jesus and are surprised when these men fall flat on their faces.

    We must read and remember the past- not parts of it, but all of it.And we must never, ever put man on a pedestal where only God belongs.

    Then, in our weakness and failings, He is glorified. How much He loved David who had an affair and a child with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered.Yet, David is remembered as a man after God’s own heart. How humbling, undeserved and hope-filled for all of us.

    Thank you for reminding me about Luther as well.

  7. Thanks for the comments Ken. I have felt the Servetus incident highlights an aspect of who John Calvin was that I have serious problems with. And what I find interesting is that this same ‘spirit’ of John Calvin seems to seriously follow any who follow too vigorously his teachings. That even though they would claim Calvin’s actions toward Servetus (having him burned at the stake) were outside the realm of reasonable, they adopt the same attitude about those who differ from then theologically that he had.
    They are just moderated by the societal norms in which they are immersed as to how that attitude can be expressed.

    We should however note that Servetus’ heresy charge included more than being against infant baptism – which few of us would even consider heresy today. He was also in some way a non-trinitarian, something all of us wold likely consider a true heresy. However, his was a much more subtle forms of non-trinitarian belief that what we typically think of (e.g. JW’s or Mormons). It was more along the lines of seeing Father / Son / Holy Spirit as different manifestations of the One true God rather than three distinct eternal personalities that are One.

  8. Hey KOATAP

    Can you imagine what some of these “heresy hunters” would do to you and me if they had both the gun and the law on their side? Great Scott!

  9. I think we’ve already seen the answer to that. Have those we have angered by our positions made use of whatever authority and power they have to silence us? To what extent was self-control used, to what extent was the truthfulness/genuineness of our faith recognized? There will be different answers for different individuals. But those that used the maximum power available to stop what we had to say would be the ones most likely to use physically oppressive methods were they available and culturally acceptable to use.

    It is why we must be very grateful indeed that the Founding Fathers of this Nation decided to prevent the Nation from establishing a state religion and refusing to allow the power of the State and Federal governments to be used to prohibit the free exercise thereof. God help us to be vigilant to preserve that freedom.

    Zeta

  10. Thanks for the comments Ken. I have felt the Servetus incident highlights an aspect of who John Calvin was that I have serious problems with. And what I find interesting is that this same ‘spirit’ of John Calvin seems to seriously follow any who follow too vigorously his teachings. That even though they would claim Calvin’s actions toward Servetus (having him burned at the stake) were outside the realm of reasonable, they adopt the same attitude about those who differ from then theologically that he had.
    They are just moderated by the societal norms in which they are immersed as to how that attitude can be expressed.

    We should however note that Servetus’ heresy charge included more than being against infant baptism – which few of us would even consider heresy today. He was also in some way a non-trinitarian, something all of us wold likely consider a true heresy. However, his was a much more subtle forms of non-trinitarian belief that what we typically think of (e.g. JW’s or Mormons). It was more along the lines of seeing Father / Son / Holy Spirit as different manifestations of the One true God rather than three distinct eternal personalities that are One.

  11. Emily
    I notice that you repost old comments. Is this a way to show us that you agree with them? I have noticed this trend with a couple of other commenters.

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