Many Christians, and for that matter many non-Christians, are uneasy about an alliance between science and the Bible. Non-Christians worry that the Bible will be allowed to trump or discount science. Christians worry that science will be permitted to trump or discount the Bible. An example of these worries is the following question that was posted on my Facebook wall. In my answer I attempt to alleviate the unease and worries about integrating science and the Bible.
Q: If the Bible needs to be constantly corrected by science, does that not make science god along with everyone who works in science?
A: There is no doubt that many people in the twenty-first century consider science to be god and the practitioners of science as the high priests of that god. This worship of science explains much of the unease that Christians express about integrating science and the Bible.
The Bible clearly and repeatedly exhorts us, however, to study the book of nature (science) to gain truth and revelation from God. A few such texts are Job 12:7–10, Psalm 8, Psalm 19:1–4, Psalm 97:6, Psalm 104, and Romans 1:18–20. These texts are the basis of the two-books doctrine codified in article 2 of the Belgic Confession of Faith:
We know God by two means: 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. . . . Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.
The Bible assures us that both the book of nature and the book of Scripture are utterly trustworthy, reliable, and inerrant. Neither one, therefore, can correct or falsify the other. What they can do is clarify our human interpretation of one or the other. What they can correct is our faulty interpretation of one or both books.
Another way to look at the interface between the book of nature and the book of Scripture is to recognize that both books are perfect. That which is perfect cannot be more perfect than something else that is perfect. A useful analogy would be the 66 books of the Bible. Each one is the perfect, inerrant revelation from God. Each book has different content and addresses different subject matter. Each one, though perfect in what it reveals, is incomplete by itself. Likewise, both the book of nature and the book of Scripture are perfect and inerrant in what they reveal, but each is incomplete by itself, and even together they are incomplete.
In giving us Scripture, God gave us 66 different books. The multiplicity of books, as we integrate their content, assists us in correctly interpreting each one. In the same manner, as we integrate the different disciplines of science, that integration helps us to correctly interpret each discipline. Similarly, as we integrate the book of nature with the book of Scripture, that integration helps us to correctly interpret each.
In my opinion, the best guidelines for constructively integrating science and the Bible were codified by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) in their Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics. Their affirmations and denials relevant to science-faith integration (articles 19–22) are as follows:
- We affirm that any preunderstandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it.
- We deny that Scripture should be required to fit alien preunderstandings, inconsistent with itself; such as naturalism, evolutionism, scientism, secular humanism, and relativism.
- We affirm that since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere, and that the Bible speaks truth when it touches on matters pertaining to nature, history, or anything else. We further affirm that in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations.
- We deny that extrabiblical views ever disprove the teaching of Scripture or hold priority over it.
- We affirm the harmony of special with general revelation and therefore of biblical teaching with the facts of nature.
- We deny that any genuine scientific facts are inconsistent with the true meaning of any passage of Scripture.
- We affirm that Genesis 1–11 is factual, as is the rest of the book.
- We deny that the teachings of Genesis 1–11 are mythical and that scientific hypotheses about earth history or the origin of humanity may be invoked to overthrow what Scripture teaches about creation.
We at Reasons to Believe are so impressed with the outstanding achievement of the ICBI in carefully defining what biblical inerrancy is and what it is not that we have every member of our staff scholar team commit to its articles of affirmations and denials.
In summary, neither the book of Scripture nor the book of nature is subject to correction; however, our interpretations of both will continue to be corrected as we learn more from both books, as we constructively integrate what we learn from both books, and as we repent of our sinful biases. Furthermore, the constructive integration of the two books will reassure us that we are on the pathway to a more complete understanding of God’s truth if we see the adjustments in our interpretations of the two books getting smaller and smaller as we continue to learn more from Scripture and the record of nature.