How Science Affects Our Interpretation of the Bible

Dual revelation theology is an issue that divides modern Christians. Evangelicals agree Scripture is unique in terms of the truths necessary for salvation. And they agree that there are two revelations: the testimony of God through nature called general revelation, and the testimony of God through Scripture called special revelation. The difference lies in the weight or authority one places on each, which results in vastly different interpretations of Scripture such as Genesis 1-11, and the age of the universe. Young earth creationists believe that only 66 books should be the grid through which issues of science are filtered through. They say the Bible goes further than nature and is propositional truth which uses words to communicate facts and event about realities revealed in no other way. They hold to a “plain” reading of the text that seems to teach a recent creation and global flood. Because off the sufficiency of Scripture, they are convinced there is no obligation to believe any other doctrine not taught by Scripture.

Old earth believers have come to their positions on the age of the universe because they  add a “67th” book of the Bible, or the book of nature, as equally authoritative. Nature and therfore “scicence” is not only without error or contradiction, but also equally authori-tative as special revelation. They cite the Belgic confession from the Reformation for support, part of which says “the 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…” They also appeal to Romans chapter 1where Paul says His “divine nature has been clearly seen through what has been made.” Oec (old earth creationists) and yec (young earth creationists) will be the abbreviations used for each view.

The Complications

Young earthers reply that though creation helps us “ponder” God, this knowledge is not specific for salvation and therefore not as weighty. The cultural emphasis of science as “king” is what has complicated matters, trying to fit the Bible into “science”. Though both camps appeal to the church history as the official position of the church, Yec’s, feel they have more evidence that the church fathers in general held to a plain reading of Genesis and a young earth position.

Right or wrong, each camp has labels associated with them. Desiring to give Christianity more credibility at the discussion table, Oec’s are seen to be more in line with science. Yec’s have the image of being more in line with a common sense interpretation of Scripture. And yet these stigmas that have also complicated the issue. Oec’s are viewed by many as compromisers with the Word, appeasing to the world and the paradigms of science. This “softer” stance on the literal interpretation of Genesis has caused many atheists to reject Christianity altogether. Yec’s have the image of being soft on scientific intellectualism because of their radically conflicting logic of Scripture and science as we know it. The truth is somewhere in the middle: Yec’s use plenty of science in support of Scripture and Oec’s take a serious stance on Scripture. Let’s see how these different interpretations of Scripture and emphasis on science play out in the hotbed issue of Noah’s flood.

The Flood: How the Different Interpretations are Worked Out Through the Text

Key Scriptural Terms
 
 

One area where this clash between science and hermeneutics is seen is in the extent of Noah’s flood. Both sides believe in the flood. But was it global, covering the whole earth or local covering only Mesopotamia? A natural reading of Genesis 7:19-21 seems to indicate that it was global: “And the water prevailed more and more upon the earth , so that all the high heavens were covered. The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. And all flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind.” It appears that all life on land everywhere was destroyed because of the emphasis on the Hebrew word “kol” meaning “all” or “every”.

Oec’s counter by saying that when Scripture uses terms like “all” or “world”, they’re not always in the universal sense. When a famine hit Egypt in Joseph’s day, the text says it was over “the face of the earth” (Gen.41:56). We don’t take earth in the global sense because the American Indians didn’t come to buy grain from Joseph. In I Kings 10:24, when “the whole world sought audience with Solomon,” Patagonian natives from South America didn’t send delegates to Jerusalem. The authors of the Bible wrote within the context of the then-known world. They say the globalization of our world today affects our interpretation of the text.

Yec’s reply that this makes a mockery of Scripture. When the Bible says God created the whole world, did He mean He was only the Creator of the Middle East? Plus, it’s not just the use of the word “all” that matters; it’s the repetition of it. In Hebrew, repetition is a way of emphasizing the literalness of whatever is in it‘s context. The text is also reinforced by other universal terms like “everywhere”.

Oec’s say that the Hebrew word “covered” in verse 19 could also mean the mountains were “falled upon” by rain, not necessarily that the mountains were covered with water. Yec’s would say that this is an unwarranted expansion of the semantic field. In all of the Pentateuch, the word unanimously means “covered” so why is it different here?

A seminal argument for the extent of the flood is the amount of creation that was destroyed. Genesis 7:22 says that everything on land and “all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, died”. Does that really mean animals on all continents were killed? Oec’s present that the fall of man only affected animals associated with man , the “nephesh” or “soulish” creatures. If only animals that had contact with man were the tainted ones, then there was no need for a global flood, but only on the Mesopotamian plain where people lived. In this view, to stay true with the laws of physics, death occurred in animals around the world before the fall of man. They point out that people disobeyed God’s command to multiply and fill the earth and engaged in cluster living, an ancient version of the projects in inner city living so only a local flood was needed.

Yec’s call this a limited curse which leads into other interpretive issues about Scripture such as the doctrine of sin, the extent of the fall of man, and the completeness of Christ’s atonement. Did death exist before man was created or was it a consequence of the fall? How fallen is man? Does he have total depravity? Does the curse affect the smallest of atomic particles, or only certain domains in contact with man? One’s interpretation on this passage as influenced by science can surface one’s theology in other areas.

 Interpretation Differences of the Flood as Worked Out Through Science

The Source of the Water
 

Another interpretive feature is the where the floodwaters came from, the “fountains of the deep and the floodwaters of the sky” (Gen 7:11). Oec’s say these are simply aquifers and rain, which is a natural reading of the text. Though Mesopotamia is dry, if we’re going to invoke a miracle from God, it’s here. “God could have caused a local rainfall and flooding”, they say. Furthermore, for a flood to be global, the earth would need 4.5 times the amount of water it now has to cover Mt. Everest. The tectonic activity, with volcanoes and earthquakes involved in creating so much water according to the yec model, seems more science fiction. The mountains would have to have been eroded quickly during the rain and then risen up violently after the water receded in a few months time, which seems unlikely. All such plate tectonic activity would have destroyed the ark. Oec’s say that such gases and dust from volcanoes would impair photosynthetic activity necessary for agriculture after landed. Also, the text says it was wind, not the removal of tectonic activity, that caused waters’ retreat. Neither Genesis or geophysics offers a hint of such drastic activity.

Yec’s would reply that the topography we see today did not exist before Noah. The flood is tied to catastrophic plate tectonics and a super-continent called Pangea, which few uniformitarian (long age) geologists would disagree with. Also, the Baumgardner model shows that cold rock on the crust sinking into hot rock in the mantle would cause “runaway subduction.” This would create huge mountains at the plate boundaries and vaporize incredible amounts of water from a linear geyser in the mid ocean rises, all in a few months time. Also, the new ocean floor, being less dense, would rise by as much as 6,000 feet, raising sea level enough to cover then known structures. Under the current uniformitarian model, Yec’s say that the colliding Indian and Eurasian plates that created the great Himalayas only move 2.54 cm a year! Even with so much time, such little explosive power doesn’t produce the violent upheaval needed for those mountains as we see them today.

A study of sedimentation also leads to different interpretations of the flood. Yec’s say the layer cake features of the Grand Canyon and Green River formations indicate very little time between layers. This combined with the vastness of the formations, indicate a system wide catastrophic flood, not a uniformitarian shallow sea over millions of years. The thick rock layers with poly-strates (trees) horizontal in the beds can only be explained by rapid deposition. Oec’s counter by saying they don’t disagree with catastrophic events in the past, but there were many of them, not one big one.

Speciation and How Many Animals Were on the Ark
 

Significant interpretation differences exist on the amount of animals taken on the ark. Oec’s say the concept of soulish animals, as deduced from the Hebrew text, reduces the amount needed on the ark, so the amount of species on taken on the ark wouldn’t need to be in the millions. Even oec’s grant global flood proponents “pairs” from the taxonomic category of “family”, which also reduces the need on the ark from “millions“ of species to thousands, the animals descended from these still wouldn’t have enough time to “speciate” into the millions we see today according to their time frame of a thousand years or so. Plus, speciation really doesn’t occur today, but extinction does! If anything, the new “species” we see today are more along the lines of “breeds“. With all of the species created over long periods of time before man came, it makes more sense to interpret God’s 7th day of “rest” as one of continuation up until the present, instead of ending like the other 6 days of creation did. God is involved somehow, but not “creating” in the biblical sense. Furthermore, how could 8 people really take care of, feed, clean the likes of such quantities of animals for over a year? The flood had to be limited and local.

Global flood proponents reply that “millions or billions” of species before Noah and even Adam operates from a uniformitarian assumption. Massive speciation for millions of years before the flood rides the line of gradualism and evolutionary thought that dominates atheistic science today. The natural reading of the text is that God spoke the creatures listed into existence and it happened instantly. Furthermore, since the flood, God has not been resting in the manner Oec’s claim. They claim this opens the door to deism where God is removed and letting the natural laws he set into motion continually maintain creation after the flood. God’s 7th day was a normal one like the others, but that ended also and he is back to work.  Therefore, “family”, and “genus” on down to “species” continued after the flood as science has recorded. The interpretation difference of the 7th day is significant as it intersects the biology of speciation.

In addition, speciation still occurs, say yec’s, because we see sorting and loss of existing genetic information in species today, which even biologists say fits the definition of “speciation.” Yec’s also say that 8,000 pairs of animals on the ark is feasible if the biblical term “kind” is related to our “family”, which from there it’s possible to create “species”. The biblical term “kind” is not the problem. The complications stem, say yec’s, from the inconsistencies in the man made classifications of “family”, “genus” and “species”. Studies have shown that if two creatures can hybridize with the same third creature, they are members of the same “kind.” As biologists will say, the taxonomic category of “phyla” is the universal biological boundary of genetic mutation, not down the line of family, order, genus or species.

As for the amount of animals on the ark, yec’s point to studies that have shown that an ark 450 feet long would be more than enough space for this number of animals.

Each side has it‘s gotcha questions for the other. Yec’s ask “if the flood was local, why not just run to nearby dry ground for safety? Why take 100 years to build an ark?” “Also, the Mesopotamian bowl, in which a local flood was supposedly contained, is open ended to the south. What would have prevented the water from escaping? What held it in?” Oec’s ask, “how could an olive tree grown up so fast for the dove to retrieve? How could Noah have produced such profitable agriculture needed after the flood if everything was destroyed?” There are many more issues related to the different views such as biodeposit masses and residual ringing of tectonic activity beyond the scope of this paper.

Conclusion
 

It’s not just the weight one places on science that influences one’s view of the flood. It’s also one’s interpretation of science. And that interpretation is tied to one’s interpretation of Scripture. Each side says the evidence and hermeneutics of Scripture fits their view. The caveat is that one’s view of science can shape one’s interpretation of Scripture. And one’s view of the flood can shape his or her theology in other areas, such as depravity.

Philosophically, I’m not sure about the equal weight of dual revelation theology because the argument has only arisen in proportion to our culture’s emphasis on science and material naturalism. The Indians had nature as the only testimony for centuries and it really didn’t help their cause spiritually. The issue comes down to authority. It’s not that general revelation is not authoritative. It’s not as authoritative. General revelation is true; just not true enough. God is not relegated to vindicating His deepest mysteries through man’s interpretaion of science. Though nature is a witness, throughout church history, naturalism was not required for salvation.

The testimony of nature may be a first step in the salvation of all men, but it is not specific enough. One has to look elsewhere for disclosure of his love and grace. If there is anything progressive, it’s not in evolution. It’s revelation. As one commentator says, “natural revelation is sufficient to make man responsible, but it is not sufficient to accomplish his salvation. Therefore, in a qualatative sense, are not equal in authority.

Salvation, not science, is the main need of the human soul which Scripture is clear about. Special revelation is of such weight in terms of life issues that science today wouldn’t exist without it. Interestingly, the modern scientific method was birthed from the hermeneutics and rules of interpreting Scripture. And special revelation is often ahead of general revelation/science in terms of discovery anyway, the paradigms of which often change.

Furthermore, equally weighted dual revelation seems to go against the law of oneness we see in all of reality. There is only one way to heaven (Christ). There is only one #1 ranked tennis player at a time. A spark plug essentially works one way to fire an engine (though there are many brands). A man dies once. Singularity is everywhere.

According to the assertion that nature is equal in authority to Scripture, then those who are proficient in the realms of the natural world, such as world renown scientists, should be just as redeemed as mature evangelicals who take seriously Sola Scripture. Is salvation a different but just as weighty truth as looking at a tree? Greatness in general revelation doesn’t produce greatness in the kingdom. If this were so, Stephen Hawking should be one of the most brilliant advocates and theologians for Christ; but he isn’t. This is especially true when he said recently, “the scientific account is complete. Theology is unnecessary.”

We glorify and a top rated scientist who gives a quote about God, or we say “what a witness it would be if Dr.______________ came to Christ.” But it’s not necessary. Paul found out the hard way, “men of reputation contributed nothing to me” (Gal. 2:6). Sometimes a vague idolatrous fantasy within our area of interest guides our spiritual lives more than we realize.

The truth is, a little old lady who couldn’t work her way out of a wet paper bag on a theology exam, much less a science test, knows more deeply the mysteries of the Creator when she sees through the eyes of the heart and has walked with God through a thousand perilous moments, than an astronomer who has peered to the outer reaches of the universe We’re glorifying the wrong people. Even if they do come to Christ, in a sense they go all the way back down and take their place in line until maturity is demonstrated. God defines reality. It’s not natural man who tries to take the kingdom of heaven by storm and build technological towers of Babel who understands the mysteries of God. Isaiah wrote, “For thus says the high and exalted One, who lives forever, whose name is holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit‘”…(Is. 57:15).

Scripture has the answers science is ultimately looking for, so they can’t be equal. As someone said, “creation doesn’t contain the ultimate answers to it’s own mysteries; they have to be anterior”. DRT blends into the idea that nature is coexistent with God, and the laws of nature now run the universe. How does natural law, which at best channels random chance, coexist with chance? If natural law is coexistent with the evolution of life, it cannot exist independently of it.

There is only so much that empirical observation can reveal about the spiritual realm. Our “knowledge may be greater than all previous generations combined” as one astronomer said, but it’s still knowledge on a horizontal level. As Tozer wrote, “the spiritual realm is of such a fine grade and a high frequency so as to be scarcely detectable with human apparatus”. Empirical knowledge doesn’t expand our thoughts into a true knowledge of God and the ways of kingdom living. Astronomy, with the help of mathematics, may come close in knocking on the door of other dimensions of time and space as we can imagine them. But calculating the rate of expansion of the universe with space-energy density, no matter how difficult and intellectual, is still empirical and discernable by unredeemed man. What’s needed to discern that ways of God beyond the cosmos is spiritual intelligence, an altogether different type of gift from God.

In holding to special revelation, Christians shouldn’t be ignorant about the theories around them; they need to engage the culture and have an intelligent answer. But how much weight science should have in interpreting Scripture may be an irresistible temptation, with natural man’s tendency towards distraction and idolatry entering the picture. Doing science, as fascinating as it is, can be idol and a form of worshipping the creation and rather than the Creator (Rom.1:25). Jesus said a “desire for other things chokes out the Word” (Matt. 13:22). This is not to say matter is evil, but Jesus also said that idols from the material world are the greatest competitor with Him for worship in the human heart: “you cannot love two masters; you will either hate the one or love the other, or will love the one and hate the other” (Matt.6:24). Science has done wonders in medical and lifestyle advancements that we have benefited from. But the heart is easily distracted, and man is constantly swayed to rely more on his own intellect than on God. The intellectuals throughout the N.T. are often seen having the greatest struggles in keeping the main things the main things. The pursuit of truth in science can lead to a hunger for greater revelation; but Scripture has the ultimate answers to the mysteries of science.

Doing science is a form of work that gives man something to do, no less than tilling a garden. But has God really left it to science to fill in the gaps of Scripture with dogmatic certainty? Science is fluid. The laws of physics are known, but the interpretation of how these are manifested change. These can complicate the authority and interpretation of Scripture and the “simple life of faith” (II Cor. 11:3). There is no power in the law to save, whether it’s the law of physics or the law of God. Salvation of a soul is a special act of providence along the lines of God’s creative power, not simply His maintaining power.  Scripture must be held as supreme over the revelation of nature, even if science appears to conflict with the text.

Eugene Merrill concluded, “in the final analysis, text must trump scientific hypothesis, no matter how rational and persuasive the latter seems to be. The implications of a flawed cosmology and chronology are far too devastating to biblical historicity and ultimately to the Gospel itself to be lightly embraced because of the teaching of one man (or many).”

Copyright by Scott Chandler. All Rights Reserved.

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About Scott Chandler

As a trained academician, Scott speaks to the issues of our culture with an emphasis on apologetics.
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