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Sunday Quote

Sunday Quote!- Questioning Exegesis Through Discovery?

brt-youngstearley

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Questioning Exegesis Through Discovery?

One area that evangelical theologians must weigh is the notion that exegesis should line up with reality. Thus, how might one balance an interpretation between some apparent readings and the findings of certain scientific discoveries? Must they even be balanced at all? Davis Young and Ralph Stearley’s magisterial work on the age of the Earth, The Bible, Rocks and Time, provides an interesting historical background for how discoveries led to the questioning of exegesis of certain texts:

 [In the 17th Century…] foundations were gradually being laid for questioning the accepted opinion about the age of the Earth [that being a few thousand years]. Advances in the study of fossils and rock strata were both necessary before such questioning would come about… (47, cited below)

Thus, historically, there has been an interplay between scientific discovery and exegesis of key texts of Scripture. Without certain scientific advances, received opinion on certain features of the natural world remain unquestioned. However, once scientific advances made it possible, these opinions were challenged and often abandoned in the face of extrabiblical evidence. The book provides a great overview for how the interplay between discovery and exegesis played out.

What are your thoughts? Should new discoveries be allowed to challenge received interpretations? How might we best deal with discoveries in the natural world which apparently clash with our reading of the text?

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Source

Davis A. Young and Ralph F. Stearley, The Bible, Rocks and Time (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

17 thoughts on “Sunday Quote!- Questioning Exegesis Through Discovery?

  1. Both Augustine and Aquinas taught that if an interpretation of scripture is contradicted by a new scientific discovery, then that interpretation was never the real meaning of the text, just a human mistake.

    Posted by Darach Conneely (@ConneelyD) | August 10, 2014, 9:24 AM
    • If Augustine and Aquinas really thought that (you provide no reference), they were adopting a ridiculous position. Basically, it makes Scripture unfalsifiable. If we find Jesus’ body in an empty tomb, it just means Paul and the NT never taught a physical resurrection. The physical resurrection was never the real meaning of the text, just a human mistake.

      Modern OEC who take this position have no respect for Scripture to allow it to speak for itself. I have more respect for the liberal who says “Scripture is clearly saying this and is wrong.” than for the wannabe-conservative OEC who says “Whatever Scripture says, it must be saying what aligns with this other authoritative data.”

      Posted by Remington | August 12, 2014, 10:56 AM
      • Ok, so you are a geocentrist? After all the sun stood still in Joshua’s day, not the earth. So obviously scripture teaches geocentrism. Right?
        Or is there some weight of evidence that you would let shape your interpretation?
        If not then you rejects Gods revelation in nature in favour of the infallibility of your own exegesis. In which case, congratulations, you have annointed yourself Pope!

        Posted by Giles | August 14, 2014, 7:55 AM
      • Giles, please notice that I never said Scripture cannot be informed by extra-biblical data. So your response to me misses the mark entirely. I pointed out the flaw in what Darach said (and what he/she said Augustine and Aquinas said). You’ve done nothing to show that my criticism is wrong. All you’ve done is *assume* I said something I did not say and then you tried to criticize a position I didn’t take, all while leaving Darach’s own position undefended against what I said.

        That strikes me as a knee-jerk reaction.

        Again: if Augustine and Aquinas actually said that, then they are not only wrong, but they are actually adopting a position that is ridiculous. If we were to find Jesus’ body in a tomb, this would only mean that what we have discovered is the true meaning of Scripture: Jesus didn’t rise bodily.

        Such a position is clearly not treating Scripture with any respect to speak for itself. Such a position clearly isn’t deserving of much respect from anyone else.

        If you think it’s defensible, please go ahead and defend it but I’m not going to chase red-herrings.

        Posted by Remington | August 14, 2014, 11:57 AM
      • Ok. Sorry. I thought you were saying you can’t weigh the extra biblical evidence. Some do. I have seen YEC advocates say only exegetical arguments can be considered, which I think is insane. Congratulations, you haven’t annointed yourself Pope.

        Posted by Giles | August 14, 2014, 5:32 PM
  2. historically, there has been an interplay between scientific discovery and exegesis of key texts of Scripture.

    ‘Interplay’ is an interesting choice of words. It suggests a back and forth conversation, each playing a role in bettering our understanding of the reality we share. But this simply isn’t so.

    The ‘interplay’ has been uni-directional. The method of science works to produce models that seem to explain how reality works… so accurately that technologies, applications, and therapies are developed that seem to work for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Very often this understanding demonstrated to work is in direct and incompatible conflict with various religious explanations. The ‘interplay’ is not a give and take but a kind of ongoing battle where, as scientific understanding advances, religious claims about how reality operates retreat.

    It is never, ever, the other way around. I think this means there is no ‘interplay’; there is a obstacle to overcome if scientific models of explanations are to advance, and the name of this permanent obstacle is – to generalize here – ‘religion’.

    Posted by tildeb | August 10, 2014, 9:44 AM
    • It is never, ever, the other way around.

      Can you convince the readers of these comments that you looked hard enough, that absence of evidence in your eyes can be trusted to be evidence of absence? I’m not up on my science from the first century to the sixteenth. Indeed, I find that not many are, so unless you’ve consulted scholars who would know, merely asking on blogs seems like a bad research technique.

      Posted by labreuer | August 10, 2014, 11:09 AM
      • If I have overreached in my claim that religion does not contribute to the production of models that seem to explain how reality works accurately… so accurately that technologies, applications, and therapies are developed that seem to work for everyone, everywhere, all the time based on these models… then any reader can prove the claim wrong by demonstrating a single contrary example.

        Easy peasy!

        For you to return this favoured trope of yours that until a complete absence is established by the person saying there is an absence (and provides you a detailed list on which ‘experts’ have been consulted and to what extent research has been accumulated to your satisfaction from every nook and cranny and corner of reality), means that such a claim is not empowered by evidence is nothing more and nothing less than a diversion from the point raised: the ‘interplay’ between science and scriptural exegesis is always uni-directional. Prove the claim wrong if you can. After all, coming up with even one example should not be too strenuous an undertaking if there really is an actual ‘interplay’ occurring.

        Posted by tildeb | August 10, 2014, 11:58 AM
      • As I very intentionally implied, I am not an expert in the history of science. Only such an expert can possibly justifiably make the claim you have made: “It is never, ever, the other way around.” Therefore, it is quite clear that you do not know what you have claimed, and thus you are exhibiting Boghossian-faith: “Pretending to know what you do not know.”

        Posted by labreuer | August 10, 2014, 12:16 PM
      • As I said, this is your favourite trope.Tedious, but useful only in this particular diversionary sense.

        Under this banner, nothing can be known by anyone anywhere at any time, which is about as useful a framework as mammary glands on a male bovine, not that usefulness of product means anything to you when ‘discussing’ scriptural exegesis and its ‘interplay’ with science. Sure, your cell phone works, but hey, Science… just another kind of faith, right?

        Posted by tildeb | August 10, 2014, 1:39 PM
      • Under this banner, nothing can be known by anyone anywhere at any time, […]

        I haven’t a clue as to how this follows what I said. To say that no evidence of X exists, I must have surveyed enough territory to be justified in such a claim. In other words: “If X existed, I would very likely have encountered it. I have not, so X probably does not exist.” How from that, it follows that “nothing can be known by anyone anywhere at any time”, I would like you to explain.

        but hey, Science… just another kind of faith, right?

        What you claimed (“It is never, ever, the other way around.”) was not science, and therefore I never got close to saying that science (capital-S ‘Science’?) requires ‘faith’—and who knows what you mean when you utter the word ‘faith’. Feel free to offer a rigorous definition, though! Let’s be quite clear: when someone doubts the Pope, he/she is not de facto doubting God, and when someone doubts what you, @tildeb say, he/she is not de facto doubting science, nor Science.

        Posted by labreuer | August 10, 2014, 1:45 PM
      • It strikes me that Ard Louis’ BioLogos whitepaper may provide an example of what you say does not exist. On the first two pages, Louis talks about Newton’s development of the theory of gravitation, and how it had potential errors, arising from the 3-body problem (or N-body problem). Newton was able to dismiss this problem by appeal to God: he could send the occasional comet in to prevent planets from getting ejected from their orbits.

        Did theology help Newton develop his theory? Louis provides two lines of evidence for a “yes”:

        (1) Newton thought that “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”
        (2) Newton would have discarded his theory if there were no solution to the problem I explain in the beginning of this comment.

        Now, I can see ways to wiggle out of a “yes”. Blaise Pascal famously said, “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” It is as if God always provides a way to deny his existence for those who wish to run away and eventually deny his existence. I do think I have provided a good piece of evidence as to theology being useful for an absolutely momentous discovery in science.

        Posted by labreuer | August 10, 2014, 1:32 PM
    • TILDEB is actually spot on, in regards to how some Christians (Darach Conneely?) operate. It’s a joke for Christians to take the position that whatever science says, we’ll just discover this is what Scripture has said all along.

      What’s ironic is how these same OEC wag their finger at YEC for appearing so ridiculous to non-believers. They don’t realize how ridiculous their own position appears to non-believers.

      Posted by Remington | August 12, 2014, 11:03 AM
  3. Some young earth creationists say they will only accept an exegetical argument for an old earth. No weight of scientific evidence can shift them. Some argue scripture is infallible science isn’t. But Gods revelation in nature is infallible. The data is the data. Scientists may misinterpret, but so may readers of the bible.
    You can drill down in some places and find many tens of thousands years worth of coral animals, each of which lived out their span and was preserved in their ecosystem. No possible way they could be laid down by the flood. To dismiss such evidence on the basis of an interpretation of scripture is the paradigm of insanity (a refusal to submit to reality) and a blasphemous elevation of ones own interpretation to the level of infallibility.

    Posted by Giles | August 10, 2014, 11:13 AM
    • What if said young earth creationists see a false dichotomy as a true dichotomy:

           (1) accept the science + philosophy
           (2) reject the science + philosophy

      ? Surely you recognize that philosophy is often smuggled in? Example: the current model of evolution says that there is no ‘guidance’, which means that reality is unguided. Ceci n’est pas une pipe? Non! Ceci est une pipe. There is error in both (1) and (2), and I’m inclined to say that the error of ingesting bad philosophy is much worse than the error of ingesting bad science.

      The absolutely terrible predictions of Milgram experiment § Results were very likely the result of accepting a terrible model of human nature. I need to research this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if our failure to understand what Hitler was doing, starting in 1933, was due to our culpably wrong model of human nature. As it turns out, great evil doesn’t require a great number of evil people. It just requires a few evil people and a lot of sheeplike people. Anyone knowledgeable of the OT, with the belief that the general patterns therein are true, would know this. But hey, SCIENCE!

      Posted by labreuer | August 10, 2014, 12:03 PM
    • >>Some young earth creationists say they will only accept an exegetical argument for an old earth. No weight of scientific evidence can shift them.<>Some argue scripture is infallible science isn’t. But Gods revelation in nature is infallible. The data is the data. Scientists may misinterpret, but so may readers of the bible.

      But YEC like myself claim that God’s revelation in nature isn’t about the age of the earth. Scripture says *GOD* is revealed in nature. Scripture never says the age of the earth is revealed in nature. So YEC like myself simply say that we have no reason to expect that the age of the earth is a part of God’s revelation.

      >>You can drill down in some places and find many tens of thousands years worth of coral animals, each of which lived out their span and was preserved in their ecosystem. No possible way they could be laid down by the flood.

      YEC scientists don’t account for everything by the flood. But this is a science question and I’m not in a position to personally try and come up with some scientific explanation that can account for the data in a relatively short period of time. I wonder if you are? How much work have you done in the earth-sciences?

      >>To dismiss such evidence on the basis of an interpretation of scripture is the paradigm of insanity (a refusal to submit to reality) and a blasphemous elevation of ones own interpretation to the level of infallibility.

      That reflects a naive epistemology. Its perfectly rational for someone to find the weight of the Scriptural evidence to be clearer and more compelling than the scientific evidence.

      Posted by Remington | August 12, 2014, 11:15 AM
  4. The danger is not science, but philosophy which masquerades as science. Francis Bacon redefined “knowledge” to mean that which gives one ability to control. There was some goodness in this push: people to that time weren’t being intelligent in regaining the ability to redeem the world from corruption, Rom 8:21-style. But he ended up sowing the seeds for the destruction of formal and final causation (see Aristotle’s Four Causes), which has had drastic consequences. For metaphysics details, see Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.

    The result, today, is that many claim, under the banner of ‘science’, that the only true knowledge about reality comes from sense-perception. Concisely: “be conformed to this world”. As to purpose and sentiment and all that—stuff which allegedly has nothing corresponding in particle-and-field reality—just obey the advertisements you are given, both for commercial products and political candidates.

    Do not dare to think about what is ‘right’, unless you exclusively use the word ‘tolerance’, and forget that to be intolerant of the intolerant is to hate yourself. Actually, do hate yourself deep down, such that you no longer even know it, because that will provide a wonderful advertising hook in you; you will always be looking for a way to feel better about yourself, such as buying things and voting for political candidates.

    This was an ingenious plan. Christians are no longer able to think clearly about being in the world but not of the world. They are no longer able to think clearly about what is truly good vs. evil—the kalos and kakos of Heb 5:14. This kind of thinking strongly needs final purposes, which are banished as ‘imagined’ under the term teleonomy. It’s really all just blind natural selection, folks! You don’t have to keep your opponent from being able to speak in order to defeat him/her, you just need to undermine that speech such that it has no power.

    Further reading: Steven D. Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse (NYT op ed Are There Secular Reasons?); C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man; Josef Pieper’s Abuse of Language ~~ Abuse of Power; Os Guinness’ The Gravedigger File, The Last Christian on Earth; Richard M. Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences; Mortimer Adler’s Ten Philosophical Mistakes; Jacques Ellul’s The Subversion of Christianity, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, The Humiliation of the Word, and The Technological Society; Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition; Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge; Peter Berger’s A Far Glory, The Precarious Vision: A Sociologist Looks at Social Fictions and Christian Faith.

    Posted by labreuer | August 10, 2014, 11:38 AM

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