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!
Hidden Science in the Bible?
Some see the Bible as a source of all knowledge. When we come to the very beginning of the Bible, what is it trying to teach us? Might it tell us what to believe about evolution? Could it reveal truths about science that no one knew until they were discovered later? These types of questions come to us very frequently in this age of science in which we invest so much into questions of a material nature.
John Walton, in his latest book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, argues that these questions are largely misguided:
[God] did not hide information of that sort [scientific] in the text for later readers to be discovered. An assumption on our part that he did would have no reliable controls. For example, in the days when people believed in a steady-state universe, people could easily have gone to the Bible to find confirmation of that science. But today we do not believe the steady-state theory to be true… Such approaches cannot be adopted within an authority framework. (18, cited below)
Walton’s argument is compelling. The notion that the Bible necessarily has hidden throughout scientific insight just waiting to be found can never be arbitrated. Thus, it makes the Bible the tool of one generation and the laughing stock of the next. As we attempt to use the Bible to support various scientific notions, we may do much damage to the text.
How might we best approach the text in a way that does not leave us open to this uncontrollable theorizing? Is it possible to maintain the notion that the Bible does teach us about science? If not, why not? If so, to what extent?
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John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2015).
Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.
It always seems to be he case that those who try to use the bible to justify causal claims made about reality (how it operates, what it contains) rarely notice that the movement of knowledge is always unidirectional, always from science to religion and never – ever – from religion to science. Even for the novice amateur sleuth concerned in the least about understanding reality, how it operates and what it contains, this clue should be a rather obvious indicator about the quality of evidence for the causal claims based on something from the bible: spectacularly lacking in knowledge value… not that this seems to matter very much to a great number of people who continue to use the bible as a means to substantiate some preferred private and often ignorant causal claim.
That’s an extremely strong claim to say the direction is “never – ever -” in the other direction. I’d be curious to know how you could substantiate it.
Because I can’t find one and I’ve asked hundreds of believers directly (and probably thousands of readers) for any example. Nada. Can you or any of your readers offer any?
I’m not 100% sure what your claim is saying. A “causal claim” is a bit ambiguous. Thus, I will provide a couple answers, hoping I didn’t misunderstand you too much.
If the claim is meant to say is there any scientific claim in the Bible that has informed us about a specific discovery, I am not sure, as I don’t have knowledge of every scientific discovery ever. Moreover, I sincerely doubt that the Bible is attempting to make any kind of material scientific claims therein. Many have made efforts to argue things like “stretching out the heavens” implies a Big Bang, but I’m hesitant to think that there is, as Walton calls it, “hidden science in the Bible.” So my first response would be that the very question, if intended in this direction, is misguided because it imports current questions anachronistically onto the text. Even if we could say with 100% certainty no scientific discovery has been informed by the Bible–something I would not be surprised to discover given that I don’t think it is making scientific claims–then that wouldn’t do anything to the truth of the Bible any more than a paper on biology would be at fault for not informing us about quantum mechanics. It’s just a misguided question.
Second, I think we can with great confidence note that the very worldview which allows for scientific discovery was grounded in the Judeo-Christian belief that the universe was ordered by God rather than being effectively chaotic. There’s simply no way for me to outline this in full in a comment or even a blog post, but anyone could just look up books like “The Genesis of Science” and see that it was this worldview which provided a basis for thinking that things could be discerned from nature in an orderly fashion and the like.
So either your claim is about a specific scientific discovery, in which case I think it is a frankly uninteresting claim–as uninteresting as “The Origin of Species has never – ever – informed us about quantum mechanics”–effectively made for the effect of bluster; or it is too narrow. I think you’re trying to make the first claim, but I have no idea why it is supposed to be insightful or surprising.
I should note that it would come as a surprise to someone who does treat the Bible as a science textbook, which is plenty of people yet, so I wanted to clarify.
A causal claim is ambiguous? Come on. X causes Y. People use the Bible as a justification for all kinds of causal claims all the time. Yet nowhere in it do we find a single new piece of knowledge (the earth orbits the sun), a direction for further research (germs cause preventable illnesses) or some gem upon which we can build knowledge (the moon causes tides). Yet how often are we assured that religious belief is another kind of knowledge, a different but equivalent way of knowing? Again, all the time… and by some very clever people who confuse a causal claim with a another claim and call it an answer in a different domain (Collins, for example, with his claim that morality derives from god). My point is that there is only knowledge about reality and really only one way with the means to attain it, which is then thwarted by allowing belief to be a different but equivalent method to methodological naturalism. My point is that knowledge about reality and all it contains is a one way street – from science to religion. Religion never gives back. Anyone who uses religion to support a contrary scientific claim (say, creationism by the mechanism of POOF!ism in any form) has no knowledge to back it up but a belief repackaged to appear as if it is a knowledge claim. That’s deceptive and disreputable
Now take a moment and think… imagine if:
there was geological evidence for a global flood,
there was genetic evidence for a founding couple
intercessory prayer to Jesus worked
and so on…
We’d be having a very different conversation, wouldn’t we?
I’m happy to set up how complicated a causal claim can be, though I’m surprised you’d respond with “come on.” The notion of causation is highly complex and hotly debated to this day.
You wrote, “My point is that there is only knowledge about reality and really only one way with the means to attain it, which is then thwarted by allowing belief to be a different but equivalent method to methodological naturalism.”
Are you suggesting methodological naturalism is the only way to have knowledge?
Regarding the last bit of your comment: the first two parts of your comment are aspects that you seemingly assume I hold to. Moreover, your definition of knowledge is, conveniently enough, cooked to preclude any kind of argument that there is any evidence for the existence of God or any other claims found in the Bible as being apparently supernatural. But not only is that question begging, it is laughable. Moreover, regarding intercessory prayer: I think arguments against that “working” are frankly laughable. There’s no way to have controls on experiments regarding such prayer because people like me (and I would think there are others out there) pray for all the sick, all the hungry, etc. regularly.
Finally, assuming you’re still–after years!–trying to assert that methodological naturalism is the only way to know truth, I would just once again ask you to demonstrate that claim with methodological naturalism. I’ve been waiting for you to do that each time you’ve made this claim. Still waiting.
Are you suggesting methodological naturalism is the only way to have knowledge?
About reality, yes.
And here’s why:
Reality: The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them (OED)
Knowledge: Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education (OED)
To know: Be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information (OED)
There is no other ‘kind’ of knowledge about reality that doesn’t rely on the method that allows reality to arbitrate claims made about it. And people use religion to make causal claims about reality… stuff it contains, how it operates, what mechanisms are used, all to pretend that dependent beliefs like the religious kind produce an equivalent kind of knowledge.
This is very poor thinking.
The most common claim is that stuff about and in reality are caused by some divine, interactive, and creative agency for which we have no compelling evidence to link the supposed effect we encounter (say, rain) and the cause to which we attribute it (my dancing). What we do have are lots of causal claims made about reality because people believe it might be possible (I dance, it rains) so therefore it’s equivalent to knowledge… of a different kind, you see. (I believe I can cause the rain by the mechanism of my dancing because every time I dance, it eventually rains.) But it’s not knowledge about reality (my dancing is connected to the rain by some magical mechanism I will call ‘god’): it’s attributed belief, and should be treated as such (Just because I believe my dancing causes the rain and it does rain, doesn’t mean my attributed belief about some ‘god’ is therefore justified because I’ve identified what I attribute is a link.) This method of allowing reality to arbitrate claims of knowledge matters because accepting a causal claim as if a different kind of knowledge suffices based on dependent belief and attributions – that may or may not be accurate but about which we have no means to test – stultifies honest inquiry. And by ‘honest’ inquiry I mean inquiry that grants reality the independent right to arbitrate dependent beliefs made about it. Once we allow for this ‘other’ kind of knowledge (attributed belief by possible correlation) to be equivalent, we effectively eliminate any ability we may have to independently know anything about anything. This serves only one audience, namely, the one that tries to gain a special exemption for special beliefs while insisting that these special beliefs deserve special consideration in place of knowledge.
Please demonstrate your claims with methodological naturalism.
“Reality: The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them (OED)
Knowledge: Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education (OED)
To know: Be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information (OED)”
Please demonstrate these points with methodological naturalism.
[Methodological naturalism is the only way to have knowledge about reality.]
Please demonstrate this with methodological naturalism.
This response is typical tripe. It is used facetiously by people who think this is a clever way of getting around MN as the only way to gain knowledge about an independent reality. It fails.
Language is symbolic. That’s a clue, JW. Think about that in regards to the claim that MN is the only we have to know about an independent reality from our dependent beliefs.
I’ll give you another clue… language requires a mutually understood phonology, morphology, semantics, and so on leading to speech acquisition. We group all of this into the single term conventions.
Any light of understanding penetrating yet?
How about we remove the objects and relationships we agree to utilize from reality that language symbolically represents.
How about we get rid of the physical sounds and physical markings we utilize to transmit our use of the convention.
How about now?
Let’s turn to the glossolalia of Baptists yodeling in tongues and see what kind of knowledge is being transmitted, shall we? Do you identify the difference between gibberish and language?
I know that you can. And this matters addressing your demands.
Let;s drop the mutually agreed upon convention and let’s see what you make of this:
See what I mean? Whatever those symbols represent are not independent of us so it isn’t ‘knowledge about reality’, is it?
I laid out the necessary convention for our mutual understanding using these widely held definitions for the essential words I used in this English language we are using. You then asked me to use MN to ‘demonstrate’ these ‘points’ as if to show my reasoning was unsound. It’s not unsound. Language isn’t real, JW.; it’s symbolic and utterly meaningless without the conventions we agree to use. Language – and the definitions used to make it meaningful – is dependent on us. It’s not ‘knowledge’ about reality.
Now do you get it?
This in no way does anything to show that metaphysical naturalism is the only way to have knowledge. I’m not even sure why you would think it is related.
The fact of the matter is that methodological naturalism is bankrupt in its attempt to demonstrate that it is, itself, capable of demonstrating it is the only way to know truth. The problem of other minds, difficulties with induction, problems with causation (which you , characteristically, blithely ignored), etc. are all insoluble with methodological naturalism.
In fact, I’d be more than happy to just stick with the problem of causation as something methodological naturalism is incapable of solving. We might be able to observe things and label them cause and effect, but that’s it. Look! Something happened 1000 times after something else. Great. That’s the limit of our methodological naturalism. We cannot actually use that method to show that there is a causal link. There is a necessary metaphysical framework that people like you completely ignore. Your earlier feigned or real ignorance about the real difficulties with asking about “causal claims” demonstrates that you’ve completely ignored this problem for the sake of assuming your worldview. Well, feel free to do so. I can’t argue with someone who just assumes they’re right about everything and I’m not going to.
Frankly, I think this discussion has gotten pointless. I expect to have some convoluted story about how writing music on a page proves methodological naturalism. I’m done with this discussion. Thanks for coming by.
Does Walton give support for his claim that people would have found a steady-state universe in the Bible? It seems to me a beginning is obvious, as well as some sort of ending, whether the new heavens and earth are totally new or just remade. What about the idea that the Levitical health laws turn out to have correct medical science behind them when examined in light of what we know today? Does Walton find any errors in the Bible regarding science?
Walton himself does not give support for the claim about theologians and the steady state universe and I think that’s because we can find examples fairly easily of theologians supporting steady-state models of the universe (particularly because it seems to cohere with certain popular views of science during the Medieval period due to their reliance on Aristotle). Aquinas, for example, was one who argued for the possibility of God creating an infinitely old universe. See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry here for some background into this. That’s why I think that Walton felt comfortable noting that theologians can and would find the model in the Bible. The article I shared includes some contemporary theologians who argue that there is not really any difficulty with the steady state model from a Christian perspective.
I’m not at all sure what Walton would say about the Levitical health laws to be honest, and I don’t want to just invent things for him. Regarding errors in the Bible regarding science, Walton’s entire argument would be that just asking that question is mistaken because the Bible is speaking of functional as opposed to material origins. If someone wanted to assert there was a scientific error in the Bible, I think Walton would probably respond by saying that they were misunderstanding the very intent of the Bible and its teaching. If push came to shove, I’m fairly confident he would say there are no such errors, but not because the Bible teaches science; instead, it would be because the Bible does not teach science that Walton would argue that.
God could have talked science if he wanted, however, he spoke in the knowledge of the time. Jesus could have revealed DNA, but no one would have known what he was talking about. God told us that the universe was created, and science has finally acknowledged that is consistent with the physical evidence. Something like the sun stopping in the sky is not a lack of knowledge on God’s part, but a way to connect with current human thinking. The more science that we know; the closer we get to understanding the working of God.
God told us that the universe was created, and science has finally acknowledged that is consistent with the physical evidence.
That will be shocking news to the vast majority of scientists who can’t seem to find any evidence of any kind of POOF!ism.
God could have talked science if he wanted…
And you know this how?
This is a surprising comment. Sure, if someone assumes atheism, the question might have credence, but if we assume for the sake of argument that there is a God–as is implied by the statement “God could have…”–then your question is preposterous. If a God exists, presumably a being that can create the universe (among other things) would be capable of “talking science.”
Again, it seems your question is misguided. Supposing there is a God, said deity could have talked science. Please feel free to demonstrate how an omnipotent and omniscient deity would find it impossible to communicate about scientific matters.
No, no one need assume atheism… one simply needs to understand that a belief claim about reality still carries with it the burden of proof. That’s not ‘atheistic’. That’s simply reasonable.
To claim god could have is a hypothesis, agreed? It’s not a question (What if god could have…). I’m simply asking by what means one has for asserting that one knows enough to suggest what god could have done this, that, or the other.
One might be tempted to ask the obvious, so I’ll give in to that temptation and state I – a mere mortal – can think of dozens of ways to relay accurate scientific information. This hypothetical god seems incapable across the board. That’s not me claiming it/s/he can’t; it’s me pointing out that it/s/he hasn’t. Am I the only one who finds this absence rather remarkable for an omniscient, omnipotent critter searching for human allegiance and love?
Again, I’d be happy to see your argument for why an omnipotent and omniscient deity could not in principle communicate scientific knowledge.
I know you said that you’re not claiming God could not, but you said “how do you know.” The implication is that that question is in doubt. Feel free to provide a reason for thinking there is any doubt to the matter.
We’re not discussing the question of why God may or may not have revealed such knowledge; merely the in principle notion of whether such a deity, should God exist, would be capable of doing so.
Feel free to provide a reason for thinking there is any doubt to the matter.
Because there’s no evidence any such god did, which obviously casts reasonable doubt on the notion that it/s/he could! Yet the statement reads as if, “Well, of course it/s/he could!”
You watch me jump 1000 times and each time reach some small distance off the ground. For various reasons many people claim I’m a fantastic jumper. One person even says that I could jump over tall buildings! Is there any reason for thinking there is any doubt to the matter?
Well, yeah! There’s no evidence to support it!
You’re avoiding the question, as usual. I’m done with this after this comment as well, because as usual you retreat in the face of any serious challenge. Your position would have to be that an omnipotent and omniscient deity–should such a deity exist [again, this is for the sake of argument, something you choose to completely ignore or cannot discern]–could not reveal scientific knowledge.
That is, a deity capable of creating the universe simply by willing it to exist would be unable [note we aren’t talking about whether such a deity wanted to or chose to do so] to communicate scientific knowledge to mere beings within that universe.
Your position is patently and obviously absurd. This conversation, too, is over. I genuinely am starting to think these comments are just trolling, not actually interacting.
JW and tildeb, thanks for the discussion. I found it very interesting. Of course, I agree with JW on this and can’t help but feel sorry for tildeb. I have read Nietzsche, Hitchens, and Dawkins and frankly, I find their philosophies sad, pathetic arguments for life. I will agree there is no scientific proof of God. I can only assume he wanted it that way.
If tildeb can give an understandable explanation without the use of a supreme being for how the universe either existed forever or as science finally has caught up with religion and understands there was a beginning, I would give him some credit. I highly doubt that he or anyone can. I would only offer my favorite author for his benefit, C.S. Lewis.
An understandable explanation?
My ‘answer’ is intellectually honest: I don’t know. And neither do you.
That’s why claims based on some other ‘explanation’ is pure hubris. But there is some evidence for a singularity and there is very compelling evidence for inflation. Beyond that, there is zero evidence. Making stuff up about what may have been ‘beyond’ this point and then claiming the made up stuff is ‘possible’ is simply dishonest when compared to “I don’t know.”. Pasting some variant of piety to this dishonesty doesn’t make it any less so; it makes it even more foolish.
Is that understandable enough?
How is non belief in anything an argument for life (I presume you are referring to such things as a cookie-cutter ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’)? Those elements have to be imported. And atheists seem to have no difficulty doing exactly that, so I don’t understand your criticism towards Nietzsche, Hitchens, and Dawkins. You don’t believe in Tlaltecuhtli and that non belief doesn’t seem to reduce the quality of your life any more than not believing in YAHWEH, Allah, or Jesus reduces the quality of atheists’.
Just out of curiosity, why do you presume Tlaltecuhtli didn’t want you to learn about him and his purpose for your life? (See how silly the question is? No matter what ‘answer’ you come up with, it is pure conjecture equivalent in all ways to just making stuff up. That’s exactly what “God could have talked science” is: made up.)
I still need to get around to this book