Monday, December 18, 2006

Is the Bible historical?

Since I have taken a bit of a beating over my last post, I thought I should delve into the Young Earth view just a little bit more. The thoughtful Internet Monk has an article about why he rejects the Young Earth view. While it is well thought out and well written, I believe it to be unconvincing in the end. The Monk believes that Genesis 1 is a ‘prescientific’ account, and that Young Earth men like myself fail to take into account the literary genre of Genesis 1. I have a few points of rebuttal, if I am so allowed.

1. I am not sure I agree with the phrase ‘prescientific’ as if science is something man invented. Science is observation, not an invention. Did the Greeks always get science right? No, but they still practiced science. America today does not always get ‘science’ right. I am still not clear as whether butter or margarine is healthier. I understand what the Internet Monk is trying to say, but his terminology needs to be clearer. He does not think Genesis 1 is a Modern Science text. But, I think anyone can agree to that, and I agree to that. We are not told every scientific detail.
2. The Monk uses the example of explaining the birth of a baby to a three year old child. He rightfully would describe it differently to a college senior than to a three year old. He goes on to state that it does not mean he is lying or using allegory, just appropriate language. Again, here we have no disagreement. But, I believe his example actually harms his own position. One could tell a three year old that babies come from the stork. That would be a lie. However, one could tell the three year old a truth without revealing the in-depth details. How does this apply to Genesis 1? Well, if the days of creation are not literal 24 hour days, then God has given us a ‘stork’ explanation that is not true at all. What era of man did not understand ‘evening and morning’ or the concept of a ‘day’? Thus, holding to a ‘prescientific’ narrative does not get one around the difficulty of whether or not the days are literal.
3. The Internet Monk does seem to confound the Creationism or Creation Science with the Biblical position of a Young Earth. I agree with him completely when he says that we do not need scientific testimony to hold to the truthfulness of the Bible. Some Creation Science is out there on the fringe like the idea that the speed of light is not constant. Yet, that should not be confounded with the Biblical arguments. While I do believe there is legitimate science to support a Young Earth position, I don’t need it. If there is no scientific support for my position at all, I will still believe it because the Bible tells me to believe it. Is there science to support life after death? No, but I know there is because it has been revealed in God’s word. All I ask of those who hold to an Old Earth or some other position is to listen to the Biblical argument, not any scientific ones.
4. The idea that the creation story and genealogies of Genesis are theological, not historical, in their purpose also does not solve any problems. The genealogies are specific and people from the 2nd century on have used them to count backwards to Adam and Eve. If this account is ‘prehistorical’ or only ‘theological’ in its purpose then that idea was completely lost by the early church and most rabbis. This genealogies occur in many places, and while I do think there is a theological point, that does not exclude a historical accurate list.

This gets back to the discussion about inerrancy. The term generally means that the Bible does not contain errors of any kind. Thus, it is a reliable historical document. Yet, the Internet Monk has defined the Bible’s passages in such a way that it is not in ‘error’ when rightly understood in its purpose, but it is indeed unreliable for historical accuracy. The Bible becomes a theological book without historical reliability. To steal Charles Spurgeon’s analogy, The Internet Monk has removed the skeleton and left a pile of quivering flesh.

Which brings me to my last point. Despite the claims of some that inerrancy is an ‘Enlightenment’ word (which is a way to label something so you can throw it out), or that no confession ever used the word so it is a non-essential, there is ample proof that the Church has always held to inerrancy. Even though the word itself may not be used it is easily demonstratable that the church has always found the Bible to be historically accurate and even usable to date the earth. Spurgeon’s words showing that the Bible was both historical and theological and each worthless without the other should suffice for him. The WCF claims God created in "the space of 6 days", which does a good job of showing the Westminster Divines viewed the Bible as historically accurate, and the Genesis account in particular (pre-enlightenment by the way). Irenaeus in “Against Heresies” claims six literal days for creation and a world that is less than six thousand years old. Obviously Irenaeus does not have a problem with using the genealogies to date the world. To him we can add Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen all held to literal days and dated the world to be less than 10,000 (all but Origen thought less than 6,000). Showing they viewed the Bible to be without historical error and the genealogies to be accurate for dating. Basil, Theophilus, Ambrose, and Cyril of Jerusalem all taught six 24 hour days, not seeing the disparity between theological and historical claimed by the Internet Monk. Even Augustine, who thought creation instantaneous, viewed the Bible as historically accurate and used the genealogies to date the earth young, less than 6,000 years (City of God 12:12). The Reformers were on the side of historical accuracy, and the Synod of Dort’s authorized Bible annotated the days of creation to be 24 hour days.

Perhaps the term ‘inerrancy’ was coined around the enlightenment. However, the idea that the Bible was useful for not only theology, but history as well is not new, nor it is it an enlightenment idea. We see men in the second century counting the ages of those in the Bible to discover the age of the earth. Archbishop Ussher may be famous for it, but it was an idea that dated back to the closing of the canon. The fancy claims the church has never thought of the Bible as inerrant nor taught a Young Earth view appear to have very little support in church history.


Andrew Duggan said...

Perhaps someone should point out to Mr. Spencer that the speed of light is demonstrably not constant. The science and technology of optics is entirely dependent on the speed of light not being constant. The speed of light is considerably slower when passing through glass and transparent plastics than it is when passing through earth atmosphere at sea level or a vacuum.
I am very thankful to God that speed of light is not constant and thereby I can see by way of my eyeglasses.

If one (such as Mr. Spencer) is going to deride others regarding science then perhaps he should apply a bit of precision when doing so. I think that it is well known that the science and technology of optics, rather than being "fringe", is rather main-stream and has been for centuries. His imprecision amounts to a glossing over and that undermines not only his position but also his credibility.

Finally, why do those of his ilk find it so hard to curb their utter contempt for people of past ages. It seems to me that his argument boils down to the idea that Israelites at the time of the Exodus lacked the intellectual capacity to understand how God actually created the earth, so God had to tone it down.

He also says regarding Genesis 1 that "Textual and linguistic evidence convinces me that this chapter was written to be used in a liturgical (worship) setting, with poetic rhythms and responses understood as part of the text.".

Funny how the books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy record in with exceeding detail and precision the liturgical settings that God requires and nowhere is Genesis 1 specified for such a purpose. I wonder if Mr. Spencer believes in the exclusive use of the Psalms for the songs in worship? Strange how we do have a clear command regarding Psalms and liturgy, but many say not, and where there is no such identification of Genesis 1 we have those like Mr. Spencer saying that was "written to be used in a liturgical (worship setting)". It seems for Mr. Spencer when it comes to Genesis 1, the bible means what Mr. Spencer says it means and not what God, specifically God the Son, (who is the ultimate author) has actually said. It gives rise to the question: "what else in Scripture does Mr. Spencer reserve the right to restrict to liturgical use only?"

Bill said...

I'd like to point out to Mr. Duggan that it is Lee (the author of the post) who asserts that those who hold to an inconstant speed of light are on the scientific fringe.

Andrew Duggan said...


You should re-read Mr. Spencer, but to save you some time, I will quote Mr. Spencer's post that Lee cited.

"Some of the contentions of the young earthers seem, to a layman like me, somewhat far-fetched, like denying the existence of black holes or questioning the constancy of the speed of light, and the evidence cited for these positions is, to say the least, fringe or below the fringe."

That's not Lee talking, it's Mr. Spencer.

Lee said...

Andrew is quite right that light is slower going through plastics, and as a fellow glasses man, I too am thankful.
Bill is right that I do think that the idea of the speed of light slowing down in space over time is fringe science of which I am skeptical. While Andrew brings up a good point about precision in one's criticism if that criticism is the lack of precision, I do think we should give Mr. Spencer some charity here. I think he is not referring to the theory of optics, but rather the idea that in 1805 the speed of light in a vacuum or space was faster than it is today. Either way you read him it does not help his argument.

Andrew Duggan said...

While I knew that or something like that was probably the what to which Mr. Spencer was referring regarding the speed of light. With that I can agree, the speed of light in a low gravity vacuum is the same as it is today as it was in 1805 and before. I think Gen 8:22 speaks to that, since it is God's promise that there will be regularity and consistency in his providence regarding the operation of the physical universe. I think its safe to say that God's providence in the antedeluvean period was just as consistent.

Just because some might engage in fantasy regarding the speed of light to justify their belief in YEC, doesn't mean everyone has to who simply believes the bible as historically accurate when considering creation.