Re: Fw: [asa] Olasky on Collins

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Thu Aug 13 2009 - 15:58:20 EDT

The Westminster Larger Catechism question 5 answer is “The Scriptures
principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what
duty God requires of man.” I would expect that few Christians would
disagree with that (not to cast doubt on the faith of anyone who
disagrees but to express my opinion about general consensus).
Depending on one's denomination, opinions on the overall merits of the
Westminster standards will vary, but it certainly represents a
concerted effort by conservative biblical scholars to summarize what
the Bible teaches. Dating from the mid-1600's, it certainly does not
reflect any attempt to accommodate modern science, though they would
have been aware of some apparent discrepancies between then-known
scientific evidence and various passages in the Bible, if read as
being a modern scientific statement.

Revealing scientific facts has very little to do with this primary
purpose of Scripture, and in fact we see very little, if anything, in
the Bible that specifically claims to be providing scientific
information. Scientific information does come up, but only incidental
to the main focus. Additionally, scientific information is stuff that
we can determine ourselves if we go out and study the physical
creation, so it is not necessary for God to reveal it supernaturally.
What we can't get ourselves is precisely what we are to believe about
God and what our duties with regard to him might be. While aspects of
creation do point to God, there are several major problems with such
evidence: they do not tell us many essential pieces of information
(particularly the gospel), there's no good a priori way for us to know
whether to put a positive or negative spin on the aspect of creation
(e.g. vastness-points to God's power and wisdom or to distance and
indifference?), and humans inevitably turn aside to idolatry rather
than actually getting to a knowledge of God from creation (Rom. 1).

None of this proves that the Bible won't have any remarkable
revelation of later-discovered scientific truths, but it does suggest
that we should not expect them as a matter of course.

Another factor in considering interpretations of Scripture is the fact
that it should generally be relevant to all of the audiences, from
first writing until now. Certainly later revelation elucidates the
earlier, but that does not mean that the earlier had no meaning to the
contemporary audience. Revelations about the details of astrophysics
or phylogenetics or whatever are directly relevant to a relatively few
experts even today.

These issues are closely paralleled with regard to interpretations of
prophecy, especially eschatological. Preoccupation with reading
Revelation, etc. as a cryptic forecast of what's about to happen in
history misses the theological point, not to mention the fact that
pretty much everyone who has taken this approach in the past has been

Recognizing figurative useage is a major and underrecognized issue in
Biblical interpretation. Taking the statement that "Asher will dip
his foot in oil" as a prophecy of a pipeline across a somewhat
foot-shaped part of the territory assigned to the tribe is not only
dubious in assigning great significance to some petroleum company's
activity in the past century, but also neglects the general cultural
significance of olive oil, from dietary staple to annointing.

The Bible has several statements that are contrary to well-established
scientific facts. Thus, it's definitely not always making a modern
scientific statement. Trees do not clap their hands; they do not even
have hands, nor do they engage in politics. Smaller seeds than
mustard seeds exist. These particular examples would have been
well-known to the original audience; the tree examples are evidently
figurative, whereas the mustard seed example is hyperbole-they are
small and grow big. Others accord more with the knowledge of the
time, such as imagery suggesting a flat earth, solid sky, and
geocentrism. The Bible doesn't actually affirm any of those, but
taking it as speaking scientifically would imply them. Those
descriptions are, however, accurate reflections of the appearance of
the earth and sky. On the other hand, it is accurate in the sorts
of things that a person in the culture would have occasion to notice,
such as the local fauna and flora, or the ordinary behavior of things
(e.g., knowing that pregnancy normally implies a human father). This
contrasts with purely fictional works, such as the completely wrong
culture and fauna claimed in the Book of Mormon.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Thu Aug 13 15:59:08 2009

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