Re: Fw: [asa] Olasky on Collins

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Thu Aug 13 2009 - 16:36:52 EDT

I agree with David Campbell that it is not important that the Bible be
correct in scientific matters. I believe the Roman Church has said that the
Bible is inerrant "in matters of faith and morals", or words to that effect,
leaving room for the possibility that the Bible occasionally contains some
factually false descriptions of the world. I think most of the major
denominations subscribe to some such formulation.

However, I'd like to offer one correction, or perhaps clarification, to the
remark below:

> 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.

This statement contains an ambiguity. It could be taken to mean that the
"conservatives" of the 17th century all subscribed to the Westminster
standards, as opposed to the "liberals", who didn't. It is important to
note that the standards represent a concerted effort by conservative
*Protestant* biblical scholars (of a Calvinist bent) to summarize what the
Bible teaches. There are of course Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Anglicans and
other kinds of Christians who are "conservative", but don't regard the
Westminster standards as authoritative, and even some "conservatives" (e.g.,
neo-Thomists) who would think that certain statements within the standards
aren't very good.

I would add one more point, which is that, while trees don't literally "clap
their hands", there may be more attributed to nature in such Biblical
statements than modern people, even early modern people such as Calvin, are
inclined to grant. I discuss such expressions, and the Hebrew idea of
nature generally, in my book on the Bible and Baconianism.


----- Original Message -----
From: "David Campbell" <>
To: <>; "AmericanScientificAffiliation"
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 3:58 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: [asa] Olasky on Collins

> 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
> wrong.
> 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 16:41:08 2009

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