The Science of the Bible


The Eschatological Debate Over the Scientific Accuracy of the Bible

The eschatological debate over the scientific accuracy of the Bible has been ongoing for the better part of the 20th century, as science and the understandings of the physical universe have persistently clashed with religious doctrine.

Rich Deem discusses religious doctrine in context of the physical world.  He states, “the Bible was not written as a work of science nor was its purpose to describe the workings of the physical world. It was written to explain spiritual principles – the nature of mankind, the nature of God, and how people can have a personal relationship with God. However, when the Bible describes the physical world, it is accurate.

Deem goes on to illustrate remarkable examples found in the Bible, before they were found to be proven as scientific fact. The examples are from cosmology, astronomy, the earth sciences, and biology.

In another article on Albert Einstein, Deem argues that the assumption that God created the universe as a perfect creation is wrong. In the narrative he explains why evil and suffering must exist. He states that you must understand God’s motives in creation are not to provide only a “universe that is both good morally and perfect physically,” but rather a personal God designed the universe to include purposeful evil. You might ask why this is. Deem explains that in a perfect universe where no evil and negativity exists and all moral choices are only good, there would be no possibility for man to experience total truth, to be fully informed, or to exercise his free will conscious choice, and choose good over evil without the presents of evil. It is one of the fundamental purposes of creation, and existence of the universe, to allow for man to make moral choices.

One has to live within an atmosphere of both good and evil-suffering in order to recognize, and differentiate between the two, and then exercise ones’ own free will in order to be able to have choice. To live only within the boundaries of the single realm or plane of good only, is to live in only one plane of reality – it is to live in flat land where one cannot perceive full truth and reality or be fully informed within the universe. Therefore, the battle between good and evil, God and Satan.

Without good and evil, free will and choice is to only have a form of slavery to one fixed position. An online dictionary defines a slave as “one bound in servitude, one who is abjectly subservient to a specified person or influence.” Therefore, Deem goes on to say that “the purpose of the universe (is to) provide a place where spiritual creatures can choose to love or reject God.Check out this great video to read more about this idea.

The Development of the Scientific Debate

The history of the eschatological debate over the scientific accuracy of the Bible developed from informal networking during Bible conferences in the late 1800s, many with a focus on the inerrancy of the Bible and premillennialism. By the mid 1920’s, an emotionally charged debate had developed between what had become two opposing camps.

On one side were the fundamentalists, a group which could broadly have a strict inerrancy (incapability of mistakes) to five aspects of the Christian faith, which they defined as “necessary and essential” to the dogma:

  • The inspiration of the Bible by the Holy Spirit and the inerrancy of Scripture as a result of this
  • The virgin birth of Jesus Christ
  • The historical reality of Christ’s miracles
  • The physical resurrection of Christ
  • The belief that Christ’s death was atonement for sin

Author James Barr points out in his book, The Scope and Authority of the Bible, that fundamentalism does not mean reading the Bible literally. Rather, fundamentalism’s distinguishing mark is a doctrine of inerrancy that is frequently at odds with a literal reading:

“It is often said that fundamentalists are ‘people who take the Bible literally’. This however is a mistake. Fundamentalist interpretation concentrates not on taking the Bible literally, but on taking it so that it will appear to have been inerrant, without error in point of fact. Far from insisting that interpretation should be literal, it veers back and forward between the literal sense and a non-literal sense, in order to preserve the impression that the Bible is, especially in historical regards, always ‘right’ … It is the inerrancy of the Bible, especially its truth in historical regards, that is the fundamentalist position, and not the notion that it must always be interpreted literally.” (pp. 77-8)

On the other side of this debate were the so-called modernists, led in part by the writings of Charles Darwin and other scholars of the scientific realm. This camp maintained that science demonstrated that the teachings of the Bible were physically inapposite to the properties of the real world.

Fundamentalists viewed evolutionary theory as a serious attack on their religious truths, bringing about the passage of public legislation prohibiting the public school teaching of evolutionary theory. This debate seethed publically until the trial of John Thomas Scopes, a Tennessee high school teacher prosecuted for teaching Darwin’s theories of human evolution in a state-funded school, which was contrary to public law at the time.

The Scopes Monkey Trial – The Great Religious Scientific Debate

The Scopes Trial – popularly known as “The Scopes Monkey Trial” became a media circus in the 1920s. Proponents of both viewpoints and a cast of remarkable orators and publishers battled out a science vs. God debate on a stage fashioned by the media. In the words of Clarence Darrow, who represented the modernist, scientific approach, the trial held the opportunity to focus the attention of the country on other fundamentalists in America. Religious “fanaticism,” as Darrow called it, threatened public education and the spirit of inquiry and skepticism that sustained civilization. Darrow described the upcoming trial apocalyptically: “Scopes isn’t on trial; civilization is on trial.”

The trial culminated poetically in closing arguments on the seventh day. In what was framed as a debate of the reality of creationism versus the evolution of man from apes, Scopes was ultimately convicted under the letter of the law for teaching evolutionism. However, perhaps more important than the verdict, was the vibrant debate that sparked over the growing philosophical chasm in the various creeds of American Christianity.

In the years following the Scopes trial with significant development in American Christianity movements, the scale of fundamental adherence to the science of the Scripture has, as a practical matter, been less radicalized.

The Modern View of the Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church approached the interpretation of Scripture among the topics of modernization addressed during the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II). The 1994 Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church endorses the approach of two senses of Scripture: the literal and spiritual, with the spiritual further broken down into allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. This approach to scriptural writing has been met with less divisive criticism. The literal sense, as adopted by the Church, is the meaning of the words of Scripture following the rules of sound interpretation.

A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses: “The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.”

In this way, imagery such as crossing the Red Sea is seen as a sign or type of Christ’s victory and Christian baptism. Scientific descriptions, such as the world’s creation in seven days, are thus explained as being referenced in a much different concept of time than we use today. Events written in the moral sense lead us to act justly and are provided for our instruction. Events written in the anagogical sense speak to eternal significance.

A number of Christian denominations continue to adhere to strict fundamentalist interpretations that still rely on the description of biblical science as strictly factual. A review of Bruce Alan Killian’s argument in The Bible vs. Archaeology, links archaeological periods not to Egyptian timeline based history, but to a Biblical event based timeline of archaeological periods, to develop a comprehensive look “between the Bible and archaeology at every period.” This offers what he says is a corrected chronology of historical archaeological periods.

There is a choice to be made. As Killian points out in his writings, “one [either] follows the archaeological interpretation presuming the Bible “embellishes” what actually happened…(or)…The other follows the Bible and discovers a matching archaeology” in the search for truth only “…you (can)decide which is correct.

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