The Role of the Bible in the Scientist’s Work

The Bible is authoritative in the life and work of the scientist as it is in all of life. The authority of the Bible depends not on the testimony of any man, or church, but wholly upon God, its author (Westminster Confession of Faith, I, 4). The Bible reveals all things necessary for God’s own glory, our salvation, faith and life (WCF, I, 6 and Belgic Confession, Article 2). Because it is the Word of God, and God can neither err nor lie, the Bible is infallible and inerrant in all that it teaches. Christian doctrine and the key elements of the Christian worldview are derived from the Bible. Scripture is our fundamental starting point as we think about God, humanity, the material world, sin, and how all these things interrelate. This view of reality derived from Scripture is the interpretative framework in which Christian scientists and other Christian scholars do their work.

The “all things necessary” (WCF) or “as much as we need in this life” (Belgic Confession) clearly is somewhat limited in scope. To say this is not to limit the authority of Scripture in any way, but simply to recognize that the purpose of God’s special revelation to us in the Bible is not to provide a textbook for biology, geology, history, or any technical discipline. All knowledge is not revealed to us in Scripture; our calling to subdue the earth includes the mandate to discover truth about God’s world that is not revealed to us in Scripture (see “The Scientist’s Mandate”); however, we do not need such knowledge for our salvation, faith and life. Without necessarily denying that the Bible may speak in other areas of life, it must be emphasized that the essential nature of Scripture is to reveal in a historically progressive manner God’s work of redemption. Because God’s redemptive work recorded for us in the Scripture takes place in space and time, it will intersect with the world as studied by scientists, historians, and other scholars. Where the Bible speaks in these areas, either in general principle or in a specific text, the Christian scholar must receive its teaching as coming from God himself and allow it to govern his or her thinking. This is not to follow some blind Biblical literalism, because proper rules of interpretation must be followed, rules that recognize differences in literary form, redemptive-historical context, and revelatory purpose.

Because of sin it is impossible for fallen humanity to rightly perceive the world except by the work of God’s Spirit in our lives. Even reason is affected by the Fall. Hence, God’s special revelation in redemptive history and in the Bible gives us glasses through which we can now see the world aright. This implies that we must submit our fallen reasoning to the Scripture and doing so enables us to interpret the world aright. This does not guarantee error-free scholarship nor does it imply that our reasoning or the reasoning of unbelievers is automatically erroneous (see “The Similarity of the Christian’s and the Non-Christian’s Science”). Rather it means that we must constantly examine our thinking to see that it accords with Scripture. In our modern context where there is great animosity toward the Christian faith among scientists and other scholars, Christian scientists must be on their guard to prevent non-Christian modes of thinking about the world from entering their own thinking.

Even with the above outlined principles it is still possible to have a conflict between science and the Christian faith. At the outset the Christian scholar must maintain that such a conflict is due to the human interpretation of the revelatory Word and works of God. There can be no ultimate conflict between Creation and Scripture. God is the author of both. Conflict comes as a result of our interpretation of Creation (the human endeavor called science) or in our interpretation of Scripture (the human endeavor called hermeneutics, exegesis and theology) or both. We ought to strive to eliminate such conflicts whenever they appear, however, we should recognize that in our limitations and fallibility we may not succeed. (See “Creationism, Evangelism, and Apologetics” in Christianity and the Age of the Earth by Davis A. Young.) In dealing with such conflicts the authority of the Biblical text must be preserved, however, I think that it is perfectly acceptable to allow the findings of science that are in conflict with a received interpretation of a particular passage of scripture to occasion the revisiting of the text to look for another possible interpretation that eliminates the conflict. This is simply to say that our interpretation of Scripture may be in error. Such a re-examination of the text must be done with great caution since the temptation is always present to twist scripture to make it conform to the latest scientific theory.

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