General and Special Revelation

So a larger philosophical / epistemelogical question:

  • Biologos affirms Scripture as God’s inspired and authoritative word. Generally understood as God’s Special Revelation". Therefore, properly interpreted, Scripture is a source of truth.

  • Christians also acknowledge that all truth is God’s truth, and that God has given us the world at large which also provides truth. Therefore, science, the practice of gathering truth from the natural world and from general revelation, also when properly interpreted, is also a source of truth.

  • It is common for theologians to observe that General Revelation and Special Revelation inform and interpret each other (not unlike the common principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture). Thus in principle, neither is subordinate to the other, each will at times correct our understanding and interpretation of the other.

  • In practice, however, most discussions and articles I read here seem to suggest a more “one-way” flow of interpretive guidance… That science informs and corrects our understanding of Scripture, not so much the other way around. Now, I grant that the overarching perspective of Biologos makes a serious attempt to harmonize Scripture and Science, acknowledging that all things we understand scientifically must also be recognized as being in harmony with those things we know of God from Scripture - and that science would give us an “incomplete” view of truth apart from those additional spiritual truths that Scripture gives us. This would also, I imagine, be where Christians would acknowledge the place of miracles as attested in Scripture, as they describe interference by God of a nature that science, as science, could not recognize.

But I am curious of people’s specific experiences or philosophical perspectives if the two sources of “revelation” in fact seemed to come into bona fide conflict. The “default” in such cases seems to be to reinterpret Scripture as metaphorical, or perspectives of pre-modern man, or the like. The reverse never seems to be seriously suggested, that maybe Scripture is actually right and our understanding of science is wrong. So to my core discussion questions:

  • Are there any times past or present where you have allowed Scripture to override or correct scientific consensus?

  • Are there any conceivable situations in the future you could conceive your commitment to Scripture as overriding future scientific consensus?

  • And if neither of the above, then what exactly do we mean when we say that Scripture is “authoritative”? That would be like saying I acknowledge the authority of my commanding officer over me and therefore I will obey everything she says… so long as I agree with her orders…

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Not at present, but there would have been, a hundred years ago, when scripture said “In the beginning” and the scientific consensus said “there was no beginning.”

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Very good example indeed. However, I’m curious what Christians at the time that held (essentially) the same philosophical commitments of Biologos would have said (or did say?) at the time… would they have stood firm with Scripture declaring, “No, Scripture clearly declares there was a beginning, so the science must be wrong…”? Or would they have said, “Well, Science clearly tells us there was no beginning, thus Scripture’s statement about “beginning” must be metaphorical, or describing the beginning of a certain process, or a beginning of a certain epoch…”

My instinct and experience here seems to tell me the basic philosophical approach would have seen them claiming the latter. Thoughts?

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I subscribe to the “two-book” principle myself, and yet it may be a mistake to compare these books as if they were peers potentially in competition with each other. For one thing (a few creationist proclivities aside) these “books” answer different sorts of questions that are not equal in difficulty. Science, as challenging or “cerebral” as its practice can seem to so many, is nonetheless answering a much easier set of questions than what Scriptures address.

Think of it this way: You have an executive ‘command’ area of your brain where you consciously process stuff and cultivate certain perspectives about life that are important and in fact that even determine the kind of person you are. But you also have a vision processing center in your brain whose only job is to process input from your eyes. As you walk down the street, putting one foot in front of the other (metaphor alert: that stands in for most of our routine activity through any given day), do you pay more attention to what your eyes tell you about where to walk? In fact, could it be that your executive function is deferring to your vision (and hearing) almost exclusively as you avoid a pothole in the sidewalk here, wait for a car to pass before you cross there, etc? Your higher brain functions that tell you to generally trust God in life, to walk by faith and not by sight, to be kind and faithful, … all those functions don’t seem to be much in play in most of your actual daily routine.

So should we conclude then that your eyes/vision are being granted the greater authority over your actual executive functions that are more important? Not at all! Your brain is very much leaning on that working input to carry on with life routines. But that doesn’t mean your eyes have now trumped all other authority in your brain. There may be those rare occasions that you actually do over ride your vision. Your eyes report a strange visage hovering over there … a ghost!? But your executive functions, perhaps with conscious effort, set that aside as a doubtful conclusion as your higher functions remind you that you don’t believe in ghosts, therefore, you are willing to set aside that visual input as in need of further explanation - and probably not a ghost.

Religion / philosophy is our “higher executive function” while science is “our best eyes”. To see the two in some zero-sum competition for authority is, I suggest, a category mistake. Easy questions come up a lot in life … should I step to the left or the right as I’m walking through this crowded room? It’s no surprise to us that our eyes are providing the vast majority of our rightly trusted and corrective inputs, and it in no way means that our eyes, then, must have subverted our very identity and higher attitudes that we enlist for the much higher and harder decisions in life: do I give them a call right now? or leave them alone? Should I say something about this? Or wait and listen?

From John 12: “…If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

I know that verse refers specifically to Christ as the needful light. It is also interesting, though, that Jesus makes such free use of these obvious metaphors that share in the common presumption across both their age and ours that of course we’re going to pay attention to what is revealed in the daylight. And we are implored to see Christ himself as truth just as we trust our eyes in the broad daylight. So we thank God for Christ. We also thank God for our eyes (science) that helps us to carry on. Christ was not in the habit of pitting the spiritual against the physical. He never told blind people: “don’t worry about your physical sight … just know that I am your light and truth and you’ll be just fine.” No no. He healed them physically too, because sight is important.

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You are talking as if the main way Scripture could “inform” science is by offering competing facts about natural reality. I don’t think Scripture ever “corrects” scientific consensus. Scientific consensus is not about shoulds and oughts. Interpreting the Bible and interpreting empirical data do not answer the same questions. Scripture informs how scientific consensus should be applied. Science tells us how DNA works and allows us to develop CRISPR. Scripture informs science about the morality of editing gene-lines in embryos. Scripture is authoritative on the issues it speaks to. It doesn’t speak about empirical data.

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Only for 40 years. From 15 to 55.

No.

No to both now means neither of the above. Scripture is not a term I would use but the text is still authoritative as it culminates in, evolves to the greatest, wisest, most radically inclusive and timeless manifesto for society.

Great thread @Daniel_Fisher. Thanks for making me think… again. :slight_smile:

I would suggest that this observation is perspectival. That is to say, that one’s agreement with this statement depends entirely from which vantage point one looks at the issue from. In a church which is prominently YEC in its teaching, and for Christians who also hold to YEC teaching, the flow would go almost exclusively the other way: Scripture is constantly correcting the prevailing understanding of science (or at least ought to be). Indeed, this was my opinion for the longest time.

I don’t want to sound pedantic, however, in the last year or so it has mainly been allowing scripture to override the philosophical conclusions that some scientists draw from science. Namely, that the universe is a domain devoid of purpose and meaning. When I find myself sympathising with this conclusion and begin to doubt, I must allow scripture to correct me. At such times, I find the follow passage particularly helpful:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counsellor?"
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
~ Romans 11:33-36 (NIV2011)

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Unsurprisingly, I define the authority of scripture according to the Reformed Confessions. For example:

For example, the Westminsiter Shorter Catechism says:

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?

A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Or again, the Westminster Confession 2.6 says:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. (emphasis added)

Or again, 2.10:

The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined; and in whose sentence we are to rest; can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

So, when I say that Scripture is authoritative, I am saying that scripture has the ‘final word’ within the realm in which God has given it rule over. Namely, salvation, the church, and the Christian life. Beyond those boarders, scripture provides generally principles to follow and apply so that we might honour and glorify God (e.g. Love your neighbour as yourself), but it does not speak authoritatively. For example, the Bible does not expressly command us how to respond to a deadly virus, but we may draw moral and ethical lesson from it which inform a distinctly Christian response.

I’m sure we could all think of a bunch of ‘What ifs’ that have the potential to torpedo the above. However, all things being equal this is what I mean and seek to live by. Hope that helps.

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Such as Jesus’s resurrection?

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Great topic, and one that I am not totally fixed in my views. I would agree with the statement that “all truth is God’s truth,” so would say that a scientific finding by definition would not be in conflict with scripture, if both are properly interpreted. I certainly can see how philosophical statements may well be in conflict.
One issue is what scripture really says. Jesus often turned the traditional interpretation of scripture on its head, but he of course was Jesus. However, when you closely examine scripture we see that it has been orally transmitted though the centuries, and has only been primarily a written text with all that entails only as a later development. As such, cultural interpretation has probably been a big factor throughout, which now we try to fix into a rigid text, perhaps in error.
Another issue is the tendency of modern thought to divide and compartmentalize the Bible as scripture, and science into separate boxes. And don’t forget the Holy Spirit. We better not open that box. Like Schodinger’s cat, it is both alive and dead unless we look, then who knows what you let out of the box. Kidding of course, but I suspect that Jesus and pre-scientific peoples would see no division in the primarily oral rendering of scripture, observations of nature, and the leading of God through his Spirit. It was all one, just as mind, body, and spirit are one. There is also the overriding factor that ultimately Jesus is the Word, and as I see it all is interpreted through him. As an aside, I still regret that we label the Biologos approach as Evolutionary Creationism instead of the less emotionally charged Integrative Theology or something similar.
So, I look forward to the conversation, and having rambled on will have to answer the original questions posted in another post.

I don’t understand. No one has empirical data on Jesus’ resurrection or on any miracle. Miracles are outside the explanatory framework science provides, because science excludes supernatural explanations. The historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection is attested by history, not science. But historicity doesn’t say anything about whether Jesus’ resurrection defeats evil and reconciles people to God.

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Mary, Peter, John, Thomas, and many others had plenty of empirical data. What we currently have which we call “historical” data we have only because it was passed down by those who had empirical experiences. What we have recorded in Scripture are their quite empirical experiences.

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

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Yes, it has to do with the authority and trust that we give to testimony. It is part of our everyday lives way more than we realize. There is hardly an hour when we are not accepting testimony as authority in one way or another.

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We are not using the same sense of empirical data. None of the witnesses did scientific investigations on Jesus. My journal may record my observations about life and my interpretations of what those observations mean, but it isn’t a record of empirical data or scientific inferences.

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empirical

adjective
em·​pir·​i·​cal | \ im-ˈpir-i-kəl

1 : originating in or based on observation or experience // empirical data

2 : relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory // an empirical basis for the theory

3 : capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment // empirical laws

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Maggie’s testimony isn’t a record of empirical data? There is a pretty good record of God’s providential M.O.

Guess it depends on exactly what you mean by scientific consensus.

I do believe that miracles existed, and that angels exist, and that the dead came back to life. I believe Mary was a Virgin when she conceived Jesus.

Sex and gender being interchangeable is partly due to my religious belief.

That third definition for Empirical, Daniel, is what I think is more in sight for what we’ve been discussing. Scientists like to see repeatedly verifiable things - not things (even experimental ones) that cannot ever be repeated or verified. No doubt all of us have very real sensory-driven experiences that are quite empirical enough for us. But if the only way they are available to future posterity is through our testimony about them, that is not the empiricism in sight for science today.

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I would not call it that. It’s a personal testimony.

@Daniel_Fisher

Is your argument

  1. people observed the risen Jesus
  2. all observations are empirical data
  3. empirical data = science
    therefore the risen Jesus is a scientific fact?
    And the scientific fact of the risen Jesus challenges the scientific consensus?

If so, the only premise I accept is the first one. And I don’t believe that the scientific consensus disputes a risen Jesus. Science is not the appropriate explanatory framework for miracles.

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The details of the multiple different situations are empirical data recorded, data which can be interpreted and from which meaning may be inferred, just like a field notebook.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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