Congratulations on this new phase in your education, ministry, and life! I began my undergraduate years at Princeton with a Young Earth Creationist perspective, and because I did not really study any science, I didn’t struggle much during those 4 years with the questions you are confronting in a more direct way.
I think you should read our friend dcscccc’s recommendation very carefully, and ask some probing questions. For example, does this “one hermeneutic fits all passages” really work in practice? Does it apply to 2 Corinthians 13:12?
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Hmm…do you see evangelical pastors applying a “plain meaning of the Scripture” hermeneutic to 2 Corinthians 13:12? Are they kissing their congregants? If not, why not? Are they just ignoring the command?
More likely, I think, is that they are paying attention to the cultural and literary context of the original Pauline passage in order to understand the intention behind the passage (i.e., what role did the passage play in the life of the audience?). Then they do their best to translate that intention into the contemporary American cultural context–which they accomplish with a handshake or a hug.
Calvin Smith worries that a hermeneutical approach that looks deeper than the “plain meaning,” and incorporates science into an understanding of the cultural and literary context of a passage (like Genesis 1-3), will result in a slide down the slippery slope to “anything goes.” Well, Brother Smith, start applying your universal “plain meaning” hermeneutic to 2 Corinthians 13:12, and pucker up!
More seriously, we often suffer from our poor grasp of history when we approach the subject of science and Scripture. Eminent theologians and teachers of the church like Luther, Calvin, and Philip Melanchthon were adamant that the “plain meaning” of passages like Joshua 10:12 and Psalm 104:5 proved that the sun, and indeed all the heavens, revolved around the earth. But today we treat those passages as allegories or poetry. How did our understanding of the cultural and literary context of these passages change? The historical record shows that science, as propounded by Galileo and Newton (among others), helped the church understand that Luther, Calvin, and other eminent theologians had misunderstood the cultural context and therefore the intention of those passages.
Smith laments any use of science to understand the Scriptures, saying that it results in twisting the Scriptures:
‘Science’ has shown the plain reading of the Bible is wrong, so ignore it and modify what scripture means in order to make it ‘get in line’ with what ‘science’ shows.
Surely it is possible to use science this way. But as the example of Joshua 10:12 and Psalm 104:5 shows, it is also possible to use science not to modify what Scripture means, but rather to better understand what Scripture means.
That is how we should use science. And it is how the good folks here at BioLogos are using science.
A final note on science and miracles: Smith worries that using science to understand Scripture inevitably results in the rejection of miracles. This is not so:
Even though the original audience of the Scriptures did not have an advanced understanding of science, they did understand that miracles violated the laws of nature as they understood them in their day. And yet they had experienced the miracles, so they believed them anyway. We can do the same.
It is a misunderstanding of the scientific method to insist that it rules out supernatural intervention. Science is based on methodological naturalism, which essentially rules out supernatural explanations as a way of understanding the laws of nature. However, stating that the Creator of the universe cannot intervene miraculously (i.e., cannot override the laws of nature) is a philosophical commitment (often referred to as philosophical naturalism) that goes far beyond the boundaries of the scientific method.
When Smith rejects using “science” to understand Scripture, he is correctly rejecting a philosophical naturalism that parades under the banner of science. But that philosophy is not really science. If we understand both the value and the limitations of the scientific method, we can use its insights to help us better discern the cultural context and literary genre of passages like Joshua 10:12, Psalm 104:5, and Genesis 1 - 3, and therefore obtain a better grasp of their intention and power. And that is a good thing.
I have blogged about how science has helped sharpen my understanding of Scripture and my faith toward the end of this post, if you are interested in understanding how I arrived at the place where I now stand. If you are interested in exploring the subject of science and miracles, I highly recommend the works of theoretical physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne. To keep this comment as brief as possible, I refer you to this review of The Polkinghorne Reader for further details.
I hope you have found these thoughts helpful, Catie. May the Lord lead you on in His victory, and bless you with growth in wisdom and truth as you pursue your studies!