Theologic Musings: How do we reconcile science with Biblical trustworthiness?

In conversations with people who are questioning some of the things they were taught in church regarding science in general, and evolution in particular, it seems that one of the issues that arise is how it affects doctrines they have held if they come to accept mainline scientific findings. I know we rehash these things a lot, but it might not hurt to take a few of them one by one for the benefit of those who may be new to the conversation. I would like to first discuss something pretty foundational: Biblical trustworthiness and inerrancy. Biologos has a good article as background and explaining their position on inerrancy (i.e. no position ) but it would be interesting to hear what others here have to say regarding it and how to find the Bible trustworthy, regardless of your view of inerrancy.

Personally, I would not use the word inerrant to describe the Bible, but rather that it is authoritative according to its purpose. Outside of its purpose, I feel that it can be abusive to interpret its words as inerrant to serve our own purposes. Any thoughts?

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Good topic and relevant to the comparison of the Bible with golden texts falling from the sky.

It I recall correctly, J.I. Packer was fine with the term authoritative. Not sure if he preferred it, I should look up the passage.

Recently I read Tremper Longman stating the Bible is free from error. Obviously his understanding of what this means, and the nuance with which he says it, would be in stark contrast to the position of YEC advocates today.

My position, as a purely private decision, is that it is possible the Bible is free from error, and as a kind of Noah’s ark, I seek to live my life and understand God by way of it. As an added bonus, the doctrine of Trinity is one of the most outstanding visions one can have of a God that would not have to suffer being alone.

And I understand the inerrancy of the Bible is something that perfectly reasonable people can disagree about. So there’s no room for me or anyone else to legally impose religious doctrine on another person in society.

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I’ll add that avoiding one term or another, does not prevent the Bible from being misused by abusive authoritarians.

One of the quickest ways to erode peoples’ trust in the Bible would be to insist on interpretations of the Bible that are contradicted by the facts of reality. There’s a reason the church no longer insists on Geocentrism even though it was once seen as what the Bible described.

Cardinal Bellarmine was the head of the Holy See (i.e. Inquisition) and oversaw Galileo’s trial. His letter to Paolo Antonio Foscarini is quite enlightening. The last paragraph is especially cogent.

Even Bellarmine understood that the facts of reality trump interpretations of scripture. He didn’t think the evidence would ultimately point to Heliocentrism, but he was prepared to question long held interpretations of scripture instead of questioning demonstrable science.

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Great article. One thing that I think is worth pointing out (and this could be a controversial position) is that a modern, scientific reading of the Bible and Genesis is a very modern thing (I’ve heard this from both atheists and theists). You can make the argument that God used legends and myths to convey truths about the world. Of course this opens a whole can of worms of how to distinguish between myths and truth “from God” and “from humans.” Regardless, if the important part God is trying to communicate is the meaning behind the story and not necessarily the details itself, arguing about the truth or falsity of small details like numbers (which could have symbolic signifigance) could be misguided.

Even inerrancy itself is not as straightforward as many may think (some inerrantists think that the original words spoken to prophets were 100% true, but they may not have been translated to preserved correctly.
This position would mean in its original form scripture/the word of God is inerrant but we have no guarantee the manuscripts we have now are necessarily one way or another).

I personally don’t take a stand one way or another on inerrancy. Say there was an “error” in one translation of the bible, or some part of it was “false”. Would this automatically mean Christianity was false or Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? I don’t necessarily think this would follow.

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I was raised in a very conservative branch of the Lutheran church, taught that the bible was absolute truth. With my advanced degrees in physics, and then moving into systems engineering, I have moderated my belief. The bible itself does say some things that are hard to explain if the interpretation that the bible is absolutely inerrant, anything said must be absolutely true for all time and all places, because God said it. My concern here is that Paul says that our knowledge is imperfect, and James says that it is not knowledge that saves us. So why do some religious leaders make such a big deal about their claim that their understanding of what the bible says must be absolutely true?
The other error in what I was taught is also untrue by specific example. I was taught that the bible was so absolutely true that nothing could ever change it, and yet those same people accused me of being totally out of line when I asked why the dietary restrictions in Leviticus don’t apply to me if everything written was absolutely true for all time. They didn’t seem to understand that their justification, that Leviticus was no longer applicable because Peter’s vision tells us in the bible that it isn’t, states absolutely that some things written in the bible might have been absolutely true direction to some people at one time, and do not apply to other people at a different time and place. And the question that immediately follows: How do we know that what was said to different people in a different time, and in a very different social, cultural, political, and religious context, applies in exactly the same way to us today?

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Thanks for pointing this out. I think of it sometimes and always forget. As challenging and challenged as it is, it is also often misrepresented. (Yay. Another straw man.)

I think that “The Bibel is inerrant in all that it intends to communicate (i.e. theology and philosophy), and certainly in all that is necessary for salvation, but works with the incomplete knowledge of humans to communicate it” would best describe my view.

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I’d imagine a good first step would be to keep them separate. Science can’t help solidify faith and faith can’t help you do good science.

Edited to clarify that when I say faith can’t help you do science I mean you can’t use stories like Noah to explain the Grand Canyon and you can’t use estimates of the ages of ancients mentioned in the Bible to arrive at the age of the earth. Of course great scientists have credited their religious beliefs for leading to their discoveries, just not in the direct, simple minded ways some have sought.

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