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?


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

1 Like

If we truly believe the Bible to be authoritative, then we will seek to understand it as best we can, finding out what it says about itself and building a coherent understanding. But far too often, claims about inerrancy are a claim to personal inerrancy in interpretation. The inerrantist too often invests his own view with Biblical authority; the anti-inerrantist rarely questions his interpretation of a passage that generates an error.


I discovered something one day that I almost certainly would not have if I hadn’t gotten tired of hearing preachers say, “The Greek says…” and then from a dozen preachers getting a dozen and one assertions… so I undertook to learn ancient Greek. The discovery was launched by an article that had quotations from early church writers purporting to show that the early church believed in inerrancy. Since I’d already read the entire New Testament in Greek, I figured “How much could it change in two and a half centuries?” and went in search of the originals.
The discovery was that those early church writers didn’t mean that every statement in the Bible was 100% scientifically and historically accurate; they weren’t even concerned about that question. What they meant was that God’s word is like an arrow shot by a perfect archer, that it always goes straight to its target and strikes dead center!
Along with that discovery was a lesson: they didn’t assume that they understood everything in scripture and everything about the world and were able to put the two together perfectly. Like Augustine somewhat later, they recognized that mankind’s knowledge of the world was imperfect, and that even the church’s understanding of scripture is imperfect, and so they didn’t worry about making the two mesh.Indeed they didn’t worry much about how mankind understood the world at all; their focus was on the scriptures and what God meant us to understand from them.
And that informs my view of the question here: what about trying to reconcile science and scripture is in any way edifying? how does it contribute to what God means us to understand from the scriptures? And I see the effort to demonstrate the modern meaning of “inerrant” as actually being detrimental, that it takes away time and effort from studying the scriptures, and it also leads to the arrogant assumption that we know just what the scriptures are saying – an assumption based on treating the early chapters of Genesis as though they were a friend’s grandfather’s diaries of events he lived through, and he never made a mistake in observing or recording. For Sunday school lessons with a flannel board that may be appropriate, but for adults it actually robs the scriptures of their meaning because it ignores the fact that they are first of all ancient literature written by ancient men for audiences made up of ancient people – and if we want to understand them we have to make the effort to crawl inside the skulls of those who wrote and of those who listened (don’t forget that the entire Old Testament was written during a period when narrative writing was intended to be read out loud [in fact reading it silently would have baffled them]). And when that effort is made, it’s striking that literary types where 100% scientific accuracy is intended do not exist in the scriptures, and ones where 100% historical accuracy is intended are not nearly as extensive as we would guess from reading in translation.
So “How do we reconcile science with Biblical trustworthiness?” We acknowledge that science is a very effective way for understanding the material Creation but since it is ever developing we don’t try to make the scriptures fit any particular scientific position. After all, the point of the scriptures is “not to tell us how the heavens go, but how to go to heaven”.


The whole inerrancy thing bugged the heck out of me in my university days because I observe that the number one issue that drove fellow students to abandon Christianity was that they were brought up to consider it 100% scientifically and historically accurate as read in translation. So I tried to figure out where the idea came from.
Where I landed can be stated in two words: scientific materialism. Until that human philosophy infected the church the idea that it was totally inerrant in everything it stated was just one view among many! But the scientific materialistic view of things demanded that in order to be true something has to be absolutely scientifically and historically accurate – and that bled into the church.
So true irony: the modern idea of inerrancy rests on a human philosophy that is inherently atheistic.


This reminds me of the day that our class in the Greek New Testament got introduced to the critical apparatus in our Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece: more than a few students freaked out at the idea that God’s written word could be less than perfect. I and other students along with the professor scrambled to try to assure them that this didn’t impair the message at all – yet I went further and said that there wouldn’t be any variant readings unless God allowed them, so the question we should be asking wasn’t “How can it be true with all these mistakes?” but “What is God saying to us by allowing all these mistakes?” That seemed obvious to me, but it caught most of the troubled students off guard, as a thought they never would have considered (even the professor hadn’t looked at it that way!).

The lesson seemed clear: we aren’t to put our faith in the words, but in the Word concerning Whom the words were written. So to me all the “errors” anyone points out (most of which aren’t errors, but that’s another discussion) are just God’s way of saying, “Keep your eyes on Me”.


Just for the record, this atheist doesn’t think something has to be scientific in order to be true, but I would agree that there are many atheists who do adhere to that philosophy.

An interesting aspect of scientific materialism leaking into the church is often seen in creationist arguments. One that I often see is creationists trying to argue that the theory of evolution is a religion as a way of discrediting evolution. I think this says a lot. It demonstrates that even creationists think science is superior to religious belief. Very rarely do I see a creationist who states that the theory of evolution is entirely scientific, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. Even rarer still do I see people trying to discredit creationism by calling it scientific.

As a result, I would estimate that the majority of people who claim that evolution, if true, would disprove the Bible are theists, not atheists.


That’s what used to be called “infallibility”, that the Bible unfailingly communicates as God intended it to.


I would never use the word “inerrant” and prefer “sufficient”
We must give allowance for the Spirit speaking into particular situations in the which the various parts bible was composed with the known cosmology and environment of the times in which the texts were composed. The Spirt inspired the writers mainly to instruct in relationships and God’s intentions, not all the details of history. It’s sufficient to lead us into the right relations with God, our families, neighbours and rest of creation.

  • I, for one, would be interested in a complete set of commentaries on the OT and NT canon, written by one or more scientists who affirm the crucifixion, death, entombment, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth.

While I generally enjoyed the article. it doesn’t get at the heart of the issue or take any real stance. I don’t think most modern Christians are predisposed to getting behind the text to “what the author intended to teach.” To many people, Matthew intends to teach a bunch of dead people came out of the tomb, waited there for a day and half then came out after Jesus rose from the dead because that is what Matthew plainly narrates. Its clearly fiction so we have to try to figure out some clever reason why its there.

The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e]went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

The NT and Jesus make no distinction between historical and non-historical characters in the OT. Luke traces Jesus’s Genealogy to Adam. You can argue “Luke is just trying to teach Jesus is God’s son through genealogy” or something much more witty and scholarly sounding than I can come up with, but that is not what Luke actually says and that is where many modern Christians have a problem. This is why Calvin had a problem with a moving earth. Not only was it common sense to him but scripture clearly taught the earth was immutable. In most cases,Christians simply look at the plain sense of the Bible, which was not written for modern, literary critics with 50 versions, concordances, search engines and so on. Every Christian generation seems to think the Bible is not only fully compatible with their beliefs but their beliefs are what the Bible teaches. Think of the solid exegesis those in favor of slavery put out in the 1800s, or all the ammunition those engaged in misogynistic ideology had. Thinking that modern science and inerrancy are reconcilable is not valid for many because we are fact-literal westerners and Christians want to know if the plain sense of so many plainly narrated details is not “what the Bible intends to teach” then what happens to many of the miracles and stories about Jesus?

Sadly, a tour of history doesn’t show us how flimsy and vacuous our mental gymnastics actually are. We just repeat the mistakes of our ancestors, conforming the Bible to what we believe under the pretense we are following IT and letting IT serve as conscience and corrector. In the end all of us are in a symbiotic relationship with the Bible. It influences us as we influence what we allow it to teach and say.


Our faith is in the Word, Who is God, not the Book which is not.

I have felt some rather strong agreement with many of the comments in this discussion, especially the one emphasized in the March 9 comment that we are to worship the Word, not the book about this true Word. As I have evolved my beliefs over the last 50 years, I have felt that I had been taught some things that were misinterpretations of what was written in the Bible, either distorted by human perspective, or incomplete, due to the interpreter not applying a consistent understanding of who God is, and what that means. I would say, explicitly relevant to BioLogos and this thread, there are two key characteristics of God, important in helping us to interpret what God meant when He asked His Prophets and Apostles to write something, which are better understood in the context of modern mathematical and cosmological knowledge. These two characteristics are the belief that God is Creator of the entire physical universe, and the belief that God is infinite.

What does it really mean when I say that God created the universe? Yes, that is the 300 trillion stars, and all the other matter and energy in the space between. However, I believe that creation of the universe also includes all the laws of physics by which the universe functions, and even the space and time dimensions of the universe as we experience those dimensions. God as Creator certainly means that God exists outside of the created universe – the Creator exists outside of the full extent in space and time of the creation. I note that this fact does help explain something that Jesus said: “Before Abraham was, I am.” His existence outside of the created universe places Him “simultaneously” before Abraham, and yet right there talking to the Jews. That is, God is there (present tense) before, during, and after the created universe is proceeding down its path through time.

How does this relate to interpreting the Bible? One key comment that has occurred to me is the question of how to interpret God’s statement in Genesis, as He observed His creation, that “it is very good”. I believe that God is commenting from God’s perspective, not from the perspective of a created human. What I mean by this is that I am sure that God is saying that the entire universe, through all space and time, had functioned exactly as She wanted it to function, that the universe had fulfilled the purposes for which He had created it. I do believe it is an anthropomorphic misinterpretation of what God said to claim that the earth was created as a perfect thing by God, at the time of its creation, but the perfect world that God wanted was ruined by Adam’s sin (with a little help from Satan and Eve).

I definitely accept that my interpretation requires a reconsideration of what God’s purposes are for creating us in this universe rather than just creating us in Heaven. In my current understanding, it is not God’s intent to have us live here in a perfect Garden of Eden, with no troubles or evil things happening. And, based on several biblical passages, and on my belief that Jesus’ death shows how much God loves each of us, I do not believe that God put us here to give us a “pass/fail” test to determine who will go to Heaven and who will go to Hell.

What might be God’s purposes? Perhaps to experience things here that we cannot experience in Heaven. I believe that this suggestion is consistent with what Jesus said to the Jews who asked Him about the man blind from birth whether the man’s blindness was caused by the man’s sins, or his parents’ sins. Jesus said that the man was blind so that the glory of God could be shown through him. That leads me to realize that we could not help anyone, we could not offer comfort to anyone, and we could not be helped or comforted if there were no problems, no disabilities, and no illness or injury. I believe that one of God’s purposes for placing people in this world is so that we can experience the good of helping others, and either by our own actions or observation of the actions of others, we can experience the bad impact on relationships when someone chooses not to help a person in need.

The other characteristic I wish to discuss addresses directly the issue of how incomplete our knowledge of God is: What does it mean that God is infinite? Suppose every (finite) human brain that ever existed were filled completely with knowledge about our infinite God, with not a single bit of information in any brain a duplicate of information in any other brain. What percentage of the total infinite God would be described by all that knowledge? The mathematical truth is this: The sum total of all that knowledge is mathematically indistinguishable from 0% of the total infinite knowledge (no matter how small a finite number I state, all of our extremely large finite number is a smaller fraction of the infinite total than that number).

What does this mean? It is absolutely true that no one human, nor any group of humans, or even all humans together, have the whole truth about God, or the only truth about God. There is so much real truth that God can very well reveal one part of Herself to one group of humans, and a different (perhaps partially overlapping, perhaps with no overlap) part of Himself to a different group. I do firmly believe that what God has revealed to me as a Christian, both through the Bible and through other means, is not the whole story about God. I also strongly believe that my Christian beliefs and knowledge are sufficient knowledge for God’s purposes for me.

To summarize this rather lengthy discussion: Yes, I believe the Bible is an accurate partial description of God. However, this description, while being extremely important as a sufficient knowledge base on which we can build a proper relationship with God, is subject to misinterpretation due to our limited human understanding, and is absolutely a partial description of God, mathematically indistinguishable from 0%