Scientific Theology: Testing Interpretations

There’s a grave issue rumoring around the Christian community amongst those who are faced with God’s revelation in Scripture and God’s natural revelation of the created world. The conversation inevitably goes toward this statement: “If the Bible says X and Science says Y than Science must be wrong”. This is a problematic statement for many reasons but first and foremost because it pins God against God. Even more so you may hear something like: “The world is fallen, mans ability is fallible to do science.” That’s very true in some circumstances but it pertains to the word of God than as well. We do not magically interpret the Bible perfectly and everything else incorrectly. Rather, God has given us faculties in the cognitive sense to be able to rationalize what He’s revealed in word and in nature. In the word it’s called hermeneutics and in nature it’s usually formulated by the scientific method.

Two things arise here.
One of them being that God commands us to test things in and outside of Scripture which implies we have the ability to do so. Second, that the notion above by the opposition view has a major issue of what I’ll call infinite fallibilities. That is to say, where does man’s fallibility end? In their equation, it does not. Both the Old and New Testaments emphasize the importance of testing, of making sure the evidence supports truth claims. Moses instructed the Israelites to test individuals who claimed to be speaking or writing under divine inspiration (Deuteronomy 18: 21– 22). The prophet Malachi quoted God as saying, “Test me in this” (Malachi 3: 10). The apostle Paul urged Christ’s followers, “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5: 21). The apostle John similarly wrote, “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4: 1). In addition, Luke affirmed the importance of testing by complimenting people in Berea who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17: 11). The Bereans set an important example for us as they tested Paul’s words and checked his teaching against the law, history, songs, and prophecies preserved through the centuries with confirmed accuracy. Tests of consistency, both internal and external, served as the crucible from which the New Testament canon emerged. Through the filters of integration and corroboration, the creeds were distilled. The quest for consistency defines the goal of all responsible Bible scholarship— in fact, for all responsible scholarship, including science.

There are varying degrees of hermeneutics within Biblical Scholarship but the mainstay principles can be summed down to:

  • Context of the Culture, Author, Reader

  • Original Language uses

  • Interpret the type of literature

  • Historical, Grammatical and Contextual

  • Scripture Interprets Scripture (maybe the most important)

These all contain other methods and principles respectively but they are the most important and solid of the basics within hermeneutics. These and other methods couples together are so important when dealing with scripture that refers to the scientific field.

Hugh Ross in his book A Matter of Days gives us eight steps and I think they are worth noting here:

A willingness to pursue continual, progressive testing of interpretations of Bible texts and of nature’s data have, for centuries, led human investigators closer and closer to better understanding (“ rightly dividing,” 2 Timothy 2: 15, KJV) the truth contained in both biblical passages and natural phenomena. The testing method involves a series of steps designed to help investigators tentatively develop interpretations and subsequently improve those interpretations. The biblical and scientific interpretive process, especially as applied to a given physical event or sequence of events, includes eight essential steps: Collect relevant texts and observations. Identify the frame( s) of reference for each. Determine the context and initial conditions for the event( s). Determine what takes place, when, and where, and the sequence of events within each text or observation. Note the final conditions. Form a tentative interpretation to explain both the how and the why of the event or sequence. Examine the tentative interpretation in light of additional relevant texts and observations, eliminate extraneous data, and add any previously overlooked important information.

Ross, Hugh. A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy (Kindle Locations 1086-1095). RTB Press. Kindle Edition.

These eight steps can keep us from adding in our own thoughts, our own predisposed ideas and keep us on the straight and narrow exegesis we wish to stay upon. Therefore, in closing it is vital and important to remember when dealing with theology, science, the philosophy of science or anything in these fields that we are not to be the guide but God is and God has given us the ability to interpret His word and His creation.

RC