Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Questions and more questions

I remember when I first read Bernard Ramm's A Christian View of Science and Scripture that I felt so relieved that I had finally found a book by a prominent evangelical that tells people what I had secretly thought had to be right all along. The six-day creation scheme has it all wrong and the NASA finding regarding the missing day in astrological time (that supposedly accounted for the extra day that resulted from God telling the sun to stand still in Josh 10) had no documented support. FINALLY, someone telling people openly what had become for many a spiritual crime of the highest degree to entertain in secret, much less express in words (forgot about actually publishing it).

But I also remember how I felt when I got to his recommendation for how to proceed in the future. He proposed theistic evolution as the way forward, and I remember thinking, "Oh no, you've got to be kidding me!" And with that I shut the book and re-entrenched myself in the six-day inerrantist tradition. Perhaps (if I am permitted to generalize on the basis of my own experience) people are quite willing to read about doubts that they harbor in secret, but they are not nearly as willing to concede where those doubts may lead if they are ever faced up to. It led Ramm to "concede too much to science" according to many a reviewer. I was not yet ready for Ramm's advice. That would take me many more years.

"In 1969 Ramm contributed the lead article to a JASA symposium issue on 'The Relationship Between the Bible and Science' (D 1969). Here his contextual approach is evident in a section entitled the 'Importance of Context' where he discusses problems related to biblical inerrancy. He notes that 'the special nature of a document means that error must be discussed within the context of the specialty of the document' (p. 100). He makes 'a distinction between the structural and cultural forms that revelation comes through, and the revelation itself. The revelation does not dignify the structure into the category of the revelational.' He concludes that 'when we make a distinction between the modality in which a revelation comes and the teaching of the revelation itself, there is no contradiction between modern scientific pictures or models and Biblical revelation' (p. 101).

The contextual view is applied to the Genesis account of creation in Ramm's summary of Barth's approach to the issue of Genesis and science in After Fundamentalism (1983:152-154). 'His first step is to let the Genesis record stand as it is, a product of the prescientific world with its prescientific cosmologies.' Barth is not concerned about the different cosmological perspectives in Genesis 1 and 2 or other cosmologies throughout scripture. His second point is 'that this multiplicity should not distress us. Christian theologians have used all kinds of cosmologies... There is no common cosmology behind sacred Scripture.' This point recognizes the shifting paradigms throughout the history of science, so that the world view of the biblical writers need no longer be an embarrassment.

His third point is 'that these texts (Genesis 1-3) are the Word of God. The Word of God is "in, with, and under" the cosmology. The cosmology is not the Word of God, but the message within the cosmology is the Word of God. Revelation does not intend to teach science, and therefore the Word of God is independent of the cosmology.' The fourth step is to remember that 'If scientists do their work in theory construction within the limits of the data themselves, scientists will never say anything contrary to the Word of God,' and 'If theologians restrict themselves to the Word of God and pure theological statements ...then theologians will never say anything contrary to science.' If science and theology are governed in their methodology by the nature and context of the subject matter they investigate 'the conflict between science and theology" would be removed.' (J. L. Spradley, "Changing Views of Science and Scripture: Bernard Ramm and the ASA" PSCF 44 (March 1992): 2-9, http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1992/PSCF3-92Spradley.html)

But what if the fourth step does not work? What if one cannot keep saying to himself, "Hey, we have to agree with Scripture (whatever that means) since not all the evidence is in yet"? What if one begins to wonder whether what one is really doing when he says, "All the evidence is not yet in," is a form of special pleading? What if one becomes convinced of things contrary to theology based on scholarship performed independently and on the evidence produced by it? Furthermore, what if one realizes that theology done on its own turf has yielded a plethora of theologies among which there is no prospect of a consensus in sight? What does one do then?