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Authority in Scriptural Interpretation: The Value of Science

I keep on getting caught up in debates on other sites (The River Walk and There’s a Thing Called Biology come to mind) that tend to end with charges against my intellectual integrity. The progression goes something like:

  1. I observe that the people that wrote the Bible were recording experiences that they lacked the scientific understanding to describe accurately.
  2. I propose alternative interpretations of the events in modern scientific terms.
  3. I am told that the events recorded in the Bible could not have happened because they violate scientific knowledge.
  4. I suggest that science is not as iron-clad as many believe, and direct the conversation to my “New Physics” page.
  5. The responder offers the unsophisticated interpretation of the Biblical record (i.e. – Creation occurred in seven days) as evidence that people that believe in God do not understand science, and accuses me of being a poor scientist.
  6. I offer that my personal experience of God contradicts their science, and re-iterate that that I have offered models that integrate science and spirituality for their consideration.
  7. I am accused of intellectual dishonesty and ignoring scientific truth.
  8. I break off the discussion.

This may seem like just whining, but there’s a really fundamental point that nobody seems to have grasped just yet: the reason that religious authorities offered an “unscientific” understanding of scripture was because they didn’t have enough science to interpret scripture. Receiving a document through a long chain of translation from dead languages, they interpreted the words as literal truth because they had nothing else to guide their understanding.

But we do have science as our guide. So why not make use of it?

Given what we know about paleontology, for example, we can clearly interpret the days of creation as the history of biological development, running from single-celled organisms that learned to use light as a source of energy, and ending with the mammals and man on “day” six. Along the way, the development of eyesight replaces “light” with the more specific sun and moon.

Similarly, the trumpets of Revelation are seen to correspond almost exactly with the ancient mass extinctions. The era of giant insects is noted, and the final extinction episode (involving a meteor strike, volcanic vents and egg-eating mammals) describes distinctly the mechanisms that terminated the age of the dinosaurs.

Scripture and Darwin don’t contradict each other, they support each other. In the other direction, I think that the most powerful tool we have to advance our understanding of fundamental science is not the billion-dollar satellites and particle accelerators, but rather the well-documented record of spiritual experience.

Really, I would think that we’d be getting together to shake hands and pat each other on the back, not trading barbs.

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