Revelation's Two Volumes
SCRIPTURE: God's Book of Words | NATURE: God's Book of Works "Science contradicts the Bible!"
Skeptics frequently state that science refutes the Bible -- any intelligent, educated person must reject Scripture. What should we say in response? I reply, "Do you know what believers mean when we refer to God's two books?" I then explain that the book of words is Scripture, and the book of works is Nature. (This suggestion may be new to many of my readers. Persevere as I develop the idea. In the end, I believe it'll be worth it!)
By "nature" we usually mean the natural world apart from human activity, though humans too occupy a niche in the natural world. Nature is more than sunrises and sunsets, walks in the forest, or documentaries on the wonders of our planet. Earth is but a minuscule part of the known world, and nature includes countless planets, stars, and galaxies. Astrophysicists enable us to peer to the boundaries of the universe, billions of light-years away.
The psalmist affirmed, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands..." and a few verses later, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple…" (Psalm 19:1,7). The first section of this beautiful hymn speaks of nature, the second of Scripture (and the third, our response to his revelation).
Yet a good many Christians suspect that God speaks to us only in the Bible. "Surely the Bible is our prayer book, history book, science book, etc. It tells us not just how we are to live, but how old the world is." The principal problem with this view is that it runs up against passages like Psalm 19:1, 8:1, and Rom, where it is affirmed that God speaks, at some level, in nature.
In fact there are yet further ways in which the Lord speaks or has spoken (directly or indirectly), for example through the history of Israel, the person of Jesus Christ, conscience, and through those who give us wise counsel.
The subheading could be rephrased "What Science demonstrates," as science is the systematic study of nature. Since God tells us that he reveals some truth in nature, we ought not to be conflicted or fearful that some discovery of science will overthrow Scripture. Rather, the thinking Christian welcomes the discoveries of science -- even if some theories may eventually be reworked or discarded, science on the whole is a noble venture and should be appreciated as a powerful ally for faith. "It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out" (Proverbs 25:2, illustrated in 1 Kings 4:29-34).
Back in the early 17th century, the established church hesitated to accept the truth that the earth orbits the sun, since the scriptures state "[The world] shall never be moved" (Psalm 93:1). Yet as the evidence piled up, the priests gave in, eventually accepting the position of Galileo -- whom they had held under house arrest for publishing this very truth! Yet this was an unnecessary battle -- and a foolish one -- in the first place. The Bible is not a science book, and celestial thoughts of the ancients were never presented as central doctrine; they were incidental. The Bible isn't a science book, any more than a biology text is intended to strengthen our relationship with God!
What are the implications of the doctrine of the Two Books? There are several, and they are important:
Since God speaks truth through nature; he will not deceive us. I have met Christians who reject the dinosaurs, since they aren't mentioned in scripture. When I ask them about the fossils, they say, "God allowed the devil to put those bones in the ground to harden the hearts of the incorrigible." But this is not in line with the character of the biblical God!
God's two books are complementary, not contradictory.Most "contradictions" between the Bible and science easily disappear, once the nature and intention of each "book" is understood. This complementaritydoesn't mean that the Bible supplies some scientific knowledge and the scientists add further data. It means that the subject matter of each "book" covers different aspects of reality. The Bible is a book of relationships, justice, and mercy. It shows us the tender heart of God. Science is a book of empirical study. It shows us the majesty, wisdom, and power of God.
The universe is probably as old as it appears. Some people plead the "omphalos" argument. That's the Greek word for belly button. Did Adam have a navel? If so, they reason, he was created with an appearance of age, whereas in fact he was only seconds old. So it is with the world; scientific study indicates billions of years, but it's actually only 6000 years old, and they claim they have scientific evidence to bolster their young-earth views. Yet this fails for two reasons. First, if there is scientific evidence that the earth is young, then by reason of omphalos we would never know, given the appearance of age. Second, and more important, it makes God a deceiver, whereas Satan is the one who is the deceiver (Rev 12:9).
Conceit or laziness?
Let's ask ourselves: What kind of an attitude do I have towards learning God's truth? Do I value the Book of Words but not the Book of Works? Or vice versa? Do I pit scripture against nature, finding "contradictions" where there are non? Have I bought into any shallow arguments that make me feel better about not working to get at the facts? Francis Bacon (1605) leaves us with a well-worded challenge (I wish I'd written this!):
“Let no man or woman, out of conceit or laziness, think or believe that anyone can search too far or be too well informed in the Book of God’s Words or in the Book of God’s Works: Religion or Science. Instead, let everyone endlessly improve their understanding of both.” Where next?
What sorts of things has God revealed in his "book of works"? Next week we'll consider design in nature, and how this is invaluable apologetically.
We will also suggest that although the cosmos evinces both intelligence and design, the modern notion of "Intelligent Design" is misguided. I do not mean to demean my fellow believers, only to accurately represent God, his word, and his works. As seekers all of us need to be careful that we hold our reasons for belief based on the best evidence available. This goes for science as much as it does for scripture.
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