Monday, June 29, 2009

Is Reformed Academic Reformed?

[The following post was originally posted at Reformed Academic. ]

I have been invited to reply to Phillip Broussard’s articles on scientific realism. Rather than respond to details, I would instead like to address the deeper underlying issue of how science should relate to Scripture. Since Broussard’s view seems similar to that of Reformed Academic (hereafter RA), let me comment more widely on my reaction to RA:

1. I applaud the aim of RA to discuss “academic issues on the basis of Scripture and the Reformed confessions” and to promote the “Reformed tradition” originating with Calvin and Luther”.

2. Given RA’s stated goal, I am dismayed that its actual starting point seems to be a rather uncritical acceptance of the naturalist myth of origins
(from the Big Bang to the evolution of man), which RA mistakenly elevates to “what God has revealed in nature”. RA is then compelled to reject the traditional historical interpretation of Gen. 1-11. This, in turn, entails a reduction of Biblical authority and a new hermeneutic that re-interprets Genesis in conformity with mainstream (naturalist) science. In justifying all this, RA tends to unduly minimize the subjectivity of science and to grossly exaggerate the difficulty of biblical interpretation.

3. In science we must distinguish between (1) the actual observational data and (2) their theoretical extrapolation and explanation. The latter are subjective human constructs, reflecting worldview presuppositions. Since we can’t directly observe the distant past, scientific conclusions about origins must rely on various theoretical assumptions. The fundamental epistemic question is thus: in case of conflict, should Scripture trump scientific theory or vice versa?

4. I maintain that a genuinely Reformed epistemology should conform to the Reformed confessions. The Belgic Confession affirms that the Bible is the Word of God (Art. 3) and, hence, inerrant and fully authoritative (“believing without doubt all things contained in them,” Art. 5). It allows for revelation through nature but this knowledge (1) concerns God’s attributes and (2) is less clear and full than Biblical revelation (Art. 2). Furthermore, since scientific theories are human constructs, they must bow before Scripture (Art. 7). A Reformed epistemology should thus judge scientific theories in the light of Scripture.

5. I maintain that a genuinely Reformed hermeneutic should conform to a high view of Scripture, applying biblically sound hermeneutical principles. The Reformers insisted that (1) we should interpret the Bible in its obvious, natural sense unless internal evidence indicates otherwise and (2) Scripture should interpret Scripture. A Reformed hermeneutic should thus read the Bible on its own terms, letting the exegetical chips fall where they may.

6. The Bible itself consistently takes Gen. 1-11 in its obvious, natural sense. Reformed hermeneutics thus implies that the traditional, historical reading of Gen. 1-11 is in fact what the Bible teaches. This is the Reformed view of Gen. 1-11, held by the Reformers Luther and Calvin as well as the vast majority of Christians until recent challenges from naturalist science. Hence, Reformed epistemology should reject all scientific theorizing that contradicts the plain, historical reading of Gen. 1-11.

7. To RA I pose the following challenges:

A. Biblical implications
If we cannot believe everything the Bible affirms, how can we believe anything in it? Why, for example, should we believe in a resurrection, given this contradicts naturalist science? Why should naturalist science trump the Bible on origins but not on eschatology? Where do you draw the line? And how do you justify your criteria? If taking the Bible at face value is “simplistic”, what hermeneutical criteria must be applied? And how are these to be biblically justified?

B. Scientific implications
If our reading of Scripture is to be dictated by some scientific theories, why not others? How do you know which scientific theories are true? Where do you draw the line? And how do you justify your criteria?

C. Theological implications
If man evolved from matter, how can he have a non-material soul? If Adam and Eve had evolutionary ancestors then Gen. 2 is not historical; since Gen. 2 is closely linked to Gen. 3, why should we believe in a historical Fall? And where does that leave the doctrine of original sin and the need for atonement? Further, if man evolved then suffering and death existed long before the Fall. How, then, can these be considered a result of sin?

[RA affirms belief in an historical Adam and his fall. But if RA believes also that Adam evolved from animal ancestors then RA owes us a detailed explanation of how it reconciles two seemingly contradictory beliefs.]

8. In short, it seems to me that RA is promoting an untenable syncretism of Christianity and naturalism. RA would do well to return to the Sola Scriptura of the Reformation.

John Byl

June 12, 2009 6:45 AM

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