Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Bible as Scientific Literature?


Not long ago I stumbled across the website of organization dedicated to increasing our study of the Bible, and being someone with a high regard and great interest in the Bible I wanted to see what they were all about. I expected some sort of seminary, but this was not the case, and their mission statement took me by surprise:

"The Institute's mission is to educate the general public about the value and importance of reading the Bible and using it as the primary textbook for knowledge and study. Its purpose is to broaden perspective of the Bible from what is commonly thought of as a textbook used in Sunday school, to a scientific text on all subject matter."

A scientific text on all subject matter? That's a leap even a limber Pentecostal wouldn't make, and I think it points out another problem, which is the attempt by some to make the Bible something it's not.

The Bible is a religious, social, and historical chronicle of God's work in the lives of a specific group of people during a specific period of history, but it's not science. The teachings and message of the Bible are just as valid for us today as at any time in history, but it was not intended to be a scientific textbook. To quote from the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message (the first creed/confession I found online that dealt specifically with the Bible):

"The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is ... the true center of Christian union and the standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried."

Even the Baptists see the Bible as a book of divine instruction, not scientific knowledge. While many (myself included) accept the Creation account in Genesis as both literal and true, that does not make the Bible scientific literature. Genesis explained to the Israelites how the world began, but the focus was on man's fall and God's work of redemption as a result. It's certainly not a text you can prop up next to a beaker and test tubes in a lab and expect to receive guidance.

To use a different book as an example, the Bible cannot be used as scientific literature any more than Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers can be used as a history of France. Neither was intended for that purpose. Scientific literature, by its very definition, implies that experimentation has taken place: tests conducted, theories tested, hypotheses proved or disproved. This cannot be done with the Bible, or with any other historical or religious book. There are ways to test, to a certain degree, the accuracy of historical and religious texts, but even that doesn't make them science.

We might also do well to remember that while the Bible has proven reliable throughout the centuries, science has a much more checkered past. At various time through history, scientists (or the closest thing available at the time) have been absolutely positive that the sun revolved around the earth, that the world was flat, and that bloodletting was the cure for almost every disease. It seems like every few hundred years or so, everything science has presented as fact turns out to be wrong. Even Darwin's theory of evolution has been largely dismissed in recent years, though the media and anti-Christian groups often refuse to acknowledge this. Yet the Bible has remained true.

One of the biggest problems inherent in the ongoing debate regarding the "science" of the Bible is that the two sides spend so much time arguing evolution versus creation that they miss the point of the book. While we debate the "real" length of a day in the Bible, we completely ignore the people that Jesus told us to pay attention to: the lost, the sick, the outcast, the oppressed, and the poor.

Perhaps rather than trying to determine if the Bible can be used as a book of science we should be wondering why it's no longer being used as our guide for faith and morals. It seems like the more people question the reliability of the Bible (in spite of vast archaeological support of the historical accounts), the more they throw out the essential message as well. Sadly, it seems the Bible does have one thing in common with a college Organic Chemistry textbook today: most of us aren't reading either one.

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