THE ROLE OF BIBLICAL AND EXTRA-BIBLICAL DATA
The claim that in conflicts between them one should take the Bible over science is much too simplistic. Space does not permit a more extensive treatment of this important question which we have dealt with more extensively elsewhere (see our Systematic Theology in One Volume, chapters 4 and 12). Al Mohler was taken to task by Peter Enns for his seemingly a priori biblical stance that would not allow for any external evidence to change ones view on what the Bible taught about certain scientific and historical events (Mohler, 51, 60). Clearly the discussion hinges on what role the external data have from general revelation in determining the meaning of a biblical text special revelation (see CSBI Article 21).
For example, almost all contemporary evangelical scholars allow that virtually certain scientific evidence from outside the Bible shows that the earth is round, and this must take precedence over a literalistic interpretation of the phrase “four corners of the earth” (Rev. 20:8). Further, interpretation of the biblical phrase “the sun set” (Josh. 1:4) is not be taken literalistically to mean the sun moves around the earth. Rather, most evangelical scholars would allow the evidence for a helio-centric view of modern astronomy (from general revelation) to take precedence over a literalistic pre-Copernican geo-centric interpretation of the phrase the “Sun stood still” (Josh. 10:13).
On the other hand, most evangelicals reject the theistic evolutionary interpretation of Genesis 1-2 for the literal (not literalistic) interpretation of the creation of life and of Adam and Eve. So, the one million dollar question is: when does the scientist’s interpretation of general revelation take precedent over the theologian’s interpretation of special revelation?
Several observations are in order on this important issue. First, there are two revelations from God, general revelation (in nature) and special revelation (in the Bible), and they are both valid sources of knowledge. Second, their domains sometimes overlap and conflict, as the cases cited above indicate, but no one has proven a real contradiction between them. However, there is a conflict between some interpretations of each revelation. Third, sometimes a faulty interpretation of special revelation must be corrected by a proper interpretation of general revelation. Hence, there are few evangelicals who would claim that the earth is flat, despite the fact that the Bible speaks of “the four corners of the earth” (Rev. 20:8). Nor would they claim that the earth does not move in spite of the fact that the Bible affirms: “The world is established; it shall never be moved” (Psa. 93:1, emphasis added).
However, most evangelical theologians follow a literal (not literalistic) understanding of the creation of the universe, life, and Adam (Gen. 1:1, 21, 27) over the Darwinian macro-evolution model. Why? Because they are convinced that the arguments for the creation of a physical universe and a literal Adam outweigh the Darwinian speculations about general revelation. In brief, our understanding of Genesis (special revelation) must be weighed with our understanding of nature (general revelation) in order to determine the truth of the matter (see our Systematic Theology, chapters 4 and 12.). It is much too simplistic to claim one is taking the Bible over science or science over the Bible—our understanding about both are based on revelations from God, and their interpretations of both must be weighed in a careful and complimentary way to arrive at the truth that is being taught on these matters.
To abbreviate a more complex process which is described in more detail elsewhere (ibid.): (1) we start with a complete inductive study of the biblical text; (2) we make whatever necessary deduction that emerges from two or more biblical truths; (3) we do a retroduction of our discovery in view of the biblical phenomena and external evidence from general revelation; and then (4) we draw our final conclusion in the nuanced view of truth resulting from this process. In brief, there is a complimentary role between interpretations of special revelation and those of general revelations. Sometimes, the evidence for the interpretation of one revelation is greater than the evidence for an interpretation in the other, and vice versa. So, it is not a matter of taking the Bible over science, but when there is a conflict, it is a matter of taking the interpretation with the strongest evidence over the one with weaker evidence.