Conservative Theology

July 15, 2008

The Bible / Is the Bible Scientifically True?

JB

One thing we need to be careful of in interpreting and translating ancient documents (such as the Bible) is the categories in which people speak, because there is no objectively true set of categories.   I don't believe the Bible is true scientifically, not because I think it is in error, but because the Bible does not use the same categories as science does.  I think it can be used within science (that is one of my personal research interests), but when doing so one always has to remember the categories that people are using.

For instance, let's say I said "the meteor came in out of the ether and glowed for several minutes until it's phlogiston ran out."  To someone in the 18th century, that statement makes a lot of sense.  To someone in the 21st century, that makes no sense whatsoever.  It may be a true _historical_ statement, but the categories being used in the 18th century are not the same ones being used in the 21st.

Are the categories inerrant?  The problem here is that the question itself is non-sensical.  Categories are neither true nor false.  They are simply the conception of reality you are dealing with.  The "ether" hypothesis might be true, but it is no part of 21st century science.  Even if it is not true, it is still a useful category in discussion as a placeholder for other unknown concepts.   In the 22nd century we might come back to "ether", or have a whole new set of categories that make 21st century science seem archaic.

Even if there were a complete set of objectively true categories (which I doubt they exist), it would be stupid for the Bible to use them, as it would cause the Bible itself to be meaningless to us who aren't familiar with those categories!

And, as such, I don't treat the statements in the Bible as scientifically true, though I certainly think that they can be used to inform scientific topics.  Going back to the example of the meteor "coming out of the ether" - if I am doing a scientific study on meteor observations, I can safely include this 18th century description as a valid description of the event, just knowing that his categories for description need translation.

I have blogged on this topic before, though this is a slightly more thorough treatment of the matter.