Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Man's fallible interpretation of the Bible versus the perfect witness of creation: who wins?

My post title is a direct allusion to the title of a blog post by geologist Jonathan Baker, "Man's Fallible Opinion vs. God's Perfect Word: Who Wins?" Baker, whose excellent post 100 Reasons the Earth is Old featured in one of my recent blog posts notes that he has received zero scientific objections to his list of reasons. This is hardly surprising as there is no credible scientific evidence to support a young Earth. Instead, the objections to his list are based purely on the belief that a literal reading of the Bible not only teaches that the Earth is 6000 years old, but trumps all scientific evidence. In other words, the choice is framed in terms of flawed human understanding versus the word of God. Where this argument falls apart of course is in its conflation of a naive, wooden, literal reading of the creation narratives with the word of God. In other words, the YECs have privileged their fallible interpretation of the Bible over the evidence from the natural world. Given that they constantly rail against the 'wisdom of men', it is ironic that by privileging a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, they are in fact idolising the wisdom of men.

Baker lists four reasons why the YEC argument falls apart. These include (1) the fact that contemporary YEC readings are a relatively recent aberration that owe everything to a sectarian interpretation of the Bible (2) the failure to read the creation narratives in their ancient context and (3) the fact that the Bible never explicitly says that the universe is 6000 years old. Baker's fourth reason is worth repeating, if only because it encapsulates the attitude of not a few YECs in our community:
We gain nothing by appealing to the plain meaning or even the unique authority of Scripture. Those who profess sola scriptura should especially be wary of falling into the trap of solo scriptura, which I like to call “me-and-my-Bible-ism”. The latter isolates oneself from wider communion with the church and its history, particularly the ways in which the church has historically received and understood Scripture. It leads the reader, therefore, to interpret scripture through a very limited personal experience by professing only what is “plain and obvious” to them. Rather than uphold the authority of Scripture, as the reader intends, this process actually capitulates God’s word to postmodern relativism.
For a lay community such as ours which (rightly) places authority in the Bible, this is a particularly acute problem, given that our community is peppered with poorly taught autodidacts with little if any understanding of the scientific, lexical, and sociocultural issues required to properly understand the creation narratives. Baker is right to point out that what is 'plain and obvious' to a layperson will be little more than a subjective interpretation of the Bible uninformed by anything more robust than personal opinion. This is not Bible study, not by a long shot.