Can Science Tell Us Nothing Reliable About The Past?… (Only the Bible Can Do That?)

True followers of Jesus trust God’s special revelation, the Bible. But can they also trust God’s natural revelation, as an independent witness to history, as understood by science?

History cannot be deduced by science, only explained by it.” So reads a promotional ad for the anniversary showing of the film Is Genesis History?, featuring Del Tackett, creator of “The Truth Project.”

A common apologetic argument today, for some Christians, insists that science can not tell us anything reliable about the past. Instead, we must look to the Bible for God’s revelation of history, and not to science, for answers concerning the age of the earth, and human origins.

For those unaware of other alternatives, this might at first seem reasonable. This approach seeks to honor and defend the Bible as God’s Word. After all, the Bible is under attack in our culture, and if modern science is to blame, we need good reasons to refute such godlessness. Christian parents are rightly concerned about worldly influences on their kids, and so the message of Is Genesis History?, hopes to stem the tide against encroaching unbelief.

But is this apologetic argument consistent with what Scripture itself teaches? Is science not to be trusted, when it comes to our knowledge of the past, and our ability to reconstruct natural history? Does science, with respect to the past, only function to explain history, as revealed by the Bible? Let me give you two biblical reasons why the usefulness of this apologetic has difficulties.

First, the concept of fixed laws of nature, transcending present, future, and the past, is actually grounded in the Bible. For example, God ties his everlasting, constant commitment to His people, with the very laws of nature that He created, as He said thousands of years ago:

” Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.“(Jeremiah 33:25-26 ESV)

The fixed laws of nature, that transcend time and undergird the practice of modern science, are reliable. Why? Because God is reliable to keep His covenant with His people. He gave us Jesus, a descendant of Jacob and David, as our King and Savior, through the nation of Israel. He has proven Himself reliable by continuing to build His covenant people over many, many, many generations, even today.

True, we can not travel back in a time-machine to observe previous events. But if the Bible teaches that God’s fixed laws of nature are trustworthy, would it not be reasonable to assume that events from the past should be consistent with what we observe today? Here are a few examples, demonstrating that we are constantly looking to science as a means of understanding the past.

When astronomers see distant starlight coming in from outer space, they are seeing light that was generated millions of light years ago. Unless one is willing to accept some untested hypothesis of millions-of-years old light being generated in midstream, or of light that travels at different speeds in different directions, or to suggest some other, hitherto unknown law of physics, it is extremely difficult to conclude that the universe is somehow less than 10,000 years old.

When archaeologists are digging for evidence, they are looking at layers of soil that correspond to ages in the past, as clues to understanding that past. Dendrochronologists measure tree rings as a means of understanding past events. Forensic scientists analyze DNA and other criminal evidence, from long ago, in order to solve cold cases. Most scientists, whether they be non-Christians or Christians, practice their craft today, with the hope that they can reasonably create a convincing historical narrative. But if you inherently distrust science, as a tool for reconstructing history, then science will have limited value for you.

Second, the Apostle Paul taught that pagans, who have no Law of Moses, effectively, no Bible, are without excuse when it comes to having a knowledge of God, as revealed in creation.

” For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”(Roman 1:19-20 ESV)

Paul is quite confident that by examining creation, even in looking at the evidence for the original creation event in the past, we are given a reliable testimony as to who this Creator really is. If the pagan, or anyone else, fails to recognize this, it is no fault of God’s. It is due to our failure to acknowledge what God has revealed in nature.

Paul is giving the first century, biblically-illiterate pagan, as well as anyone living today, no escape route, whereby someone could plead, “Well, if only I had something like the Bible, a written Word from God, to tell me the real history of the universe, then I would know for sure that there is a Creator.

Read the whole passage, Romans 1:18-2:29, to get the whole context, and tell me if you think Paul is saying anything differently. Then read Romans 10:14-18, where Paul recites the same theme, yet again, where even if someone has not heard the Word of special revelation, they still have the witness of natural revelation, as when Paul quotes from Psalm 19:4. In other words, Paul appears to be teaching that natural revelation, which is the domain where science operates, bears a witness to the truth of God, independent of, but nevertheless, consistent with, special revelation, the domain of where we study the Holy Scriptures.

Granted, if natural revelation, as we study it through the disciplines of the sciences, can not tell us anything reliable about the past, then yes, this apologetic argument, popular among Young Earth Creationists, makes good sense: You then only need to read the Bible in order to find out the real history of the universe (assuming the Bible is being correctly interpreted). Science only comes in, after the fact, to explain the details of that history. What more could be commendable to the Christian?

However, just be aware of the implications. This line of reasoning is built on a philosophical presupposition as to how we are to understand God’s revelation in nature, and it has some problems. First, it goes against the grain of how most scientists, including non-believers and believers in Christ, across all sorts of disciplines, daily practice their craft. Secondly, it also chafes against several passages in the Bible, noted above. You tell me: Should a Christian follow a philosophical presupposition, where scientific evidence about the past, on its own, is irrelevant, and ironically, its biblical basis is shaky?

On the positive side, a Young Earth Creationist will have confidence in the Bible, as God’s special revelation. Even an Old Earth Creationist, can say “Amen” to that.

But when it comes to God’s natural revelation, all bets are off: Is God’s revelation in nature to be trusted? A Young Earth Creationist can never be completely sure.

Just something to think about.

 

Have you ever heard of this philosophical presupposition before, that “history cannot be deduced by science, only explained by it?” Well, a Christian DVD making the rounds today, that many of my homeschooling friends like,  Is Genesis History?, popularizes this very idea. The film will also be in theaters, February 22, 2018. You also hear it in statements like this: “You can not trust carbon dating! The Big Bang is really just a ‘big bust!‘” If you do decide to see the film, you might want to also think about some of the alternative Christian views profiled here on Veracity, that the movie does not discuss. Explore this and other topics above, by clicking on the links, or read other articles on Veracity, by going to the search box on the blog, type in something like “creation,” or “creationism,” and click go!

 


Tortured for Christ: The Movie

Richard Wurmbrand was a Lutheran pastor in Romania. The Communists threw him into prison for fourteen years. They tortured him, trying to persuade him to reveal the identities and locations of secret Christian believers. However, even solitary confinement in an underground cell did not force him to break his faith.

I am listening to the audiobook version of Tortured for Christ, and the story is riveting. Wurmbrand’s story is now coming to film, and if enough people buy tickets in advance (by February 26), local movie theaters will show the film on Monday, March 5.

Some Christians in America “think” they are being persecuted, but this is prejudice, not persecution. Real persecution of Christians, like what Wurmbrand went through, is going on all over the world. Voice of the Martyrs, the organization that Wurmbrand founded after leaving Communist Romania, in 1964, for the United States, is dedicated to raising awareness of Christian persecution across the globe.


Why Saint Augustine Changed His Mind About the Millennium

"The Course of Empire: The Destruction." Thomas Cole, 1836, showing the Sack of Rome in 410 A.D.

The Course of Empire: The Destruction.” Thomas Cole, 1836, showing the Sack of Rome in 410 A.D. Click to enlarge for more detail.

It was the year 410 A.D. The Visigoths had come down from the north, sacking the city of Rome, the capital of the world’s greatest empire. People all over the Mediterranean were in shock, as they heard the story of the ruins and dead corpses laying in the streets. This was the “9/11” event of their day.

The pagans blamed the Christians, and they had their reasons…… Pardon some of the anachronisms, but I can imagine their rant…..

“Within a few decades, these Christians had gained the political power of the emperorship. Rome’s centuries of pagan gods were then officially abandoned by the government. Now these Christians had messed up everything. They had put a bunch of ‘Bible-thumping’ idiots into power, offending our pagan moral sensitivities, and leaving the empire vulnerable to their northern enemies.

The once-great empire was now on the verge of total collapse, no thanks to these ‘Bible thumpers.’  These Christians are to blame for our troubles!”

…..  so thought the pagans, in their mockery.

Most Christians were unable to effectively respond to these charges. After all, Christianity had finally ascended to the top echelons of Roman society, and now it looked like the whole Roman world was falling apart! The Christian community provided the perfect scapegoat for Rome’s collapse.

Yet one man, the venerable bishop of Hippo, in North Africa, Saint Augustine, rose to the challenge. In his monumental work, City of God, Augustine instead laid the blame for Rome’s troubles on the moral dissolution and steady ethical decline that had plagued pagan Roman culture for century after century. To this day, City of God remains one of the greatest classics of Western culture, and a high watermark for Christian apologetics.

Augustine’s defense of the faith, however, came with a twist. Put in today’s terms, Augustine appeared to have “gone liberal.” But Augustine would not have seen it that way at all. After some reflection, Augustine came to believe that many Christians had misinterpreted the meaning of the “millennium,” the 1000-year reign of Christ, described in Revelation 20:1-6. Augustine, once a confirmed believer in a literal millennium, had basically flip-flopped, and changed his mind. But why?1
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Jordan Peterson’s Lessons for Christians

Have you ever heard of Professor Jordan B. Peterson?

I had never heard of him until a few weeks ago, when an explosive TV interview with him by British journalist Cathy Newman went “viral,” as folks like to say these days. I finally got a chance to see it, and it really is worth the 30-minutes. Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto, promoting his new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Peterson made waves over a year ago when he publicly opposed a new Canadian law designed to protect transgendered persons from being exposed to offensive speech. Peterson is definitely not “PC,” and his most provocative thesis is that there is a crisis of masculinity in the West today, and that so-called “identity politics” are fundamentally wrong.

In my view, public discourse on important topics is now at an all-time low. Cathy Newman is surely an intelligent, competent and engaging woman, but apparently there were some serious problems afoot in the Channel 4 newsroom that day. The Peterson interview by Newman might be the most eggregious example of an increasingly common rhetorical style, that so captivates both conservative and liberal news media, and that makes up a good chunk of what you find on social media. As Conor Friedersdorf put it in The Atlantic,

First, a person says something. Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.

Was Cathy Newman’s aggressive style simply a case of not being able to understand what Peterson was saying, kind of like how I do not “get” what people are saying when they are speaking in a foreign language? Or, was it because she understood Peterson’s message, but was intent on trying to verbally destroy him? Or, was it because she is so ideologically driven that it rendered her incapable of really hearing what Peterson was trying to say? Much of public discourse today takes on one or more of these characteristics, though in Cathy Newman’s case, my guess leans toward the latter.

More and more, words rarely carry meaning in public discourse. Rather, words are mostly used to create an emotive effect. However, in this interview, whether you agree with all that Peterson says, or not, this interview style is a complete disaster. Watch the interview and judge for yourself:

I highlight this YouTube video because it teaches us some very important lessons. First, Christians are foremost to be people of the “Word.” The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed, and not a mood to be effused about. Unfortunately, public discourse today tends to elevate mood over the actual meaning of words, making it often quite difficult to share the Good News with our neighbors, much less talking about anything else of substance. More and more of this worldly style of communication is creeping into the church, whereas Peterson, a secular psychologist, rejects the cultural trend. At one moment, Peterson stated, “I’m very, very, very careful with my words.”

Secondly, consider the message of Jordan Peterson himself. His critique of the New Atheists (think Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, etc.) is spot on. But also, part of his popularity stems from the fact that he has delivered a set of lectures on YouTube, that focus on the psychological significance of the Biblical stories. If you think that people are really not interested in thinking about and talking about the Bible, then you need to pay attention to what Jordan Peterson is doing. Peterson is an effective communicator, able to take a deeply, imaginative psychological view of the Bible, and apply it directly to the lives of millions of his listeners. Here is British pastor Matthew Hosier’s review of Peterson’s book, New York Times columnist David Brooks analysis of Peterson, and blogger Alistair Robert’s reflections on how Jordan Peterson can help pastors.

Thirdly, when evaluating Jordan Peterson’s teaching from an evangelical perspective, one should proceed with caution. In many ways, Peterson is an ally, but I would be very careful. Though Peterson’s message drinks deeply from the well of Christian thought and the Bible, Jordan Peterson is not a Christian in the historical, evangelical sense. Some of his interpretations of the Bible are problematic. He is closest to being a dualist in my taxonomy of different approaches to science and the Bible, but he pushes this dualism to the limit. Though Peterson believes in the power of the Christian story as true myth, he does not see any clear connection between Christianity as myth and Christianity as history, in a scientific sense, at least he is not sure how they could be related (TRANSLATION: Peterson believes in the power of resurrection as myth, but he does not know what to do with the claim that Jesus was literally, historically, and bodily raised from the dead). I, on the other hand, believe along with C.S. Lewis that Christianity is “myth become fact.”

I admit a struggle with how to properly interpret the Bible, with respect to history. If someone has been a Christian for awhile, who has struggled with how different Christians have interpreted the Bible, this should not come as a surprise. For example, some Christians understand the Book of Jonah to be historical narrative, whereas others see Jonah as fictional, a type of parable meant to teach spiritual truth, and others contend for a mixture of history and fictional elements . Not all interpretations of the Bible are created equal, so trying to sort out how different passages of Scripture should be understood within their historical context, is an essential (and probably life-long) task. But if we sever the link between myth and history, when such a move is unwarranted by the evidence, we risk distorting the very essence of the Gospel. Peterson takes his cues from Carl Jung, Dostoyevsky, Nietszche, and evolutionary psychology. This is powerful stuff. Deep stuff. I need to think about it a lot more. But I am not so sure Peterson’s message can be completely sync’ed up with orthodox, evangelical faith.

 

 

 


Life on Mission: A Review

Do you ever feel awkward or intimidated, when it comes to sharing your faith with others? The Lord knows, I do.

Life on Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God, by Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe, is a companion book to a five-week DVD teaching series, used in churches like mine. Life on Mission is geared towards giving Christians a biblical foundation for doing evangelism, and practical helps on how to share your faith with your neighbor, coworker, family member or friend.

Many of us Christians think that the work of evangelism is to be done by professionals, like pastors, or even outdoor evangelists, standing on a soapbox. Others of us know we should be doing evangelism ourselves, but we do not know why we should be doing it. Many of us feel like we lack the training to share our faith: What should I say? How do I broach the topic of spiritual things? When should I just shut-up and listen?

Life on Mission addresses these and other stumbling blocks to sharing our faith with others. Dealing with these stumbling blocks could not have come at a more critical time. Our culture is changing rapidly, and the influence of evangelical Christianity in American is not what it once was. We simply can not depend on the “professionals,” whoever they are, or Christian media, to get the job done, when it comes to spreading the Gospel. We must all get involved.

One of the central messages learned from Life on Mission is that everyone is a missionary, whether you are a plumber, a school teacher, a doctor, a student, a retired person, or a stay-at-home mom or dad. But we are not to go about doing evangelism alone. We need one another as fellow Christians as partners in the work, inviting people to join together, as we worship God and care for one another. In other words, we need biblical community.

Furthermore, sharing the Gospel needs to come from the right motivation. Ultimately, evangelism flows out of a life that is focused on giving God the glory in all things, to honor God as truly worthy to be worshipped.

Life on Mission is realistic. Here is one of my favorite quotes, illustrating the fact that the Christian church is far from perfection: “I am sure 9 out of 10 people… have been hurt by someone in the church, and the 10th person is simply in denial.” There are pitfalls to be avoided, and Life on Mission honestly looks at how to address these pitfalls.

This graphic, from Life on Mission, is a useful tool for how Christians might be able to share their faith with they non-believing friends (click on the image to zoom in).

The work of sharing our faith with our neighbors need not be boxed into some particular formula or  “discipleship program.” Mainly, it is about building friendships, within our circle of influence, and inviting those friends to share in our spiritual journey. As we are learning things in the Bible, we can share those things with our neighbor and co-worker. As we share what we are learning from the Bible, we then allow God’s Holy Spirit to do the work, for the Word of God to penetrate the hearts and minds of our friends.

Life on Mission can be read on its own, or it could be used as part of a five-week DVD group study, using a Life on Mission Bible study guide. You do not necessarily need the Life on Mission book itself, as the DVD presentation, along with the five-week study guide, covers the same material. Consider Life on Mission, the book and/or the DVD sessions, with the Bible study guide, as a great tool to help you, and/or your small group think about how you can pursue God’s mission to share your life with Jesus with those around you.

For more information about Life on Mission, poke around on their website. Look here for information about Life on Mission classes at the Williamsburg Community Chapel.

 


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