Last month I had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of high school students at Hume Lake Christian Camp in California. One of the sessions was titled Ask Me Anything. On this particular occasion, many of the questions related to science and faith. In fact, one question kept coming up: How should we understand the creation account in Genesis 1?
There are few conversations between Christians that generate as much heat as those concerning creation. It seems like there are as many interpretations of Genesis as there are Christians. Depending on which view you hold, you might be labeled a “fundamentalist,” a “compromiser,” or even a “heretic.” I’ll let you decide which theory goes with each label.
When it comes to this issue there are two key principles that all Christians should keep in mind. The first principle is that Christians gather truth about creation from two sources: general revelation and special revelation. Nature is God’s general revelation and Scripture is God’s special revelation. God communicates through both sources of revelation, and both need to be studied and interpreted.
This leads to the second principle: everyone interprets. The interpretation of nature is called science whereas the interpretation of Scripture is called hermeneutics. Of course, these are interpreted in very different ways by using the tools within each discipline. We interpret the Bible using principles of hermeneutics and we interpret nature using the principles of the scientific method.
In his systematic theology, Dr. Norm Geisler writes, “For whenever there is a conflict between an interpretation of the Bible and a current understanding of God’s natural revelation, priority should generally be given to the interpretation that is more certain.”
Some of you might be thinking, “That can’t be right, Tim. Doesn’t Scripture always trump science?” Technically, that’s not the right question. In fact, that would be a fundamental mistake bordering on a category error. We need to be careful not to pit Scripture against science, or nature against hermeneutics, since they are on different levels. In creation debates, we are talking about our interpretation of Scripture and our interpretation of nature. God’s two revelations, nature and Scripture always agree. It’s our interpretation of Scripture and our interpretation of nature that may conflict. And when they do, it follows that one (or both) of our conflicting interpretations is wrong. Consequently, we should give priority to the interpretation that is more certain.
Geisler continues, “God has revealed Himself in His Word and in His world. . . . The problem is what we do when they seem to conflict. It is too simplistic to conclude that the Bible is always right and science is wrong. Of course, the Bible is always right, but our interpretation of it is not.”
Here’s an example from history to help drive home this point. Some interpretations of the Bible would have us believe that the Earth sits stationary while the planets and Sun revolve around it. This is known as geocentricism. After all, the psalmist writes, “The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty, the Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved” (Psalm 93:1; cf. 1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalm 96:10). He also says, “He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved” (Psalm 104:5). Ecclesiastes 1:5 echoes, “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.” Now, surely these (and many other passages like them) should not be taken literally, right?
Well, you may be surprised to learn that some great theologians of the past interpreted these verses in a straightforward manner. Listen to the words of Martin Luther:
“There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must . . . invent something special, and the way he does it must be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.”
Notice Luther’s argument. It is “Holy Scripture that tells us” the Earth does not move; therefore, heliocentricism is false. But virtually everyone nowadays believes that the Earth moves around the Sun. Does that mean the Bible was wrong? Certainly not! What it means is that Luther’s interpretation of the Bible was wrong. In fact, our interpretation of nature helped us better understand what the Bible says. This is a significant point that should not be overlooked.
No matter what your view of creation, I think keeping these two principles in perspective will help you generate more light than heat while discussing your view of creation. Always remember, when it comes to creation we have two sources of revelation to consider, and both must be interpreted.
The Q&A time with the students affirmed for me the hunger that our young people have for answers to their deepest questions. This optional Ask Me Anything session was slated for 45 minutes. However, it lasted over two hours. The work I’m doing at Stand to Reason is fulfilling a significant need. Please continue to pray for me as I do my best to equip the next generation with answers.