Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Source of Authority #3: The Fallacy of Neutrality

Old Testament scholar and professor at Knox Theological Seminary, Bruce Waltke, is recorded as saying in the June, 2011, issue of Christianity Today “if the data is overwhelming in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult.” “We have to go with the scientific evidence. I don’t think we can ignore it. I have full confidence in Scripture, but it does not represent what science represents.” The problem with this statement is that Waltke treats the “book of nature,” science, as though it was dropped, printed and bound, straight out of heaven complete with authoritative conclusions.

The data of science is not self-interpreting. The observer comes to the data with a whole host of assumptions and a theory resting on those assumptions, and seeks to organize and interpret the data in a manner consistent with the theory. If the data and the theory can not be correlated, the theory is revisited in an attempt to make it accommodate the data. Sometimes the assumptions themselves must be re-examined.

A great deal of science, therefore, has to do with not only the collection of data, but the interpretation of data. The enterprise is difficult enough, but made doubly so by the fact that the scientist is not a “neutral observer.” He is predisposed in a particular direction. I am amazed that none of the theologians cited in the article even gave lip-service to this fundamental reality that powerfully affects the interpretation of the data.

Paul says this in Romans 1:18-23 (NASB):
(18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (19) because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (21) For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (22) Professing to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Paul is talking about a quality of basic human nature: to put it bluntly, we are not neutral observers of the natural world when it comes to data that touches on the existence and activity of God: in fact we are truth-suppressors (v 18). In verse 19, that truth which the book of nature can teach us about God is said to be “evident,” because God makes it evident. In verse 20, we see some aspects of His nature “clearly.” In verse 21, because of our rejection of the Author of truth, our speculations have become futile, and our minds darkened. Claiming wisdom, we are in fact foolish, verse 22. And we have exchanged the glory of the Creator for that of the created thing, verse 23. Paul says in verse 25, that we have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”

Now there may be many different ways to apply what has been said by Paul in Romans 1, but one inescapable implication is that when men observe the natural world, they do so in a way that eliminates or diminishes the reality and the activity of the Creator God, in favor of a self-created cosmos.

We are not neutral observers of the data. Just as believers (who have been delivered from the power of sin) still struggle to overcome besetting sin, believers also have a hard time overcoming this anti-God bias in their interpretation of nature. It’s part of the deep corruption brought on by, yes, Adam, and it won’t be fully eliminated until we are with Christ.

The net effect is that scientists are susceptible to insisting on interpreting the data in a way that minimizes or eliminates the truth of God. They aren’t neutral about such things, and are not even aware (unless they believe the Bible) of their bias. It’s a frame of reference thing, like sitting in a kayak in the ocean. Unless you can see the shore (a fixed point of reference), you have no idea whether you are actually being moved by an ocean current.

The overwhelming reigning paradigm in science today (the ocean current, if you get my drift) is naturalism: science, by definition, does not do the supernatural thing. And we want scientists to tell us how to interpret the Bible?

We all agree on one thing: Genesis is not about science. It really isn’t. It’s about how God created the world in six days, complete with Adam and Eve, who fell into sin and dragged their progeny, the whole human race, with them. That’s not science, and let no one pretend that it is. The admission that the account of origins, as given in Genesis, is not science does not mean that it is not a precisely accurate record of how God created all things in six days. The Genesis account is true: it’s what really happened. And as a supernatural event, science simply isn’t competent to comment on it.

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