Saturday, September 17, 2011

Source of Authority: Is All Truth God’s Truth?

The real issue in the controversy over Adam and Eve is not really a question of science, per se. Rather, it deals with this question: what is your source of authority? What is the court of highest appeal when it comes to questions concerning what is true, and what is not?

Scientists such as Francis Collins are committed to the notion, “all truth is God’s truth.” In an interview with Jon Sweeny on, Collins expressly says, “All truth is God’s truth, and therefore God can hardly be threatened by scientific discoveries.”

Similar statements are made by others connected with BioLogos. Unfortunately the statement is also claimed by those who are completely orthodox in the faith, and who would be horrified if they took its implications as seriously and as consistently as do those who now deny (on the basis of “all truth is God’s truth”) the historicity of Adam and Eve.

On the face of it, “all truth is God’s” is simultaneously both a reasonable and a profound assertion. From one aspect, it seems self-evident: of course all truth is God’s! Who would possibly say otherwise, except perhaps an non-believer?

And yet that pithy saying is laden with far more difficulty than initially meets the eye. First, let’s understand the good and admirable commitments that lay behind it.

The Bible tells us that there are two sources of information about God: general revelation, composed of nature itself, and special revelation, which comprises the sixty-six books of the Bible. You can see these two modes of revelation referred to in Scripture. The Bible authenticates itself as special revelation in numerous places. The orthodox position over the centuries holds that the Bible is God’s own Word, and is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. It was certainly considered by Christ to be so.

When it comes to general revelation, the Bible asserts that nature testifies of its Creator. Texts such as Psalm 8, Psalm 19:1-6 and Romans 1:18-20 (and others) speak of this. Believing philosophers over the centuries have come to speak of the “Book of Nature” and the “Book of Scripture,” both of which are authored by the Creator. Because they are both authored by the same Creator, they are both going to yield true truth. The former will offer up truths about the creatures and the creation, so it is claimed, while the latter will offer up truths about God, and about the spiritual relation that the creation bears to the Creator. Hence the expression, “all truth is God’s truth.”

Here's the rub: first, the book of nature, general revelation, does not speak of nature, but of nature’s Creator. According to Romans 1:19, it is God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature that are clearly seen through creation. The Book of Nature does not testify about the human genome, or the acceleration of gravity, or the nature of light; rather, its express testimony is about the existence of God, His glory and power, and our moral accountability to Him. That’s a big problem, regarding the way in which Biologos and others in their mold seek to understand the Book of Nature.

What they mean by the Book of Nature is not what the Scripture means. Their understanding is that, because the world has been created by a God who loves order, it will possess discoverable, predictable, repeatable characteristics (“laws” and constants and mathematical relationships and such) that the scientist may uncover through careful observation and experimentation. These discoveries, which testify of creation directly, and the Creator indirectly (in the sense of bringing glory to Him) are reliable and true truths. All this is indeed true, but these are not the matters to which general revelation testifies.

In other words, the Book of Nature to which BioLogos scientists allude has a good many more chapters in it than does the “canonical book of nature” to which the Scripture testifies.

The second major difficulty is equally problematic: if you think it is difficult for a Spirit-filled believer to interpret Scripture, it is far more difficult to interpret the data of nature. There are a number of reasons for this, including incomplete data, errors in the recording of data, errors in instrumentation, confusing correlation with causation, the fact that nature is not self-interpreting, the fact that the observer of nature is not neutral in the way he handles his data or his theories or his conclusions (the next post will deal with this). The history of science shows that results of science are almost always, at least at first, provisional and subject to revision.

So at what point do we call the results of science, “truth?” Who gets to baptize those results with sufficient divine authority and divine faithfulness such that they place boundaries around how we interpret Scripture? Who are the “apostles” of science today? Hugh Ross? Richard Dawkins? Francis Collins?

What limits are there on the various sciences shoe-horning themselves under this wonderful idiom? Is there room for psychology, for instance? Are the received truths of, say, the self-esteem movement in psychology (something which has impacted parenting, education, criminology, religion, and the therapeutic vocations for over fifty years), God’s truth? Or, as we are now seeing through the works of men like Roy Baumeister, are the “assured results” of behavioral studies and statistics regarding the usefulness of the self-esteem doctrines now falling before a more careful study? Does this mean that God’s truth changes with the changing results of science? Was it God's truth in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, but no longer? Those who have not received the memo of the latest studies still insist on the usefulness of the self-esteem studies in understanding human behavior. So is it God's truth for them, but not for Baumeister?

Who gets to decide when the results of science countermand centuries of understanding Scripture? Or, to put it another way, what is the ultimate source of authority? Does the “book of nature” get to correct the “book of Scripture”?

One of the supporters of BioLogos and this reinterpretation of Scripture is Pete Enns. The CT article says this: “Enns has little doubt that Paul indeed thought Adam was ‘a real person.’ But Enns suggests that the apostle was reflecting beliefs about human origins that were common among the ancients.” At what point does the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture cease to have meaning? If Paul thought Adam was real, wrote of Adam’s headship as a real headship, wrote of Adam’s transgression as something that really happened, etc, when Adam was not in fact real, what does that do to Paul's argument?

CT tells us what Pete Enns' ultimate source of authority is: To Enns, a literal Adam as a special creation without evolutionary forebears is "at odds with everything else we know about the past from the natural sciences and cultural remains." Apparently the book of nature trumps the book of Scripture.

Think about CT’s citation of Waltke: “. . . Waltke is open to the new thinking. In an interview, the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society affirmed the 'inerrancy of the Bible, but not of interpretations.'" Think about that: if Waltke is willing to undo centuries of orthodox belief regarding the Bible, on the basis of scientific findings, he must be ascribing inerrancy of interpretation to the scientists and their data. Unbelievable.

It’s time to wrap this up. Science is wonderful: it is a gift of God, and as Kepler said, it is indeed "thinking God's thoughts after Him." But it simply is not competent to ever judge Scripture. Here are several reasons why you should completely reject the statement, “All truth is God’s truth.”

  1. Never, never, put anything else on the same level of authority as Scripture. At the very least, all 'truth' is not equal!
  2. The Bible limits what the book of nature is saying to us: it testifies of God, His glory, power, His act of creation, and of judgment to come.
  3. Once the power of pronouncing truth rests in the hand of men as they interpret the book of nature, it will always swallow up the book of Scripture. Every time.
  4. While the Scripture may not be broken (John 10:35), identifying “truth” in the natural realm has been, in the history of science, a doggedly difficult task, filled with error and missteps.
  5. God never lies. Men do. The history of science includes those who falsify results for various reasons. I do not believe this to be the case of the Genome project; my guess is that their science is very well-done
  6. Just like Waltke helpfully reminded us that there is no infallible interpretation of Scripture (which is true), neither is there infallible intepretation of the results of science. Yesterday's global cooling (the late 1970's) is today's global warming; but hey, it's just a weather forecast, right?
So, what is your source of authority? Why do you believe what you believe? By faith? Or by evidence? Is Scripture your source of authority? Or do you subject your understanding of spiritual truth to what science says is, or is not, possible?

Oh, I almost forgot. Resurrection is impossible, according to science. Um, why does not the book of nature correct the book of Scripture on that score?


  1. This was a very intersting post...I suppose the statement "all truth is God's truth" if stated by someone who doesn't proclaim Jesus as Lord, and who doesn't claim the authority of the Word of God, is probably influenced under post-modern would have to define "truth"....because your truth might not be my truth....then God would have to be very pluralistic. This post you wrote could lead into so many different directions regarding the definition of "truth".....!! This was debated when I was at UCLA in most of my classes....apart from the Word of God, Truth is not definable - like you said....there are too many variables of truth.

  2. I agree, Alice. This really is a problem of definitions, and the implications that flow from those definitions. Twice in this post I use the expression, "true truth." It seems like a needless redundancy, but it is not, for the reasons you stated.