Why the Bible Is Not a Science Textbook

Religion versus science

God is both the author of creation and the author of Scripture. For Christians, God’s Word is the lens through which we see his world. Likewise, the way we see God’s world through science can affect how we understand his Word. Both Scripture and science are based on truth.

When God’s creation and God’s Word don’t align, something is wrong—and it’s probably not God. (Click to tweet.) Dr. Bruce Riley Ashford says, “there will sometimes be disagreement between theologians and scientists, but there will never be disagreement between God’s two books (Scripture and nature).”

According to Ashford, “Scripture does make statements that can be investigated and either affirmed or denied by scientists.” However, the Bible often explains things conceptually—it was written in such a way that the world could be understood regardless of how well you understand human anatomy, the cosmos, or the nature that surrounds you every day. As Ashford puts it, “[the Bible] does not use technical or scientific language and it does not give scientific theories. Instead, it uses language that would be accessible to persons who are observing the world from an ordinary human standpoint.”

When what we can observe about the world changes, sometimes our interpretation of Scripture has to change, too. In Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians, Ashford shows how historically, our interpretations of Scripture have changed with major scientific discoveries—while the Word and the world have remained the same.

“. . . centuries ago many theologians thought that the Earth was square, based on biblical texts referring to the ‘corners’ of the Earth. However, scientists have demonstrated beyond doubt that the world is not square, and theologians now realize that the biblical authors used ‘corners of the Earth’ language metaphorically.”

The Earth was a sphere the whole time, and Scripture was true the whole time—we just didn’t understand the relationship between the two.

Ashford suggests that either group (scientists or theologians) can make mistakes, and both groups should be open to correction. “Any disagreement we find should be located in human interpretive error, rather than in any real conflict between God’s two books.”

When we recognize God’s creation and God’s Word as true, our knowledge about the one can inform our understanding of the other. Or as Ashford says, “Christian theology and natural science are mutually beneficial dialogue partners.”

God created the world

FacebookShare TwitterShare

Learn more about intersections of theology and culture with Dr. Ashford’s book, Every Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians.

Comments

  1. says

    "Scientific truth" is not the same as the revealed truth of Scripture. Science seeks to develop models which explain the known cause-effects relationships at the time, but certain relationships yet to be discovered almost invariably exist outside the parameters of these models. When these relationships are discovered, the models must be revised, sometimes with much rancor and resistence because scientists often get too attached to their theories.

    Reductionism prevails in science as it does in theology.

    The truth of revelation is not like the "truth" of science, it is eternal and unchanging. Since we are sinfulf and fallible, our interpretation of this revelation will never be perfect, not like the One who reveals it to us. His ways are not our ways, but He invites us to study His book of creation as well as study Him. The Orthodox make a distinction between the Triune God's essence, something too deep for our finite minds to grasp, and God's energies, the ways in which He reveals Himself to us.

  2. says

    That was an expression. It is never God who is wrong. As for justifying particular ideas, Faithlife offers over 50,000 Bible study resources with a wide variety of views and theologies, and we do our best to highlight them all. It is never our goal to elevate popular theologies, and it is not our role to dictate what is true to the church—we serve the church by providing the tools. I apologize if it ever comes across as though we are lifting up our own views, because that is not our intention.

    In regards to your specific example about the historicity of Adam and Eve, this post is simply suggesting that if our modern interpretation of science and our modern interpretation of Scripture do not align, then one of those interpretations is wrong—but God’s creation and God’s Word are still true. Regardless of which human is right (the scientist or the theologian) God is always right.

    I hope that helps clear things up. God bless!

  3. says

    Well put. I think the last sentence of your first paragraph can unfortunately apply just as well to theologians. I like what you said about our interpretation of God's revelation being fallible, while God's revelation itself is infallible. Same could be said of science and creation. Great thoughts, David. Thanks!

  4. says

    A biblical worldview is at odds with science often. "When God’s creation and God’s Word don’t align, something is wrong—and it’s probably not God." God's creation cannot be misaligned with God's Word since one describes the other. Man's interpretation can be wrong, and often is when not coming from a biblical worldview. Man's science promotes evolution, global warming/climate change, and gender neutrality. The bible perfectly describes, sometimes in detail, God's creation. So maybe its not a science textbook according to man's standards, but a textbook it surely is on His creation and life itself.

  5. says

    I like this kind of talk. It bugs me when people say you can’t know anything without the bible. That’s plainly not true. The human condition is more spiritual than intellectual, in that man can know things by sight but will reject anything he cannot sense directly. Someone rightly termed this “sinful empiricism.” There are some good points about scientific metaphysics that makes sense, though. You can’t be sure 1+1 will equal 2 tomorrow.

    • Hamilton Ramos says

      God bless:

      Interesting thoughts, to one you mention I would add:

      “You can’t know anything about ultimate reality without the Bible”.

      You can know a lot of things about Nuclear physics, technological devices, medicine, etc. without the Bible, but what good is it if you do not know about the Creator of it all, and that you can have a relation with Him.

      An old story says that a man visited an ethnic group that was just being evangelized through mission, when the non believer outsider got there he saw a tribe member reading a book.

      The secularist asked the man, say, what are you reading?, the man answered “the Bible”, and the secularist said, my friend: “there are many more interesting, and better books, you can read”, to this the tribesman answered:

      “Well, is good for you that I am reading the Bible, otherwise, I would be having you for dinner”.

      Don’t know if the story is true, but it drives a point: if you meet the Creator through the Bible, and you care to read what His purpose was when creating all, you will be changed one way or another, and most likely for the better.

      Blessings.

  6. says

    While it is evident the Bible speaks of the four corners of the earth does that discount Isaiah 40:22 “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth…..” I think not.

  7. says

    "When God’s creation and God’s Word don’t align, something is wrong—and it’s probably not God."

    Another way to put it: scripture is never wrong, but there sure are a bunch theologians who are. Dogmatism leads to Invisible Plank Syndrome (Matt 7:5). The only person in history who had a right to be dogmatic about theology was Jesus. The rest of us should be cautious.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *