I like what Peter Enns wrote the other day. He points out that creationists badly miss the point when arguing against the scientific consensus about the evolutionary model. They frame the question as “Do you believe in science, or do you believe in the Bible?” as though they were equal options in the same epistemological universe. Not at all. Accepting the consensus of scientists on a matter like this is not giving them a position of “authority” equivalent to the “authority” of the Bible with regard to our faith.
Here is what Enns had to say:
A few days ago I posted the main bullet points for the lecture I gave at the Evangelical Theological Society on April 6. Some of the responses perpetuate common yet unconvincing lines of defense.
For example, I began my talk by saying that I accept the scientific consensus as a starting point when discussing the question of human origins.
A response I have heard–more times than I care to recall, and that I knew would likely come again even though I think I was super clear in my lecture–is, “Aha. See! If you start with science, of course you’re going to end up with evolution. And that’s your problem. You put too much faith in science instead of in the Bible.”
“Faith in science” suggests that one’s view of scientific matters is on the same sort of playing field as “faith in the Bible,” which then gives a sort of rhetorical oomph to the posed choice. But I don’t have ”faith in science.” I have made a conscious, intellectual decision to accept the overwhelming consensus of demonstrably knowledgable and trained scientists across the world and for several generations.
I have done this not by ignoring my faith, but by working out my faith. I am not ignoring the Bible and its “plain teachings,” but interpreting the Bible as responsibly as I know how.
As I see it, the real question isn’t, “Why do you choose science over God?” but, “On what basis do you think you have the right to dismiss the scientific consensus?”
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Pete Enns clarifies the question well, and creationists who answer that question will typically say, “I dismiss the scientific consensus because I believe the Bible and what it says about how God created the world.” However, at that point, they have made a leap. When they say, “I believe the Bible,” they are really saying, “I have accepted a particular interpretation of what the Bible is, and what it teaches about origins.”
The issue therefore is not “believing the Bible” vs. “believing the scientific consensus,” but rather believing a particular conception of the Bible’s nature and a specific interpretation of what it teaches about science. Once that foundation has been laid, the creationists then give “the Bible” authority over what an overwhelming majority (Enns says 97%) of scientists in various fields have come to accept as the best explanation for the evidence gleaned from studying the natural world. In order for them to argue their position, they must conceive of the Bible as a textbook that speaks to science authoritatively and interpret those teachings in certain ways.
But the leap they take won’t stand scrutiny. I don’t tell creationists that I reject their interpretation of Genesis because I became convinced about evolution. Evolution is not my “authority,” and I do not interpret the Bible through its lens.
I simply don’t think the Bible is to be understood and interpreted the way the creationists would have us accept it. It was not designed to be an “authority” with regard to scientific matters. It has little, if anything, to say about the natural scientific processes of the world because it was not written to address those matters.
Given when the Scriptures were written, edited, and compiled, how could it?
Given the Bible’s purpose as Israel’s story culminating in Jesus the Messiah, why would it?
To say that the Bible has anything to do with “science” as we know it requires a particular commitment to the Bible as a divinely inspired “instruction book” that is designed to give us a full-orbed “worldview” in which we find “answers” to all of life’s questions.
That may be the Bible we idealize. That is not the Bible we hold in our hands. Nor is it the Bible that will serve as an “authority” to compete against the “authority” of science. Scientific inquiry and the biblical message do not inhabit the same theoretical universe. They do not compete against one another, they do not speak to the same facts or realities. We need not feel that we must harmonize their teachings or somehow make them agree.
In saying this, I should also add that the scientific consensus does not support or give ammunition to those who would argue for a strictly naturalistic or atheistic view of life either. Those who hold such views should not appeal to scientific “authority” to undergird their metaphysical skepticism or unbelief. Science doesn’t give them “answers” about these things any more than it does to theists and Christians.
The more we focus on this completely bogus war between science and faith, the less energy we will have to give to actually living as people of faith.