Monday, April 27, 2009

The Erroneous Epistemology of Multiple Version Onlyism part five

Gregory Boyd in his book, God of the Possible (2000), wrote in a section (p. 107) entitled, "Integration of Theology and Recent Scientific Advances":

As Christians, we of course want our worldview to be fundamentally derived from God's Word, not the climate of opinion that happens to prevail in the world in which we live. Still, since "all truth is God's truth," as Aquinas taught us, we should assume that whatever is true about the views of our culture, including the views of science, will be consistent with God's Word (assuming we are interpreting it correctly).

His approach is classic evidential epistemology. Presuppositional epistemology is not the absence of evidence, but evidence being interpreted in light of scriptural presuppositions. The veracity of the evidence is judged by the Bible. Boyd interprets scripture in light of his so-called evidence. To support his view, he refers to a statement most often attributed to Thomas Aquinas, "all truth is God's truth."

All Truth Is God's Truth

"All truth is God's truth" has become the mantra for the integration of the Bible and man's observations. But what does it really mean? And is it true? "All truth is God's truth" is credited to Thomas Aquinas, a Roman Catholic priest and philosopher. Living in medieval times, he grappled with the integration of revelation and ideas reflected in the teaching of great philosophers before him, such as Aristotle and Plato. Aquinas insisted that there are "mixed articles," truths that can be learned from both nature and revelation.

Aquinas, however, also believed in the unity of truth with the perspective that all truth is consistent and coherent. If we understand nature or science and the Bible properly, they won't deny one another. Thomas Aquinas would not subordinate the Bible to science or nature. The highest source of truth is God's revelation, God's Word. What is known from nature through man's observation, science, can supplement what is known from the Bible, but never contradict it.

What I'm saying about "all truth is God's truth" as it originated was that it didn't promote integrationism. When it is used that way, it is being used in contradistinction to its historical usage. The truth meets at God and whatever isn't consistent isn't truth. That's how it is God's truth. If it gets to Him and upon meeting Him isn't truth anymore, than it isn't truth at all.

General Revelation

The Bible is not the only source of God's revelation. Besides special revelation, which is what the Bible is, we also have what we call "general revelation," and it comes to us from nature. Scripture talks about this. There are things that we can know because God has revealed them through His creation. Douglas Bookman in the chapter, "The Scriptures and Biblical Counseling," within the book, Introduction to Biblical Counseling, on pp. 77 defines general revelation:

[G]eneral revelation is truth that is manifestly set forth before all humanity (Rom. 1:17-19; 2:14,15); it is truth so clear and irrefutable as to be known intuitively by all rational beings (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:19); it is truth so authoritative and manifest that when people, by reason of willful rebellion, reject that truth, they do so at the cost of their own eternal damnation (Rom. 1:20; 2:1, 15).

Bookman refutes the notion that somehow human observations could be consigned to the same level as revelation (pp. 74-75):

My contention is that by reason of the proper definition of the theological category “general revelation” and by reason of the intrinsic and [JCA 2:1 (Summer 1998) p. 17] divine integrity and authority that must be granted to any truth-claim that is placed under that category, it is erroneous and misleading to assign to that category humanly deduced or discovered facts and theories. The issue is larger than appropriate taxonomy. In fact, to assign such humanly determined truths to the category of general revelations introduces a two-fold fallacy into the argument when it is used as a rationale for the integrationist position.

First, there is the fallacy that might be termed falsely perceived validity. Revelation is from God; thus it is by definition true and authoritative. To assign human discoveries to the category of general revelation is to imbue them with an aura of validity and consequent authority that they do not, indeed, they cannot merit. Thus, to assign a concept to the category of general revelation when that concept is in fact a theory concocted by a person is, in effect, to lend God’s name to a person’s ideas. That is fallacious, no matter the intrinsic truth or falsehood of the theory under question.

The second fallacy might be called crippled accountability. That is, once it is acknowledged that these theories are revelatory in nature, the issue of challenging them becomes moot. Much may be said about testing the ideas thus derived before acknowledging them as part of that august body of truth that God has communicated in the natural order of things, or about honoring the distinction in intrinsic authority between general and special revelation but to craft an argument for integration based upon the equal merits and authority of general revelation and special revelation is functionally to short-circuit such efforts and to deny such distinctions.

Very simply, if it is revelation, then God said it; if God said it, then it is true; when God speaks truth, mankind’s responsibility is not to test that truth but to obey it. It is self-contradictory to insist that general revelation can include truths that must be studied and examined for their trustworthiness.

The question here is: "what do we do if it seems that man's observations do contradict the Bible, that is, that science and the Bible disagree with each other?"

One supposed example that some will use to argue for an integrationist approach to Scripture and evidentialist epistemology is the case of Galileo and geocentrism. Of course, for this to work, we have to assume that heliocentrism is true. To do that, we have to trust science. Most people who are talking about heliocentrism don't even understand it. They couldn't make a presentation of Copernicus or Kepler if their lives depended on it, but they are happy to ridicule anyone who is a geocentrist. I think it would be an interesting debate to set these evangelicals and fundamentalists up against the best-known geocentrist in the world today, Gerardus Bouw, who has been a professor at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio for many years. Even if Christian heliocentrists could pick out their best scientist, I believe that most people who have a hard time even understanding the science that they would be talking about.

Fallacious Example

Even with heliocentrism being true, it isn't as if at the time of Copernicus that this overturned a position that originated from biblical theology. Here's what Danny Faulkner at Answers in Genesis has to say about it:

In the middle ages and well into the Renaissance, the Roman Catholic Church did teach geocentrism, but was that based upon the Bible? The Church’s response to Galileo (1564–1642) was primarily from the works of Aristotle (384–322 BC) and other ancient Greek philosophers. It was Augustine (AD 354–430), Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274) and others who ‘baptized’ the work of these pagans and termed them ‘pre-Christian Christians’. This mingling of pagan science and the Bible was a fundamental error for which the Church eventually paid a tremendous price.

Confusion persists to today in that nearly every textbook that discusses the Galileo affair claims that it was a matter of religion vs science, when it actually was a matter of science vs science. Unfortunately, Church leaders interpreted certain Biblical passages as geocentric to bolster the argument for what science of the day was claiming. This mistake is identical to those today who interpret the Bible to support things such as the big bang, billions of years, or biological evolution. Therefore, any evangelical Christian misinformed of this history who opines that the Bible is geocentric is hardly any more credible a source on this topic than an atheist or agnostic.

So the heliocentrism-geocentrism issue wasn't a matter of science versus theology, but science versus science. When the quote above talks about "church," it means Roman Catholicism.

The Truth

Truth by definition meets at God, Who is Truth. Without that context, some human observation, even that finds agreement from God's Word is less than truth. We exist to glorify God and if knowing "truth," does not result in God's glory, it cannot rise to the level of truth. If what is called truth does not result in the glory of God, it has missed the context necessary to be truth. We can be happy that someone knows scientific facts, but he doesn't know the truth until that fact can lead Him to the one and true God. What he knows may contain some of the pieces that make up truth, but while he remains self-confident and self-serving, what he knows can't yet be called truth.

God has promised to help man understand His Word (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). He hasn't given the same promise to man for comprehending and explaining science, nature, or the universe. This is why theology was once understood as the "queen of the sciences." Biblical theology, the revelation of God in Scripture, supercedes all other sources of information and knowledge. And so, for centuries what the Bible concluded about nature and man's observations was science. Any observation that is at odds with what Scripture says should be reassessed and reinterpreted to fit God's Word.

Before the enlightenment and before biblical criticism and before evidential epistemology, Christians made conclusions about the text of God's Word based on the science of Scripture. The Bible says it is pure. It will be. The Bible says it is perfect. It will be. The Bible says every Word is accessible to every generation of believers through God's providential working. It will be. Based on those presuppositions, they concluded the perfection of their one Bible. Just like God didn't say how many books of the Bible there would be and what the names of them would be, He didn't say what the name of the Greek text is. They knew that would have every book and every Word. That's what He said, so that's what they believed. With that science, believers were convinced it was the textus receptus of the New Testament.

The rationalism of enlightenment led to the two-book, integrationist approach to knowledge and truth. The teachings and text of scripture became submitted to man's thinking and theories. The certainty of faith turned to the uncertainty of external evidence.


Joshua said...

Thanks for this - this kind of thinking lies at the heart of a whole world of heresy.

I just don't understand how men can look at science and realize it is a heaving, changing, shifting sea of "fact", but then insist upon deriving Truth from it.

I see you have read some of Gregory Boyd's stuff. I'd really appreciate it if you could write on his work with open theology some time. I have a relative who was ensnared by his theology while she was at YWAM, and to this day wont hear a word against him.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Good hearing from you. I'll write on Boyd sometime and perhaps open theology. I'm sorry about your relative. That's too bad.


Joshua said...

Another few thoughts I had about this that I'll share:

This statement is used to justify accepting all sorts of extravagant scientific claims, yet when you ask a Christian to get specific about it they become very, very cautious.

Ask them to make the statement: "I know that ________ is God's Truth", inserting a scientific fact in there. You'll find that they start out REAL small: "ummm, I am a man... ahhh... 2+2 is 4... and... we need oxygen to breathe?".

So when forced to make the literal statement, they take very very very small reasoned steps, yet when they use this justification in an argument they attach it to scientific conclusions based off huge amounts of conjecture and subject to great debate.

They are cautious when challenged personally because they don't want to be innocently putting lies in God's mouth by claiming his authority on their understanding, but they are perfectly happy to ascribe the same thing to a man in a white coat they've never met. Rank hypocrisy.

The second thought is this: To defend their disobedience, they make claims about science that even scientists wont make. Every scientist knows that the success of science is in the pulling apart and disproving of the previous man's theories. They also know that what they put forward will be equally criticized and probably disproved one day by a superior understanding. As such, beyond the media propagandists for evolution, scientists are far too smart to claim their theory is Truth, because it's probably going to be disproved one day.

But just like it's only Christian's claiming music is neutral, it's only Christian's who want to stamp the particular parts of science they want to integrate with the Bible "TRUTH!" The average scientist is far too smart and all to aware of the constantly refining nature of science to make that claim.

The lengths men will go to in order to justify a false belief is mind boggling.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Amazing point, Joshua! Excellent thought. You are exactly right on this. I'd like to talk sometime.

Joshua said...

Thanks Kent. I'm reachable at avenellatgmaildotcom.

I picked up a Bachelor of Science with a focus on chemistry and biology in my years in the wilderness before I got saved. I had a lot of freedom with electives in that degree, so I did some first year statistics, logic, psychology, political science and philosophy subjects.

I was a pretty poor student, but it was an incredible eye opener to see those sciences (inverted commas go around the sciences part for the last three) first hand. Then I did teaching and discovered the educational "science".

Too much of the interaction evangelicals have with science is coming from the pens of very smooth popularizers who make it seem incredibly simple, logical, straight forward and in self-agreement. He gives one delightful little anecdote of some scientist proving his point against his deluded foes, and then tinkles on about the amazing possibilities of the man's research. Once you actually get into the science itself in it's real form (very intelligent men and women writing articles in journals based off hundreds of hours of hard research, then having it picked to pieces and doing the same to others) you realize how divided scientists are within their own field, and how little is hard and fast.

Science is a wonderful thing. It is an incredibly useful tool. It just isn't what the average person thinks it is - pure, noble and higher searching for truth. You just have to meet a few real scientists yourself to discover this.

Joshua said...

Was reading an article today in the Institute for Creation Research newsletter Acts and Facts, and it shows clearly the danger of concensus science ie too many scientists agree on this for it to be wrong. It also shows the pressure scientists have to conform, and the way in which they create incestuous systems of peer review. I found it online, so I'll link to it here for anyone else curious about this:

It's written in laymans terms and isn't that long, so I highly recommend it for anyone wanting an insight into the darker side of "scientific" investigation.