As someone who has seen and felt the damage from the battle over Earth’s age, I welcome Ted Cabal and Peter Rasor’s appeal in Controversy of the Ages. This book calls believers to tone down the inflammatory rhetoric over what most would consider a nonessential doctrinal issue for the sake of our effectiveness as “salt” and “light” in the world. At the same time, however, it raises important questions about where Christ’s followers do need to draw a doctrinal line in the sand.
I’m pleased that the authors accurately (for the most part) represented the ministry I founded and still lead, Reasons to Believe. My team and I agree, without reservation, to all the affirmations and denials of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI), including both the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (CSBI) and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (CSBH). All RTB staff members sign a statement each year attesting our conviction that the Bible is inerrant not only in matters of faith and practice, but also in every other subject it addresses. In particular, we take Genesis 1–11 as a factual chronology of events in the history of the Earth and Earth’s life, including Adam and Eve. We also acknowledge the book of nature as having been written by the Creator. We believe God has so designed the universe, Earth, and Earth’s life that they truthfully reveal the nature of the physical realm and testify to God, his attributes, and to the reality of the soulish and spiritual realms.
A relevant line from the CSBH (part of Article XX) states that “since God is the author of all truth, all truths, biblical and extrabiblical, are consistent and cohere.” This declaration expresses my approach to both biblical and scientific data. In my ongoing study of both, I’ve found what I consider the key to consistent, coherent interpretation of God’s two books: a redemptive hermeneutic.
Why a Redemptive Hermeneutic?
From beginning to end, the Bible speaks of God’s purpose and plan to redeem a countless number (multiplied billions) of humans from captivity to sin, bringing them into an eternal, loving relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Based on this overarching story, we can reasonably anticipate that all portions of Scripture, as well as all components of the universe, Earth, and Earth’s life, play a role in fulfilling God’s redemptive purpose and plan. Every page of the Bible and every aspect of nature communicates some facet of God’s redemptive message, drawing us toward him.
As Cabal and Rasor point out, the way we see creation, evolution, and the Bible as meshing (or not meshing) makes a crucial difference in our faith. A redemptive hermeneutical approach to God’s two books offers hope for healing a crucial divide.
A careful review of all biblical passages addressing creation reveals a consistent link between creation and redemption. Such texts as 2 Tim. 1:9 and Tit. 1:2 either imply or expressly state that God had redemption in mind and “in effect” even before he created anything. On this basis, we can infer that everything God created is an expression of his redemptive purpose. It seems wise, then, to apply a redemptive “big picture” lens to our interpretation of Scripture and science as we begin to dig into the details.
My recent book, Improbable Planet, represents an effort to do just that. With a redemptive hermeneutical approach, I recognized evidence of fine-tuning—specifically the fine-tuning required to achieve God’s stated aim, as recorded in Revelation, to redeem a countless host of humanity (i.e., many billions or more) from every people group on the planet, all within a relatively brief time period. This hermeneutic made sense of myriad details of the natural realm.
I became convinced that a redemptive hermeneutic can point the way toward more consistent and comprehensive explanations of natural phenomena as well as toward resolution of seeming conflicts between the book of nature and the book of Scripture.
Accounting for Sin’s Effects
The human desire for personal autonomy, the propensity to rebel against God’s authority, certainly can and does interfere with our response to God’s revelation in nature and in Scripture. It seems reasonable to anticipate that hubris will The human desire for personal autonomy, the propensity to rebel against God’s authority, certainly can and does interfere with our response to God’s revelation in nature and in Scripture.negatively impact at least some of the conclusions drawn by scientists (as well as by theologians). Thus, complete coherence between mainstream science and Christian theology cannot be considered equivalent to coherence between nature’s record and Scripture’s account.
The initial response to big bang cosmology illustrates this point. Researchers for decades resisted (and some still do) the findings that indicate a cosmic beginning because of their implications of a transcendent Beginner. Eventually, however, the data became overwhelmingly abundant, and some version of the big bang is now considered “mainstream,” even though it is still philosophically or theologically troubling to some scientists. At least it seems to leave room for a deistic world view.
By contrast, the scientific conclusion that humans possess features and capabilities shared by no other species—such as a capacity to think about thinking and to wonder about God—holds such powerful, personal implications as to raise significant spiritual resistance among scientists. Such implications can be expected to inhibit mainstream scientific support. For this reason, I do not expect majority support for the notion of divine intervention in life’s development on Earth, even as evidence undermining the sufficiency of naturalistic evolutionary processes continues to mount. And yet I would anticipate a significant minority, based on the vast multitude we see in Rev. 7:9.
The Value of Testing
Although Cabal and Rasor call upon Reasons to Believe to halt our “testing” approach to competing creation/evolution models, I think the basis of their appeal is a reaction to my use of the ugly word “superior” to describe a model that best fits the data and shows at least some greater predictive success and/or explanatory power. I may be wrong, but I see the authors’ intent as an appropriate call for humility.
I agree that without humility, no resolution of creation/evolution controversies is possible. Because of our human limitations, no interpretive model, no matter how thoroughly researched in God’s two books, will ever be free of anomalies or provide exhaustive explanations. The need for revisions and/or adjustments to even the best models will never go away. However, rather than discourage testing, I believe we need to encourage it as strongly as possible. Testing is a biblical principle, as we see in Mal. 3:10, 1 Cor. 15:12–19, 1 Thess. 5:21; and 1 John 4:1.
Testing allows for a fair and open competition of creation/evolution models. Nature and Scripture provide sufficient data for model construction, and we can use it to do more than simply expose the flaws and explanatory failures of naturalistic models. As Christians involved in the science-theology interface, we can provide alternative models and show how they differ from the naturalistic/materialistic models, and, thus, gain a place in this crucial conversation.
I say models, plural, because no model will ever be complete. A plurality of models, though, will stimulate Christian researchers to develop progressively coherent and complete scenarios integrating data from multiple disciplines of nature’s book with data from all 66 books of the Bible. Testing will allow us to reject or alter models that fail the coherence test.
As we demonstrate integrity through testing and revising our creation models, nontheistic evolutionists may become more willing to join us in the testing and revising endeavor. As they join us, they may become so impressed by the explanatory power of our redemptive hermeneutic as to seriously consider the claims of Jesus Christ as humanity’s Creator and Savior. I have personally seen this response.
Two Books in Balance
While most, if not all, science-faith organizations claim to uphold a two-books doctrine of divine revelation, the general tendency is to weight one book above the other, or to keep the two totally apart. And yet, if both books have been “authored” by God, any seeming conflict or contradiction between them means only that one or both books require more in-depth study. The application of a redemptive hermeneutic to that study, in a spirit of humility, offers a promising pathway toward resolving our divisions over science-faith issues and using that progress to bring scientists and thinkers to faith in Jesus Christ.