Harmony vs. Contradiction

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Due to the Fall (Genesis 3), mankind recoils at the idea that a personal God exists and has intelligently communicated propositional truth to us. Thus, the claims to verbal integrity of the Bible have always been under attack. And attacks not just from secular ‘outsiders’, but religious insiders as well.  Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but mankind loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”  John 3:19

A popular point of attack on the Bible today is called “anti-concordism.”  Concordism is the view that the biblical account of Creation, when properly understood (this is key), will be in agreement (harmony) with genuine scientific evidence about the Creation.  Adherents to anti-concordism often ridicule efforts to discover any such agreement or harmony.  Regarding the validity of concordism, the 28th General Assembly’s Creation Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America issued a fairly comprehensive statement.  See the statement below.

The issues involved with concordism vs. anti-concordism frequently involve debate about cosmology and evolution, as well as contextual literary interpretation.   Contextual interpretation posits the belief that ancient biblical texts must be interpreted using the identical worldview of their ancient audience, even if those views are today known to be inaccurate or wrong.  According to them, Genesis 1-3 must be interpreted using the ancient cosmological views of a typical reader living at the time when Moses penned the first book of the Torah (1446 B.C.)…because God either couldn’t or wouldn’t use language universally applicable to all points in time.

Some anti-concordists go so far as to use postmodernist theory, claiming that since the Bible consists of “ancient” documents, it is impossible for modern readers to truly understand the intent and meaning of the original authors or how hearers would have understood what was said. The goal here is to undermine the literary and historical veracity of the biblical accounts found in Genesis as well as the rest of canonical text, thus reducing Scripture to simple-to-complex allegories.

Understanding Presuppositions in Science

Modern science, based exclusively on the philosophy of naturalism (scientism), often discounts or mocks the Genesis account of creation based on two questionable presuppositions:

      1. various designs/patterns found in the biosphere, and/or
      2. the nature of reality (space and time) as it intuitively appears

Scientism maintains that the cosmos is at least 13.7 billions years old.  Scientific evidence confirms the fact that the universe is vast (distance = d) as well as the speed of light (c).  Using simple math, they solve the equation for the time (T) it takes light to travel across the vast cosmos (T=d÷c).  What they obscure from the public is their selective use of dated understandings of the nature of space and time (Newtonianism), in contrast to the discoveries of Albert Einstein, which has gained empirical validation in late 20th and early 21st century.

Generally speaking, scientism claims to use empirical methods alone to arrive at factual conclusions, while hiding their metaphysical presuppositions (philosophy) used for interpreting the evidence found in nature.[dt_divider style=”wide”/]

Harmonization. When we speak of finding a harmonization of two accounts, we mean that though they have the appearance of being at odds, we want to find a way of adjusting our understanding of one or both of them so as to allow them to agree. At its heart, this enterprise assumes that the data from the two sources are true, but our interpretations of the data may need adjustment.

For example, we can harmonize the Gospel accounts by assuming that, say, one author follows chronological sequence while another does not. Or, perhaps one author records more detail than the other does. We consider it legitimate to co-ordinate the dates of events in the Bible with the dates we gather from external sources (say, from studies of Egypt or Mesopotamia). An example of this would be the resolution of apparent difficulties in the dates of the Hebrew kings by positing the practice of co-regency (a son is co-regent with his father); some accounts may date a king’s reign from the beginning of his co-regency, while others may date it from the death of his father. This procedure for harmonizing requires an interpretation of Biblical texts that does not lie on their surface (and will not appear in an older commentary such as Keil’s). Whether this scheme as a whole is right or not is another matter: the point here is that it is a legitimate endeavor.

On the other hand, we need have no hesitation in attributing to Scripture the right to make claims about the space-time world (though we of course take into account the kind of language it uses, on a case-by-case basis). For example, from time to time various scientists have proposed a polygenetic theory of human origins (i.e. the various types of humans arose separately, either by creation or by evolution) to explain the differences in the races. Our theology, however, holds to the unity of humanity in physical descent from Adam. This leads us to favor a theory that involves monogenetic origin of humans (i.e. they all come from the same ancestral pair).

This shows that the reassessment of interpretations is a two-way street: sometimes the interpretation of the natural world will have to be revised or even rejected, and sometimes the interpretation of the Biblical passage will shift. At the same time, we have no reluctance to affirm that there are certain core Christian doctrines that we do not intend to revise: doctrines such as the Trinity, the createdness of the world, the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, and so on.

Under what conditions is it proper to allow “harmonization with a scientific result” to influence our interpretation of a Bible passage? That depends on several factors: for example, it depends on which science has produced the result. By the understanding of “science” advocated in point 7 above, it is proper to call archaeology a “science.” The co-regency approach is an effort to understand the Biblical text in the light of results in that science. On the other hand, as discussed above, we would not want to harmonize a Bible interpretation with a naturalistic theory of evolution, because the theory not only depends on a world-view antithetical to the Biblical one, but also forces the data into a framework they do not support.

The propriety of harmonization also depends on the degree to which pre-commitments antithetical to Christian faith have worked themselves into some scientific theory. This occurs in naturalistic evolution, but also in some strands of cognitive science (e.g. those that assume a materialistic anthropology). However, we must be aware that just because some practitioners in a particular discipline employ such pre-commitments, it does not follow that all do, or that all theories in that discipline are opposed to our faith. Still less does it follow that just because some in one discipline are naturalistic, therefore all sciences are hostile to our faith. We must take them on a case-by-case basis.

Another factor in the propriety of harmonization is whether the concerns of the scientific result are the same as those of the author and audience of the Biblical text. For example, during the medieval period it was assumed that the Ptolemaic cosmology and the Biblical text could be harmonized easily. Under this harmonization the Bible would be falsified if the cosmological theory were abandoned. It is now recognized by many Old Testament scholars that physical cosmology was not even the concern of such Bible texts as Psalm 93:1; 96:10; and 104:5. It was exegetically invalid to apply them to support the cosmological theory to begin with. These harmonizations went astray because they failed to ask what would have been relevant to the recipients of the Biblical passage in question. They also were improper because they assumed that the language of the relevant Biblical texts is something other than phenomenological and everyday.

And finally, this leads us to another factor in weighing harmonizations: namely, to wed our interpretation to a particular scientific theory may make our interpretation into an historical curiosity if the theory is substantially revised or even abandoned. On the other hand, some empirically-based results will stand the test of time. If even the members of the individual disciplines do not know which is which, how can we who are not specialists ever expect to do so? Again, the best protective measure is to keep in mind the scope of the Biblical text and the particular kind of language used.

The result of all this is that we cannot make a blanket statement about harmonizations, other than “be careful!” We should not trumpet our harmonization as “proving” the Bible is right, in view of the factors mentioned here; on the other hand, under certain circumstances we can show that a harmonization is plausible so the disputer cannot say that he has “proved” the Bible wrong. Nor should we reject out of hand efforts to integrate the results of exegesis with the tentative conclusions of the sciences.

In view of these considerations, we see that, for example, we are not in a position to rule “Flood geology” out of court before we even start. The question in this case, as in so many others, must be whether it represents good exegesis of the Scripture and of the rocks. We may also say that one who properly considers the matter and rejects “Flood geology” is not necessarily thereby rejecting the historicity, or even the universality, of the Noachian flood.