If there is a clash in interpretation between science and the Bible, which takes precedence? What is our authority? Israel's experience under Joshua's leadership holds a valuable lesson for the church today.
Most conservative Christians agree that the Bible is infallible in matters of faith and morals. But when the discussion turns to the relationship of science to the Bible, no calm consensus seems to unite us. Is the Bible infallible when it speaks on scientific matters? More particularly, are the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be accepted as scientifically accurate?
The issue is clear: When the most recent findings of science suggest mil lions of years for the development of life upon the earth, does a person accept the findings of science or the account found in Genesis?
A story in the book of Joshua suggests a principle to help in this dilemma. The Gibeonites were in mortal fear of a new all-conquering tribe, the Israelites, who had crossed the Jordan River. Tribe after tribe was being annihilated. Rather than fight, they came up with a novel idea--at least novel for that time. They would seek an alliance with Joshua and the Israelites. However, their village lay directly in the path of the conquering hosts, and they feared that the Israelites would not accept them. So they devised a stratagem: They would send ambassadors who would pretend that they had come from a far country, one the Israelites had no intention of capturing.
In order to deceive Joshua and his captains, the ambassadors wore old clothes and carried aged provisions. Their moldy bread, their patched and worn sandals, and their cracked and mended wineskins proved evidence enough that they had come from a great distance. The Israelites were taken in and made a treaty with them. A few days later they discovered their mistake.
How could the Israelites have fallen for such a trick? The answer is given in Joshua 9:14: "The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord" (N.I.V.). Using their reason and all the scientific facts at their disposal, they came to a conclusion that seemed logical. The problem was that their conclusion was false. If they had sought special revelation, they would have received the truth. Is special revelation an essential key to determining scientific truth?
The incident of the sun's shadow moving back ten degrees on the sundial is recorded in 2 Kings. Science would say that it was impossible. Only special revelation is capable of giving an explanation. Reason could not deduce it. The Bible records that Jesus was born of a virgin. Science would have to reply that it is impossible for a virgin to give birth. Jesus raised Lazarus after he had been in the grave for four days. Science, again, declares this impossible.
Other examples could be cited, but the evidence is clear. Some things are impossible to explain without special revelation. In fact, natural evidence often seems to contradict special revelation. Artisans in Italy can fake artifacts well enough to make even the experts declare them true antiquities. Sin entering into the world has blurred the evidence, making old what is really young. Often only some special revelation, an inside tip, alerts the experts that all is not what it seems to be.
If we agree that special revelation is needed to explain the virgin birth and other phenomena in Scripture, why not then apply the same reasoning to the first eleven chapters of Genesis? Either all of the Bible is inspired, or none. Any attempt at selecting certain portions as inspired and others as not gives the one doing the selecting higher authority than the Bible itself. If a person accepts the virgin birth by special revelation, then he should also accept Creation in six literal days by special revelation. According to science, both are impossible. We need special revelation to rightly interpret science, not science to interpret Scripture.
Why should Christians spend large amounts of money to defend Genesis and not the virgin birth or the resurrection? No foundation is set up to investigate and support the virgin birth. The Bible does not differentiate among its various parts, so why should we? If we use human reasoning, human logic, to.try to distinguish what the Bible does not distinguish, we will fall into the same trap Joshua and his colleagues fell into. We have tasted of our science and declare it valid, not knowing we have been deceived. If science has proved Genesis wrong, then it has also proved the virgin birth and the resurrection wrong.
It might seem that we have an antiscience bias, but we do not. Science, when rightly studied, will glorify and magnify the Creator. But the greatest minds, if not guided by the Word of God in their research, become bewildered in their attempts to trace the relations of science and revelation.
Three days after following human reason rather than special revelation the Israelites were embarrassed to discover their mistake. The history of science also has had its embarrassing moments. The Piltdown hoax is but one example. What is taught as fact today is often fiction tomorrow. The Christian need not place his faith on the shifting sands of scientific theories, but on the never-changing Word of God. --J.D.N.