Piel: Does the Bible need to be defended against modern science?

Our neighbor George recently attended a “faith-science” study group. There was a presentation and discussion of an article by Robert Lee Hotz on the single worst day in the history of the planet, when a city-sized asteroid smashed into Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact wiped out not only the dinosaurs but about three-fourths of all life. It must have been pretty severe since scientists said it blasted a hole 100 miles wide and 12 miles deep.

George said the discussion was going along pretty good until several individuals (young Earth creationists) stood up and proclaimed that this information was false because the age of the Earth is about 10,000 years old, not millions. They went on to say that their figure comes from a literalistic reading of the opening passages in Genesis found in the Hebrew Bible. Apparently this was something they learned from attending a creation museum in Kentucky.


“But what really caught me,” George added, “was a statement they made that people of faith need to defend the Bible against atheistic science."

"I never thought that the Bible needed defending,” he continued, “because I have always believed it could stand on its own feet like it has for several thousand years.”

Before sharing some comments about Genesis, holy scripture and science, let me share some personal thoughts. The Bible has been “my book” for as long as I can remember. I still own and cherish my first Bible given to me by my father. I do not worship the Bible. That would be idolatry. The Bible, written by humans inspired by God, always points beyond itself.

I worship the God of the Bible, and as a Christian the “face of God” for me is Jesus. I take the Bible seriously but not always literally. There are many different types of literature in the Bible from many different writers from many different cultural times and situations and to take some of them literally would destroy the original meaning of the authors. For example there are two “creation accounts”(not one) in Genesis (1.1-2.3 and 2.4b-25) that were placed back to back in “the book of beginnings.” Each one is slightly different written by different authors with a different story to be told. To mold them together as some have tried to do is not only wrong it is “bad Bible.” It is also “bad Bible” to start with two biblical stories and then try somehow to fit them into a pre-existing scientific objective.

Scientists Francis Collins and Karl Giberson wrote: “Reading the Bible as a scientific text, while it may seem natural, overlooks the significance of the fact that the biblical authors were real human beings who live in certain times and places, spoke certain languages and had their own world views. And they all lived before there was even science.”

Too often, well-meaning Christians approach Genesis, at least the first 11 chapters, believing that they must defend scripture against modern science by making the stories of Genesis say something they were never meant to say.

Writer Darrel Falk adds, “the Bible tells us that God created, but it does not tell us how, and we need to be careful that we do not force the God of the universe into one of our human molds. We must not limit God’s activity to our conceptions of how we think we would work if we were God.”

What does the word “story” in the Biblical context mean? The word “story” does not mean (like my mother used to say) “tell me the truth — don’t make up some story!” I love stories and I believe God loves stories as there are so many of them in holy scripture. Biblical stories like “the Garden of Eden,” or “the Tower of Babel” are not something someone made up nor are they science. Before they were written down they came from the oral tradition where our ancients tried to make sense of the world around them. Sometimes they took stories from other ancient cultures like the “flood story.” In all probability it was taken from an old Mesopotamian “myth” but it was given a new twist by the writers of Genesis. It wasn’t about “gods fighting in heaven” but the evil that human do, how wicked they had become and divine punishment. The story comes home.

Not only does holy scripture contain some powerful words of faith and justice but it also contains some strong violence (where God gets the undeserved credit). This why we should never have a “flat view of scripture.” All scripture is not equal. Critically look at the passage, the writer and the cultural period in which it was written. Theologian Peter Enns writes “we respect these biblical stories most when we try to understand what the writers did and why, not when we place false expectations on them like seeing them as a timeless script or a permanent fixture for how to think about God.”

The theory of “evolution” is not anti-God or the Bible. Rather, through science it shows us how creation has changed through the years. Scientists Collins and Giberson who believe in divinely guided evolution, wrote “the origin of life remains unexplained ... we simply note that most evolutionary theorists consider the origin of life to be outside the scope of biological evolution. The theory of evolution, after all, is a theory about how ‘life’ has changed over time; it is ‘not’ a theory how life first appeared.”

In closing it is important for me to note that after creation the God of creation did not wander away to do something else, but remains in touch. The God of creation loves the creation. “Lo, I am with you always” — through the wind of God.

To go back to our opening question, does the Bible need defending? I will leave that up to you but maybe it needs to be defended from ourselves.

Let the dialogue continue. I only ask that you think on these things.

The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis “Lou” Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.