Monday, July 20, 2009

Scriptural Cosmology

The Apollo 11 moon exploration anniversary may cause us to consider the cosmological concepts held by ancient biblical characters and scripture writers. Did they, for example, see the earth’s moon as a body suspended in space? And did they consider the earth to be a sphere?

Greek philosopher Pythagoras in the 6th century BC originated the concept of a spherical earth. The Book of Job predated Pythagoras and refers to events which occurred during the days of the patriarchs many centuries earlier. An oft-quoted verse is found in Job 26:7 which states, in every translation checked, that God hangs the earth on nothing. The shape of the earth is not described, but may be inferred. The Isaiah 40:22 allusion to “the circle of the earth” is suggestive, but could convey other concepts understood in that day.

Propositions concerning the scientific accuracy of the Bible are posed along a broad spectrum. At one end are the doubters who claim scripture is pre-scientific or even unscientific. The other extreme is an optimistic group of scripture apologists who force upon the Bible unnecessary or unwarranted scientific authority in an effort to reinforce its divine authenticity and inspiration. This range of viewpoints is suggestive of another discussion spectrum--that of cosmic and life origins. Participants in the latter debate range from atheistic naturalists to young earth creationists. In both ranges of discussion there is intermediate ground established not by compromise, but by reason and good evidence.

Robert J. Schneider, in Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, posits “The biblical writers offer believers a valuable lesson for interpreting the doctrine of creation: one can take whatever is the current cosmological model and use it to understand more deeply and clearly God’s relationship to the creation.” He further states “Students…do not have to choose between modern science and the Bible” because it is more important to focus on the Lord’s sovereignty.

Biblical statements about the world of nature that we perceive to be “scientific” in the 21st century must be seen, therefore, as speaking truth to all men across the ages. We may want to impose our spin on that message in an effort to have scripture say something we would like it to say. So we must remind ourselves that the Bible is God’s message. Our ability to interpret that message more clearly in the light of newly discovered evidence is an exciting and ongoing gift from the message Giver.