Walton and Sandy (The Lost World of Scripture) define science as “an understanding of the material world derived from an empirical process and operating according to naturalistic premises” (50).

Given that definition, it’s hardly surprising that they conclude that “the Bible’s illocutions do not offer scientific description or explanation” (51). 

It’s an airtight logic: Science is naturalistic; the Bible gives “theological perspective about the material world”; therefore, the Bible “does not give us any naturalistic insight” or fresh scientific information (50). Of course not, because the Bible rejects the “naturalistic premises” that they build into their definition of science. Of course, the Bible doesn’t describe an autonomous natural world because in the view of the Bible’s writers no such world exists.

Walton and Sandy start with a definition of science inimical to the worldview of the Bible, and then say that the Bible contains no new science, as defined in a way inimical to the worldview of the Bible. Airtight, but dizzyingly, maddeningly circular.

And fundamentally materialist. Only on materialist assumptions can they say that the Bible gives no revelation “about the workings and understanding of the material world” (Proposition 4, p. 49).

The Bible says that the material world is created. Is that not revelation about the material world? Yes, Walton and Sandy would answer; but it’s theological not scientific information. God is the one in whom everything lives, moves, and has its being. Is that not information about the “workings” of the material world? Yes, but that’s theology not science. 

The Bible says God is a Rock, and a Sun. Does that not reveal something about the material world? Doesn’t it say that these material things (perhaps others) are somehow like their Creator? I suppose Walton and Sandy might agree, but these “symbolic” uses of material things are still not “scientific.” Science has to do with matter in motion. 

Michael Hanby’s argument would seem to be a better starting point: “Science is constitutively and therefore inexorably related to metaphysics and theology. . . . Science’s constitutive and inexorable relation to theology is but the cognitive expression of being’s constitutive and inexorable relation to God. It follows, in other words, from a proper understanding of creation understood . . . precisely as a relation. . . . Inasmuch as relation to God intrinsically constitutes the creature in its very distinction from God, this most basic relation is implicated in all subsequent relations of the creature, including thought” (No God, No Science? 18). The distinction that Walton and Sandy make between theology and science, thus, is a theological distinction, albeit an implicit one, and a distinction that implies a heretical theology (according to which God is not constitutively related to creation).

Walton and Sandy develop this argument in part as a way of trying to enter into the mindset of ancient people, to get at what they call Old World Science. What they are actually doing is building modern materialism into the foundations of biblical interpretation.

More on: Science, Bible

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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