Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Compromising the Bible to Accommodate Science

On a thread at EvC Forums I was presented with the information that some of the greatest Christian preachers of the 19th and early 20th centuries had accepted certain compromising ideas about the Bible in reaction to the claims of science of their day.  They believed what science was saying about the Old Earth, though not about evolution, and they came up with various ways to make the Bible fit the claims.  I don't know how many resisted the claims altogether, that would be interesting to know, but the fact is that there were some of the best of the best who came up with ideas that accommodate the Bible to science. Spurgeon was one for instance.

There was an exchange of posts on the subject, starting with a post by "kbertsche" HERE:
From about the mid-19th to mid-20th century, most conservative Christians accepted the geologic evidence for an old earth and incorporated it into a view known as the "Gap Theory". This view was popularized by Thomas Chalmers in the early 19th century, and became the de facto view of conservative Christians after C.I. Scofield incorporated it into his reference Bible in the early 20th century. As Bernard Ramm wrote in 1954 (see the wikipedia article referenced above):
"The gap theory has become the standard interpretation throughout hyper-orthodoxy, appearing in an endless stream of books, booklets, Bible studies, and periodical articles. In fact, it has become so sacrosanct with some that to question it is equivalent to tampering with Sacred Scripture or to manifest modernistic leanings".
Who held to an old earth in this period (mid-19th to mid-20th century)? Most of the conservative Christian scholars and Bible teachers, including most of the scholars who opposed the Tuebingen school and modernism. Here are a few of them:
  • James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000). Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia; chairman of International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.
  • William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925). Prominent anti-evolutionist; prosecutor in Scopes “monkey trial”.
  • A.A. Hodge (1823-1886). Old Princeton Theologian.
  • Charles Hodge (1797-1878). Old Princeton Theologian.
  • H. A. Ironside (1876-1951). Bible preacher, commentator, and author.
  • C.S. Lewis (1898-1963). Literature professor and Christian apologist.
  • J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937). Theologian.
  • J. Vernon McGee (1904-1988). Founder of Thru the Bible ministry.
  • C.I. Scofield (1843-1921). Known for his Scofield Reference Bible.
  • Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892). Known as “the prince of preachers”.
  • R.A. Torrey (1856-1928). Editor of "The Fundamentals"
  • Benjamin B. Warfield (1851-1921). Theologian; Champion of biblical inerrancy.
  • Edward J. Young (1907-1968). Theologian; Champion of biblical inerrancy.
In a subsequent post kbertsche explains that not all of them adhered to Gap Theory, some arguing for Day-Age theory that makes the word "day" in the first chapter of Genesis refer to a very long period of time, and in one case Theistic Evolution.

The last post in the sequence to this point was mine, which follows:
[Ringo quoting me] All I see in this barely plausible scenario is the desperation of these men in the face of the science of the day that they were unable to criticize.

[Ringo] That's a pretty good description of creationism in general.
[Faith} I agree in general with this.  The turn of science to antibiblical assertions put Bible believers in a difficult position.  Having always admired science, and thinking it a gift from God, many scrambled to accommodate their beliefs to what the scientists were saying.  I believe this was a fatal error, understandable though it is.  By coming up with accommodating ideas like Gap Theory they avoided the conflict and appeared to find common ground sufficient to let them continue in their faith and preach their faith to their congregations.

But the conflict is inevitable and can't be avoided.  Gap theory is a wild speculative solution that ends up being no solution.  Same with the other ways the Bible was compromised to accommodate science.  I hadn't known until kbertsche demonstrated it that so many of the greatest preachers had succumbed to this kind of solution, and it was quite startling because those men preach solidly Biblical sermons, the best of the best.  I had no idea there was a rotten spot in the floorboards as it were, that could bring the whole house down.  That's the problem with ALL compromising efforts. 

It's the same problem with the modern Bibles.  Christians can go along for years trusting in those Bibles and then suddenly grasp the implications of the untrustworthiness of the Greek texts that underlie them, and their lack of knowledge of the history of these things, and the corrupted nature of those texts, then cause many to lose their faith and leave them with a bitter cynicism about Christianity. 

Those great preachers who gave into the Old Earth and tried to make the Bible conform to it have built a house of cards that subsequent generations can blow down with a breath, leaving them with very flimsy support for their faith.

I appreciate that they didn't have the time, and it wasn't their calling either, to try to answer the claims of science, but a strong stand on the Bible against the science they couldn't understand might have served us all better in the end.  Others might have been inspired to learn more science earlier, might have seen through the purely interpretive and speculative and unprovable nature of the claims that were being presented as Fact for one thing, might have stayed on top of the claims down the decades instead of being lulled to sleep by a false reconciliation at the expense of the Bible. 
It was quite a shock to me to find out what these men believed. While most of them didn't give in to evolution it is painful to see them accommodating to the Old Earth, which the Bible really can't be made to support without strain.


  1. It is a mistake to make the Bible accommodate *any* view brought to the Bible, whether old earth or new earth, evolution or anti-evolution. The common verses used in such over-interpretations were not meant to anything about any such view, and so, don't.

    Neither should we make the Bible say God could not have used evolution miraculously, to do its job in six 24-hour days.

    Evolution is irrelevant, because if it really does exist, God made it. (He made everything that really does exist.)

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, David. But there are certain facts given in the Bible that make evolution of all life impossible, one being the creation of the separate Kinds, another being the entrance of death into the world as a result of the Fall.


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