Response to a Skeptic about Biblical Cosmology, part 2: Geocentrism and Bad Hermeneutic

 

Ptolemaic geocentric model

Ptolemaic geocentric model

A couple days ago, I published Part 1 of my response to a skeptic regarding biblical cosmology. I covered a couple major points and, hopefully, demonstrated that not all Christians interpret the creation passages the same. Furthermore, I think I showed how important is careful hermeneutic, and that it reveals a harmony of God’s special revelation (i.e., Scripture) with His general revelation (i.e., the created order, or “Nature”), when accurately tested and observed. In this post, I reproduce the second half of my response to skeptical “Paul”, which hits another of his, er, “concerns” about what the Bible claims. This time, though, a big chunk of my response was itself a reproduction of responses from the RTB scholar team….

“Still with me? Okay.

Now let’s look at the other major problem you brought up — namely, Biblical passages that seem to teach/support geocentrism and a flat Earth. As it happens, the current issue of the Reasons to Believe newsletter “Connections” addresses this very issue, as Dr. Hugh Ross, Dr. Fuz Rana, and Kenneth Samples respond to a reader/listener’s question. Rather than try to rewrite or summarize, I think I’ll just reproduce the article here.

Mike from Little Rock asked: “Does Psalm 104:5 teach that the earth is the center of the universe?” (‘He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.’)

Hugh Ross: “The consensus of the Church today is that what we see here in Psalm 104 is phenomenological language. Galileo said at his trial that Bible interpreters need to understand the author’s frame of reference. When King David (assuming he wrote this psalm) says that the foundations of the earth are immovable, from what context is he speaking? If David is on a rotating Earth that’s revolving around the sun, he’s moving with the earth. From his point of view, the earth indeed is immovable. So there’s nothing incorrect about what the Bible is saying, if we properly establish the frame of reference. Galileo cautioned against the mistake of failing to identify the authorial frame of reference or point of view.”

Fuz Rana: “From a historical perspective, the Galileo affair not only led to the emergence of heliocentrism over geocentrism, but also it provided theologians with a hermeneutic that allowed for phenomenological language. People realized that they could simultaneously take the text literally and also phenomenologically. Galileo’s trial advanced biblical interpretive methods.”

Mike then asked: “Historically, has the church stymied scientific thought? How much damage has been done?”

Fuz Rana: “I would argue that we are still feeling the damage of improper Bible hermeneutic today, because time and time again people will cite the Galileo affair and heliocentrism versus geocentrism as evidence that Christianity leads to error and that science is ultimately the way of truth.”

Hugh Ross: “Let me point out two other areas where you get damage. People sometimes send me manuscripts where I think they put way more science into the Bible than the text warrants. When that happens the Bible can come under unfair criticism for saying things it doesn’t say. But there’s a flip side. Some people are frightened about putting science into the Bible. [Note: Dr. Ross is not advocating eisegesis but merely the recognition of when the Bible truly does make explicit or implicit scientific statements.] They try to strip the Bible of all scientific content so that there’s no opportunity for Christians to be embarrassed by some well-established scientific discovery. You want to walk that fine line in between putting too much science into the Bible and not enough science for Christians to be equipped for witness to a secular scientific society.”

Galileo demonstrates his new telescope

Galileo demonstrates his new telescope

Kenneth Samples: “Sometimes we make more of some of those historical difficulties than we ought. I have had skeptics bring charges of Christianity’s historical errors to my attention. I realize that there have been controversies and anti-intellectual pockets within church history that probably stood in the way of progress. But we sometimes forget that even in the High Middle Ages there was a growing scientific consensus with the development of universities in Europe and reflection about the universe. And then the Reformation ushered in a very strong intellectual era. So, yes, there have been anti-intellectual times in church history, but there have also been times when Christians have been the force behind great advancements in learning.”

Sidebar: “‘Phenomenological language’ refers to the language of appearances. It describes something as it LOOKS, irrespective of how it IS. Examples of phenomenological language in the Bible include ‘the four corners of the earth’ or that ‘the sun rises and sets.’ Obviously, the earth does not have four corners (or quarters, as some translations read), but it might look that way to an ancient reader. The sun appears to rise and set, but this motion is actually due to the rotation of the earth rather than to motion of the sun around the earth. In rare cases such as these, biblical descriptions can be interpreted metaphorically.”

For more information on these and related topics, I highly recommend the following three books by Dr. Ross: 1) A Matter of Days; 2) The Creator and the Cosmos, 3rd ed.; 3) The Genesis Question, 2nd ed. There are also many free resources — articles and podcasts of various types — at the Reasons to Believe website.

That about wraps it up for this one. I think Ross, Rana, and Samples made some great points and observations. What do you think?

P.S.  You may also find this post of interest, which includes a list of early scientists who were theists (mostly Christians): “Can You Accept ‘Revealed Wisdom’ and Still Be ‘Scientific’?”

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