The Myth of Science v. Faith, Part 2

Another reason for the perpetuation of the myth that faith and science are somehow at odds relates to the interpretation of the Bible.  This is problem for both science and the church.  It could be boiled down to this: the Bible is misinterpreted to be asserting scientific truth when that is not its intent.

One common instance of this relates to the phenomenology of language.  Consider this text:

Psalm 113:1-3  Praise the LORD. Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.  2 Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore.  3 From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.

When the biblical authors wrote about the world around them they wrote in keeping with the phenomena a normal human writing with an earthly perspective would write.  Consequently, they spoke of the sun rising and setting.

Well, it’s been pointed out with a smirk by many an enlightened twenty-first century naturalist, the sun doesn’t really rise and set.  Actually the earth is rotating on its axis.  The spinning of the earth causes the sun to appear to rise and set.  The sun doesn’t move at all relative to the earth.  The earth is in motion.  Those biblical authors must have been dumb!

Of course, we all use phenomenological language every day.  I’m firmly convinced that Copernicus was right (as is every Christian and non-Christian I’ve ever known!).  I assume that your local weatherperson is also a convinced Copernican.  And yet, after giving an extended forecast featuring various high pressure systems, barometric pressures and so on, that same sophisticated modern Copernicus-believing meteorologist will tell you what time the sun will rise and set tomorrow!  What is this?  Some sort of inconsistency?  Is this meteorologist encumbered with some sort of bifurcated worldview – half scientific and rational and the other half pre-scientific (practically Neanderthalic!)?

Nope!  People talk about the world around them from the perspective of what they see and experience.  Earthlings talk about things from the perspective of earth.  Wouldn’t it be odd not to?  If a modern meteorologist speaks this way, why wouldn’t a biblical author?  What sense would it have made to an audience in the first millennium BC for David to begin waxing eloquent about the earth rotating on its axis giving the illusion of the sun’s motion in the sky?  We don’t even speak that way.

I’m not asserting that David did have a modern scientific understanding of the motion of heavenly bodies.  I’m sure that he didn’t.  I am asserting that the Bible does not intend to teach or endorse a particular scientific (or non-scientific) understanding of the motion of heavenly bodies.  It isn’t concerned with such questions at all.  Trying to ascertain what the Bible has to say about the motion of the earth relative to the sun as a scientific question is like trying to figure out what William Shakespeare was trying to teach about quantum physics through Hamlet’s soliloquy.  It couldn’t be less concerned with addressing the topic at hand.  The purpose lies elsewhere.

The problem isn’t all science’s fault.  The Medieval church made the same dumb mistake.  They wrongly interpreted such passages to be embracing a particular (Ptolemaic) view, and persecuted Galileo into recanting from his “error.”   But this doesn’t damage the Bible (in the least!).  It does damage the tradition of foolhardy biblical interpretation.  There is no reason to chain church doctrine to one questionable interpretation of a secondary issue.  That is short-sighted and irresponsible.  This is reason for caution for the church of today (and every generation).