‘But the Bible’s not a science textbook, is it?’
This common objection to believing the straightforward history of Genesis has, in one sense, a simple answer — ‘No, it’s not’. Dr D. James Kennedy correctly says about the Bible, ‘It is not a scientific textbook. It is not a textbook on religion. It is not a textbook at all; it is a revelation from God!’1
But it is a loaded question; most who ask it presume that a ‘no’ answer means that the Bible’s authority does not extend to matters related to science. This is of course illogical. A novel about apple orchards could refer to apples falling down (rather than up) in accordance with the known facts about gravity. It could be completely accurate scientifically without its purpose being to teach science.
One reason put forward for saying that Genesis is ‘non-scientific’ is that the account is brief. But since when does brevity equal inaccuracy? As a minister friend says, when we listen to statements about the weather, we expect them to be based on totally accurate scientific data, despite being brief. ‘We don’t expect lengthy scientific explanations with details on the force of gravity vs the humidity and wind speed to generate rain fall. We just want to know whether it is going to rain in our area. Yet we expect extensive scientific explanations in the Bible for it to be taken seriously.’2
The Bible’s prime purpose certainly concerns salvation, not scientific explanation. But to use this to evade the clear teaching of origins in the foundational book of Genesis is intellectually illegitimate, if not dishonest. What if that approach were consistently applied? The Bible isn’t a mathematics textbook, either. But does that mean that if the Bible were to insist that ten divided by two equals six, it would make no difference to its ‘message of faith and salvation’?3 Of course it would — a world of difference! What sense would it make to trust it as the Word of the all-powerful Creator who never lies and to commit one’s eternal destiny to its promises in ‘spiritual’ areas? As Jesus said, ‘If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things’ (John 3:12)?
Even though the Bible’s purpose is not to teach history as such, the history it teaches is true. It states that Jesus was crucified at a specific moment in real history via a specific person, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. It would be bizarre to claim that it didn’t matter whether these events were true or not, ‘because the Bible’s not a textbook’.
The account of Jesus rising from the dead cannot be classified as only one form of truth; i.e. it cannot be a Christian or ‘religious’ truth without at the same time being a historical truth (unless language loses all of its meaning); and it cannot be historically true unless it is also scientifically true.
The same applies to Genesis events — e.g. the statement that God took a rib and made Eve. As theologian Dr Douglas Kelly makes clear in this issue (p. 24 — see Creation at the academy), Genesis presents such things as plain facts of history. So the question of whether the Bible is a science textbook evades the real issues, which are to do with its claim to total truth and authority. It is meaningless to claim that scriptural authority applies only to ‘religious things’, since the Christian Gospel is all about real things, the real origin, history and destiny of man and the universe. Remove its claim to authority in the realm of science, and you are actually removing it from any relevance to the real world. Sadly, this is exactly what compromise with evolutionism/long-ageism has done in many minds.
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References and notes
- Kennedy D.J., What if Jesus had never been born? Thomas Nelson, Nashville TN, USA, p. 105, 1994. Unlike the Bible, textbooks rapidly become out of date in any case.Return to text.
- Broadwater D.A., email January 2, 1998. Return to text.
- For any who have been misled by a common bibliosceptical assertion, the Bible does not claim that pi (p) is exactly 3; see Grigg, R., Does the Bible say pi equals 3.0? Creation 17(2):24–25, 1995. Return to text.