Why biblical authority matters

A review of Why Science Matters  by John Norsworthy
ConsultEd Publishing, Tauranga, NZ, 2018.

why-science-matters

reviewed by

Published: 29 November 2018 (GMT+10)

John Norsworthy has been a teacher in New Zealand for 45 years. He has written Why Science Matters to help the average NZ church-goer understand what the Bible says about science. It’s easy to follow, and much of what is said is helpful. He points out that science was the fruit of Christianity, giving some biographies of the founders of science. He correctly identifies many of the ideas that eroded that Christian foundation: deism, Darwinism, materialism, positivism.

But Norsworthy writes with a détente between young-age and old-age creationists in mind. He downplays any notion that the Bible gives us information about the history of nature. And from there, the book’s main problems arise.

Framework hypothesis?

Norsworthy agrees that Genesis at large is a historical narrative. But he thinks Genesis 1 “does not fit neatly into the genre of reported history. It is still totally reliable truth but not strictly ‘historical’ truth. It is ‘pre-historical’ truth” (p. 28). In line with this, he prefers the framework hypothesis, which views the six days of Genesis 1 as a logical sequence rather than a chronological sequence of historical events (pp. 29–30).

Of course, we disagree, and there are many reasons why. Genesis 1 is referred to in historical terms (Exodus 20:8–11); it behaves like similar texts numbering days (e.g. Numbers 7) that are historical (Genesis is history!); and, as Norsworthy recognizes, it fronts a historical narrative. And there is no degree of literary structure or artistry in the Bible that determines whether a passage depicts historical events (On literary theorists’ approach to Genesis 1: Part 1 and Part 2). A passage’s content, not its structure, determines whether it intends to refer to real events in the past. And given the historical impulse of the rest of Genesis, the start of the story clearly must have that same historical impulse (see Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history?, Genesis as ancient historical narrative, and Genesis: Myth or History?).

But this book contains a real oddity. None of the books Norsworthy recommends in his “Further reading” section (pp. 109–111) defend any sort of framework hypothesis/literary theory. If they defend any specific view of Genesis 1, it’s either the historical week interpretation (Henry Morris), the day-age view (Hugh Ross, see Refuting Compromise), or an intermittent day view (John Lennox, see Who is being divisive about creation?). He does warn: “Needless to say, I am not suggesting that I agree with everything these authors say” (p. 109). Still, on the interpretation of Genesis 1, he doesn’t agree with any of the authors he recommends!

Did God pander to human error to get His point across?

It gets worse. The biggest problem in the book is the first interpretive principle Norsworthy sets out for how to understand the Bible’s references to nature. He claims:

When the Bible was written two to four thousand years ago, people had a mix of ideas about the cosmos.

They were something like this: there was a flattish earth with limits to its size. These limits were the ends of the earth. Above the earth was a tent-like structure which held up the sky made of fluid water (waters) and the stars, sun and moon. These heavenly bodies moved about above the clouds in a set motion from east to west each day and night (pp. 23–24).

And he applies this to Genesis 1 in the same way theistic evolutionists typically do:

If God is going to reveal truth to these people about Himself in relation to the world, He is not going to confuse the message by arguing about their cosmology. That is why the text has ‘unscientific’ cosmology that sounds like their ideas about the shape of the cosmos. (pp. 27–28)

He says that the Bible assumes a “flat earth, earth-centric cosmology” (p. 24) to tell us that this doesn’t matter. God ‘accommodated’ His message to the Israelites using culturally conditioned (i.e. false) ideas that they would readily understand and resonate with. In other words, this ‘ancient cosmology’ is just ‘window dressing’ to the real point God is getting across. As such, we don’t need to worry that a false cosmology is asserted in the Bible. This view is often called ‘accommodationism’.

But does the Bible really assert a false cosmology? No. The cosmological language the Bible (including Genesis 1) doesn’t say enough to commit one to any cosmology (Is the raqîa‘ (‘firmament’) a solid dome? and Is the ’erets (earth) flat?). For Genesis 1 in particular, even if we accepted for argument’s sake that it did assert this false cosmology, Genesis 1 still emphasizes the world being made in six 24-hour days.1 Just because one ‘challenging’ part of Genesis 1 is ‘window dressing’ to the main point doesn’t mean another ‘challenging’ part of the passage can be written off so easily.

Conflicts with the ‘further reading’ list

But again, Norsworthy’s views don’t match any of the books he recommends. All the authors he recommends who comment on the matter reject accommodationism. Old-age creationist Hugh Ross says that it creates problems for biblical inerrancy and authority:

Lexicons list “expanse”, not “vault,” as the primary definition of the Hebrew word raqia.1 In Genesis 1:8 God calls the expanse “sky.” In Genesis 1:20, birds fly across the expanse. Job 36–38 and Isaiah 5:6 indicate that the ancient Hebrews knew rain came from clouds, not from holes in a brass dome. While it’s true that some ancient Mesopotamians believed a brass dome sat over a flat earth, I see no compelling evidence suggesting Bible writers shared or expressed such beliefs.2

Young-age creationist Henry Morris agrees:

“He hath compassed the waters with bounds, until the day and night come to an end” (Job 26:10).

This observation by Job contains a significant scientific insight, refuting the frequent charge by skeptics that the Bible says that the earth is flat, with four corners. …

The great circle through the earth’s center marks the boundary between day and night, where “day” and “night” each gives way to the other, again implying a spherical, rotating earth. All of this speaks eloquently of the creating and conserving power of our gracious God and Savior. It also gives witness of the innerancy [sic] and scientific integrity of the Holy Scriptures.3

Old-age creationist John Lennox rejects such an accommodationist view and opts to explain the cosmological statements in Scripture in terms of phenomenological language and metaphor.4

Even stranger: Norsworthy didn’t recommend a single book that promotes accommodationism. It’s not hard to find authors who do, e.g. John Walton and Denis Lamoureux. But most accommodationists are theistic evolutionists, which Norsworthy rejects. Still, if Norsworthy is “not suggesting that I agree with everything these authors say” (p. 109), why should that be a problem for him?

Assessment

Why Science Matters is aimed at the layman. The style of the book suits that purpose well. And there is some helpful information in the book. But there are also some glaring problems. It downplays the historical impulse of Genesis 1. It adopts a hermeneutical method that sets science above Scripture to such an extent that it declares Scripture to err.

But there’s a unique problem. To be a reliable or helpful guide for the layman, an author needs to be competent in the material he is covering. Norsworthy is not. His ‘further reading’ list is completely at odds with some of the most important positions he takes. He recommends nothing from those who opt for a framework view on Genesis 1, though preferring such a view himself. He promotes accommodationism, but only recommends books that reject that approach as undermining biblical authority. And his ‘further reading’ list is right: accommodationism does undermine biblical authority. It’s a denial of inerrancy, and allows science to dictate when Scripture can speak authoritatively.

This book is an unreliable guide for what the Bible says about science. It gets many basic things right, but when things get controversial or tricky, Norsworthy is completely at odds with both the Bible and even the books he recommends.

References and notes

  1. Doyle, S., Ancient cosmology and the timescale of Genesis 1, J. Creation 32(2):115–118, 2018. Return to text.
  2. Ross, H., Response from old earth (progressive) creationism; in: Stump, J.B. (Ed.), Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 162, 2017. Return to text.
  3. Morris, H.M., The Circle Of The Earth, icr.org/article/circle-earth, 12 October 2000. Return to text.
  4. Lennox, J., Seven Days That Divide the World, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pp. 139–142, 144–148, 2011. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
From
US $15.00
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
From
US $35.00
As It Is Written
by Kenneth L Gentry, Jr.
US $14.00
Soft cover
The Gap Theory
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $0.20

Readers’ comments

Richard G.
Bro Doyle, You and CMI have done excellently again to show that the Word of God is without one scientific or other error. Remember that most believers are very simple. You are not really addressing them; they couldn't understand you. Your opposers probably don't read your good material much! They don't want the truth, I fear. Your real audience are potential influencers so keep trying to educate these good intellectual influencers who will influence hopefully many who are gifted in other ways than intellectually. Psalm 119 (vv 98 to 100) reminds us that we who stick properly to the Word know more than our enemies, than all our teachers, and more than the aged, but we must obey the three concomitants of this, which are: "Your commandments are ever with me" , "Your testimonies are my meditation", and " I have kept Your precepts". The standard is high, but why not? I find myself constantly tempted to tell helpful lies to press the gospel on to Japanese people. How wonderful that God raised up Dr Henry Morris and you his successors to give us later fry the luxury of access to the assured results of TRUE science, a rare commodity. Did the media proliferate that astounding fact that recently three scholars fooled intellectual magazines by writing absolute junk/fake articles posing as truth? Deliberate poppycock and they were even praised for it by the "scholars/peers" !! This demonstrates that the problem is not intellectual but moral. Poor Clement Dawkins has lost three wives. His degrees may be impressive but his record and his words lead me to doubt his conclusions re the truth. "By their fruits ye shall know them", not their 'bruits'.
WR B.
"Genesis 1 “does not fit neatly into the genre of reported history. It is still totally reliable truth but not strictly ‘historical’ truth. It is ‘pre-historical’ truth” (p. 28)." Isn't this a dangerous statement? If we assume all Scripture is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17), isn't this tantamount to saying, my God is pre-historic?? My faith in scientific, historical, accurate statements in Scripture does not hing on my ability to defend them with current scientific assumptions, which are always changing, but my assumed immutability of my God is something I have to trust if I want to believe in Salvation through Jesus. and I do.
David S.
Thank you for the balanced review of “Why Science Matters”. It sounds like a fair accessment of what the author has presented. My only critique is that when a Christian puts something out there to teach the body of Christ, and it contains enough error to ‘shipwreck’ the faith of others, I think we should consider a stronger overall rebuke. The devil rarely comes at believers with an obvious assault on their faith, but will put it in a package that mixes truth with lies. How do we react? Sometimes it seems as though we react to these guys with a “poor guy almost got it right” attitude that figuratively pats them on the back while lightly warning their readers of some of the pitfalls of their work. Wouldn’t it be better to give the factual review and then in no uncertain terms put these kinds of work in the category of dangerous false teaching? It’s one thing to do a book review, but I feel like that falls short of the responsibility those in a teaching position have to those they teach, namely to warn them in no uncertain terms of false teachers. There are enough good teachers out there (yourselves included) that the body of Christ isn’t going to miss poor ones like this author. I say this because I believe it has been works such as these, the subtle ones that are easier for people to stomach, that have gotten us to the place where we are today concerning Genesis 1. Just a thought. Thank you for the work you guys do.
David H.
I can't quite work out if Norsworthy is an evolutionist or not. It sounds like he is. The book seems to be a bit lacking in substance. One thing I found rather low brow, but imho effective against an argument used without substance, such as this book, is the story given about a little girl who asked her mother, "How did the human race appear?"

This could just as easily be applied, instead of a mother and father, between John Norsworthy and an eminent creationist, such as your good self Shaun. I hope you don't mind me using you as an example.

In this case, with the characters changed from mother and father to yourself, Shaun, and John Norsworthy:

Shaun Doyle answered, "God made Adam and Eve and they had children, and so was all mankind made.."

Two days later the girl asked John Norsworthy the same question. Norsworthy answered, "Many years ago there were monkeys from which the human race evolved."

The confused girl returned to Shaun Doyle and said, "Shaun, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Mr Norsworthy said they developed from monkeys?"

Shaun answered, "Well, dear, it is very simple. I told you about my side of the family and Mr Norsworthy told you about his."

the Gentle Knight
Shaun Doyle
No, Norsworthy is not an evolutionist. He spends a fair chunk of the book arguing against evolution and for intelligent design. But I can understand why you'd think that; my review concentrated on Norsworthy's biblical hermeneutics, not on his views on evolution. And 'accommodationism' is usually associated with theistic evolutionists (it's especially popular over at Biologos). That's what makes his acceptance of 'accommodationism' rather strange; I don't recall any prominent old-age creationist (OAC) adopting the idea that God allowed the biblical writers to communicate 'incidental' errors in the text (some may be prepared to take such a stance, but none I'm aware of currently do, and certainly the OACs Norsworthy recommends do not).

Rather, all the prominent OACs I'm aware of say the Bible properly interpreted permits belief in deep time. Many if not most of them use deep time to determine what interpretations they consider 'proper' (which is bad hermeneutics, and in practice undermines biblical authority), but all of them recognize the need to hold fast to the idea that all the Bible's truth claims are true.

Many of them will adopt Lennox's view that God spoke of the Genesis 1 'days' phenomenologically an poetically (as is often the case for geocentrism and flat earthism). It doesn't work for the passage of time, though: a 'day' for Moses and Adam was as long as a 'day' is for us. And Genesis 1 has a genuine historical impulse, as argued in the article.

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