Sunday, August 24, 2014

Faith-Based Science: The Earth Is Motionless While the Sun Revolves Around It

The most esteemed Bible scholars of the Reformation believed that contemporary scientists like Copernicus were peddling a heresy when they contended that the earth revolved around the sun. The only possible interpretation of many verses, according to these scholars, was that the earth was at the center of God's universe, and the sun revolved around it.

Here's Martin Luther (from Table Talk) exegeting Joshua 10:12 -
"There was mention of a certain new astrologer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked] “So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth."

Here's John Calvin exegeting Psalm 104:5 -
"Here the prophet celebrates the glory of God, as manifested in the stability of the earth. Since it is suspended in the midst of the air, and is supported only by pillars of water, how does it keep its place so stedfastly that it cannot be moved? This I indeed grant may be explained on natural principles; for the earth, as it occupies the lowest place, being the center of the world, naturally settles down there."

In the same reference we find Phillip Melanchthon's condemnation of heretics who teach that the earth revolves around the sun:
"The eyes are witnesses that the heavens revolve in the space of twenty-four hours. But certain men, either from the love of novelty, or to make a display of ingenuity, have concluded that the earth moves; and they maintain that neither the eighth sphere nor the sun revolves . . . Now, it is a want of honesty and decency to assert such notions publicly, and the example is pernicious. It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to acquiesce in it."

Many evangelical scholars today insist that the only possible way to interpret the Genesis creation account involves a literal 6 24-hour days. This stance is remarkably similar to that of Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon, who taught that rejecting a literal interpretation of certain Bible passages was unbelief. We evangelicals usually consider ourselves to be the heirs of the great reformers. Yet here we are today, completely at ease with a metaphorical, rather than a literal, exegesis of Psalm 104:5 because we accept the scientific theory that the earth revolves around the sun.

I believe the universe is 13.8 billion years old, the earth is 4.8 billion years old, and the early chapters of Genesis are not to be interpreted in the most literal manner possible. Consequently I sometimes feel like a cultural outsider in the evangelical movement. So I make this plea: before we jump to conclusions about how the early chapters of Genesis must be interpreted, let's look at the history of the exegesis of passages like Psalm 104:5 and Joshua 10:12. The question of what in the Bible is literal and what is metaphorical is not easy to answer. But let's learn from the mistakes of Luther, Calvin, and Melanchthon; let's be open to what we can learn from the scientists who study the works of God, which ultimately are in harmony with His words.

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