2: A Scientific Approach to the Bible: Theoretical Considerations
the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance
with these words
have made a covenant with you and with Israel
A clash of world views is the true debating
Analysing the Bible scientifically and thinking about ‘spirit'
Questions to be asked about the Writers of
The Environment that demanded Integrity in
claim that is often made by sceptics, in discussions about the Bible,
is that belief is not ‘scientific' or not ‘rational'. The inference
is that all religious beliefs are purely ‘mind things', things that
the gullible fall for and which do not stand up to scrutiny.
Heart of Chapter 2: Certainty
is not the tool of modern scientific atheists. Apart
from pure mathematics, all investigatory endeavour looks at
the evidence and draws logical conclusions, and the same is
as true about examining Biblical faith as it is about any other
Chapter is the first of a pair of chapters about approaching
the Bible objectively. In this chapter we will talk in generalities
about ‘a scientific approach' and about ‘evidence'. In the following
chapter we will take a particular case study and then consider a variety
of reasons why it is legitimate to trust what we have in our Bibles
Clash of World Views is the True Debating Point
major weapon of deception in the armoury of the atheist appears (certainly
from the writings of the more infamous atheistic crusaders of the
early twenty-first century) to be a claim that they have certainty
on their side and that ‘faith' cannot be considered in the same way.
An atheistic delusion! Let's think about some of these things.
Clash of World Views
is worth noting in passing that unbelief has little to do with
science. There are very many top scientists who are Christian
believers or, at least, believers in God. The debate is less
to do with ‘science versus religion', but more to do with a
materialistic world view versus a theistic (believing
in God) world view.But we need here to look at those atheistic
sceptics who claim to have materialism on their side.
clash is NOT
Science versus Religion
Materialism versus Theism
scientific approach is
the evidence by whatever means possible, drawing conclusions
and making a statement of faith that says that whenever this
‘thing' is tested, it will produce the same results.
use the expression ‘statement of faith' because modern scientific
philosophy often declares that a hypothesis can only say that ‘we
believe' it will always continue to work like that. Now I know that
is not the usual definition that is found in scientific textbooks
but scientific textbooks usually have in mind the discovery of laws
of the physical sciences, a somewhat limited sphere. But not all areas
of discovery fit neatly in the usual definition.
area of psychology is illustrative of this point. There have
been psychologists who have sought to explain human behaviour
on strictly materialistic terms. The existence of a variety
of ‘schools' of psychology, clearly indicates that many eminent
psychologists consider that materialistic view to be far too
limiting when it comes to human behaviour.
schools of psychology suggest human behaviour is more
strong has been the debate on occasion that sometimes outsiders to
the profession have even claimed that psychology can not be considered
a science – yet is it obviously an area of important material investigation
(people and their behaviour) even though it appears to defy some of
the narrow tramlines of more traditional scientific endeavour. The
same can be said of psychiatry.
we come to study history, historians would claim we are on less
shaky ground. We think we know what happened in the past because
we have fossils, archaeological remains and ancient documents.
is about studying the EVIDENCE of
fossils, relics, documents etc.
study of these collectively, together with the relatively recent scientific
use of carbon dating, helps build up a picture of what happened in
the past. Yet, even in those areas of study, those with no axe to
grind will confess that everything is not always as clear as we would
like. Again and again today we find historians “rewriting” history
maintaining that previous views of how life used to be, were inaccurate.
the science of carbon dating is based upon the assumption of uniformity,
but of course it is impossible to measure and verify incredibly long
periods because we haven't found or don't know of other things that
might have changed the rate of radio active breakdown. In the meantime
we have to assume uniformity, although this is impossible
to verify. History may not be so specific as we might like to think.
is not always so certain
the history of the scientific world reveals two specific areas of
intellectual embarrassment. First there are those who have falsified
evidence – and this is a much bigger issue than is often acknowledged.
This undermines scientific integrity. Next there are those who have
had to change their hypothesis as later evidence shows previous assumptions
to be false.
the former area as well as the later, the scientific world was quite
happy, often for many years, to accept what was eventually shown to
be false. These are very real issues which are normally quietly brushed
under the carpet by the scientific fraternity as of little importance.
The only reason I mention them is that scientific certainty is increasingly
shown to be a mystical thing.
you ever paused to think why it is that people create a false
opposition between ‘science' and Biblical belief? Is it to do
with prior prejudice or a question of evidence?
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the Bible Scientifically and thinking about ‘spirit'
have two different things to consider here. The
intellectual superiority that is often claimed by atheistic sceptics
is not so clear or certain as might be thought when listening to their
proclamations. The Bible is the easier one to quantify and analyse
but that doesn't mean to say we cannot say anything meaningful about
so to the Bible
it comes to the Bible and its claims about God, about mankind
and about parts of history, as I asserted in the first chapter,
the unbelief claims of some atheists appear to be made on emotional
grounds and not intellectual grounds.
History is about studying the EVIDENCE
challenge of this book is to think through these issues carefully
and, by all means, on the same grounds as we would examine the evidence
as observed above in other spheres of investigation.
other words it is quite legitimate:
to examine HOW the Bible came into being on the evidences of
history that we have already spoken about and
then examine WHAT it says, and measure that against what we
know in history and what we know in life.
is merely a
matter of weighing up the evidence. These are things that Christians
scholars have been doing for the last two thousand years – but perhaps
you weren't aware of that?
we come to God we face a different problem. We are dealing with an
invisible and mostly intangible personal being who exists in a form
that is different from the purely material existence that we mostly
know about. Our atheist friend demands that God be put under the same
scrutiny as anything else but actually doesn't go on to do that.
problem that occurs so often, it seems to me, is that many people
appear to have never thought about the essence of God and
so when they talk about God they actually have in mind a ‘nothingness
entity' so it is not surprising that they find disbelief easier to
have than belief.
is the material word, they say, and as God is not material,
God cannot exist. But the Bible doesn't leave us with that vacuum
for it clearly states, “God is Spirit” and very often refers
to the expression of God as ‘the Holy Spirit'.
implication of this is that the Bible clearly demands that we believe
that God is ‘something' or ‘someone' and the fact that we either have
never thought about Him or have not thought carefully about Him, doesn't
mean He doesn't exist. I may never have given any consideration to
the existence of a particular star far out in the Solar System that
a few astronomers have observed, but my belief or disbelief about
that star is irrelevant when it comes to the actual existence of that
what is Spirit?
coexisting problem is that today we don't know what ‘Spirit' means.
happily refer to ‘energy' even though we're not sure what it
actually means. Within this framework of discussion I would
suggest that when we refer to God being spirit, we actually
mean that He is energy with personality. Obviously,
studying the Bible, that personality is benign, and also has
the ability to direct its unlimited energy how 'He' will.
how that can be I really don't know, yet there are those on the fringes
of modern science who are thinking beyond the traditional views of
a ‘materialistic world' to try to take into account the myriads of
examples around the world, and throughout history, of things that
are not explainable in simple ‘traditional' materialistic terms. Thus
the fact that today we have not been able (or allowed?)
to register or define or measure ‘spirit' doesn't necessarily mean
that it doesn't exist. The signposts to an occult world or a spiritual
world are myriad around the globe. The refusal of atheistic sceptics
to believe these things is more about their unwillingness to go and
investigate them than it is about the validity of the existence of
you ever thought about God as “energy with personality”? What
do you know of descriptions of Him in the Bible that add to
things or experiences can you recall that suggest that the world
is more than the narrow traditional view of ‘material' that
science has often suggested and to which scientists have confined
‘evidences' do you think there are to be examined to provide
substance for faith?
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to be Asked about the Writers of the Bible
the above discussion, at one point I suggested a very general definition
of scientific investigation might be examining the evidence by
whatever means possible, drawing conclusions and making a statement
of faith that says that whenever this ‘thing' is tested, it will produce
the same results. We also noted that in historical investigation
we have to rely upon fossils, archaeological remains and ancient documents,
and this is no less true for Biblical documents which, we maintain,
CAN be subjected to the same investigative scrutiny as any other historical
we view the many and varied writers of the Bible we will find that
is simply up to us to decide whether to believe what they thought
they heard and saw and recorded. Similarly we might ask, did they
record accurately what happened, or did they write what they wanted
will shortly see that the wide variety of individuals who wrote what
we now find in our Bible wrote:
of the experiences
of individuals and of the nation of Israel
with a consistent
uniformity about God and His ways of dealing with people,
in an historical
timeframe that can be checked (i.e. mostly as history).
we wish to be genuine ‘scientific' investigators,
we must approach the problem without any preconceived ideas or prejudices,
and we should simply examine the evidence in as open-minded
way as possible. This means that we should start with an
open-mindedness that neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence
of God, but is willing to take the evidence and then consider the
I have commented previously, I believe this, for many people, is very
difficult. Emotional experiences they have had earlier in
life have left them feeling jaded about the Bible or the Christian
faith, and means that objectivity is often a very rare commodity.
Bad Example of ‘Scholars'
the latter part of the nineteenth century, so-called ‘scholars' failed
to be objective and started from an entirely materialistic worldview
and thus wrote off large parts of the Bible as not being possible
– miracles and prophecy. However to start from a
purely materialistic viewpoint prejudges the issue. The whole
point about the Bible – and all world religions for that matter –
is that it declares that there is MORE than a purely materialistic
we want to be objective in our research then we must start with an
open mind that considers ‘miracles', ‘prophecy' and all other ‘acts
of God' and consider whether they are a more reasonable explanation
given the evidence. It is reasonable to consider the alternatives
you understood that STARTING with definite views means that
we prejudge the outcome? If we start with the belief that there
cannot be a God, then whatever evidence to the contrary is presented,
our closed mind cannot view the evidence objectively.
much have our own views (prejudices?) been created by the words
of others and by emotional experiences, rather than
by careful objective consideration of the evidence?
we are investigating the Bible with an open mind, it is legitimate
to consider all the possibilities. So such questions might include:
Why did this
man bother to write what is often extensive writing in an era
when writing was not
the easy exercise it is today? i.e. what drove him
Why did he
write unless he sincerely believed in what he wrote?
alternatives are there to the fact of God, as explanations of
Are such explanations
valid in the face of the evidence and the consistent belief that
these varied writings that came over a thousand year
some Writers got it Wrong?
most conservative evangelical scholars will have apoplexy at this
paragraph, for most statements of faith speak about the whole of the
Bible being the inspired word of God, but this is for you, the seeker,
and I don't want to ask you to believe something without there being
a strong background for you to lean on. Suppose, just for a moment,
that for one or two, bits of the writings of the Old Testament writers
were wrong – that they were confused or misinformed about what happened.
I would like to concede a lot more to you, but the uniformity is so
strong that if there are “questionable bits” they are few and far
take out the odd bits if you will; you are still left with a
vast amount of material that conveys the same message:
there is a Supreme Supernatural Being who speaks and acts in
a uniform and consistent manner – and it is extremely difficult
(if not impossible) to write off all the reports of His acts
and words, and hold onto our intellectual integrity at the same
some of the writers had got it wrong, the sheer volume of writing,
variety of writers & yet uniformity of it, requires acceptance
the reason I say I would like to concede a lot more to you, is that
even supposing we were able to write off say even 50% of the Old Testament
writings (and we haven't any legitimate grounds to do that) we would
still have an incredibly large amount of writing, still with the uniformity
I have spoken of which still points in the direction of the existence
the truth is, as we shall shortly see, that we do not have
good grounds to write off and throw away large parts of the Bible.
What anyone who reads the Bible with an open mind finds, is that there
is a remarkably harmonious, historically systematic flow of writing,
possibly by over 40 different writers and the more we look at what
happened the more difficult it becomes to legitimately take parts
Need to Study the Bible
fact that we may not understand what parts of the Bible teaches, or
we may not understand how certain things happened, does not mean that
we should take out such passages. As I have studied the Bible over
a long period of time in, I hope, an open-minded manner, the more
I have seen the uniformity of what is there, with passages I previously
found difficult making sense when seen in the light of the whole.
The more we can see the whole, the clearer individual parts become.
is so important that, although we have touched on this already, it
does need reiterating. Remember, there are two possibilities:
If you start
out by saying there cannot be a God, then you can
only conclude that what is
there in the Bible is clearly myth.
If you start
out believing that there is or can be a God, then what you find
in the Bible is
consistent and easily understandable.
of us tend to start out somewhere in between these two positions and
come to believe when we start studying the evidence before us – but
you do need to study it! Classic examples of those who followed this
path are J.B.Phillips who translated the New Testament afresh in the
middle of the twentieth century, and Frank Morrison who ended up writing
‘Who moved the Stone?' Both men started from a position of agnostic-sceptic
and ended up clear believers as they examined the evidence.
you understood how significant ‘prior prejudices' are in hindering
people from objectively approaching the evidences for faith
in the Bible?
you ever realised the incredible volume of material that makes
up the Old Testament that testifies to the presence and experience
of God by so many different writers over such a long period
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The Environment that Demanded Integrity in Writing
writers of the Bible wrote within a specific, historical, geographical
and cultural context and it is important to recognise and understand
that. That understanding can really only be fully appreciated by reading
the Old Testament and catching the nature of what we are talking about,
although we can make some meaningful comments to start us in the right
in the God-fearing Community
might try and say that the accounts about God found in the Old Testament
are simply the writings of superstitious scribes – and there has always
been superstition among primitive tribes – or even that such writings
were the means of controlling a superstitious people.
are some difficulties in respect of these suggestions:
Good & Bad shown
accounts that are clearly supposed to be historical narrative
include both the good and the bad aspects of both individuals
and of the nation of Israel,
and these accounts seem to have no motivational purpose, i.e.
they do not appear to have been written to influence present
generations except in very general ways.
good and bad about an individual suggests integrity of the writer
For example, as we note elsewhere, Abraham may have been the ‘father
of the nation' or the ‘father of faith' but we are certainly shown
his feet of clay.
I were seeking to impress and convince people about my ‘heroes' I
suspect I would play up all their good points and play down their
bad points. I don't think I have ever heard spin doctors pointing
out all the failings of the politicians they are seeking to boost
before us, the voting public, yet that is exactly what we do find
in the Bible.
The prophetic element
of activities attributable to God are frequently linked to prophetic
insights, saying what He would do, that were spoken before they happened
– and then happened. The argument of the sceptic may say, well the
scribe made it up and so it was just ‘good luck' that a victory over
an enemy came to Israel and the ‘prophetic word' was made up by the
scribe to bring superstitious power to the reputation of the nation.
problem about that is that such ‘prophetic words' were only acceptable
if they were brought by a leader or acknowledged ‘prophet' with a
trustworthy reputation and any writing that misused their names and
distorted the truth would have been the subject of a hue and cry.
They may not have been accountable to the modern media as we are,
but they would certainly have received public censure if they strayed
away from the truth.
the record is clear that these ‘prophets very often got into
trouble with the current ruler for not portraying a good enough
picture. Being a scribe or a prophet in those days was not always
a safe job. A classic example is that of Jeremiah and Baruch.
Baruch was a scribe who wrote for the prophet Jeremiah. Their
combined writing caused the current king to issue an order for
their arrest (see Jer 36, especially verse 26).
prophet's integrity was attested to by the
nature of his prophecies, how they were fulfilled and the
accountability that was required of him by his peers
example of Jeremiah is especially good. He wrote in a clearly historical
context, he prophesied what would happen to a series of kings during
whose reigns he lived – and it all happened – and he prophesied exactly
about the downfall and overthrow of Jerusalem
exactly happened. Now he was not a big influential figure; exactly
the opposite if anything. There would have been no point in him recording
his prophecies for personal gain, for the nature of his writings indicates
that he wasn't that sort of person. Moreover he wasn't the only one
to record what took place and confirm that it took place in accordance
with what he had said. Again to suggest that other later writers made
it all up to create some national strength beggars belief when you
read it all in context – and it is worth reading.
The Awe of God
the greatest factor, that would have prevented speculative or wildly
inaccurate writing, is that of the presence and experience of God
in their midst. The whole understanding of God by Israel
come through teaching by priests, although that did follow, but by
living experiences of this God.
involved Him delivering them out of Egypt, dealing with them on their
travels to the Promised Land, taking them into that land and then
having dealings with them in that land.
thus grew up an awe and respect for God that meant they knew
they were accountable to Him. Particularly this meant that they
must be truthful about their recollections of Him.
fear of God is a legitimate means of creating accountability
for the writers.
the arguing sceptic may suggest that this demand for reverence of
His name only helped provide the uniformity of report that we have
noted previously. However, there were clearly many times when Israel
drifted away from God and in such times it is instructive to note
that, although they may have drifted into worship of idols from other
nations, they never denied the experiences that recorded history showed
they had had of God in the past. They may have tried to ignore their
history but they never denied it.
you ever thought about the factors that would have prevented
writers in Israel
from casually and carelessly writing about God? Have you ever
considered the factors that required them to be scrupulously
accurate in their recording the history of Israel
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let us recap what we have seen in this chapter:
A clash of world views is the true debating
Analysing the Bible scientifically and thinking about ‘spirit'
Questions to be asked about the
Writers of the Bible
The Environment that demanded Integrity
chapter has been the second of various foundation stones that I wish
to lay in preparation for the rest of the book. It has laid out some
basic difficulties that are found in science of measuring or assessing
the world in purely materialistic terms. Yet we have suggested that
more thought needs to be given to who or what God is by those who
would criticise, while accepting that it is quite legitimate to assess
the Bible using exactly the same criteria as we would use for assessing
any other historical documents.
big challenge comes, not so much about the facts of its existence,
but what it records in history – evidence of the presence and activity
of God. If we come with prejudging minds that say there CANNOT be
a God then of course we will deny and weakly try to explain away the
records. However if we come with an open mind that seeks to fairly
weigh up the realities of what is there, we will almost certainly
come up with a strong and clear understanding of what took place,
just as millions of intelligent people have done down through the
centuries to the present day.
would like to conclude with a plea to Christians: don't be overwhelmed
by Goliath's appearance! In 1 Samuel, chapter 17 we find the account
of David and Goliath. When David arrived at Israel's camp, they found
them paralysed by fear of the giant who came out every day and challenged
someone to come and fight him. Goliath imposed on them his standards:
might is right! What always amazes me is why Saul didn't just
send out ten men to take him out. If you are going to fight, why have
'gentleman's rules' that require you to fight on their terms. Why
fight one on one with a man much bigger than you? Take him out!
the point that I would make is that these 'giants' who shout their
atheistic wares are actually men of clay. They are human beings with
frailties just like you and me and maybe they don't stand up to scrutiny.
Even more importantly their writings don't stand up to scrutiny. I
remember when I first read Dawkins' God Delusion. his arguing
about statistical odds sounds compelling until you start realising
that the world isn't built on odds, because odds prove nothing - they
are purely speculative! And then there was Hitchens' God is Not
Great. He moves with a fluidity that is mesmerizing and almost
bewitching - until you slow down and take apart bit by bit what he
is saying and you realise it is right off the subject and open to
will find the same thing with philosophers and philosophies. So many
of these 'great' men of the past (like us) had feet of clay. We shouldn't
take all they said as Gospel. They have taken on a 'Goliath' type
of feel with the passing of time. We shouldn't give them that. Relativism,
I have commented elsewhere, makes out there are no fixed values, and
yet take the individual and try and kill him and he will soon tell
you it is wrong to kill someone - or rape his daughter or steal his
goods. Oh, yes, he has values all right! Don't let the giant overwhelm
you by his appearance, especially that conveyed by other people. Challenge
him, question him. The truth is out there; you have nothing to fear!
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