More on Science and the Bible
Yesterday, I posted my thoughts about the conflict or perceived conflict between science and the bible. I just wanted to restate, hopefully with more clarity, the main point.
As science is inherently tentative, scientific theories will have to at some point contradict what the bible says. Science can and is often wrong. Theories change, sometimes radically. By simply modifying our interpretation of the bible to match current scientific theories, we are downgrading the status and authority of the Bible.
Note this does not mean that the Bible talks about every possible scientific idea. Nor does it mean that our interpretation of the bible can never be wrong. What it does mean is that if the only reason you have for reinterpreting the Bible is some scientific (or even philosophical) theory, then you are on shaky ground. This is more so the case when the scientific theory is not experimentally based.
What I mean by not experimentally based is that the theory cannot be tested in a lab, where researchers can change variables and control the environment in order to rule out alternate causes. Without these sorts of experiments, scientific theories and hypotheses become far more assumption based.
For example, evolution talks about how various different kinds of animals are related to each other. The problem is, you cannot run an experiment to see if reptiles evolved into mammals. Even the fossil record, where you can compare the skeletons of various reptiles and mammals does not tell you they are related. At best, the fossil record could show similarities between the two kinds of creatures, but this similarity does not require they be closely related by evolution, or even just closely related. There could be many other explanations as to why the two kinds of creatures have similar bone structures, and without an experimental way to rule out these explanations, it is impossible to say with confidence that they are closely related by evolution.
What this means is that modifying biblical interpretation for these sorts of scientific hypotheses is unwarranted.
Ironically, those who tend to alter the Bible's meaning based on science also enable philosophers of science to deny that appealing to a creator is scientific. This isn't simply because it is a supernatural claim, but because there is nothing additional to add to current scientific problems. The claim itself doesn't expand our scientific investigation, but merely acts as a tack on to existing theories. As my philosophy of science lecturer said "Creationism isn't science because it doesn't undertake any problem solving activities".
Think about that for a second. If we can modify our biblical interpretation to respond to any scientific theory, then there can be no scientific questions we need to investigate coming from the Bible. There would be literally, no problems to solve. Science however, works on trying to solve problems. Attempting to predict or explain things that we observe. Without this component, something is rendered non-scientific.
Note that this means that having problems and failings is part and parcel of science and scientific theories. This is one area where I disagree with Young Earth Creationist (YEC) organisations who claim that evolution is falsified because of problems with certain things. Evolution may be a lot less plausible because of the huge quantity of seemingly intractible issues, but at least according to more recent philosophical understandings of science, this does not mean it is 'falsified'
YEC does indeed have scientific problems to solve, things they have yet to explain, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Take for instance radiometric dating. The RATE project attempted to solve the problem for YEC that it appears that billions of years of radioactive decay has taken place, yet YEC claim that the Earth is under 10,000 years old. This problem drove scientific research, and the RATE project found many lines of evidence that supported the idea of accelerated decay.
The challenge for YEC is to continue and find more answers to scientific problems (they have a lot of catching up to do), so much so that it becomes clear to more scientists that YEC answers more problems, explains more observations and is more coherent than particles to people evolution. A lot of progress has been made, but much more research is needed.