Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 4)

See here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.

Functional Kenotic Christology

Another major theme running through USTO is the theological significance of the incarnation.  According to USTO, the Holy Spirit’s work in the incarnation and in the life of Jesus is a parallel or analogy for how he continues to work in ongoing creation.  As the Nicene Creed says, the Holy Spirit is “the Lord and giver of life.”

A Bible-believing Reformed Christian will have no trouble with the Nicene Creed’s confession of the Holy Spirit.  He is the giver of life.  The Bible teaches that this is true for spiritual life (1 Cor. 12:3) as well as for physical life (Ps. 104:30).

However, USTO works that out in ways that are not only wrong, but verging on heretical.  The error is subtle and not easily discerned.  Here are some quotes to illustrate the teaching I’m concerned about here:

Jesus was fully and authentically human because of the energizing and enabling work of the Spirit. (25)

Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to the Father because he was enabled to freely and perfectly rely on the Spirit’s power to lead a humble, obedient life…In short, Jesus was sustained by the Spirit, perfected by the Spirit, served the Father’s purposes by the Spirit, lived, died, and lived again through the Spirit. (26)

Instead, what is most remarkable about Jesus is that he lived as an embodied person in perfect relationship with the Father, always enabled by the Spirit.  Moreover, he was sustained by the Spirit in his relationships with other persons and all of creation. (600-601)

All Jesus’ miracles were performed through the power of the Spirit. (601)

And Jesus’ humanity is the ultimate model from which we can learn by the Spirit’s power to exercise our capacities as means through which God is restoring all of creation.  (605)

There are many more such quotes from the book – as I said, it’s an important theme strung from start to finish.

The emphasis is on Jesus as a human being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do amazing things, including obeying God fully.  This parallels what creation can do in cooperation with the Holy Spirit – continue its evolutionary development.  It also illustrates what it means to bear the image of God as human beings.

This teaching has a name:  functional kenotic Christology (FKC).  In God’s providence, while I was reading USTO, I was also reading Stephen J. Wellum’s God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ.  Wellum identifies FKC as a contemporary challenge to orthodox Christology.  FKC is entrenched in “evangelical” theology; some of its advocates include well-known names like William Craig, J.P. Moreland, and Millard Erickson.  According to Wellum, FKC is sometimes associated with “Spirit-Christology” and it’s here that you find mention of Colin Gunton.  Gunton was a British theologian whose work is cited extensively in USTO, including in the portions speaking about Jesus’ reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

Let me explain a little more about FKC.  FKC does not deny the divinity of the Son of God.  It teaches that when the Son of God took on a human nature, his divine attributes became latent.  They were fully there, but not being used.  The Son of God chose to live his incarnate life within the bounds of his human nature, including all of its limitations.  This is the “kenotic” element of FKC.  “Kenosis” is the theological term derived from the Greek used in Philippians 2:7 to refer to Christ emptying himself.  Wellum explains further:

Thus when it comes to how Jesus has supernatural knowledge and exercises supernatural power in his miracles, FKC insists that Jesus does so, not by the use of his divine attributes, but by the power of the Spirit.  Thus, in all of the incarnate Son’s actions, even actions traditionally viewed as divine actions (such as his miracles), Jesus performs them by the Spirit, in a way similar to other Spirit-empowered men and parallel to the Spirit’s work in us.  This is why Jesus can serve as our example, as he shows us how to live our lives in dependence on the Spirit – although he is the paradigm, interpreted more quantitatively than qualitatively.  (God the Son Incarnate, 383).

The “functional” element of FKC comes from the manner in which this teaching addresses the work that Jesus did.

Debates about the doctrine of the person of Christ raged on through the early church.  However, eventually the church adopted what’s known as the Chalcedonian Definition.  Chalcedon is not officially part of our Reformed creeds and confessions, but the content of Chalcedon is found in both the Athanasian Creed (articles 29-37) and the Belgic Confession (articles 18 and 19).  Advocates of FKC affirm Chalcedon formally, but as Wellum points out, “they depart from it at significant points” (Wellum, 396).  This is particularly in regard to how they define “person,” their equating “person” with “soul,” and in their endorsement of the idea that the incarnate Son of God has only one will (monothelitism).

Wellum offers an extensive critique of FKC.  I’ll just briefly summarize it – interested readers should go and check it out for themselves.  He notes two main problems.

First, FKC does not readily account for what the Bible says about the divinity of Christ in his earthly life and ministry.  The works Jesus does are “ultimately acts identified with Yahweh” (Wellum, 406).  If you survey texts like John 5:16-30, Col. 1:17, and Heb. 1:3, it is clear that “in his state of humiliation, the Son continues to exercise his divine attributes as the Son in relation to and united with the Father and the Spirit” (Wellum 406).

Second, FKC sounds Trinitarian enough (and so does USTO), but in reality it fails to do justice to the Trinity, especially in developing Father-Son-Spirit relations.  If the incarnate Son never uses his divine attributes, then his actions on earth were either purely human, or they are the actions of the Holy Spirit.  Where there are actions surpassing what normal humans can do, the Son of God appears to be merely passive in his own actions.  Moreover, the work of the Father in all of this is ignored.  Wellum writes, “…it is not enough to focus simply on the Son-Spirit relations; we must also account for John’s Gospel, for example, which stresses predominantly the Father-Son relations” (408).

FKC is not a theological peccadillo.  This is a major concern.  Most readers of USTO are not going to have enough theological training to discern it.  USTO makes it sound plausible – and they have some Bible texts that apparently support their claims.  Moreover, it is a central part of their effort to integrate evolution with biblical teaching.  It has sometimes been said that acceptance of evolutionary theory requires an overhaul of every area of theology.  The presence of FKC in USTO illustrates that this overhaul is underway.

Click here to continue to Part 5 (the final part)…

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 3)

See here for Part 1, and see here for Part 2.

God, Evolution, and Death

Any model of origins which incorporates the idea of macro-evolutionary history over billions of years is going to have to involve death.  USTO discusses death in numerous places, oftentimes in a positive way.  One of these discussions is early in the second chapter.

USTO aims to maintain the sovereignty of God over creation.  However, it quickly turns out that, because of his love, God has actually relinquished control over his creation:

Parents practice freeing love toward their children when giving them relative freedom to develop and grow.  Similarly, God in freeing love gives creation relative freedom to develop and grow into what it is called in the Son and enabled by the Spirit to be.  God’s covenantal faithfulness to nature is what makes its relative freedom as a gift possible (20).

It ought to be noted that USTO provides no biblical support for these statements here.  The case is made on the basis of an analogy to parents – as if creation is like a child of God.

This personalizing of creation continues when USTO attempts to account for the processes necessary for the evolutionary scientific narrative:

Similar to how in freedom humans stumble and struggle as we grow and develop, the creation’s freedom in development is marked by its incompleteness.  Disease, earthquakes, pain, and death emerge in God’s good cosmos due to the relative freedom God gives an incomplete creation to become what it is called to be in the Son as finite, created, being (21).

In other words, creation was not finished at the beginning, but is an ongoing work.  Moreover, it is something creation is working out from itself, using the relative freedom given to it by God.

In the midst of this ongoing creation over billions of years, disease, pain and death emerge:

Plants, animals, and insects all participate in their own becoming.  In this relative freedom that God graciously gives to the creation to participate in its own becoming, disease, earthquakes, pain, and death emerge in an incomplete creation (21).

This is a thematic thread through all of USTO.  Creation ministers to creation and so it participates in its own development.  Crucially, death is part of this process.  Life and death depend on one another in a sort of “ministerial dance,” troubling as that might be to us (340).  Because of its commitment to scientific “evidence” as revelation, they cannot escape the troubling notion that death is necessary for ongoing creation – including for the evolutionary development of human beings.

Behind all this is a quasi-deist understanding of how God relates to creation.  God created the raw material at the beginning, his child, and then let that child go and develop in relative freedom, on its own from out of its own resources – “creation ministering to creation.”  As already indicated, no direct biblical support is given for this notion.  An attempt is made to appeal to Psalm 104 as evidence of creation ministering to creation.  However, that Psalm speaks at length of what God is actively doing to uphold the creation he has already made – not a creation undergoing evolutionary development.  No, Scripture teaches that God, in his providence, is actively involved with every aspect of his creation.  The hairs of our head are all numbered, and even sparrows do not fall to the ground apart from our Father (Matt. 10:29-30).  He is directly in control.

Moreover, the idea of death becoming an intrinsic part of creation is reprehensible.  Death is an enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).  Death has a sting (1 Cor. 15:55).  Death came into the world through sin (Romans 5:12).  Death is not a good thing.  Of course, some will say that all these passages just referenced are speaking about human death.  But if you take an evolutionary perspective, it makes no difference.  Death is then part of human evolutionary history and there is nothing disagreeable about that.  However, if death is (or has become) an intrinsic part of creation, then why not have it remain so?  Revelation 21:4 says “death will be no more.”  According to the Bible, death is not normal, not normal for humans, and not normal for the other creatures either.

Deep Time and the Future of Evolution

USTO says the scientific evidence points towards the existence of deep time – in other words, “the best contemporary value for the age of our universe is almost 13.8 billion years old” (158).  Furthermore, the evidence supposedly says that the origins of human beings (Homo sapiens) are out there in deep time as well.  The fossil evidence indicates that humans originated in Africa by 200,000 years ago, but with an evolutionary history going back millions of years and potentially involving Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo antecessor and others (594).  Ultimately, evolutionary theory argues that, because of their evolutionary history, “humans appear to share the most common ancestor with chimpanzees/bonobos, and next-most recent with gorillas…” (586).  So, according to the scientific evidence USTO presents as credible, human beings have a deep-time evolutionary history.

The theological implications of this are not insignificant.  If deep time exists, we must allow for the possibility that it exists into the future.  In other words, we have to allow for the possibility that this present creation could continue for millions or even billions of years.  When it comes to human beings, if human beings have a deep-time evolutionary history, we have to allow for the possibility that they have a deep-time evolutionary future.  In other words, if the evidence presented by USTO is correct, we must allow for the possibility that Homo sapiens will evolve further into other species.  Perhaps just as with Homo erectus and the common primate ancestors, Homo sapiens will not exist as the species we know them today two million years from now.  Human beings will have evolved into some other species.

For the non-Christian scientist who does not believe in the Bible in any way, this is not a problem.  An unbeliever can easily rest with the idea that humanity is not done evolving.  But, for a Bible-believing Christian, there is a major theological obstacle to continuing human evolution over deep time:  the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  The incarnation is foundational to biblical, Christian faith.  The same nature which has sinned is required to pay for sin.  Human beings have sinned and therefore the Son of God had to take on a human nature in order to pay for sin.  Fast forward two million years from now and there are still sinful creatures, but they are no longer human beings, having evolved from their primitive ancestors.  Must the Son of God re-do his redemptive work for these new beings?  Hebrews 9:28 tells us his sacrifice was a once-off.  The next time he appears it will not be to bear the curse of sinners.

Theologically, there is a knotty problem with USTO here.  The only way out would be to argue that human beings will not have a deep-time evolutionary future — that Christ will return before the human race has the opportunity to evolve further.  But how do we know that?  The Bible certainly does not say that.  The Bible says no one knows when the time of Christ’s return will be except God (Matt. 24:36).  From my perspective, it could be two million years from now and I have no problem with that because I do not believe the human race will evolve into other species.

USTO ends up in these theological quagmires because it does not take God’s Word seriously.  For example, they completely ignore Luke 3:38 which affirms Adam as “the son of God.”  Adam did not have any biological ancestry.  He came directly from God.  Similarly, USTO ignores Mark 10:6, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”  Male and female human beings were made by God at the beginning of creation – not several billion years into a fabled deep-time history.

Click here to continue to Part 4…

 

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 2)

See here for Part 1.

Scriptural Perspicuity

According to USTO, understanding the Bible on origins requires an understanding of the broader Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) thought-context.  This method has been championed at length by one of the contributors, John Walton, in his other writings.  This method is related to his view of the authority in the Bible.  In USTO, Walton and his colleagues write that, in the Bible, God has vested authority in the human authors.  Consequently, “the message of the author carries the authority of God.”  But also:  “our only access to the message is through the human author” (10).

But where does the Bible teach this about itself?  Shouldn’t the Bible be our starting point for how we read and understand the Bible?  This misstep has massive implications.  The opening chapters of Genesis are treated as if they are any other ANE text.  They are treated as human writings bearing a divine message, rather than as writings inspired by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the rest of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21).  As a consequence, instead of going to the rest of Scripture for illumination on points requiring explanation, USTO goes to the ANE context.

This approach compromises on what we call the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture.  Scripture is a lamp for our feet – it sheds light (Ps. 119:105,130).  The meaning of Scripture is accessible, even to those without a background in ANE studies or the Hebrew language.  In referring to the Pentateuch, the apostle Paul wrote that the stories of Israel’s failings in the wilderness “were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).  Those Spirit-inspired words were written to the Corinthian Christians, some of whom may have been Jews, but many of whom were not.  Paul expected that the Word would be clear and he understood that the book of Exodus, though written hundreds of years before, was intended by God to speak clearly also to the Corinthian Christians.

If we heed USTO, Christians today need background in ANE studies before they can properly understand the message of Genesis 1.  In fact, with this approach, the church has been in the dark for centuries until these ANE studies were conducted and brought to light what had previously been dark.  To the contrary, there is a simple and clear message in Genesis 1 and we should not allow academics to propose darkness where God has given light.  Yes, there are difficult passages in Scripture and the doctrine of perspicuity does not deny that given what Scripture itself says in 2 Peter 3:16.  However, historically, Genesis 1 was not regarded as a difficult passage.  Taken in the context of the entire Bible (letting Scripture interpret Scripture), what it is saying is so clear that a child can understand it.  It only became a difficult passage because of the challenges posed by unbelieving scientists.

Creation Without Compromise has previously featured work done by the late Dr. Noel Weeks on John Walton’s views of biblical background:

The Ambiguity of Biblical “Background” (Noel Weeks)

Critique of John Walton (Noel Weeks)

The work of Dr. Weeks goes into much more detail and I commend it to you for your further study.

USTO’s Interpretation of Genesis

This brings us into a more detailed consideration of the arguments for how to understand the Genesis account of origins.  USTO argues that Genesis 1 is speaking in terms of a functional ontology.  In the ANE thought-context, things comes into existence by reason of their function.  Genesis 1 is therefore not describing the creation of material, but the taking of that material and ordering it and putting it into use (102).

We should note the false dilemma presented between material and functional.  Genesis could be working with both categories.  In fact, if we maintain the approach of letting Scripture interpret Scripture, this might well be our conclusion.  Recognizing the functionality of what is described in Genesis 1 does not rule out its material nature or its historicity as an account of what really happened in those six days.  Interestingly, this “both…and” approach is what we find in article 12 of the Belgic Confession.  God created heaven and earth and all creatures out of nothing (non-material to material), and he also gave every creature not only its “being, shape, and form,” but also to each “its specific task and function to serve its Creator.”

Related to the foregoing false dilemma, USTO overstates its case in regard to the Hebrew verb bara’.  They argue that the verb is always used in Scripture to refer to things not material in nature:  “The verb bara’ does not intrinsically refer to materiality….” (106).  However, readers should know this is a disputed claim.  This comes from one of the leading Old Testament dictionaries:

Though br’ does not appear with mention of material out of which something is created, it is regularly collocated with verbs that do (e.g. Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7,19; Isa. 45:18; Amos 4:13).  More significantly, br’ is used of entities that come out of pre-existing material: e.g. a new generation of animals or humans, or a ‘pure heart.’ (Ps. 104:29-30; 102:18[19]; 51:10[12]; cf. 1 Cor. 4:6.).  (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 1.731).

In fact, NIDOTTE states that John Walton’s view (which is what we encounter in USTO) is “somewhat misleading.”

Click here to continue to part 3.

Why I am a six-day evolutionist

blind-fish

We all know that fish is a good source of protein, but did you know that some are a good source of information? It’s true – I know that evolution is true and it’s all because a little fish told me.

The Astyanax mexicanus is a cave-dwelling fish. The river-dwelling version of this species can see with the best of them, but this, the cave-dwelling cousin, has adapted to its lightless surroundings by losing its eyes. As a result, the two versions of this fish look quite distinct. However, they can still be interbred which shows that they are the same species.

The evolution of the blind fish

The history of this fish is easy to imagine. At one point some sighted fish made their way into dark caves where they were subsequently trapped. These caves had no light so their eyes served no useful purpose to them. Not only were their eyes useless, having eyes in this environment might actually have been harmful in one critical way: eyes are softer than the rest of a fish, so as these fish bumped around in the dark their eyes were susceptible to gouging and cuts from the rocky protrusions on the cavern walls.

So imagine that a fish without eyes is born into this environment. In the outside world, this would be a disadvantage. But here, in the darkness, no eyes simply means it has no soft flesh to get gouged. This eyeless fish is, therefore, hardier and fitter than its sighted siblings. That makes it more likely that this blind fish will reproduce and pass on its blindness to the next generation.

Over a number of generations this blind fish and its offspring must have competed with the sighted fish until only the blind fish – the fitter fish – remained.

This is a clear example of survival of the fittest, of evolution in action, and it is quite convincing. It is why I am an evolutionist.

Evolution’s two meanings

But while I may be an evolutionist, I don’t deny that God created the world in six literal days, because, after all, that’s what the Bible tells us. I’m an evolutionist, but I’m also a creationist. I was rather shocked when I first came to this realization. I had been raised a creationist and for a very long time I thought that meant I had to reject evolution in any and all forms.

But it turns out that the word “evolution” can mean a number of different things, and some of those meanings do not conflict with the biblical account. There are two very common meanings to the word:

  • Evolution is often used to describe the small changes that animal species may undergo over time. Perhaps a species of bird might, on average, start having larger beaks – scientists would readily call this evolution. This particular use of the word is sometimes referred to as microevolution. Animal species are adaptable (just think of how dogs have adapted in a variety of ways to meet different needs) so this use of the word isn’t particularly controversial.
  • A second use of the word is where the battle actually commences. “Evolution” can be used as a descriptor for the theory that says man evolved from a single cell, which in turn emerged from the primordial soup eons ago. This molecule-to-man hypothesis is sometimes called macroevolution and it directly conflicts with the six-day creation account given in Genesis 1 and 2.

Equivocation

The reason this all matters is because evolutionists often use examples of microevolution to try to prove macroevolution, their molecules-to-man hypothesis. And similarly sometimes amateur creationists waste their time (and their credibility) arguing against microevolution because they think they have to be against all things evolutionary.

The Astyanax mexicanus fish is a good example in both cases. Since this fish seems to have adapted to its dark cave environments by losing its eyes, evolutionists think it is compelling proof of their molecules-to-man theory. It is so compelling that this blind fish might bother some creationists.

But creationists need not worry – the blind fish’s beneficial mutation doesn’t contradict creationism. We live in a fallen world, and that means children and offspring are sometimes born with handicaps via mutations. An eyeless fish is just another normal outcome of this fallen state. Most often these mutations will be harmful but in some rare circumstances, like the Astyanax mexicanus fish, the mutation may actually be beneficial. But it is important to note here that the loss of eyes is an example of devolution, rather than evolution. This fish has lost an ability it once had – the part of its genetic code responsible for making eyes has been short-circuited. The molecules-to-man theory of evolution says that complex life arose from simpler life, but this blind fish is an example of a complex animal becoming simpler and less developed.

If this fish is evidence of anything, it is that we live in a broken world (Rom. 8:22).

Conclusion

In any debate it is vital to first define the terms. This is particularly important in the creation/evolution debate since it is by confusing the terms that evolutionists make their most compelling case. They can’t point to macroevolution in action so instead they use examples of microevolution. Then they act as if there is no difference between the two, calling both the same thing – evolution.

Therefore creationists have to be careful that when they argue against evolution they haven’t made the mistake of arguing against microevolution. Arguing against microevolution is a losing proposition since we see animals undergoing small changes all around us. Evolution in this sense is an indisputable fact.

But evolution on a larger scale – the whole molecules-to-man hypothesis – flies in the face of what God tells us in the Bible, and also what He shows us via the degeneration and decay we see going on in the world around us. So I am, and will remain, a six-day evolutionist.

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 1)

Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins: Cosmology, Geology, and Biology in Christian Perspective, Robert C. Bishop, Larry L. Funck, Raymond J. Lewis, Stephen O. Mosher, John H. Walton.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.  Hardcover, 659 pages.

This massive volume attempts to make a theological and scientific case for theistic evolution.  It might be appropriate to describe it as the theistic evolution “Bible.”  All the authors are Wheaton College faculty and the material in the book is drawn from a Wheaton general-education science course, SCI 311 Theories of Origins.  Of the five authors, only one (John Walton) is a theologian; the others are scientists.

I am not a scientist and therefore not really qualified to interact meaningfully with many of the scientific claims made in Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (USTO).  I am going to limit myself to evaluating and interacting with the biblical and theological claims.  While reading, I did occasionally research certain claims made by the authors – for example, that Intelligent Design (ID) is not a scientific theory, but a philosophical view of reality (625).  ID advocates have a different view worth considering.  Similarly, USTO makes numerous historical claims.  While I am better qualified to evaluate those, I’ll leave those claims to the side in my review as well.  Let me just say that the claims made are not always supported by the evidence.

My focus will be on the biblical and theological side of things.  There’s plenty here with which to be concerned.  I am going to argue that not only is USTO a repudiation of the Reformation view of Scripture, and not only is it a perversion of what Scripture teaches about creation, but it also has other serious theological problems.  Some of these problems approach the edges of heresy.

Sola Scriptura

From the beginning, USTO affirms the authority of the Bible:  “We believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God for faith and practice as believers” (1).  The medieval Catholic Church prior to the Reformation taught the same thing.  However, the Reformation was a return to what the Bible says about itself – namely that the Bible alone is to be our authority for what we believe and how we live.  The word “alone” is crucial.  That word is missing not merely from USTO’s opening affirmation, but also in the theologizing that follows.

USTO frequently disparages what the authors term a “Bible-first” approach to the relationship between science and Scripture.   They describe this approach thus:  “In a Bible-first approach, Scripture is privileged over scientific inquiry, so scientific views must be derived from biblical texts to be relevant” (86).  No references are supplied to back up this assertion – one which sounds like a straw man.  Instead of this approach, USTO posits a “partial-views model.”  Science and theology “can learn about and from each other, contributing to each other’s growth” (91).  Different insights come from each of these disciplines and they complement one another.  While USTO claims that “biblical claims will receive priority” (13), in reality, the Bible and science are equal partners in the pursuit of truth regarding cosmological, geological, and biological origins.

Confessional Reformed theology has always acknowledged the special revelation of God in Scripture and the general revelation of God in nature.  However, this is carefully qualified in three important ways.  First, the scope/content of general revelation is narrowly limited to God’s eternal power and divine nature.  Second, the proper interpretation of general revelation requires special revelation.  John Calvin famously wrote of Scripture as the spectacles through which we come to see the true God revealed in nature (Institutes 1.6.1).  Third, special revelation in Scripture not only reveals God’s person, but also his mighty deeds of creation, redemption, and renewal.  In short, confessional Reformed theology privileges special revelation.  Not only that, but we also believe that the Bible is sufficient for teaching us all we need to know about God’s person and deeds.

USTO speaks about special revelation and general revelation as well.  However, it differs from Reformed theology.   First, the scope/content of general revelation is vast.  Second, each form of revelation requires the other for proper interpretation – and especially the Bible needs general revelation in order to be understood properly.  Third, general revelation reveals a myriad of truths besides God’s eternal power and divine nature.  USTO speaks of “creation revelation” as a subcategory of general revelation:  “This is specific detailed knowledge about the creation through nature” (64).  In fact, according to USTO, scientific inquiry is a distinctive form of revelation:  “…creation revelation is the knowledge discovered by scientists” (65).  This knowledge is needed to complement that found in Scripture.  Scripture is not sufficient.  How is this knowledge attained from creation revelation?  Just like we need the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible, scientists need the Holy Spirit to understand the creation revelation.  The Holy Spirit “enables scientists to recognize and grasp knowledge about creation by coming under a form of provisional authority when conforming their thinking to nature” (67).  In USTO, scientific conclusions parallel Scripture and have the same authority.

It’s important to note that in both cases it’s a provisional authority.  When it comes to each form of revelation, there is rarely a “singularly correct, complete interpretation” (69).  The Bible holds authority, but Christian interpretations of the Bible don’t (66).  Similarly, when it comes nature, creation revelation is authoritative, but scientific interpretations aren’t.  They can be mistaken.  Therefore, USTO says, they only hold a provisional authority.

There are several problems tangled together here.  But let’s just take the issue of authority.  Is it true that Christian interpretations of the Bible have no authority?  Reformed theology has made a helpful distinction between magisterial and ministerial authority.  The Bible has magisterial authority – it is our master, our teacher.  As we’ll see shortly, the Bible is clear on its essential teachings.  Ministerial authority relates to the church.  The church makes creeds and confessions which serve by summarizing the teaching of Scripture.  So long as they’re faithful to the Bible, these creeds and confessions have an authoritative place amongst the churches holding them.  For Reformed churches, we regard the Three Forms of Unity as a faithful expression of biblical doctrine, and so they do carry authority among us.  To say that Christian interpretations of the Bible are not authoritative is, at best, imprecise.

See here for Part 2.