Science vs History
“I am a man of science”
Have you heard this before? This is the response I’ve heard many times as a retort to someone’s belief in Scripture. They scoff at the idea of believing what a book says, instead looking to “science” to explain the world around them. The Bible specifically is a book made by men in order to enslave the minds of others and gain control over them. They reject the ideas of Scripture because they are “men of science”.
The problem with this answer is that history cannot be known by scientific means. The scientific method, for example, cannot work on a historical document. This method relies on observations and experiment to verify and explain what is happening in the world around us. Do you see the problem?
History cannot be observed! It is impossible to use the scientific method on history because there is nothing by which an experiment can be run or a theory can be verified. Observation is key to the scientific method. So, when someone references science as a reason to ignore historical documents, I wonder what their definition of “science” is. But more on that in a bit.
History, on the other hand, is determined in a different way. We find evidence of what has happened in the past, and we can theorize or verify events based on that evidence. There is no observation available here unless somebody invents a time machine. The more historical evidence that we have of a specific event, the more sure we can be that the event happened. Moreover, if all of that evidence agrees on the details of an event, the more accurate we can be of exactly what happened.
This is why trying to mix history and science is like comparing apples and oranges. Or maybe more like apples and cheese. Science is completely reliant on observation, and history cannot be observed.
To go a little further with this, what about the Scriptures? Can we know that our Scriptures are accurate?
Well, we need to set some ground rules. We know that the Bible is a book, but what we often overlook is that, at its core, the Bible is a collection of historical documents. The Old Testament is a collection of scrolls and books that document what happened at a period in time thousands of years ago, and the New Testament is a collection of letters written by specific people to specific people, about specific events.
These events constitute a context. For a historical document, this context is key to understanding what exactly was being talked about. If, for example, a document was found that detailed the events of a siege, and we read that “people were starving in the streets”, the context would be key to understand why the people were starving. If we instead took that sentence out of its historical context, it could have any number of meanings. Were they starving because of a plague, or because they were very poor? No, there is a specific meaning to a text based on the historical context and original intent of the document.
This is why it is so dangerous to take the Scriptures out of their original context. The majority of Christians read the Bible and automatically see them as relating to the present. Scripture verses not only lose their meaning, but even worse, can be made to say whatever the reader desires them to say.
For example, take John 3:16, the most well-known verse in all of Scripture. I’m sure most of us know it by heart. It is often used to spread a message of peace and acceptance, saying that God loves all people enough that he sent His son to die for everybody. However, the context gives us a much different meaning. Christ was discussing the idea of being born again with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, and was explaining the nature of His coming. The world has already been condemned, and the only ones who are not condemned are those who believe in Christ (verse 18). This certainly does not say that Christ came to save everyone. This is just one example, but it shows how taking a verse out of its context can completely change its meaning.
So what does this have to do with science? It shows us that there is a need for context and original intent to explain what a document means. There is nothing we can observe or experiment on that would give us meaning for a collection of historical documents like the Scriptures. So whenever I hear somebody say “I am a man of science” when discussing the Bible, it is very hard to take them seriously.