Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Two Books of DIvine Revelation and the YEC Denial of Reality

The Facebook page Science and Scripture is currently running a series of articles on the long-established "Two Books" view of divine revelation in response to a poorly-researched and tendentious attack on this well-established principle by two conservative Christadelphian opponents of evolution. This series is well-written, impeccably researched, and by showing that the 'two books' approach was maintained explicitly and implicitly by Christadelphians as early as John Thomas, neatly refutes the attempt to link the 'two books' view to evolutionary creationism given that the early Christadelphians were not evolutionary creationists.

Given the comprehensive nature of the Science and Scripture series, and the fact that this website has on many occasions touched on this subject, there is no point in repeating these points again. However, a few observations on the tendentious nature of such attacks on the 'two books' approach, and the misrepresentation of the views of those in our community who accept the 'two books' approach are very much indicated.

It is unfortunate that the authors of the article that Science and Scripture addresses begin by poisoning the well with a gratuitous reference to "theistic evolution." 
A foundation belief of those subscribing to Theistic Evolution is that God is the Author of not one but two books. There is the “book of Scripture” - God’s written Word - but there is also the “book of nature”. The “book of nature”, it is said, is equally as authoritative as the the “book of Scripture”.
That the authors do this suggests their aim is not to engage the "two books" subject per se, but write yet another fundamentalist polemic against evolution. The fact authors such as John Thomas and Roberts explicitly and implicitly invoked the "two books" approach does not automatically make it correct, but it shows that it is not inextricably linked with theistic evolution, and more to the point shows it is a view with impeccable Christadelphian ancestry reaching back to John Thomas:
The Advocate: For the Testimony of God as it is Written in the Books of Nature and Revelation CONDUCTED BY JOHN THOMAS, M.D. The invisible attributes of God, even his eternal power and divinity, since the creation of the world, are very evident; being known by his works.—PAUL. All scripture given by divine inspiration, is profitable for doctrine, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect—completely fitted for every good work.—PAUL." [1]
As the Science and Scripture article showed in considerable detail, authors such as Robert Roberts, C.C. Walker, and L.G. Sargent among others (these three of course being editors of the flagship magazine The Christadelphian) had no doubt that God had written two complementary books of divine revelation. To seek to deny the reality of two books, or to link it with evolution shows  a worrying lack of familiarity with the history of our community's approach to the relationship between science and Bible.

One strategy that opponents of the 'two books' approach in our community use is to assert that 'two books' advocates seek to make the book of nature 'equally as authoritative' as the Bible. This argument is false. Those like myself who recognise that God as written two books of revelation also point out that they are complementary. We do not seek to divine a systematic theology from the natural world, but conversely we also point out that the Bible is not a science textbook. The example of Galileo should serve as the necessary reminder to avoid ignoring what the natural world says about itself and elevating human interpretation over that witness.

While the two books are complementary, there are times when the book of nature can be used to falsify incorrect readings of the Bible. One example of this comes from Robert Robert's book Christendom Astray which uses medical anecdotes to show why the doctrine of the immortal soul was untenable. His second lecture "Human Nature Essentially Mortal, as Proved by 'Nature' and Revelation" makes clear both his acceptance of the two books concept and his recognition that false readings of the Bible could be shown to be in error by the book of nature, something he pointed out by citing a number of medical anecdotes, then observing:

These cases are not in accordance with the popular theory of the mind. Here is suspension of mental action on the derangement of the material organisation. Obviously, the mind is not the attribute of a principle existing independently of that organisation. The facts show that thinking is dependent upon the action of the brain, and cannot, therefore, be the action of an immaterial principle, which could never be affected by any material condition. (Emphasis in the original)
The fact that Roberts fiercely opposed evolution (though recognised the evidence for an ancient Earth was beyond dispute) shows that any attempt to link the 'two books' approach with evolution fails to recognise that the two-books view predates evolutionary biology, and at heart is a recognition of the fact that as God is the creator of the universe, a detailed examination of it will reveal truth. As bro Welch noted:
“It is both amusing and painful to behold the contortions of the so-called “clergy” over the discoveries of geological and paleontological research in the crust repositories of old mother earth. They seem to have a pious dread of science contradicting the Bible; and, finally, believing that it has, they are busy heaping their maledictions upon science, or else twisting the Bible-teaching into a supposed harmony with science, in either event very much hampering the geologist in his search after Nature’s truth’s. Their pious dread, however, comes from their needless gross ignorance of the Bible. Old mother earth will reveal no secrets that will hurt the Bible, for the same God is the author of both, and He is no liar, if the “clergy” are, in their intemperate pious zeal in behalf of the Bible as against science. [1] (Emphasis mine)
When those secrets 'appear' to hurt the Bible, it is a reminder that our reading of the Bible is in error, and needs to be revised, and that includes readings of Genesis. No less a figure than C. C. Walker recognised this, when after observing that the fossil record contained evidence of extinct birds morphologically distinct from extant birdlife:
There are forms becoming extinct in our own day from slow and natural causes. May it not have been so in pre-Adamic times? The professors tell us for instance that some of these ancient birds, whose strides we can see for ourselves from their footprints were from four to six feet long, were like gigantic ostriches. Supposing that it were ever established that they were the actual progenitors of our smaller forms (“There were giants in the earth in those days” might apply to to birds and beasts), would the credibility of the Mosaic narrative suffer? Not at all, in our estimation. We should indeed have to revise somewhat our interpretation of the brief cosmogony of Gen. 1.; but should not waver as concerning its divinity, nor await with less faith and patience the reappearance of Moses in the land of the living. [2] (Emphasis mine)
The last 100 years have confirmed beyond all doubt that large-scale evolutionary change and common descent are facts, and no amount of attempts to wave away these facts by appeal to consequence will change that. One of the lessons that the two books teach us is that the natural world can highlight false readings of the Bible, and as bro. Walker noted, should this indeed be the case, we are honour-bound to revise our understanding of the Bible, lest we repeat the tragedy of Galileo and his opponents, and in so doing bring our faith into disrepute.


1. Welch "Knowledge No. 12 - Geology" The Christadelphian (1891) 28:244
2. Walker "Genesis" The Christadelphian (19101) 47:501