A friend of mine asked me a challenging question requiring some reconciliation between fossil findings and the creation story. Here is the preface to my response (btw, my preface was 5x longer than the actual response!).
1. Scientific authority vs. biblical authority: Both our reading of science and of the Bible require interpretation. Scientists and biblical scholars must both recognize this and therefore each field must be self-correcting; in other words, we should be willing to constantly hold up our intepretation of scientific data or biblical testimony to the critique of new ideas and evidence. Both science and biblical scholarship should be held to this standard. However, the popular view is that the Bible must answer to science, as if science is an authority greater than the Bible. Why shouldn’t science have to answer to the Bible? It is because we live in a culture of scientism, where we worship scientific knowledge higher than any other types of knowledge. Science is good for certain sorts of knowledge, but it falls short of any comprehensive of understanding of anything. That is simply not what science was meant to do, which leads me to my second point…
2. The purpose of science and of the Bible: Science is meant to give us an understanding of the tangible reality of this world (or from a Christian perspective, to science is supposed to help us understand the wonder of God’s physical creation to the glory of God). The purpose of 1 John and the rest of the Bible, in John’s own words, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life,” 1 Jn 5:13. So both science and the Bible should lead us to God, but only science is meant to lead us to a certain understanding of the physical reality. So to look to the Bible for scientific understanding would be missing the point of the Bible. This is not to say that the Bible cannot enhance our scientific understanding, but to require the Bible to give us something outside of its purpose would be contorting it into a position that is awkward and foreign to it authors and Author.
Side note: To say that science is supposed to give us an “objective” understanding of the world is an unfortunate characterization because of cognitive science. Cognitive science tells us that there is a difference between the stimuli that we receive from the material universe and our perception of that stimuli and our interpretation of it. So to say that science is “objective” (as if other disciplines were merely subjective), is overly simplistic and a misunderstanding, given our present understanding of science. Even science is subjective. As human beings, although we try, we are hardly capable of any objectivity.
3. The trouble with “inerrancy”: Most serious Christian scholars will openly tell you that the Bible we have today is not perfect (nor is our understanding of it perfect). The first imperfection is that it has to be translated into English. There are translation errors that happen, but more importantly, translation is never an ideal way of communicating. Translation requires interpretation (even literal translation require interpretation). There are linguistic and cultural translation issues that sometimes are difficult and/or impossible to overcome. And this is just for our English Bibles. More research has gone into translating Bibles into English than any other language. Imagine how it is for small villages of a minority dialect who only have one translation of the Bible! The second imperfection, is that we are not in possession of the original manuscripts. To our best knowledge, they no longer exist. The Bible even tells us that the original ten commandments were destroyed. And for good reason, the original manuscripts in and of themselves hold no value, but some people may be tempted to worship them. So many thousands of copies were made of the millenia and centuries. So there were errors in copying (i.e., grammatical, spelling, putting certain sentences in the wrong order, etc.) and also people have added to the Bible over the years (when we discover that, scholars usually try to at least note in your Bible that the portion of Scripture is questionable). So how do we know that we can trust the Bible that we have today?
4. Trusting God’s sovereignty and His Word: In looking at questionable passages in the Bible, one way of approaching it is asking this question: ‘Is there another way to vouch for this questionable passage?’ For example, if we have a questionable passage on Jesus’ resurrection and we put his resurrection to doubt, then we need to ask, “Are there other passages in the Bible that support the belief in Jesus’ resurrection?” The answer would be “yes”. There are plently. When we have a questionable passage on the roles of women, we thankfully have a multitude of passages to draw from to guard against discrepancies. The ultimate thing we need to be convinced about from the Bible is this: Do we believe that God is sovereign and desires for us to know and live the way of Truth? I think that there are a multitude of biblical passages that support this belief, from both the Old Testament and New Testament. So if we believe this, then it would follow that we can believe that, despite the fact that preserving God’s Word over millenia is risky business, God has done a good job of making sure that the Bible we have today is more than sufficient to help us know and live the way of Truth. So the question we should be asking is not, “Is the Bible inerrant?”, but rather, “Is it trustworthy?” And since the God who breathed it out and has protected it over thousands of years is trustworthy, we should be able to conclude that the Bible He gives us today is trustworthy and infallible in fulfilling it’s purposes.