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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31

Why Scripture Does not Teach Science

Why Scripture Does not Teach Science.

It will occur to some to ask why, supposing the account of Creation given in Genesis to be adapted to an infantile condition of the human intellect, Scripture does not provide for more advanced ages an accurate and scientific account. Why did not later writers correct and amplify? I give the answer to these questions in an extract from one of De Quincey's Essays. It is a passage which will repay attentive examination:—

"It is no business of the Bible, we are told, to teach science. Certainly not; but that is far too little. It is an obligation resting upon the Bible, if it is to be consistent with itself, that it should refuse to teach science; and, if the Bible ever had taught any one art, science, or process of life, capital doubts would have clouded our confidence in the authority of the Book. By what caprice, it would have been asked, is a divine mission abandoned suddenly for a human mission? By what caprice is this one science taught, and others not? Or these two, suppose, and not all?

"But an objection even deadlier would have followed. It is as clear as is the purpose of daylight, that the whole body of the arts and sciences composes one vast machinery for the irritation and development of the human intellect. For this end they exist. To see God, therefore, descending into the arena of science, and contending as it were for his own prizes by teaching science in the Bible, would be to see Him intercepting from their self-evident destination (viz, mart's intellectual benefit), his own problems by solving them himself. No spectacle could more dishonour the Divine idea—could more injure man under the mask of aiding him. * * In whatever case God has qualified man to do a thing for himself, He has in that very qualification silently laic' an injunction upon man to do it.

"But it is fancied that a Divine teacher, without descending to the unworthy office of teaching science, might yet have kept His own language free from all collusion with human error. Hence it has been argued that any language in the Bible implying the earth to be stationary, and central to our system, could not express a mere compliance with the popular errors of the time, but must be taken to indicate the absolute truth. But if a man sets himself steadily to contemplate the consequences which must inevitably have fol- page 15 lowed any deviation from the customary erroneous phraseology of the people, he will see the utter impossibility that a teacher (pleading a heavenly mission) could allow himself to deviate by one hair's breadth from the ordinary language of the times. To have uttered one syllable, for instance, that implied motion in the earth, would have issued into the following ruins:—First, it would have tainted the teacher with the reputation of lunacy; secondly, it would have placed him in this inextricable dilemma: On the one hand, to answer the questions prompted by his own perplexing language would have opened upon him, as a necessity, one stage after another of scientific cross-examination, until his spiritual mission would have been forcibly swallowed up in the mission of natural philosopher; but, on the other hand, to pause resolutely at any one stage of this public examination, and to refuse all further advance would be, in the popular opinion, to retreat as a baffled disputant from insane paradoxes which it had not been found possible to support. One step taken in that direction was fatal, whether the great heavenly envoy retreated from his own words to leave behind him the impression that he was defeated as a rash speculator, or stood to those words, and thus fatally entangled himself in the inexhaustible succession of explanations and justifications. In either event the spiritual mission was at an end; it would have perished in shouts of derision, from which there could have been no retreat, and no retrieval of character. The greatest of astronomers, rather than seem ostentatious or unseasonably learned, will stoop to the popular phrase of the sun's rising, or the sun's motion in the ecliptic. But God, for a purpose commensurate with man's eternal welfare, is by these critics supposed incapable of the same petty abstinence."—De Quincey's "Essay on Protestantism."