“At Newsweek‘s invitation” last week, well-known pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, debated “new atheist“ Sam Harris. For the most part, the debate is what one might expect; neither “side” seems to budge in its own position, instead merely reciting the common arguments surrounding the debate over religion and theism. Ultimately, entire books could be written solely in annotation of the debate; we want to focus simply on one comment. As the two discussed biblical inerrancy, Warren recited a familiar claim:
"There is so much about us that is not in the Bible."
I believe [the Bible is] inerrant in what it claims to be. The Bible does not claim to be a scientific book in many areas.
This was in indirect response to Harris, who earlier stated:
There is so much about us that is not in the Bible. Every specific science from cosmology to psychology to economics has surpassed and superseded what the Bible tells us is true about our world.
Let’s take a look at Warren’s claim. First, his statement that the Bible is “inerrant in what it claims to be.” This sounds, in a way, as if Warren is suggesting the Bible is inerrant only in select passages (specifically, only in passages where it claims its own inerrancy). Of course, the Bible claims it is inerrant (“God-breathed”) in its entirety (see 2 Timothy 3:16).
So what does Pastor Warren mean? His next sentence provides additional clarification: “The Bible does not claim to be a scientific book in many areas.” Thus, it seems Warren is arguing that the Bible is not inerrant in the “many [scientific] areas” in which it does not claim inerrancy. But what areas are these? As cited above, the Bible claims it is inerrant throughout; there are no digressions in, for example, Genesis, that claim otherwise; there is no Genesis 2:0 that reads, “Now, this whole chapter is just speculation”! If Warren means that the Bible’s declarations on certain scientific matters are possibly errant, then how does he determine which are in possible error and which aren’t?
That said, we think Warren, who has had some cordial contact with AiG in the past, could be taken a different way. Warren, shortly thereafter in the interview, claimed that he believes Genesis “is literal,” we believe Warren’s thoughts on inerrancy may be more accurately explained as follows: He believes the Bible is entirely inerrant; however, the Bible does not exhaustively explain science.
The Bible doesn’t give us all the details of creation, but that doesn’t mean the account of creation contains any error.
In other words, the Bible is always accurate in the science it describes, but it cannot be expected to contain a complete account of the workings of the universe. The Bible doesn’t give us all the details of creation, but that doesn’t mean the account of creation contains any error. This is why, in many areas, science has surpassed what the Bible reveals; our knowledge of, for instance, chemistry is more detailed than the chemistry in the Bible, as an example. However, unlike Harris’s claim, knowledge cannot supersede-that is, replace or overturn-the Bible’s revelation.
We hope this is the point Warren was trying to make, albeit somewhat confusingly as it appeared in Newsweek! It makes a big difference-especially in the context of the creation/evolution debate-whether one considers the Bible to be inerrant in “everything except science” or whether one accepts it as true in “everything it touches on.”
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