(This is the third and final part of this series. Part 1 dealt with why biblical inspiration doesn’t necessarily mean biblical inerrancy, and part 2 dealt with why the Bible itself conflicts with biblical inerrancy. If you haven’t yet read those two posts, I suggest checking them out. Enjoy!)
Now, the whole affair was much more complicated than all that (for a more detailed account, click here), and there was certainly plenty of blame to go around for how things spiraled out of control, even for Galileo. But what is interesting for our discussion is the way that the church used Scripture to try to defend geocentricism. Church officials pointed to passages that said, “the world is firmly established, it will not be moved” (1 Chron 16:30; Ps 93:1; 96:10; cf. 104:5), to argue against the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. They pointed to Ecclesiastes 1:5, which says, “the sun rises and the sun sets,” to argue that it is really the sun that is moving, not the earth.
Furthermore, they pointed to Joshua 10:13, which states that “the sun stood still, and the moon stopped.” This, they argued, showed that it is the sun and moon that revolve around the earth, since it was these (not the earth) that God caused to stop. All Christians today know better than to use this line of reasoning when it comes to how the solar system works. The funny thing is that this is the exact same line of logic that theInerrantist View still uses to this day. In all honesty, the church in Galileo’s day wasn’t wrong in believing that the biblical authors had a geocentric cosmology. Where they failed was in trying to force an ancient Hebrew cosmology onto scientific discoveries.
But because of this and other events that surrounded the church at that time, Christianity lost a lot of ground as a source of truth and authority. Perhaps the church, both in the 16th century and today, would be wise to heed the advice of early Christian authors such as Saint Augustine who taught that Scripture should not be used to settle scientific disputes. Where the Bible and science meet, we should simply consider it a happy coincidence and praise God. And where the Bible and science conflict, we should then praise God for new discoveries.
Another reason that this whole issue matters is because the Inerrantist View has a nasty tendency to lead to bibliolatry, using the Bible as an idol. In many cases it is taught, whether openly or subtly, that belief in biblical inerrancy is essential to being a Christian. Inerrantists often look down upon infallibilists as having an incomplete faith. The focus of our faith is covertly shifted from Jesus Christ toward the accuracy of Scripture. The first step toward salvation is then no longer faith in Christ, but belief in inerrancy and young-earth creationism.
Which leads to the final reason that this issue is important – because biblical inerrancy has become a major stumbling block to those who might otherwise accept Christ. It didn’t end in the 16th century; many people today operate under the false belief that in order for them to accept the teachings of Jesus they must also believe in biblical inerrancy and all the particular views that flow from it. Evangelical fundamentalism, which seeks to combat the belief in evolution and an old earth, has done much to alienate our scientifically minded culture by proclaiming the Inerrantist View as a prerequisite for a relationship with Jesus. Personally, I find this both heartbreaking and frustrating. And not only is strict biblical inerrancy a stumbling block for potential converts, but it places an unnecessary burden on believers as well. You see, when I was an inerrantist I quickly realized that if there was one piece of scientific evidence that contradicted Scripture, then the entire Bible became suspect – my whole house of cards would come crashing down. I am sad to say that I wasted a good deal of time tracking down any possible answer or explanation to each and every scientific difficulty I came across. As an infallibilist, I have now found freedom in allowing Scripture to teach me what it was intended to, and allowing science to do the same.