There exists a tenuous relationship between theology and science. We know the divergence between the various views on origins. It’s a battle between science and faith, but that’s on the surface. Behind the scenes it’s the struggle between theology and naturalism as dominant paragidms. Science, it appears, has this desire to dominate society and its institutions. Well, not science per se. No, this is the goal of the naturalist scientist.
There is first the matter of scientific method. But even this comes in several forms, a point that requires some clarification. We all recall our early education in the empirical methods of laboratory experimentation. Mix two chemicals and get the predictable reaction. Life was simple then.
Newer scientific methods go further and delve into theoretical model structures. These models are not so much designed around the management of a test but on the interpretation of the data. They sometimes predict future events (weather forecasting models) and sometimes analyze the past (data mining structures and explanatory models). These get a little closer to where this discussion is headed, but again a little different direction is called for.
One of the characteristics of models is that they must exist apart from their data. They are not drawn from the data, for that is not possible. Any model is founded on a set of assumptions regarding the character of the data. These assumptions sometimes prove themselves correct or incorrect, with varying degrees of accuracy, thus allowing for assessment and falsification.
Returning to the weather forecasting model we can observe falsification on a daily basis. Improvements in these models are progressing quite rapidly and accuracy has leaped magnitudes over the past several decades. Still one need only wait a relatively few minutes to observe inaccuracy. The assumptions that inform the model are becoming more precise, which in turn forces the collection of additional data to fill the model thus allowing for more precision in predicting future weather patterns.
The assumptions of the forecaster set the accuracy of the model. For instance one might say that the primary assumption is the exclusive use of climatological data. It seems reasonable that to predict weather patterns one should collect weather data and employ that data for creating a forecast. But the model fails to account for external data.
Though infrequent the impact of things such as volcanic eruptions or meteoric or cosmic interference seem to not be general parts of the predictive data set. These are external exceptions. Whey they interfere there is a willingness to account for the change, but again it is not part of the model. In this sense the model falls short of being fully systematized. It is not capable of fully integrating all available data.
In this sense it is falsified not in its outcomes but in its structure. The hermeneutic of weather forecasting, the principles used to interpret climatological data, contains this flaw. It treats data outside the model through an exception-handling approach.
Hermeneutics (grammatical, that is) is plagued with a similar problem. The discussion of hermeneutics is not limited to one of method apart from assumption (systematics). As Vern Poythress points out in Understanding Dispensationalists, the level of disagreement between dispensational theologians and the other theological alternatives is a serious one. The question is not first how a particular passage should be interpreted but first what rules should be in place for interpreting any passage. It is a question of how and when, if at all, specific methods ought to be employed.
Do these methods of interpretation proceed from the data (from the words of the Bible)? Of course not. The methods come from a set of assumptions. These assumptions proceed from a systematic which sets the course for interpretation.
In the course of his argument, Dr. Poythress points out that dispensationalism is burdened with unnecessary and excessive dualities. Or more clearly, some lines seem to be drawn too finely, some distinctions too precisely. This leads to some seemingly erroneous conclusions and weak exegesis on certain passages.
The dispensationalist might respond with an alternative challenge. There are two passages in Romans (9:1-5 and 11:28-29) which provide adequate clarification of at least some level of eschatological significance to the Hebrew people. That is, unless one allows what is termed “spiritualization” to enter the discussion as an accepted hermeneutical method.
Barring that proviso, one thing seems clear and that is one’s hermeneutic must include more than just method. It must include the set of assumptions employed in arriving at one’s hermeneutical ends. This contextualization is the difference; the conclusions seem only symptoms of contextual error.
This principle of science applies equally to hermeneutics. It adds a constraint which forces interpreters to do their work with additional clarity and precision.