Storehouse Theory: Teach the Controversy!

Storehouse Theory: Teach the Controversy! August 22, 2012

Scott McKnight writes at Patheos about a new book by two scientists at Calvin College here in Grand Rapids, Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Deborah and Loren Haarsma. McKnight quotes several Bible verses that clearly claim that God has “storehouses” of rain and snow and hail and decides when and where bad weather will occur:

The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. Deut 28:12

The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. Psalm 135:6-7

When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. Jer 10:13; 51:16

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? Job 38:22-23

And he quotes the Haarsma book:

What causes the rain? Most of us were taught that water evaporates from the ground level, rises to where the air is cooler, and condenses into water droplets that form clouds. We learned how cold fronts and warm fronts and low pressure systems bring rain. … Every year scientists develop increasingly accurate computer models of weather.

Now imagine that debates arise about what should be taught in schools about weather. Imagine that prominent scientists write popular books about meteorology that state, “From our scientific understanding of the causes of wind and rain, it is clear that no divine being controls the weather.” Imagine that a professional organization of science teachers writes a set of guidelines that state, “Students must learn that all weather phenomena follow from natural causes; weather is unguided and no divine action is involved.” Meanwhile, other people insist that these scientific explanations must be wrong because the Bible clearly teaches that God governs the weather. These people write books and give public speeches saying “Atheists invented their godless theories about evaporation and condensation. But we can prove that their so-called scientific theories are false and that the Bible is true.” They go to churches and teach, “If you believe what these scientists are saying about the causes of wind and rain, then you’ve abandoned belief in the Bible.” They petition school boards and courts to require that science classrooms also teach their “storehouses” theory of weather as an alternate explanation to evaporation and condensation.

And McKnight wonders, “Why don’t we have battles about the conflict between science and faith in the explanation of weather?” As a Christian and a PhD chemist himself, he attempts to argue that there is no conflict here:

Most Christians, including me, have no trouble acknowledging that both science and the Bible are telling the truth when it comes to weather. God is sovereign over the weather – but we see no fundamental conflict between the scientific and biblical explanations. In fact, I rather expect most of us automatically classify the storehouse references as figurative language and/or poetic license. But it is not at all clear that the ancient authors did. Nonetheless we see no fundamental conflict between meteorology and faith.

That second to last sentence is very important. No one could seriously argue that the men who wrote those chapters of the Bible didn’t think that there were literal storehouses; they did not intend for people to read those words as being figurative or poetic. And yet he argues that it’s okay for Christians today to interpret it to mean something figurative when it was originally written to be literal. But I think this should, in fact, make McKnight see a fundamental conflict.

So why doesn’t he? Because he is engaging in “god of the gaps” reasoning. Throughout human history, men ascribed supernatural causes to entirely natural events, initially because they just didn’t know any better. They had no explanation for terrible storms or earthquakes so they attributed them to an angry god; they likewise ascribed good crops or good weather to a god who was pleased with them. But now we know better. We know what causes earthquakes and we know what causes thunderstorms and hurricanes and all manner of natural catastrophes. We can predict them with increasing accuracy precisely because we understand their causes. McKnight knows this, of course, and he says as much.

So why still believe that “God is sovereign over the weather”? It adds nothing to our understanding. It is no more rational or defensible than believing that an invisible leprechaun controls the rain. Neither of those superfluous and non-existent beings posited to be in some ultimate control of the weather helps us in any way to understand how the world operates. It is simply meaningless.

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