The Bible’s Shortsighted View of the Universe

Bible universeSaul Steinberg’s “View of the World from 9th Avenue” (see photo to the left) mocks the outlook of the self-absorbed New Yorker. Manhattan is shown in sharp detail, but that detail fades with interest. Beyond the Hudson River is a featureless “Jersey” and a rectangle of land with a few scattered state labels. Beyond that, the Pacific Ocean and a couple of distant countries. That’s it. That’s enough.

The Myopia of Genesis 1

And that’s the view we get in Genesis.

God created the sky as a vault to separate the saltwater sea above from the earth below and the freshwater sea beneath (Gen. 1:6). This is from Sumerian cosmology, which preceded the Bible, and which the Judean priesthood could’ve picked up while in exile in Babylon (during the 500s BCE). We see this prescientific cosmology later during the flood story: “All the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened” (Gen. 7:11). Water comes from above and below because of the two hidden seas.

Over subsequent days, God’s creative focus narrows as he makes vegetation (Day 3), lights hung in the vault of the sky (Day 4), sea creatures (Day 5), land animals, and then Man (Day 6).

“He also made the stars”—it takes half of one verse. That’s all the Bible says about the 99.9999999999999999999999999% of the universe that’s not the earth.* It’s just a blue watery dome over Mesopotamia holding little stars hung by strings to guide us at night.

“View of the World from the Bible”

The biblical version of this myopic view of the world would show the newly rebuilt Temple in sharp detail, as well as Jerusalem. Looking east, we’d see the Jordan River valley and the Dead Sea, and beyond that, Moab and Ammon, the desert, and then Persia. Out at the horizon beyond Persia, we’d see the edge of the water dome that covered the world. High up in the sky, we’d see the sun, moon, and little bitty stars.

The Bible is a human document. Its only perspective was that of Iron Age men.

Maybe the Bible is supposed to be that way

You could respond, of course, by saying that this was a natural view for a primitive people. It was all they could handle. But these people 2500 years ago weren’t fundamentally different from us. They have the same mental capability. If we can understand and marvel at the view of the universe provided by modern science, so could they.

The God of Genesis was a primitive, stunted god. He’s given a very limited palette to work with. Many Christians today whip up (without justification) all sorts of extraordinary qualities of God—new qualities that the authors of Genesis couldn’t imagine. That he’s infinite, beyond time, omniscient, omnipotent. The Genesis god needed six days to shape his limited earth, while today’s god is said to have created the entire universe with its 100 billion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars.

Whatever science comes up with? “Oh yeah—we knew that. Let me tell you how we modify our god concept to adapt.”

Christians quickly co-opt the awe that science gives to add to the majesty of God’s creation—from the aurora borealis to Saturn’s rings to a distant nebula. But if awe is important to modern believers, why not give it to ancient ones?

Science is where awe comes from, not from the Genesis story or the Bible’s assurance that God can move mountains.

If the Bible were from a god, it would look like it.

Atheists read the Bible the way we have to read the Bible:
in the same historical manner with which we read every ancient source.
To do anything else is special pleading.
— vorjack

* That’s not an arbitrary number.  The mass of visible matter (only) in the universe is 6×1051 kg, while the mass of the earth is 6×1024 kg.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • RichardSRussell

    Speaking of Genesis, did you see last night’s debate between Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and creationist Ken Ham? What a hoot!

    If you missed it, it’s available on line here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI

    Also, live blogging by PZ Myers on Pharyngula:
    http://tinyurl.com/mars7pl

    • Castilliano

      Bill Nye’s argument: Science works today, reflects on yesterday, and gives us dreams for the future. Here, let me show you.
      Ken Ham’s argument: Of course science works today & tomorrow, but it can’t tell us anything about yesterday, therefore Bible! See, Science!

      Bill Nye argument 2: Here are dozens of facts that conflict with a 4000 year timespan from the ark to now. And the ark itself. And 6000 year old earth. And…I’ve got more if you need it.
      Ken Ham’s argument 2:
      Science is Christian because you need Yahweh to trust reality.
      You can’t trust reality was the same back then, you weren’t there!
      (So natural laws are consistently inconsistent or inconsistently consistent depending on Yahweh’s moods?)

      It was Nye being his Nye-iest, a nice guy sharing his love of science and evidence with Ham being his Hammiest, a nice but confused guy sharing his love of the Bible sans evidence.
      The debate humanized Ham for me, making me realize he isn’t the shuckster some paint him to be. He wholeheartedly believes YEC and needs to for his faith’s sake. Watching him was tragic as he struggled to contend, but faltered. Poor guy.
      Cheers

      • RichardSRussell

        I appreciated one thing about Bill Nye giving Ken Ham the rope with which to hang himself: Ham unapologetically stated, on multiple occasions, that absolutely everything he believes about evolution and creation is based on the assumption that the Bible (excuse me, “God’s Word”, as he persisted in calling it) is true. And nothing else. He wasn’t being coy like the ID charlatans, and I commend him for lending clarity to the issue.

        • smrnda

          Ham is doing the ‘presuppositional’ trick, the idea that everybody makes some assumptions, but he’s pretending that all assumptions you start with are equally valid. His behavior makes me think he realizes it’s a house of cards.

        • Kodie

          Did you see Pat Robertson is telling Ham to stop embarrassing himself?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          “Let’s be real, let’s not make a joke of ourselves.” – Pat Robertson to Ken Ham

          Suddenly Pat Robertson is the sensible one? Who’d’ve thought it?

        • Kodie

          Is he being sensible or just savvy?
          Christianity Today has Nye winning 91% to Ham’s 9%. According to Pharyngula, these are the numbers before pharyngulation.

        • Greg G.

          I don’t always agree with Pat Robertson but when I do, I drink… a lot.

        • smrnda

          Yeah. I think YEC is getting too embarrassing even for Robertson. They all know it’s so false that holding onto it is going to make them look like idiots.

        • MNb

          Nah, I think he suffers from financial worries. His Ark project is not going well. Apparently the abrahamist god thinks there are enough Ark replica’s in the world.

    • Greg G.

      The tinyurl link came up with a new way to spell “My3rz”.

  • http://pleonast.com/users/closetatheist Mr. Two

    Back when I believed in a young Earth, a guy tried to explain to me that Yahweh couldn’t have explained everything to Moses, so he just gave him what he could handle. Even then I understood that Moses could have handled many, many years and advanced life coming from simpler life, even if he couldn’t have grasped the details or fathomed 13.8 billion. Rejecting a young Earth means rejecting all of it.

    Excellent post: Thanks.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      :-)

      The Trinity and the insanity in Revelation–that is something that people can’t handle. But they’re pretty good with the results of science.

  • Greg G.

    Christians quickly co-opt the awe that science gives to add to the
    majesty of God’s creation—from the aurora borealis to Saturn’s rings to a
    distant nebula.

    Just think what God could do if he had money and didn’t need to put beggars behind pulpits.

  • Itarion

    On big numbers: That is wow. We’re a rounding error. We, as in our entire solar system, are a rounding error on a rounding error.

    I feel. Small.

    Behold the awe of science.

    • MNb

      Yes, that’s why atheists who submit to science these days display the humility as propagated by Jesus. The believer who thinks that the Universe was especially to enable Homo Sapiens having silly debates via internet etc. is more arrogant than the fly who lands on th White House assuming it was designed to provide it with a resting place.
      In the grand scheme of things we don’t make any difference. That’s a comforting thought afaIc.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        the humility as propagated by Jesus.

        Huh? You mean that guy who thought he was God?

        • MNb

          :)
          OK, I reformulate. “The humility as preached by Jesus, who didn’t think it applied to himself”.

  • MNb

    Around 400 BCE the Greeks already knew that the Earth was round. Yeah, they didn’t rely on revelation, like the authors of the OT did not that long before.

    “Oh yeah—we knew that. Let me tell you how we modify our god concept to adapt.”
    To be fair this is the only way christianity can hope to survive.

    • Shinjitsu

      “It is he that sitteth upon the globe of the earth.” -Isaiah 40:22 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

      Isaiah was th very, very first to get it right :)

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Completely wrong. :(

        • Shinjitsu

          Well, if you say so then it MUST be true …

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          No, no–if you say so it must be true.

        • Shinjitsu

          If I prove it to be true, isn’t it true?

        • Castilliano

          With 217 comments, but only 3 upvotes, I don’t think you’ve ever proven anything.
          In fact, Bob already went over how they did have a word for ‘sphere’, but used the word for ‘circle’ instead.
          So you think referencing a new translation changes the original wording. Nope.
          I know you need this, but it doesn’t make it true.
          *sigh*
          You just don’t understand listening/reading skills, do you?
          (Or that other people have memories too.)

          Bob, he’s a troll. I would request a banhammer.
          See your last post for evidence. Thank you.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          He should be banned at this point.

      • MNb

        Are you that stupid or do you think we are that stupid? The DR-translation is from end 16th Century, when the RCC had realized that the Earth was not flat. The KJV has “circle” and the Nieuwe Willibrord Translation (Dutch RCC) has “disc”. Both are flat.

        • Shinjitsu

          “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth,…. Or, “the globe (z)” of it; for the earth is spherical or globular: not a flat plain, but round, hung as a ball in the air.” -Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

        • MNb

          Only in the dictionary of stupid woomeisters who think others stupid circle is synonymous with sphere or globe.

        • Kodie

          Both.

  • natsera

    I don’t think the god of Genesis was a stunted god. Primitive, yes, because he was the invention of primitive people. Those people were as intelligent as you or I, but they didn’t have the backlog of science to work with — all the discoveries and thoughts that have occurred since their time and the technology which led to those discoveries and thoughts. So of course they couldn’t have viewed the universe as we do. On the other hand, they DID have a sense of wonder, which is why they tried to make sense of what they could see. There is actually a Jewish prayer that starts out “Oh, what is man, the child of dust? What is man, that thou shouldst be mindful of him?” Of course, they were theists, because that was the only explanation available to them.

    I will admit to getting irked when, in criticizing Christianity, which by this time should know better, the writings of ancient Jews, who could not possibly have known better, gets thrown in the mix, as if they were equivalent. Given that there are sects of Orthodox Judaism who are quite as benighted as Christians, do notice the number of Jews who, once freed from Christian persecution, made great contributions to science, and in the process won a number of Nobel prizes quite out of proportion to their representation in the earth’s populace.

    So if you’re going to criticize Christianity (and Islam, for that matter), go ahead, but leave the ancient Jews in their proper place, alongside the Norse, Inuit, Sioux, Maori and other pre-scientific peoples.

    • Shinjitsu

      And yet, these “primitive people”, as you contemn, possessed a scientific apprehension far too advanced for their time. See Isaiah 40:22; Job 26:7; Ecclesiastes 1:7; Amos 5:8; Job 38:33; Jeremiah 31:35; 33:25; Genesis 1; Leviticus 11:27, 28; Psalm 139:16; Leviticus 13:1-5, Numbers 19:1-13, and Deuteronomy 23:13-14 for starters.

      Science has been playing catch-up ever since.

      • Dorfl

        Didn’t Christian Crier do these about half a year ago?

        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2013/08/25/does-the-bible-contain-scientific-facts-a-bible-study/

        Anyway, looking through your quotes:

        Isaiah 40:22

        It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in

        I’ve seen this cited before as an example of biblical scientific foreknowledge, and I really don’t understand why. It clearly describes a flat Earth (if you disagree with this interpretation, find a large beach ball and pitch a tent on it), but for some reason Christians often insist that it shows the authors believed the Earth was round.

        Job 26:7

        He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.

        Unless you interpret “hangeth upon nothing” as “not hanging on anything”, I don’t see what this is supposed to say. The Earth is in free fall.

        Ecclesiastes 1:7

        All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

        So they noticed that the sea doesn’t overflow and the rivers don’t run dry, and assumed a connection between those things. Good job, but I wouldn’t call it advanced scientific apprehension.

        Amos 5:8

        Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night:that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:

        I’m not sure what scientific knowledge you think this reflects, so I can’t comment on it.

        Job 38:33

        Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?

        Same as for Amos.

        Jeremiah 31:35, 33:25

        Thus saith the LORD, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The LORD of hosts is his name:

        Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth;

        Again, I’m not sure what knowledge this is supposed to reflect.

        Genesis 1

        In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. […] God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

        This is too long to quote in its entirety. Suffice to say is that most of it is completely wrong.

        Leviticus 11:27,28

        And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you: whoso toucheth their carcase shall be unclean until the even. And he that beareth the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: they are unclean unto you.

        Knowing that you should wash after touching dead animals is not very advanced scientific knowledge.

        Psalm 139:16

        Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

        I think this is meant to imply that the authors had an advanced understanding of embryology. Sadly, miscarriages is a more likely explanation than god for how they got that knowledge.

        Leviticus 13:1-5

        The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “When a person has on the skin of his body a swelling or an eruption or a spot, and it turns into a case of leprous[a] disease on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests, and the priest shall examine the diseased area on the skin of his body. And if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a case of leprous disease. When the priest has examined him, he shall pronounce him unclean. But if the spot is white in the skin of his body and appears no deeper than the skin, and the hair in it has not turned white, the priest shall shut up the diseased person for seven days. And the priest shall examine him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the disease is checked and the disease has not spread in the skin, then the priest shall shut him up for another seven days.

        So they had some rudimentary tests for diagnosing leprosy. Does that indicate they had contact with God, or that they had contact with leprosy?

        Numbers 19:11-13

        He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean. Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him.

        I’m assuming you meant 11-13, since verses 1-10 are about how to sacrifice cows. Anyway, wanting people to wash after touching dead bodies does not require a great understanding of epidemiology.

        Deuteronomy 23:13-14

        And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee: For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that he see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee.

        This advice is not as clever as it sounds. Leaving faeces lying in the open means the sunlight can sterilise them fairly fast. Burying it means whatever intestinal parasites you’re carrying are now more likely to be passed on.

        • Shinjitsu

          “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth,…. Or, “the globe (z)” of it; for the earth is spherical or globular: not a flat plain, but round, hung as a ball in the air.” -Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible

        • Shinjitsu

          How are your objections not fallaciously grounded in Presentism sophistry?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Classic Joseph Polanco! Nicely done.

        • Greg G.

          I was getting a Polanco vibe, too.

        • Shinjitsu

          The references to ordinances accurately describe how the universe is governed by laws.

        • Shinjitsu

          What is your evidence that ‘most of Genesis is completely wrong’?

        • Philmonomer
        • Shinjitsu

          I don’t follow. How did the healthful stipulations found in the ancient Mosaic Law – quarantining of the contagious, the importance of cleanliness, the proper disposal of dead bodies and wastes, etc., etc. – not prevent deaths? Can you give me some concrete examples?

        • Shinjitsu

          Actually, in the event that one cannot find latrines or some other sanitation systems close at hand , the U .S . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highly suggests : “Defecate at least 30 meters [100 feet] away from any body of water and then bury your feces.” When communities discard excrement safely and securely , they cut down diarrheal disorders by thirty six per-cent , as shown by the World Health Organization .

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Ah, wouldn’t it have been nice to have had such clear advice in the Bible.

          But, of course, whatever you find in the Bible will have some divine purpose. If you can spin it to be good advice for healthy living, God is concerned about our health. If an obvious opportunity is missed (recipe for soap, for example), you say that God has bigger fish to fry than something trivial like health and disease.

          What fun when you can’t lose.

        • Shinjitsu

          Our genome is roughly about three billion “letters ,” or nucleotides , in length . Were they to be were transcribed onto paper , the text would fill up two hundred volumes the size of a one thousand page telephone book , as per the Human Genome Project .

          These particulars evoke an extraordinary prayer penned some three thousand years ago . Located in the Holy Bible at Psalm 139 :16 , it explicates : “Your eyes saw even the embryo of me , and in your book all its parts were down in writing .” Needless to say , the writer did not actually have scientific research in mind , nevertheless in uncomplicated terms he expressed an exceptionally precise notion that depicts God’s awe-inspiring wisdom and power . How distinct to various other antiquated religious documents , which were crammed with mythology together with superstition !

        • Dorfl

          It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth,…. Or, “the globe (z)” of it; for the earth is spherical or globular: not a flat plain, but round, hung as a ball in the air.

          Most translations just render the word as ‘circle’. Like I said, you are welcome to spread a tent on a sphere if you want to convince me that ‘globe’ is a reasonable translation.

          How are your objections not fallaciously grounded in Presentism sophistry?

          I have no idea what this refers to.

          The references to ordinances accurately describe how the universe is governed by laws.

          Noting that the universe is governed by laws is a very obvious insight. To show any particular scientific understanding on part of the old testament authors you have to show they had any particular understanding what those laws are.

          What is your evidence that ‘most of Genesis is completely wrong’?

          Genesis.

          Water did not precede night and day. Nor did it precede the existence of solid land. There isn’t water suspended above the sky. Night and day did not precede the existence of the sun.

          I don’t follow. How did the healthful stipulations found in the ancient Mosaic Law – quarantining of the contagious, the importance of cleanliness, the proper disposal of dead bodies and wastes, etc., etc. -not prevent deaths?

          I don’t follow either. Where did I say anything about preventing deaths?

          the U .S . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highly suggests: “Defecate at least 30 meters [100 feet] away from any body of water and then bury your feces.”

          Their advice is not aimed at a time and a place where intestinal parasites are common.

          “Your eyes saw even the embryo of me , and in your book all its parts were down in writing .” Needless to say, the writer did not actually have scientific research in mind, nevertheless in uncomplicated terms he expressed an exceptionally precise notion that depicts God’s awe-inspiring wisdom and power.

          That is not a precise description of how DNA works at all. Something biologists have to keep pointing out is that the genome does not contain specific descriptions of individual body parts in the way that, say, a human-made blueprint would.

          One particular opinion maintained in ancient times was that the globe was held up by elephants positioned on a massive sea turtle. Precisely why does the book of Job not echo such folderol? Undoubtedly for the reason that Jehovah the Creator furnished the truth by inspiration.

          As far as I know, the world-turtle was never a part of middle-eastern mythology. The bible contains folderol of its own though, picturing a flat Earth under a dome with water above.

        • Shinjitsu

          And yet the Hebrew term employed here, חוּג, also denotes “sphere” (Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon) same as how the term “round” can refer to both a circle or a ball.

        • Shinjitsu

          Presentism fallacy: http://bit.ly/1eusNGt

        • Shinjitsu

          To avoid any misperceptions please include chapters and verses for your Genesis objections, thanks :)

        • Shinjitsu

          You claim, “Their advice is not aimed at a time and a place where intestinal parasites are common” but where is the empirical evidence for your opinion?

        • Shinjitsu

          All I said was that it was but “One particular opinion maintained in ancient times.”

        • Shinjitsu

          Is it really your claim that DNA are not instructions for the construction of our bodies?

        • Pattrsn

          No, our bodies are machines for the replication of DNA

        • Shinjitsu

          One particular opinion maintained in ancient times was that the globe was held up by elephants positioned on a massive sea turtle . Precisely why does the book of Job not echo such folderol ? Undoubtedly for the reason that Jehovah the Creator furnished the truth by inspiration . The numerous other depictions of the earth as well as its marvels together with of the wild beasts and birds in their natural environments are just so precise that only Jehovah God could possibly be the Author and Inspirer of the book of Job .

        • Dorfl

          You claim, “Their advice is not aimed at a time and a place where intestinal parasites are common” but where is the empirical evidence for your opinion?

          I admit I can’t find a source that makes it clear whether burying your faeces is a good idea in middle-eastern climate or not, so I retract what I said.

          To avoid any misperceptions please include chapters and verses for your Genesis objections, thanks :)

          Genesis 1:2 has God “move upon the face of the waters”.

          Genesis 1:5 has God creating night and day.

          Genesis 1:16 has God creating the Sun and the Moon.

          Genesis 1:9 has God creating land.

          Genesis 1:7 has God dividing the waters above and below the firmament.

          Is it really your claim that DNA are not instructions for the construction of our bodies?

          Referring to them as a ‘instructions’ is a metaphor which is sometimes helpful and sometimes misleading. If you want to use that metaphor, you have to keep in mind that there aren’t separate instructions for your different body parts, the way there would if somebody made a blue print of a human body.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Oh yeah–I do remember reading in the Bible about galaxies and the hundreds of billions of stars contained in each one. And how the heavier elements essential for life come from exploding stars billions of years earlier.

          Ain’t God fabulous!

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          In Job we find Yahweh wrestling with Leviathan the sea monster. Yeah, that sounds like actual history. Not.

        • Dorfl

          And yet the Hebrew term employed here, חוּג, also denotes “sphere”

          According to cursory googling, that is a possible, but very rare translation. Happily, the surrounding text clarifies that God “stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in”, implying that ‘circle’ is the intended meaning.

          Also, the text you have quoted a number of times:

          It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth,…. Or, “the globe {z}” of it; for the earth is spherical or globular: not a flat plain, but round, hung as a ball in the air; here Jehovah sits as the Lord and Sovereign; being the Maker of it, he is above it, orders and directs its motion, and governs all things in it: Kimchi rightly observes, that the heavens are the circle of the earth, which is the centre of them, and around which they are; and so it signifies, that the Lord sits or dwells in the heavens, from whence he beholds the children of men: and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers

          Suggests the reading ‘globe’ precisely because this is what we today know is correct – not because it’s actually implied by the text itself.

          Presentism fallacy:
          thinking about history from an exclusively “presentist” point of view (i.e., from the perspective of our present-day understanding of events) fails to take into account that, at the time in which historical events occurred, those involved did not enjoy the benefit of hindsight that hasinformed our present perspective. Presentism invites us to dismiss the poor decisions made by previous generations as having been based on their failure to anticipate the long-term consequences of their deeds. Yet to fully understand an historical event, we must view it not only with the benefit of hindsight, but also in the more limited context of its own times.

          Since my entire point is that the writers of the old testament display the knowledge one would expect from people of that time, without the benefit of divine inspiration, I don’t see how the accusation of presentism is relevant.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Good for the Jews for making such a positive contribution to humanity.

      Putting the ancient Jews alongside other pre-scientific people is exactly what I’m doing. Some modern Christians, however, want to imagine that they had supernatural insights that other cultures didn’t have. That’s the part that I’m attacking.

  • Shinjitsu

    Except that Genesis, as part of the Torah, was recorded long before 500 BCE. Try 1513 BCE.

    • Greg G.

      There is a psalm that may be copied from an Egyptian stele that may go back further than that. It’s possible that the middle of Job is old.

      There are two parallel stories that are thought to go back to the 8th & 9th centuries, after David’s kingdom was divided among Solomon’s sons but they’ve been redacted. The oldest would be the Jehovah story for the name used for God. Then there is the Elohim story which has many of the same stories but has a different name for God. Both have a deity that interacts directly with humans as opposed to the Priestly story where God is cosmic but is also called “Elohim”.

      The Elohim story has Abraham sacrificing Isaac but there is a Jehovah redaction with the ram. Still, Abraham comes down the mountain alone and Isaac is never heard from again in the Elohim story.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        Where are the fragments of the story where Abraham did sacrifice Isaac? This is in the OT?

        • Greg G.

          In Genesis 22 in the KJV, where “God” appears, it comes from “Elohim”. Where “the Lord” appears, it comes from “Jehovah”. (I don’t know if that rule of thumb holds throughout the KJV, but it works here.) In verse 5, Abraham and the lad leave the woodcutters to go worship promising to return. In verse 19, only Abraham returns.

          Now compare Genesis 20 with Genesis 26. Both stories have a skirt-chasing king named Abimelech who has a general named Phicol. Abraham tells Abimelech that Sarah is his sister. Isaac tells Abimelech that Rebecca is his sister. In both Abimelech finds out that the women are married to each patriarch, EDIT:his apology makes them rich (Only Abraham gets rich from it)/EDIT. Genesis 26 is a Jehovah story while Genesis 20 is an Elohim story.

          There’s another Jehovah version of the story in Genesis 12 involving Abraham and an Egyptian king.

          So, Genesis 12 and Genesis 26 are Jehovah stories and Genesis 20 is an Elohim story. After the kingdom was split, the clans of priests would have had a credibility problem so they would have liked to delegitimize the other. One clan apparently sacrificed to a graven image and the other sacrificed to a molten image, so each had a commandment forbidding the other clan’s altars. When their texts were redacted together both commandments together forbid both graven and molten images. Perhaps one clan of priests traced their lineage through Isaac, so the other had him killed.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          My understanding that the translation of Yahweh or Elohim or whatever to English is consistent. More here: http://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/name_god.cfm

  • Shinjitsu

    While scientifically accurate, the Bible was never composed as a cosmological text or a text on physics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, virology, mathematics, zoology, etc., etc. It’s much, much, MUCH more important than any of that.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Pick a wacky claim and stick with it. You said before that the Bible includes a wealth of accurate health information. Now, you tell us that the Bible has far bigger fish to fry than merely saving lives.

      Which is it?

      • Shinjitsu

        I don’t follow. How are they mutually exclusive?

  • https://www.facebook.com/michael.carteron Michael

    They could handle the reality, but the idea of a small universe, with the stars as only dots in the sky, makes sense if you posit everything was made for humanity. A vast universe where Earth is only a speck in the galactic sea makes no sense for that. It shows the former view is false of course, something that modern Christians who accept cosmology (which even creationists do) fail to account for.

  • MNb

    The point can be made that in many cases – to be found on these pages as well – the Bible’s shortsighted view on the Universe directly leads to 21 Century christian shortsighted views on reality. Here some examples – plus answers.

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2014/feb/06/22-answers-creationism-evolution-bill-nye-ken-ham-debate
    Not that our house creacrappers will buy it.

  • Y. A. Warren

    The best thing to get out of the OT is the sense that the universe is sacred (holy=whole) in its inception; that humans have the capacity to screw it up or continue the path toward being better; and that the rest is a mixed bag of personal accounts of life, as humans perceived it.

    • MNb

      I don’t really need the OT for that idea. For screwing up don’t look further than the Holocaust and Global Warming; for continuing the path toward being better just look at the worst dictators paying lipservice to concepts like freedom and democracy.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I see the OT as cautionary tales. Too bad many people treat it as a how-to manual.

        • Carol Lynn

          But cautionary against what? Not worshipping properly? Not groveling enough?

        • Y. A. Warren

          How humans continue to look beyond cooperation with and responsible compassion for each other, and continue to kill off life.

        • Carol Lynn

          But killing off life is peachy-kean if you are groveling & worshipping properly. It’s even demanded.

        • Y. A. Warren

          This is why i don’t believe in the concept of god(s), even though i embrace the concept of the sacred.

        • MNb

          Once again: I don’t need the OT as a warning that mankind shouldn’t mess with climate. Neither do I need the concept of the sacred to understand we are seriously f**ked up if we still do.
          The OT has exactly one value: it gives us some insight how people back then in a limited area thought and what they did. There is exactly one lesson I have learned from it: if some reader in the year 4500 CE reads all the stuff I write here I hope he/she will have made as much or more progress in knowledge, understanding and ethics compared to me as I have compared to the authors of the OT.

        • Y. A. Warren

          We can’t compare our access to information today to what the ancients had.

          I am against the concept of worship in any form; however,
          humans seem to have always had a need to honor what inspires awe in them. It seems to me that we have the opportunity to turn the more primitive thinkers from the concept of fear to the concept of wonder, with the ability to access answers. Ridicule of their ancestral understandings is not the way to impact their beliefs.

        • MNb

          Well, the authors of the OT have been dead for quite a while, so chances are pretty low that their beliefs get impacted anyway. As for contemporary humans with ancestral understandings, I neither have the ambition nor the wish to impact their silly beliefs. Ridiculous beliefs deserve to be ridiculed, especially on internet, and I think it great fun to do. If it makes those people feel bad, well, it’s their problem, not mine. They write their silly nonsense voluntarily; they don’t have to.

        • Y. A. Warren

          i guess I approach everything from an aspect of understanding why people believe what they believe and hope to trade understanding with them. Ridiculing others is simply a waste of my time.

        • MNb

          Well, that’s your choice obviously; it’s not up to me to judge it. What’s more: I won’t even try to “cure” you from your aversion against ridiculing.
          But the interesting question now is: do you approach my mockery from an aspect of understanding why I mock when I mock and do you try to trade understanding with me? If yes you might consider stopping to criticize ridiculing.
          As for me: before I start to mock I try to understand creacrappers indeed – or I wouldn’t be able to mock them effectively.

        • Y. A. Warren

          In my experience, mockery seems to be self-protective. I’m simply not into it.

        • MNb

          Your experience doesn’t apply to me. On the contrary, I like to get mocked as well.
          You’re not answering my question. That’s peculiar for someone who claims to hope to trade understanding with people who have different views. My view on mockery is different than yours. Has your hope to trade understanding with me vanished that quickly? I don’t hope so, because it would induce me to doubt your sincerity.
          In my experience trading understanding with bigots – you can fill the names yourself; I explicitely do not think of you – is a waste of time. How about trading understanding on this point?

        • Y. A. Warren

          Why do you mock, when you mock?

        • MNb

          Because I enjoy it (that’s the emotional part). Because it’s the only way left to enjoy conversations with bigots who won’t change their minds whatever arguments or evidence I present, because they have settled on their conclusions at beforehand and thus think that anything that seems to support those conclusions is justified; they have thrown any skepticism, any hint of self-criticism out of the window (that’s the rational part).
          Have to go; if you like we will continue tomorrow. I enjoy stuff like this as well.

        • Y. A. Warren

          I simply don’t enjoy “conversations” with bigots. “Communication” seems to become a series of soliloquies, with neither actually responding to input by the other. I have my own blogs and books for my soliloquies, where people are free to read and comment or not.

        • MNb

          “with neither actually responding to input by the other.”
          When I mock I make sure I mock their input. That’s why I use quotes and quotemarks like here. But I don’t delude myself by thinking I am “communicating”.

          “I simply don’t enjoy”
          Many people don’t. Once again it’s not up to me to judge. Let me stress again that your attitude is a completely viable one.

        • Y. A. Warren

          Thank you.

        • Kodie

          Doesn’t seem to me that’s what the bible is about, or the best place to try to get that kind of message. How god is portrayed and how people are portrayed is some of the worst aspects of the human animal, and these characters are the heroes and protagonists and role models. You can hate-read it and get disgusted with humans and god figures, but I wouldn’t waste my time.

        • Kodie

          Yeah, too bad most people can’t read something into the bible that’s not there.

  • avalon

    While the bible is pretty bad as a science book, it’s even worse as a spiritual book. Nearly every thing it says about spirituality is out-dated superstition.

    • MNb

      A big thumbs up. Please add the “Jesus was such a great guy” thing. Fortunately humanity has moved on a bit since then. I find the idea that we today can’t to better in terms of ethics than a messias-pretendent some 2000 years ago utterly depressive, even if said messias-pretendent was an improvement compared to what was common in his time and place.

  • http://empiricalpierce.wordpress.com/ EmpiricalPierce

    One of the best examples of the Bible having a shortsighted view of the universe is in Revelation 6:13, which claims that the stars will fall unto the Earth early on in the apocalypse.

    Putting aside the issue that the concept of falling doesn’t really apply in outer space, nowadays we know that stars are not merely points of light dotting an encompassing dome, but gargantuan nuclear furnaces. If even one star “fell” to Earth, our entire planet would be annihilated, wrapping up the apocalypse right quick.

    • Ron

      Matthew 24:29 has Jesus saying the same thing.

      But have no fear, the TrueChristian apologist has an explanation for that: it’s not meant to be read literally — it’s meant to be read as apocalyptic Hebrew poetry.

      {Edit: I inadvertently linked to an apologist who argues against poetic interpretation. The link to the apologist (Gary DeMar) who argues for it is here: http://www.preteristarchive.com/BibleStudies/Bible_NT/Matthew/matthew_24-29.html}

      • Greg G.

        Actually, Ice is arguing that it is not Hebrew poetry in the link you provide. He points out that Jesus says the stars fall from the sky but not to earth. He suspects Jesus meant a meteors. Ice thinks that if the sun is darkened, it makes perfect sense that the moon wouldn’t glow.

        The NIV footnotes refer to Isaiah 13:10; 34:4 for that verse where it says the stars will rot or dissolve, depending on the translation. The poetry that Matthew has Jesus quoting also tells about dancing satyrs.

        It has me suspecting that Revelation may have been influenced by Matthew. Apocryphal writings were mentioned in a recent discussion in the comments of a different article. A few days ago, I stumbled on something about the Deuterocanonical writings being quoted in the New Testament (Protestants claim the NT never does that). I checked out most of them. Some were spurious with some minor phrase in common, some were cases of both coming from OT verses, but some were very strong cases. Many Revelation passages seem to be inspired by the Apocrypha.

        EDIT: I left a word off the end of a fusebox.

        • Ron

          Apologies. I posted the wrong link. The correct link is here:

          http://www.preteristarchive.com/BibleStudies/Bible_NT/Matthew/matthew_24-29.html

          Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I’ve also added this link to my opening post.

        • Greg G.

          Thank you for that link.

          The first thing I checked was the link at left to Mark 9:1 where I found:

          Theodore Robinson “..it is clear that for some reason or other the first generation of Christians did expect his speedy return, and if this impression was not based on his own language, whence could it have come?” (The Gospel of Matthew, p. 195).

          To answer his rhetorical question, the early Christians could have got the impression from Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:15:

          For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.

  • jonch

    “Blasphemer! Idolater! The Earth is obviously flat! How could Jesus go /up/ to heaven if it wasn’t so!?”
    Several centuries later
    “Oh yeah – we knew the Earth was round 300 years before anyone else! [Insert random Bible passage which can be vaguely interpreted as hinting that the earth is round]”

  • Mick

    “He also made the stars … That’s all the Bible says…”

    There is this:
    He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. (Psalm 147:4)

    As a matter of interest, there are 10^24 stars in the universe and 4.32×10^17 seconds since the big bang.

    Our god must have been gabbling pretty fast when he was reciting all those names of the stars.