The Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science (2 of 2)

Let’s look at more Christian claims that much of what modern science has given us was in the Bible all along. Part 1 debunked claims about cosmology and how the earth works. We’ll conclude by looking at claims in a few more scientific fields.

Bible scienceClaims about health

7. The Bible knew all about disease.

  • The Bible says that unclean land animals such as rabbits, pigs, horses, and bear are not only unclean to eat but also to touch. If you touch the carcass of one of these, you are unclean until evening. (Leviticus 11:28)
  • If you touch a dead person, you’re unclean for a week and must go through ritual purification (Numbers 19:11–12).
  • A man who has a nocturnal emission is unclean. Seven days after his last emission he must bathe in running water (Lev. 15:13). The rules are the same for a menstruating woman (Lev. 15:28).
  • Cover your poop because it grosses God out (Deuteronomy 23:13–14).
  • Take seriously the appearance of leprosy. Anyone found to be a leper must be shunned. (Lev. 13)

Don’t touch dead bodies? Bury your poop? Yes, that’s good advice, but who needs to be told this by God? The Bible is hardly a medical authority and couldn’t even provide the simple recipe for soap. The healings of Jesus the Great Physician teach us that illness can be caused by evil spirits or sin, despite what modern medicine says.

As for being shocked by naughty body parts, this advice does little to improve health, and the recommended bathing is just a ritual cleansing. Without soap, it doesn’t do much more to get rid of germs than the required sacrifice of two birds.

Concerns about leprosy are valid, though this shows no knowledge beyond the common sense of the time.

8. Kosher laws actually make good health sense.

The Bible has an entire chapter to outline rules about what can and can’t be eaten. For example, shellfish are forbidden.

But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers that does not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you (Leviticus 11:10).

There is a logic to these seemingly arbitrary laws, but health was not the point. Eating improperly cooked mackerel or mutton (ritually clean) is no wiser than eating improperly cooked shrimp or pork (ritually unclean).

Claims about physics

9. The Bible informs us that matter is made of atoms.

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible (Hebrews 11:3).

Apologists may imagine that this says that matter is made from particles too small to see, but this chapter is about faith, not physics. The NET Bible gives another interpretation of the bolded phrase: “the visible has its origin in the invisible.” The verse isn’t saying that matter is made of atoms but that the (visible) world was created by (invisible) God.

The ancients did propose the idea of matter being composed of indivisible particles, but that was centuries before the book of Hebrews and not in Palestine.

10. The Bible teaches that light moves.

Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place …? (Job 38:19)

(Some of these examples are so poor that I wonder if those who propose them honestly find them compelling.)

This verse only says that light and darkness reside somewhere. Perhaps motion is implied because light and darkness must get out of the house sometime.

But no, darkness isn’t a thing—it’s just an absence of light—and neither light nor darkness are stored anywhere.

11. Air has weight in the Bible.

[God] imparted weight to the wind and meted out the waters by measure (Job 28:25).

Wind pushes on you. If that is wind’s “weight,” then even children know that. A childlike view of the world can imagine that the properties of nature are assigned and maintained by God, but that’s not what science tells us. Instead of common sense observations of nature, the Bible could’ve given us some of the basics laws of physics.

12. The Bible knows about thermodynamics—it talks about moving from order to disorder.

The Bible has several verses (Isaiah 51:6, Hebrews 1:10–11, Psalms 102:26) that use the simile that the earth will wear out like a garment.

Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not wane. (Isaiah 51:6)

The ancient authors saw that living things die and human constructions deteriorate—nothing remarkable here. From that they extrapolated that the earth itself is temporary as an excuse to celebrate God’s permanence. Why is this anything more than a literary motif?

Biology

13. The Bible knows about dinosaurs—read about Leviathan in Job 41.

God is humiliating Job in this chapter. Job thinks he has the balls to question God? Then perhaps he can share how well he’d do fighting Leviathan, a sea monster that laughs at human weapons and “regards iron as straw, bronze as rotten wood.”

Christian commentators try to shoehorn the long description into that of a crocodile, whale, or dinosaur, but this fails because Leviathan breathes fire (41:18–21). The attempt also fails because there were thousands of dinosaur species, not just a single fierce, fire-breathing monster. This description of a single creature sounds nothing like a survey of dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs were long extinct before humans appeared. There would be no point in God spending an entire chapter talking about how he’s so tough that he can conquer a dinosaur if Job doesn’t know what dinosaurs are.

Let’s stop there at thirteen examples, an unlucky number for the Christian eager to imagine that the Bible educates us about science.

Wrap up

Remember the Argument from Accurate Place Names? Christians point to names in the Bible that are later verified by archaeology as powerful evidence. If the Bible has this correct, they argue, the rest must surely also be correct! But of course being right about the basic facts of your place in history only gets you to the starting line.

The Argument from Accurate Science analyzed in this post makes a bolder claim: if the Bible is accurate about things that were not common knowledge, that points to a supernatural source, which grounds the Bible’s miracle claims. Unfortunately for the apologists, that argument fails.

If God put important and surprising new science (Big Bang, Second Law of Thermodynamics, geocentric solar system, and so on) into the Bible for our benefit, we should be able to point to the Bible as the source of this knowledge. That it’s always the other way around—that apologists take modern scientific knowledge and mine the Bible for vague parallels—reveals their agenda.

See also: Yet More on the Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science

Acknowledgement: an article in RationalWiki was helpful in writing this post.

Poetry, mythology, and religion represent the world
as man would like to have it,
while science represents the world
as he gradually comes to discover it.
— Joseph Wood Krutch (American naturalist)

Image credit: Stephen Morris, flickr, CC

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