The Bible and Science

A Facebook friend shared this image:

There is a lot here that is problematic. Let’s just focus on one example, and begin with the very first claim, namely that the Bible “foresaw” the near-spherical shape of the Earth. The truth is that the Hebrew Bible uses the term circle – in other words, it says the Earth is a disk, precisely the incorrect view that is attributed to the unnamed others in the middle column. If one wished to say that they were all right, and all “meant” sphere when they wrote “circle,” that would at least be fair. But to say that the Bible is right and the others are wrong is simply dishonest.

The claim is problematic from another perspective. The Bible also refers to the corners of the Earth. If it had turned out that the Earth was a cube rather than a sphere, those who wanted to claim that the Bible is prescient regarding science would be emphasizing the accuracy of its mention of corners and the metaphorical status of its use of “circle.” The evidence can be made to fit any outcome, suggesting that it isn’t prescient at all – it is simply flexible enough that modern interpreters who wish to can find what they want to there, if they are willing to sufficiently disregard the meanings of words and of the text in its historical context.

All that is being done in the image above is to latch on to imagery that is similar to what modern science says and make much of it, while treating what doesn’t match as metaphor. This approach shows no respect to the Bible as what it really is – a collection of works written by and for people in another time, when modern scientific knowledge was neither a concern nor available.

And of course, calling the views that anyone held millennia ago “science then,” as the graphic does, is itself misleading.

As for the other claims on the chart, one or two of them seem to have been true about some ancient cultures other than Israel, but were by no means universal, while other claims about what other cultures believed do not correspond to any sources that I am familiar with. Since no references to primary sources are provided, one can’t fact check its claims – which is presumably how the person who made it wanted it to be.

I’d guess that the person who made the image was a Christian. But I could well imagine an atheist making a chart like this, posting it on Facebook, waiting for some gullible Christians to fall for it and spread it, and then laughing and pointing out the errors. And if one can equally imagine a foolish and poorly-informed Christian or a clever and well-informed atheist making the same image, doesn’t that suggest that making such images, if you are a Christian, is probably a bad idea?


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  • arcseconds

    “Science then” has three things wrong with it:

    1) What ‘science’?
    2) When is “then”?
    3) Who, exactly, are we talking about “then”?

    You’ve metioned 1 and alluded to 3 and maybe 2, but I thought we could be a bit more explicit about this.

    If ‘then’ is to be the entire period over which the Bible was written, then that covers the period roughly from 1000 BC – 100 AD. And what “science” seems to be here seems to be as wide as any belief whatsoever, perhaps excluding Biblical-based beliefs?

    Even if we restrict the ‘who’ to cultures in the Mediterranean / Near East, there’s an awful lot of cultural diversity over that time period.

    Are we supposed to understand that anyone reading the Bible (or the works that were later to become the Bible) would have understood the Earth to be a sphere?

    Anyway, ancient greek philosophers thought the world was a sphere from about the 6th century, and this deserves to be called ‘science’ from at least the 4th century, when Aristotle gave empirical arguments for a spherical Earth.

    So the only bit of scientific reasoning I know of concerning the shape of the Earth during that period actually got it right.

    As far as the blood thing goes, that just seems entirely confused, probably because the author has mangled it so much to fit with their desired schema.

    As blood-letting is being offered in contradistinction to the belief
    that blood is necessary for life, presumably the notion here is that
    this shows that ‘science then’ thought that blood wasn’t necessary for

    But a medical procedure of blood letting is *quite compatible* with a belief that blood is necessary for life. Modern medicine still lets blood! It’s less common than it used to be, but it still happens.

    Also, it’s a bit strange to presume that anyone ‘then’ could have supposed that blood wasn’t necessary for life. Does the author really think anyone then was unaware of the possibility of bleeding to death?

    Also, also, the bloodletting thing (in the West, at least) comes from the old physiological concept of four humours (blood, phlegm, and two kinds of bile), which had to be kept in balance. So this practice is in fact affirming that blood is necessary for life.

    I’m charitably reading “blood is the source of life and health” as a somewhat figurative way of saying blood is necessary for life. If we read it literally, then I don’t think modern science does affirm that. If any one thing is the source of life, it’d be the ATP cycle (in aerobic organisms, anyway), which happens inside cells, not in the bloodstream – the blood just facilitates it by providing the fuel and removing the waste products.

    I don’t think anyone’s ever affirmed that all the stars are the same. They don’t *look* the same. Astrology’s never treated them as being the same.

    I’ve got more I could say about the other entries, but I think I’ll now stop and sum up:

    this is a load of bollocks.

  • arcseconds

    Oh, yeah, another thing I wanted to mention:

    This seems to be another example of the curious conceit that biblical literalists of both the theistic and atheistic variety often have, and that’s that the Bible only says one thing then, now, and forever, so religion has to be static, whereas science is constantly changing.

    The main difference being that theistic biblical literalists seem to think that’s a problem for science, whereas the athiestic biblical literalists think it’s a problem for religion.

  • Dorfl

    I’m especially curious about what “Light was fixed in place” is supposed to mean.

  • Theoldlady

    Just found out where this picture came from and it came from the facebook page at the bottom of the picture. The person admitted he made the picture and did not care who it offended in their fib. Said only someone who did not understand what they meant would be offended by it. I told him that I understood it to be mis-quoting scripture.