I recently analyzed claims made by some Christian apologists arguing that the Bible correctly anticipated modern scientific discoveries. It becomes plain that these were simply science-y sounding verses cherry picked (after the fact) to satisfy a Christian agenda when you see that none taught us anything new about nature. Any insights came exclusively from science.
Augustine (354 – 430) rejected the quest for science in the Bible. He said, “We do not read in the Gospel that the Lord said, ‘I am sending you the Holy Spirit, that he may teach you about the course of the sun and the moon.’ He wished to make people Christians, not astronomers.”
But many Christians ignore Augustine, and the flurry of claims continues. The previous posts analyzed Bible verses that seemed to accurately reveal science. Let’s move on to another category, science claims within the Bible that don’t line up with what modern science tells us. Do they reveal startling insights that modern science must explore, or are they simply the superstitions of primitive pre-scientific people?
We do find startling things in the Bible, but they’re not very scientific. Let’s start with claims about cosmology and the structure of the earth.
1. The earth is immoveable
The world is firmly established, it will not be moved (Psalm 93:1; see also Ps. 96:10, 1 Chronicles 16:30).
Real science tells us that the earth is anything but fixed; it orbits the sun, the entire solar system orbits the galactic center, and the Milky Way galaxy itself moves through space.
2. The earth rests on a foundation
For the foundations of the earth are Jehovah’s; upon them he has set the world (1 Samuel 2:8; see also Ps. 102:25, Ps. 104:5, Zechariah 12:1).
We’re also told what this foundation is made of.
He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble (Job 9:6; see also Job 26:11).
Apologists might say that “pillars” simply refers to mountains or bedrock, but a more plausible conclusion is that the literal interpretation was the intended one and that the Hebrew cosmology imagined a flat earth surrounded by or suspended on an ocean, as was popular in ancient Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and India.
3. The sky is solid
The cosmology in Genesis makes clear that the earth rests between water underneath and more water in a dome above. We see this in the Noah story when “the fountains of the great deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened” (Genesis 7:11). For details, see my post on Noah and Hebrew cosmology here.
That dome must be solid to hold up the water. We also see this elsewhere in the Old Testament:
Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies (Ps. 148:4).
When He made firm the skies above, when the springs of the deep became fixed (Proverbs 8:28).
What is this dome made of? Job suggests that it’s made of metal:
Can you, with him, beat out the skies, strong as a mirror of cast bronze? (Job 37:18)
“Beat out” (“spread out” in some translations) is the verb used for hammering out metal.
We get one more clue from the equivalent Sumerian cosmology. (The Babylonian captivity from 597 – 539 BCE could be where the Hebrews picked it up, or it might have come through trade.) The dome might’ve been made of what the Sumerians called the “metal of heaven,” the metal we call tin.
4. The earth is flat
We’ve seen a flat disk of earth before.
[God] sits above the circle of the earth (Isaiah 40:22).
Our previous analysis showed that this is no reference to a spherical earth (they had another word for “ball” or “sphere”) but simply a flat disk. We also find other clues:
And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day (Gen. 1:13).
The six-day creation story assumes a flat earth because a time reference would’ve been necessary on a spherical earth. To see this, suppose God began creating the plants in the morning on Day Three based on the time in Mesopotamia. If the earth were a sphere, this would mean that God began this project in the evening of Day Two in much of the rest of the world (parts of North America, for example). Only with a time standard (“according to Mesopotamian Standard Time”) would this be unambiguous.
We also find a flat earth in the New Testament:
The devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor (Matthew 4:8).
A high spot to see all the world is possible on a flat earth but not on a spherical planet. And consider that a mountaintop from which you could see everywhere on the earth could itself be seen from everywhere on earth. So go outside and look around. It’s there—the claim that it’s on the horizon somewhere is as reliable as the Bible itself.
5. The earth is at the center of the solar system and the universe
Here’s another verse we’ve seen before that makes clear that the sun moves around the earth.
The sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again (Ecclesiastes 1:5; see also Ps. 19:6).
Two more examples are when God played games with the sun, stopping its motion for hours so Joshua could continue killing Amorites (Joshua 10:13) and then moving it backwards to give a sign to King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:8–11). It’s one thing for God to move things across the sky over a flat earth, but it gets complicated in a heliocentric solar system when “stopping the sun” would require stopping the earth’s rotation.
Could God have used magic to stop the earth’s rotation so that its inhabitants didn’t notice the deceleration and subsequent acceleration (and report it in the biblical accounts)? Could he have maintained the earth’s protective magnetic field that would’ve been lost if the molten iron core stopped rotating? Sure, but the much simpler explanation is that the human authors of the Bible wrongly thought that the earth was at the center of the universe, just like in neighboring societies.
6. Confused creation order
According to the six-day creation story in Genesis 1, God created the earth and land plants in the first three days, but the sun wasn’t made until the fourth. Photosynthesizing plants obviously couldn’t survive without the sun.
Compare the order of creation with the order we’ve learned through science. In Genesis, it’s first earth, then land plants, sun and moon, fish, birds, land animals, and finally humans. Science instead tells us that it was the sun first, then the earth, then the moon. Single-celled organisms were the only life for several billion years. Then photosynthesizing organisms, then land plants, fish, land animals, and finally birds. The Genesis story fails. (The six-day creation story and the Garden of Eden story have many incompatibilities).
Nature is a jigsaw puzzle, and the Bible is the picture on the box top. We’ve been slowly putting the puzzle pieces together for centuries, and we now know the picture on the top is completely wrong.
Concluded in part 2.
who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect
has intended us to forgo their use.
— Galileo Galilei
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/30/15.)
Image from Andy Murray, CC license