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

The Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science (2 of 2) February 3, 2020

Let’s look at more Christian claims that much of what modern science has given us was in the Bible all along. Part 1 rebutted these claims about cosmology and how the earth works. We’ll conclude by looking at claims in a few more categories. Up first, claims 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 (here, here), despite what modern medicine says.

The prudish attitude about bodily functions 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. There’s also no caution against polluting water for those downstream.

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 food 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).

Let’s move on to 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. We learn from the Bible that air has weight.

[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 (better: the basics of disease prevention).

12. The Bible knows about thermodynamics and 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. This isn’t science; it’s a literary motif.

Next up: 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.

But there’s more! Consider another aspect of the Bible and science here.

The good thing about science
is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.
— Neil deGrasse Tyson

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/25/15.)

Image from Stephen Morris, CC license
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  • Lex Lata

    Genesis 1 describes the earth, day/night cycle, and plants all predating the sun, as well as birds predating land animals, for Cthulhu’s sake. The Bible is interesting for lots of reasons (YMMV), but it’s as scientifically rigorous and useful as a Land of the Lost script.

    And a lot more susceptible to unjustified theorizing. There are actually folks (Lex glances at uncle and cousins out West) who sincerely believe that modern paleontologists and anthropologists–y’know, secular progressive elites–are suppressing information about the unearthing of giant humanoid skeletons that confirm the biblical account of the Nephilim. And lest we forget, our current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a literal brain surgeon, contends that Joseph ordered the “hermetically sealed” pyramids built to store food for the seven years of famine described at the end of Genesis. Never mind that the Bible says no such thing, that the chambers in the pyramids were never “hermetically” sealed, that all the written and archaeological evidence confirms the pyramids were royal monument-tombs, and that the pyramids are generally more than 95% solid stone by volume–an exceedingly inefficient design for storage structures.

    Belivers can–and often do–discern any manner of scientific or historical fancy they like in the Rorschach inkblots of holy scripture.

    • Raging Bee

      There are actually folks … who sincerely believe that modern paleontologists and anthropologists…are suppressing information about the unearthing of giant humanoid skeletons that confirm the biblical account of the Nephilim.

      They’re hiding all that knowledge because they know it would actually confirm the Norse accounts of frost-giants! That’s why so many Christians in this majority-Christian country are in on the conspiracy!

    • Lord Backwater

      Also whales (Gen 1:21) before land animals (Gen 1:24)

    • Taneli Huuskonen

      Ben Carson definitely shows that debunking Biblical inerrantism is not brain surgery.

    • Bob Jase

      http://www.dumb.com/oldtimeradio/radio/469//Land_of_the_Lost.html

      The original version is like nothing else.

      • Lex Lata

        Hah! I’d never heard of this. Thanks!

        • Bob Jase

          The only benefit of being old…

  • Lord Backwater

    If you touch the carcass of one of these, you are unclean until evening.

    The word soap appears in teh Bible (KJV) only two times (Jer 2:22 and Mal 3:2). The second one specifically mentions fuller’s soap.

  • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

    Slight digression: in the Book of Job, god presents Job with a laundry list of “Where were you when I…?” questions to demonstrate how insignificant Job is. I always thought Job should have replied, “I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but I do know where I was when I upheld the covenant between us, and I know where I was when you violated that covenant, you oath-breaker.”

    • Michael Neville

      Especially considering that Job won the bet for Yahweh, he deserved more than a long-winded sneer.

      • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

        To be fair, god did issue Job with replacement children – though does that demonstrate that under Judaism/Christianity at least some individuals are replaceable/interchangeable?

    • epicurus

      SCORCH!

    • Len

      I always kinda sorta wondered about that. God is supposed to be so good, loving, etc yet he broke his covenant with Job. But we’re supposed to accept that he will keep the covenant he made to allow us into heaven, etc if we believe. His track record is not so rosy – why should we believe him this time round?

    • Interesting. Is a covenant promised in the book of Job? I don’t remember.

      • Greg G.

        Job made a covenant with his own eyeballs to stop staring at pretty girls.

        Job 31:1 ESV
        “I have made a covenant with my eyes;
        how then could I gaze at a virgin?”

      • Matt Brooker (Syncretocrat)

        I’m assuming a literalist timeline of the Bible where Job would be subject to god’s covenants with Abraham and Moses, so “between us” refers to that, though I see now that the phrasing is unclear.

        • Greg G.

          Job makes offerings for himself and his children but it says nothing about doing those things at a tabernacle or a temple so that would put Job before Moses. Some point out that his lifespan is similar to that of some of Abraham’s recent ancestors.

          I think the core of the story of Job, the part without the wagering between Yahweh and Satan, was written before they invented the Moses story.

  • Tawreos

    Christians point to names in the Bible that are later verified by archaeology as powerful evidence.

    Aren’t some of those places named what they are because they match some vague description in the bible, or other literature for that matter, so they were given the name because, why not?

    • Lord Backwater

      Yes.

    • Jim Jones

      The Jews have spent 3 generations searching for any evidence that supports the OT . . . and found none.

    • B.J. Blazkowicz

      Don’t forget stolen from other religions and cultures, than destroyed what they couldn’t ransack for themselves.

    • Raging Bee

      Names can migrate, or even vanish, over time. Does anyone know where Badon Hill is/was?

  • Ann Kah

    The Bible didn’t say anything about atoms until atoms were discovered and described. The Bible didn’t say anything about disease transmission until it was discovered that disease can be transmitted from sick people to well people. It didn’t mention hand-washing as a disease preventer until we discovered germs. It didn’t tell us anything about thermodynamics until we formulated the laws of thermodynamics. Apparently it didn’t know that air has weight because the wind never blew in Palestine. And it has still never told us why it is forbidden to eat meat and milk together, so I suppose they were seriously short of cheeseburgers in those days.

    Ain’t hindsight wonderful?

  • #12 is just poetic. If it described the future evolution of the Universe (Big Crunch/Rip/Freeze/etc) as well as the future of our planet it could be taken more seriously.

    Everything else that is not interpreting verses as they want, as when one I know of mixes the very first verses of John with black holes, not just Jude 1:13, just shows even in the Bronze and Iron Age eras people were not ignorant savages and were able to deduce some things even if they could not know what caused them.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    “neither light nor darkness are stored anywhere.”
    Not true. Darkness is stored in kitchen drawers, and light is stored in batteries. Sadly most batteries leak real bad which is why when you turn on a flashlight that has been in a drawer for a while it is filled with darkness and not light.

    Cozmo do sii-ants

    • Michael Neville

      There’s the Darkon Theory of Light:

      In short, the concept of the photon has been found to be a misleading, if not actually invalid, method of describing electromagnetic phenomena. In place of the photon, considered as a quantized unit of light energy, it has been conclusively demonstrated by our experiments that the correct fundamental unit is a quantized unit of dark, which we have called the darkon.

      All masses emit darkons. Light “sources” do not emit photons, they absorb darkons. This “sources” are actually darkon sinks.

      In 1849, Fizeau observed the propagation of darkon streams from “outer darkness” toward ter­restrial sinks. The full significance of these unrecognized but visionary measurements of darkon propaga­tion was also carefully hidden in Michelson’s historic rotating-sink experiment. Revisions of Michel-son’s work plus careful comparison with radio-frequency darkon ab­sorption have shown the speed of darkon propagation to be -2.5902072 x 10^8 mil/dögn, where the unit of distance, the Norwegian mil, is equal to 10 km and the unit of time, the Nor­wegian dögn, is, as we have previ­ously indicated, 24 hours of total dark­ness. The astute student of the older theory of light will immedi­ately recognize that the negative of this unit, when converted to the ar­chaic system of units, is 2.997925 x 10^6 km/sec, which is indeed a less-tractable formulation.

    • Lark62

      I keep light in my fridge.

      • Cozmo the Magician

        YUP! Stays nice and fresh in there.

      • Maltnothops

        I have two lights in my fridge and one of them annoys me to no end. Open the door and it doesn’t come on. Touch it and, hey, it works! Close the door. Open the door. It doesn’t come on. Touch it. It comes on! Close the door…..

        • Lark62

          Something like that could keep a person amused for hours.

        • Maltnothops

          LOL.

        • Phil Rimmer

          Screw it!

        • Maltnothops

          I’ve tried! Replaced the bulb! I’ve done everything except get inside the fridge with the door closed!

        • Phil Rimmer

          You have a phone that can video from inside. You have a finger that can activate the switch.

          Can you fix it? Yes you can!

          And if you can’t, then, Screw it!

        • Susan

          I’ve done everything except get inside the fridge with the door closed!

          Then, you haven’t tried hard enough.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Depends on the size of the fridge though.

      • Ignorant Amos

        Wise move. Stops it going off.

        • Lark62

          Well played

    • Kuno

      Also, darkness is the only thing faster than the speed of light. Because it has to get out of the way before light arrives somewhere.

    • Oh, yeah, smart guy? What about a refrigerator–is the light off in there … or is it on?

      Checkmate, atheists!

      • Bob Jase

        Schrodinger’s bulb.

  • “The verse isn’t saying that matter is made of atoms but that the visible world was created by invisible God.”

    Hey, if we’re made in god’s image and god is invisible, how come we can see each other?

    • RichardSRussell

      There you go with that logic thing again! Where’s your FAITH!!???

  • Jim Jones

    If the apologists could show me Euler’s Identity in the bible I’d be interested. But no.

    • As RW claims, the Book of Numbers is of anything but number theory.

    • Bob Jase

      Euler isn’t mentioned in the bible as he took the day off.

    • Phil Rimmer

      That would be impressive. I mean, we know now little Lenny was Paul and Marguerite’s kid….

      I’ll get me coat…

  • abb3w

    Bury your poop? Yes, that’s good advice

    My recollection on this isn’t perfect, so doublecheck this for yourselves before taking this as gospel. However… not exactly.

    The Essenes, who are suspected of being responsible for the Dead Sea Scroll trove, had some peculiar rituals on burying their poop. Those rituals are believed to have caused them problems and possibly resulted in the group (literally) dying out. Several nasty parasites are able to migrate through the dirt for distances up to 4 feet, and survive for up to a year. (Modern outhouses should be dug to a depth of eight feet below ground level, and filled back in with dirt when …usage… brings them back to five feet. Teaching the South about this was a big push in the early 20th century, before rural electrification and water programs reduced the number of people who only had an outhouse.) The Essenes apparently didn’t bury the poop so deeply, which (along with other practices) may have caused heavier rates of infection. In contrast, if you’re living in a hot desert area, you’re better off just leaving the poop unburied and exposed to the sunlight, which quickly kills most of the major parasites.

    • Sounds like you don’t give a shit about God’s getting grossed out by shit, but I’ll just let him discuss that with you at Judgment.

      As for the Essenes, I heard that they had a ritual that they would walk through cleansing water when returning to the compound after using the latrine. Of course, that just made the water bath a Petri dish of all dangerous bacteria carried by everyone.

      It almost makes one think that ritual cleansing isn’t the same thing as actual cleansing.

  • Maltnothops

    “unclean”

    I studied the Torah with a rabbi before my (Jewish) wife and I started a family. (It was a trade: my father was a minister so I discussed my experiences as the child of the clergy person which he was keenly interested in with respect to his children and I got to ask him all sorts of rude questions. We got along great.). Anyway, I asked, “What does “unclean” even mean?” And he replied, “We’re don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. The whole point is that some stuff was forbidden and some stuff was allowed. God could have said pork was clean and lamb was unclean and it would be the same.”

    He was hoping to convert me to Judaism (my being atheist was not a barrier in his opinion; I didn’t need to believe in God to be Jewish). I told him that his explanation of the clean/unclean thing wasn’t a compelling argument for conversion.

    • Lord Backwater

      I agree with his reasoning though. You will hear many religionists try to make sense of the bizarro rules in teh Bible (Joel Osteen comes immediately to mind), but if you actually believe, “God said so” should be sufficient.

      • Maltnothops

        I get what you’re saying. But a deity that is arbitrary and capricious just won’t earn my respect.

    • Lark62

      How else do tribal humans differentiate “my tribe” v. “not my tribe” in a place where everyone looks alike and speaks the same language?

      Weird dietary rules and clothing choices are necessary so that they know who falls under “thou shalt not murder them or steal from them” and who falls under “kill them all and steal their land and possessions.”

      • HairyEyedWordBombThrower

        Why hazing is so prized once instituted.

        There’s a sick pride in having come through it, combined with a sadistic need to inflict it on others.

        • Lark62

          Yes. And a person’s loyalty to a group is often proportional to the difficulty in joining.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Yayuuuup! Rites of passage are a fairly universal thing.

          Laboratory experiments have shown that severe initiations produce cognitive dissonance. It is theorized that such dissonance heightens group attraction among initiates after the experience, arising from internal justification of the effort used. Rewards during initiations have important consequences in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity. As well as group attraction, initiations can also produce conformity among new members. Psychology experiments have also shown that initiations increase feelings of affiliation.

  • RichardSRussell

    I’m not at all confused about the relationship between the Bible and science. One’s a winner and the other’s a loser.