Ahead of its Time Knowledge in the Bible?

Ahead of its Time Knowledge in the Bible? November 17, 2014

Ahead of its time information in the Bible

Ross MacKenzie has a nice breakdown of what motivates – and what is wrong with – attempts to identify ahead-of-its-time knowledge of science in the Bible. Some of these are very dubious – far from being the idea design for a ship, the box-shaped humongous ark may not have been seaworthy at all. Others are so vague as to be ridiculous – such as “Genesis 1” being matched with “Hubert Spencer’s Scientific Principles.” Many are simply wrong – Leviticus 11 has nothing to do with diseases being transferred from animals to humans. And some misunderstand the text and do not take it literally enough – the stars were thought of as angelic or divine beings that literally sing, not as giving off “signals.” That last instance illustrates the main problem that predominates throughout – the reading back of modern science into texts which not only did not articulate it ahead of its time, but frequently express themselves in ways which, if taken at face value, are at odds with the conclusions of modern science, reflecting their ancient context and its assumptions about the cosmos.

But I’m taking this too seriously. Even the title is poorly thought out. Bibles are “real” – you can pick one up and look at it. But that is presumably not what this list is aimed at showing.

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  • TomS

    I have been told that there is a similar practice with the scriptures of other religious traditions – the Koran and the Bhagavadgita, and maybe even the Homeric poems.

  • arcseconds

    Gah! The world was known to be spherical (by the educated, at least) since ancient times, not the 15th century.

    • TomS

      “Earth is held in place by invisible forces” discovered in 1650?

    • James

      Yep. And when the Bible says “round” it means “round” (2D) and not “spherical” (3D), a point that is completely lost upon literalists. It was common for land-locked ancient peoples to believe the world was flat, but quite common for seafarers to know it is curved. Just observing a seascape will show the world is at least curved, if not fully spherical.

  • David Evans

    Genesis 15:5 is “And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.”

    That does not say the number of stars is infinite. It says that number is comparable to the number of Abraham’s descendants, which (given that the Bible suggests the entire span of human life on Earth is only a few millennia) is likely to be measured at most in the trillions.

    “Blood is necessary for life…19th Century”?

    So out of all those ancient warriors, sheepherders and medics only the Jews noticed that loss of enough blood, even from an injury which is otherwise survivable, will cause death?

    “Arcturus and other stars move through space”? Not only that but, according to the same verse, Arcturus has sons!. Bet you secular astronomers didn’t know that.

    Several Greek philosophers, from Anaximander (5th century BCE) onwards, saw the connection between thunder and lightning. Which is, actually, hard to miss.

    • TomS

      “Blood is necessary for life”?

      Oh, maybe one can stretch a point and say that sap is the “blood” of vascular plants and that many invertebrate animals have a body liquid. But still, the majority of life on Earth is one-celled. This is one of those “inadvertent apophases” – bringing up a subject that they had better left unsaid. In this case, that the Bible, rather than showing expertise in biology, knows next to nothing of the variety of life.

      • David Evans

        I think the verses of Leviticus, to which they refer, are clearly about bird and mammal life in the context of sacrifice. They are simply not concerned with plants at all, presumably because God rejected Cain’s offering of his crops.

        • TomS

          Am I the one who said that Leviticus is a biological textbook?
          I’m learned not to dispute what the Bible “really” means with someone who takes it “literally”. If they think that it means that all living things have blood, then I just point out that most living things do not have blood.

          • David Evans

            I don’t think the authors of this regrettable list think that all living things have blood, or think that Leviticus says that. As I said, Leviticus is clearly about animals. Most translations talk of all flesh rather than of all living things (KJV, For the life of the flesh is in the blood) which in context must mean animal flesh.

  • Sean M

    In the human experience, science and spirituality are both important for different reasons. Science explains ‘how’, spirituality explores the ‘why’. Stuff like this superficial comparison of the bible to scientific discovery belittles both science and spirituality…

  • WillBell

    Their scientific discoveries are also wrong, photons do not have mass for one.

    • David Evans

      That’s arguable. They don’t have rest mass (they are, after all, never at rest!) but they do have energy, and energy is equivalent to mass.

      More to the point is that Job 38:19 says nothing about particles or mass. Here it is in full:

      19 Where is the way where light dwelleth? And as for darkness, where is the place thereof,

      20 that thou shouldest take it to the boundary thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?