Saturday, August 4, 2018

Scientific Predictions and the Bible: Some Internet Examples


The table shown here has circulated for years on the internet and lists certain scientific statements and claims in the left column that were made in The Bible when most people of the time believed the Science Then that is listed in the middle column. With the development of modern science we now know that the truth (Science Now in the right column) agrees with what the Bible said all along. The table is suggesting that these amazing biblical predictions show that the Bible is inspired by an all-knowing God who understood the science long before humans discovered these principles. As a Christian myself I do believe that the Bible is God's inspired word and that its contents can validate that assertion. I also believe that there are certain biblical passages that make clear statements about the universe that have since been validated by science as discussed in a previous blog entry on Scientific Predictions and the Bible. However, a proper understanding of the statements above, and what they indicate about the supernatural origin of the Bible, requires a more detailed and thorough investigation.

In addition to the blog entry mentioned above, two other posts deal with the subject of Scientific Predictions and the Bible in which I have also stated that any scientific statements in the Bible should be consistent with what we know about the character of God: they should be accurate, culturally relevant, and instrumental in God's primary goal of inviting people to have a relationship with him. Finally, I have proposed that some statements in the Bible may have multiple understandings that were a result of God inspiring the authors.

As you know, the internet is a great source of information, much of which is accurate and insightful, but it also harbors many claims presented as facts that are biased or untrue. I have often laughed at the poster that quotes Abraham Lincoln as he warns us not to believe everything that we find on the internet. While the table shown with biblical scientific statements is certainly not false like the Lincoln quote is, it is also not quite an accurate representation of the claims made in the Bible. In fact, the table above is some combination of (1) some scientific statements that are, indeed, accurately presented and were not known when they were written, (2) scientific claims that were actually known by some people at the time they were written, (3) suspect scientific claims based on the text, or (4) ideas that logically seem likely to be known at the time.

Let’s look at some examples of each of the four cases listed. A likely example of (1), as described in my previous post, is the statement in Jeremiah 33:22 that the stars are as innumerable as the sands on the sea. That would not be known at the time if one based their estimate on the number of observable stars. It is likely that this fact is something that was revealed to the author, though it could just be analogy that the nation of Israel will grow to a great number of people, comparable to other things with large numbers like the sands of the sea or the stars.

Hebrews 11:3 is an interesting example with a few possible interpretations, all of which are examples of (1), where the author is making an accurate statement that was not known at the time of the writing. The verse says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” The table claims that this statement is describing the subatomic unseen world of atoms that make up everything we do see. Alternatively, people claim this verse predicts that this universe had an origin of space, time, matter, and energy, so that everything formed in this universe did not come from other similar stuff, but from a cosmic beginning. Either of these meanings would actually be an example of an accurate scientific statement not known at the time of the writing.

A likely example of (2) is the passage in Isaiah 40:22 which makes a clear statement that the earth is a sphere, and would be a great scientific prediction if that fact was not known at the time. However, the prophet Isaiah lived around 700 BC and it is likely that people commonly knew the earth was a sphere. The shadow of the earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse indicates that the earth is a sphere, and certainly lunar eclipses have been observed since the dawn of humanity. Erathosthenes of Cyrene, a Greek poet, astronomer, writer, and librarian actually made a very accurate measurement of the circumference of the earth by about 200 BC and ancient writings indicate that there were even earlier estimations of the earth's circumference. Another example of (2) is the statement in Leviticus 17:11. Although humans throughout history have used the method of bleeding off a small amount of blood in order to supposedly cure diseases, humans also knew that blood was necessary for life, and that draining off too much blood would kill any living creature, so this statement would be an example of something that was commonly known.  Finally, the passage in 1 Corinthians 15:41 is an  example of something that shouldn’t even be in the list at all since it is obvious from the earth that different stars appear to shine with different brightness so this fact was known to all.

An example of (3) would be the text in Job 38: 19-20, which I do not think actually says that light moves, nor do I know that ancient people thought light was fixed in place. If light were fixed in place, what happens when you light a lamp? The verses say, "Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place, That you may take it to its territory And that you may discern the paths to its home."

For many of the other claims, I'm not sure where the table gets information about what ancient people knew or didn't know. These fall into category (4) above. Did ancient people, in general, really not know that wind changed direction, that there were underwater springs, or that the ocean floor contained varied terrain? I don't have references for these, but it would seem logical that at least some ancient cultures knew these facts.

So if only a very few of the statements in the left column of the table were really scientific predictions unknown at the time of the writing, is this table of any value for validating the accuracy and truth of the biblical text? I would say it is of value because the left column is substantially correct. Though many of the things in the left column may have been known by some people or are simply logical conclusions based on observations, there were certainly many cultures that got the left column wrong. There were some cultures with mythologies that had the earth resting on the back of a cosmic turtle, while the ancient Hebrew culture and Job 26 says that the earth does not hang or rest on anything. There were cultures that counted the number of stars while Jeremiah claims they are not countable. Some Greeks thought everything was made of earth, wind, fire, and water, while Hebrews says that the origin and makeup of the universe is not visible. It would certainly be possible, given the competing theories of ancient times, to have a left column labeled "The Bible" that was full of inaccurate statements. But it is not. The ideas presented in the Bible are accurate and the authors of the Bible chose the correct idea among the many competing ideas of the day, and in a few cases actually wrote something that was not known at the time. Given all of the possible hypotheses from all of the surrounding cultures, it is quite remarkable that the biblical writers got it right. That fact indicates to me that the writers were not randomly choosing among the competing ideas but were being guided and inspired by a God who designed and created the universe and knew the principles by which it operated.

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