Part 1a

Part 1b

Objection #1

Objection #3

Objection #2: The Bible Contains Unscientific Ideas

 

Clark Pinnock

 

Clark Pinnock

Clark Pinnock

Clark Pinnock, while maintaining that God has spoken in Scripture, limits how much of the Bible that actually entails.  “The authority of the Bible in faith and practice does not rule out the possibility of…a prescientific description of the world…” (Scripture Principle, p.104).  Furthermore, Pinnock sees the Bible recording legends in certain places, rather than facts, though he does submit that the Bible is not radically mythical (Scripture Principle, p.122-123).  For Pinnock, the Bible can still contain the word of God, while at the same time containing unscientific ideas.  The human authors, just by nature of living when they did, believed what others believed in regard to the world around them, and this should not be considered strange.  I believe Pinnock would be happy to concede that the examples of prescience I have given in the previous article might point to the word of God, but he would add that there are other parts of the Bible that are not scientific, and thus, point to the word of man.

 

Science versus Christianity?

 

WordObj11aThe view that science and Christianity are at war is a view held by many people, sadly including some Christians.  Propaganda in the last couple of centuries has led to what I believe to be a false dichotomy between science and Christian faith.  Thinking of Galileo and Copernicus, who began to suggest that the Earth was not the center of the universe, people think of the Church opposing science, even in the face of evidence, but the facts are distorted.  I do not intend to go into great detail, but it is worth mentioning with regard to science and Christianity in general, “Historians of science now recognize the indispensable role played by the Christian faith in the rise and development of modern science.” (William Lane Craig, in Who Made God?, p.50). 

Guillermo Gonzalez (right) and Jay Richards (left)

Guillermo Gonzalez (right) and Jay Richards (left)

In particular, what Galileo and Copernicus were disputing was not a clear biblical teaching on the nature of the Earth, but “an integration of the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic cosmology with Christian theology.” (Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet, p.230).  The question was whether biblical interpretations supported by Aristotelian assumptions were actually correct interpretations of the natural world, to which history and modern science clearly affirm the negative.  However, the question of whether biblical interpretations can be consistent with the scientific discoveries of the natural world remains open. 

WordObj12aIt is a question to which some of the early non-Aristotelian scientists would affirm the positive, for “the key figures who proposed the new cosmology were religious.” (Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet, p.231).  So, before we get too caught up in controversies that take us away from the Bible, let us see what the Bible itself has to say.

 

WordObj-figure 2-2

Alleged Unscientific Ideas

 

WordObj11I can quite neutrally title this section “alleged” unscientific ideas, because it is not as if the biblical teaching in these areas is as clear as day, one way or the other.  The Bible simply was not written to satisfy our curiosity.  Even within conservative Christianity, there are differing views about what the Bible actually claims in regard to certain scientific questions, so it would be a mistake to assume that any given person could easily take “the biblical view” and compare it to the findings of modern science.  My intention is simply to suggest that the teachings of the Bible, if correctly interpreted, do not have to be inconsistent with modern science.  I have presented positive evidence of scientific understanding in advance of scientific discovery in the previous article, but this section will focus more on explaining the charges against the Bible of the lack of scientific understanding in certain areas.

 

The Sun Revolves around the Earth

 

WordObj13aSo what was the controversy mentioned above based on, besides a certain Greek cosmology?  Well, it comes down to a handful of passages that seem to contradict the modern understanding that the Earth in fact revolves around the Sun.  To begin with, it is worth stating up front that the question is not whether or not the Sun moves, for the movement of the Sun is not in contradiction with modern science.  The question is specifically whether the Sun is said to move around the Earth or not.  A few examples will suffice.

 

Psalm 113:3 “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!”

 

Isaiah 45:6 “that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

 

Isaiah 59:19 “So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives.”

 

WordObj14Now, to speak of the Sun rising and setting sounds to me like the Sun is being depicted in motion.  In addition, the implications of these verses would actually be that the Sun appears to be rotating around the Earth.  The “rising of the sun” is put in the context of “the west”, so the way I see it, it is just another way of saying the East, for the sun rises there and it sets in the West.  Thus, if the Sun rises in the East, sets in the West, and then rises in the East again the next day, it seems to indicate that it went all the way around the Earth.  Wait a minute, though.  Why is it in this modern day and age, I do not have to change my language about what I see in the sky to accurately describe what is happening?  Why is that when I talk about the “rising of the sun”, everybody, scientists, teachers, and students alike, knows what I am referring to; namely, the rotation of the Earth on its axis, revealing the solar light of the star we are in orbit around?  The reason is that we still use the “rising of the sun” to describe what we see on a daily basis.  It is what we call a figure of speech, and thus, is not literally describing what is happening, but is a figurative description of it.  If you were to look at your watch, surprised at the time, saying “Wow, time flies” would not commit you to proposing a new theory of temporal aviation.

 

WordObj15Turning back to the Bible, there are many figures of speech that are used in the Bible, so we need to be careful about how we interpret the message.  In the case of the passages in Isaiah, as I already mentioned, because the “rising of the sun” is placed alongside “the west” it seems to be a figure of speech for the East.  What is being expressed here is not cosmology, but in a way, figurative geography.  It is trying to say that there is no one like God…well, anywhere that you might look.  The same might be said of the passage in Psalms, though it is possible that time, rather than geography, is the intended reference point for the praise of the Lord.  On the one hand, it could be saying that the Lord is to be praised everywhere, and on the other hand, it could be saying that the Lord is to be praised all day.  Even if we may not be able to say for sure which meaning is intended, I think we can at least agree that “from the optical perception of light based on the Earth’s rotation to the disappearance of this light from view, the name of the Lord is to be praised” would be a horrible attempt at poetry.  The point of this kind of description was to point to the greatness of God, not the technical details of the movement of celestial bodies.  The Bible is not to be faulted for such figurative descriptions of what would be an identifiable reference point for any observer any more than the words of parents telling their kids to go out and play, because the “sun is coming out” should be censored.

 

The Earth Is Fixed in Place

 

In addition to understanding that the Bible contains figurative language, it is also interesting to consider that there is also literal language.  What is even more interesting is when the literal language gives an accurate description of the world, even if the figurative language does not.  As I explained above, we should not expect figurative language to give us a technical and literal description, but if I left it at that, it could give the impression the Bible is easy to write off as if it gives us no real knowledge about the world around us.  In the previous article, I already described examples of scientific knowledge within the Bible that are hard to explain without factoring in divine revelation of knowledge about features of the universe before humans ever discovered them.  However, I wish to accentuate the point by bringing attention to how figurative descriptions are too often considered exemplary of biblical knowledge, while literal descriptions relevant to the same area are ignored.  I believe the idea that the Bible teaches that the Earth is fixed in place to be one of these.

 

WordObj16b1 Samuel 2:8 “He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s, and on them he has set the world.”

 

Job 9:6 “who shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble;”

 

Now the idea of pillars certainly suggests that the Earth rests on some sort of foundation, and as I mentioned in the previous article, this was the common ancient belief.  So is the Bible just following along with the crowd and even common sense, for the Earth certainly does not feel like it is moving or not firmly founded, does it?  It is a possibility, but then we should also consider what else Job has to tell us.

 

Job 26:7 “He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing.”

 

Job 26:11 “The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke.”

 

WordObj16I have mentioned the first verse before, but it is worth mentioning again in light of the present discussion.  On the one hand, there are verses claiming that the Earth is founded on pillars, and on the other hand, we see here in Job 26:7 that the claim is that the Earth is set on nothing at all.  What are we to make of this?  Well, it could be said that the verses are both literal and simply disagree, or that they are both figures of speech, or perhaps that one is literal and one is figurative.  To consider the first option, it might be fine to think of ancient people literally thinking that the Earth was set on pillars, that could be seen if it were possible to go down under the Earth and look, but then Job 26:11 describes heaven having pillars also, in almost identical language.  If literal pillars were in mind in one, they would most likely be in mind in the other.  What about both being figurative?  The pillars would make sense as a figure of speech, but “hangs the earth on nothing” is not as clearly so.  This could lead us into the last option, where I could suggest that the pillars are figurative of the foundation of the earth, including God’s sovereignty over it, and hanging the Earth on nothing would actually fit as a literal description of the position of the Earth.  Of the different options, I do not consider the last option to be far and away the best, but I do think it makes more sense than the other two in interpretation.  However, add the fact that science tells us that the Earth does find itself over a void and hanging in empty space, while at the same time not aimlessly drifting through it and floating away, but following a prescribed orbit due to gravitational force.  Then, the last option starts to look a lot more convincing, and even if some do not find it convincing enough to show that the Bible teaches the correct view, I believe it is more than enough to show that the Bible does not present the clear teaching of a wrong view.

 

The Earth Is Flat

 

WordObj17aThough no one has believed this in recent centuries, I have still recently heard non-Christian scientists use “Flat-Earthers” as a derogatory term for Christians.  It is intended to refer to people who are trying to impede scientific advancement in general, but it derives from resistance to the idea of the Earth being round in particular.  As with the two topics above, the Bible does not say the Earth is flat in so many words, but inference is made through a few passages that describe the “four corners of the earth”.  The idea is that if something has four corners, it is a square, and though this does not exactly translate into claiming that the Earth is flat, it seems closer to flatness than roundness.  Here are examples of biblical passages describing the four corners of the Earth.

 

Isaiah 11:12 “He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”

 

Revelation 7:1 “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree.”

 

Revelation 20:8 “and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.”

 

WordObj18With these verses, as with the others above, we must ask what the best interpretation is.  It should be said first that Revelation is of the type of literature known as apocalyptic literature, and is thus highly visionary, so it may not be claiming anything about the nature of the Earth at all.  However, I include them because they might give insight into how the phrase “four corners of the earth” is being used.  To take 7:1, it is more than just the four corners, but there are also four angels and four winds.  Why would there be four?  Are there literally four intended or could it be a figurative description?  As Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe suggest, this could be “a succinct way of referring to the four directions, ‘north, south, east, and west.’” (The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, p.553).  WordObj17This makes sense if we consider that there are four points on a compass and to refer to all four of them would be to refer to all over.  I believe this is also consistent as 20:8 is thought through.  The end of this verse is undeniably figurative, as it describes the number of the nations as comparable to “the sand of the sea”, but are we to think that these nations are literally distributed in the corners of the Earth?  Are we to imagine these armies positioning themselves as far as they can on the Earth without falling off?  Or are we again simply told that these nations are from all over the Earth, or in other words, from different parts of the Earth?

 

WordObj19aIt is hard to say for sure, because we cannot definitely place these nations geographically, but what if we did have a geographically definable area that was also referred to as the “four corners of the earth”?  I would say that would help us to see if it literally meant that or if it was just a figurative description to refer to different parts of the Earth.  Well, as it turns out, we have that for the reference in Isaiah.  Isaiah 11:12 is included above, describing how the Lord would “assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”  However, just one verse before, this same recovering of those left of God’s people is described, and yet, in place of the four corners, names of places are given, such as Egypt, Assyria, and Elam (11:11).  These countries were not the farthest known places at the time, and even if they were, they could not be literally described as corners.  The claim here is simply that God would gather His people from everywhere they had been dispersed, not that they were literally at the corners of the Earth.

 

So if these verses do not refer to the Earth being square, is there any indication of what Earth is like?  Isaiah 40:22 springs to mind, speaking of God and saying “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth”.  Circular does not necessarily mean spherical, but in any case, it is not clearly teaching that the Earth is flat, and may very possibly be a reference to the Earth being round as we would understand it today.

 

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Summary

 

WordObj20In spite of the false scientific beliefs some people might wish to attach to the Bible, examination of the actual passages in question reveals a lot less than a solid theory could hope for.  In addition to the fact that conflict between science and Christianity is more apparent than real, a spectrum of modern beliefs in regard to science and the Bible exists within Christianity, so differing approaches cannot be all lumped together.  It is not acceptable to dismiss Christians as “Flat-Earthers” when no one now believes that and even those who once did lacked sound biblical evidence for it.  In maintaining that the Bible is God’s word, I do not feel the need to prove that God revealed everything He possibly could about the natural world, but I do feel the need to contradict the claim that the Bible is unscientific.  Even if the point remains open concerning to what extent God revealed what is relevant to science in Scripture, I would at least hope I have shown that the Bible is not to be understood as a hopelessly outdated science textbook.

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