We were at the computer lab in the library at Shepherd University last night when Ashley discovered something interesting. Slipped between the pages of a book in the reference section entitled Who’s Who in Hell was a card with the heading “Science Confirms the Bible”. She showed me the card and said, “I thought you’d find this interesting.” The girl knows me.
The front of the card bears a chart, twelve rows divided into three columns, titled “The Bible,” “Science Now,” and “Science Then” respectively. I scanned it; that’s an image of it over there to the right. Click on it to get a bigger version you can actually read, or read a transcript of it here.
The point of the thing is to prove that scientifically testable assertions made by the Bible are accurate, and that the Bible got it right long before science did. It’s a silly claim, and a dishonest one. The biggest problem with arguing that the Bible had a more accurate description of the world when it was written than science is that science didn’t exist back then. The scientific method of investigating phenomena through empirical observation, and proposing and testing hypotheses using experimentation wasn’t being used when the Old Testament was written, and was just coming into use around the time of the New Testament, approximately 2,000 years ago. Nearly all of modern science’s body of knowledge has come within the last few hundred years, and much of it is far more recent than that.
The table on the card gives twelve statements with which it claims the Bible and modern science agree, but which ancient science had wrong. The information in the “Bible” and “Science Now” columns is identical, demonstrating their supposed agreement, and the “Science Then” column lists archaic, disproven ideas. I’ll run through them one by one and try to point out where the card gets it wrong. Science, I don’t think I need to tell you, does not confirm the Bible; it refutes the Bible.
The Bible/Science Now: The earth is a sphere.
Science Then: The earth was a flat disk.
The Bible is noted on the card to have been written “2,000-3,000 years ago,” so I’ll take that as the era referred to by “Science Then.” While the entries in the “Bible” column are all sourced with a reference to a specific chapter and verse, none of the “Science Now” statements contain any references at all. It’s true that a flat Earth was a common belief in Europe and the Middle East around 3,000 years ago. Homer believed in a flat Earth, but I don’t know many who consider Homer to have been a scientist. Around 2,500 years ago, Anaximander conceived a model of the universe where the Earth was neither a sphere nor a disk, but a cylinder. By the time of Eratosthenes in the 3rd century B.C. (still within the 2,000-3,000 years ago time period), the spherical Earth was well accepted by most ancient Greeks; Eratosthenes even made a reasonably accurate measurement of the Earth’s circumference, two hundred years before the birth of Jesus.
Does the Bible state unambiguously that the Earth is a sphere? The verse cited, Isaiah 40:22, reads “It is He that sitteth above the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” The Earth is referred to as a “circle,” not a sphere; the old flat Earth concept portrayed Earth as a flat circular disk. The Isaiah verse fits that model better than the spherical one.
The Bible/Science Now: Incalculable number of stars.
Science Then: Only 1,100 stars.
Though it isn’t sourced, the figure of 1,100 stars comes from Ptolemy, who estimated that there were that many stars within the outermost sphere of his celestial model.
The verse quoted here is Jeremiah 33:22: “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me.” Where does it say anything about stars? I’m meant to believe “host of heaven” means the stars, but that seems like a stretch. Doesn’t “host” usually refer to the angels, or God himself — the residents of Heaven? Why does it suddenly mean the stars? And how is a poetic analogy describing the number of descendants God is promising David scientific proof of anything?
As for the number of stars, it is immense, it is presently uncalculated, but it is certainly calculable in theory. “Incalculable” suggests that there is an infinite number of stars. Science doesn’t say that. There is a finite number of stars. It’s just a very, very big number.
The Bible/Science Now: Free float of earth in space.
Science Then: Earth sat on a large animal.
This one is just wrong all over. The Earth doesn’t float free in space; it is tethered to the Sun by gravity, its motions are regular and predictable, and its own gravity is able to influence other stellar bodies. The cited Bible verse, Job 26:7, reads “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.” How does that jibe with scientific fact?
As for “Science Then” teaching that the Earth sat on a large animal . . . what the fuck is all that about? This strikes me as the myth of a rival religion, not a scientific claim. Which animal is the Earth supposed to sit on? Maybe it’s the stomach of a gigantic dog, who has rolled over on his back while God scratches his belly. And when God finishes scratching and the dog rolls back over, we’ll all be crushed and it will be the end of the world.
That’s actually not such a bad myth. I just made that shit up.
The Bible/Science Now: Creation made of invisible elements (atoms).
Science Then: Science was ignorant on the subject.
No shit science was ignorant on the subject 3,000 years ago. In 1918 I was ignorant on the subject of America’s involvement in the First World War. What’s your point?
The Biblical reference is to Hebrews 11:3, which says “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Well, no, not really. Through observation, aided by technological advancements made in the last century, we now understand that elements are composed of atoms, which are invisible to the naked eye, but extremely visible under very high magnification. None of our scientific understanding has been reached through faith.
Instead of demonstrating the Bible’s supernatural scientific accuracy, this verse shows us that it was written by people who were totally ignorant of science. Something is not invisible merely because it can’t be detected by the naked eye. None of the galaxies in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field photograph can be seen from Earth with the naked eye, yet there they are in the picture. They, like atoms, are fully visible when viewed with the aid of the proper equipment.
The Bible/Science Now: Each star is different.
Science Then: All stars were the same.
As with most of these, it’s a stretch to say the Bible teaches that each star is different. The verse cited is I Corinthians 15:41, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.” I suppose I could generously assume that “glory” is a poetic reference to an actual trait — luminosity, for instance — but I doubt that’s what Paul was talking about. Am I seriously to accept a phrase from a letter written by an evangelist to a church as evidence of supernatural scientific accuracy?
The “Science Then” claim that all stars were the same seems to come from the cosmological writings of Aristotle, who supposed that all stars would have to be spherical, as the sphere is a perfect shape. It is not a scientific argument, and Aristotle was not a scientist.
The Bible/Science Now: Light moves.
Science Then: Light was fixed in place.
The proof that the Bible teaches that light moves is contained in Job 38:19-20: “Where is the way where light dwelleth? and as for darkness, where is the place thereof, That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?” Light is described as dwelling someplace, not as moving anywhere. The verse isn’t referring to light scientifically, as electromagnetic radiation visible to the eye, but to light in a more philosophical sense, as the opposite of darkness. The verse is God asking Job, “Where is the light? What’s so great about the darkness that you know so much more about it than the light?” God isn’t talking about optical light. To cite this as evidence of a scientific opinion is ludicrous.
The assertion that “Science Then” believed light was fixed in place seems to come, again, from Aristotle, who disputed the notion of Empedocles that sight depended on the movement of light out from within the eye, and once claimed that light is evidence of a presence, not a movement. Of course, Aristotle also believed that light had an infinite speed, since it seemed to reach the eyes instantaneously, so maybe the card should check its facts. Anyway, how flattered do you think Aristotle would be to be cited as the source of ancient science?
The Bible/Science Now: Air has weight.
Science Then: Air was weightless.
For the Bible’s learned scientific opinion, we return once again to that great empirical text, the Book of Job. Job 28:25: “To make the weight for the winds; and he weigheth the waters by measure.” Another rhetorical statement passed off as evidence of scientific knowledge. But what about that “Science Then” claim? Did scientists, or their predecessors the natural philosophers, ever believe that air was weightless?
The ancient Greeks listed air as one of the four elements, and believed it displayed physical properties such as temperature and humidity. Presumably, then, they also considered it to have weight. The card seems to have confused the classical conception of air with that of ether. Aristotle, that great old scientist, taught that ether was a separate element from air, and had no properties of any kind. Ether was believed to be the invisible medium of the universe, which filled up all the otherwise empty space, and through which light traveled. Ether was not synonymous with air.
The Bible/Science Now: Winds blow in cyclones.
Science Then: Winds blew straight.
First, let’s define what a cyclone is. According to the American Meteorological Society, it’s a closed cyclonic circulation, “fluid motion in the same sense as that of the earth, that is, counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, undefined at the equator.”
The Biblical reference here is from Ecclesiastes 1:6: “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.” Carefully interpreted, this could describe cyclonic circulation in a general sense. From the AMS definition: “The first use of this term was in the very general sense as the generic term for all circular or highly curved wind systems.” But cyclones aren’t defined by winds blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north; they’re defined by the rotation of the system, clockwise or counterclockwise relative to the rotation of the Earth. The Earth doesn’t rotate south to north; it rotates west to east.
Did “Science Then” really teach that winds blew straight? The closest I can find to that is the concept of the four winds, whom the ancient Greeks personified as Gods. Since the winds were thought to originate from either the north, the south, the east or the west, I guess you could assume that they each only blew in one direction. But that was Greek mythology. It wasn’t science; it was religion, just the same as the Bible.
The Bible/Science Now: Blood is the source of life and health.
Science Then: Sick people must be bled.
The Bible passage cited is Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” This verse is more concerned with the supposed spiritual benefits of spilling blood than with any physical properties it might have. The ancient Greeks believed that blood was one of the four humors, along with black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. Illnesses both mental and physical were thought to be caused by imbalances among the four humors. Sick people were often bled on the mistaken assumption that being drained of some of their blood would restore the balance with the other humors. They were also starved, fed certain herbs and foods thought to affect the humors, and induced to vomit. This was not science. The modern science of medicine has disproven humorism, and bleeding is no longer a treatment for most diseases. It was ignorance that allowed this practice to become so widespread, not “Science Then.”
Also, science doesn’t teach that blood is the “source of life and health.” Blood is one part of a complex biology. Take away any of those parts, and human life is compromised. True, blood is very important. It delivers oxygen to our cells and contains leukocytes and antibodies essential to our immune system. We can’t live without blood. We can’t live without mucus, either. Does that make mucus the source of life and health?
The Bible/Science Now: Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains.
Science Then: The ocean floor was flat.
This one’s so important, we get two scripture references. The first is II Samuel 22:16: “And the channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were discovered at the rebuking of the LORD, at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.” Then, as if you’re not convinced, there’s Jonah 2:6: “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God.” That second one needs a bit of context: Jonah is underwater at this point, so the mountains he’s gone down to the bottom of are, we can fairly presume, undersea mountains.
Like many of these “Science Then” claims, it’s hard to find exactly where they’re taken from. It’s true that early exploration of the oceans focused on things like mapping, observing currents and the tides, and studying species of marine animals. I suppose many ancient people could have assumed the ocean floor to be flat and smooth, much as the surface was, but I can’t find any definitive writing or teaching from a natural philosopher or early scientist that says there aren’t mountains and valleys down there.
The Bible/Science Now: Ocean contains springs.
Science Then: Ocean fed only by rivers and rain.
Our fourth (and, sadly, final) citation from the Book of Job, this time chapter 38, verse 16: “Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?” This is the same talk between God and Job that was referenced in the entry about light. God is speaking rhetorically, poetically, not scientifically. The verse demonstrates no supernatural inspiration, there is nothing written here which a person living thousands of years ago wouldn’t have known. “Springs of the sea” is a figure of speech, not a description of an oceanographic feature.
As for “Science Then” believing that only rivers and rain fed the oceans, that would be a reasonable conclusion given the information then available. There was no such thing as scuba diving or deep-sea probes, so the existence of underwater springs beneath the ocean couldn’t possibly have been known. Now that advances in technology have revealed their existence, things like hydrothermal vents and cold seeps are accepted features of marine geology and biology. Science adapts when it acquires new facts. That’s a strength, not a weakness, especially relative to religion.
The Bible/Science Now: When dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water.
Science Then: Hands washed in still water.
Our final Biblical reference comes from Leviticus 15:13: “And when he that hath an issue is cleansed of his issue; then he shall number to himself seven days for his cleansing, and wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in running water, and shall be clean.”
To begin with, there’s a contradiction between the Biblical commandment to bathe in running water and the modern recommendation to wash your hands. That verse of Leviticus refers to ritualistic cleansing conducted by someone who has recovered from an illness. Modern doctors urge people to wash their hands before eating or after using the bathroom in order to prevent illness. One shows a knowledge and application of germ theory, the other is an arbitrary religious ritual.
Secondly, if ancient civilizations cared so little about running water, why did they work so hard to develop plumbing so early? The ancient Greeks and Romans each developed aqueduct and pipe systems to bring water into their cities to be used in bathing and cooking. The Harappan civilization developed indoor plumbing in Pakistan and India over 4,000 years ago. Did these people really believe, affirmatively, that hands should be washed in still water? I smell desperate, dishonest Christian bullshit. Running water is good for getting rid of that, actually.
Science does not confirm the Bible. Science refutes the Bible. Consult the Science and History page at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. Take a few minutes to look over the Index of Creationist Claims at the Talk.Origins Archive. Fuck, just read the Bible and then look out the goddamn window. The Earth wasn’t created before the Sun, the universe is far older than 6,000 years, and Noah and his family didn’t preserve two of every animal aboard a big wooden boat during a global flood. I wonder why those Biblical claims weren’t on the card?
This card is the product of Living Waters Ministries, an evangelical outfit run by Ray Comfort, who also published the Evidence Bible containing more of this sort of shit, and who hosts a show on TBN with former Growing Pains dreamboat Kirk Cameron called Way of the Master. The back of the card contains, word for word, Comfort’s standard pitch, where he informs us that we are all liars, thieves and adulterers who are going to Hell, unless we say a prayer and commence worshipping the proper God. Comfort is a fast-talking salesman who drips of smarm and bullshit even in print. I’d like to think his phony medicine show wouldn’t convince anyone to forsake science for his willfully ignorant strain of Christianity, but that, like Comfort’s assertion that science confirms the Bible, is probably just wishful thinking.
Incidentally, I’m not the first person to find one of these little cards and rant on about it at his blog. Akusai over at Action Skeptics wrote about it almost two years ago. Check out his response in two parts, here and here.