Science and the Scriptures
Scientific Allusions in Scripture
The Bible abounds with references to nature and natural processes and thus frequently touches on the various sciences. Those who say the Bible is not a book of science have not read it closely enough.
The writers of the Bible do not attempt to formulate these statements in the terminology of a modern chemical or biological treatise. They use everyday language comprehensible to all readers, describing the phenomenon in simplest terms. Nevertheless, they are always amazingly accurate, even when tested by the most rigorous scientific requirements. The so-called scientific mistakes of the Bible are not mistakes at all, nor do they have to be allegorized or explained as cultural accommodations or conventionalities.
Before looking at the alleged errors, however, let us note some of the anticipatory scientific insights in Scripture.
The list shown includes a representative sampling of the many such passages that might be cited.
||Phenomenon or Process
||Ecclesiastes 1:7; Isaiah 55:10
||Psalm 135:7; Jeremiah 10:13
||Job 26:8; 37:11,16
||Job 38:22; Psalm 147:16
|Springs in the Sea
||Principle of Isostasy
||Isaiah 40:12; Psalm 104:5-9
||Shape of Earth
||Isaiah 40:22; Job 26:10; Psalm 103:12
|Rotation of Earth
||Job 26:7; 38:6
||2 Peter 3:4
||Size of Universe
||Job 11:7-9; 22:12; Isaiah 55:9; Jeremiah 31:37
||Number of Stars
||Genesis 22:17; Jeremiah 33:22
|Uniqueness of Each Star
||1 Corinthians 15:41
|Precision of Orbits
||Circulation of Atmosphere
||Protective Effect of Atmosphere
|Oceanic Origin of Rain
|Relation of Electricity to Rain
||Job 28:26; Jeremiah 10:13
||Proverbs 16:24; 17:22
|Biogenesis and Stability
|Uniqueness of Man
|Chemical Nature of Flesh
||Genesis 1:11,242:7; 3:19
||Job 12:23-25; 30:3-8
||Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3
||Source of Energy for Earth
||2 Peter 3:10
|Electrical Transmission of Information
Alleged Scientific Mistakes
As mentioned earlier, the so-called scientific errors in the Bible will invariably be found, on closer examination, to be accurate scientific insights. A good example is the often repeated charge that the Bible teaches that (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) is only 3, when it ought to have been given as 3.1416.
This interesting observation is based on the statement in 1 Kings 7:23, in the description of Solomon's Temple:
"And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other; it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about."
Thus, Solomon is charged with saying that the circumference of a 10-cubit diameter circle is only 30 cubits, when it should be 31.416 cubits. However, those who make this charge are themselves being unscientific.
It is quite important that the scientist be accurate in his statement of the precision of measurements. To assure this, he uses a conventional technique called "significant figures." It is only correct to state a measurement to the number of significant figures warranted by the accuracy of the measurement. Thus, if the number is stated as 10 cubits, it is accurate only to two significant figures and might actually be anywhere between 9.5 cubits and 10.5 cubits. If the writer had said it was 10.0 cubits, it would supposedly be accurate to three significant figures.
Similarly, the 30-cubit circumference is accurate only to two significant figures, and might really be anything from 29.5 cubits to 30.5 cubits. It served no purpose to specify the dimensions to a higher degree of precision than two significant figures, and so the writer simply rounded them off.
For example, say the actual measurement of the diameter gave 9.67 cubits, accurate to three significant figures. This should then be multiplied by 3.14, which is to the third significant figure. The result is 30.4 cubits, to the third significant figure. There cannot properly be more significant figures in a product than in any of its factors. It may not even be this accurate (if the diameter had been 9.665 cubits, multiplying by 3.14 would give 30.3 cubits instead of 30.4). It is quite common, for this reason, to retain one more significant figure in each factor than is needed in the product, which is then rounded off to one less significant figure than the factors have.
It would be perfectly proper and scientific, therefore, to round off the diameter of 9.67 cubits and the circumference of 30.4 cubits to 10 cubits and 30 cubits, respectively. Therefore, the writer of 1 Kings was more scientific than his critics.
Another scientific mistake is supposed to be the Biblical picture of a flat earth with four corners. The Bible gives no such picture, however. There is a reference in Revelation 7:1 to the "four corners of the earth," as translated in the King James Version. However, the phrase "four corners," in the Greek, can mean simply "four quarters," and is so translated in Revelation 20:8. It obviously refers to the four directions as measured from the particular focal point of interest and is the standard convention used in surveying and mapping to this day.
A similar convention, used by astronomers and cartographers even today, is that of measuring the motions of the sun, moon and stars relative to the earth. Thus, when Joshua said, "Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon" (Joshua 10:12), and when David said, "[The sun's] going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it" (Psalm 19:6), they were not just writing of the "prescientific" notion of a fixed earth and an orbiting sun. All motion is relative motion, and the sun is no more "fixed" in space than the earth is. Since all heavenly bodies are in motion relative to each other, it is impossible to specify their absolute velocities.
The scientifically correct way to specify motions, therefore, is to select an arbitrary point of assumed zero velocity and then to measure all velocities relative to that point. The proper point to use is the one which is most convenient to the observer for the purposes of his particular calculations. In the case of movements of the heavenly bodies, normally the most suitable such point is the earth's surface at the latitude and longitude of the observer, and this therefore is the most "scientific" point to use. David and Joshua are more scientific than their critics in adopting such a convention for their narratives.
A different type of scientific mistake has been ascribed to Moses in Leviticus 11:6, when he forbade the Israelites to eat "the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof." The objection is that the hare does not chew the cud. This is evidently a mistake, but not a mistake by Moses. The translators should not have translated the Hebrew arnebeth, "hare." The arnebeth is evidently now extinct, so that we do not know exactly what it was, but at any rate, it was not a hare.
Other examples could be discussed, but the above are typical of the more frequently cited scientific "errors" in Scripture. In every case, it can be shown that the Bible is scientifically accurate. The problem sometimes results from an inaccurate translation but more commonly simply results from the critics' carelessness in treating scientific speculations as if they were scientific facts. This especially is the case with the two most important alleged scientific errors in Scripture, the records of Creation and the Flood. The theories of evolution and the geological ages are used to discredit the Bible, but the actual scientific evidence contradicts these humanistic theories.
One important point should be made in closing this section. The Bible stands alone among the religious books of antiquity in the matter of scientific accuracy. All other ancient religious writings abound in obvious scientific fallacies, and no one would think of writing a study on modern science in relation to, say, the Babylonian or Hindu or Greek sacred books. Only the Bible can make a serious claim to being in accord with modern science, and this is in itself a witness to its uniqueness.
A special class of scientific problems in Scripture has to do with the Biblical miracles. Skeptics frequently charge that such miracles as the long day of Joshua, the ten plagues of Egypt, the deliverance of Jonah from the whale, the preservation of the three Israelites in Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, the passage through the Red Sea, and many others are scientifically impossible. Often Christians have tried to avoid this issue by proposing some naturalistic process which might have been involved in the supposed miracle.
But all scientific objections to miracles merely beg the question. To say miracles are scientifically impossible is one thing, but to say they can't happen is another thing. We might even define a miracle as "an event which is scientifically impossible, but which happens anyway."
After all, science is merely the accumulated body of empirical knowledge of how things are normally observed to happen.
Science necessarily is empirical, and the body of this empirical knowledge is continually growing. Nevertheless, it would be folly to say we know everything about how things must happen in the world. If God is the Creator and Sustainer of all natural processes, then He can surely change those processes when and as He wills. Thus, to say that miracles are impossible is simply to deny God. Anti-supernaturalism is atheism.
Thus, the investigation of alleged miracles must be an historical investigation rather than a scientific investigation. Did the miracle occur -- not, could it occur? Is there adequate testimonial evidence that it really happened? Whether or not we can explain it in terms of known scientific processes is beside the point. In some cases, indeed, it may well be possible to understand a particular miracle as a providential timing of a natural phenomenon or as a particularly wide fluctuation of a statistically-varying natural process. In many others, it may be quite impossible to explain the miracle on such a quasi-naturalistic basis as this at all, without doing unwarranted violence to the record thereof.
The point is that a miracle does not need to be explained. It needs to be verified as actually having occurred, but that is all. Its miraculous nature is specifically intended as a testimony that supernatural power is present in the event, and it cannot be denied simply by the dictum that science precludes miracles!
The investigation of an alleged miracle should take approximately the following form:
- Are the witnesses and reporters of the event reliable observers and trustworthy narrators?
- Is the event something which is unique, not reproducible by specific techniques employed by or at the direction of human practitioners?
- Does the event contradict the basic laws of nature, especially one of the two laws of thermodynamics?
- Is the testimony associated with the event in full accord with the Scriptures?
If the answer to any one of the questions above is either "no" or "not sure," then there is reason to question whether a real miracle has indeed taken place, at least a miracle requiring the direct power of God. If all the answers to the questions are unequivocally "yes," then there is adequate reason to believe "that indeed a notable miracle hath" occurred (Acts 4:16).
If the answer to the first three questions is "yes," but the fourth is "no," then there may be reason to consider the possibility of a Satanic, rather than a divine, miracle.
If the first, second and fourth questions can be answered "yes," but the third is "no," then a secondary type of miracle can still be considered, one which does not require God to set aside His basic laws but does involve an unusual statistical deviation in a natural process or an unusually timed occurrence of a natural process. This type may be called a miracle of providence, whereas a miracle involving a special creation of matter, energy or order, thus superseding one or both of the two laws of thermodynamics, is a miracle of creation.
All of the Biblical miracles satisfy the criteria for providential miracles, and many of them satisfy the criteria for creative miracles, with the exception of certain events which are clearly implied to be Satanic miracles. There is no reason to doubt, for scientific or other reasons, that any of the miracles recorded in Scripture actually took place in just the way they are described.
See Miracles of the Bible for a listing of the Biblical miracles in each category.
"Science and the Scriptures" has been modified from a section in Many Infallible Proofs by Henry M. Morris (Master Books, 1974), pp. 241-247