Science and the Bible

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For the alleged biblical anticipation of modern scientific discoveries, see Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts.

Some of the books of the Hebrew Bible contain descriptions of the physical world. Some claim that these descriptions can be part of developing a history of science during Levant's Iron Age. Others hold that the descriptions are not themselves scientific, and can as such have no place in the history of science. Panbabylonianists regard the Hebrew Bible as entirely derived from the culture and mythology of Babylonia as it stood during the 6th century BCE, during the Babylonian captivity.

Current mainstream views suggests the possibility that some elements, particularly of the Torah, are independent of Babylonian influence, dating perhaps as early as the 9th or 10th century BCE, but the significant influence of Babylonian mythology and Babylonian cosmology on the worldview presented in the Tanakh is still beyond doubt. The Christian New Testament is a product of the Roman era and reflects the worldview of that epoch in some instances, e.g. in references to astrology or demonic possession.

Cosmology and astronomy[edit]

Biblical cosmology provides sporadic glimpses that may be stitched together to form a Biblical impression of the physical universe. There have been comparisons between the Bible, with passages such as from the Genesis creation narrative, and the astronomy of classical antiquity more generally.[1]

The worldview of the Tanakh (or Old Testament) appears to be that of a flat earth (e.g. Isaiah 11:12 , Isaiah 44:24 ) in a geocentric universe (e.g. Joshua 10:12-13, Ps. 93:1, 1 Chron. 16:30), a view in line with Mesopotamian astronomy of the period.[2] However, Christians claim that the term chuwg 'erets in Isaiah 40:22 translates as 'circle of the Earth', thus referring to a "round earth". Critics, on the other hand, assert that it meant a "flat earth", claiming that if Isaiah wanted to refer to a spherical earth, he would have used the term kadur (sphere) in Hebrew . The spherical shape of the earth was established in the west only in Hellenistic astronomy, in the 3rd century BCE. The first suggestions of heliocentrism in Europe also date to the Hellenistic period but remained speculative until the 16th century CE. Recent measurements from satellites show that the Earth is, in fact, an oblate spheroid flattened at the poles.[citation needed]

Lactantius and Cosmas Indicopleustes insisted on the flat Earth model on scriptural authority as late as the 5th to 6th century, long after the spherical shape of the Earth had been deduced in Hellenistic astronomy, and had been generally accepted by their fellow Christians.[3]

In the reception of Heliocentrism after Copernicus, biblical references 1 Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5, and Ecclesiastes 1:5 were cited for biblical support of geocentrism.[4] Chronicles 16:30 states that "the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved." Psalm 104:5 says, "[the Lord] Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever." Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." Galileo defended heliocentrism, and claimed it was not contrary to those Scripture passages. He took Augustine's position on Scripture. The most supportive bible passage of their view was Job 26:7, where Job declares that God "hangs the earth on nothing", which for its time was very close to how modern astronomers would describe the Earth's position.

There are passages that denote the Moon as being luminous (Gen 1:16). Some argue that, as in Babylonian cosmography, the Hebrew Bible imagines Earth covered by a solid sky-dome[5][6] (the Firmament) to which the stars were attached. Nevertheless, others have argued this was before the fall of man (Genesis 3) and flood of Noah's time (Genesis 6), thus the atmosphere may have changed significantly since that time. Still others suggest that the firmament was actually beneath the earth.[7]

Augustus Hopkins Strong presented another explanation of all the alleged inaccuracies reflected in the Hebrew Bible in his work, Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God.[8] Strong pointed out idiomatic usage of moonlight and sunset are still prevalent in current times as in ancient times, and that the word firmament has been used in literature where no one would suggest the author believed in flat earth or solid firmament theology.[8] He illustrated the point by asking if Dickens believed the firmament was "a piece of solid masonry" when "in his American Notes, 72, [Dickens] describes a prairie sunset: 'The decline of day here was very gorgeous, tinging the firmament deeply with red and gold, up to the very keystone of the arch above us'." However, it is possible that Dickens was writing this passage with a conscious or unconscious reliance on the biblical motif itself.[8] Many scholars (other than those ascribing to some form of Biblical inerrancy doctrine) generally accept that such metaphors in the Bible reflect the authors' underlying belief in the literal truth of this cosmological model.[9]

Medicine[edit]

The Deuteronomic Code contains several sanitation instructions; in particular, Deuteronomy 23:12-13 contains instructions to dispose of human waste away from the population, in order to keep locations holy.

The Old Testament contains a variety of health related instructions, such as isolating infected people (Leviticus 13:45-46 ) and washing after handling a dead body (Numbers 19:11-19 ). In addition, the Book of Leviticus provides instructions on handling of wet and dry plant seeds that may have come into contact with an animal's corpse. (Leviticus 11:37-38 ).

The Old Testament also contains various cleansing rituals. One suggested ritual, for example, deals with the proper procedure for cleansing a leper (Leviticus 14:1-32 ). It is a fairly elaborate process, which is to be performed after a leper was already healed of leprosy (Leviticus 14:3 ), involving extensive cleansing and personal hygiene, but also includes sacrificing a bird and lambs with the addition of using their blood to symbolize that the afflicted has been cleansed.

There is a contention that the degree of effectiveness of the Mosaic dietary restrictions and hygienic strictures indicates and, on the extreme end, "it has taken science thousands of years to discover what the Bible taught all along".[10][11][12] However, many civilizations that had large cities had public sanitation systems, such as Ancient Egypt, the Aegean civilization, the Hittites, and the Elamites.[13]

Passages within the Book of Proverbs relate the two, such as 12:4 , 14:30 , 15:30 , 16:24 , 17:22 . Modern science has found that certain proverbs contain advice toward sound mental and physical well-being.[14]

Agriculture and ecology[edit]

The Torah proscribes Intercropping (Lev. 19:19, Deut 22:9), a practice often associated with sustainable agriculture and organic farming in modern agricultural science.[15][16]

Leviticus 25:1-12 speaks of leaving fields fallow for a year every seven years.[17][18]

The Mosaic code has provisions concerning the conservation of natural resources, such as trees (Deuteronomy 20:19-20 ) and birds (Deuteronomy 22:6-7 ).

Biology[edit]

There have been comparisons between the Bible, with passages such as from the Genesis creation narrative, with concepts based on evolutionary theory.[19][20]

Creation of Literal Bible reading Biology
Grass, plants, trees Created after the Sun Evolved after the Sun
First lifeforms Plants (land-based) Prokaryote (bacteria, Archaea)
Birds Created before land-based animals Evolved from land-based animals
Fruit trees Created before fish Evolved after fish
First human Created after animals Evolved from a common ancestor shared with other hominids

Relationship between religion and science[edit]

The relationship between religion and science has been a focus of the demarcation problem, which in philosophy attempts to draw the line between science and nonscience.[21] Some scholars, like Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, argue that the two are interconnected. Others like Stephen Jay Gould and the National Academy of Sciences take the view that each occupy a separate nonoverlapping magisterium.[22][23]

According to this view, statements about the physical world made by science and religion rely on different methodologies. Science relies on the scientific method as a body of techniques used for investigating natural phenomena. To be termed scientific, a claim must be based on observable, empirical, and measurable evidence, which is subject to systematic principles of reasoning.[24][25] In contrast, much of Christianity relies on Biblical inspiration, a doctrine in Christian theology concerned with the divine origin of the Bible and what the Bible teaches.

Skeptics argue that the various biblical statements are at odds with scientific knowledge, particularly with regard to its claims regarding the origin of the cosmos, astronomy, and biological evolution. The "Conflict thesis" is the argument that religion and science are at constant warfare with one another. This is exemplified by such examples as the persecution of Galileo Galilei, the public debate between T. H. Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, the John Scopes trial, and the current controversy between the teaching of evolution and creationism.[26]

Religious text themselves can be the subject of scholarly inquiry via Biblical criticism.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

General information
Footnotes
  1. ^ Kurtz, J. H., and T. D. Simonton. The Bible and Astronomy; An Exposition of the Biblical Cosmology, and Its Relations to Natural Science. Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1857.
  2. ^ Driscoll, J.F. (1909). "Firmament". In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 26 May 2008 from New Advent. ("That the Hebrews entertained similar ideas appears from numerous biblical passages...").
  3. ^ Ferngren, Larson, Amundsen (Editors). "Encyclopedia of the History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition", Garland Publishing Inc, US (29 Jun 2000), p. 246-247. ISBN 0-8153-1656-9
  4. ^ Brodrick (1965, c1964, p.95) quoting Cardinal Bellarmine's letter to Foscarini, dated 12 April 1615. Translated from Favaro(1902, 12:171–172) (Italian).
  5. ^ Strong's Concordance (1890). "Dictionary and Word Search for Raqiya` (Strong's 07549)". Blue Letter Bible 1996-2008. Retrieved 26 May 2008. ("considered by Hebrews as solid and supporting 'waters' above")
  6. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906). "Cosmogony". Retrieved 26 May 2008. ("The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.")
  7. ^ In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood (2008). "An Alternative Interpretation" Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  8. ^ a b c Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God (Volume I) "Errors in matters of Science" Philadelphia: The Judson Press (1907), pg. 223
  9. ^ For a description of Near Eastern and other ancient cosmologies and their connections with the Biblical view of the Universe, see Paul H. Seeley, "The Firmament and the Water Above: The Meaning of Raqia in Genesis 1:6-8", Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991), and "The Geographical Meaning of 'Earth' and 'Seas' in Genesis 1:10", Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997)
  10. ^ Kline, Monte, Clinical Nutritionist. "The Dietary Law". Better Health Update #29 (2005). Accessed 26 May 2008.
  11. ^ Wise, David. The first book of public hygiene. Creation 26(1):52–55, December 2003. Accessed 26 May 2008.
  12. ^ Allen, Bruce. "4 Reasons Why You Should Read the Bible". Faith-Friends (2003). Reprinted christianwebsite.com, Accessed 19 February 2004
  13. ^ Gray, Harold Farnsworth. "Sewerage in Ancient and Medieval Times". Sewage Works Journal, Volume 12, No. 5 (Sept. 1940), pp. 939 - 946. As reprinted on Sewage Works Journal
  14. ^ Susan J. Bartlett, Ralph Piedmont, Andrew Bilderback, Alan K. Matsumoto, Joan M. Bathon, Susan J.; Piedmont, Ralph; Bilderback, Andrew; Matsumoto, Alan K.; Bathon, Joan M. (2003). "Spirituality, well-being, and quality of life in people with rheumatoid arthritis". Arthritis Care & Research (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; Loyola College of Maryland, Baltimore: American College of Rheumatology) 49 (6): 778–783. doi:10.1002/art.11456. PMID 14673963. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/art.11456.  ("By viewing their illness in a positive context, having hope and optimism about the future, flexible life goals, and a supportive social network, spiritual individuals may be more resilient to the host of challenges imposed by chronic illness. As noted long ago in the Old Testament, A merry heart doeth good like medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones (Proverbs 17:22).")
  15. ^ Andrews, D.J., A.H. Kassam. 1976. The importance of multiple cropping in increasing world food supplies. pp. 1-10 in R.I. Papendick, A. Sanchez, G.B. Triplett (Eds.), Multiple Cropping. ASA Special Publication 27. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI.
  16. ^ The Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Dec., 1982), pp. 901-916 (JSTOR Subscription required)
  17. ^ Straczynska, S. (2001). "The effects of leaving fields fallow upon selected fertility elements in soil". Acta Agrophysica 6 (52): 265–270. 
  18. ^ Hillel, Daniel. The Natural History of the Bible: An Environmental Exploration of the Hebrew Scriptures. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. Page 154 (cf., "[...] injunctions to fallow the land every seven years [...]")
  19. ^ Mackenzie, Harriot. Evolution Illuminating the Bible. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Kent, & co., limited; [etc., etc.], 1891.
  20. ^ Orr, James. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Chicago: The Howard-Severance Co, 1915. "Evolution", Page 1043 -1049.
  21. ^ Ruse, Michael (2007). Philosophy of Biology. New York: Prometheus Books.
  22. ^ Gould, S. J. (1997). "Nonoverlapping magisteria." Natural History 106 (March): 16-22.
  23. ^ NAS Committee on Science and Creationism (1984). Science and creationism: a view from the National Academy of Sciences. National Academy Press.
  24. ^ Newton, Isaac (1687). "Rules for the study of natural philosophy." From the The System of the World, book 3 in Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, pp. 794-796.
  25. ^ "Scientific method." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved on 2009-7-8. "A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses."
  26. ^ Dawkins, Richard (1998). "When Religion Steps on Science's Turf". Free Inquiry 18 (2): 18–19. 

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