Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts
Scientific foreknowledge in sacred texts is the belief that certain sacred texts document an awareness of the natural world that was later discovered by technology and science. This includes the belief that the sacred text grants a higher awareness of the natural world, like those views held by some Orthodox Jews about the Hebrew Bible (Tanach), by some Muslims regarding the Qur'an, by certain Christian fundamentalists regarding the Christian Bible, and by certain adherents of Hindu revivalism regarding the Hindu scriptures. Skeptics have stated some of these attempts are examples of confirmation bias.
Scriptural literalism (specifically creationism and some forms of biblical archaeology) is a related ideology, but strictly the reverse process of aligning scientific observation with scriptural reading rather than aligning scriptural reading with scientific observation.
Supporters of biblical scientific foreknowledge believe that parts of the Bible contain observations regarding aspects of the natural world in line with modern scientific and medical research. This includes the view that such technology and knowledge would not have been discovered with the technology of the times and are therefore evidence of Biblical inspiration and of Biblical inerrancy.
Critics contend that these references either represent information that was common at the time, or even no real knowledge of the scientific reasons behind the phenomena described.
History and advocacy
An early example of claimed Biblical scientific foresight was the interpretation of passages of the Bible as showing Copernican motion, suggested in 1584 by Spanish theologian Diego de Zuñiga in his Commentary on Job:
- "Therefore the present passage [Job 9:6], which we have been discussing, is easily reconciled with Copernicus' opinion. And in order to show the marvelous power and wisdom of God, who initiates and maintains the motion of the whole earth, which is enormous by nature, the text adds, 'and its pillars are shaken.' This teaching means that it is moved from its foundations."
William Harvey, the medical doctor who in the 17th century discovered the complete circulatory system, believed that this discovery was proof of Biblical foreknowledge. In his 1628 work De motu cordis, he supported this claim in On Generation by stating, "the life, therefore, resides in the blood (as we are informed in our sacred writing)," referring to Leviticus 17:11,14 .
David Macht, a pharmacologist and doctor of Hebrew Literature was a notable advocate of biblical health practices. In Dr. Macht's 1953 study entitled An Experimental Pharmacological Appreciation of Leviticus XI and Deuteronomy XIV, he suggested that the Levitical clean animals were less toxic than the Levitical unclean animals:
- Every word of the Hebrew Scriptures is well chosen and carries valuable knowledge and deep significance
Harry Rimmer (1890–1952) was president of the "Research Science Bureau of Los Angeles" and published "Harmony of Science and Scripture" (1936)  which attributed much scientific foresight to the Bible, including the wave nature and spectrographic analysis of light, stating "either Job knew this, or supernatural wisdom is revealed here!" Rimmer had enrolled in a correspondence course in geology at the University of Colorado, but he had no earned college degree. He was awarded an honorary "Doctor of Science" degree from Wheaton College (Illinois), a Christian liberal arts college.
Henry M. Morris, then a hydraulics engineer, in 1951 published Science and the Bible which based on the work of George McCready Price. The first chapter of Science and the Bible dealt with Biblical scientific foreknowledge and set forth many of the arguments that are still in use by proponents today.
The Old Earth Creationist and astronomer, Hugh Ross, Ph.D., is a notable advocate of Bible scientific foreknowledge.
- "Some of the latest discoveries about the universe, specifically about the hot big bang model, speak volumes about the predictive power of a Bible-based, science-affirming perspective on the cosmos."
Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the literal word of God as revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel. Many Muslims believe that the Qur'an contains scientific information that would only be discovered by the world in modern times, centuries after their revelation, proving its divine origin. These are claimed to include scientific information pertaining to creation, astronomy, biology, and human reproduction.
One such claim is based on an interpretation of the passage in the Qur'an which states: "Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them and we made every living thing of water? Will they not then believe?"[Quran 21:30] Muslims claim that the first part of the verse is referring to the Big Bang and the second part of the verse refers to the fact that all living things are made of water since and water being a necessary component for life. The notion of "separation of heaven and earth" is common in several other creation stories, such as Egyptian mythology, Sumerian mythology, Greek mythology, Hindu mythology, Japanese mythology and Maori mythology. Muslims also believe that the Qur'an also refers to the protective properties of the atmosphere when it says, "We made the sky a preserved and protected roof yet still they turn away from Our Signs."[Quran 21:32] In addition to this, Muslims believe the Qur'an mentions the rotation and orbit of the Sun and the Moon when one of its verse states, "It is He who created the night and the day, and the sun, and the moon; each of them swim along in its rounded course."[Quran 21:33] However, others claim that this Quran verse describes the sun and the moon in parallel orbits, as Quran verse 36:40 says, "It is not allowable for the sun to reach the moon, nor does the night overtake the day, but each, in an orbit, is swimming."
Muslims have cited the following Qur'anic verse as miraculous, "After that (Allah) spread the Earth out (dahaha: from the verb 'daha')" [Quran 79:30]. This verse has been interpreted by many Muslims as foreshadowing the concept that the figure of the Earth has an oblate ellipsoid shape. Kamel Ben Salem's explanation for this is that "the ancient exegetes had earlier explained the Arabic verb (dahaha) by (has flattened it)" but that "the origin of this verb is found in the word (Ud-hiya)", which means "egg of ostrich", thus "the Earth would look like an ostrich’s egg" which is accurate with scientific data that confirms that the Earth is slightly flat at the poles very similarly to the shape of the egg of an ostrich. Rashad Khalifa alternatively translated the verse as: "he made the earth egg-shaped."
The claim that the term "daha" refers to an "ostrich egg" is disputed. The premise that the term "ud-hiya" is the root of the word "daha" is inconsistent with the fact that most Arabic words have a triconsonantal root. This premise is also not supported by the classical lexicons of the Arabic language. Lane's Arabic-English Lexicon, for example, reports that the term "daha" is rooted in the triconsonantal root, dal-ha-waw. The term "ud-hiya", on the other hand, is only a cognate of the word "daha". It is also noted in the entry for the term "daha" in Lane's lexicon that the word is used to signify any surface that has been spread out or flattened. Lane's lexicon also provides an example of the usage of the word with the following statement, "also, said of an ostrich, he expanded, and made wide, with his foot, or leg, the place where he was about to deposit his eggs". In a consistent manner, "udhiya" is defined as "The place of the laying of eggs, and of the hatching thereof, of the ostrich in the sand". It is not known whether this example, involving an ostrich and its egg, is the cause of the mistranslation of "daha" as an "ostrich egg".
One well-known proponent of this argument is Maurice Bucaille, a French physician and author of the book The Bible, The Quran and Science, whose translator into Indonesian, Dr. Muhammad Rasjidi, former Professor for Islamic Studies at McGill University and former Indonesian Minister for Religious Affairs characterizes as "a half-baked mish-mash of pseudo-science and pseudo-exegesis".
Maurice Bucaille asserts in his book that "he could not find a single error in the Qur'an", and that the Qur'an does "not contain a single statement which is assailable from a modern scientific point of view", which led him to believe that no human author in the 7th century could have written "facts" which "today are shown to be keeping with modern scientific knowledge". Scholars criticize that "Bucaille bends the meaning of the Arabic words to suit his own ideas." and "Bucaille proposes new meanings for Qur'anic words to bring them into accord with modern scientific knowledge, without requiring any standard philological justification."
The search for Qur'anic references to and prophecies of modern scientific discoveries has become a "popular trend" in some Muslim societies; as a manifestation of the popularity of the scientific miracles belief, the Muslim World League at Mecca formed a committee named Committee on the Scientific Miracles of the Qurʾān and the Sunna to investigate the relation between Quran and science, headed by Zaghloul El-Naggar.
According to some recent studies of the relationship between science education and religion, one of the ways in which science education in strongly Islamic societies is impacted by religiosity is when "acceptable" scientific discoveries can be found to have been anticipated or "identified" by the Qur'an, with consequent implications for what is taught and not taught.
Criticism of consistency
Taner Edis, author of An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam, describes this point. He argues that Muslims are more likely to view the Quran as the direct word of God, and so it must be reconciled with their growing respect for science and technology. Edis suggests that Muslims often have a vested interest in finding passages whose interpretation can be stretched to describe modern understanding. He warns that reading into books like this can be misleading, since the method can be used to support any number of contradictory facts. Russel Glasser (a Skeptic from the The Atheist Experience TV show with Matt Dillahunty and Jeff Dee) likewise suggests that reading into the Quran like this amounts to cherry picking and risks simply confirming the biases of the investigator.
Hindu tradition sometimes holds that all knowledge is pre-existing, to be "recovered" rather than "discovered", and is echoed can be found[clarification needed] in the Vedas and other ancient texts.
Central to Indian thinking through the ages is a concept of knowledge which, though known to Platonism and Gnosticism, is foreign to the modern West. Whereas for us, to put it briefly, knowledge is something to be discovered, for the Indian knowledge is to be recovered. [...] One particular preconception, related to this concept of knowledge concerning the past and its relationship to the present, is probably of central significance: that at its very origin the absolute truth stands revealed; that this truth—which is simultaneously a way of life—has been lost, but not irrecoverably; that somehow it is still available through ancient life-lines that stretch back to the original revelation; and that the present can be restored only when this original past has been recovered.
The Sad-darsanas, meaning six orthodox philosophical system of Samkhya is noted to have included both religious and scientific context. It includes the theories about scientific subjects such as human evolution, physics, biological, among others.
The Hindu revivalism movements that emerged in British India from the later 19th century developed an idea of a "Vedic science" found in the corpus of Brahmanas, Sutras and Shastras of Indian antiquity that supposedly anticipated certain results of modern science.
In 1900, Vivekananda said:
It seems to us, and to all who care to know, that the conclusions of modern science are the very conclusions the Vedanta reached ages ago; only, in modern science they are written in the language of matter.
In one lecture he claimed:
Today we find wonderful discoveries of modern science coming upon us like bolts from the blue, opening our eyes to marvels we never dreamt of. But many of these are only re-discoveries of what had been found ages ago. It was only the other day that modern science discovered that what it calls heat, magnetism, electricity, and so forth, are all convertible into one unit force. But this has been done even in the Samhita.
Some of the authors "seeking to modernize India by recovering the supposedly pristine Vedic-Hindu roots of Indian culture" revived these notions.
By postulating interconnections and similarities across Nature, they [the Vedic thinkers] were able to use logic to reach extremely subtle conclusions about diverse aspects of reality.
In response to criticism to the effect that this is essentially the religious worldview prevalent in early Europe succeeded by the scientific revolution of around the 18th century, Hindutva authors answer that the distinction of science and pseudoscience (or proto-science) is Eurocentric and inapplicable to Vedic science:
Western scientic thought draws on the traditions of Greek rationalist thinking according to which only what is within the purview of the five senses is taken cognisance of. Scientific methods follow some kind of closed scientific reasoning which insulates itself against facts that its methods cannot account for. How else can they [scientists] dare dismiss Jyotisha [astrology] which sees a level of existence beyond the purview of the five senses?" (Vasudev 2001)
One author suggests that the contradiction between science and religion is impossible in India:
The idea of 'contradiction' is an imported one from the West in recent times by the Western-ducated, since 'Modern Science' arbitrarily imagines that it only has the true knowledge and its methods are the only methods to gain knowledge, smacking of Semitic dogmatism in religion.
According to the survey conducted by Pew Forum in the United States, 80% of Hindus agree with the theory of evolution. In India, there were minimal references to Darwinism in the 1800s. Elements of Victorian England opposed the idea of Darwinism. Hindus already had present notion of common ancestry between humans and animals.(see Dashavatara)  British geneticist and evolutionary biologist, J B S Haldane, opined that they are a true sequential depiction of the great unfolding of evolution. Various thinkers and authors like Monier Monier-Williams, Nabinchandra Sen, C. D. Deshmukh have associated the Dashavatara with evolution.
Physicist Roger Penrose theorized that the Big Bang might be one in a cycle of such events, suggesting that the universe has had multiple existences. This is common knowledge to one familiar with Vedic philosophy and cosmology, which very clearly indicates that the universe has had many births and deaths. The centuries-old wisdom of the Vedic texts doesn't stop there. They claim that our universe is just one of many universes, a concept entertained by modern science and referred to as "the multiverse theory." The description given is that our universe is one mustard seed in a bag full of a practically uncountable number of mustard seeds. In the West, Einstein is credited with the Theory of Relativity. However there are multiple examples of it in the Puranic texts of India. Einstein's hypothetical experiment known as the "twin paradox" suggests that if one of a pair of twins travels to outer space at high speed, while the other remains on earth, when the space traveling twin returns, he will be younger than his counterpart on earth.
The following passages from the Bhagavat Purana communicates the relativity of time:
One's life endures for only one hundred years, in terms of the times in the different planets... Eternal time is certainly the controller of different dimensions, from that of the atom up to the super-divisions of the duration of Brahmā's life; but, nevertheless, it is controlled by the Supreme. Time can control only those who are body conscious, even up to the Satyaloka or the other higher planets of the universe.
There is also a story from the Puranas which parallels Einstein's hypothetical experiment. A yogi, upon exiting the earthly realm for the higher planetary realms, was informed by the inhabitants of these higher realms that millions of years had instantly passed on Earth in the mere moments since he had entered the higher realms. They also told him that all of his relatives and everyone he had ever known was deceased.
Critics of sacred text scientific foreknowledge believe that parts of various sacred text may simply contain observations regarding aspects of the technology of the times. Scientific and engineering knowledge have been documented in early cultures that claimed no divine guidance. For example, scientists of Ancient Egypt documented knowledge of engineering and anatomy that were unknown to medieval Europe thousands of years later, such as the existence of cerebrospinal fluid; see Ancient Egyptian medicine and Ancient Egyptian technology.
Another criticism points out that the process of scientific foreknowledge only works in reverse; few advocates of scientific foreknowledge use sacred texts to predict the next scientific breakthrough. Only once a new scientific discovery occurs do proponents of scientific foreknowledge scan the text to look for a verse that can be said to have predicted the latest discovery. Thus, since the process only works in reverse and the text cannot predict new discoveries, the text cannot be said to contain scientific foreknowledge.
Farrell Till asserts that biblical passages with supposed foresight can be interpreted in a number of ways, and that believers "see prophecies and their fulfillments in passages so obscurely written that no one can really determine what the writers originally intended in the statements." Till is an author with master's degree in English (and a former pastor and missionary of the Church of Christ) who has had public debates with well-known Bible inerrantists such as Norman Geisler and Kent Hovind.
Richard Dawkins claims that religious proponents "cherry-pick" passages that fit a certain framework and disregard or even dismiss the vague rest, saying that those are meant to be figuratively and loosely interpreted.
A number of classical Muslim scientists and commentators did not believe in the scientific exegesis of the Qur'an; Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973-1048), one of the most celebrated Muslim scientists of the classical period, assigned to the Qur'an a separate and autonomous realm of its own and held that the Qur'an "does not interfere in the business of science nor does it infringe on the realm of science." These scholars argued for the possibility of multiple scientific explanations of the natural phenomena, and refused to subordinate the Qur'an to an ever-changing science.
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- Scientific Errors in the Qur'an
- Bible scientific foreknowledge Bible scientific accuracy and Bible scientific foreknowledge
- Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies - Critiques most issues with a Christian's perspective.
- Inerrancy.org Bible inerrancy site
- ApologeticsCourses.Com/TextBooks Apologetics Wiki with many articles on inerrancy
- Regarding alleged Biblical scientific foresight
- Farrell Till (1990). "What About Scientific Foresight in the Bible?". The Skeptical Review (4): 2–5.
- Farrell Till (1991). "Bible Biology". The Skeptical Review (2).
- Claim CH130: The Bible's accuracy on various scientific and historical points shows its overall accuracy., TalkOrigins, 2004
- Does the Bible Teach a Spherical Earth? Robert J. Schneider, PSCF 53 (September 2001): 159-169
- Biblical scientific foresight Scientific accuracy of the Bible and Bible scientific foresight discussed
- Answersingenesis.org Creationist point of view
- Godandscience.org Christian website discussing Christianity, science and evidence for God
- Regarding alleged Biblical scientific foresight
- Dennis McKinsey, Biblical Errancy Issue 9 - Article focusing on science in the Bible.
- The Skeptic's Annotated Bible - The entire Bible annotated from a skeptical viewpoint, with specific sections on science in the Bible.
- Muhammad and Jesus in Hindu Scriptures?