Sunday, January 27, 2008

Science Then And Now

Have any of you encountered the creationist tracks extolling the Bible as a scientific text? In one I was recently referred to, evangelist Ray Comfort presents a perspective of science then and now to show just how well our knowledge today was predicted by the Bible. If you promise to read them all, I’ll offer some ideas about Biblical science. Keep in mind that my personal perspective is as a Christian and a scientist who sees very little in conflict with those positions.
1. THE BIBLE: The earth is a sphere (Isaiah 40:22). SCIENCE NOW: The earth is a sphere. SCIENCE THEN: The earth was a flat disk.
2. THE BIBLE: Incalculable number of stars (Jeremiah 33:22). SCIENCE NOW: Incalculable number of stars. SCIENCE THEN: Only 1,100 stars.
3. THE BIBLE: Free float of earth in space (Job 26:7). SCIENCE NOW: Free float of earth in space. SCIENCE THEN: Earth sat on a large animal.
4. THE BIBLE: Creation made of invisible elements (Hebrews 11:3). SCIENCE NOW: Creation made of invisible elements (atoms). SCIENCE THEN: Science was mostly ignorant on the subject.
5. THE BIBLE: Each star is different (1 Corinthians 15:41). SCIENCE NOW: Each star is different. SCIENCE THEN: All stars were the same.
6. THE BIBLE: Light moves (Job 38:19,20). SCIENCE NOW: Light moves. SCIENCE THEN: Light was fixed in place.
7. THE BIBLE: Air has weight (Job 28:25). SCIENCE NOW: Air has weight. SCIENCE THEN: Air was weightless.
8. THE BIBLE: Winds blow in cyclones (Ecclesiastes 1:6). SCIENCE NOW: Winds blow in cyclones. SCIENCE THEN: Winds blew straight.
9. THE BIBLE: Blood is the source of life and health (Leviticus 17:11). SCIENCE NOW: Blood is the source of life and health. SCIENCE THEN: Sick people must be bled.
10. THE BIBLE: Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains (2 Samuel 22:16; Jonah 2:6). SCIENCE NOW: Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains. SCIENCE THEN: The ocean floor was flat.
11. THE BIBLE: Ocean contains springs (Job 38:16). SCIENCE NOW: Ocean contains springs. SCIENCE THEN: Ocean fed only by rivers and rain.
12. THE BIBLE: When dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water (Leviticus 15:13). SCIENCE NOW: When dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water. SCIENCE THEN: Hands washed in still water.
This list is a clever attempt by certain Creationists to claim the Bible as scientific. This doubtless is a rhetorical tactic in the effort to confer legitimacy to the Genesis accounts of creation. There are two main problems with this presentation: 1) Science did not exist until the sixteenth century and 2) The Bible is not a scientific text.

At the foundation of each of these claims is that science is not merely about predictions. Science combines innovation and idea with a rugged process of hypothesis testing and repeated fine-tuning to formulate a theory that when applied to unknown situations can explain them to the best of our ability. Unlike Ben Stein’s perception of science as a static entity unchanged since the days of Charles Darwin, elements of science are always in flux.

Right – my points:

1. The SCIENCE NOW/ SCIENCE THEN dichotomy is flawed most simply because the world view in the ancient world was not scientific. Sure there were glimmers of it all over the ancient world – Egypt, Greece, South America, India, China, Arabia – but the progression of thinking of something, testing it objectively and using the results to formulate predictions just hadn’t come around yet. Humans were stuck describing, categorizing and guessing. (This, by the way, worked pretty well for us most of the time.) It is as unfair to claim the then prevailing world-views as science then as it is to claim astrology as science today. Each has made predictions about the world, but only science as we know it today can be tested. (Also recall that ‘science’ wasn’t even a commonly used word until the early 19th Century!)

2. The Bible is not scientific. If it were, the writers would have incorporated those flawed (SCIENCE THEN) explanations into its stories. The world would not have been created in six days; it would have been vomited by a scarab. I admit, this second point is not as strong. It actually makes me sound like I’m in a “Yes it is/No it’s not” argument. Even so, I don’t think I have written enough recently of my opinion that the Bible is not a scientific text. The absence of there even being science when it was written aside (see point 1, above), few in Christendom or the Jewish or Muslim worlds would identify these texts as scientific. What else was there to describe in these verses but items in the natural world? Referring to rocks does not make your novel a geologic text. Even the references cited in the list above are oblique references to physical phenomena. Check out the Job 38:19-20 text. I’m pretty used to sorting out metaphors in the Bible; maybe that’s why identifying these verses as referring to the propagation of light was so hard. By the way, in this section of his trials, God is speaking to Job in the midst of a terrible storm. It is often interpreted as emphasizing the power of God and the finite knowledge of man, both in the ways of the world and the ways of Heaven.

These are my raw thoughts on this matter. If I didn’t have to study up on anemia and GI disease tonight (how appropriate!), maybe I could formulate some more succinct arguments. I guess I will have to leave some of that up to you, dear reader.

Big hat tip to Tangled up in Blue Guy.

1 comment:

Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

Thanks for cluing me in on the post; of course there are items on which I disagree, being an atheist.:)

But, I do think that it is a pretty good explanation of why the Bible can't be used as science, given from the perspective of a person who uses The Bible.

I added the link to your commnent at Tangled Up in Blue Guy. I hope you don't mind.