The Bible Foreshadows Scientific Discoveries?

Here is an interesting site “The Bible Foreshadows Scientific Discoveries” where there are quotes from the Bible that supposedly pre-dated the actual scientific discoveries. It is interesting for the number of science errors, and also the failure of any kind of critical scientific thinking. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine the worst occurrences of these, but I do want to point out two main issues that I see.

Metaphorical or Literal?

We start with this claim from the page:

Today we take the shape of the earth for granted, but remember that primitive man had no way to actually know that the earth is spherical. In fact, without access to exploration and distant observation, the world most certainly seemed flat, and that is exactly how primitive men and cultures described it. But the Bible describes it differently:

Isaiah 40:22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

Proverbs 8:27 When He prepared the heavens, I was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth

[…]But even before this explorative discovery, the round earth was recorded in the Judeo-Christian Bible!

Earlier, on a different page, the following issue is raised:

Isaiah 11:12 He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.

Does this scripture teach that the earth is actually flat? That’s what critics would have you believe. But this is simply a cultural expression (and one that we still use today), and it has little to say about the truth of the shape of the earth.

A similar argument holds for the “days” used in Genesis not being literal, 24-hour, days but rather epochs spanning billions of years. The bottom line is:

If it contradicts science, then it is metaphor. If it is consistent with science, then it is prescient.

Or, in other words,

Heads I win. Tails you lose.

Prediction versus Postdiction

The other example I want to look at is one that I hadn’t heard before (I’ve omitted a fair amount of explanatory text, to try to distill it down to the essentials…go read the original if you feel I’ve done a disservice to the points):

If you’ve ever read the story of Job in the Bible, […] he eventually accused the Lord of being unjust. God didn’t answer Job’s accusation directly. Instead, He began to ask Job a series of questions and one of these questions demonstrates perhaps the most amazing scientific truth in all of scripture:

Job 38:31-32 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?

Now God makes a statement about three stellar constellations […]. First let’s take a look at what God says about Orion: ‘Canst thou . . . loose the bands of Orion?’ […] Today, this band consists of an almost perfectly straight line of second-magnitude stars that are equally spaced and very beautiful. In the course of time, however, the two right-hand stars, Mintaka and Alnilam, will approach each other and form a naked-eye double; but the third, Alnitak, will drift away eastward so that the band will no longer exist. […] As time passes, this band of stars will indeed be loosened, just as God told Job.

But now let’s take a look at the Pleiades Constellation. Look at what God says: ‘Canst thou bind the sweet influence of the Pleiades . . . ?’ […] astronomers have identified 250 stars as actual members of this group, all sharing a common motion and drifting through space in the same direction. […] Sounds a lot like what God described in the Book of Job! “Hey Job, can you bind Pleiades together? I did!”

Finally, let’s take a look at Arcturus. Remember what God said about this constellation: ‘Canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?’ […] Arcturus may look like it is fixed in the sky, but Garrett P. Serviss wrote that […] it is a runaway star whose speed of flight is about 257 miles per second. […]Arcturus is a runaway. […]

These scientific facts recorded in the book of Job concerning the Pleiades, Orion and Arcturus constellations anticipated scientific discovery by nearly 3,000 years. Scientists only discovered these startling facts in the Twentieth Century, yet they were recorded in the book of Job nearly 3000 years ago. Twentieth Century science has proven God’s Word, the Bible, is true.

What if it is the opposite?

One of the ways that you can figure out the issues with claims like this is to play the hypothetical game of “what if the opposite occurred?”. What would happen to the prescient nature of the quotation? So, say that Pleiades is flying apart, the belt of Orion is fixed, and Arcturus is a star with a more traditional path. What would the quotation mean? All you have to do is reinterpret the tone of God’s statement, for example God to Job: “Pleiades is flying apart, could you, Job, bring it together?” All of the rest of the argument then holds together.

Bottom line:

If your statement is consistent with one result, and its opposite, then it is meaningless.

But it’s worse than that…

What if it is both?

Well, you might claim that the critical thing in the statement which makes it more believable is that God is claiming one effect for Pleiades and the opposite effect for Orion (and a pretty neutral effect for Arcturus). Even if this were flipped, it would still have that contrast. Now, what happens if, for some reason, one could argue that Pleiades was both bound and flying apart, or that the bands of Orion are both loosening and tightening? Pretty much, any statement about them could be made to seem “prescient”. That’s the nature of a post-diction. It is also the reason why pre-dictions are so hard, and why activities like science that make good pre-dictions regularly have the authoritative status that everyone else craves.

Pleiades is a young star cluster so, it is a bound system. However, over the course of a couple of orbits around the galaxy, the galactic tidal forces will pull the cluster apart. The Sun was born in such a cluster (as all stars are), and her siblings are far flung by now. So it is easy to see that the Pleiades is currently bound, but not permanently bound. The stars in Orion are moving in various directions. By their own admission, these authors point out that two of the stars are moving closer to each other (in the sky, not in reality) and the other moving away. Thus, part of the belt is tightening.

Bottom line:

If your statement is consistent with any result, then it is content-free.

or in other words,

Shoot first, and call whatever you hit the target.

Entropy

Sorry, I couldn’t help but include this example. These Bible quotes are supposedly prescient of the development of the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

Psalm 102:22-26 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded

Hebrews 1:10-11 In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.

Enough said.

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About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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2 Responses to The Bible Foreshadows Scientific Discoveries?

  1. Steve Winsor says:

    “Isaiah 40:22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,…”

    Interesting statement…above the circle of the earth seems to infer that it was known that the earth was niot flat, but a globe. And yet…that’s us thinking with our 21st Century minds. Perhaps it simply was envisioned in those ancient times that the earth was a flat circle…2 dimensional. Is it possible that that was what the ancients thought?

    Still…the ‘sitting enthroned above the circle of the earth’…it is intriguing.

  2. brianblais says:

    The round Earth is actually not a big surprise. Anyone who lived near enough to a body of water out to the horizon knew the Earth was curved. Anyone who saw a lunar eclipse would see the curvature of the Earth. It was well known idea…the actual *size* of the round Earth was calculated around 600BC! So either they meant a globe, which wasn’t a big deal, or they are referring to the circular shape of the horizon, or some other thing. In any case, it’s really not prophetic. Now, had they mentioned the American continent…that might have been prophetic!

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