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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

“In the Beginning…”: the Lucky Guess

Please note that this essay is being moved and will be shortly reposted at True Freethinker


  1. Do you really think it is such an astounding observation to recognize that the constellation Orion has a belt? Anyone with eyes can see this. Is that really the best argument for the superlative cosmological insights of the Bible?

    By the way, a circle is not the same thing as a sphere.

  2. Thank you so much for your comments.
    I hope that you do not mind a pointed statement but it is as if you did not read my post, “Is that really the best argument for the superlative cosmological insights of the Bible?” No, please read the post (and this is just some of the things that I could think of, I have see more in-depth elucidations).
    I think that you have confirmed my suspicions. If you, Prof. Dawkins, et al, perceive that the Bible got something wrong then let us throw a parade but if it got something right, from the obvious to that which we did not know until recently, then it just got lucky. This is pseudo-skepticism.
    By the way, lexicons define “chuwg” as “circle, sphere.” What of it anyhow?

  3. Well, it is true that by picking the example of Orion’s belt, I was going after the “low-hanging fruit”. It seems obvious to me (and you don’t argue the point) that anyone with normal eyesight can see that Orion has a belt. As an example of divine perception, this is a pretty weak example. Since you were the one to cite this, my criticism of your example hardly seems out of bounds.

    So let’s look at some of the other examples you’ve cited, just to be thorough.

    1. “The earth hangs on nothing” (Job 26:7). To start with, this really isn’t a terribly accurate for the description of the Earth’s station in the Solar System. If you or I were asked, we would be able to say that the Earth orbits the Sun, and that the Sun’s gravity keeps the Earth from flying off into interstellar space. Statically “hanging on nothing” doesn’t seem like a great description of what’s really happening.

    Moreover, the Bible isn’t really consistent on this point, anyway. According to the Bible, the Earth also rests on “pillars”, which tremble when God shakes the Earth (Job 9:6), and it also has a foundation” with bases and a cornerstone (Job 38:6). And that’s all just from Job! The Bible isn’t even internally consistent in its description of the Earth, let alone being consistent with the Copernican model.

    2. “The earth is circular” (Isaiah 40:22). I’ll concede the point that in ancient Hebrew, the same word was used for “circle” and “sphere”—I really don’t know anything about ancient Hebrew, so I’ll take your word for it here. So, where does that take us? Well, sailors even in ancient times had a pretty good idea that the Earth was spherical. The curvature of the Earth is visible to anyone who sails out of sight of land, and then back again. So like Orion’s Belt, this doesn’t seem like an insight that bespeaks a divine origin.

    3. “The universe expands” (Job 9:8). The whole verse is “Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.” It doesn’t sound like the author is describing outer space so much as he’s talking about controlling the weather, “the heavens” in this context meaning the sky or the atmosphere. Sorry, but it seems a real stretch to get the expanding Universe from this passage. The passages in Psalms and Isaiah refers to “stretch[ing] out the heavens like a curtain”. I’ve never heard of a curtain that kept stretching out infinitely, as if it were made from elastic. This sounds like a poetic description of the “curtain” of the stars covering the sky. Again, there’s no expanding Universe here.

    4. “The Pleiadian star system is bound together by mutual gravitational attraction” (Job 38:31). The passage in question reads “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?” Sorry, but there is NOTHING here about mutual gravitational attraction among the Pleiades.

    5. Orion we have already discussed.

    6. “The universe consists of time, space, and matter” (Genesis 1:1). The actual passage is “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” It goes on to say that there was water before there was light, there was light before there were the Sun and the stars. Sorry, but this is just wrong. The Earth is only about 4.5 billion years old, quite a bit younger than the oldest known stars, which are about 11.5 billion years old.

    Well, that’s all of your examples. I have to say, it doesn’t establish a great track record for the Bible providing great cosmological insights.

  4. John the Skeptic,
    Thanks for checking back.
    I could see us going round and round on this so I thought a basic point may help.
    When we a considering the contents of any text we must let the text tell us what it is telling us. We should not demand that it tell us what it is not telling us, nor what is was not meant to tell us, nor demand that it tells us something in the style/language/details that we would prefer.
    This is particularly true of texts that are ancient and far removed from us in time, culture, geography, grammatical style, etc.
    We are to come to the text and allow it to speak for itself and not come to it with preconceived notions and demands.
    For example, the Bible offers some detailed instructions about quarantine procedures. Now that we study microbiology do we say that the Bible was wrong or lacking because it did not also describe the microbes or because it was something that was obvious? No.
    Mixing grammatical styles is normative of any language and culture and we should not fault any text for doing so. If I say that for a family reunion people came from the four corners of the earth would I be accused of flat/square earthism? If I say that the sun set would I be accused of geo-centrism? Perhaps, but upon further research it would be found that these are metaphors.

    Thus, let us recall my post’s original premise which was merely, “Let us consider some more biblical statements about cosmology and or astronomy”
    Orion has a belt and the Bible says so. Obvious or not, this is “some more biblical statements…”

    The Bible states that “The earth hangs on nothing” and the earth hangs on nothing regardless of the way that we would prefer to hear it described (surely, quantum physicists or string theorists would like to see their own descriptions there). At least it is not on the back of turtles - all the way down :o)

    In Job I think that we find plenty of metaphors. For example, we, today, can say that the earth is firmly set and stable in its foundation in that it has an orbit. That would not mean that it sits still but that its orbit is predictable. But what if people reading those metaphors and thought that there were actual pillars, etc.? If they did not recognize their own culture’s metaphors or came later and did not recognize another culture’s metaphors they, we, would later find that they were metaphors. I realize that, skeptically speaking, this may come across as a copout but this is how we do history and understand ancient texts.

    “The earth is circular” and it is. Obvious or not, this is “some more biblical statements…”

    “The universe expands” and it does. Having “never heard of a curtain that kept stretching out infinitely” misses the point of metaphor. A metaphor is not the thing itself, if it was it would not be a metaphor. This is the very reason that all metaphors eventually break down since they are just that, metaphors.

    As for the Pleiades “bind” and “influences” are not very difficult to update to gravitational attraction.”

    “The universe consists of time, space, and matter” whatever it may go on to state, this is a fact.

    As for there being light before the sun, according to the Big Bang, that would be right. The Bang precedes the galaxies.


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