Nope, the universe doesn't confirm the Bible

This is a response to The Universe Confirms the Bible by creationist astrophyicist (yes really) Jason Lisle at Answers in Genesis. Though I presently believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, I see no evidence for any scientific knowledge in the Bible more advanced than that of the Israelite’s neighbours.

Lets start:

“The Bible indicates that the earth is round. Consider Isaiah 40:22 which mentions the “circle of the earth.” This description is certainly fitting—particularly when the earth is viewed from space; the earth always appears as a circle since it is round.”

It also perfectly fits Ancient Near Eastern concepts of the earth as a flat disc. The phrase ‘Circle of the Earth’ or variants thereof appears too in Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature. Already there is no reason to see any Scientific foreknowledge in this verse.

With this in mind. What does the verse actually mean? The Hebrew word ‘Eretz’, literally means ‘land’. Ancient World maps showed the land on earth as a single circular continent. Even those who took for granted that the Earth was a Sphere, such as Isidore of Sevile still depicted this. This seems to be the correct meaning of Isaiah 40:22.

"Another verse that indicates the spherical nature of our planet is Job 26:10. This verse teaches that God has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters at the boundary of light and darkness. This boundary between light and darkness (day and night) is called the “terminator” since the light stops or “terminates” there. Someone standing on the terminator would be experiencing either a sunrise or a sunset; they are going from day to night or from night to day. The terminator is always a circle, because the earth is round.

One of the great delights of observing the moon through a small telescope is to look at its terminator, especially during the first or third quarter phases when the terminator is directly down the middle of the moon. The craters are most easily seen at this boundary since the sun is at a low angle and casts very long shadows there. The moon looks particularly three-dimensional when viewed through a telescope during these phases; it is clear that the moon is a sphere—not a flat disk (see photo below).

The moon
For the earth, the terminator occurs not on a cratered rocky surface, but primarily on water (since the earth’s surface is 70 percent water). Job 26:10 suggests a “God’s eye” view of the earth. This biblical passage would be nonsense if the earth were flat, since there would be no true terminator; there is no line to “step over” that separates the day from night on a flat surface. Either it is day everywhere or night everywhere on a hypothetical “flat earth.” However, the earth does indeed have a boundary between light and darkness which is always a circle since the earth is round."

This verse is actually far more consistent with Ancient Babylonian Flat Earth cosmology, as shown in this image, which probably depicts what Job really meant. Most commentaries identify the boundary between light and darkness with the horizon (which just about anybody in any age could tell is circular if they climbed up a high enough hill), where the sun and moon rise and set, so beyond the horizon there is only darkness. The horizon was identified as the end or boundary of the earth in Ancient cosmology. Also at the end of the earth was a circular body of water. So this verse could be interpreted as stating that the horizon has a fixed place in the world encircling ocean, which is only possible on a small flat earth. I find this to be the much more natural interpretation. In our modern day knowledge of the earth, the terminator is only mostly on water, whilst in an Ancient Babylonian worldview the horizon would ‘always’ be on water.

“A very interesting verse to consider is Job 26:7 which states that God “hangs the earth on nothing.” This might evoke an image of God hanging the earth like a Christmas tree ornament, but hanging it on empty space. This verse expresses (in a poetic way) the fact that the earth is unsupported by any other object—something quite unnatural for the ancient writers to imagine. Indeed, the earth does float in space. We now have pictures of the earth taken from space that show it floating in the cosmic void. The earth literally hangs on nothing, just as the Bible teaches.”

Of course, this verse could also be interpreted as merely saying the earth is unsupported, a claim which is false, and contrary to Post-Enlightenment astronomy, where the earth hangs on the gravitational force of the sun. I can find only meagre evidence that ancient cultures believed the earth was supported by something akin to Great A’tuin. The only evidence I can find being from late 1st millenium AD Islamic texts, where the earth is supported by a fish. whale, bull, angel, rock or a mixture thereof.

"The Bible indicates in several places that the universe has been “stretched out” or expanded. For example, Isaiah 40:22 teaches that God “stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.” This would suggest that the universe has actually increased in size since its creation. God has stretched it out. He has expanded it (and is perhaps still expanding it). This verse must have seemed very strange when it was first written. The universe certainly doesn’t look as if it is expanding. After all, if you look at the night sky tonight, it will appear about the same size as it did the previous night, and the night before that. Ancient star maps appear virtually identical to the night sky today. Could the universe really have been expanded? It must have been hard to believe at the time.

In fact, secular scientists once believed that the universe was eternal and unchanging. The idea of an expanding universe would have been considered nonsense to most scientists of the past. It must have been tempting for Christians to reject what the Bible teaches about the expansion of the universe. Perhaps some Christians tried to “reinterpret” Isaiah 40:22, and read it in an unnatural way so that they wouldn’t have to believe in an expanding universe. When the world believes one thing, and the Bible teaches another, it is always tempting to think that God got the details wrong, but God is never wrong.

Balloon illustration
Balloon illustration

Most astronomers today believe that the universe is expanding. This expansion is a very natural result of the physics that Einstein discovered—general relativity. Moreover, there is observational evidence that the universe is indeed expanding. In the 1920s, astronomers discovered that virtually all clusters of galaxies appear to be moving away from all other clusters (see creation in-depth box at the bottom); this indicates that the entire universe is expanding.

This effect can be illustrated with points on a balloon. As the balloon is inflated, all points move farther away from each other (see illustration at left). If the entire universe were being stretched out, the galaxies would all be moving away; and that is exactly what they appear to be doing. It is interesting that the Bible recorded the notion of an expanding universe thousands of years before secular science came to accept the idea."

Yet there could be another alternative. Ancient peoples often gave their temples representations of the cosmos. The Ancient Hebrews were no different. The Molten Sea of Solomon’s temple for example represents the aforementioned circular world ocean, the seven lamps of the Menorah represent the seven lamps of heaven (the sun, moon and five planets). The veil of the Tabernacle therefore likely represents the heavens, as that which separates the realm of men from the realm of God. Speaking of stretching out the heavens like a curtain (same Hebrew noun for veil of the tabernacle) then, likely has no scientific meaning at all, simply recalling the temple imagery found in creation. Speaking of spreading them out like a tent likely refers to nothing more than humans dwelling under them. According to Isaiah 44:24, God ‘spreads out the earth’. Unless the earth/land too is continually expanding there is no reason to read an expanding universe into these passages.

Furthermore, how Lisle manages to reconcile Big Bang cosmology with a 6000 year old earth is a mystery.

“Conservation of mass-energy is exactly what we would expect on the basis of Scripture. First, the Bible indicates that no new material can come into existence. This is indicated in John 1:3 and Genesis 2:2. John 1:3 states that all things were made by God, and nothing has come into existence apart from Him.”

Really? Is this a scientific statement? I see this more of a theological statement, affirming monotheism, nothing else. Given the rejection of all but one God, how could anyone but God have created anything?

“Furthermore, God ended His work of creation by the seventh day of the creation week, according to Genesis 2:2. Since only God can bring new things into existence from nothing, and since God ended His work of creation by the seventh day, no new material will come into existence today.”

NO! This is absolutely NOT the meaning of Genesis 2:2. A much more likely meaning is that it represents that God has taken up residence in his cosmic temple. A much more likely hypothesis, given overabundance of Temple imagery in creation. As well as that which I have already mentioned, it took seven days to inaugurate the functions of creation, just as there were seven days of creation including the Sabbath day. God’s temple is outright called his ‘resting place’ in Isaiah 64. Given the overabundance of Temple imagery then, John Walton’s thesis that God resting merely indicates God taking up residence in his temple is a far more likely explanation than a Scientific one.

“Second, the Bible suggests that nothing will cease to exist. This is because God is upholding all things by His sustaining power (Hebrews 1:3) and by Him all things consist (Colossians 1:17). Neither matter nor energy will cease to exist, because God is sustaining them, and since nothing new will come into existence, we can conclude that the amount of material in the universe is constant. Of course, the Bible makes room for miracles—supernatural interventions by God, but miracles (by definition) do not conform to the laws of physics; they are exceptions by their very nature. The universe itself obeys the law of conservation of mass-energy.”

These passages say God sustains creation, but they do not say that God always will sustain creation. No scientific foreknowledge here.

"The Bible often uses the “stars of heaven” to represent an extremely large quantity. Genesis 22:17 teaches that God would multiply Abraham’s descendants “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore.” Genesis 32:12 makes it clear that this represents a number which is uncountable by humans: “the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”2 These are excellent analogies. Clearly the sand of the sea and the stars in the universe cannot be counted exactly by humans, though of course, they can be roughly estimated. Interestingly, the two quantities come out to about the same order of magnitude: 1022, or ten billion trillion, give or take a factor of ten or so.3 (For other verses using stars as an illustration of large numbers, see Deuteronomy 1:10 and 10:22.)

It was not always believed that the stars were so numerous. The astronomer Claudius Ptolemy (A.D. 150) cataloged 1,022 stars in his work The Almagest.4 Many astronomers believed that these were the only stars that existed, even though Ptolemy never claimed that his catalogue was exhaustive.5 Of course, there are many more stars than this number. The total number of stars that can be distinctly seen (from both hemispheres under ideal, dark sky conditions) with the unaided eye is around 10,000. The precise number depends on how good one’s vision is.

Today, with the help of modern science, we have an even greater appreciation of just how innumerable the stars are. Powerful telescopes allow us to see stars much too distant and faint to be seen without optical aid. Even binoculars reveal countless multitudes of stars that cannot be seen by the unaided eye. It is estimated that our galaxy alone contains over 100 billion stars. Astronomers believe that there are more galaxies in the visible universe than there are stars in our own. Each of these galaxies would have hundreds of millions to trillions of stars. Modern science certainly confirms Genesis 22:17."

As Paul h Seely has pointed out. If anything the Hebrews were less scientifically advanced than their neighbours, certainly not more so. We therefore cannot assume that they spent large hours looking up at the heavens, counting the stars. To there mind then there would have been an enormous, countless number of stars, but it need not imply Scientific foreknowledge.

It’s not like other Ancient peoples didn’t use this poetic language either. See this post by the Institute of Biblical and Scientific Studies.

"The Bible teaches that the universe obeys physical laws—“the ordinances of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25). The universe is neither haphazard nor arbitrary; nature conforms to logical, mathematical relationships set in place by the Lord.

The laws of physics and chemistry are examples of these ordinances of heaven and earth. The clockwork precision of the planets as they orbit the sun is due to their strict obedience to God’s ordinances. The stars and planets are never late nor are they early. They do not fail to appear in their proper place at the proper time (Isaiah 40:26)."

Jeremiah 33:25 mentions the ordinances of heaven and earth, but never mentions what these ordinances are. It is difficult to find any scientific meaning in Isaiah 40:26. That stars and planets are never late or early when they come out at night could easily be observed by anyone at any time who looked up at the sky.

“Both earth and the rest of the physical universe (“heaven and earth”) obey the laws of nature. Many ancient cultures believed that the universe beyond earth was the realm of the gods. Indeed, the planets were often worshiped as gods. In reality, the planets are simply created objects which obey the same laws of nature which we can study on earth. In an incredible leap of insight, the biblical creationist Isaac Newton realized that the moon orbits the earth because the moon is pulled by earth’s gravity. The moon “falls” just like any other object; earth’s gravity deflects the moon’s path through space (see the in-depth box below). Since the moon has a tangential (perpendicular to the line from the earth to itself) velocity, it falls “around” the earth rather than straight down. Newton also realized that the planets orbit the sun for the same reason; the sun’s gravity keeps them in their orbit. The planets and stars are not gods; they are mere creations (Genesis 1:14–19) in nature which obey the Lord’s ordinances.”

Lisle is correct in claiming that Genesis 1 contains the statement that the heavenly bodies are not gods. But this is clearly meant to be intended as a theological statement, not a scientific one. The language used in Genesis 1 suggests that the writer intended to demythologise the heavenly bodies, by not referring to them by their name, rather than this being an account of real events which just so happen to rebuke pagan ideas. Furthermore, Genesis 1’s account of the sun’s creation (after the earth) is scientifically inaccurate, for a planet must form in the accretion disk of a young star, rather than predating said star.

In conclusion, Lisle has merely shown his lack of knowledge regarding the Ancient World and shoehorned non-scientific passages into modern science, rather than finding any genuine examples of Scientific foreknowledge in the Bible.


“The bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go,”–Galileo Galilei

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Looking around at the world around me, seems to me that the “evil” and “good” events seem to balance out. There is an old unfinished sarcastic retort which begins, “If this is how God treats HIS people . . . .”

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