Friday, April 2, 2010

Perpetual Fool's Day

Yesterday you may have participated in April Fool's Day, that once-a-year appreciation of deceptive bullshit. But in the world of religious apology, every day is Fool's Day. So let's have some cheap fun with this bit of wishful thinking from one David R. Reagan:

Stoner begins with a very interesting observation. He points out that his copy of Young's General Astronomy, published in 1898, is full of errors. Yet, the Bible, written over 2,000 years ago is devoid of scientific error. For example, the shape of the earth is mentioned in Isaiah 40:22. Gravity can be found in Job 26:7. Ecclesiastes 1:6 mentions atmospheric circulation. A reference to ocean currents can be found in Psalm 8:8, and the hydraulic cycle is described in Ecclesiastes 1:7 and Isaiah 55:10. The second law of thermodynamics is outlined in Psalm 102:25-27 and Romans 8:21. And these are only a few examples of scientific truths written in the Scriptures long before they were "discovered" by scientists.

Gosh, the Bible is a basic science textbook? Let's see what we can learn!

Isaiah 40:22:
"It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."

Yep, the earth is round - but round in a flat, 2-dimensional way, not spherical in 3 dimensions. Thus the expression "pennies from heaven," perhaps. So not only do we live in Flatland, we now know that when God plays games with us, he's playing disc golf, not basketball.

Job 26:7:
"He stretches out the north over empty space And hangs the earth on nothing."

Deriving F = Gm1m2/r2 from this verse is left as an exercise for the reader. Speaking of stretching, it's quite a reach to get even a mention of gravity from this verse. No mention that the gravitational attraction between the sun and earth is what keeps our planet from flying off into cold empty space. We don't even get informed that things fall to the ground, but maybe that's because the reference in Job 5:7 to sparks flying upward would hopelessly confuse us.

Ecclesiastes 1:6:
"Blowing toward the south, Then turning toward the north, The wind continues swirling along; And on its circular courses the wind returns."

Because before people started quoting the Bible, no one had ever encountered a windbag arguing in circles before ....

Psalm 8:8:
"The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas."

That's all you need to know about the circulation of ocean currents. Seizing upon the word "paths," I suppose we could even work this out as an anticipation of plate tectonics, too, since if paths implies currents, and there are paths on the ground, then that would imply earth currents, too. See? You can find it all there, once someone else has gone and discovered it for real.

Ecclesiastes 1:7:
"All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, There they flow again."

Isaiah 55:10:
"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;"

A lazy student might not connect the verse in Ecclesiastes to rain and snow, or the verse in Isaiah to rivers and oceans, but please! Pay attention! Does God have to spell out every detail? There's only one book between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah in the Protestant Bible, although it does happen to be the Song of Songs and all that sexy imagery can distract.

Psalm 102:25-27:
"Of old You founded the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end."

Romans 8:21:
"the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God."

Yep, things wear out. That's not quite what the Second Law of Thermodynamics says, but it's a true statement nonetheless and we all know that atheists denied the Theory of Wear & Tear for ages before scientists rediscovered it (although the atheists still deny the evidence - even the octogenarians). They also discovered the Third Law, which states that entropy is arrested only when the temperature reaches absolute zero and
all processes cease. You always suspected that Hell would be a more happening place than Heaven, didn't you?

So that's it. If anyone ever insists that there's science in the Bible, you have a pretty good idea what they're talking about - parenthetical banalities that wouldn't surprise a six-year-old. While the Greeks and the Chinese were proving the Pythagorean Theorem, the Hebrews weren't even trying. Jews do a lot better these days, but some Christians prefer intellectual stagnation as much as they long for an unchanging Heaven.


James Hanley said...

" While the Greeks and the Chinese were proving the Pythagorean Theorem, the Hebrews weren't even trying"

A book I have on the history of greater Syria (which includes Israel) argued that the Hebrews were rather backward intellectually. The author suggested it might have been due to a never-ending sequence of wars and ever-changing rulers to whom they had to give tribute and fealty, as well as a sense of national uniqueness, as though they just didn't have much to strive for.

Scott Hanley said...

I see in the OT an enormous hostility toward cultured urbanity. Their worst enemies were the great urban empires, such as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon; they warred with the urban Philistines. God rejected the settled farmer, Cain, who murdered the herder in revenge, a story which I think is central to the pre-monarchic era.

Eventually, they had to band together in order to defend themselves and began building their own cities; not only were they tempting targets for their neighbors, they lived right in the crossroads when those empires warred against each other. Not the most tenable of promised lands - more like the Poland of the Iron Age.

So it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't participate in their neighbors' more intellectual endeavors, or much of their culture at all. Certainly the priesthood wanted nothing to do with neighboring religions, and much of science was embedded in religion (I'm thinking primarily of astronomy here).