Pages 10-11: winter 1991
SCIENTIFIC BOO-BOOS IN THE BIBLE
Bibliolaters claim that the Bible is inerrant in every detail, in matters of
history, science, geography, chronology, etc., as well as faith and practice.
It is a claim that has won wide acceptance among fundamentalist Christians,
but, as is true of most zealotic tributes that have been paid to the Bible, it
has no basis in fact. As past articles in TSR have clearly shown to anyone
who really wants to know the truth, the Bible is riddled with mistakes. Many
of those mistakes were scientific ones.
The creation account in Genesis divided time into days and the days into
evening and morning for three days before the sun was even created (1:1-
19). "There was evening and there was morning," we are told, "one day...
a second day... a third day," but as any astronomer knows, evening (night)
and morning (daylight) result from the earth's rotation with respect to the
sun. With no sun, there would have certainly been evening or night, but
there could have been no morning.
On the fourth day when God created the "two great lights" (the sun and
the moon), he created the stars too. This creation of the rest of the uni-
verse was treated by the Genesis writer(s) as if it were little more than an
afterthought: "he made the stars also" (v:16). To the prescientific mind that
wrote this, it probably made sense. To him (her), the earth was undoubted-
ly the center of the universe, but today we know better. The solar system
of which earth is only a tiny part is itself an infinitesimal speck in the uni-
verse. Surely, then, the creation of the stars would not have occurred so
quickly and suddenly if six days were needed to create the world. Scientists
now know that the creation of stars is an evolutionary process that is still
ongoing. Matter coalesces; stars ignite, shine, and eventually burn out or
explode. From the existence of heavy elements in our solar system, astrono-
mers generally agree that it formed from debris left over from a supernova
that occurred billions of years ago. The prescientific Genesis writer knew
none of this, however, and that is why he viewed the creation of the uni-
verse as an Elohistic afterthought. No modern, scientifically-educated writer
would have made that mistake.
The creation of the stars is the subject not only of scientific error in the
Bible but also of textual contradiction. Clearly, the Genesis writer(s) said
that God made the stars on the fourth day (1:16). By then, the earth had
been created, light (somehow without the sun or stars) had been created, the
gathering together of dry land had occurred, and vegetation had been creat-
ed. One could surely say that by then the foundations of the world had
been laid, yet Yahweh Elohim presumably told Job that the stars already
existed when the foundations of the earth were laid:
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare
if thou hast understanding. Who determined the measures thereof, if
thou knowest? Or who stretched the line upon it? Whereupon were
the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the cornerstone there-
of, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God
shouted for joy? (38:4-7).
Granted the "singing of the morning stars" is clearly a poetical expression,
but that does not explain away the problem. How could it be said in any
sense, poetical or otherwise, that "the morning stars sang together" at a time
when stars didn't even exist? Obviously, then, the Genesis writer(s) and
the author of Job had different perceptions of when stars were created.
The Genesis writer(s) didn't understand the nature of darkness either.
He said that God created light (somehow before the sun and stars were made)
and then "divided the light from the darkness" (1:3-4). Light, however, is
not something that can be separated from darkness. Light is an electromag-
netic radiation from an energy source like the sun or stars, and darkness is
merely the absence of light. Without light, there will automatically be dark-
ness. No god is needed to separate or divide light from darkness. We know
that today; the prescientific Genesis writer(s) didn't.
The Genesis writer's genetic knowledge was no better than his under-
standing of astronomy. In chapter 30, he told of Jacob's scheme to increase
his wealth while he was still in the employ of his father-in-law Laban. The
two had reached an agreement whereby Jacob would be given all striped,
spotted, and speckled lambs and kids subsequently born in Laban's flocks.
Laban then removed all the striped, spotted, and speckled animals from his
flocks and put them in his sons' care at a three-day distance from the flock
Jacob attended. Not to be outsmarted, Jacob devised a plan:
Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane, and
peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods. He
set the rods that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the
troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to
drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks
bred in front of the rods, and so the flocks produced young that
were striped, speckled, and spotted (30:37-39, NRSV).
The editors of The New American Bible were reputable enough to affix a
frankly honest footnote to this passage:
Jacob's stratagem was based on the widespread notion among
simple people that visual stimuli can have prenatal effects on the
offspring of breeding animals. Thus, the rods on which Jacob had
whittled stripes or bands or chevron marks were thought to cause
the female goats that looked at them to bear kids with lighter-col-
ored marks on their dark hair, while the gray ewes were thought to
bear lambs with dark marks on them simply by visual crossbreeding
with the dark goats.
We know today that the color characteristics of animals is purely a matter of
genetics, so a modern, scientifically-educated person would never write any-
thing as obviously superstitious as this tale of Jacob's prosperity. The Gene-
sis writer(s), however, knew nothing about the science of genetics, so to him
the story undoubtedly made good sense.
One thing the Bible definitely is not is inerrant in matters of science.
champions have some serious explaining to do. IF "Yahweh gave unto Israel
ALL the land which he sware to give unto their fathers" (Joshua 21:43-45)
and IF "they possessed it (the land) and dwelt therein" (same passage) and
IF Yahweh "gave them rest round about, according to ALL that he sware unto
their fathers" (same passage) and IF "there stood not a man of ALL their
enemies before them" (same passage) and IF "Yahweh delivered all their
enemies into their hand" (same passage) and IF "there failed not AUGHT of
any good thing which Yahweh had spoken unto the house of Israel" (same
passage) and IF "all came to pass" (same passage), how could it have been
that some of the enemies of Israel were still in the land during the time of
the book of Judges and how could it have been that some of the people of the
"seven nations greater and mightier than thou" were still dwelling with the
children of Israel "unto this day"?
Someone has a lot of explaining to do, and it isn't those of us who reject
the inerrancy doctrine.
INERRANCY DEBATES IN PRINT
Skepticism, Inc., has reissued the Laws-Till Debate. After challenging
Farrell Till to a written debate on the inerrancy question, James H. Laws, a
Church-of-Christ preacher in the Spiritual Sword faction, quit after only
three exchanges. The fifty pages that were exchanged prior to his withdrawal
will explain why. Available at publishing cost, $2 ppd. Send orders to the
address on page 2.
The Jackson-Till Debate has been published by the Southwest Church of
Christ, 8900 Manchaca Road, Austin, TX 78748. Cost is $2.25 ppd. Direct all
orders to the publisher.
BACK ISSUES AVAILABLE
All four 1990 issues of The Skeptical Review are available at $1 per copy
ppd. Send orders to the address on page 2.
FREE SUBSCRIPTION: A free one-year subscription to The Skeptical
Review can be obtained by writing to P. O. Box 617, Canton, IL 61520-0617.