The Primeval Revelation

Chapter 13: The Bible and Science

The picture of the cosmos we might draw from biblical texts is not "scientifically" correct when viewed from our present understanding, after humans have walked on the surface of the moon, and after space ships sent back pictures from Mars and the other planets. We ask: why did God not teach correct science to the authors of the sacred books of the Bible?

To the Israelites and their contemporaries the sky appeared to be a rugged dome held up by pillars of mountains at the ends of the earth. Above the dome of the sky were waters, and below the surface of our earth was the watery abyss, the tehom, the formless waste from which God had constructed the cosmos. We live in this bubble of space created by the firmament braced against the mountains. We live - so they pictured our atmosphere - in an astrodome of cosmic dimensions. God is seated in heaven, outside of the created cosmos. There He abides in eternity while the cosmos is spread out before Him below.

The story of the Great Flood provides details which illustrate interesting ideas about cosmology held by people of by-gone times. For example, we read: "All the fountains of the great abyss burst forth, and the floodgates of the sky were opened" (Gen 7:11). It is as though God opened sluice gates in the firmament above. Waters cascaded from the openings in the sky like waterfalls of Yosemite smashing into the pools below. God also opened manhole apertures in the earth below. Lids popped open on the earth's crust through which waters then gushed up from the tehom, swirling wildly like the whirlpools below Niagara Falls. A cataclysmic tide of water swamped hills and valleys under its rolling waves and lifted the ark of Noah above the highest mountains. The tehom was inundating the living space again which God had secured as an air bubble for human life on creation Days Two and Three. Torrential rains added to the fury of the cosmic storm. In disgust over mankind's rebellion God decided to destroy the whole lot of them, except for Noah and his family:

In the eyes of God the earth was corrupt and full of lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth had become, since all mortals led depraved lives on earth, he said to Noah: "I have decided to put an end to all mortals on earth; the earth is full of lawlessness because of them. So I will destroy them and all life on earth" (Gen 6:11-13).

God did just what He said. For a half year the flood waters finished off all humans and animals, except for Noah's family and the animals he had taken with him: "The waters maintained their crest over the earth for one hundred and fifty days, and then God remembered Noah" (Gen 8:24). Because Noah was a just man, God prevented the tehom from re-claiming the cosmos into its eonic depths.

The story of the Great Flood illustrates well the cosmology in the mind of the human author of Genesis. Other passages concur. Job describes the sky like Michelangelo's dome over St. Peter's, only larger: "Do you spread out with him the firmament of the skies, hard as a brazen mirror?" (Job 37:18). Isaiah, master poet, tells how God views the earth from on high as a vast map spread out below:

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 like a tent to dwell in (Is 40:22).

A Psalmist tells how God anchored the earth firmly above the seas: "For he has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the rivers" (Ps 24:2). Psalm 19 thrills to the sight of the sun making its way majestically across the sky: "He has set a tent for the sun, which comes forth like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and like a strong man runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them" (Ps 19:4-5).

Job pictures God as sometimes shaking the pillars which support the earth, quaking it under our feet: "He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble" (Job 9:6). In another passage Job states that God "suspends the earth over nothing" (Job 26:7). This suggests that ancient peoples treasured more than one explanation about the manner in which God suspends the ship of the earth in space.

Job presents God as an architect who blue-prints the cosmos with the help of yardstick and square. Then, methodically, He does the construction work while angels excitedly watch each timber being hoisted into place. The joyous stars meanwhile chorus cosmic song:

Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions?
Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone,
while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy? (38:4-7; NIV).

Ancient Cosmology

Ancient traditions of various kinds eventually met in the mind of the author of Genesis. Like his contemporaries, he thought of the earth as the center of the universe, around which the heavens revolved. The age of scientific cosmology was still in the future. Thousands of years were to pass before a Copernicus would inform an astounded readership about heliocentrism - that the earth moves around the sun, not vice versa. His monumental discovery would likely merit a Nobel prize today. Let us digress to ponder how God could allow the unscientific concept of geocentrism to find its way into the Bible.

It is true that certain Greek philosophers had suggested, in the 3rd century B.C., that the sun and not the earth was the center of the universe. But such innovative cosmology did not catch on, neither among the people, nor among scientists. Their ideas had not been developed and were not a live issue during the ensuing centuries. Everyone could see, as they thought, that sun, moon, and stars circled the earth, ticking off days of twenty-four hours each, and calendarizing the seasons of the year, though with somewhat unpredictable variations.

Ptolemy, an Alexandrian astronomer and mathematician of the 2nd century A.D., made a great study of the cosmos. His theories, which we now know to be fancy, monopolized cosmology for the next thousand and three hundred years. He held that great and separate spheres turned above and around the earth, carrying sun, moon and stars. He included the older Greek assumption that the heavenly bodies were of a different substance than our elements, so they did not fall down on the earth. They moved in perfect circles housed within the multiple sets of spheres turning around the earth. The earth was conceived as flat, the center around which the heavenly bodies moved in their gigantic revolving spheres. The problem of apparently irregular movements of planets, epi-cycles and smaller circular eddies of Mars and other planets, was addressed with ingenious explanations, but never accounted for satisfactorily.


Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), a Polish mathematician, suspected that the learned and much revered Ptolemy had made an awesome mistake. Copernicus read Greek and learned that ancient philosophers had once considered the idea that the earth moves around the sun, not vice versa. He had been wondering why the planetary movements, which he measured with great precision, did not come out right if the earth stood still while spheres circled it. He sensed at once that there might be another explanation: maybe the earth moves. It may be one member of a family of planets which orbit around the sun. If the earth itself turns on its axis at twenty-four hour intervals, that could account for the alternating appearance of the sun during the day and of the stars at night.

With that concept in mind, his calculations began to make sense. It dawned upon him that the entire Ptolemaic system, held sacred and unassailable for centuries, was a gross error. The plethora of epi-cycles and other perplexities of the Ptolemaic system didn't fit into his calculations. But he was a careful and methodical mathematician, and a firm believer in God and in the Bible. How to get the message across without offending the faith of believers who took it for granted that the Bible taught geocentrism? How to gently convince learned professors of science that the Ptolemaic spheres were mere objects of the imagination and should be hidden away in science junkrooms?

He wrote a manuscript titled Commentariolus summarizing his new beliefs, but he did not publish it. For how could it be reconciled with the Bible? One of his disciples leaked it, however, giving lectures about it in Rome. Pope Clement VII heard about it. Instead of condemning the theory he favored that it be published. But Copernicus was not ready to publish as yet.

In 1540 a disciple of his, Rhaeticus, took the completed manuscripts to Nuernberg in Germany to have them published there. But in that city the newly Protestant Martin Luther, Melanchton and others were opposed. Quietly he traveled from Nuernberg to Leipzig and engaged publishers there. The publishers corresponded with Copernicus directly, by-passing Rhaeticus. They were in mortal fear of criticism. To save their reputation against the apparently silly idea of Copernicus they wrote, on their own responsibility, a preface to the work. In it they stated that Copernicus' heliocentric hypothesis was nothing more than a convenient means to simplify the computation of planetary orbits. In other words, it is his scaffolding to facilitate counting, nothing more.

The whole work De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Concerning the orbits of the heavenly bodies) was not completed until 1543, the year in which Copernicus died. It is believed that it was brought to him just before he died on May 24, 1543. (For the above, see "Copernicus" in Encyclopedia Britannica.)


Galileo (1564-1642), unlike the more modest Copernicus, relished combat. He brazenly loudmouthed the heliocentric theory, wielding it like a sledge hammer to pulverize opponents. The great battle of heliocentric vs. geocentric was now engaged. Understandably, he got his knuckles bloodied too. The previous nod by Pope Clement VII to have the theory published notwithstanding, political pots began to boil over, and personality clashes obscured scientific issues. Galileo landed in jail - though it was more like a house arrest than jail, and did not lack the usual home conveniences. The question galvanized into a contest whether the Bible can be wrong, for it pictures the sun as moving across the sky, from east to west. If the Bible is the unerring word of God, how can that be wrong? The Church and science had yet to learn that the Bible teaches us "how to go to heaven, and not how the heavens go."

Even today geocentrists survive, like dinosaurs who outlived their time. Nothing can convince these "Flat-earthers" they are wrong, not even pictures taken by men on the moon who photographed the distant orb of the earth from there.

The Flat Earth Society...moved from England to Zion, Illinois, and then to Lancaster, California, becoming a neighbor to Edwards Air force Base, the home of the space shuttle, where it must contend, not with the shadow of the earth on the moon, but with color photographs of a spheroid earth, complete with clouds, oceans and continents. The Society's president, Charles Johnson, is not daunted. For him the whole space program is faked, a carnival put on Hollywood-style to fool the people into accepting the spheroid-earth hypothesis of the scientists. The Society's publications, which reprint the arguments of Parallax, are available to members, who must be true believers and who number about six hundred (William Kramer, Evolution and Creation, p. 25).

Why Did God Not Make the Bible a Textbook of Science?

We ask how it is possible that God allowed the mistaken geocentric concept to infiltrate the Bible. What might be the mind of God concerning truth about scientific matters, which appear to be presented wrongly in inspired writings? Certainly God knows all science. How can it be otherwise, since it was He who put the cosmos together successfully. His scientific measurements are accurate to infinitesimal fractions of nano-millimeters. Micro-cosmic particles and atoms play out their forces and movements harmoniously within the great ship of the macro-cosmos.

If there really was a Big Bang, as many scientists now claim, this would not be news to God. If the theory be true, then it was God who lit the fuse to detonate that Big Bang. Scientists are on true course only when they walk in the footsteps of the Creator; if they plant their feet exactly where He has trodden before them. If what they discover for the first time is acclaimed with wonder, they learn one more thing which God already knows.

Therefore, if something in the Bible appears to contradict what we know about scientific matters, we seek to understand how this can be. "All scripture," writes Paul to Timothy, "is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Note well what Paul says here: Scripture equips us "for every good work." He did not say it equips us for science. People born before Copernicus and Galileo, instructed by the Scriptures, could find their way to heaven by doing "every good work" even if they mistakenly thought that the sun revolved around the earth. Believers in geocentric cosmology were not hindered from getting to heaven by their mistaken scientific concept.

Let us try to put ourselves into God's shoes for the moment, and view the situation from His standpoint. He wants people to know Him, love Him, serve Him, and thereby merit heaven. He therefore inspired the sacred authors of the Bible to teach and exhort us to follow the way of righteousness. He inspired a Moses to teach this way of life to the Israelites. Moses was a man of his times, and so were the other Israelites. They assumed that the sun moves around the earth.

If God would have inspired Moses to write in the Bible that the earth moves around the sun, would the Israelites have believed him? Their more likely reaction would be disbelief. "Everyone can see that Moses speaks nonsense!" they might laugh. And they might also have laughed at the Ten Commandments if Moses taught science which they could not believe. Scoffing Israelites might have abandoned a Moses if he had taught heliocentrism. They might have left him standing alone on top of Sinai, as they shook with laughter and bee-lined back to Egypt. Over their receding shoulders they might have shouted with derision: "We must hear you on this topic some other time" (Acts 17:32). A race for Egypt's best lands might have followed, much as Oklahoma stagecoach drivers, on April 22, 1889 at exactly 12:00 o'clock noon, whipped their horses into gallop to career their wagons over rock and river racing for coveted homestead lands in Oklahoma Territory. If Moses had preached Copernican heliocentrism, this brilliant scientism would likely have backfired into his face. He would likely have become a stone of scandal against which his people would shatter their faith.

God gave us a brain to discover science on our own effort, and with satisfactory delight. He allows us to discover it slowly as our wits allow. He also gives us the gift of faith by which we can believe His saving message because it is God who speaks. With faith, we wondrously see light, thanks to His infused light.

If God would have given the Israelites a Bible which taught heliocentrism, He would have defeated His own purpose. So long as human culture claims and assumes that the earth is flat, and everybody is persuaded that it is flat, a Bible which claims that the earth is round would be less than helpful. In that case, Genesis may never have survived, and we would be the losers. For example, if Genesis had begun with a scientific explanation of the Big Bang theory, somewhat as what follows here, it would have been unintelligible to the Israelites. Modern science written into the ancient Bible would have rendered the Bible incredible for the people.

The assumption is that somewhere about 10 billion years ago the Universe consisted of a single piece of matter, a sort of giant primeval atom concentrated at a single point in space. This concentrated matter then exploded, flinging out either hydrogen atoms and related matter which subsequently became organized into discrete units (galaxies) or else (or as well as) lumps of specifically condensed matter which could be regarded as incipient galaxies.

These lumps of matter or more luminous gas have ever since continued to move away from each other at ever increasing speed... (Jim Brooks, Origins of Life, From the first moments of the Universe to the beginning of life on Earth, p.12).

Had Moses spoken thus, the Israelites would have questioned his sanity. Parents would not have taught their children such contents. They didn't even have Hebrew names for hydrogen atoms, galaxies, luminous gas. God had better things to do than try to convince people about science in the Bible.

Parents can teach their children to be good and to believe in God who created the heavens and the earth, without teaching them science; without, for example, discoursing on the theory about a "Big Bang." These same parents find it far easier to awaken faith in their children by teaching about God in the way Genesis does it. The text is not designed to be a handbook for science class, but it is admirably composed as a vehicle to teach the faith.

God therefore wisely chose to inspire the sacred authors to write their message in a manner which is intelligible, credible, and "inspirational" for readers of all times and places. God did not mandate the human authors of the Bible to teach classroom science, but to teach what is far more important; to teach us how to live. As Henricus Renckens observes:

It has not been our way of looking at things, but that of the sacred author which has been the vehicle of revelation, which is not addressed to our particular brand of scientific curiosity, but to men of all ages for their salvation. Each age has its own understanding of scientific matters, but the Word of God remains eternally (Henricus Renckens, S.J., Israel's Concept of the Beginning, The Theology of Genesis, p. 192).

The Bible is not only a divine, but also a divine-human book, and this means, as far as the Old Testament is concerned, that we are never in a position to approach the mind of God unless we are prepared to pass first by way of the mind of Israel (Renckens 253).

When we read the Bible, therefore, we read a divine message which may be garbed in the style of a contemporary culture. The styles may change with the times, but the divine message wrapped within remains intact. Indeed, the human authors deliberately employ teaching aids of culture. Consequently we gain access to the divine message by passing through the culturally conditioned mind of the author. The mistaken or incomplete views of a sacred author about scientific matters does not at all distract our reverent attention to the message which God speaks through him.

In fact, the author's views and moods are caught up into the sacred message of inspiration and become vehicles for our increased appreciation of that message. When David, a king and a general, confesses with sorrow his sins, his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, his magnificent example makes it easier for us lesser humans to likewise admit our sins. David is not ashamed to say "Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness, In your compassion blot out my offense" (Ps 51:1). We grow in the appreciation of nature when we soar with Job's magnificent lyrics; we applaud his poetry and allow for scientific fancy. We magnify the Lord with Mary's noble words of the Magnificat, rising on her winged words to heights greater than our leaden feet would allow: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46). The human culture exhibited beautifully and authentically in the Bible is auxiliary to teaching its message of faith.

Reflecting thus on God's manner of inspiration in the Bible, we ought to be satisfied to read it as He intended it to be read; as an inspired book singing for us the tune which we can follow into heaven. Thanks be to God, the Bible is far more than a classroom science textbook. Uninspired teachers can write what is mere science, but only God can give us revelation about how to reach our eternal abode in heaven.

We ought to be grateful, therefore, that God filtered His divine inspiration through human minds of many eras and cultures; that He allows poets and bards and purveyors of myths to rhapsodize truths with their ardor and passion. Had God not written His message with human quills, had He straight-jacketed the text with scientific pedantry, He would only have confused us, and the Bible would lack its present splendor and awesome beauty. We thank God that He has made the Bible to be just the way it is, a roadmap to heaven.

Next Page: Chapt: 14 A Salute to Adam and Eve
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