July 23, 2014

Misreading the Bible’s “Scientific Accuracy”

While we are on the subject of the Bible today, let’s look at a point of view quite contrary to that of John Polkinghorne, the renowned physicist whose book we are working through (see this morning’s post). Christian Post reports that “Pastor Rick Warren launched his ’40 Days in the Word’ biblical literacy campaign over the weekend by preaching that the Bible is not only historically and prophetically accurate, but scientifically trustworthy as well.”

I commend Rick Warren for working to increase the Biblical literacy of his congregation. Unfortunately, I think he is misleading them when he portrays the Bible as “scientifically trustworthy” and gives examples like the following:

“You might expect the Bible to say the world is flat because for thousands of years, everybody thought the world was flat,” he explained. “But, 2,600 years ago the Bible said in Isaiah 40:22, ‘God is enthroned above the sphere of the earth.’ Two-thousand, six-hundred years ago, the Bible said the world is not flat. It’s a sphere. It’s a globe. It said it long before anyone started coming up with that idea. Nowhere in the Scripture does it say the world is flat.”

With all due respect to Pastor Warren, that’s bad reading.

The Hebrew people, like other Ancient Near Eastern people, had a cosmology like that pictured in the diagram above and the Bible reflects this cosmology consistently throughout its pages. Scripture does not give us clues to later scientific discoveries such as the earth being a globe. The Israelites, like their ANE neighbors, saw the earth as a relatively flat, circular disk. This is how it appears to anyone phenomenologically, as we scan the horizon. This disk is covered by a “vault” or “firmament” that appears as a rounded dome over the earth (imagine a snow globe). Beneath the land, upholding the “circle of the earth” are the “pillars of the earth.” There are “waters under the earth” that feed the surface waters, and “waters above the firmament” that are sometimes released upon the earth through “the windows of heaven.” The clouds and the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars, have been placed in firmament above. There are several other details, but these will suffice to make our point.

When Warren quotes Isaiah 40:22 as saying, “God is enthroned above the sphere of the earth,” he translates and interprets the text in contradiction to how all major English versions understand the Hebrew word chûg. What Isaiah said was that God’s throne sits above “the circle of the earth.”

Isaiah is portraying God as sitting above the circular disk of the land below or perhaps beyond the rounded dome of the firmament (see the diagrams). Whichever it is, either interpretation reflects ANE cosmology and has nothing to do with earth being a spherical globe. God did not reveal that thousands of years ago through special revelation. Scientists came to understand it in their study of his general revelation.

Nevertheless, in his message, Rick Warren asserts, “The reason the Bible is scientifically accurate is because the laws of the universe were invented by God. God knows the scientific laws of the universe better than we do.”

Well of course God does, but that is not the point. The point is whether God guided the Biblical authors to write in such a way that they spoke better than they knew about future scientific findings. I, for one, don’t accept that. I trust the Bible as God’s Word, but not because it contains up-to-date scientific information that was supernaturally revealed by God thousands of years before humans discovered it. It doesn’t, and we should not expect that. Nor do we need to maintain that perspective in order to stand against a tide of atheistic naturalism promoted by “modern science.”

If you stop and think about it, Warren’s claim is an untenable idea anyway, for our knowledge of the natural world is always incomplete. If we claim dogmatically that the Bible confirms today’s scientific positions, then we will be in trouble tomorrow when scientists make new discoveries.

This view of Scripture won’t cut it, and the sooner we abandon it the better. God spoke his Word in our language, fully respecting the limitations of its writers. He inspired it to be written within their cultural and scientific perspectives.

The real point upon which we should be focused is the Story Scripture tells in its ancient narratives and poetry — how that God prepared the way and then sent the true and living Word. He is the Word of God to whom the Bible witnesses, who became flesh and dwelt among us to save us from our sins, inaugurate God’s rule in the world, and bring about a new creation.

Let’s become literate about that message and how the Bible tells it.

Comments

  1. “Let’s become literate about that message and how the Bible tells it.”

    Amen, Chaplain Mike.

    The Southern Baptist doctrine of the Word leads to a elevation of the text and a biblicism that cannot admit it is a tool of God to create faith,…but that it is perfect in every way, literally.

    This biblicism leads to add-on’s to the Living Word, and those add-on’s tend to curve us back into ourselves…which isn’t helpful, in my opinion.

    • Adam Anderson says:

      Just to put it out their, I attend a southern baptist university, which adheres strongly to SBC beliefs, and just yesterday, we were taught the very concept of Mike’s article, which the professor has been teaching there for a long time. Not arguing your point, but just letting you know that this “biblicism” isn’t 100% across the board. We are taught to understand the the culture and time in which the scriptures were each written, so that we won’t make these broad claims that can be refuted with a little research. Thank you for the article Chaplin Mike. I am happy to see the gentle correction to Warren’s oversight.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Since the Flat Earth Society is such a small group, this has to be related to the latest Creation Wars campaigns, battles — and casualties.

    While on vacation last week, I read some Manly Wade Wellman’s “Silver John” novels (Appalachian Contemporary-Supernatural). One of the “guest star” characters made a comment about how in a materialistic age nobody remembers “the old stories” (which in the novel’s context mean actual supernatural threats, free to do as they will under the radar of naturalism and materialism).

    Well the Bible is not an Engineering/Science Textbook for those with minds of wheels and metal. Torah and Tenach are the Old Stories of the Jews (and by extension Christians), while the Gospels and Epistles are the Old Stories of Christians. Old Stories of Origins (Torah), Old Stories of God, Old Stories of Both Seen and Unseen, Old Stories of What Has Been, Old Stories of What Is and Is To Come.

    Because without the Old Stories of your people, you are not a People.

    • What’s the future for Lutheran and evangelical denominations (or megachurches) that stubbornly continue to draw a line in the sand over young earth theology? Could someone who wants to obtain graduate degrees in the earth sciences even remain a member?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        The same three futures anything has to face when the environment changes:
        1) Adapt.
        2) Die off.
        3) Force the environment back to what it was before.

      • Conservatives lutherans don’t have to be young earthers, many are old earthers. I think there’s a little wiggle room around six days as well, thanks to relativity theory. One must accept a historical, created, unevolved Adam and Eve, however. Here’s what Lutheran, Missouri Synod pastors are required to believe:

        We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.”

      • I agree Lutherans are not obligated to be YEC; however, Ken Ham has crept into Lutheran churches as much as Warren and Hybels. Then again, if your church has a large home school representation, then it probably is under a lot of pressure to go YEC.

    • Off topic – Manly Wade Wellman? Silver John? Yes! I loved those stories when I stumbled across a second-hand paperback of “Who Fears the Devil?” years ago. I also like his John Thunstone stories (anyone carrying a sword-cane with the blade forged by St. Dunstan is okay by me).

      Excellent literary taste as always, Headless! :-D

  3. The Moon is in a lot of trouble if the floodgate on the left opens up.

  4. Mike, thanks for posting this. It is well worth discussion.

    A few questions. First, I have heard you argue before that the “land” described in Genesis 1 refers not to the earth as a whole, but the preparation of the promised land. Please correct me if I am wrong. If so, then how can Genesis 1 be a description of the accepted cosmology of the day? Wouldn’t cosmological discussions be out of place for this?

    Second, do you believe the flood was universal, or limited to the promised land and its surrounding regions (or to the part of earth settled by mankind)? And, if not universal, then can the description of Genesis 7 be a description of the popular notion of cosmology?

    Thirdly, is it not possible that the relevant parts of the Old Testament are using language about the waters above the heavens, etc, not to accommodate to their understanding of cosmology, but as straight poetry or pictures of speech, much as we use phrases like “sunrise”, “dawn’s rosy fingers” “the man on the moon” “the arrow of time”, etc…?

    Lastly, is it really that well established that the ancients had a consistent cosmology as you picture above? For example the closest parallel to Genesis is the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which has this view of cosmology:

    Then the lord [Marduk] paused to view her dead body,
    That he might divide the monster and do artful works.
    He split her like a shellfish into two parts:
    Half of her he set up and ceiled as sky,
    Pulled down the bar and posted guards.
    He bade them to allow not her waters to escape.

    You know more about these things than I do, so do not read this as a contradiction of your thoughts, but, if you have time, I would love to see your answers.

    • Dan, as for the first two questions, I think the key is to understand that the “science” of the day was phenomenological. Thus no matter whether you are speaking of the “land” or the “earth,” it appears the same to the observer. Second, poetic language is certainly used, but I don’t think there was such a division between technical, scientific language and other ways of describing things as there is today. Also, there are examples of the kind of “cosmic warfare” that you reference from Babylon as elements of the creation story in the Bible. Finally, the ANE cosmology as described here is well accepted, but I don’t think they thought of cosmology in “scientific” terms as we do. These stories function more as “myths” (I know that’s a loaded word) to explain matters of meaning and significance in their culture.

      This is just a simple answer to your good questions, but I hope it will be a good start.

      • Helpful. Thanks.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        These stories function more as “myths” (I know that’s a loaded word) to explain matters of meaning and significance in their culture.

        “Myths” as in “The Old Stories”.

        • *footnote to HUG’s entry here: see his entry of 2:31 P.M.

          Takeaway quote: “Because without the Old Stories of your people, you are not a People.”

  5. i’m not sure there are any direct references to the laws of physics, as we know them today, nestled in some obscure poetic scriptural reference intended to be the scientific basis for said laws…

    {sigh}

    and no Virginia, one cannot reverse engineer a YEC cosmos from the Genesis accounts…

    {sheesh}

    one cannot have their creationist cake & eat it scientifically too. insisting the bible contains pre-scientific references ‘intended’ to be scientific ‘proofs’ simply untenable…

    why put such unrealistic pressure upon Holy Writ? i think those that emphatically do so have ulterior motives never intended by the One doing the original inspiration thru human authors…

    if all the ruckus is to ‘prove’ the bible is somehow scientifically ‘sound’ simply to make any miraculous references plausible, then such misuse of sacred texts should be soundly rejected! BTW: were there any scientific references to the principle of sound waves & auricular design+function found in those sacred texts???

    Lord, have mercy… :(

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      and no Virginia, one cannot reverse engineer a YEC cosmos from the Genesis accounts…

      That doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying. And preaching. And denouncing anyone & everyone who isn’t 1000% with them as Heretics & Apostates & Satanic.

    • Because if the Bible isn’t 101% literal truth AND you have no tradition or anything else to back up your “bible-believing-lifestyle” then you are up the Jordan River without a paddle. (And you have a lot of stoning of sinners and surly sons to get going on while you order that second set of dishes for keeping Kosher and plan your long overdue circumcision…)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      if all the ruckus is to ‘prove’ the bible is somehow scientifically ‘sound’ simply to make any miraculous references plausible, then such misuse of sacred texts should be soundly rejected!

      Many years ago, one friend (who bears no relationship to any church) put it this way:
      “They’re looking for some absolute PROOF The Bible and everything they believe in is True so they can prove to themselves that they were right all along. And so they can rub it in the faces of all those Unbelievers.”

      And I have read Christianese attempts at SF that were wish-fulfillment fantasies along these exact lines. One flashfic in an old issue of World magazine was how Intelligent Design/YEC had been Absolutely Proven when the Human Genome Project discovered Genesis 1 encrypted in the DNA. This struck me as as much wish-fulfillment as those Z-grade Furry stories where we all wake up one morning and discover EVERYBODY morphed into a Furry overnight, Yiff Yiff Yiff.

  6. cermak_rd says:

    I don’t see why you mentioned atheistic naturalism promoted by “modern science.”
    I fail to see anywhere where science advocates for atheism. Some scientists are atheists, sure, just as some scientists are Christians or Jews. Of course, experiments and theories don’t refer to a divine being. The whole point of science is to explain the natural world. Natural world implies without ascribing cause or causes to a deity or deities. After all, if the answer to a natural question is gaddidit, then what is the spur to scientific progress? Why have the LHC trying to find evidence of the Higgs bosun to explain why things have mass if the answer is simply gaddidit? And by the way, if Scriptures contain the answers to the deep scientific problems of life, isn’t the LHC a collossal waste of money? Can’t we just put a bunch of “scholars”–I take it criticism would be out as a tool, too–with all the different holy books and see what they come up with?

    • It seems to me from the context that Mike was attributing that view to others, not endorsing it himself.

    • The LHC is a “colossal waste of money” for a much more obvious reason: the Higgs Boson is such a shy and secretive and easily-embarrassed particle that whenever some scientist finds it, the Boson travels back in time and kills that scientist’s grandparents so that the discovery will never happen. (Or tells a seagull to drop a baguette into that scientist’s particle accelerator.)

      • cermak_rd says:

        Especially if that seagull drops it onto one of those magnets and knocks it out of alignment!

        • It may be that the Higgs particle wanted the seagull to take that baguette away so it wouldn’t succumb to temptation and ruin its diet; apparently, it has trouble with its non-zero field: one day it’s tiny, the next day it’s immense (ladies, we’ve all had those days, correct?)

          :-)

        • Jack Heron says:

          Seagulls are an occupational hazard for bosuns, I believe.

    • There was a hint of sarcasm in that sentence, cermak.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I don’t see why you mentioned atheistic naturalism promoted by “modern science.”
      I fail to see anywhere where science advocates for atheism.

      “If you don’t want to call it God, call it Truth.”
      – attributed to “Bill”, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

  7. Jack Heron says:

    Quite revealing, what Warren says. ‘God knows the scientific laws of the universe better than we do’ – and from this he concludes that the Bible knows the scientific laws. Who’s his God again?

  8. According to Wikipedia:

    Warren received a Bachelor of Arts degree from California Baptist University in Riverside, California; a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1979) in Fort Worth, Texas; and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

    I.e., he should be able to read the Greek and Hebrew as a scholar, or read scholar-level commentaries.

    • As someone who has taken three years of Hebrew and two years of Greek. It gets pretty rusty if you don’t use it.

      • In this case, it’s pretty clear from the English translations.

      • I agree (as one who had 2 years of Greek and 1 of Hebrew), but with two seminary doctorates, he has no excuse to be lazy and ill-informed re: the meaning of Isaiah 40:22. Since he highly values and regards the Word of God, he should take extra care to make sure his pronouncements about the Hebrew are correct, especially since he has the knowledge and training of how to do so. This just further fosters Christian ignorance.

        • From an 1898 Commentary:

          22, 23. The majesty of the God who reveals Himself in Creation and Providence is described in interjectional participial clauses, the force of which should not be blunted by the superfluous “It is” of E.V.
          upon (rather: above, R.V. marg.) the circle of the earth] i. e. the horizon, where earth and heaven meet (see Prov. 8:27), “at the confines of light and darkness” (Job 26:10). The earth with its surrounding ocean is conceived as a flat disc, on which the arch of heaven comes down. The rendering “on the vault of the earth” (see Job 22:14, “vault of heaven,” the same word) is possible, though not so good.
          and (so that) the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers] Comp. for the expression Num. 13:33, and for the thought Ps. 113:5 f.
          as a curtain] like gauze (lit. fine cloth).
          a tent to dwell in] i.e. simply “a habitable tent.”

  9. I also have fun with the fact that Genesis 1 literally describes God creating only one bird and one sea creature, and that all birds and sea life are descendants of those two animals. So… fish and aquatic mammals have a common ancestor, eh? I wondered where Darwin came up with that one.

    I also find it interesting that more recent translations fudge this — they have God create “birds,” plural, presuming that the Hebrew-singular word for bird means “birdkind,” or something like that. In an amusing irony, most of the creationists I know tend to ditch those translations and stick with the KJV — which uses the singular, and says “let the waters bring forth the moving creature … and [a] fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” (Gen 1.20)

    The important thing, as I keep reminding them, is that Genesis 1 is an argument against other ancient near eastern religions: Yahweh wasn’t created, didn’t have to battle the other gods for supremacy, didn’t make the earth out of the bones of his vanquished foes, created it alone without other gods’ help; that the sun, moon, stars, ocean, and other life are creations and not gods, that God is not the creator of evil (since it was all good), and that humans are the high point of creation, instead of an afterthought, creatures the gods created to feed them.

    • K. W.

      You are right about “bird” being in the singular. I take it, however, that this is a poetic license, something like Song of Solomon’s 2:12-13:

      “the cooing of the dove is heard in the land,
      the fig tree forms her early fruit”

      The NIV makes “the dove” into a plural, but in Hebrew it is singular.

      I totally agree with your last paragraph.

      • Jack Heron says:

        I like the King James, ‘The voice of the turtle is heard in the land’ (as in turtle dove, of course).

        • petrushka1611 says:

          That’s why I quote it as “the voice of the lawnmower is heard in the land.” Much more relevant for today’s audiences.

  10. “It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation.”

    - “The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20, Chapt. 19″, St. Augustine.

    It’s looking bad when a 5th century Young Earth Creationist (kinda, sorta) is more open-minded about science than an educated 21st century pastor. Remind me again how we’re so much smarter than our forebears?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “The Victorians thought that history ended well, because it ended with the Victorians.”
      - G.K.Chesterton

    • is the reference to 4 bears some Celtic symbology i am not aware of???

      not sure if a bear is even associated with anything Irish, but hey, if St. Martha says so i will not hesitate to question! ;)

      • Since the Irish name “Art” means “bear”, and the most famous bearer of that name was a High King of Ireland, Art son of Conn of the Hundred Battles.

        King Arthur also has a name deriving from the Indo-European word for “bear”. That gives us two of the four bears.

        The celestial Great Bear and Little Bear (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor) don’t particularly have anything to do with Ireland specifically, except that what you call the Big Dipper we call the Plough.

        So who are the missing two bears of our four bears? If we knew that, we could reconcile science with Biblical inerrancy!

        :-)

        • Convoluted answer, Martha, and not a single mention of Goldilocks.

          • maybe there were 2 stowaway bears on the Ark…

            and so begins the legend, or myth, of our 4 bears…

            well, after a few glasses of fine Pinot & a nice hot meal, my mind is not particularly a fine tuned story telling machine right now… :)

        • petrushka1611 says:

          The two formerly missing bears, to this day, are rending small children in pieces for mocking the man of God.

  11. Glenn A Bolas says:

    I recall a personal incident from many years ago when I was a good deal younger and, like the good Baptist lad I was at the time, was reading my KJV Bible. I came across the passage in Matthew where it speaks of signs attending the last days, including ‘earthquakes in divers places’ and, interpreting this to mean underwater earthquakes, became very excited as there had recently been some kind of oceanic volcanic eruption in the news. It took my mother to inform me that in the KJV English ‘divers’ wasn’t a plural possessive of ‘diver’ but an older spelling of ‘diverse’. Of course, I was about ten at the time. To see an educated man like Rick Warren drawing important and consequential conclusions from similarly egregious errors is a bit sad.

    • Jack Heron says:

      I seem to remember a Shakespeare stage instruction concerning ‘divers excursions’. Why only divers get them, I don’t know. Probably because they had to put up with the alarums earlier.

      (Speaking as a geologist, I would only be alarmed if a day went by when there *weren’t* earthquakes in diverse places. We had a M6.3 and an M5.2 today in the Pacific, a cluster in Hawai’i, two off Chile, a nice 5.4 in the South Sandwich Islands and the normal stream in Japan, the Aleutians and Rockies)

  12. Okay. I think I’m a recovering biblicist.

    I will readily grant the purpose of scripture isn’t to give us a definitive history of the entire world, natural or otherwise.

    I am also very doubtful of interpretations that require a great deal of “explaining.” I think the Bible means what it says (without being fundamentalist about it.) I think the Bible, as a whole, should be interpreted to give a consistent, coherent message.

    God being the creator is a recurring theme throughout scripture. It is used as an evidence of his power. How do we read Genesis in light of all this?

    • God created and it was good. Then we stopped trusting Him, and things went haywire.

    • That God is the Creator of all that is, that creation is good, that we are part of creation, that our self-will and disobedience broke the harmony, that God redeemed and redeemed us, that the goodness of creation will be restored in the new heavens and the new earth.

      That we can leave it up to science to discover the age of the rocks, the distance to the stars, and exactly how many species of beetles there are, without getting our heads in a knot about that. Is the Holy Spirit going to describe the double helix structure of DNA to a Bronze Age scribe, or if He does, how much will be understood and transmitted correctly? No. But any idiot, whether five thousand years ago or last week, can understand “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

      • Well said.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Back when the pre- and post- and mid-game off-on-a-tangent discussions got pretty freewheeling, my old D&D Dungeonmaster put it this way:

        “So how are you going to explain all this to a Bronze-age Shlomo fresh out of the sheep-dip? And even if you could Zap all the knowledge of cosmology into his head by God-power, how could he ever explain it to all the other sheep-dip Shlomos? You have to be very generic and poetic, not going into any detail that won’t be understood for 4000 more years.”

    • “Biblicist”……THANK you for the exact word I have been looking for since forever!

  13. Daniel Bennett says:

    Sometimes I just about go nuts listening to my beloved fundie pastor and the elders at my church go on about young earth stuff.
    Your article confirms my own studies. What a book we have or 2 books if include the Book of Creation. Thanks for sharing your studies.

  14. petrushka1611 says:

    What does ANE mean?

    • Ancient Near East, usually.

    • Ancient Near East. That region is now called the “Middle East” for some reason, but still called “Ancient Near East” in biblical, historical or archaeological jargon.

    • petrushka1611 says:

      Thank you. Chaplain Mike (and other writers): you might consider spelling out the occasional acronym on first use; YEC threw me the first time I saw it, though I figured it out from the context.

      And, I’ve been meaning to say this: it’s easy to miss Michael Spencer, and to say so without much thought for the work you and the other writers are doing, but…thank you for the amount of work you do for this website. You’ve had big shoes to fill, but you’ve filled them pretty darn well.

  15. Trying to reconcile the bible perfectly with science can be a trap. Whether we cherry-pick science to “prove” the bible true, or to “prove” that God exists, there will be others who will play the same game with the opposite goal.

    Or, if we bend scripture to accommodate science (and Rick Warren may be on the edge of this) it’s also a trap, and downright bad scholarship in either field.

    Lesslie Newbigin said something about this. I can never find the quote, but he warned us not to rely on science to prove the bible or to prove God—because the moment we do that we’ve admitted that science is the higher authority.

    • ‘Trying to reconcile the bible perfectly with science can be a trap’. Absolutely. Especially if you dont know even the basics of either but even more so if you know about one and assume that gives you any integrity in the other.

      I am the only future biology teacher at a Christian college where thankfully most of the faculty are not YEC. I regularly get challenged by non-theology students who cannot believe I both love and want to teach science. I have learnt that discussion is pointless. I now resort to a kindly delivered request for them to explain what an allele is and Hardy Weinberg equilibrium. If they cant explain these fundamentals I explain that discussion would be fruitless and do us both damage. If I have 15 year old students who understand these 2 concepts I am happy for dialogue with them but when adults are wilfully ignorant, I will not jump into the trap.

  16. Randy Windborne says:

    Your criticism of Rick Warren’s teaching was civil … a positive change. Very nice, Chaplain.

    “The Hebrew people, like other Ancient Near Eastern people, had a cosmology like that pictured in the diagram above and the Bible reflects this cosmology consistently throughout its pages. … The Israelites, like their ANE neighbors, saw the earth as a relatively flat, circular disk. This is how it appears to anyone phenomenologically, as we scan the horizon.”

    I didn’t note any references in your article, Chaplain. How is it that we know the cosmology of the Hebrew people at the time of Isaiah or Moses? Do we have other writings dating from that period that explain their cosmology? Did the Jewish sages preserve this cosmology in the Talmud?

    Or is your description simply conjecture, the consensus of The Wise? I don’t know, actually, but I’d be willing to bet it’s just consensus conjecture.

    Let’s find out just how insightful you really are, Chaplain. In the Hebrew calendar, this is year 5772, that is, 5772 years from “Beresheet.” Yet we can see with our unaided eyes in the night sky the dim glow of galaxies literally millions of light-years distant. Does scripture explain this paradox, and if so where?

    Hint: The answer is straightforward – no conjecture required.

    • Randy Windborne says:

      Well, I’ll check back tomorrow for your answers, Chaplain.

      “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

      Laila tov.

    • You assume that “Bereshit” was the absolute beginning, which some commentators deny. If they are right, Gen. 1 describes how God ordered the creation that was already in existence.

      Another way to look at it is that Gen. 1:1 does describe the very beginning. But 1:2 introduces a new subject, “Now the land (or earth)…” which takes place at a subsequent time. 1:1 then sets forth God as the creator of everything (“the heavens and the earth” being a merism), whereas 1:2ff shows God to be the one who prepared the land for his people.

      Either of these interpretations would allow more time than the literalist readings of the genealogical dating reflected in the Hebrew calendar.

      As for references to Ancient Near East cosmology, you can look at John Walton’s commentaries and books on Genesis, Bruce Waltke’s commentary, Peter Enns’ work, Gordon Glover’s Beyond the Firmament, and a host of others. In the comments, someone quoted a Bible commentary from the 1890′s that said the same thing. It’s not like I picked this up from some obscure source. It’s widely held knowledge.

      • Randy Windborne says:

        I didn’t assume “Beresheet” was the beginning, Chaplain Mike – that’s just where the Hebrew calendar starts.

        The answer to the paradox is in the question – literally. And the difference between us, Chaplain, is that I didn’t get the answer by reading from the collections of The Wise to ascertain “widely held knowledge.”

        The “sacred gift” and “servant” quote is attributed to Albert Einstein, and that’s the point I was trying in vain to make. Dr. Einstein knew that even his impressive capability for reason was insufficient.

        You are making the same mistake as almost every Christian teacher, Chaplain Mike, the same mistake as virtually all bible commentators. Once you realize your error, you will begin to understand scripture. Until then, criticizing other teachers is a true case of the blind leading the blind.

        • Thank you for informing me that I don’t know Scripture and that I’m blind. That is helpful to know. If you are truly wise you will know the inestimable value of kindness and compassion for the blind and ignorant and let me in on your esoteric secrets.

          • Randy Windborne says:

            I’m not among The Wise, and there’s no secret.

            Scripture is unambiguous, but clever, intelligent and educated people cannot maintain the patina of authority if they actually believe it.

            It’s not that you don’t know scripture. Perhaps you’ve merely forgotten what it is.

          • Richard, you have developed a wonderful talent for insulting folks and misrepresenting the facts. No one is claiming authority here — we have discussions. I and the other writers share our observations and what God is teaching us on our journeys. Our opinions are our own and not forced on anyone. We recognize Jesus as our Master and seek to make clear his good news. Sometimes that involves pointing out examples of bad news parading as good news. We treasure the Scriptures as a primary witness to him — which is their main purpose. What I’m not sure about is your purpose in making these comments.

          • Randy Windborne says:

            It’s Randy vice Richard – I only mention it because I think there is a Richard somewhere here.

            Purpose #1: As you have realized, it’s not pleasant to be criticized or to have your understanding of scripture questioned. Might be worth keeping in mind for your future blog posts.

            Purpose #2: Before questioning the scriptural understanding of others, it’s important to know what scripture is (and isn’t) and how to interpret it. I’m sorry if you take insult, Chaplain Mike, but your articles indicate you know as little about either as those you critique. There’s just no nice way to say it. Sorry!

          • Randy, I sort of feel like Paul in 2Cor 10-13 here. I must be crazy to keep trying to defend myself. Particularly since you really aren’t offering any substantive criticism at all. You are simply making assertions. It would be nice if you would give examples instead of just casting stones. It’s like you’re conducting guerrilla warfare here, Randy. Snipe here, snipe there, but never show yourself or make yourself known.

            I am always open to correction from my betters. So tell me, how, specifically, is it that my articles indicate I know little about what scripture is and how to interpret it? Give me a better understanding. Tell me what scripture is about. Give me some examples of better interpretation.

            Help a poor blind ignoramus here.

          • Randy Windborne says:

            Come now, Chaplain Mike – no more false modesty. I’m not your rabbi (you have only one after all).

            Scripture describes itself pretty well and I’m quite certain you know the passages. If you believe what scripture says about itself then there’s really only one way to interpret it.

            Or you could interpret the way Jesus instructed his disciples. He was painfully clear.

            Or you could take a second look at that Einstein quote I gave you. Smart guy, Einstein.

            The downside to actually believing scripture and/or taking Messiah at his word is that your faithful readers will think you’ve become a nut job. The evangelical circus clowns will be irrelevant and, if you blog, you’ll likely lose your day job.

            So maybe it’s best to keep on keeping on.

            I’m not that hard to find if you’re really interested. Try Facebook.

          • I didn’t think you had anything.

            Welcome to moderation, Randy.

    • Donalbain says:

      There is no paradox. There is only a paradox if you want to pretend that the world is only a few thousand years old. It is not.

      • Randy Windborne says:

        That depends on when the clock started, and on whether the One who created the clock is constrained by it.

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “I didn’t note any references in your article, Chaplain. How is it that we know the cosmology of the Hebrew people at the time of Isaiah or Moses? Do we have other writings dating from that period that explain their cosmology? Did the Jewish sages preserve this cosmology in the Talmud?”

      He didn’t write an article, much less a scholarly article. He wrote a blog post. If you expect the one to follow the conventions of the other, you are doomed to constant disappointment.

      Moving past this , we have a decent notion of Ancient Near East cosmology because Ancient Near East texts survive by the roomful. Most of them are the cuneiform version of accounting spread sheets, but there are poems and myths as well. This stuff was first dug up (literally) and translated in the 19th century.

      As for ancient Hebrew cosmology, we know it because it is described in the Bible. The similarities between Biblical cosmology and that of other Ancient Near East cultures was noted as soon as the latter were translated.

      We can come to different conclusions about this similarity, but any serious study of the Old Testament requires that we recognize it. My father’s collection of text books from when he was in (Lutheran) seminary in the 1950s includes a rather bulky anthology of such texts. Some other Christian traditions prefer to pretend they don’t exist.

      • Randy Windborne says:

        I appreciate your answer, Richard. I am ignorant in this area, so if you could direct my to a source document I could review, I’d be in your debt.

        • Randy Windborne says:

          “… direct me …”

          Oops.

        • Richard Hershberger says:

          I’m not sure I could put my hands on the book my father had, and in any case I am sure it is seriously dated. I don’t know what is out there now. If you search on Amazon on “ancient cosmology” you will find many possibilities. Most are about ancient cosmology as it relates to Genesis. Frankly, I would start with something directed more away from modern debates. Based strictly on the Amazon page, “Cosmology in Antiquity” by Rosemary Wright looks promising. Your best bet is to get it or something similar and follow the footnotes and bibliography.

  17. richard williams says:

    i think of this way of finding modern science in the Scriptures the easter egg discovery method of hermeneutics. essentially looking for these semi magically easter eggs hidden for millennium until human science evolved enough for us to understand them and pop there they are. it looks to be a close cousin to how people use prophecy as well. looking for things in the world around us to stimulate the necessary POP-POOF required to understand the real meaning of prophetic passages.

  18. Donalbain says:

    All due respect? The man lied. He knowingly and intentionally said something that is untrue. He is lying to people who trust him.byte respect he I due is, in this situation, zero.

    • Donalbain says:

      Sorry, bad typing. I was on my phone!

      The respect he is due is, in this situation, zero.

      • petrushka1611 says:

        If that’s the case, then none of us deserves respect (or, maybe none of us does to begin with). None of us will ever “see the light” on every single issue, according to everyone else. God obviously doesn’t mind ambiguity in the scripture he inspired, neither does he require every man to resolve them, knowing full well how interpretations will be taught as fact.

        If the Bible is to point us to Christ (which he himself seemed to say), then it seems uncharitable to demand disrespect at every misinterpretation. I keep the “1611″ as part of my handle to remind myself that I’ve often, long, and sometimes uncharitably held to untenable beliefs.

        • Donalbain says:

          It is not misinterpretation. It is wilfull dishonesty. A simple look at Strongs would show him that the word means circle, not sphere. He either knows that and is lying about what it means, or he is lying when he claims to know what it means. Either way, he has forfeited respect.

  19. Bobchambers says:

    I used to be a commercial fisherman out of OR. i’ve been up & down the west coast in a boat. I’ve been far enough out in the ocean most of the time that I can’t see land. When it was flat calm on a clear day, or when we were cresting a large, long ocean swell, I could see a definite curve to the horizon. Also, i’ve known more than one jet pilot that told me the shortest route from say…New York to Japan, would be to fly in a northerly trajectory at first, and then at some pre-determined arc, head back south until your somewhere over Japan. Am I ignorant, or doesn’t that speak of a rounded earth?
    I know that wasn’t the point, necessarily, of this thread, but I disagree that if you look at the horizon(given you’re in the right place to do so, without any obstructions to your view) that you will see a flat line.
    Also, (and I’m not being sarcastic, or rhetorical, but sincere) Is there really any hard evidence that the ancients thought the earth was flat?
    I also want to sress that we are charged by the apostle Paul not to strive about words “to no profit’, He further says striving about words subverts the hearers. (helps destroy their faith?)

    This is one of the friendliest and respectful blogs i’ve visited having to do with these matters; O.E. vs Y. E., cosmology, etc. Thanks, and God bless
    (BTW, I’m not a supporter of Rick Warren, although on the other hand, i’m not against everything he has to say. I’m against lies and for the truth.)

    • Bob the two examples you give would not have been pertinent to ancient peoples, unless they had pilots I know nothing about, and most of them were not sea-going peoples (though some certainly were that). The point is that our basic phenomenological perspective as earth-bound humans is that we live on a horizontal surface that exists in 360 degrees around us. Remember, we are talking about people who, though very intelligent, did not use scientific instruments and who had a language that was not yet developed to include mathematical and scientific terminology.

      In an earlier comment I listed a few books that talk about ANE (Ancient Near East) cosmology. This is pretty common knowledge and “evidence” is readily available. I suggest googling it. Even if you just look at diagrams like the ones on the post, and if you read the descriptions of the various elements, you will see that they are biblical terms describing the world around us. They sound poetic and quaint to us, but they reflected the actual worldview of those who wrote them.

  20. If the events on Genesis 1 is not correct (creation of everything in 6 separate days), then how can we really believe anything else in the Bible as real?

    When God told Moses the story of the beginning for Genesis, are you saying that if God told him the truth (billions/millions of years) that Moses wouldn’t be able to handle it. I think Moses and the Israelites would take God’s word on it and not questions the details. They did after all just recently witness God with His power and might get them out of Egypt and the whole crossing of the Red Sea thing (as that was kind of breaking some nature laws there) was more then impressed I would think. To imply that God would not be fully truthful in Genesis 1, but truthful everywhere else in the Bible seems to be putting the very Word of God into question.

    Besides I am not sure why science and Christianity seems to be put against each other? From what I have studied in college and from what I have read (and to be clear here, I am not trying to make myself to be all knowing, but I do know something to be able to talk about this stuff) from many Young Earth Scientists, there seems to be plenty of evidence to prove the Young Earth theories. The Bible does not give us all the answers to all the scientific questions out there, it just giving us a Biblical point of view in which to understand the evidence we all see in science. Which I (and others) would argue many of the facts and evidence found in science makes more logical sense from a biblical point of view, then it does from a non-biblical point of view. Of course, this is my view and I know from reading the many comments above is not shares by all.

    It seems to me that you are saying (and please correct me if I am wrong) that in a sense that the all knowing God of the Universe, Creator of all things, knowing lied (ok, that might be harsh. How about knowing deceiving in a loving way) so not to confuse or loss this audience of the time? To me, that does not seem to give God much credit for the rest of His Word, the Bible. I guess as far as I see it, if God wasn’t fully truthful with Genesis 1, then why should we have any reason to believe anything He tells us in the Bible? What can we stand on as Christians if the Bible and what God says in His Word is not fully true? What bases or proof do we really have that this wasn’t true?

    I have no problem believe Genesis 1 to be true. If I can believe the eye witness accounts of Jesus life and of Jesus rising from the dead, then I can take God’s account for the beginning of the world to be true as well. I can find nothing in the Bible itself to show me that the accounts of Genesis 1 to be a poetic account and not what really happened.

    Anyways, just my thoughts.

    • Along those same lines of thinking, did God lie about the truth of the Trinity by not fully stating and explaining in detail the Trinity?

      • StuartB,
        Sorry, not getting where you are going with this? How does something where God doesn’t fully state and explain with great detail (like the Trinity) make God a liar? Seems like comparing apples and Hummers (would have said comparing apples to ornages, but its not even that close. God said, “And there was evening, and there was morning- the first day” which seems detailed enough to understand.

    • Karl,
      This kind of issue comes down to the question of genre.
      The Bible is not a text book – it is a collection of stories, poetry, history, letters, prophecy and so on. And we read all these genres differently.

      With the Gospels you have texts which are clearly intended to present eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life:
      e.g.
      Luke 1.1-4 “…eyewitnesses…an orderly account…so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.”
      John 21.24-25 “…testifies to these things … wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. …”

      Similarly, Paul gives his testimony in 1 Cor 1-15, in which he emphasises the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
      We are meant to take these accounts seriously as eyewitness testimony!

      Some parts of Scripture are poetry and we need to read them differently – it doesn’t mean they’re lies!
      When we come to Scripture, we have to be careful not to impose our own questions and expectations on the text – we have to ask: ‘what does the text want to say?’, not ‘what does it say about [this topic I want to know about]?’

      It’s generally agreed that Genesis is not interested in the question of material origins (that’s our question), but about God’s creative and sovereign activity in the world, bringing order and beauty. He is the creator-King, without equal, who only has to speak ‘and it was so’.

      Blessings.