Bronze-level articleBiblical scientific errors

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For it is so written in

The Bible

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Biblical scientific errors occur when a verse, approached from a literalist perspective, states something about reality that's fundamentally flawed. Biblical scientific errors are external errors (errors in relating the Bible to the external world), rather than internal errors.

Biblical scientific errors suggest against Biblical scientific foreknowledge and Biblical literalism.


[edit] Biology

[edit] Anatomy of insects

Leviticus 11:20-23 (NIV):

All flying insects that walk on all fours are to be detestable to you. There are, however, some winged creatures that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Of these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper. But all other winged creatures that have four legs you are to detest.

While some would see this as a scientific error, J.P. Holding has an "explanation":[1]

Is this an error -- since insects have six legs, not four, and since "fowl" have two legs, not four? The reference to "fowl" is thought by some skeptics to refer to birds, but the word used here is 'owph, which merely means a creature with wings -- it is the same word used in verse 21 (flying). The reference in both cases is to insects. But there is an even better - and more correct - answer.

Quite simply, the big back legs on the locust, etc. were not counted as "legs" in the same sense as the other legs. Let's use an illustration from our popular literature, George Orwell's Animal Farm. In this story, Snowball the pig invented the slogan, "Four legs good, two legs bad" so as to exclude humans from Animal Farm society. The geese and other fowl objected, because they had only two legs. Snowball explained (more clearly in the book than in the movie) that in animal terms, the birds' wings counted as legs because they were limbs of propulsion, not manipulation, as a human's arms and hands were.

Now note the differentiation in Leviticus above -- referring to "legs above the feet" for leaping. The "feet" are being differentiated from the "legs above the feet" because of their difference in function. They are legs, but in a different sense than the "four" legs which are just called "feet." We are being told of two types of legs: The "on all four" legs (which are nowhere called legs; they are only called "feet" [v. 23]), and the "leaping legs." It is clear that the Hebrews regarded the two large, hopping hindlimbs of the locust and the other insects of the same type, which are the only types of insects mentioned here (we now translate "beetle" as "cricket"), as something different than the other four limbs - perhaps because they were used primarily for vertical propulsion, whereas the other limbs were for scurrying around. (Shifts of terminology like this happen even today; check this proposal to redefine "planet".)

One issue with this excuse is the way in which that the Bible first discusses insects which have four legs and wings that walk on the earth before then going on to discuss those with four legs and listing the locust, cricket & grasshopper amongst these. Ergo the previous mention of four legs is not covered by the case from "hopping hindlimbs" which are then discussed separately.

[edit] The smallest seed

13:31 Another parable put he [ Jesus ] forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
13:32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.[2]

This is another old saw which argues that Jesus was wrong because there are smaller seeds in existence, like the orchid. But the Greek word here is mikros, which defines thusly:

398. mikros, mik-ros'; includ. the comp. mikroteros, mik-rot'-er-os; appar. a prim. word; small (in size, quantity, number or (fig.) dignity):--least, less, little, small.

So, it is also used in Luke 9:48 -

And said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.

Obviously, Jesus did not mean here that he who was smallest in size would be greatest! So we suggest that the mustard seed description is not an evaluation of size at all (or exclusively), but an evaluation of worth - which is a matter of personal judgment that is quite acceptable and cannot be charged as erroneous.

Two other objections may crop out of this one. First, some versions refer to the mustard as a "shrub" but the word here is lachanon, meaning a vegetable or an herb. The KJV does get this closer to correct. (Rom. 14:2 "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.") A second objection is that mustard becomes a tree. Of course we need to remind objectors that the scientific classification schemes of modern botany were not yet invented -- classification was by appearance and function, not by biology. In that regard, the mustard plant of Palestine (Sinapis nigra) could grow to a height of several (2-6) feet and be considered a tree -- if not by the scheme of modern science (Question: Is a bonsai a "tree"?), then assuredly by the descriptive classification scheme of the ancients. [3]

[edit] Mathematics

[edit] The value of pi

The mathematical number π is the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference. The value of π truncated at 10 digits is 3.141592653.[4] The bible itself gives us a different value of π in 1 Kings 7:23:

"He made the sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it." "It was a handbreadth in thickness... It held two thousand baths" - 1 Kings 7: 23,26(NIV) abbrev.

A circle with a diameter of 10 cubits should have a circumference of about 31.4159265358979(…) cubits (10×π) and not 30. Alternatively, if we used these numbers to calculate π (circumference ÷ diameter) we would get a result of precisely 3. However, these preliminary calculations do not account for two additional dimensions given in verse 26: the wall thickness and volume quoted above.

Additionally, the exact ancient measurements are unknown, but the cubit is approximately 18", the handbreadth is in the approximate range of 2.5 to 4 inches, and the bath is approximately 5.8 gallons (1,339.8 cubic inches).

Incorporating thickness of the sea (verse 26: a handbreadth) into the calculation makes the inside diameter somewhere in the range of 172 and 175". Additionally, since the volume of the sea was the critical dimension, the circumference was most likely measured as the inside diameter of the sea. Calculating π as (circumference / 172) and (circumference / 175) yields π in the range of 3.0857 to 3.1395.

Going backwards from the volume back to π, yields a diameter of 172.3 inches. 2,679,600 (in^3) = 1.333 * π * r^3 r = 172.3 inches

Remember that our ancient measurements are approximate!

Additionally, the scripture says "He made the sea of cast metal"... meaning that it was, in fact, constructed and therefore existed. If the measurements are reported, then they were taken from a material object and therefore cannot violate the laws of mathematics.

On the other hand, perhaps the circumference is accurate at 30 cubits, and the diameter, 9.5492965855137(…) cubits, has been rounded off to the nearest cubit, i.e, 10 cubits. While from context it would appear that it is the diameter (the 10 cubits) that is most strongly defined, coming first and all with the other measurement seeming more of an afterthought, it should be noted that a few verses earlier we have:

1 Kings 7:15
For he cast two pillars of brass, of eighteen cubits high apiece: and a line of twelve cubits did compass either of them about.

…a circumference defined but not a diameter.

[edit] Astronomy

[edit] Firmament

The "firmament" is claimed to be a solid "roof" over the world.[5][6] This is obviously untrue, unless all those satellites in orbit are a hoax. Considering the views of flat earthers, someone, somewhere probably thinks this is true.

[edit] Illumination

In Genesis, the moon is referred to as a "light" ("lesser light" actually). The moon is merely a reflector of the sun's light, and produces no visible light, although it does shine in different wavelengths not perceivable to the human eye, such as the infrareds. Of course, when talking to tribal nomads and other desert-dwellers, the concept of referring to the moon as a light was commonplace.

[edit] Stars

The Bible makes it clear that stars are tiny objects in the sky that will fall down when Jesus comes back:

Revelation 8:10
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

However, other verses in the book of Revelation clearly use "stars" in a figurative sense (for example, see Rev. 9:1 and Rev. 12:3, 4), so it is possible that the writer did not intend to make a statement about literal celestial bodies in 8:10 either. Indeed, given the highly allegorical and symbolic nature of apocalyptic literature in general, any literal understanding of Revelation is generally ill-advised until taking into consideration the idea that this is supposedly divine inspiration to which laws, societies and lives are proposed to be based upon.

[edit] Planetary formation

According to the Genesis creation myth, the Earth was formed before the Sun. Aside from bio-mechanical problems, this flatly contradicts the nebular hypothesis of stellar formation, in which planets form in the accretion disk created by a young star.

It should be noted, however, that when the Sun, moon, and stars are introduced in Genesis 1:16, they are said to be "made", which, in the original Hebrew language, is different from the word "create" used in Genesis 1:1. If this is the case, then it could be argued that the Sun and moon were created in 1:1 as part of the collective "heavens" (compare, for example, the summary given in Genesis 2:4), and only in Genesis 1:16 (day 4 in the creative period) are they fully visible from Earth's surface.

The creation of the sun, moon, and stars on day four is meant to be a theological point, rather than a scientific one. As other cultures worshiped the sun and moon and divined by the stars (astrology), the Hebrew authors are making the point that none of them is the source of the light, but rather merely reflectors of the light (as lamps) whose ultimate origin is in their God. The creation myth also uses poetic parallelism to narrate the story: Day 1 and Day 4 are paired (light; sun, moon, stars), Day 2 and Day 5 (seas and dry land; fish and fowl), Day 3 and Day 6 (plants of the earth; beasts of the earth and humanity). Furthermore, given the similarity of this narrative to the creation myth of the Babylonians, whose god Marduk creates the cosmos by slaying his sea-serpent mother Tiamat, the Hebrew presentation of God creating over the deep (Hebrew: "tehom") by means other than violence and declaring the creation to be "good" is a rebuke to the Babylonian myth. The abundance of literary and theological devices in the narrative make it clear that the text is not attempting to be a scientific account of the origin of the world, but a theological declaration of the goodness of the creation as against competing religious systems (Canaanite, Babylonian, etc.).

[edit] Not errors

These arguments, sometimes raised against the Bible, are not actually scientific errors.

[edit] Bat classification

Leviticus 11:13-19 (KJV):

And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray, and the vulture, and the kite after his kind; every raven after his kind; and the owl, and the night hawk, and the cuckow, and the hawk after his kind, and the little owl, and the cormorant, and the great owl, and the swan, and the pelican, and the gier eagle, and the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.

The bat is classified in the KJV as a bird; however, in the Hebrew, the word "עוֹף" (owph) translated here as "fowl" (bird) often something like "winged things".[7] [8][9] The ancient Hebrews did not have a rigorous classification system for animals like science does today, and their words reflect this.

While this may not be a scientific error, it does suggest an, even for the time, rather crude system lumping together any animal with any type of wing - and these are the authors we should trust to have set down the inerrant word of God in a format that He apparently thought we could understand even today.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

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