Science and the Bible

Science and the Bible

The various books of the Hebrew and Christian Bible contain descriptions of the physical world in the Iron Age Levant which may or may not be considered scientific.


In the Parable of the Mustard Seed (nasb|Matthew|13:31-32|Matthew 13:31-32, nasb|Mark|4:31|Mark 4:31, nasb|Luke|13:18–19|Luke 13:18–19), the Kingdom of God is compared to a mustard seed, "smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil" which "grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches". Gleason Archer points out that there are smaller seeds known on the Earth, but that Jesus was speaking within the framework of ancient Palestinian farming. [Archer, Gleason L. "Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties", Zondervan (1982), pg. 329.]

nasb|Leviticus|25:1-12|Leviticus 25:1-12 speaks of leaving fields fallow for a year, advice regarded sound by modern science. [Straczynska S. "The effects of leaving fields fallow upon selected fertility elements in soil", "Acta Agrophysica" (2001) 6:52, pp. 265-270]

While modern agricultural science recognizes intercropping can be beneficial in providing increased resistance against pests and disease, and there is mounting scientific evidence that intercropping increase yields and sustainability, [Andrews, D.J., A.H. Kassam. 1976. The importance of multiple cropping in increasing world food supplies. pp. 1-10 in R.I. Papendick, A. Sanchez, G.B. Triplett (Eds.), Multiple Cropping. ASA Special Publication 27. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, WI.] [ [ The Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Dec., 1982), pp. 901-916] (JSTOR Subscription required)] the Jewish religious laws proscribe it(Lev. 19:19, Deut 22:9).


The Hebrew Bible reflects the geocentric view of the universe, and describes the moon as giving off light, perhaps meaning reflecting light from the sun. [; Ezekiel 32:7] , [; Genesis 1:16] As in Babylonian cosmography, the Hebrew Bible imagines a flat Earth [Driscoll, J.F. (1909). "Firmament". In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 26 May 2008 from [ New Advent] . ("That the Hebrews entertained similar ideas appears from numerous biblical passages...").] covered by a solid sky-dome [Strong's Concordance (1890). [ "Dictionary and Word Search for raqiya` (Strong's 07549)"] . Blue Letter Bible 1996-2008. Retrieved 26 May 2008. ("considered by Hebrews as solid and supporting 'waters' above")] [Jewish Encyclopaedia (1901-1906). [ "Cosmogony"] . Retrieved 26 May 2008. ("The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.")] (the Firmament) to which the stars were attached. Isaiah refers both to "the circle of the earth" (nasb|Isaiah|40:22|40:22) and the "four quarters of the earth" (nasb|Isaiah|11:12|11:12).

Lactantius and Cosmas Indicopleustes insisted on the flat Earth model on scriptural authority as late as the 5th to 6th century, long after the spherical shape of the Earth had become common knowledge in Hellenistic astronomy, and had been generally accepted by their fellow Christians. [Ferngren, Larson, Amundsen (Editors). "Encyclopedia of the History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition", Garland Publishing Inc, US (29 Jun 2000), p. 246-247. ISBN 0815316569]

Augustus Hopkins Strong presented one explanation of the astronomical inaccuracies reflected in the Hebrew Bible in his work, "Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God"Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology: The Doctrine of God (Volume I) [ "Errors in matters of Science"] Philadelphia: The Judson Press (1907), pg. 223] . Strong pointed out idiomatic usage of "moonlight" and "sunset" are still prevalent in current times as in ancient times, and that firmament has been used in literature where no one would suggest the author believed in flat earth or solid firmament theology. He illustrated the point by asking if Dickens believed the firmament was "a piece of solid masonry" when "in his "American Notes", 72, [Dickens] describes a prairie sunset: 'The decline of day here was very gorgeous, tinging the firmament deeply with red and gold, up to the very keystone of the arch above us'." Modern scholars (other than those ascribing to some form of Biblical inerrancy doctrine) generally accept that such metaphors in the Bible reflect the authors' underlying belief in the literal truth of this cosmological model.For a description of Near Eastern and other ancient cosmologies and their connections with the Biblical view of the Universe, see Paul H. Seeley, [ "The Firmament and the Water Above: The Meaning of "Raqia" in Genesis 1:6-8", Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991)] , and [ "The Geographical Meaning of 'Earth' and 'Seas' in Genesis 1:10", Westminster Theological Journal 59 (1997)] ]


nasb|Leviticus|11:20-23|Leviticus 11:20-23 inaccurately describes locusts, grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets as four-legged creatures. Although the specific references in this passage indicate that insects were the creatures under consideration, the Hebrew word "`owph" here translated "winged" or "flying" is the same word used six times in the creation story (nasb|Gen|1:20-30|Genesis 1:20-30) and used twelve times in the Genesis account of the flood [nasb|Gen|6:7,20;7:3,8,14,21,23;8:17,19,20;9:2,10|Gen 6:7,20;7:3,8,14,21,23;8:17,19,20;9:2,10] to refer to birds. In the KJV and ASV, the word is translated "birds" or "fowls" in all of these places. [ [ Strong's Concordance] , s.v. "`owph".] The KJV, in fact, uses "fowls" to open kjv|Leviticus|11:20-23|the Leviticus passage cited above: "All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you."

nasb|Deuteronomy|14:7|Deuteronomy 14:7 also described hares and rock badger as cud-chewers. While they have no compartmentalized stomachs that the modern definition of ruminants includes in order to be determined cud-chewers, the close relation to rumination is apparent in many English translations of the Bible, which use the word "cud" in an expanded sense to indicate food that is re-chewed through the coprophagy process used by lagomorphs. [ cite journal | last =Brand | first =Leonard R. | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 1977| month = | title = Do Rabbits Chew the Cud?| journal =Origins | volume =4 | issue = 2| pages =102-104 | id = | url =| accessdate = 2007-08-27 | quote = ] [cite web | title = Are Rabbits Erroneously Called Ruminants in the Bible? | accessdate=2007-08-27 | publisher = Bible Study Manuals | url =]

nasb|Proverbs|6:6-8|Proverbs 6:6-8 described the ant as an industrious creature, "which having no chief, overseer, or ruler provides her bread in the summer, and gathers her food in harvest." Although ants are labeled as queens, workers, soldiers, and drones, biologist Deborah Gordon points out there is no authority in the queen as she does not oversee the workers.Gordon, Deborah. "Ants At Work: How An Insect Society Is Organized", Free Press (October 6, 1999), pg. 118. ISBN 0684857332. ("...the queen is not an authority figure. She lays eggs and is fed and cared for by the workers. She does not decide which worker does what.")] She also states that "no ant is able to assess the global needs of the colony, or to count how many workers are engaged in each task and decide how many should be allocated differently".


The Mosaic code has provisions concerning the conservation of natural resources, such as trees (nasb|Deuteronomy|20:19-20|Deuteronomy 20:19-20) and birds (nasb|Deuteronomy|22:6-7|Deuteronomy 22:6-7).


Questions of plausibility formed the subject of Anglican bishop John William Colenso's book, "The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined"Colenso, John William (1863). "The Pentateuch and Book of Joshua Critically Examined", Adamant Media Corporation (paperback reprint, 24 May 2001). ISBN 1402171641. p. 31.] An example of Colenso's sort of analysis is provided by chapter III, "The Number of the Congregation". nasb|Leviticus|8:1–4|Leviticus 8:1–4 says that "the Assembly was gathered unto the door of the Tabernacle of the Congregation". To Colenso "must surely be understood" that phrases such as "the Assembly" refer to "some reasonable proportion to the whole number" of the people — at all events, the "adult males in the prime of life," which would in turn include "the 603,550 warriors" mentioned in Numbers 2:32. Colenso says there are multiple references to this whole congregation's being assembled within the court of the Tabernacle. nasb|Exodus|27:18|Exodus 27:18 gives the court's dimensions as 100 × 30 cubits, which he calculates as "1824 feet" by "54 feet" (or 98,496 sq feet [ [ Google calculator] ] ), and "allowing 2 feet in width for each grown man" in ranks of nine, and "allowing 18 inches between each rank of nine men", the required area would be "of more than 100,000 feet".

Medical knowledge

The Old Testament contains a variety of health related instructions, such as isolating infected people (nasb|Leviticus|13:45-46|Leviticus 13:45-46), washing after handling a dead body (nasb|Numbers|19:11-19|Numbers 19:11-19), and burying excrement away from a camp (nasb|Deuteronomy|23:12-13|Deuteronomy 23:12-13).

The Old Testament also contains various healing rituals. One ritual, for example, deals with the proper procedure for cleansing a leper (nasb|Leviticus|14:1-32|Leviticus 14:1-32). It is a fairly elaborate process that involves killing a bird and lambs & using their blood to cleanse the afflicted.

Civilizations such as Ancient Egypt, the Aegean civilization, the Hittites, and the Elamites had large cities with public sanitation systems. [Gray, Harold Farnsworth. "Sewerage in Ancient and Medieval Times". Sewage Works Journal, Volume 12, No. 5 (Sept. 1940), pp. 939 - 946. As reprinted on [ "Sewage Works Journal"] ]

Believers of Biblical inspiration sometimes contend that the degree of effectiveness of the Mosaic dietary restrictions and hygienic strictures indicates "it has taken science thousands of years to discover what the Bible taught all along". [Kline, Monte, Clinical Nutritionist. "The Dietary Law". [ Better Health Update #29] (2005). Accessed 26 May 2008.] [Wise, David. [ The first book of public hygiene] . "Creation" 26(1):52–55, December 2003. Accessed 26 May 2008.] [Allen, Bruce. [ "4 Reasons Why You Should Read the Bible"] . Faith-Friends (2003). Reprinted, Accessed 19 February 2004]

Mental health

The correlation between mental and physical health has found much examination and discussion in modern psychiatric research. [ [ Somatic Presentations of Mental Disorders] , (September 6-8, 2006)] [ [ The Cognitive Costs of Physical and Mental Health: Applying the Psychology of the Developed World to the Problems of the Developing World] ] [ [ Prevalence, Severity, and Co-occurrence of Chronic Physical Health Problems of Persons With Serious Mental Illness] ] Passages within the Book of Proverbs relate the two: nasb|Proverbs|12:4|12:4, nasb|Proverbs|14:30|14:30, nasb|Proverbs|15:30|15:30, nasb|Proverbs|16:24| 16:24, nasb|Proverbs|17:22|17:22, and modern science has found that these proverbs contain accurate advice toward sound mental and physical well-being. [cite journal | last = Parsons| first = Greg W. | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Proverbs | journal = Bibliotheca Sacra | volume = 150| issue = | pages = 151-70 | publisher = | location = | date = April-June 1993 | url = | doi = | id = | accessdate = 2008-05-29] [cite journal | last = Lea | first = Gary | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Religion, mental health, and clinical issues | journal = Journal of Religion and Health | volume = 21 | issue = 4 | pages = 336-351 | publisher = Springer Netherlands | location = | date = December, 1982 | url = | doi = 10.1007/BF02274140 | id = | accessdate = 2008-05-29] [cite journal | last = Goodnick | first = Benjamin | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Mental health from the Jewish standpoint | journal = Journal of Religion and Health | volume = 16 | issue = 2 | pages = 110-115 | publisher = Springer Netherlands | location = | date = April, 1977 | url = | doi = 10.1007/BF01533152 | id = | accessdate = 2008-05-29] [cite journal | last = Al-Krenawi | first = Alean | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Bedouin-Arab clients' use of proverbs in the therapeutic setting | journal = International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling | volume = 22 | issue = 2 | pages = 91-102 | publisher = Springer Netherlands | location = Department of Social Work, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel | date = June, 2000 | url = | doi = 10.1023/A:1005583920356 | id = | accessdate = 2008-05-29] [cite journal | last = Susan J. Bartlett, Ralph Piedmont, Andrew Bilderback, Alan K. Matsumoto, Joan M. Bathon | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Spirituality, well-being, and quality of life in people with rheumatoid arthritis | journal = Arthritis Care & Research | volume = 49 | issue = 6 | pages = 778-783 | publisher = American College of Rheumatology | location = Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; Loyola College of Maryland, Baltimore | date = 2003 | url = | doi = 10.1002/art.11456 | id = | accessdate = 2008-05-29 ("By viewing their illness in a positive context, having hope and optimism about the future, flexible life goals, and a supportive social network, spiritual individuals may be more resilient to the host of challenges imposed by chronic illness. As noted long ago in the Old Testament, A merry heart doeth good like medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones (Proverbs 17:22).")] [cite journal | last = Mohr | first = Wanda K. PhD, RN, FAAN | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric Care | journal = Perspectives In Psychiatric Care | volume = 42 | issue = 3 | pages = 174–183 | publisher = Blackwell Synergy | location = | date = August 2006 | url = | doi = 10.1111/j.1744-6163.2006.00076.x | id = | accessdate = 2008-05-29]

The New Testament mentions demons as responsible for physical and mental illnesses (nasb|Matthew|17:14-20|Matthew 17:14-20, etc.). [, [ Topical Index, "Demons"] .]

According to nasb|James|5:14-16|James 5:14-16, faith healing will cure the sick.


The Deuteronomic Code contains several sanitation instructions; in particular, nasb|Deuteronomy|23:12-14|Deuteronomy 23:12-14 contains instructions to dispose of human excrement away from the population, in order to keep the camp holy, and to avoid God being offended by the sight or evidence of defecation as he walked through the camp at night.

Recent discoveries suspect that the Essenes' rigorous ritual latrine and purification practices, combined with a lack of running water, contributed to increases in parasites and potentially fatal pathogens. [University of North Carolina at Charlotte. [ "Biblical Latrine: Ancient Parasites Show That Cleanliness May Have Been Next To Sickliness"] , "ScienceDaily" (14 November 2006). Accessed 20 May 2008.]

Biblical foreknowledge

ee also

*Criticism of the Bible
*History of science in early cultures
*Biblical archaeology
*American Scientific Affiliation


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