This post contains the continuation of my debate with Richard Bushey (@AChristianWord) about the Bible and apologist claims that it contains evidence of miraculously gained scientific truth.
To see the original post (the first "Round"), as well as background info on the debate, go here.
What follows is Richard's response to my comment, followed by my counter.
Richard (@AChristianWord) responds:
I apologize for my accusation earlier. I think I was overtired and overwhelmed by the long message. My mistake.
What you need to understand about poetry is that it is not a context. It is a genre. You cannot just throw a statement away because it is poetic, you need analyze it and see what the text is saying. Given the repetition of this statement and the fact that the three verb forms were used, it is very clear that this is an actual teaching.
I also see a lot of statement about what the Bible could have said. I agree, the Bible could say a lot more than it does to validate itself. However, these statements are not meant to validate the texts for the readers. They are meant to tell a particular story, sometimes poetically, with a certain fundamental backdrop given to them by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We can pick bits of what they believed out of what they were saying. But nobody here was outrightly teaching any profound scientific statement. If they were, you are right, we could expect a lot more.
Also, could you show me which of the Vedas teaches that the universe is in a continuous state of expansion?
The Expanding Universe:
I do agree that merely one statement that is true does not demonstrate that the entire document is true. In fact Christians often acknowledge that there are several elements of truth in other religions, but that obviously does nothing to say that the central teaching of the religion is true. The difference between this and my biblical argument is that I am not putting forth one discreet passage. There is array of biblical prediction about the nature of reality which have been confirmed by modern science. Now as I said in my concluding statement, it may be the case that this is a coincidence. However, I think it is difficult to ignore. Now onto this business about the expanding universe and the others.
The Circle Of The Earth:
The reason that I do not think that Isaiah literally means that God is sitting above the world is that God is not thought to be sitting above the world. This is phenomenal language; the angle that God is looking at the world is not from above. It is like when the earth is referred to as “God’s footstool.” So I do not think this is supposed to be taken as though God were literally hovering over the earth. As Luke 24 and Philippians 4 tell us, God is conceived of in Christian theology as having no bones; he literally transcends the material world.
The Innumerable Stars:
I think we pretty much agree about the interpretation of Jeremiah 33 and Genesis 15. God is not telling Abraham and Jeremiah that they will literally have an infinite amount of descendants. He is expressing that they will have so many descendants that it will be beyond counting, and likens that to the number of stars in the sky.
As for what the ancient world thought about this issue, according it “Ptolemy’s Almagest” Ian Ridpath’s Star Tales, the Roman Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy wrote that there were 1,022 stars in the sky, and this work was based on the work of the astronomer Hipparchus who lived between 190 – 120 BC.
Suspension Of The Earth:
I was mistaken when I said that it did not have anything holding it in the “air,” because obviously there is no air in space. I was not thinking of that. I just meant that it is teaching that there is not anything holding it in space. Now I think there is an issue with the English translation of Job 26. It does not say “northern skies” in Hebrew. It just says north, which basically means the visible heaven that we can see. So the heaven that we can see is stretched out in front of us, and the earth hangs upon nothing (which as John Wesley pointed out, means no pillars).
As for Job 9:6 and the word “pillar,” I think we should look at the concordance to see how pillar is consistently used. In Job 20:11, phrases such as the pillar of heaven is used, in Exodus 20, the pillar of smoke and fire and clouds are used. Given the context of how it is used a number of times, theologians think that a pillar means the foundation or The deep and inward parts of it, which like pillars supported those parts that appear to our view.
The same book a few chapters later is the one that said that the earth is suspended atop nothing.
It could also be taken to mean that there is a realm of angels and demons, and not necessarily that which is unseen.
The majority of church history has regarded Paul as the author of Hebrews. I am not familiar with the arguments against that. But it does have his style of writing, such as multiple quotations from the Old Testament, a strong emphasis on salvation by faith and an affiliation with Timothy (something exclusive to Paul). The only difference that I have noticed is the lack of salutation.
Differing In Glory:
Okay, I checked it out and I do not see anything about differing in size. I think it is just expressing that the stars are different in brightness or beauty. But I may be wrong about that.
Doctor William J Cairney in his book Prescience 2 explained on page 129 that the civilizations surrounding Moses did not commonly practice washing. In fact even in the 1800s, sanitation was not that big of a deal in many countries.
I disagree that ancient Judaism thought that God could literally be encapsulated into a physical form, in fact even the Torah seem to contradict that. In Deuteronomy 4:15 God is explained to have no form at all; Judaism is strictly unitarian, with God having nothing even resembling a form with mankind. They even think that saying God’s name is beyond what they are allowed to do, so they will say G-d. In fact that is why the tetragrammaton is removed from the Bible; over 6000 appearances of the name Yahweh replaced with Lord or God.
As for those examples of God strolling around, wrestling with Jacob in Genesis 32, appearing to Joshua in Joshua 5, I believe the Jews think that these figures were angels. I, and most Christians, would say that they are the pre-incarnate Christ.
The Law of Decay:
I am not saying that Paul is expressing that there is a scientific law nor am I saying that Paul was pointing something out that mankind could not see for themselves. I am saying that Christian theology accurately reflects the world that we know in this way, because the universe is decaying; that is a scientific law (not that Paul was teaching it as one though).
Phew, that took forever. I think I covered everything.
I (@Allocutus) respond:
Wow, you did take quite a lot of effort there. Much appreciated :)
1. On Expanding Universe
I agree that you can't throw a statement away merely because it's poetic. But at the same time, poetic license allows the writer to say things that he doesn't literally mean. He resorts to various figures of speech. And in the "expanding Universe" the clear context is that the writers are speaking about GOD's GLORY. They are NOT trying to teach us facts. This is demonstrated by the fact that they speak of God treading the waves, blowing rulers down so that they can dry out and be blown by the wind.
And you and I agree on this. These teachings are not about the nature of the Universe. They are about something else and they use poetry to describe God's greatness. At the same time, they do use the phrase "he stretched out the heavens" and "he stretches out the heavens". The former would suggest that the action of "stretching" has been completed. The latter would suggest that it's either continuing or is not meant in a temporal context at all (sort of like he "holds the heavens", "he created the heavens and keeps the creation").
Does the fact that they were used mean that "he stretches the heavnes" denotes that the authors believed that the Universe is expanding?
We don't know that because there are other explanations.
a) It does sound like poetic metaphor for "God put the heaven above us" (stretched like a tent; heaven looks like a tent and tents are stretched)
b) The verses are right next to other verses that are CLEARLY poetic license (god treading on waters, blowing at rulers etc)
c) Christians have for 2000 years known about the "he stretches the heavens" passages. Has anyone in fact read it to mean that the heavens are currently (not to mention in the future) expanding? No. Despite the fact that Christian dogma has taken a literal interpretation of the Creation Story in Genesis and of the Flood Story and of many other stories, NOBODY seems to have taken a literal view of the "expanding heaven". And MILLIONS of very smart people had read the Bible, INCLUDING those very passages. From our point of view, this is a pretty good indication that we might be using hindsight knowledge to read something into a verse that (without that hindsight knowledge) doesn't actually appear anything more than figurative language.
But assume that the authors did in fact believe that the heavens are expanding. What would that mean to them? They clearly had a geocentric picture of the Universe (spoke of the Sun rising and setting, traveling through the sky, even stopping, thought the Earth was created before the Sun - see Gen 1). Is this consistent with our picture of the Expanding Universe (singularity, Big Bang etc)? No.
So, even if these authors (just like some other mythologies and speculations) have thought that the heaven is expanding, is this enough to infer that they were given this idea by divine inspiration? No, it's not. Not in the least due to the fact that the very same authors give other accounts that are clearly inconsistent with science and the whole thing is contained in a religious collection of books that talks about a man being created from mud and a woman from a rib. The Bible has HUGE numbers of typically mythological descriptions and a verse like this (even if it did denote some belief in an expanding heaven) is simply very insufficient to conclude that it was divinely inspired. Had the verses said "the heaven might look still to you but it's really expanding, starting off with an explosion", I would give the argument some credit.
Add to this the fact that we have no evidence of any divine inspirations that give us correct facts. There's no evidence that an entity exists that's capable (and willing) of inspiring factual truth into people.
In light of all this, I see this conclusion completely unwarranted. It's no better than the Muslim claims about the Quran. If they really did think that in some sense (though, as above, clearly not in the sense that Big Bang Theory tells us) the heaven was (or even is) expanding, this is clearly pure coincidence.
2. The Circle of the Earth.
I disagree with you, Richard. God was always thought to be up in the sky. Jesus (and some prophets too) ascended to the sky. God speaks from clouds. In the Gomorrah story, God says he wants to "go DOWN" to check if the cry is true. Burnt offerings consist of smoke going up to the sky. The Babel Tower is another example. God says "come on let's GO DOWN and confuse their languages" (Gen 11:7). Yhwh is a typical sky-god. And Isaiah says it clearly. "He sits above the circle of the Earth".
In fact, let's assume for a second that your argument is correct and the "circle" is really a sphere (seen from angles etc). "God sits above the circle of the Earth" would then mean that God is surrounding the Earth and sits "above it" from all angles. Still a sky-god, only in 3D.
The Biblical God is without a doubt a sky god.
Moving on, it seems to me that you want to claim that "God sits above the circle of the Earth" really means to say "God is everywhere and the Earth is a sphere". I think that's taking it too far, my friend.
But my position doesn't have to go all that far. It's sufficient that there are valid interpretations (literal, in fact) that are consistent with the passage being mythological. That's sufficient to show that there exists a natural explanation for the passage and therefore there's no basis to presume a supernatural one.
3. "Innumerable" stars
It seems like we're close to reaching some consensus here. God says that Abram's descendants will be as the stars in the sky, in that they cannot be counted (in this case, visible sky - Abram is told to count the stars "if he can", suggesting that the VISIBLE stars are too many to count = Innumerable). Jeremiah takes that further and says that David's descendants will be so many that they cannot be counted, just as the stars in the sky. Note that the word used by Jeremiah and Genesis isn't really "innumerable" but "cannot be counted".
Greek and Egyptian astronomers, according to you, believed that there are 1022 or so stars in the sky. Clearly, they were talking about the visible sky.
To me, all this means is that the ancient Jews thought it was impossible to count the stars (Genesis makes it clear that it would be very hard if not impossible). The Greeks and Egyptians tried to do JUST THAT (ie, count the stars) and counted some 1,000. Currently, it's believed that there are about 2,000 stars that are visible with the naked eye. The very fact that this is so difficult suggests that the visible stars pretty much CANNOT BE COUNTED. There are simply too many to be able to make an accurate count.
Is there anything unusual in a person (who, no doubt, has seen the night sky) to say that there are COUNTLESS stars out there? Of course there isn't. Look at the sky, Richard, and the countless stars. That's how many followers you’ll have on twitter one day, countless, just like the stars or the sands of the beach.
Finally, the scientists you talk about POST-DATE Jeremiah. Imagine an opposite scenario. Imagine that in 600BC the scientific view is that there are 1000 stars in the sky. Then Jeremiah (preferably aware of this view) says in his book "People think there are 1000 stars but they don't know that many more can't be seen. The stars are really countless". That MIGHT lead us somewhere. It probably still wouldn't because this would look as just a hypothesis about the stars. But it would definitely hold more merit than the current position. At present, all we have is an ancient story (Jeremiah) speaking about "countless stars" in the sky and subsequent to that we have scientists trying to count them (and doing so incorrectly). There's NOT AN INKLING of evidence that the stars Jeremiah was talking about were those that are NOT VISIBLE with the naked eye.
4. Suspended Earth
Well, Job DOES say the Earth rests on pillars. Of course, you can interpret that to mean something a little different, as you have. I actually take no issue with that. My issue is with it being suspended on nothing.
And you haven't actually addressed my point on this. But I can't blame you as I've written quite a lot :)
The point was that there are two possible scenarios to imagine in a primitive worldview. Either the Earth is sitting on something (like a turtle's back, for example, or an island in a huge ocean) or it's hanging from the sky. There is no real third possibility. In a culture that looks skywards (and the Jews, being a sky-god culture, are excused in looking skywards), the latter cosmology may be chosen. So you see the sky above you and that's where your creator resides. That's where that "first realm" is. And below that is the Earth. It seems to be hanging below the sky. What's it hanging on? Nothing. We can't see any strings. It must be hanging on nothing. It's suspended on nothing. This is a very consistent, and yet very mythological proposition.
Finally, it makes no sense scientifically to speak of the Earth as being "suspended on nothing". The Earth is NEVER spoken of as being suspended. It's a body flying through space. You don't talk about comets and asteroids and stars as being "suspended". This terminology is very inconsistent with science. "Oh look! There's a meteor! Can you see it suspended up there? Make a wish!" just doesn't make sense.
So what do we end up with? A sky-god mythology and its consistent Earth hanging under the sky. Sure, in a sense, it's more correct than a turtleback cosmology. But is it sufficient to claim divinely inspired knowledge? Of course not.
5. Visible/Invisible Elements
I agree that "Church history" has regarded Paul as the author of Hebrews. But I don't put any confidence in "Church history". Almost no contemporary scholars regard Hebrews as being Pauline. It's simply written in a distinctly non-Pauline language. And we both know that many of the epistles currently in the New Testament are very widely believed to be pseudography.
Anyhow, it seems we agree on this point. It could mean this, it could mean the other. On top of this, a version of the Atomic Theory was already known prior to Hebrews being written.
6. Differing brightness
Here we seem to again agree. The stars clearly appear to be of varying brightness and it doesn't take any special knowledge to make such a statement. I'm certainly not surprised that Paul has used it. I would have used it myself.
7. Running water
I agree that perhaps civilisations surrounding Moses did not practice washing. It might be interesting to note that Leviticus was most likely written over a long period of time and by a number of authors. In fact, it's believed that its writing has spanned between the 6th and the 4th century BCE, a long time after the alleged Moses (who supposedly lived about the 14th century BCE - note that the historicity of Moses is in itself a big, big question).
So, at the time of Moses, hands were generally not washed when dealing with disease. And hundreds of years later, the Jews developed the tradition of washing hands when dealing with disease. As I've stated before, it's an impressive achievement. Human history is full of impressive achievements. We have invented the wheel, build the pyramids, learned to wash hands and learned to deal with bacterial and viral epidemics. We have developed the steam engine and we have flown to the Moon.
It's nice that the Jewish culture came up with the idea. And it's an example of where they have embedded a good cultural/scientific discovery in their mythology/religion.
Also, note that there's nothing about "running" water in Leviticus. Your source (blue table) claims that the contemporary science was to use STILL water while Leviticus recommended RUNNING water. But you quote sources (in your last post) that claim that washing hands with water wasn't a part of contemporary (to Moses, but nevermind that) "science" AT ALL. It seems that you yourself are going against the blue table. This is not an attack on you, by the way. I'm simply pointing out that it becomes increasingly evident that the blue table can't be relied on.
8. God's body
Richard, I hear you. You disagree. Unfortunately for you, the Bible is LITTERED with various mentions of God's various bodyparts. Genesis doesn't speak of an angel strolling around. It speaks about the Lord strolling around. It's The Lord who tells Moses to sit on a rock to see his (the Lord's) back. It's the Lord who likes the smell of burnt offering after the Flood (and burnt offerings with smoke to please the Lord are rife throughout the Jewish mythology).
There's NOT A DOUBT on any truthful reading of the Old Testament that the ancient Jewish culture did contain an element of a corporeal God. A God who isn't corporeal can't "come down to check out Gomorrah", he can't come down to the Babel construction site, he can't walk around the garden, he can't show his back to Moses.
Genesis 3:8, Exodus 33:11-23, Exodus 34:5, Deut 23:13-14, Ezekiel 1:27, Ezekiel 8:2 and numerous other passages.
9. The Law of Decay
I agree with you, Richard, that in this case, Paul has accurately observed that there is decay in nature.
I stick to my original claim, which was that the Bible contains much mythology but also has some clever bits and accurate observations. I think in fact that we both agree on this. You seem to be admitting, for example, that Paul's words on "decay" are clearly an example of an observation that's open to humans (a "good bit" based on solid human observation). I think you'll probably agree that the bit about washing hands can easily be explained by an evolving culture, discovering (by trial and error if nothing else; and cultures discovering things are nothing new to us) that hands should be washed when dealing with disease. So, as far as claiming that "some messages in the Bible were useful and even innovative" we have no dispute. Equally, I would consider the "atoms" issue settled.
I think all that's left in possible contention is your (apparent) claim of evidence of divine inspiration in reference to the spreading of the heavens and (possibly) the suspension of the Earth. If I'm incorrect in my assessment of the scope of the dispute then please let me know. But if I'm correct then I'll ask you to address my specific arguments about those two aspects. Do you disagree with them? Do you say that those natural explanations can be excluded? If so, how?