The Bible’s Viewpoint
Has Science Made the Bible Obsolete?
HAS science, with its advanced understanding of the universe, turned the Bible into a collection of myths and legends? Many people today think so. Do you?
Perhaps, like many, you were taught to think that way from your youth up but never really questioned the idea. We invite you to question it now. Consider just one example, a statement made in the Bible about the natural universe. Not only did this statement flatly contradict what the experts of that day were saying but it contradicted what scientists were still saying millenniums later.
A Matter of Gravity
What is the earth resting on? What holds up the moon, the sun, and the stars? These questions have intrigued humans for thousands of years. In regard to the earth, the Bible has a simple answer. At Job 26:7 it says that God is “hanging the earth upon nothing.” In the original Hebrew, the word for “nothing” (beli-mahʹ) used here literally means “not any thing,” and this is the only time it occurs in the Bible. The picture it presents of an earth surrounded by empty space is recognized by scholars as a “remarkable vision,” especially for its time.*
This was not at all how most people envisioned the cosmos in those days. One ancient view was that the earth was supported by elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle.
Aristotle, a famous Greek philosopher and scientist of the fourth century B.C.E., taught that the earth could never hang in empty space. Instead, he taught that the heavenly bodies were each fixed to the surface of solid, transparent spheres. Sphere lay nestled within sphere. The earth was innermost; the outermost sphere held the stars. As the spheres revolved one within another, the objects on them—the sun, the moon, and the planets—moved across the sky.
The Bible’s statement that the earth actually ‘hangs upon nothing’ predated Aristotle by over 1,100 years. Yet, Aristotle was considered the foremost thinker of his day. His views were still taught as fact almost 2,000 years after his death! As The New Encyclopædia Britannica says, in the 16th and 17th centuries C.E., Aristotle’s teachings “ascended to the status of religious dogma” in the eyes of the church.
Sixteenth-century philosopher Giordano Bruno dared to challenge the concept that the stars “are as it were embedded in a single cupola.” He wrote that it was “a ridiculous notion which children might conceive, imagining perhaps that if [the stars] were not attached to the celestial surface by a good glue, or nailed with stoutest nails, they would fall on us like hail.” But disagreeing with Aristotle was a dangerous game in those days—the church had Bruno burned alive for spreading his unorthodox ideas about the universe.
In the Cosmic Soup
With the invention of the telescope, astronomers in growing numbers began to question Aristotle. If the sun, the moon, and the stars were not attached to spheres that spin around the earth, then what could hold them up and move them around? Seventeenth-century mathematician René Descartes thought he had the answer. He agreed with Aristotle that the space between us and the other heavenly bodies could not be empty. So he postulated that the universe was filled with a transparent fluid—a sort of cosmic soup.
This theory seemed to solve two problems. For one, it provided something to ‘hold up’ the heavenly bodies; they were all suspended in the soup! For another, it helped explain the motions of the planets. Descartes held that the planets were caught in the grip of whirlpools, or vortices, in the fluid, which made them swirl around in their orbits. This “Theory of Vortices,” as it was termed, may strike us as rather fanciful today. But it was the dominant theory in the study of the universe for more than a century in some countries.
Many scientists preferred it to the newcomer: Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation, published in 1687. Newton asserted that the planets did not need mechanical, tangible objects or substances to hold them aloft. It was the force of gravity that governed their motions and held them locked in their orbits. In effect, they hung in empty space upon nothing. Many of Newton’s colleagues scoffed at his notion of gravity. And even Newton himself found it hard to believe that space was a void, largely empty of substance.
Nonetheless, Newton’s views eventually won out. Today, it is all too easy for us to forget that this question of what holds up the planets stirred heated debate among learned and brilliant scientists some 32 centuries after the Bible stated with elegant simplicity that the earth is ‘hanging upon nothing.’ How could Job have known to phrase things just that way? Why would he say that nothing of substance holds up the earth, when it took the “experts” well over 3,000 years to arrive at the same conclusion?
Why Is the Bible So Ahead Of Its Time?
The Bible gives the logical answer. At 2 Timothy 3:16 we read: “All Scripture is inspired of God.” Thus the Bible is not the product of human wisdom but, rather, an accurate transmission of the Creator’s thoughts to us.
It is vitally important that you find out for yourself whether the Bible’s claim is true. (1 Thessalonians 2:13) In that way you could gain access to the thoughts of the Being who designed and created us. What better source could there be to tell us what the future holds and how to lead a happy, productive life in this troubled world?
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says: “Job 26:7 strikingly pictures the then-known world as suspended in space, thereby anticipating future scientific discovery.”
[Picture Credit Line on page 14]
By permission of the British Library