Science: Has It Proved the Bible Wrong?
In 1613 the Italian scientist Galileo published a work known as “Letters on Sunspots.” In it, he presented evidence that the earth rotates around the sun, rather than the sun around the earth. By so doing, he set in motion a series of events that finally brought him before the Roman Catholic Inquisition under “vehement suspicion of heresy.” Eventually, he was forced to “recant.” Why was the idea that the earth moves around the sun viewed as heresy? Because Galileo’s accusers claimed that it was contrary to what the Bible says.
1. (Include introduction.) (a) What happened when Galileo suggested that the earth moved around the sun? (b) Although the Bible is not a science textbook, what do we find when we compare it with modern science?
IT IS widely held today that the Bible is unscientific, and some point to Galileo’s experiences to prove it. But is this the case? When answering that question, we have to remember that the Bible is a book of prophecy, history, prayer, law, counsel, and knowledge about God. It does not claim to be a scientific textbook. Nevertheless, when the Bible does touch on scientific matters, what it says is completely accurate.
Our Planet Earth
2. How does the Bible describe the earth’s position in space?
2 Consider, for example, what the Bible says about our planet, the earth. In the book of Job, we read: “[God] is stretching out the north over the empty place, hanging the earth upon nothing.” (Job 26:7) Compare this with Isaiah’s statement, when he says: “There is One who is dwelling above the circle of the earth.” (Isaiah 40:22) The picture conveyed of a round earth ‘hanging upon nothing’ in “the empty place” reminds us strongly of the photographs taken by astronauts of the sphere of the earth floating in empty space.
3, 4. What is the earth’s water cycle, and what does the Bible say about this?
3 Consider, too, the earth’s amazing water cycle. Here is how Compton’s Encyclopedia describes what happens: “Water . . . evaporates from the surface of the oceans into the atmosphere . . . Steadily moving air currents in the earth’s atmosphere carry the moist air inland. When the air cools, the vapor condenses to form water droplets. These are seen most commonly as clouds. Often the droplets come together to form raindrops. If the atmosphere is cold enough, snowflakes form instead of raindrops. In either case, water that has traveled from an ocean hundreds or even thousands of miles away falls to the earth’s surface. There it gathers into streams or soaks into the ground and begins its journey back to the sea.”1
4 This remarkable process, which makes life on dry land possible, was well described about 3,000 years ago in simple, straightforward terms in the Bible: “All streams run into the sea, yet the sea never overflows; back to the place from which the streams ran they return to run again.”—Ecclesiastes 1:7, The New English Bible.
5. How is the psalmist’s comment about the history of earth’s mountains remarkably up-to-date?
5 Perhaps even more remarkable is the Bible’s insight into the history of mountains. Here is what a textbook on geology says: “From Pre-Cambrian times down to the present, the perpetual process of building and destroying mountains has continued. . . . Not only have mountains originated from the bottom of vanished seas, but they have often been submerged long after their formation, and then re-elevated.”2 Compare this with the poetic language of the psalmist: “With a watery deep just like a garment you covered [the earth]. The waters were standing above the very mountains. Mountains proceeded to ascend, valley plains proceeded to descend—to the place that you have founded for them.”—Psalm 104:6, 8.
“In the Beginning”
6. What Bible statement is in harmony with current scientific theories about the origin of the universe?
6 The very first verse of the Bible states: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) Observations have led scientists to theorize that the material universe did indeed have a beginning. It has not existed for all time. Astronomer Robert Jastrow, an agnostic in religious matters, wrote: “The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy.”3
7, 8. Although not admitting the role of God in the matter, what are many scientists forced to admit with regard to the origin of the universe?
7 True, many scientists, while believing that the universe had a beginning, do not accept the statement that “God created.” Nevertheless, some now admit that it is difficult to ignore the evidence of some kind of intelligence behind everything. Physics professor Freeman Dyson comments: “The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known that we were coming.”
8 Dyson goes on to admit: “Being a scientist, trained in the habits of thought and language of the twentieth century rather than the eighteenth, I do not claim that the architecture of the universe proves the existence of God. I claim only that the architecture of the universe is consistent with the hypothesis that mind plays an essential role in its functioning.”4 His comment certainly betrays the skeptical attitude of our time. But putting that skepticism aside, one notes there is a remarkable harmony between modern science and the Bible’s statement that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”—Genesis 1:1.
Health and Sanitation
9 Consider the Bible’s coverage of another field: health and sanitation. If an Israelite had a skin blemish suspected of being leprosy, he was put in isolation. “All the days that the plague is in him he will be unclean. He is unclean. He should dwell isolated. Outside the camp is his dwelling place.” (Leviticus 13:46) Even infected garments were burned. (Leviticus 13:52) In those days, this was an effective way of preventing the spread of the infection.
10. In what way would many in some lands benefit from following the Bible’s counsel on hygiene?
10 Another important law had to do with the disposal of human excrement, which had to be buried outside the camp. (Deuteronomy 23:12, 13) This law no doubt saved Israel from many sicknesses. Even today, severe health problems are caused in some lands by the improper disposal of human wastes. If people in those lands would only follow the law written down thousands of years ago in the Bible, they would be much healthier.
11. What Bible counsel on mental health has been found to be practical?
11 The Bible’s high standard of hygiene even involved mental health. A Bible proverb said: “A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30) In recent years, medical research has demonstrated that our physical health is indeed affected by our mental attitude. For example, Doctor C. B. Thomas of Johns Hopkins University studied more than a thousand graduates over a period of 16 years, matching their psychological characteristics with their vulnerability to diseases. One thing she noted: The graduates most vulnerable to disease were those who were angrier and more anxious under stress.5
What Does the Bible Say?
12. Why did the Catholic Church insist that Galileo’s theory about the earth was heresy?
12 If the Bible is so accurate in scientific fields, why did the Catholic Church say that Galileo’s teaching that the earth moved around the sun was unscriptural? Because of the way the authorities interpreted certain Bible verses.6 Were they correct? Let us read two of the passages they quoted and see.
13, 14. What Bible verses did the Catholic Church misapply? Explain.
13 One passage says: “The sun rises, the sun sets; then to its place it speeds and there it rises.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5, The Jerusalem Bible) According to the Church’s argument, expressions such as “the sun rises” and “the sun sets” mean that the sun, not the earth, is moving. But even today we say that the sun rises and sets, and most of us know that it is the earth that moves, not the sun. When we use expressions like these, we are merely describing the apparent motion of the sun as it appears to a human observer. The Bible writer was doing exactly the same.
14 The other passage says: “You fixed the earth on its foundations, unshakeable for ever and ever.” (Psalm 104:5, The Jerusalem Bible) This was interpreted to mean that after its creation the earth could never move. In fact, though, the verse stresses the permanence of the earth, not its immobility. The earth will never be ‘shaken’ out of existence, or destroyed, as other Bible verses confirm. (Psalm 37:29; Ecclesiastes 1:4) This scripture, too, has nothing to do with the relative motion of the earth and the sun. In Galileo’s time, it was the Church, not the Bible, that hindered free scientific discussion.
Evolution and Creation
15. What is the theory of evolution, and how does it contradict the Bible?
15 There is, however, an area where many would say that modern science and the Bible are hopelessly at odds. Most scientists believe the theory of evolution, which teaches that all living things evolved from a simple form of life that came into existence millions of years ago. The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that each major group of living things was specially created and reproduces only “according to its kind.” Man, it says, was created “out of dust from the ground.” (Genesis 1:21; 2:7) Is this a glaring scientific error in the Bible? Before deciding, let us look more closely at what science knows, as opposed to what it theorizes.
16-18. (a) What was one observation that Charles Darwin made that led him to believe in evolution? (b) How can we argue that what Darwin observed in the Galápagos Islands does not contradict what the Bible says?
16 The theory of evolution was popularized during the last century by Charles Darwin. When he was on the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific, Darwin was strongly impressed by the different species of finches on the different islands, which, he deduced, must all have descended from just one ancestral species. Partly because of this observation, he promoted the theory that all living things come from one original, simple form. The driving force behind the evolution of higher creatures from lower, he asserted, was natural selection, the survival of the fittest. Thanks to evolution, he claimed, land animals developed from fish, birds from reptiles, and so forth.
17 As a matter of fact, what Darwin observed in those isolated islands was not out of harmony with the Bible, which allows for variation within a major living kind. All the races of mankind, for example, came from just one original human pair. (Genesis 2:7, 22-24) So it is nothing strange that those different species of finches would spring from a common ancestral species. But they did remain finches. They did not evolve into hawks or eagles.
18 Neither the various species of finches nor anything else Darwin saw proved that all living things, whether they be sharks or sea gulls, elephants or earthworms, have a common ancestor. Nevertheless, many scientists assert that evolution is no longer just a theory but that it is a fact. Others, while recognizing the theory’s problems, say that they believe it anyway. It is popular to do so. We, however, need to know whether evolution has been proved to such an extent that the Bible must be wrong.
Is It Proved?
19. Does the fossil record support evolution or creation?
19 How can the theory of evolution be tested? The most obvious way is to examine the fossil record to see if a gradual change from one kind to another really happened. Did it? No, as a number of scientists honestly admit. One, Francis Hitching, writes: “When you look for links between major groups of animals, they simply aren’t there.”7 So obvious is this lack of evidence in the fossil record that evolutionists have come up with alternatives to Darwin’s theory of gradual change. The truth is, though, that the sudden appearance of animal kinds in the fossil record supports special creation much more than it does evolution.
20. Why does the way living cells reproduce not allow for evolution to take place?
20 Moreover, Hitching shows that living creatures are programmed to reproduce themselves exactly rather than evolve into something else. He says: “Living cells duplicate themselves with near-total fidelity. The degree of error is so tiny that no man-made machine can approach it. There are also built-in constraints. Plants reach a certain size and refuse to grow any larger. Fruit flies refuse to become anything but fruit flies under any circumstances yet devised.”8 Mutations induced by scientists in fruit flies over many decades failed to force these to evolve into something else.
The Origin of Life
21. What conclusion proved by Louis Pasteur poses a grave problem for evolutionists?
21 Another thorny question that evolutionists have failed to answer is: What was the origin of life? How did the first simple form of life—from which we are all supposed to have descended—come into existence? Centuries ago, this would not have appeared to be a problem. Most people then thought that flies could develop from decaying meat and that a pile of old rags could spontaneously produce mice. But, more than a hundred years ago, the French chemist Louis Pasteur clearly demonstrated that life can come only from preexisting life.
22, 23. According to evolutionists, how did life get started, but what do the facts show?
22 So how do evolutionists explain the source of life? According to the most popular theory, a chance combination of chemicals and energy sparked a spontaneous generation of life millions of years ago. What about the principle that Pasteur proved? The World Book Encyclopedia explains: “Pasteur showed that life cannot arise spontaneously under the chemical and physical conditions present on the earth today. Billions of years ago, however, the chemical and physical conditions on the earth were far different”!9
23 Even under far different conditions, though, there is a huge gap between nonliving matter and the simplest living thing. Michael Denton, in his book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, says: “Between a living cell and the most highly ordered non-biological system, such as a crystal or a snowflake, there is a chasm as vast and absolute as it is possible to conceive.”10 The idea that nonliving material could come to life by some haphazard chance is so remote as to be impossible. The Bible’s explanation, that ‘life came from life’ in that life was created by God, is convincingly in harmony with the facts.
Why Not Creation
24. In spite of the theory’s problems, why do most scientists still cling to the theory of evolution?
24 Despite the problems inherent in the theory of evolution, belief in creation is viewed today as unscientific, even eccentric. Why is this? Why does even an authority such as Francis Hitching, who honestly points up the weaknesses of evolution, reject the idea of creation?11 Michael Denton explains that evolution, with all its failings, will continue to be taught because theories related to creation “invoke frankly supernatural causes.”12 In other words, the fact that creation involves a Creator makes it unacceptable. Surely, this is the same kind of circular reasoning that we met up with in the case of miracles: Miracles are impossible because they are miraculous!
25. What weakness of evolution, scientifically speaking, shows that it is not a valid alternative to creation in explaining the origin of life?
25 Besides, the theory of evolution itself is deeply suspect from a scientific viewpoint. Michael Denton goes on to say: “Being basically a theory of historical reconstruction, [Darwin’s theory of evolution] is impossible to verify by experiment or direct observation as is normal in science. . . . Moreover, the theory of evolution deals with a series of unique events, the origin of life, the origin of intelligence and so on. Unique events are unrepeatable and cannot be subjected to any sort of experimental investigation.”13 The truth is that the theory of evolution, despite its popularity, is full of gaps and problems. It gives no good reason to reject the Bible’s account of the origin of life. The first chapter of Genesis provides a completely reasonable account of how these “unrepeatable” “unique events” came about during creative ‘days’ that stretched through millenniums of time.a
What About the Flood?
26, 27. (a) What does the Bible say about the Flood? (b) From where, in part, must the floodwaters have come?
26 Many point to another supposed contradiction between the Bible and modern science. In the book of Genesis, we read that thousands of years ago the wickedness of men was so great that God determined to destroy them. However, he instructed the righteous man Noah to build a large wooden vessel, an ark. Then God brought a flood upon mankind. Only Noah and his family survived, together with representatives of all the animal species. The Flood was so great that “all the tall mountains that were under the whole heavens came to be covered.”—Genesis 7:19.
27 Where did all the water come from to cover the whole earth? The Bible itself answers. Early in the creation process, when the expanse of the atmosphere began to take shape, there came to be “waters . . . beneath the expanse” and “waters . . . above the expanse.” (Genesis 1:7; 2 Peter 3:5) When the Flood came, the Bible says: “The floodgates of the heavens were opened.” (Genesis 7:11) Evidently, the “waters . . . above the expanse” fell and provided much of the water for the inundation.
28. How did ancient servants of God, including Jesus, view the Flood?
28 Modern textbooks are inclined to discount a universal flood. So we have to ask: Is the Flood just a myth, or did it really happen? Before answering that, we should note that later worshipers of Jehovah accepted the Flood as genuine history; they did not regard it as a myth. Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and Peter were among those who referred to it as something that really happened. (Isaiah 54:9; Matthew 24:37-39; Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20, 21; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:5-7) But there are questions that have to be answered about this universal Deluge.
29, 30. What facts about the earth’s water supply show that the Flood is feasible?
29 First, is not the idea of the whole earth’s being flooded too farfetched? Not really. Indeed, to some extent the earth is still flooded. Seventy percent of it is covered by water and only 30 percent is dry land. Moreover, 75 percent of the earth’s fresh water is locked up in glaciers and polar ice caps. If all this ice were to melt, the sea level would rise much higher. Cities like New York and Tokyo would disappear.
30 Further, The New Encyclopædia Britannica says: “The average depth of all the seas has been estimated at 3,790 metres (12,430 feet), a figure considerably larger than that of the average elevation of the land above the sea level, which is 840 metres (2,760 feet). If the average depth is multiplied by its respective surface area, the volume of the World Ocean is 11 times the volume of the land above sea level.”14 So, if everything were leveled out—if the mountains were flattened and the deep sea basins filled in—the sea would cover the whole earth to a depth of thousands of meters.
31. (a) For the Flood to have happened, what must have been the situation with the pre-Flood earth? (b) What shows it is feasible that the mountains were lower and that the sea basins were shallower before the Flood?
31 For the Flood to have happened, the pre-Flood sea basins would have to have been shallower, and the mountains lower than they are now. Is this possible? Well, one textbook says: “Where the mountains of the world now tower to dizzy heights, oceans and plains once, millions of years ago, stretched out in flat monotony. . . . The movements of the continental plates cause the land both to rear up to heights where only the hardiest of animals and plants can survive and, at the other extreme, to plunge and lie in hidden splendor deep beneath the surface of the sea.”15 Since the mountains and sea basins rise and fall, it is apparent that at one time the mountains were not as high as they are now and the great sea basins were not as deep.
32. What must have happened to the waters of the Flood? Explain.
32 What happened to the floodwaters after the Flood? They must have drained into the sea basins. How? Scientists believe that the continents rest on huge plates. Movement of these plates can cause changes in the level of the earth’s surface. In some places today, there are great underwater abysses more than six miles [more than 10 km] deep at the plate boundaries.16 It is quite likely that—perhaps triggered by the Flood itself—the plates moved, the sea bottom sank, and the great trenches opened, allowing the water to drain off the land.b
Traces of the Flood?
33, 34. (a) What evidence do scientists already possess that may be evidence for the Flood? (b) Is it reasonable to say that scientists may be misreading the evidence?
33 If we grant that a great flood could have happened, why have scientists found no trace of it? Perhaps they have, but they interpret the evidence some other way. For example, orthodox science teaches that the surface of the earth has been shaped in many places by powerful glaciers during a series of ice ages. But apparent evidence of glacial activity can sometimes be the result of water action. Very likely, then, some of the evidence for the Flood is being misread as evidence of an ice age.
34 Similar mistakes have been made. Concerning the time when scientists were developing their theory of ice ages, we read: “They were finding ice ages at every stage of the geologic history, in keeping with the philosophy of uniformity. Careful reexamination of the evidence in recent years, however, has rejected many of these ice ages; formations once identified as glacial moraines have been reinterpreted as beds laid down by mudflows, submarine landslides and turbidity currents: avalanches of turbid water that carry silt, sand and gravel out over the deep-ocean floor.”18
35, 36. What evidence in the fossil record and in geology may be related to the Flood? Explain.
35 Another evidence for the Flood appears to exist in the fossil record. At one time, according to this record, great saber-toothed tigers stalked their prey in Europe, horses larger than any now living roamed North America, and mammoths foraged in Siberia. Then, all around the world, species of mammals became extinct. At the same time, there was a sudden change of climate. Tens of thousands of mammoths were killed and quick-frozen in Siberia.c Alfred Wallace, the well-known contemporary of Charles Darwin, considered that such a widespread destruction must have been caused by some exceptional worldwide event.19 Many have argued that this event was the Flood.
36 An editorial in the magazine Biblical Archaeologist observed: “It is important to remember that the story of a great flood is one of the most widespread traditions in human culture . . . Nevertheless behind the oldest traditions found in Near Eastern sources, there may well be an actual flood of gigantic proportions dating from one of the pluvial periods . . . many thousands of years ago.”20 The pluvial periods were times when the surface of the earth was much wetter than now. Freshwater lakes around the world were much larger. It is theorized that the wetness was caused by heavy rains associated with the end of the ice ages. But some have suggested that on one occasion the extreme wetness of the earth’s surface was a result of the Flood.
Mankind Did Not Forget
37, 38. How does one scientist show that, according to the evidence, the Flood might have happened, and how do we know that it did?
37 Geology professor John McCampbell once wrote: “The essential differences between Biblical catastrophism [the Flood] and evolutionary uniformitarianism are not over the factual data of geology but over the interpretations of those data. The interpretation preferred will depend largely upon the background and presuppositions of the individual student.”21
38 That the Flood did happen is seen in the fact that mankind never forgot it. All around the world, in locations as far apart as Alaska and the South Sea Islands, there are ancient stories about it. Native, pre-Columbian civilizations of America, as well as Aborigines of Australia, all have stories about the Flood. While some of the accounts differ in detail, the basic fact that the earth was flooded and only a few humans were saved in a man-made vessel comes through in nearly all versions. The only explanation for such a widespread acceptance is that the Flood was a historical event.d
39. What additional proof have we seen of the fact that the Bible is God’s word, not man’s?
39 Thus, in essential features the Bible is in harmony with modern science. Where there is a conflict between the two, the scientists’ evidence is questionable. Where they agree, the Bible is often so accurate that we have to believe it got its information from a superhuman intelligence. Indeed, the Bible’s agreement with proved science provides further evidence that it is God’s word, not man’s.
a A much more detailed discussion of the subject of evolution and creation is found in the book Life—How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? published in 1985 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
b The book Planet Earth—Glacier draws attention to the way water in the form of ice sheets depresses the surface of the earth. For example, it says: “If the Greenland ice were to disappear, the island would eventually rebound some 2,000 feet.” In view of this, the effect of a sudden global flood on parts of the earth’s crust could well have been catastrophic.17
c One estimate says five million.
d For more information on the Flood, see Insight on the Scriptures, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., Volume 1, pages 327, 328, 609-612.
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“Out of Dust”
“The World Book Encyclopedia” reports: “All the chemical elements that make up living things are also present in nonliving matter.” In other words, the basic chemicals that go to make up living organisms, including man, are also found in the earth itself. This harmonizes with the Bible’s statement: “And Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground.”—Genesis 2:7.
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‘In God’s Image’
Some point to physical similarities between man and some of the animals to prove their relationship. They have to agree, though, that man’s mental capacities are far superior to those of any animal. Why does man have the ability to make plans and organize the world around him, the capacity for love, a high intelligence, a conscience, and a concept of past, present, and future? Evolution cannot answer this. But the Bible does, when it says: “God proceeded to create the man in his image, in God’s image he created him.” (Genesis 1:27) As far as man’s mental and moral abilities and potential are concerned, he is a reflection of his heavenly Father.
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The Bible’s description of the earth hanging in space agrees very well with what astronauts have reported seeing
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The Bible does not get involved in saying whether the earth revolves around the sun or the sun revolves around the earth
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If the earth were leveled, with no mountains or abysses, it would be completely covered with a deep layer of water
[Picture on page 114]
Mammoths were found that were quick-frozen after their death
[Picture on page 115]
Louis Pasteur proved that life can come only from already-existing life
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The Bible presents an accurate description of the earth’s water cycle