Science in Christian Perspective
Modern Physical Science in
M. T. Brackbill
Head., Dept.. Of Natural Science.,
Eastern Mennonite College
From: JASA 3 (March 1951): 23-27
have in my possession a very old book, a really ancient book, one of the few
great books that have survived thousands of yearss and practically the only
ancient book widely read today. I happen to have this book in very excellent
English translation , several, in fact, - and moreover I have carefully read
this book and many parts of it I have read many times. Being somewhat a student
of physical science I have noted with interest allusions in it to physical
that they make sense in term of modern science. Indeed, some are more
understandable and more significant today, I believe, than when they were
Without some thought of supernatural revelation) this is rather astonishing., for one would expect any references in ancient manuscripts to science of any sort to be very primitive and hardly anticipatory of modern notions. One would expect to find statements very much in error, based entirely on knowledge and superstition current at the time of writing. One would hardly expect to find ideas which UP to the time of writing no one had the possible means of discovering or substantiating.
The Bible was not written to be a science text book or a science book of any sort. It is largely history biography, poetry and philosophy,. In poetry and philosophy we my well expect to find abundant references to nature, but to discover that references to physical science make sense when laid side by side to statements in modern text books ray not only be a bit surprising at first thought but certainly heartening and faith-building. If one should be tolerant in requiring that the inspired Scriptures be scientifically accurate he might be inclined to overlook errors on the grounds of literary purposes., and the necessity of using the science currently in vogue in order to be understood at the time of writing by contemporaries.
It is really a large order to require that the Bible written thousands of years ago stand up on the level of science today and still to have made sense at the time of its writing. Imagine writing a book of this sort anticipating science a thousand years from now (ever a hundred) and making it understandable now. But this has been done in the Bible and only its Author could do that. And it is a matter of words.
To me the most marvelous thing in the universe aside from God Himself is languages the structures of codes built of words. Let us think for a minute how important words are. "in the beginning was the word and the word Was God." How did things come into being? He spoke and it was done. Let there be light" - four words and there was light. "Let there be", "and it was so." Back of matter, energy back of energy, words; back of words, God. John the Baptist said, "I am the voice (words) of one." It's a new thought to me., but might it be that language is the chief or only aspect, of the divine image? At least the intelligent use Of language or words marks the unbridgeable chasm between man and the rest of the animal creation. Moreover, language is man's most difficult tools a divine tool.
We hear or read some words. Now what did the author have in mind? I noticed that there was some difference of opinion as to the interpretation of papers read here and both written and read very well. Many years ago the Lord wrote a paper (The Bible) and it was to be understandable in all ages, in all languages. It is a heartening thing to learn that it is so.
What is known today in the fields of modem astronomy is the product of research using the marvelous giant telescopes the ingenious spectroscopes, and their various adaptations, also advanced mathematics, and physics none of which were had five hundred years ago. Now what did Moses have of all this? Isaiah, Nehemiah, the Psalmists, the gospel writers and Paul? Nothing!
Then tell me if you can,. how these man anticipated our present day in their references to physical science. Explains if you can, how they knew accepted truths today without the physica1 or intellectual means to discover them. "God knew," you say., "and all He needed to do was to reveal them doubtless to the astonishment of the writers themselves." Knowing experimentally that these things are so, it is we who can be astonished today, not at the truth, but at the writers.
What writers, on their own, would stick out their necks and make reckless scientific speculations for literary effect and risk becoming the laughing stock of future generations? Swift did that, and I read an article just lately showing how 6wift's biology is impossible in Gulliver's outrageously big and little people. Of courses Swift was just in fun and therefore he gets by. The Bible writers were not in fun but exceedingly serious and grotesque errors would have been ruinous to their reputation for integrity, But then they were not on their own.
Enough by way of introduction.
I have read through the Bible to find all the references to physical sciences and I have listed 325, mostly to astronomy. I want to present a few of the more striking ones.
Imensity yet Finity of Universe
About twenty years ago, Sir James Jeans of England, famous astronomer and physicist, estimated that the number of the stars was of the same order as the number of sands on all the seashores of the world, To my knowledge this estimate has not been seriously challenged up to the prevent time. This estimate was based on sampling photographically the regions of the sky.
This estimate is also in the Bible.
God told Abraham, "Look now toward heaven., and tell the stars,, if thou be able to number them," and he said unto him, "so shall thy seed be" Gen. 15:5. Whether Abraham ever made a count of the stars I do not knows, but if he did,, he might have said to the Lord, "You mean my descendents shall number about seven thousand". for that is about the number of stars that can be distinguished with the naked eye. Well, if they would all live at the came time they would hardly make more than a small city and far from a great nation.
Somewhat later God told Abraham., "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is upon the seashore." Gen. 22-.17. Whether this means one seashore or all the seashores I do not know.
Still later God told Abraham that his descendents would be as the dust of the earth. Gen. 28sl4. Surely the dust of the earth would be at least as much as the sand of all the seashores, All we need to do to establish by the Word. Jeans estimate is to apply an axiom.
It appears to have been a common idea among people even up to the present time that the stars are rather insignificant things and that there are-not very many of them, just little lamps hung from the celestial dome., lit by night and snuffed out by day and if all were collected they would make a rather unimpressive pile At the foot of old Camel. To make all these little lamps that hang in the sky would have been, not too big a job for a dozen or two dozen human lamp makers.
Whence, then, came this idea of so many stars long ago? The Hebrew writers somehow got a really impressive view of the heaven and also of their God. When the children of Israel entered Palestine$ the heathen nations were inquisitive to know who their god was. They replied., "He who made the stars" This God very likely did not impress the heathen,, if he made only the stars and probably is). pressed only few of the Hebrews themselves or they would not have lapsed into idolatry so easily. But the writers of the Old Testament not so. The heavens were revealed to them a very significant part of the creations
Thus saith he Lord, "if heaven above can be measured, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel," Jer. 31:37
"Lo these are but the
outskirts of his ways;" Job 26t14 R
The finiteness of world - inhabited space are hinted at here;
The finiteness of world - inhabited space are hinted at here;
They come from a far country, from the end of heaven" Tea. 136"Who .... meted out heaven with a spans (A-Us light year, or parsec)
"He telleth the number of the stare." Pa.147:4 A few modem astronomical notions are suggested;
"Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens? Canst thou establish the dominion thereof In the earth?" Job 3803
"The ordinances of the moon and of the stare." Eze. 3105