Biblical Foreknowledge

How do atheists explain the scientific foreknowledge in the Bible. Such examples as in Isaiah 40:21-22. He talks about the “circle” of the earth. This document was created thousands of years before the discovery the earth is round.

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

Another example is Psalm 8:8 were it describes “paths in the sea”. We know know that there are paths in the sea for fish. However it wasn’t proven till way thousands of years after by Matthew Maury.

Posted: March 24th 2010

brian thomson www

Remember also that the Bible was not written in English: it got to you via multiple translations, from Hebrew, to Latin and Greek, and only then in to English. Scholars have since gone back to the Hebrew, of course, but you can not assume that there’s a 1:1 translation between Hebrew words and English words.

Using your example of Isaiah 40:21-22, what was the original Hebrew? I took a look at studylight.org which says that the original word “Chuwg” can be translated as “circle”, or “circuit”, or “compass”. Does this means what we understand today as a circle, (the geometric shape)? Remember that “platonic” geometry (formal shapes etc. ) only started later, in ancient Greece. A “circuit” can also mean “route” and “compass” can mean “extents” or “limits”. So, I can read “the circle of the earth” as being “the known world” or “everywhere people travel”.

I note that the Book of Isaiah in Judaic scripture (the Nevi’im) also says “circle” – in a 1917 translation.

So: translations are a reflection of their time – a time when it was known that the Earth was spherical. Even if they meant circle back then, they could have meant a flat circle – the way the world looks when you stand on top of a hill and look around. Hardly proof of any divine inspiration.

Posted: March 31st 2010

See all questions answered by brian thomson


The earth isn’t a circle. It’s a sphere. If the author of Isaiah wanted to say that the earth was a sphere, there are plenty of spherical things – fruit, pebbles, etc.

Not to mention the fact that while one can be above a circle, it doesn’t make much sense to be above a sphere, since the direction of above varies for every location.

And even if this were true, it would Isaiah at perhaps 800 BCE would only predate the greeks by a few hundred years at best.

Posted: March 26th 2010

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Blaise www

This is what is called observational bias. It is clear from the presentation of your question that you are going to the bible not to test every scientific claim it makes, but rather to specifically ferret out any claim that might in any way seem correct.

The Bible also insists:

* The bat is a bird (Lev. 11:19, Deut. 14:11, 18); * Some fowls are four-footed (Lev. 11:20-21); * Some creeping insects have four legs. (Lev. 11:22-23); * Hares chew the cud (Lev. 11:6); * Conies chew the cud (Lev. 11:5); * Camels don’t divide the hoof (Lev. 11:4); * The earth was formed out of and by means of water (2 Peter 3:5 RSV); * The earth rest on pillars (1 Sam. 2:8); * The earth won’t be moved (1Chron. 16:30); * A hare does not divide the hoof (Deut. 14:7); * The rainbow is not as old as rain and sunshine (Gen. 9:13); * A mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds and grows into the greatest of all shrubs (Matt. 13:31-32 RSV); * Turtles have voices (Song of Sol. 2:12); * The earth has ends or edges (Job 37:3); * The earth has four corners (Isa. 11:12, Rev. 7:1); * Some 4-legged animals fly (Lev. 11:21); * A fetus can understand speech (Luke 1:44). * The moon is a light source like the sun (Gen 1:16)

With this many wrong claims, it’s hardly a surprise that they got a couple that might seem kinda right if you squint and hold your head just so…

Even if your examples weren’t vague and open to interpretation, even if they were right on the money, this atheist would explain it by saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day…

Posted: March 26th 2010

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Mike the Infidel www

I would be more impressed if the 'foreknowledge’ were at all consistently correct. For example, in Leviticus 14:33-57, God seems to be saying that houses and possessions can contract leprosy.

In a compilation as long as the Bible, it would be more miraculous if there were never anything that reflected reality when interpreted in a particular way.

Posted: March 25th 2010

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SmartLX www

If you’re sitting high enough that the people on the ground look like grasshoppers, or at any decent altitude with a clear view, the horizon and therefore the Earth looks like a circle. That’s not foreknowledge, it’s observation.

They didn’t know about ocean currents in Biblical times, but they had boats and those boats had regular trade routes and fish swim under those routes. Ever since we tamed the sea we’ve been making our own paths in it. That’s not foreknowledge, it’s poetic description of what they did know about the sea.

Posted: March 25th 2010

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People wrote the bible. All people have the ability to observe, which is one aspect of being an scientist. If any of the observations made by people who wrote the bible have been confirmed by science, this does not mean that any of the human observers had a hot line to god. They were just doing what people do – observing.

Without the rigors of modern science,
most of their observations were wrong, with science now clearly showing that their observations often missed the mark. Even a broken clock is right twice daily. And we won’t even mention the omission of life-saving information in the bible like germ theory. Instead, there is a load of chaff that does not even make sense – just uninformed-by-science, dogmatic, meaningless, useless ritual.

Refer here for answers to a similar question.

Posted: March 25th 2010

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bitbutter www

It seems very likely that the writer of Isaiah thought the earth was a disk rather than a sphere. This is because the writer uses the word chuwg which usually means circle. As far as I’m aware, there are no other instances in the bible or other ancient Hebrew texts where this word is used to refer to something that we know to be spherical (send a mail if you can show otherwise).

There is another Hebrew word, duwr, which is used in the bible to describe a spherical object, this might have been a clearer way for the writer of Isaiah to express his thoughts if he really had a spherical earth in mind. But duwr is also used to describe non-spherical things too (such as a camp encircling a city), so even this wouldn’t have removed all ambiguity from the passage.

Other biblical passages are less ambiguous, they strongly give the impression that their writers believed that the earth was flat.

In “Daniel 4:10-11”:http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel%204&version=ESV. king Nebuchadnezzar describes a dream:
bq. The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great.
bq. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth.

The 'midst’ or center of the earth, as we now understand it, is not a suitable place for a tree. We can only make sense of a tree being positioned 'in the midst of the earth’ if the earth was flat. This is almost certainly what the author had in mind, since a flat earth is also necessary in order for a giant tree to be visible from all points on the earth’s surface.

Even in the new testament, when the devil is tempting Jesus, we have:

Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

This might have been possible on a clear day if the earth were small and flat, but obviously impossible on a globe with a curved surface obscuring the things on its other side.

The inescapable conclusion is that at least some of the writers of the bible believed that the earth was flat.

To maintain that the bible is a reliable source of scientific knowledge, you have to cherry-pick the few (generously interpreted) 'hits’ while ignoring the many glaring misses.

Posted: March 25th 2010

See all questions answered by bitbutter


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