Welcome to my blog! I will be exploring topics from my four great intellectual passions: history, biology, mythology, and Christianity. That last one is much more to me than just an intellectual pursuit, but there’s plenty there to delight the mind with. The blog’s name, of course, derives from Norse mythology. It was where Odin sacrificed an eye for a drink to attain more wisdom, but I will be approaching these things from a Christian perspective (much like Paul used pagan accolades to Zeus to preach the Gospel to the Athenians at the Areopagus). Let’s start with a post that looks at all four, namely, how scientific is the Bible? I contend that, in contrast to the current popular view, the Bible is reliable in science and actually points to its divine origin in the way it transcends its time and culture with modern science.
Does it teach that there is a supernatural world and a God governing the universe? Of course! But it also shows that, in the normal course of events, God governs His universe through ordinary scientific laws. Anything unscientific in the Bible is either vivid symbolism not meant to be taken literally or a direct intervention of the supernatural. In addition, many believe that Paul in I Corinthians 13 predicted that miraculous these supernatural interventions would become less frequent once the canon was closed and God’s Word was available to all the world, as has happened. As Dr. R.C. Sproul is so fond of explaining, the purpose of a miracle is to act as God’s seal of approval for His representative speaking His words. Now that we have the Bible, we don’t need prophets anymore, so there are no more miracles.
I actually began thinking about this topic back when I had the delight of watching BBC Earth’s Planet Earth. This fascinating series glorifies God by showing how he can create the harshest of environments and still tailor organisms to inhabit it or create the most beautiful of environments and adorn it with amazing creatures. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the episodes are arranged by biome. Each one looks at a different type of habitat (mountains, forest, ocean, etc.) and how animals are adapted to live there.
Interestingly enough, this is actually the approach Genesis 1, supposedly the least scientific part of the Bible, uses to depict creation. Poetically, the first three days set up the environment, and the last three days fill it up. Day One creates light for day and night; Day Four provides specific sources of light: the sun, moon, and stars. (I personally believe the sun was created first and that what Day Four is referring to is early plants’ photosynthesis clearing out enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that the sun could actually be seen.) Day Two produces sky and sea; Day Five fills it with birds and fishes. Day Three creates dry land; Day Six creates terrestrial animals. A vastly more rudimentary approach than modern science, but a clear indication that God made habitats and then adapted creatures to them. Mythologies typically portray animals existing before the creation of the world; usually they’re involved in it. In Scandinavia, for example, the Norse posited that a primeval cow licking primordial ice was responsible for the creation of the first god, and the Finns believed that an eagle laid eggs on a goddess’s knee in the middle of a vast ocean that she broke to become the universe.
While we’re discussing adaptations, the Bible remains true to genetics while other ancient cultures did not. It depicts plants and animals in Genesis 1 as reproducing “according to their kind.” Jacob doesn’t understand genetics when he tries to make the goats produce speckled or spotted kids by showing them streaks of white when they mate, but in the next chapter God takes credit for intervening on Jacob’s behalf in making them speckled and spotted. There is no need to read a naturalistic violation of genetic principles here, just a supernatural direction of them. There are no historically presented fantastical creatures in the Bible such as you’ll find in other mythologies. No hybrids or one-of-a-kind monsters that defy genetics like the Sphinx or the Chimera. Of course, the Bible has mythological creatures like Leviathan, Behemoth, and Rahab, but these occur in the context of poetry or apocalyptic prophecy and were clearly intended as figurative symbols rather than an actual depiction of life on earth. Almost every animal the Bible presents “as is” is known to science; for the rest we just don’t know how to translate the Hebrew. But no Jewish hero in the historical books makes a name for himself by slaying a gorgon or a dragon like you’ll find in mythology. There are no magic amulets in the Bible like you’ll find in most mythologies. Whatever Raiders of the Lost Ark said, using the Ark in battle did not magically grant the Israelites victory; instead, they lost the battle and the Ark itself for a time.
This is even more surprising when you consider that the Jews and Christians actually did believe in mythological creatures. Extrabiblical works feature them, such as “Bel and the Dragon” (where Daniel kills a dragon during the Babylonian Captivity) in the Jewish Apocrypha. Clement of Rome uses the Phoenix as an analogy for the resurrection in I Clement. The books that claim to be presenting literal facts from a divinely inspired perspective do no such thing.
The Bible also does not personify what we now know to be inanimate objects. In Norse and Greek thought, the sun and moon were chariots driven by horses. Heaven and Earth were husband and wife in the Greek creation myth. The Chinese legend is about a monster holding back Yin and Yang and being transformed into the world in the struggle. The constellations in Greek mythology are likewise the remains of heroes and monsters. The Egyptians and Mesopotamians linked their gods with heavenly bodies, and the planets all bear the names of Roman gods. Psalms presents a metaphor of the sun running a race, but it is only that. Genesis portrays everything as inanimate that we know to be so, despite what modern critics try to read from the text.
The Bible portrays animals acting the way modern biology shows them to. You don’t find legendary depictions of hares going mad in March or lemmings jumping off of cliffs, at least not when the Bible intends to be taken at face value. God’s depiction of the ostrich in Job 39 actually taught me things I didn’t know about it. It does say in the Psalms that the moon won’t hurt you, which implies that the Hebrews believed that the moon could cause insanity (i.e., you’d be “moonstruck”), but notice the Bible says that won’t happen. The exceptions would be the talking serpent in Genesis 3 and Balaam’s ass in Numbers, but, again, this is clearly the supernatural. Well, it’s also strange for the lion to attack the man of God in I Kings 13 but to just stand beside the unharmed donkey, but this just proves that God was judging the man of God through the lion. Normally lions in the Bible attack livestock.
The Bible also presents humans in normally human terms (at least after the astounding lifespans early in Genesis, which it portrays as highly unique and a regression of the world from perfection to the decay we’re familiar with). There are no demigods or innately superhuman heroes. Yes, the Bible has people achieving incredible feats, like Elijah outrunning Ahab’s chariot or Samson’s stupendous strength, but it almost invariably states (and where it doesn’t, it implies) that this is a direct intervention of the supernatural into the natural world (usually the Bible notes that the Spirit of the Lord comes upon the hero) and would not otherwise happen. When God departs from Samson, he’s no stronger than anyone else. No Hebrew hero sighs so powerfully he bursts his mail coat like Sigurd in Norse mythology. No Hebrew hero makes wings and flies like Daedalus and Icarus. The one possible depiction of an innately superhuman character, Goliath of Gath, is still possibly portrayed as a supernatural intervention. Assuming Goliath was 9’9” (it’s possible the scribes copying the Masoretic Text made a clerical error and that he was closer to 6 feet), it was probably because of a union like the one between demons and women in Genesis 6.
Genesis 1 confirms what science has recently figured out about the universe- that it had a beginning. Those are the first words of the Bible. Mythologies don’t do that. Norse mythology has Muspelheim and Niflheim, and the cow and giant they produce, preceding the earth. Mesopotamian mythology, which Genesis is supposedly a Hebrew ripoff of, presents Marduk killing Tiamat the dragon and fashioning the world out of her. Every mythology I know of has a creation story where the universe is made from preexisting physical material. The Greek philosophers believed the world was eternal. The Bible, in contrast, posits a Big Bang like modern science does; it just presents it as intentional rather than spontaneous (that will be the subject of a later blog, if the Lord wills).
Moving on from Genesis 1, we find something rather surprising in another story critics love to lash out at: Noah’s ark. If placed in water, Noah’s ark would float. In fact, it has similar dimensions to an oil tanker. What’s surprising is that this comes from a most land-lubbing people, the Hebrews. The Israelites feared the sea and made it a symbol of disorder and evil; they generally did not venture out into the Mediterranean (or used someone else’s ships when they did, like Jonah). How did they just “make up” this well-designed ship? They certainly didn’t get it from the Babylonians, whose flood story the Bible supposedly ripped off as well. The craft that is to preserve life on earth in the Epic of Gilgamesh is a cube that would sink in water.
There’s a lot of discussion as to how vast the Flood was because we don’t have any evidence of a worldwide deluge in the geological record. Hugh Ross does a good job explaining how it’s probably not meant to be taken as a global flood but as one that wipes out everything man’s world consisted of at the time. Presumably, in a few generations, he had not spread very far from Mesopotamia. Moreover, there’s no way an ark Noah’s size could hold two specimens from every species that inhabits the globe. We’re used to the story of the ark floating above Mount Ararat, but the Hebrew word does not have to mean a mountain. A hill will do, and Ararat was a region as much as a mountain at the time (near Mesopotamia, I should add). Many mythologies, like the Greeks and Babylonians, portray a flood brought by divine agents, often with an ark saving creatures. That’s an interesting tale to show up so widely in the human consciousness.
These are the main examples I can think of. There are other little tidbits where the Bible was potentially centuries ahead of its time in terms of science. It’s possible to interpret verses like Job 36:27-28 and Psalm 135:7 as depicting the Hydrological Cycle centuries before scientists understood it. Matthew Fontaine Maury was inspired to study currents from Psalm 8:8 (“whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas”). Circumcision on the eighth day of a child’s life is the safest time to do it because the child has a rush of prothrombin, which helps with blood clotting, that would keep him from bleeding too badly. Circumcision on any of the days preceding or following this rush is much less safe. Notice also how the clean animals in Leviticus that Israel was allowed to eat are also the safest animals to eat before modern food preparation. The pigs they were forbidden to eat are notorious for carrying trichinosis.
What about the “unscientific” aspects of the Bible? Doesn’t the account of creation in Genesis 1-2 contradict the commonly accepted scientific account of the origins of the universe, life, and humanity? Well, to be frank, I still haven’t figured out exactly what to affirm with regards to this question. I can, however, recommend two excellent books on the subject: The Genesis Question by Hugh Ross and Seven Days that Divide the World by John Lennox. I personally lean towards a belief in events more in accord with the modern scientific theory than in the traditional Christian reading that takes the simplest approach to interpreting Genesis as a literal week of creation. Hugh Ross focuses on the science and how Genesis 1-11 can be interpreted as saying the same thing as modern scientific theory while John Lennox focuses on the Hebrew grammar and vocabulary to see what things we are required to believe from the text and where there are grayer areas.
A few notes on the subject. Genesis can be read to depict the evolution of life on earth as science posits it developed. You do kind of have to interpret the “creation” of the sun and moon like I did above with them becoming visible on the fourth day rather than coming into existence altogether, but the Hebrew word allows for this, as it does not necessarily mean “created” (“worked on” will do). Fish and birds did evolve before mammals (if one counts the dinosaurs whom the birds are believed to have descended from). This tension between the Bible and science, of course, is only a problem to you if you are committed to macroevolutionary theory. Hopefully a future blog will present some of its rather glaring flaws.
The weakness in interpreting Genesis with modern science is that it requires predation and death in an explicitly good creation. If the Isaiah says there will be no predation and death in the world restored to perfection, why would there be predation and death in the original perfect world? Of course, this assumes predation is inherently evil. Psalm 104:21 says lions seek their prey from God, which indicates that feeding on other animals is not necessarily bad. Moreover, just because something is true about the new Paradise doesn’t mean it was true about the first. God created marriage in Eden, but Christ refuted that it would have a role in the New Jerusalem.
Also, the Hebrew in Genesis 1 is subtler than to require six 24-hour days one right after another. We don’t need to be hidebound by the simple reading of the King James Version. The original Hebrew uses the definite article only for the Sixth Day and the Seventh Day. It’s perfectly possible to translate the first five days as ‘a First Day,’ ‘a Second Day,’ and so on. Further, note how Day Seven doesn’t have a “and there was morning, and there was evening” appended to it. Maybe that’s because Day Seven, when God has ceased creating because He has finished His work, is still going on today.
Personally, I thought one of the strongest arguments in favor of the single-week theory was the presentation of it as standard Christian dogma until the modern era. Would God give us an account that all His people for millennia would interpret to mean what is actually false? Well, the truth is more complicated than that. Lennox actually observes that heroes of the faith like Augustine, Justin Martyr, Clement, and Irenaus all thought that the six days could have been otherwise than six twenty-four-hour periods in one glorious week.
Speaking of traditional Christian interpretations that have been wrong, let’s briefly discuss the notorious Geocentric Theory of the universe that has so embarrassed Christianity. Based on a few texts like “Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed forever” (Psalm 104:5), many Christians resisted Copernicus and Galileo for saying the earth revolved around the sun. The Church has long since come to realize the Geocentric Theory is not what the Bible is saying at that point. It is making a general statement about the stability of the world such as God promised after the Flood, as the following verses indicate by referring to floods over mountains. The Jews seem to have feared deep down that the ocean would one day surge over the world and drown everything again. They make reference to that possibility in Psalm 46 as something extreme that devout Jews would not allow to shake their faith, which means probably a lot of people feared it when they shouldn’t have. Anyway, the Bible depicts earthquakes and states that there will be an end to this world, so it’s not saying there will never, ever be any movement of dry land. It does, however, depict a general stability of the human habitat that has been borne out for millennia.
I’d like to point out one last thing. While many in modern science seek to disprove God’s being and deride those who believe in Him as unscientific, have they ever stopped to consider that the Scientific Revolution they are so beholden to took place in the most heavily Christianized part of the globe at that time? If you do a search on Wikipedia for a list of scientists who were also Christians, you get a long and distinguished collection of some of the greatest scientific minds ever. You have to make allowance for the fact that Wikipedia is overly broad in their definition of what makes a person a Christian, but, still, it at least proves that people can easily believe in God and pursue science at the same time. For the sake of credibility, I’ll leave Wikipedia’s comments aside and just give you examples I know independently. Besides Maury mentioned above, Robert Boyle, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, was passionately devoted to missionary efforts and bequeathed some of the money he made from his chemistry to fund lectures defending Christianity. Johannes Kepler and Galileo, the great astronomers, believed they were studying heavens made by God’s hands. It’s a little unclear as to whether Sir Isaac Newton was actually a Christian (from what I’ve heard, he was probably an Arian), but there is no doubting that he was at least a theist and creationist. Carolus Linnaeus, who invented the taxonomy system we still use in biology in the 18th century, believed he was classifying creatures according to God’s design. Evidently, Christianity actually leads to good science as men of faith who believe that God created the universe seek to explore the glorious details of His handiwork and discover the laws by which He governs it. As James Maxwell, the great physicist, had inscribed above his laboratory at Cambridge, “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein” (Psalm 111:2).