Scientific Claims in the Bible well before their time
If you look close enough, you’ll discover that throughout the Bible, the Bible makes some pretty accurate claims about the realities of our universe thousands of years before these realities were discovered by modern science.
It’s important to understand two things: First, the Bible and science are not at odds. They are not competing forces. They are two very different things which can, if you’ll allow it, provide answers for each other. Without going off on a tangent, it’s important to understand that “science” is the “study of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation”. The Bible speaks of many supernatural things, “supernatural” meaning “beyond natural”. This means that though science could help uncover some evidences that point toward something greater, science could never fully explain many concepts of the Bible, because that’s not what science is meant to do. Science is for observing the natural world, not the supernatural world. However, the Bible could, if you’ll allow it, provide an explanation for the unexplainable or the questions that science has not yet been able to answer because, perhaps, there is a supernatural explanation behind an unanswered question, hence why science has so far been unable to answer such a question.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that the Bible is not by any means a science book or even a textbook for that matter. The Bible is a historical document. It tells us the story of God. It provides historical records and historical context. It is philosophical. It however is not a science textbook. It does not make claims to be a science textbook. So, many times when it seems that “the Bible” and “science” are “at odds” with each other - it is simply that we are comparing apples to oranges, or better yet, apples to steaks.
However, throughout the Bible, there are quite a few remarkable statements which, at the time perhaps seemed poetic or unexplained. Thousands of years after these statements were written, the world of scientific study would then make a remarkable discovery about the earth or the universe which would imply that God was embedding little bits of our universe throughout his word despite our inability to fully realize what it meant until centuries later.
Water Above and Water Below
For example, Genesis 1:6 which says, “And God said, ‘Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.’” - There may be quite a few ideas floating around out there about this verse. There are ideas about how the pre-flood earth may have been or operated much differently from the modern earth. There are theological ideas about this verse. But, looking at it through a literal lens, perhaps this is just one of many places in the Bible where God was planting an idea yet to be discovered about how the universe operates.
When I look at Genesis 1:6 through a literal sense, I picture standing on ground (the space between) with air above me. I imagine looking around and seeing rivers and oceans below me and then other rivers and oceans flowing above me, above this bubble of air that I’m standing in. That’s an insane picture to imaging. Clearly, that’s not how the earth operates, so we think. Or, maybe it is.
And no, I don’t believe that the “waters above” is simply referring to the fact that it rains. I imagine this more like rivers and bodies of water.
Side note - Before going any farther, it’s important to remember that throughout the Old Testament, the word “heavens” is used to refer to any expanse of sky and/or space which is above the ground. Not necessarily referring to the place where God resides which we call “heaven”. In the context of ancient literature, when they didn’t have telescopes and they hadn’t yet sent a human into space (or at least we don’t think so, but that far fetched idea is for another article), when people stood on the ground and look up to the sky or the stars, they would refer to that space above them as “the heavens”, without making a distinction between air, stratosphere, atmosphere, outer space, etc. Everything up was “the heavens”.
As I digress - have you heard of an “atmospheric river”? I hadn’t heard the term until late 2021 when the province of British Columbia experienced massive flooding due to an “atmospheric river” which flowed through the area. Suddenly, I started hearing the phrase everywhere. Every time it rained it was apparently due to another atmospheric river. I thought, what is this rare phenomenon that no one had heard of which suddenly became commonplace?
So, I did a little research. Turns out, the phrase “atmospheric river” was coined in 1998. Who knew?
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “at any given time, 90% of the water vapor is concentrated in about 4-5 atmospheric rivers across the globe. Together, these narrow bands of flowing water vapor cover less than 10% of the circumference of the planet.” The idea of large amounts of water vapor flowing through narrow channels in the atmosphere was discovered as early as the 1930s.
There actually are rivers flowing in the sky above us! Is it possible that God was referring to this naturally occurring phenomenon which has been happening since creation, even though we’ve only really put a term to in the last century, when his word speaks of separating the waters above from the waters below?
Stretching out the heavens
Here’s another example. There are numerous verses scattered throughout the Bible which refer to God “stretching out” the heavens.
Job 9:8 - “He alone stretched out the heavens…”
Isaiah 40:22 - “...He stretches out the heavens like a canopy.”
Psalm 104:2 - “The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment, he stretches out the heavens like a tent.”
Zechariah 12:2 - “The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person…”
Jeremiah 10:12 - “God made the earth by his power, he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.”
These books of the Bible were written thousands of years ago. It is believed that the book of Isaiah was written between 740 BC and 680 BC. (That’s over 2,700 years ago!) Psalms is even older and likely would’ve been written about 1,000 years before Jesus. Jeremiah is not quite as old, but likely written sometime between 630 BC and 580 BC. And the books of Job and Zechariah were also likely written around similar time periods.
All throughout history, most readers of these Old Testament books would likely conclude that the “stretching” of the heavens was some sort of poetic term, likely never taken literally. The reader also likely didn’t understand anyway that it could be taken literally.
Fast forward a few thousand years to 1929. Edwin Hubble, a well-known astronomer, made the discovery that the universe is expanding. Stars, galaxies and other astronomical bodies are moving away from each other - the size (square footage if you will) of the universe is literally expanding, almost as if it is being stretched out.
Perhaps, once again, God was simply planting a little seed saying, “you may not understand what this actually means for a few thousand years, but check out this cool thing that I’m doing right above your heads all throughout space!”
All throughout the Bible we will find these little tidbits of scientific facts hundreds or thousands of years before they were known or discovered by humanity. Often interpreted as poetic or figurative text, we later realize that God is simply making a claim about something we haven’t yet discovered.
Job 26:7 says “He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.” - This was written at a time when most of humanity believed it couldn’t be possible for the earth to simply be floating. Nothing on earth floated. The earth must’ve been suspended by something? Perhaps on the back of a turtle. Or held by a man. It wasn’t until the 1600s when Sir Isaac Newton discovered and formulated gravitational theory. So, how was the Bible speaking of, 1) gravity and 2) the idea of the earth not being held up by something, thousands of years before this concept became mainstream thought?
The Bible makes references which could be describing the water cycle thousands of years before studied, discovered or observed. It makes references which could be describing attributes about the earth’s core thousands of years before those discoveries were made.
The Bible makes reference to the idea of our blood containing information (modern science shows that every blood cell contains millions of “lines of code” of data), the circle of the earth, food safety precautions, quarantining individuals with infectious diseases and even the best formula for building a stable ship - all well before their time by hundreds if not thousands of years.
It makes me wonder how many other bits of poetic or figurative language in the Bible are actually referring to some undiscovered fact about the principles of our universe? Who will be the one to make those discoveries?