Friday, October 12, 2012

Religion vs. Science, the Vast Gulf Part Two: The Heavens

In a previous blog entry, I wrote about the vast gulf between science and religion with how to determine what is true. I now continue this series about how different science and religion are from one another.

Before Copernicus and Galileo, most people viewed the sky as some kind of sphere or series of spheres on which the stars rotated around the Earth, and each planet (as well as the sun and moon) had its own sphere. Either that or they thought the sun, moon, and stars were gods. This was certainly the view of the writer of Genesis 1, who used the term “raqia” for what is usually translated “firmament.” Did you ever wonder why Genesis called the sky “firmament,” which sounds like “firm”? Because “raqia” is derived from “raqa,” which means “to beat out,” or stamp out, often used for metal beat into a thin sheet. This is the way the word is used in Exodus 39:3, Numbers 16:39, Isaiah 40:19, and Jeremiah 10:9. It refers to trampling or stamping with the foot in 2 Samuel 22:43, Ezekiel 6:11 and 25:6. Figuratively, this can mean “an expanse,” but literally it refers to a metal dome. (See here.)

This does not mean, of course, that the Biblical authors were somehow anti-scientific. They shared the view that nearly everyone had until recently. Copernicus believed in the heavenly spheres; he just made the sun the center, and Earth was on a sphere. Nobody accuses Copernicus of being anti-scientific. It was not until the twentieth century that scientists understood that many of the “nebulae” were faraway galaxies. But the Bible certainly cannot be used as a literally accurate basis for astronomy. Many scientific Christians simply point out that this was not the purpose of Genesis in the first place.

The Bible refers to stars falling from the sky. Isaiah said it (Is. 34:4), Jesus said it (Matthew 24), and Revelation uses the phrase at least twice, in chapters 6 and 8. Of course this cannot literally happen. We all use the term “falling star” figuratively for meteors. No problem, unless you base your science on the Bible. The Biblical view of the universe, like all views of the universe before Kepler and Newton, is vastly different from the modern view shared by everyone, even most creationists.

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