How do you respond to people who say the Bible is not a science textbook?
You’ve probably heard the argument before… “You can’t take the Bible seriously when it comes to the creation account, because the Bible is not a science textbook!” I’ve personally not only heard skeptics make this claim, but even many Christians. The assumption is that since the Bible was not written in a scientific fashion, it isn’t accurate when it comes to origins or was never intended to convey truth about the beginning of the universe.
First, let’s first address an initial question. Is it true that the Bible is not a science textbook? My answer would be an emphatic “yes!” Are we then justified in believing that it is not trustworthy in all that it conveys? My answer to that question would be an emphatic “no!”
Galileo, quoting Cardinal Baronius (1598) stated that, “The Bible was written to show us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” That sounds very witty and poignant, but is it really true? I would not argue that the primary message of the Bible is how to restore our broken relationship with our Creator through repentance of our sins and placing our trust in the shed blood of His son, Jesus Christ. However, if we can’t trust the Bible’s history (which is the backdrop for the Gospel message), then how can we trust its spiritual message? Even Jesus stated, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (John 3:12) Jesus took the Genesis creation account literally. He also stated, “If you would have believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (John 5:46) Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, including Genesis. If Moses did not accurately record history, what makes us confident that any of the other biblical writers are trustworthy? It does not make sense that the Holy Spirit could inspire Daniel and the John to accurately prophesy about events hundreds or thousands of years in the future, but was unable to help Moses get it right when conveying details about the past, including the creation of the world.
Secondly, it’s actually a good thing that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, because they have to be updated and corrected continually as new information is discovered! Not only that, people already struggle with reading the Bible as much as they should… I can’t imagine how much harder it would be for most people if it were highly scientific in nature.
Thirdly, even though the Bible is not a science textbook (giving us all the details), it does provide us with a general framework that helps us properly understand astronomy, geology, biology, etc.
Let’s look at just a few examples very briefly.
The Bible tells us that God created the Earth on day one and the sun, moon and stars on day four. While this does not give us much detail as to how God created these objects, it does rule out certain possibilities, such as the Big Bang, which posits just the opposite order (i.e. the sun first and millions of years later, the Earth).
Also, because God supernaturally created the universe and stars, we wouldn’t necessarily expect that stars just form naturally on their own. In reality, we’ve seen many deaths of stars (i.e. novas and super novas), but we have never truly seen the formation of even a single star. (Some scientists will occasionally refer to the formation of new stars, but all they are seeing is swirling gases and the laws of physics actually mitigate against their natural formation.)
Long before we had modern science and telescopes, the Bible stated that the stars are uncountable (Genesis 15:5 & Jeremiah 33:22). What is interesting is that the total number of stars visible to the human eye at any single point on the Earth is about 3,000, so that’s what Moses and Jeremiah would have been able to see at the time they wrote these verses. What they wrote goes against what their senses were telling them. Today, however, with the invention of high powered telescopes, we know that the number of stars is truly uncountable. Scientists estimate there may be about 10 billion billion stars (that’s a 1 with 25 zeros after it!). Imagine trying to count them… getting up to 1,285,621 and then someone distracts you and you have to start all over!
We see thick layers of sedimentary rock laid down all over the Earth, filled with literally billions and billions of fossils. The Bible gives us a great framework with which to understand the origin of these layers. Genesis 6-8 recounts the great flood of Noah. With an event such as this, guess what we would expect to see? Layers laid down by water all over the earth, filled with fossils (remains of death things).
Genesis 1 tells us ten times that God created life forms to reproduce “after their kind”. (e.g. Genesis 1:24) This tells us that while we could expect a fair amount of variety, creatures will always only reproduce after their same general “kind” of animal. That’s exactly what we see today. For example, dogs and wolves can actually interbreed, because they are the same general kind of animal. However, dogs and sheep cannot interbreed because they are not the same general kind. There are many other examples, but the main point is that the Bible helps us properly understand the diversity in nature, even though it doesn’t go to the level of detailing all the intricate parts of the cell or other biological aspects.
So, although the Bible was not written as a science textbook, we have seen (through many discoveries of modern science) that it does provide an accurate and trustworthy framework with which to properly understand the natural world around us.
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Author: Jay Seegert (Co-Founder & Principal Lecturer, Creation Education Center)