Friday, 23 August 2013

Does the Bible Promote a Flat Earth Cosmology? Part 3

Does the Bible promote a flat Earth cosmology or a modern cosmology? Part 1 looked at the cosmology set out in Genesis chapter 1, part 2 looked at the many other references to a flat earth cosmology (FEC) in the Bible. This part will now look at verses that Christians have said suggest a modern cosmology.

The Circle of the Earth

The one usually cited is this:
Isaiah 40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
For example here, here and here.

It is curious because I also cited in in part 2 as a verse supporting a flat Earth cosmology. The claim is that the ancient Hebrews had no word for sphere, so when they said "circle of the earth" they meant sphere. Well, maybe. But maybe not. Maybe they really meant circle.

The Hebrews did have a word דּוּר or "dur", which can mean ball, but can also mean circle. It seems to me that if they had really meant sphere they would have used this word, rather than  חוּג or "chug", which seems to be more specifically a circle. All that said, both words are used only three times in the Bible, and really we cannot be certain of the exact meaning in either case.

However, I am not aware of any Bible that translates the word as sphere (or globe, ball, etc.); it does seem presumptuous of apologists to press this alternative translation when their Bibles do not.

At best this verse is ambiguous either way, at worst it indicates a flat Earth. And yet this is the verse that gets so often cited as proving that the Bible promotes a modern cosmology.

Suspended over nothing

Job 26:7 He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.
This is a popular verse to cite in this context, and it is pretty weak. A disk stood on pillar is suspended over nothing.

It is also claimed that references to spreading out the sky indicate that the universe is expanding. That is quite a reach! Rather more likely, this is refering to God building the firmament.

Although not canonical, the Book of Enoch gives some insight into beliefs of the time (and is cited in the Bible; Jude 14-15). Enoch is taken by the angel Uriel to the ends of the earth, and sees for himself the terrible nothing that exists out there (see also here).

Other Verses

Most of the rest of these verses come from here:

Matthew 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The "heart of the earth" could indicate the centre of a sphere. If that is the case, then Jesus spent three days in the molten core of the Earth; was that really what the author meant?

Ephesians 4:9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

Why "lower parts of the earth" implies a spherical world I do not know.
Proverbs 8:27 I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,

I have to confess to not understanding this. The Hebrew word that is translated here as "horizon" is more likely "circle", so this seems to be saying God marked out a circle in the waters of the deep - this is the flat Earth - and then put the heavens on the firmament. Okay, the horizon does look like a circle on a spherical world, but to claim this necessitates a spherical world is just bizarre.

The Gospel of Luke

Luke 17:34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

This is a more interesting one, so I left it until last. Jesus is saying when the kingdom of God comes, it will be unexpected - people will be working and sleeping. It could be argued that if some are working and others are sleeping that must refer to people on opposite sides of the world. I am unconvinced; I find it very doubtful Jesus was talking about people in Australia when he specifically said his message is for the Jews (and one apologist points out that the Biblical authors had no knowledge of these far away people).

On the other hand, the author of Luke is believed to be a well-educated gentile, writing in Greek, so of all the Biblical authors, he is the one we might reasonable expect to believe the world is spherical. Furthermore, he would have wanted to promote the idea that Jesus' message was for all the world. Comparing Luke to Matthew 24:40-41, Matthew has all the people working, none sleeping. Does Luke mean it could be day or night, or is he thinking about people living on the opposite side of the world?

It is arguable either way. But really it does not matter. Luke's belief in a spherical world came from pagan philosophers, not God.


As mentioned earlier, it does seem that the ancient Hebrews had no specific word for sphere, so the argument may be made that we would not expect the Bible to say that the world is spherical. This is a fair point as far as it goes, but ignores all the other verses that allude to the flat Earth cosmology in other ways. Genesis 1 is quite clear that the earth was created fist, then the firmament, then the sun and moon - all quite reasonable in a flat Earth cosmology, but utter nonsense in a modern cosmology.

The conclusion is clear. The Bible promotes a flat Earth cosmology.

So what?

The usual reason that people reject evolution and embrace creationism is because of what it says in the Bible - it says God created each "kind" in the Bible, therefore it is true. If you take the Bible as literally true, though, then you should believe the Earth is flat - that is what the Bible says.

Of course, no Christian today does that (though historically many have; despite the evidence, they have believed the Earth is flat because that is what the Bible says). Modern creationist ignore what the Bible says when it suits them, and adhere to "Biblical inerrancy" when it suits them.

The Bible is literally true - but only when I say it is.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Does the Bible Promote a Flat Earth Cosmology? Part 2

Does the Bible promote a flat Earth cosmology or a modern cosmology? Part 1 looked at the cosmology set out in Genesis chapter 1, this post will look at the many other references to a flat earth cosmology (FEC) in the Bible. Part 3 will then look at verses that Christians have said suggest a modern cosmology.

By the way, the Skeptics Annotated Bible was a great help compiling this list.
2 The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained;

In the Hebrew it says the rain stopped when God closed the "arubbah" - a lattice, window or sluice. Makes sense if the sky is a solid structure. The fountains of the deep were supplied by the "waters below".

Joshua 10:12 Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. 13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

God stops the sun and the moon. A relatively trivial task when these are merely objects that mark time by travelling across the firmament. The alternative is that God stopped the rotation of the Earth - possible if you are all-powerful, but rather more involved.

1 Samuel 2:8 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them.

Consistent with FEC again.

1 Kings 8:35 When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee; if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou afflictest them:

Again this idea that it rains when holes are opened in the firmament.

2 Kings 20:9 And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?

Again God can move the sun around the firmament with ease. The Hebrew seems to translate better to steps, by the way, rather than suggest 10°.

1 Chronicles 16:30 Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.

The Earth is stationary.

Job 9:6 Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.

The Earth stands on pillars. Job provides numerous references to a flat Earth, and some Christians will say that these are someone offering his own opinion and not God speaking - just because Job believed the world was flat it does not mean the Bible promotes that belief. I think there is sufficuient evidence throughout the rest of the Bible to refute that claim.

Job 37:18 Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?

There is that firmament again.

Job 38:4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;

And the stationary Earth again.

Job 38:13 that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?
God can take a hold of the circular Earth by its edges and shake it so that the wicked will fall off the edge!

Job 38:22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,

God has warehouses above the firmament where he stores hail and snow ready for when he wants it to fall.

Psalm 19:4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

The sun goes around the Earth. A common objection to the flat Earth cosmology is that the authors were merely using colourful or poetic language, and did not really mean that the Earth stands on pillars or whatever. I think this is one occasion where that is actually valid, though I include it for completeness.

Psalm 74:17 Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter.

A flat Earth has a border around it, set by God.

Psalm 75:3 The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the pillars of it. Selah.

More on those pillars.

Psalm 82:5 They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.

The Earth stands on foundations.

Psalm 104:5 He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. 6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains.
The Earth, immobile on its foundations. The second verse looks like a reference to the waters above the firmament - where the rain comes from, and mentioned right at the start of Genesis 1.

Proverbs 8:28 when he made firm the skies above,  when he established[d] the fountains of the deep,

Made firm the skies? That has to be the solid firmament.

Isaiah 13:10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

The moon does not shine, it reflects the light of the sun. In the FEC, that is not possible - the sun is hidden away at night - so in this scenario the moon produces light just as the sun does, albeit less brightly.

Isaiah 38:8 Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.

Again, God can readily move the sun back and forth across the firmament.

Isaiah 40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

The world is a flat circle, and God created a firmament over it to protect just as a tent protects (an appropriate simile for nomads). Curiously, some Christians actually use this to argue that the Bible promotes a spherical Earth (eg here). According to one apologist, there is no Hebrew word specifically for sphere, so perhaps we should say this is ambiguous either way.

Isaiah 48:13 Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.

The foundations again.

Jeremiah 31:37 Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.

And again.

Daniel 2:35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth.

A mountain that fills the Earth is only possible if the world is flat.

Daniel 8:10 And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.

The stars are little things, so small one might stamp on one if it fell off the firmament. In fairness, this was seen in a dream, and is only included for completeness.

Micah 6:2 Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.

The foundations again.

Matthew 2:2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

The whole star that led the wise men to Jesus makes sense in a FEC. The star is just a point of light in the firmament, no reason at all it should not sit exactly over Bethlehem. In modern cosmology, an astral body would have to be in a geostationary orbit to hold the same position, and that is only possible over a point on the equator.

The pole star keeps its position over the north pole, and my well have been the inspiration here. However, it is hard to imagine how a star - or even a satellite in geostationary orbit, more than 22,000 miles above your head - could be followed to a specific location on Earth. However, if this is a point on the firmament, perhaps just a few score miles high, this becomes more reasonable.
Matthew 4:8 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;

The only way it would be possible to see all the kingdoms of the world at once is if the Earth is flat. Of course, you could claim it means only the known world, but it does not say that. The Greek word is "κόσμος" or kosmos, meaning world or universe (and we get the word "cosmos" from it of course).

Matthew 24:29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

Mark 13:24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.

In the FEC the moon shines just as the sun does, and the stars are little things that might become unstuck  from the firmament to fall to the ground.

Hebrews 1:10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:
 Foundations again.

2 Peter 3:5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
The author here is referring to how the world exists between the waters below and the waters above, which were used to cause the Great Flood..

Revelation 1:7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

This is only possible if the world is flat, though it could be understood to mean that God will arrive from all directions at once (being omnipresent), so is not that persuasive, and is included for completeness.

Revelation 6:13 And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

Stars coming unstuck from the firmament again.

Revelation 7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.

This would seem to indicate that the author believed the world was a quadrilateral (eg a square), though it may be the "corner" means quadrant or border. Some apologists say it means compass points - which I find convincing as it makes sense in connection with the winds.

But this also points to a flat world! Exactly where do the angels at east and west stand on a sphere? Wherever they are, they can still go further. It does make sense if the planet is flat, as the flat earth has a point that is furthest west and one that is furthest east.

It must be acknowledged that "the corners of the Earth" is a phrase still used today, but this is a hang-over from when people believed in a flat Earth, and probably only still in use because it is in the Bible.

Revelation 8:10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

Revelation 9:1 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
More stars becomes unstuck from the firmament.

Revelation 12:4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

And a shed load more stars. This verse makes it clear that the author is not thinking about "falling stars", or meteors (though they may be the inspiration). He is talking about the actual stars in constellations.

By the way, I do not want to imply that the authors of these verses were stupid. They were trying their best to make sense of the world, and did the best they could with the knowledge at the time.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Does the Bible Promote a Flat Earth Cosmology? Part 1

Does the Bible promote a flat Earth cosmology or a modern cosmology? This is the first of three posts that will address that question.

First let us think about what a flat Earth cosmology actually means. In this view the earth is stationary. Stretched out over it is a solid dome-like structure, the firmament. The stars, moon and sun are relatively small (much smaller than the Earth), and travel across the firmament. Above the firmament are the waters above, and below the earth are the waters of the deep.

The ancient Greeks first proposed a spherical world as early as the sixth century BC, but it was not until the third century BC that it was accepted by Greek astronomers, and it took a long time to spread. Many notable Christians continued to believe in a flat Earth until around the fourth century AD - and used the Bible to support that position. It was, of course, much later that geocentrism was abandoned.

In this first post of three I will be looking at Genesis 1, and seeing how it confirms the flat Earth cosmology (FEC).

Genesis 1: 6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Genesis 1:14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons,[f] and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

The whole of the first chapter of the Bible makes sense in a FEC, but I have selected these verses for brevity.

Genesis starts with God dividing the waters above from the waters below. In FEC, the waters below are what lies under the world - they supply water to the fountains of the deep during the Flood. The waters above exist over the firmament, and that is whee rain comes from.

Note that prior to God creating the sun, there was already day and night - the sun is just a little thing that marks the time, not the thing that provides daylight. Remember, God has already made all the plants before he creates the sun, and they flourish fine in the daylight before the sun is there.

More importantly, God created the world first, then set the sun and stars about it. The Earth is at the centre of the system. Note that God creates the firmament before he places the sun, moon and stars there (many modern Bibles use "expanse" rather than firmament, presumably because the Apollo rockets failed to collide with a firmament; I have quoted KJV). In modern cosmology, the Earth orbits the sun, so it would have to be created after the sun.

Interesting also that God sets the stars "for signs". That would be for astrology?

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What is Intelligent Design?

Casey Luskin has written a post about just that. He defines it thus:

Intelligent design is a scientific theory that argues that the best explanation for some natural phenomena is an intelligence cause, especially when we find certain types of information and complexity in nature which in our experience are caused by intelligence.

My question is, exactly what types of information and complexity in nature do we know by our experience are caused by intelligence?

He goes on:

"1. ID uses a positive argument based upon finding high levels of complex and specified information"

This positive argument is basically giving the idea that something "looks designed" the impressive-sounding "high CSI". Hey look, things designed by humans look designed (have "high CSI"), so those things in nature that looked designed (have "high CSI") are probably designed as well.

This has three flaws. Firstly the subjective nature of whether something looks designed. This, of course, is why they use the impressive-sounding-but-ultimately-vacuous "high CSI". It is to fool the ignorant into thinking this is an objective quanlity that can be measured.

Dembski may have written books about CSI, but it is all-to-clear that IDists cannot actually calculate values for CSI.

The second flaw is just because something looks kind of like it is designed it does mean it actually is.

The third flaw is that this is not science. They are no falsifiable predictions that are a direct consequence of this theory. Of course, the IDists know this, and so campaign to get their pet theories accepted through political means, rather than as real science.

Casey goes on:

"2. Intelligent Design is a historical science that is methodologically equivalent to neo-Darwinism"

As an aside, note that he cannot just call it evolution theory, it has to be neo-Dawinism. So much of ID rhetoric is about Darwin character assassination that they have to keep his name linked to it.

This is just plain wrong. The theory of evolution makes abundant predictions about what will be seen in the fossil record, in the genetic record, in biodistribution, etc. Evolution is full supported by scientific methodology.

Intelligent Design is not. There are no predictions, it is not falsifiable.

Evolution theory is science, ID is pseudo-science pretending to be real science.

Casey goes on:

"3. Intelligent design uses the scientific method"

Now Luskin is grasping at straws to pretend that ID is real science. Let us see his predictions, and ponder whether they can be falsified.

Hypothesis (Prediction): Natural structures will be found that contain many parts arranged in intricate patterns (including irreducible complexity) that perform a specific function -- indicating high levels of CSI.

Irreducible complexity? I thought that died a death at Kitzmiller

So how about this for a bold prediction: some things form intricate patterns and perform a specific function. But wait, how is this a prediction from the theory. Remember, the theory says:

Intelligent design is a scientific theory that argues that the best explanation for some natural phenomena is an intelligence cause, especially when we find certain types of information and complexity in nature which in our experience are caused by intelligence.

Is the prediction a necessary consequence of the theory? "the best explanation for some natural phenomena is an intelligence cause" therefore it must necessarily follow that some things form intricate patterns and perform a specific function. It all hinges on that word "function". If there is an intelligence cause, then those designed things must have some function for that intelligence cause.

Look around. See all those things that were intelligently caused, they all have some function that benefits us, the designers. If it has no function for us, why bother to design it?

And this is part of the slippery nature of ID. Designed things have a function to the designer, but the chalatans at the Discovery Institute miss out the "to the designer" bit. The heart has a function, and the chair has a function, they must be both designed. No. The chair has a function to its designer.

Either Luskins hypothesis is predictioning things in nature have a function to the all-power designer - and how can that possibly be falsified? - or this is not a prediction of his theory at all.

Hypothesis (Prediction): Genes and other functional parts will be commonly re-used in different organisms.

This is also a prediction of evolution (specifically common descent), but evolution is rather more specific in its prediction. It says that the degree of reuse of genes and other functional parts will depend on how closely related two organisms are. It predicts a "nested hierarchy" of reuse, a far bolder claim than Luskin offers us.

Hypothesis (Prediction): Much so-called "junk DNA" will turn out to perform valuable functions.

How does this follow from the definition of ID; "the best explanation for some natural phenomena is an intelligence cause"? Luskin's definition does not even specify that DNA is designed (I would guess he means that, but the weasel-words allow for pretty much anything)?

Sure, it could follow from specific ID scenarios, such as YEC, but how about God creating first life on Earth, then setting the conditions to allow mankind to evolve? Is that a valid ID scenario? To be honest, I do not know. Luskin's definition is sufficient woolly to make that uncertain. If it is valid, then the degree of function of so-called "junk DNA" would turn out to be the same as that predicted by evolution.

On the other hand, if ID is restricted to scenarios where the designer creates each "kind" (and most IDists do subscribe to creationism) then the prediction is rather different. In this scenario we would expect all (or virtually all) DNA to have a use of some sort function - because it is still pretty much as the designer created it.

From Wiki:

The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project[3] suggested in September 2012 that over 80% of DNA in the human genome "serves some purpose, biochemically speaking".[4] This conclusion however is strongly criticized by other scientists.

Our DNA is over 3 billion base pairs long, so 20% is big deal. Why would the all-knowing designer choose to put in 600 million base pairs that do nothing at all?

Sorry, Casey, but the prediction from ID is: Virtually all so-called "junk DNA" will turn out to perform valuable functions.

That is not falsifiable now, but it could be one day. No surprise, then, that Luskin wants to keep some wriggle room.