The following table has appeared on my Facebook feed a few times.
I have a few points to make in response. What follows is a critique of the table above, not of the Bible or Christianity. (All quotes from the NIV).
Dubious interpretations of the Bible
Isaiah 40:22 is usually translated “circle of the Earth”, and is ambiguous between a disk and a sphere. In any case, the phrase plausibly refers to the shape of the horizon, not the entire Earth.
John 38:19-20 says: “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home?”. This couldn’t be more obviously poetical, and is not making any claim about the physical properties of light.
Hebrews 11:3 is categorically not stating that the world is made of atoms. It states that “the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” It is stating that God’s creation of the universe is out of nothing, rather than out of pre-existing material that God simply rearranged. In any case, atoms are not literally invisible. Bernard Ramm’s “The Christian View of Science and Scripture” shot down this interpretation in 1954.
Dubious Science Then
There are no references in the middle column. Many of these claims are doubtful. Stars have different colours, obvious to the naked eye on a dark night. So it is very unlikely that they thought all stars were the same. Ancient Babylonian and Greek astronomy didn’t believe that the world rested on an animal. The ancient Greeks, and particularly Aristotelian physics, knew that the air had weight (i.e. they knew that air would sink towards the centre of the Earth).
Sick people were bled under the Hippocratic medical theory of ancient Greece. The theory does not deny the importance of blood to life. Blood was “let” in order to restore balance to the “humors” , not because blood was useless. They knew that things bled to death. In any case, the theory is unlikely to have been known to the writer of Leviticus, and it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that the ancient Hebrews knew that bleeding things died.
The table assumes a great deal of uniformity in the natural philosophy of the ancients. Everyone thought that there were only 1100 stars? Everyone thought that the ocean floor was flat?
Dubious Science Now
Science now does not know whether there are innumerable stars, if that is taken to mean an infinite number of stars.
It is obviously something of an overstatement to say that blood is the “source of life and health”. Certainly, I’d rather keep mine but blood is a product of life rather than a source.
The logical problem with finding modern science in the Bible
This entire line of argument is deeply flawed. In these passages, the Bible is not attempting to teach facts about nature. The writer is using facts about nature to illustrate other, non-scientific points. When Paul says “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor”, he is using this as an example of the different kinds of physical things that exist: “Not all flesh is the same” (verse 42).
Similarly, the writer of Ecclesiastes, when he states that “The wind blows to the south, and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course” he is not teaching about the winds. He is using the winds as an illustration of the point that (verse 9) “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
There is no point using an illustration if the reader is not familiar with it. The fact that these writers can appeal to a certain fact to illustrate a point shows that it was something that his audience believed. If they said: “everything just goes round in circles, like the electron in orbit around an atomic nucleus”, the readers wouldn’t have understood. Even if God had whispered a scientific fact in their ear, they would have had no use for it.
This applies just as obviously in reverse, to those passages which contradict modern science. For example, in Job 37 Elihu says: “Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders. Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash? … can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?”. The point of this poetical passage is not to teach something about the skies (which aren’t hard, you may know), but rather God’s authority over nature1. There is (arguably) no tension between acknowledging the scientific inaccuracy of this passage and the view that the Bible is inerrant in all that it teaches. No statement of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy implies that the writers of the Bible were correct in all that they believed.
These propositions uttered by the Holy Ghost were set down in that manner by the sacred scribes in order to accommodate them to the capacities, Of the common people, who are rude and unlearned. …
I think that in discussions of physical problems we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages but from sense experiences and necessary demonstrations; for the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God’s commands. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men.
1. A few caveats. The passage claims only to be a record of a conversation between Elihu and Job, and when God appears in the next chapter he doesn’t exactly endorse all the ideas expressed so far. Also and as always, translation from any ancient language is a subtle art. The word translated “mirror” only appears once in the bible and may indicate an appearance, “skies” can be translated “clouds”, “cast bronze” could mean “molten”, so that the verse might say “Can you, with Him, spread out the mighty clouds, with a molten appearance?”. This fits the emphasis of the chapter on weather (thunder, rain, winds, clouds) rather than God’s original creation. I’m in no place to give an expert opinion on ancient Hebrew – I just did a bit of Googling. Work it out for yourself.