The Bible is Not “Anti-Scientific,” as Skeptics Claim

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Jean-Baptiste Greuze, “Reading the Bible,” 1755
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, “Reading the Bible,” 1755 (photo: Public Domain)

Vocal and prolific online atheist Bob Seidensticker, in one of his countless trashings of Christianity (“Yet More on the Bible’s Confused Relationship with Science (2 of 2)”: dated 12-2-15), taunted:

Germs? What germs?

The Bible isn’t a reliable source of health information. . . . physical health and basic hygienic precautions are not obvious and are worth a mention somewhere. How about telling us that boiling water minimizes disease? Or how to site latrines to safeguard the water supply?

Note that this was his question. I had never thought about it before I saw this. I dug around and found out some very interesting facts.

Germ theory was still controversial within conventional medical science in 1847 when Hungarian physician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis (1818 –1865) proposed washing hands with chlorinated lime in his book, Etiology, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever.

Roderick McGrew testified in the Encyclopedia of Medical History: (McGraw-Hill, 1985, 77-78):

The idea of contagion was foreign to the classic medical tradition and found no place in the voluminous Hippocratic writings. The Old Testament, however, is a rich source for contagionist sentiment, especially in regard to leprosy and venereal disease. (77-78).

Hygienic principles and awareness of infectious germs, burying waste, discarding diseased garments, practicing quarantine, and disinfectant washing, were, however, found in the Bible (Lev 11:1-47; 13:46, 52; 15:1-33; ch. 22; Num 19:3-22; Deut 23:12, among many other passages).

It was not until 1873 – amazingly enough – that leprosy was proven to be an infectious disease (as opposed to hereditary). The Israelites alone practiced quarantine up until the 1800s. Hippocrates, the “father of medicine” – by contrast -- thought that “bad air” from swamps caused disease. Meanwhile, the hygienic principles that would have prevented the spread of such diseases were in the Bible: in the Laws of Moses.

Atheist polemicist Seidensticker continued his anti-factual mocking: “When the answer is known, science knows it. But when science doesn’t know it, neither does religion.”

This is patently false. And the second counter-example that readily comes to mind is Big Bang cosmology. The consensus among scientists before that became the dominant one was the steady state theory of cosmology (an eternal universe). Even Einstein accepted that.

Then a Belgian Catholic priest by the name of Fr. Georges  Lemaître (1894-1966), who was also a mathematician, astronomer, and professor of  physics at the Catholic University of Louvain, developed the Big Bang Theory.

Now, how does this tie into the Bible (which — I and Fr. Lemaître readily agree — is not and was not intended to be a “science book”)? Well, the Bible taught ex nihilo creation:

Genesis 1:1 (RSV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Thus, in this instance, science had to adjust to a long-held tenet of Christianity, rather than vice versa. Accordingly, the agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow (1925-2008) observed about this:

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries. (God and the Astronomers, 1978)

Now we see how the astronomical evidence supports the Biblical view of the origin of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and Biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, in a flash of light and energy. (The Enchanted Loom, 1981)

Here is a third example that runs counter to the bigoted proclamations of anti-theist atheists: Aristotle thought that time extended to an infinite past and into an infinite future. But St. Augustine (354-430), according to the Stanford University web page, “Spacetime Before Einstein” (October 2007):

. . . put a theological twist on Lucretius’ argument for the relational nature of time in his Confessions, emphasizing that “God created the world with time, not in time”. Time came into existence along with matter, in other words — a viewpoint that interestingly foreshadows the one held by big-bang cosmologists today.

Isaac Newton (a theist, but an Arian, and quite fond of things like alchemy) was still getting it wrong some 1300 years later, according to Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (“Time”):

In about 1700, Isaac Newton claimed future time is infinite and that, although God created the material world some finite time ago, there was an infinite period of past time before that.

The Bible had taught all along that God was outside of time, and created it (e.g., Gen 21:33; Ex 3:14-15; Ps 90:2; Is 40:28; Hab 1:12; Jn 8:58; Rom 16:26; 1 Tim 1:17).

As our fourth and last example of “the Bible and [accurate] science,” Seidensticker charged that “According to the Bible, evil spirits cause disease.” Well, sometimes this is true (because demons do exist and cause harm), but by no means always. There was also a natural cause-and-effect understanding, and medicinal remedies were widely practiced. As the online Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (“Health”) notes:

Balm (Gen 37:25) is thought to have been an aromatic resin (or juice) with healing properties; oil was the universal emollient (Isa 1:6), . . . Isaiah recommended a fig poultice for a boil (38:21); . . . Medicine is mentioned (Prov 17:22) and defended as “sensible” (Sirach 38:4). Wine mixed with myrrh was considered sedative (Mark 15:23); mint, dill, and cummin assisted digestion (Matt 23:23); other herbs were recommended for particular disorders.

Luke’s constant care of Paul reminds us that nonmiraculous means of healing were not neglected in that apostolic circle. Wine is recommended [by Paul] for Timothy’s weak stomach [“use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim 5:23) ].

Moreover, Solomon understood that the mind highly influences the body (Prov 14:30; 15:30; 16:24; 17:22).

Apologetics often arises in responses to taunting skeptical challenges.