Dealing With Scientific Problems

Dealing With
Scientific Problems

James M. Boice

Dr. James M. Boice is pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, Penna. He is also the radio voice of “The Bible Study Hour,” chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, and the author of many books and articles.

This article was taken from the Summer edition of “Update,” 1983, published by ICBI.

One category of Bible difficulties, where some people insist that the Bible is in error, is scientific. There are a number of these problems, and they fall in different categories themselves. You hear people say, “The Bible talks about the sun rising, but we all know that the sun doesn’t rise. It only appears to rise because the earth is turning. The Bible is in error when it talks about a sunrise.” Or again, “Jesus called the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds. But we know today that the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds. There are smaller seeds.” Or they read the account of the construction of the laver in front of the temple of Solomon and note that it was ten cubits across and thirty cubits around. That would make pi the figure by which one calculates the circumference of a circle to be 3. “But we know that it is not 3. It is 3.1416, (and so on for pi is a number that has no end). The Bible is wrong when it speaks in those terms.”

In one case this is simply a matter of the Bible using phenomenological language, that is, describing things as they appear rather than as they are. The Bible describes the sun as rising and setting because from our point of view that is what it seems to do. We do the same. I doubt very much if there is a scientist anywhere in the world who, when he is up early in the morning and sees a beautiful scene out in the eastern sky, says, “Look at the beautiful effect that is achieved by the earth rotating on its axis, giving us the appearance of the sun rising over the horizon.” Like anybody else, he says, “Look at the beautiful sunrise!” His words are not error. Neither are the words of the Bible when it uses such language.

In my second example the Bible is merely referring to common experience. And why not? We do ourselves. When Jesus said, “The mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds,” he was not saying, “With my expert knowledge of the size of all the seeds in the world I can tell you that the mustard seed is in fact the smallest.” He was simply saying, “Of the seeds you are familiar with, the mustard seed is the smallest and I want to use that for an illustration.” It is a statement based on common experience, and it should not be taken in any other way.

Finally, there is the case of the laver. In this matter of pi being 3.1416 let me point out, even before we consider the laver, that when we insist on the Bible being accurate at this point we are somewhat hypocritical. Because, while it is true that pi is not 3, it is not 3.1416 either. It is a figure with no end. It just goes on and on. So, at some point, regardless of how accurate we want to be, we are actually inaccurate because we have to round the number off. We do not consider ourselves to be in error by doing so.

In The Battle for the Bible Harold Lindsell works out the following solution. He notes that the laver was a handbreadth in thickness (1 Kings 7:26), that is, about four inches. He assumes that the diameter measurement was from outside rim to outside rim while the circumference measurement was around the inside. By subtracting eight inches (2 x 4) from 180 inches (10 cubits) you get 172, and 172 divided into 580 (30 cubits) gives 3.14. That may be the answer, but it seems artificial to me. I think the 10 and 30 cubits are simply general statements. After all, we are not even sure that the laver was perfectly round. It was not milled on a machine.

There is still the matter of miracle. When the Bible says the sun stood still, that may be a miracle. I recognize that this might be phenomenological language. God might have done something we do not understand and thus have given the appearance that the sun stood still. Some would say that is a preferable explanation. But, on the other hand, it is possible that God could actually have stopped the earth’s rotation. That is hard for us to understand. We know the difficulties. If you are driving along in a car at sixty miles an hour and you suddenly slam on your brakes, you fall forward. We all recognize those difficulties. But God is certainly up to the miracle. And whether this is to explained by appeal to pure miracle or not, there are certainly incidents in the Bible that are pure miracle and these just cannot be escaped by rationalistic explanation.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the miracle above all other miracles. If God is able to do that, the other things can be handled as well. We should not be obscurantists at this point. We should not fail to try to work out scientific difficulties if we can. But when it gets to the bottom line we simply have to say that our God is a God of miracles, and we must stand with the teaching of the Bible where miracles are concerned.

I like the testimony of the Chinese evangelist Leland Wong. On the top of his letterhead are three verses from the Bible: “The sun stood still.” “The iron did float.” “This God is our God.”