Saturday, December 10, 2016

Not speaking the same language: the sequel

Following up on my encounter with the young-Earth creationist, I got curious about whether the Bible takes a position on geocentrism (the Sun revolves around the Earth) vs. heliocentrism (the Earth revolves around the Sun).

As it turns out, it's complicated.

According to an article at Apologetics Press, "The medieval Catholic Church maintained that the Bible taught egocentricity." See, what happened was, Ptolemy of Alexandria made some pretty good predictions with his geocentric theory, enshrining that as scientific dogma, then "Somewhere along the line, scientific dogma became enshrined in theological dogma, and passages in the Bible were found to consecrate Ptolemy’s theory."

That article goes on to discuss various passages that have been cited as showing a geocentric view in the Bible, and in each case explains why that's not really what's meant.
In addition to Joshua 10, Calvin used Psalm 93:1 in defense of geocentricity. The verse simply suggests that the Earth is stable, and cannot be moved, but is it trying to say that the Earth is totally motionless in every sense? As the passage is primarily concerned with God’s majesty and power, it is more likely that the psalmist is saying, “Who but God could move the Earth?” Besides, the Earth is set in an unchanging orbit around the Sun, all the while rotating at a steady speed on a fixed axis.
(For reference purposes, the first verse of Psalm 93 is:
The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.)
Overall, the arguments seem reasonable: it's not clear that these statements are meant literally, rather than figuratively.

Of course, that goes down hard with the literalist interpretation of creation and the very short age of the Earth that this implies.

A different article at the same Apologetics Press addresses the issue of whether there are significant "gaps" in Biblical genealogies, and whether those gaps undermine the usefulness of the genealogies in establishing the Earth's age.

It turns out, the gaps are irrelevant.

Since we know that Adam was the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45), and since we know that man has been on the Earth “from the beginning of the creation” (Mark 10:6, the Lord speaking; Romans 1:20-21, Paul speaking), if it were possible to obtain the figures showing how long it has been from Abraham to Adam, we would have chronological information giving us the relative age of the Earth (since we know that the Earth is only five days older than man—Exodus 20:11; 31:17; Genesis 1-2).
After discussing some other interpretations of the generations, the writer observes:
what good would all of this time do anyone? All it would accomplish is the establishment of a 3.6-million-year-old Earth; evolutionists, theistic evolutionists, and progressive creationists need a 4.6-billion-year-old Earth. So, in effect, all of this inserting of “gaps” into the biblical text is much ado about nothing!
The conclusion: the genealogies "contain legitimate chronological information," and it follows that the Earth is about 6,000 to 7,000 years old.

So in the case of the age of our planet, the genealogies are reliable and the Earth has only existed for a handful of millennia, but on the matter of geocentrism, Biblical passages that seem to support it are merely figurative.

But that's not necessarily the consensus view.

If you turn to "Let's talk Bible" at, there's a thread on "The Sun revolves around the Earth." One contribution states a "figurative" position, albeit in less erudite language than Apologetics Press:
Even in this day of science and technology, nearly ALL of us speak of the sun as rising and setting, even though we KNOW that it is the earth rotating, not the sun. If it is such an idiom now, should we expect it to be different in the Word? The Word is God's communication to us, in a method we can comprehend, to a degree. Sometimes we are guilty of reading more into the Word that what is there. And even more often, we get so caught up in such foolishness that we cannot see what it's really trying to tell us.
But another contributor is having none of that:
How do we KNOW the sun isn't rotating around the earth? I know we were all taught that in school, but so do the schools teach that everything is here as the result of evolution!
This same writer comes back later more pointedly:
It just stands to reason that the earth is the centre of God's creation, for he made it first and then made everthing else around it to sustain the seasons and time clock on the earth, etc.
So why would scientists teach otherwise I wonder? Certainly to teach the earth is the centre of the universe would give credibility to the creation argument, and that would upset many folk, it would also go against the popular thought that there is life on other planets and other "earths" out there that man hasn't discovered, and the Devil doesn't want people to stop believing and hoping in that!
The first writer I quoted is in a rather conciliatory mood:
We know that scientists can be wrong. We know that they can look at the same evidence that Christians look at and come up with and entirely different hypothesis. But we do know that the Word of God is correct, even though our understanding of it may not be.
If I'm not mistaken, that last line gives away the whole game. If the Word is correct, but our understanding of it can be wrong, then how are we supposed to know what the Word is actually saying?

In the end, my query only reinforced the sense from my conversation on Thursday that we're not speaking the same language.


  1. It is actually very easy to disprove the existence of God, using the scientific method. You simply have to present it as a testable hypothesis, make some strong, falsifiable predictions, and test those predictions and see if the results support the hypothesis. If not, God gets tossed. Does that mean that it is absolutely true that there is no God? Sorry, science can't do that (with anything). The Principle of Maximum Parsimony is the coin of the realm, the yoke we bear, and we have to live with that. Toss it, and move on (yeah, right).

    1. You work too hard with your testable hypotheses and all.

      Just grant me that God is omnipotent, as he is often claimed to be.

      It follows that as part of the everything that is within His power, He could also set up the world in such a way that it contained a proof that He wasn't there. Hence, there is no conceivable proof of God's non-existence which can actually be an irrefutable proof.

      Now, it's not clear to me _why_ God would choose to hide Himself in that way, but along with omnipotence He's usually endowed with omniscience, so there's plenty He knows that we don't.

      But if it takes His fancy, He can make Himself provably not exist, yet still exist.

      Tricky little devil.

  2. Irrefutable proofs are not possible in science. The most a scientist can say is something like "based on available material evidence, God does not exist", and then move on. The intransigence of religion makes it impossible for us to move on, even though we should, for the sake of our own sanity!

    1. And my point is that even if you made a stronger statement - "Everything we know about the material world is incompatible with the existence of God." - that still wouldn't do much to disprove the existence of an omnipotent God, whose omnipotence means He can make all the evidence show He's not there.

      You opened by saying it's very easy to disprove the existence of God. And my point is that it's logically impossible to do so.