Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This Day Was Different (Part Two)

Flavius Josephus, noted first-century author of The Wars of the Jews, described cosmology as he understood it: the Earth was a flat disk, surmounted by the solid dome of the sky, across which the sun traversed, from east to west on the inside by day, and from west to east on the outside by night.  The apocryphal Book of Enoch likewise describes a flat Earth and solid dome sky.  Now, the Old Testament actually has many passages that fit this cosmology (cf. references to "the windows of the sky" in Genesis and Malachi, or references to the sun running back at night to the place where it rose), but that's really a side issue here.

Ray insists, in the section of chapter 10 of this book, that "the scriptures tell us that the Earth is round ... not flat or square," but it obviously didn't tell Josephus, or the author of Enoch, or Lactantius Firmianus, or Theophilus of Antioch, that the Earth was a sphere.  Given that none of these men were utter dolts, this is either evidence that the Bible is a dud of a teacher, or that it does not actually reveal the sphericity of the Earth (again, whether it gives false information on the shape of the Earth is a separate question).  Now, it's one thing to suggest that the hardness of our hearts makes humans reluctant to suppose that "love your enemies" or "love of money is the root of all sorts of evil" mean exactly what they say, what sinful desires are served by Christians obstinately insisting that the Earth is flat, if scripture really tells them otherwise?  Christians did indeed come to accept that the Earth was a sphere, but they did so as an accommodation to classical philosophy (Comfort, in what I can only consider a revelation of his fundamental unseriousness, insists that in the 15th century, "science" taught that the Earth was flat; how this is to be reconciled with his claim that science was an invention of Bible-believing and Bible-taught Christians I cannot quite figure out).

Note that Pythagoras, in the fifth century BC, figured out that the Earth is a sphere without divine inspiration and with no technology not available centuries earlier; even if the Bible did clearly state that the Earth was a sphere, it would not be knowledge that proved supernatural inspiration.  This is, indeed, a problem for the other examples Ray cites: from the fact that things wear out (which is not quite the same as the 2nd law of thermodynamics, but is probably all Ray understands of that law), to the fact that water has to have some way of getting back from oceans and lakes to river sources, to the fact that there are currents in the Mediterranean, to suitable dimensions for barges, every bit of "knowledge of creation" that Ray finds in scripture could have been deduced by bronze-age men using human faculties for observation and deduction.  Even the idea that the Earth "hangs upon nothing" was inferred by the pagan Greeks through purely human means (though the Bible also speaks of the Earth having pillars, and having "waters beneath the Earth" on which it presumably floats; for a consistent Old Testament cosmology, you need to interpret the Earth's pillars as holding up the solid dome of the sky, and "hanging upon nothing" as referring to the fact that the tent-like sky had no central pole to keep it from collapsing onto the flat Earth).

Ray also interprets Hebrews 11:3 as referring to atoms.  While this would not, in itself, be astonishing (the pagan philosopher Democritus had proposed atomism four centuries earlier, and it was part of the Epicurean philosophy that is mentioned in the Bible), Ray's interpretation would imply that Christians knew by faith what Epicureans believed by human reason or speculation, which seems an odd interpretation, especially in light of the Church's long suspicion of atomism.  Of course, the whole point of How to Know God Exists would be undercut if Ray interpreted that verse in the most plausible manner: that only through faith, not observation, do Christians understand that the world and life's diversity and complexity were supernaturally created rather than produced by natural processes.

1 comment:

  1. I pointed out the Democritus thing to him probably 3 years ago when he made the argument that people knew nothing of atoms before the Bible "references" them. And he said he would fix the error on whatever little tract he was making that claim on.

    I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, to see he's still using it!