In the course of debating Muslims, I’ve encountered “scientific errors in the Bible” arguments. Below are my usual answers to them.
Your bible says serpents eat dust (Gen. 3:14) but we know snakes don’t eat dust.
The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew, so to properly exegete it, you need to understand its context and structure. Snakes don’t eat dust, but they frequently dash out their tongues to sense the air and taste objects on the ground. As they do this, they lick the dust. Furthermore, in Hebrew idiom, the term “eating the dust” signifies defeat and humiliation as we see here:
“They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust” (Ps. 72:9).
“And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shall know that I am the LORD…” (Is. 49:23)
“They will lick the dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the LORD…” (Mic. 7:17).
The bible says insects have 4 legs whereas we know they have 6! (Leviticus 11:21-23)
The Pentateuch (or 5 books of Moses) were written around 1406 B.C. In that era, people didn’t usually count the two hind legs insects use for jumping as part of their normal legs.
In Leviticus 14:4-7, the Bible says people should use the blood of 2 birds as a disinfectant! How many Christian doctors today splash the blood of birds on hospital walls?
This is a typical log-in-the-eye disease which makes people approach the Bible and run off with a verse or two. Had this critic read the whole of Leviticus 14, he would have known that the blood of the bird was for ceremonial purging, to “make an atonement for the house” (v 53). It had nothing to do with removal of infectious disease agents. Moreover, the quarantine processes described in vs 36-38 is widely applied in medical and public health sciences today. The hyssop plant, a component of the mixture used in the purification process, (vs 51) has been found to have antibacterial and antiseptic properties. So more than 2,000 years before microorganisms were observed by man, God gave the Israelites principles to address them.
Christians are not under this rule because: “Unlike the general and broadly applicable Ten commandments, many (though not all) Levitical precepts are specific to the time and culture in which they were given.” (The Portable Seminary ed David Horton, Bethany House Pub., 226)
The bible teaches a flat earth in Daniel 4:10 where it says a tree stands “at the centre of the earth” (Jerusalem Bible). It also says Satan showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” from a mountain (Mt. 4:8) and that “every eye” will see Jesus at His return (Rev. 1:7) These verses presuppose a flat earth.
In Daniel 4, the prophet was relaying a vision he had. The statement “in the centre of the earth” is a hyperbole (or allegory) describing the extent of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. The term “end of the earth” in vs 22 is also allegorical. Second, on the natural plane, it wouldn’t have been possible for Satan to show Jesus all the kingdoms of the world even if the earth was flat. Luke 4:5 says he showed these “in an instant” (RSV) – it was in a vision. Even occultists can see events at different parts of the earth at a glance (clairvoyance). With modern technology, one doesn’t have to believe in a flat earth to show a person live pictures of different nations of the earth.
Third, the term “every eye” seeing Jesus is an allegorical statement, not indicating a flat earth. Centuries before the voyages of discovery, the Bible said God sits “enthroned above the circle of the earth” (Is. 40:22 NIV; Moffat: “the round earth”). The Hebrew word for circle (khug) can also mean “sphere.”
In Genesis 1, the bible says God created vegetation on the 3rd day and created the sun on the 4th day (vs 14). How did the plants feed by photosynthesis? And if the sun wasn’t created until the 4th day, how were the days counted?
First, creation days may not have been “sun divided” ones, because the Hebrew word translated as “day” is “yom” which also means an indefinite period of time. The word is also used in Hosea 3:16 and 18 “And in that day…” and it wasn’t referring to a 24 hour timing. Also, God had already said in Genesis 1:3: “Let there be light” on the first day. This was the sun. Vs 16 says “God made two great lights…” The Hebrew word rendered as “made” here is asah which occurs about 1,200 times in the Old Testament. It means: did, made, show, appear and made to appear. Therefore, God created (Heb: bara) the sun on the first day but made (asah) it and the constellations appear visible on the 4th day.
Many critics expect the book of Genesis to be presented in a rigidly modern, scientific, rationalistic framework with a literal chronology of events, but this is not the case. John. H. Stek notes:
“The speculations that have continued to fuel the endless and fruitless debate have all been triggered by concerns brought by interpreters to the text, concerns completely alien to it. In his storying of God’s creative acts, the author was ‘moved’ to sequence them after the manner of human acts and ‘time’ them after the pattern of experience.” (Portraits of Creation, MI: Eerdmans, 1990, 238)
Charles E. Hummel also explains:
“Our interpretation of a passage should also be guided by its structure. Narrators have the freedom to tell a story in their own way, including its perspective, purpose, development and relevant content. The importance of this principle comes to focus in the Genesis 1 treatment of time. The dominating concepts and concerns of our century are dramatically different from those of ancient Israel…we automatically tend to assume that a historical account must present a strict chronological sequence. But the Biblical writers are not bound by such concerns and constrictions…Our problem of how the earth could be lighted (v.4) before the sun appeared comes when we require the narrative to be a strict chronological account.” (The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts Between Science and the Bible, InterVasity Press, 203, 209)
In Genesis 9:13, God says he put the rainbow in the sky as a sign. But we know from science that rainbows are formed by reflection and refraction of sunlight through raindrops. Are we to suppose the law of reflection didn’t exist before Genesis 9?
There are two positions on this. One says that there were no rainbows before Genesis 9 because there was no rainfall. Keil and Delitzsch Bible Commentary says “the atmosphere was differently constituted; a supposition in perfect harmony with the facts of natural history, which points to differences in the climate of the earth’s surface before and after the flood.” The other position says rainbows had appeared “from the beginning” but “it was now after it only appointed to be a sign and token of the covenant” – Gill’s Exposition of the Bible.
The bible says in Leviticus 11:6 that rabbits chew cuds but we all know rabbits don’t chew cud
Yes, they don’t chew cuds like ruminants, but they undergo “reflection” in which they take up their dung and chew on it to get out partially digested food which they re-chew. The Hebrew word for chew there is “alah” which means to bring up. Its rendered elsewhere as “brought up” (Jos. 24:17) and “offering up” (1 Sam. 7:10). The word for cud, “gerah” means grain or berry of low value which hints at reflection in rabbits but the nearest English word the translator could use was “chewing the cud.”
The bible quotes God saying “The seed-bearing plants and the trees bearing fruits bearing seeds are food for you, all of them.” (Gen. 1:29) Even a layman today knows that there are several poisonous plants like wild berries, stritchi, plants containing alkaloid and polyander – which can possibly result in death if ingested. Didn’t God know this?
Anyone who can’t read the Bible in its context is not qualified to interpret it. That instruction in Genesis 1:29 was a provision given before the Fall when “everything [God] had made…was very good.” (vs 31) But man sinned and He cursed the earth to produce thorns, thistles and poisonous plants (3:18). After then, God specified what Noah could eat (9:1-11). This is so clear even to a child.
In 1 Samuel 2:8 the Bible speaks of “pillars of the earth.” The same is repeated in Job 9:6. Does the earth have pillars? Job 26:11 also says “the pillars of heaven tremble.” Do you see pillars in the sky?
This is a vestige of ignorance. The Hebrew word translated as “earth” is “erets” which can mean land, ground, district, countries or the whole earth. It doesn’t always mean the earth as a globe. Its use there refers to landmass. The term “pillars of heaven” in Job 26:11 is symbolic evidenced by the rest of the verse “and are astonished at his reproof.” Notice how the critic conveniently omits this.
Job 26:7 says “he [God] suspends the earth over nothing.” The Hebrew word for “nothing” here, tohu, means “not any thing.” The book of Job was written circa 1500 BC, and for centuries since, many ancient cultures believed the earth was suspended by animals or objects. It wasn’t until 1687 AD that Sir Isaac Newton published his findings that the earth was held in space by gravity, yet 3,200 years before, the Bible had accurately stated this. The Theological Workbook of the Old Testament says: “Job 26:7 strikingly pictures the then-known world as suspended in space, thereby anticipating future scientific discovery.”