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The Bible and Science: The relation of faith and science -- Part 2

The Bible and Science: The relation of faith and science -- Part 2

By Alice C. Linsley
Nov. 21, 2017

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)

Focus question: Does faith play a role in scientific research and how Christians interpret data?

In the first installment of this series on The Bible and Science we noted that many significant breakthroughs in science and technology have been made by professing Christians. For some, success brought them conflict with religious leaders and secular scientists. Vindication came late for Copernicus and Galileo. The inventor of the MRI, Dr. Raymond Damadian, was denied a Noble Prize in Medicine because of his fundamentalist religious beliefs.

When it comes to biblical studies and scientific research, humility is a cardinal virtue. Those who have done the hard work deserve the credit, and the humble acknowledge the help they received from others. Sometimes they admit to serendipitous events or conversations that led them to seemingly miraculous breakthroughs.

Niels Bohr often spoke of the numinous dream that led to his discovery of the structure of the atom. August Kekule said he discovered the Benzene molecule after having a dream of a snake seizing its own tail.

In Toward the Conquest of Berberi, the chemist Robert R. Williams (the son of missionaries) recounts his chance meeting in the Philippines with U.S. Army doctor, Edward B. Vedder. Vedder had discovered that an alcoholic extract of rice bran cured infants who were dying from Berberi. He gave Dr. Williams a bottle of the extract and asked him to identify the substance responsible for its life-saving effect. Twenty-six years of research culminated in the synthesis of thiamine (vitamin B1) by Dr. Williams. The synthesis of this vitamin led to the eradication of Beriberi, a disease that killed millions in the Orient every year.

Christians in science often admit that their research appears to be divinely directed. As Christians, they are open to divine inspiration and guidance. They share St. Paul's confidence "of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6) "Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass." (I Thessalonians 5:24)

Faith recognizes that the Creator directs the course of human affairs toward the betterment of our earthly condition and the alleviation of misery. St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed this reality when he wrote, "If God had not wished to reveal Himself to us there would have been nothing in creation that would be able to say anything at all about Him." (Hymns of Faith 44:7)

St. Paul reminds us that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)

In this article, we explore the historical relation between science and faith, between what is seen and what is hoped. If we believe that the Bible is divinely superintended and that God directs human affairs for the Good, we should trust that the Bible can stand up to honest empirical investigation. We may also use biblical data to formulate hypotheses concerning archaic and ancient populations.

The First Scientists Were Priests

Thales of Miletus (c. 624-546 BC) was a great observer of the natural world. He was skilled in geometry, astronomy, engineering, and the natural sciences. Thales calculated the height of the pyramids from the length of their shadows. He measured the time between one solstice and the next.

Thales was one of many ancient philosophers who studied at Nile temples. There he learned of the Nilotic belief that the Creator caused the first dry land (TaTJaNuN) to emerge like pillars from a chaotic sea. (See Job 9:6; I Samuel 2:8, and Psalm 75:3) This conception stands behind the creation account of Genesis 1. Thales taught that water was the primal substance of life. This is the consensus of the scientific community also.

Iamblichus wrote that Thales of Miletus insisted that Pythagoras had to go to Memphis to study because the Egyptian priests were a veritable source of knowledge in the natural sciences, architecture, medicine, and astronomy.

Plato studied for 13 years with the priest Sechnuphis at a temple in Memphis. He reported that the ancient Nilotes had been keeping records of astronomical events for 10,000 years.

The wisdom of the Nilotic priests was so extensive that it was unrivaled in the ancient world, and much of the wisdom ascribed to the ancient Greeks was borrowed from the ancient Nilotes.

This illustrates the connection between the priests of the ancient world and the foundations of science. Discoveries in archaeology, linguistics, and biblical anthropology have verified that the priest caste applied God-inspired wisdom to technology and sciences.

In his book God and the Astronomers (1978), Robert Jastrow wrote, "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."

On the basis of archaeological, linguistic, and anthropological data, we must qualify Jastrow's statement. The theologians have been sitting there for many millennia.

Wisdom as Applied Science

The prophet Jeremiah refers to Edom and Teman of Edom as seats of wisdom. "Concerning Edom: This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Is there no longer wisdom in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom decayed?"(Jeremiah 49:7)

Wisdom in the Bible is more than philosophy. It is also applied science. This is evident when one studies the "wisdom literature" with its emphasis of the Creator's skill at stretching the heavens, erecting the pillars, and fixing the corners (cardinal points) of the Earth.

The wisdom to which Jeremiah refers is that of the Horite Hebrew ruler-priests. Edom was one of their territories. One Edomite ruler was Seir the Horite. His clan is listed in Genesis 36. Edom was also Abraham's territory. It stretched between Hebron and Beersheba. (See map above.)

Hebron is where Sarah lived and Beersheba is where Keturah lived. Abraham's territory extended between the settlements of his two wives and was entirely in the region of Edom. The Greeks called this kingdom Idumea, which means "land of red people." We recall that Esau and David are described as red. Likely, this refers to having red hair. Mummified rulers with red hair have been found buried from the Nile to the Tarum Valley of China.

In the ancient world, the Horite Hebrew were recognized for their skill in animal husbandry, stonework, metal work, water works, navigation, healing arts, pillared temples, fortifications, mining, and the construction of royal tombs. They served the high kings and dispersed widely in the service of kingdom builders like Nimrod, the son of Kush. (Genesis 10:8)

Khirbat en-Nahas ("ruins of copper") was one of the first Chalcolithic sites in the Edomite lowlands to be investigated. The ruins spread over 24 acres and the fortifications enclose an area 240 by 240 feet. Thomas E. Levy (Anthropology, University of California, San Diego) published the team's final monograph (Levy et al. 2014a) after 10 years of field work at Khirbat en-Nahas, the largest copper production site in Edom. The team uncovered scarabs, ceramics, metal arrowheads, hammers, grinding stones, and slag heaps dating between 3000--2000 BC. These testified to earlier dates for the Edomite kingdom than had been previously assigned.

Dr. Levy stated, "Only a complex society such as a paramount chiefdom or primitive kingdom would have the organizational know-how to produce copper metal on such an industrial scale."

Archaeology, comparative linguistics, and anthropology have helped to construct a clearer picture of these remarkable priests, craftsmen, astronomers, architects, and royal physicians. They did not appear in history suddenly with their knowledge and skill. They pursued these over centuries with perseverance and divine guidance.

Today, most think of science and technology apart from faith. It is safer to departmentalize science and religion and act as if there is no historical relation between the two. It is time to expose that lie. The foundations of science were laid by a community of faith.

People often tell me, "I read the Bible, but I don't understand it." They realize that the Bible is important and they should read it. I encourage them to invite the Holy Spirit to illuminate their reading. In Job 32:8, Elihu rightly declares that the breath (ruach/Spirit) of El Shaddai in Man gives him wisdom.

God promises wisdom to those who humbly seek it. "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." (James 1:5)

It is important to pray for wisdom before reading the Bible. Without the Spirit's guidance we are likely to misunderstand and misrepresent Scripture. Likewise, we should seek the Holy Spirit's guidance in our scientific efforts. Faith and reason make extraordinary partners.

Alice C. Linsley teaches the history of technology and science at a private school in North Carolina. Her area of concentration is Biblical Anthropology. She comes from a long line of clergy, philosophers, and scientists. Two famous chemists named in this first installment - Robert R. Williams and Roger J. Williams - are her great uncles.

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