“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”
I read an article in which the author, one Dr. Rose Nkechi Uchem, claimed that people of the Bible days did not have the knowledge that the earth is round. She said, and I quote, “Now, it is a well known fact that the earth is spherical, rotating on its axis while revolving on its orbit around the sun; a new piece of knowledge unknown to biblical writers.” Among other things she used this claim to try to show that Bible is no longer suitable for the present times because the knowledge available to men of the past were archaic and wrong. She said a number of other things to try to prove that the Bible needs be updated to suit the purpose of the now. To be more specific, it needs to be updated to meet the requirements of the MDGs. I will just focus on her claim concerning if or not the writers of the Bible had a right knowledge of the celestial bodies or not here. I will write on other claims she made in some other articles.
“If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s.”
(2 Corinthians 10:7)
Why do people claim that people in remote past do not know about the true nature of the celestial bodies? I don’t know what could have informed Dr. Rose Nkechi Uchem’s conclusion that people of the Bible days did not know about the nature of the celestial bodies, but I have heard some pretty ridiculous accounts of why people say this. There was a man called Galileo who they say argued that the earth is round but some churchmen argued that it was flat. These churchmen later persecuted Galileo. On the account of this many conclude that the Bible’s stance is that the earth is flat.
The churchmen who argued against Galileo argued that the earth is fixed while the sun revolves wound the earth, not that it was flat while Galileo argued that the sun is fixed with the earth revolving round the sun. They may have held the view that the earth is fixed because of Bible texts such as this, “Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.” (1 Chronicles 16:30). But they didn’t hold their views solely on Biblical texts.
It should be noted that Galileo was no less a churchman than his oppositions. As Paul declared, “If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s.” (2 Corinthians 10:7), so also Galileo could and did declare that he is as much a Christian as those who accused him. By his submissions he even proved himself to be even a finer Christian than his critics. So it is not as is being presented that this was an argument between religion and science. When questioned by the grand duchess Christina, he defended his argument most proficiently in a lengthy letter. In his defence he showed sound knowledge of both scriptures and the writings of the Christian fathers before him. He made reference to Bishop Aurelius Augustine on how to proceed with care in arriving a definite conclusion about matters that are difficult to understand based on reason alone. He made reference to Tertullian’s doctrines. His testimony of himself goes as follows; “I hope to demonstrate that I proceed with much more pious and religious zeal than they…” So he was demonstrating his pious zeal and not trying to blaspheme scriptures which he understood and believed so well. He strongly defended the inerrancy of scriptures and the supremacy of the same. If he were here in our time in person he would have silenced the mouths of the host of vain talkers who use his name to cast a slur at the church and the scriptures upon which the church is built.
In fact Galileo allege that his theories were not his own but of one Nicolaus Copernicus, who was a bishop and a mathematician that lived before him. Nicolaus Copernicus had mathematically proven the things Galileo asserted. So Galileo was a very fine churchman and Christian person. It is not the way people try to paint it as if it were the church versus a secular Galileo and that Galileo proved both the church and the scriptures to be wrong.
It was a war of brilliant minds. As Galileo on the one hand presented his scientific proofs to his theory, so did his opposition present their own scientific proofs, chiefly the theories of Aristotle which suggests that the earth is the centre of the universe. Galileo did not present his points to contradict scriptures but he believed that it did not contradict scriptures in any way. It was a purely scientific controversy only that scriptures were made reference to along the line. For this reason Galileo rightly accused those opposing him as men who “with cloak of simulated religiousness and with authority of scripture, unintelligently using the latter for the confutation of arguments they neither understand nor have heard.” Which is the same conclusion we ought to arrive at. And we may as well say about people who accuse the church and scriptures of errors, including Dr. Rose, as men who with simulated love for science and learning unintelligently using fake history for the confutation of arguments they neither understand nor have heard.
While the view of the churchmen who opposed scriptures were wrong and Galileo right, their stance does not represent what the Bible teaches or what the saints of long ago held to be true. Before I made a careful study into this matter I had been so ashamed of the churchmen who opposed Galileo thinking them to be an embarrassment to the church and to the Holy Writ, but on studying this more carefully I realised that they were men of brilliant minds as well, only that Galileo was a churchman of a far greater mind.
Let me also talk briefly of Christopher Columbus before I bring this preambles to a close. Columbus was the man who is said to have discovered America and the Caribean islands. People, including those who wrote my dictionary, claim he embarked on his voyage to prove that the earth was round, though I don’t know against whose theory they claimed he wish to prove his point. But the truth however is that the thing in contest at the time was not the shape of the earth but the size of it.
Columbus embarked on his voyage to prove the size of the earth but didn’t quite get it right. On reaching America he thought he had arrived at India and was so persuaded that this was India until his death. This was why the native Americans were called Indians, later Red Indians to differentiate them from actual Indians. So this too was not to prove scriptures wrong.
So let us look at what the Bible has to say and examine the knowledge of the writers of the books of the Bible.
The Bible’s Statements On Celestial Bodies
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”
Now, what does the Bible say about the shape of the earth? Does it in any way insinuate that the earth is flat as some allege? There is no where that the Bible insinuates that the earth is flat. Rather here are some texts about the nature of the earth.
- “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.” (Isaiah 40:22). This informs us of the roundness of the earth.
- “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.” (Job 26:7). This informs us that the earth is floating in space.
- “Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.” (Psalm 19:4 – 5). The psalmist is talking about the celestial bodies here for he says in verse 1, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” In that he says God has set a tabernacle for the sun, he suggests to us that the sun is fixed. And when he says that the sun “is as…” it means it is like to the sight. This informs us that the sun is fixed but is like to the sight a strong man to run a race. That is it is like it is moving. So indeed the sun is fixed, but to the sight it moves. That is the message of the psalmist.
So these are the statements of the Bible that speak directly about the order of the earth and celestial bodies. Every other statements must be understood in reference to these. Other texts describe the sun according to how it can be perceived by our vision. Texts like “Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.” (1 Chronicles 16:30), does not mean that the does not move in space, but in our perception it doesn’t move and it is stable. Even in space it does not move from its orbit. In this respect also the earth is stable in space and does not move.
When Joshua fought for the Gibeonites he said, “… Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.” (Joshua 10:12). And the sun stood still. Now many would allege that this couldn’t be accurate as if this happened it is the earth that must have stood still and not the sun. But this too is an erroneous statement to make. The sun, though still in space, does move by virtue of the earths motion and our motion is with the earth not the sun. And it stood still by virtue of the earth standing still. To say it is not accurate to say the sun stood still is like saying it is not accurate to tell someone, “I’ll be at your place at sundown.” Is the sun really down, astronomically it is not down. But by our definition of down by our own motion with the earth it is down. Though the sun be still, it rises (as is usually said) in the east and sets in the west. Because we move with the earth the sun is yet in motion by our definitions of motion and positions. So, it is unwise to be astronomically critical about the statements of the Bible when the texts do pass the intended information in ways by which the events can be understood most accurately.
So this is the biblical stance about celestial bodies. We must not, in trying to over wise, become over foolish in unsound criticisms.
Astronomical Knowledge In Bible Days
“And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.”
Now, seeing that the Bible is very accurate in its declarations about the celestial bodies, what can we know about what the writers knew about astronomy? Were astronomical science accurate in their times or not?
First, we have seen that the Bible contained accurate declarations about the celestial bodies. It can be assumed that they understood astronomy accurately based on this alone. But let’s see if there is more we can find out.
The books of the Bible makes numerous statements about the celestial bodies even giving names to the bodies they see. Orion, an astronomical term, for example was mentioned at different times in the Bible. Morning stars were mentioned, of which morning star refers today to the planet Venus. There were also a number of other references to celestial bodies and these were given names by which men could recognise them and communicate about them. So if these things were written in their times and they communicated with these names, then it means they of necessity had a solid astronomical science at their time, and this being so they probably had some knowledge about these things. How accurate they were is what we cannot ascertain. But if people possessed the knowledge of astronomy, it would be foolish to rashly conclude that it was inaccurate. Let’s still go on.
How early did men possess the seeming mystery of astronomy? There were writings of antiquities that made me wonder how could men come by such knowledge not having the technology we have today by which we may ascertain the sciences of astronomy we teach. For example I read that the stars were bigger than the moon. I got surprised as to how this could be known by mere observation. By observation the moon is of course far bigger than the stars. If I were to judge by my own observations without the knowledge of sciences which I’ve been taught, I may as well say the same way a slave I read of in a novel said to someone that asked him about his opinion about the moon and stars that the moon laid the stars as a fish lays eggs.
There were some things they said about the nature of things even within the earth and I wondered how they knew them without the aid of any observable phenomenon. Solomon himself said, “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7). Science has only come to prove him right. What were the observable things by which he could come to this conclusion that the river returns to where it came from? I can’t think of any. Yet he knew.
So men of old did possess some seemingly uncommon ability to decipher things that may not be understood except by some experiments and researches requiring advanced technology like a telescope. And by these means they did come by great discoveries that we could have assumed were impossible for them. Even in what we could call primitive days. Flavius Josephus, a contemporary of our Lord Jesus, wrote in his book “Antiquities of the Jews”:
“They also inhabited the same country without dissensions, and in a happy condition, without any misfortunes falling upon them, till they died. They also were the inventors of that peculiar sort of wisdom which is concerned with the heavenly bodies, and their order. And that their inventions might not be lost before they were sufficiently known, upon Adam’s prediction that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence and quantity of water, they made two pillars, the one of brick, the other of stone: they inscribed their discoveries on them both, that in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit those discoveries to mankind; and also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them. Now this remains in the land of Siriad to this day.”
Now, the people he spoke about were the sons of Seth, the son of Adam. So this informs us that the knowledge of astronomy is almost old as humanity and is really nothing new as purported by our doctor lady. They did their bit to preserve their discoveries and those discoveries were learnt by people after them. If by mere observation such complex conclusions could be arrived at, what makes us think that their astronomical views couldn’t be accurate?
The same Flavius Josephus wrote:
“Berosus mentions our father Abram without naming him, when he says thus: “In the tenth generation after the Flood, there was among the Chaldeans a man righteous and great, and skillful in the celestial science.””
So Abraham may have himself been a profound astronomer. And of this Abraham God boasted, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Genesis 18:19). While astronomy is not the same as the way of the LORD, yet, if this was Abraham’s disposition, it is very likely that he must have taught his household about astronomy and must have passed this knowledge down to his posterity, the children of Israel. Those who wrote the whole of the Bible. Those that our doctor lady accuse of ignorance pertaining the celestial bodies.
The Bible also said that the end will be in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52), meaning it will happen in less than one second. But what did Jesus say about this event? Let’s see. He says, “I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” (Luke 17:34 – 36). He speaks of night about two men lying on a bed (probably in sleep) in the first case, but then speaks of women grinding together which is a day time activity. Then he also spoke lastly of two men in the field which is also a day time event. So this tells us that though the end will be in a twinkling of an eye, some would be in the day time and some in the night time, all in one second. What else is that than an outright acknowledgment that we have different time zones? For at each second some are at night time and others at day time simultaneously. We should not be high minded in our ignorance and think men of antiquity were dumb men who had no knowledge and only knew how to barely survive and marry wives.
How could it be assumed that the people in Bible days did not have this knowledge seeing the host of these evidences that point to the contrary? I really don’t know how such myths could be so widespread in a generation that boasts of possessing abundance of information and knowledge.
Perspectives Of The Church Before Galileo
“Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.”
(1 Timothy 2:7)
“O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.”
(1 Timothy 6:20)
To the post Bible and Christian age. Did the Christian fathers possess a good knowledge of astronomy before Galileo and how accurate was it?
One thing was certain that the earth was never perceived as flat by the church as some alleged. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who lived several hundred of years before Galileo wrote in his book “Summa Theologica,”
“Sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For the astronomer and the physicist both may prove the same conclusion: that the earth, for instance, is round: the astronomer by means of mathematics (i.e. abstracting from matter), but the physicist by means of matter itself.”
There has not been anytime in all my reading of Christian writings that I came across anything that suggested that it was ever held that the earth is flat. Not even to the earliest of them. So it is not likely that Columbus went on a voyage to prove wrong an argument nobody ever held. But their knowledge of astronomy may have not been perfect all the same and it needn’t be because astronomy or the knowledge of it had nothing to do with the salvation of man. Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he is a preacher of faith and verity, not a preacher of astronomy. He later told him to avoid contradiction of science falsely so called. The writings of the bishops of the Christian church I have read showed they had a near perfect knowledge of the sciences of their times. However they didn’t bother themselves overtly about scientific researches. When they were disposed to, they did make such studies for it is not wrong to do so seeing the Bible says the heaven declares the glory of God, but it was not their primary interest.
A quote of bishop Aurelius Augustine of Hippo I got from Galileo’s letter indicated that the great man did not wish to bother himself with the study of celestial order. Augustine wrote:
“Some brethren have also advanced a question about the motion of heaven, namely whether heaven moves or stands still. For if it moves, they say, how is it a firmament? But if it stands still, how do the stars which are thought to be fixed in it revolve from east to west, the northern ones completing shorter circuits near the pole, so that heaven seems to rotate like a sphere (if there is at the other end another pole invisible to us) or like a discus (if instead there is no other pole)? To them I answer that these things should be examined with very subtle and demanding arguments to determine truly whether or not it is so; but I do not have the time to undertake and pursue these investigations, nor should such time be available to those whom we desire to instruct for their salvation and for the needs and benefit of the Holy Church.”
This bishop lived over s thousand years before Galileo. Here he tells us that astronomy was not a matter of faith. Expecting the church to have a stated stance on astronomy is just like expecting the church to have a stated stance physics, chemistry, etc. But the great man wouldn’t be bothering himself with issue as much as to leave his primary duties of instructing men for their salvation.
So there was no firm stance on matters of astronomy in the church but there were always clear demonstrations that they were always very conversant with the sciences of their times. But as Galileo truly states, the person who propounded the theory of the earth moving round the sun was Nicolaus Copernicus who was himself a churchman and a bishop. His study of the Bible did not lead him to make a wrong declaration about the celestial bodies.
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
Seeing that wise king Solomon says there’s nothing new under the sun, it is wisdom that one ought to be cautious before making bold statements like, “Now, it is a well known fact that the earth is spherical, rotating on its axis while revolving on its orbit around the sun; a new piece of knowledge unknown to biblical writers.” What makes it new when Solomon declares there’s nothing new under the sun? As we have seen, this so called new piece of knowledge is most likely not new.
To say that the true knowledge of the order of celestial bodies was unknown to men of Bible days means that one presupposes that it were impossible to know these things at those times probably because of the lack of technology required to have this knowledge. But what manner of technological is required for astronomical science? The people who did not have these so called technology still propounded such accurate theories about the earth. They knew the earth was round, and by a means other than the use of these more recent technologies, like the telescope, they could say with utmost conviction that the earth revolves round the sun.
How did they know? By mere observations of the naked eye. I lived most of my life in urban areas and while I lived here I used to wonder when I read where God took Abraham abroad and said to him, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” (Genesis 15:5). I used to get confused in the past when I read this and the cause is that back then when I look at the stars they were few, scanty, and countable. Sometimes in the whole of a clear night sky may just be about five stars. Little did I know that there is something called light pollution which hinders us from having a clear view of the celestial bodies. This light pollution is more in urban areas because of the amount of light in these developed areas. But when I eventually went to a rural area in a Northern part of Nigeria, I looked at the sky and was amazed at the amount of stars I saw. They were truly uncountable. I came back to an urban area and couldn’t see them again. I didn’t know what accounted for this. I merely thought there were more stars over that particular rural area than the urban place I lived. It was when I came across the information about light pollution that I understood why. I discussed this with a colleague who was a physics teacher and he affirmed it and told me that when he went to Yobe (a mostly rural state in far North of Nigeria), the stars were so much in the sky and that with the bear eyes you could see other planets.
So why do I say these things, the things that can be seen about outer space with the naked eye are immense and are such by which much theories and speculations could come from. With observation with what one can see with the bear eyes accurate deductions could be made. Remember in the time of Abraham and other Bible characters, they lived in mostly rural places, as we may safely suppose. Therefore the amount of things they could see in outer space with the naked eye would have been much. The people who asked Aurelius Augustine to give them an answer about what he thinks about the motion or static-ness of the earth were founded on mere observations with the naked eye, in that they said, “if it [the earth] stands still, how do the stars which are thought to be fixed in it revolve from east to west, the northern ones completing shorter circuits near the pole, so that heaven seems to rotate like a sphere (if there is at the other end another pole invisible to us) or like a discus (if instead there is no other pole)?” These were born of observations of the naked eye and mark how accurate they were.
So the best that these technologies could do would be to make these discoveries easier and surer, not to make it possible. If this be the case, then it were naive and unwise to say with confidence that this is a new piece of knowledge or that these things were unknown to the writers of the Bible. Attaining such knowledge is neither impossible nor unlikely for the Bible writers.
A high degree like a PhD should not be seen as a rubber stamp for any crapily propounded views except it be PhD in Mythology. This woman, and people like her, should not abuse their high degree to subvert or obfuscate the truth. I believe when men saw the need to give people titles indicating their learning, it was to aid societal advancement in learning. That is to say that this person is learned and what he or she has to say should be trusted as valid and founded on proper research. But if this is what it is now used for, to promote myth and falsehood with the force of intimidating titles, then it ought to be scrapped altogether (and degrees never regarded as meaning nothing) for this will not benefit us but will harm us greatly until we have become as brutish as barbarians holding to foolish myths. Knowledge will perish with us if this is how people use their degrees.
May God help us and deliver us from such onslaught of the Devil and his clerks. Amen.
Prayer: Dear Lord and Father, Creator of all the world, truly the heavens declare your glory. We pray that we would not be blinded from seeing your glory by foolish science falsely so called. Teach us to know the truth about your creation and learn to see your glory in them all, whether terrestrial or celestial. This we ask in Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.