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Bible Biology
by Farrell Till


1991 / March-April



An earlier article ("What About Scientific Foreknowledge in the Bible?" Fall 1990), debunked the fundamentalist claim that the truth of verbal inspiration can be verified by places in the Bible text where writers demonstrated knowledge of scientific facts that were unknown at the time the Bible was being written. The intent of the claim is to "prove" that Bible writers "foreknew" these scientific facts because God revealed them through the process of verbal inspiration, but, as my article showed, scientific foreknowledge in the Bible can be found only in the eisegetical interpretations of bibliolaters shamelessly bent on clinging to an untenable view of the Bible. In reality, there is no more "scientific foreknowledge" in the Bible than in any other literature of the same era.

If it were really true that Bible authors revealed in their works scientific facts that were not discovered until centuries later, this would indeed be a formidable argument for the verbal inspiration of the Bible, but the evidence that bibliolaters point to to prove their theory is entirely too speculative to be convincing. Some inerrantists, for example, have absurdly seen evidence that the Bible foresaw the potential for using electricity to send messages. In speaking to Job from the whirlwind, Yahweh asked him, "Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go, and say to you, Here we are?" (Job 38:35). In Why We Believe the Bible, George DeHoff made this comment on the verse:

Job could not do this but we are able to do so today as we talk on the telephone and radio and send our messages by telegraph. Truly the lightning goeth and saith for us (p. 55).

There are so many absurdities in this application of the verse that I hardly know where to begin commenting on them. For one thing, it violates a principle of common sense that should tell DeHoff and his inerrancy cohorts that a clear-cut, undeniable case of scientific foreknowledge would have to be stated in language so obvious in meaning that there could be no disagreement in interpretation. In my response to Jerry McDonald's article elsewhere in this issue, I used the rule of Occam's razor to discredit his claim that Hosea meant for "the blood of Jezreel" to refer to the murder of Naboth. The rule is equally applicable to DeHoff's claim of scientific foreknowledge in a simple statement about lightning. As long as it is possible for the statement to mean something less complex than the supernatural insight of a primitive writer into the physics of transmitting sound by electricity, then there is no force at all to the claim that this is an example of scientific foreknowledge.

Could the statement have a simpler meaning than what DeHoff assigned to it? It would certainly seem so. Why, for example, couldn't it mean no more than that lightning announces its presence by the natural sound it makes? This is a phenomenon we have all witnessed during thunderstorms. In his discourse to Job, Elihu said, "He (God) covers his hands with lightning, and gives it a charge that it strike the mark. The noise of it tells concerning him, the cattle also concerning the storm that comes up" (36:32-33). A primitive superstition that God makes lightning and directs its strike is obviously reflected in this statement (a belief that hardly qualifies as "scientific foreknowledge"), but the final part of the statement seems to be saying that lightning announces the approach of a storm. Elihu, then, seemed to know exactly what Yahweh said in Job 38:35. The lightning goes forth and says, "Here we are." What is so wonderfully insightful about that?

The problem for bibliolaters who see scientific foreknowledge in the Bible is that none of the statements they point to can successfully pass the test of Occam's razor. All pose the possibility of simpler, less complex interpretations than those that attribute supernatural, scientific insights to the writers. Common sense should again tell us that this is so. If not, then why didn't those marvelous insights put science centuries ahead of the plodding advancement it has made? If, for example, Job 38:35 really meant what DeHoff claims it meant, then why didn't someone among the millions and millions of people who read it during the past 3,000 years recognize its meaning and apply it long before telecommunication systems were finally invented? The same could be asked of all the other alleged examples of scientific foresight in the Bible. If these were in fact true cases of foreknowledge, then why didn't Bible readers apply the scientific principles involved in them long ago? Why did the world have to wait through the centuries until scientists, working independently of the Bible, discovered the life-sustaining properties of blood, the female ovum, the water cycle, and the many other scientific facts that bibliolaters claim were foreknown by Bible writers? There is something very suspect about after-the-fact biblical interpretations that point to recent scientific discoveries and gleefully proclaim, "Ah, yes, this was foreseen in the Bible where so-and-so said thus-and-so!"

Obviously, then, the discoveries of science have been late in coming because they had to be learned through the long, arduous task of scientific experimentation. The Bible offered no help, because its authors knew no more about these things than anyone else. In fact, the Bible probably retarded the process of scientific discovery through the widespread acceptance of superstitious nonsense found in it. Those who believe and practice superstition aren't the kind of people who make scientific discoveries. Science advances through the efforts of people who cast aside superstition and search for truth through application of scientific methods. This is a characteristic not generally found in Bible believers.

An earlier article ("Scientific Boo-Boos in the Bible," Winter 1991) showed that the Bible, rather than revealing amazing scientific insights, is riddled with scientific errors. These mistakes cover a wide range of scientific areas but are most obvious in the field of biology. The article noted the genetic ignorance of the Genesis writer, who presented Jacob as one who was able to influence color patterns in Laban's sheep and goats by controlling the environment in which they bred (Gen. 30:37-43). This is certainly a peculiar mistake for a book that is supposed to be so wonderfully insightful in scientific matters. It is as if God told his inspired writers all about the transmission of sound by electricity, the female reproductive system, the spherical shape of the earth, and a host of other scientific secrets but neglected to reveal a very basic genetic fact. Strange indeed! Many of the biological mistakes in the Bible were anatomical in nature. The Leviticus writer (let bibliolaters think this was Moses if they want to) was so unobservant, for example, that he apparently thought insects were four-legged creatures:

All winged creeping things that go upon all fours are an abomination to you. Yet these may you eat of all winged creeping things that go on all fours, which have legs above their feet, with which to leap upon the earth; even these of them you may eat: the locust after its kind, the bald locust after its kind, the cricket after its kind, and the grasshopper after its kind. But all winged creeping things, which have four feet, are an abomination to you (Lev. 11:20-23, BB).

Although the specific references to locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers in this passage indicate that insects were the creatures under consideration, a curious thing about the Hebrew word oph that is here translated "winged creeping things" is that it was the same word used six times in the creation story (Gen. 1:20-30) to refer to birds. It is the same word used twelve times in the Genesis account of the flood to refer to birds. In the KJV and ASV, the word is translated birds or fowl(s) in all of these places. The KJV, in fact, even used fowls to open the Leviticus passage cited above: "All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you."

Four-legged fowls! That would be a biological blunder indeed, but since the context clearly indicated insects in this passage, we won't hold bibliolaters responsible for a translation flaw. They have enough problems to deal with in this passage without adding another one. Suffice it to say, however, that it does seem strange that a people to whom God routinely gave insights into complex scientific matters like gynecology, hematology, telecommunications, and aerodynamics would have no word in their language to distinguish birds from winged insects. We are supposed to be impressed with the religious musings of a people no more sophisticated than that?

An immensely greater problem than linguistic and translation flaws in this passage is the fact that whoever wrote it consistently referred to winged insects as four-legged creatures, a mistake that practically any modern-day elementary student would know better than to make. What educated person today doesn't know that insects have six legs? We have to wonder why God, who so routinely gave scientific insights to his inspired writers, couldn't at least have opened the eyes of his earthly messenger in this case and had him count the legs on a grasshopper.

Archer, Haley, Arndt, Torrey, and the other major inerrancy apologists don't even address the problem of four-legged insects in their works, but knowing inerrancy defenders as I do, I can almost predict what they will say about it. "Well, insects do have four legs, don't they? Just because they happen to have a total of six legs doesn't mean that Moses had to include all six in order to be scientifically correct. He chose to mention only four." Such an "explanation" may sound strange to readers who are not familiar with the desperation tactics that fundamentalists resort to to defend the inerrancy doctrine, but they often use this kind of argument to "explain" numerical discrepancies in the Bible. Mark (5:1-20) and Luke (8:26-39), for example, mention just one demoniac that Jesus healed in the country of the Gerasenes, but Matthew, describing the same incident (8:28-34), put the location in the land of the Gadarenes (several miles away from Gerasa) and said that there were two demoniacs. Gleason Archer dismissed the geographical discrepancy as "scribal error," but of the numerical discrepancy, he said this:

If there were two of them, there was at least one, wasn't there? Mark and Luke center attention on the more prominent and outspoken of the two, the one whose demonic occupants called themselves "Legion" (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 325).

Inerrantists use this same lame argument to explain why Matthew said that Jesus healed two blind men at Jericho (20:29) but Mark (10:46) and Luke (18:35) mentioned only one who was healed. As an argument, it grants entirely too much freedom of selection to the writers and completely ignores the fact that they were presumably being verbally guided by the Holy Spirit. Why then would the same Holy Spirit decide when he was "inspiring" Mark and Luke that only one demoniac and blind man needed to be mentioned but when he was "inspiring" Matthew, he suddenly decided that both demoniacs and blind men should be mentioned?

Whether our inerrantist readers will attempt to apply this line of reasoning to the Bible's four-legged insects remains to be seen, but if they do, I hope they will address a question we have every right to ask them. What is there about insects that would warrant writing a description (like the one in the Leviticus passage) that mentions only four of their six legs? After all, this was a legalistic description that was intended to let Jews know which insects were clean (edible) and which were unclean (forbidden), and the description presented the clean locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers as creatures that "go on all fours." But these insects don't "go on all fours"; they go on all sixes. That's a strange oversight from an author writing under the direction of an omniscient deity who routinely gave marvelous scientific insights to his inspired crew.

But the insect problems aren't over. After declaring all "winged creeping things that go upon all fours" an abomination, the Leviticus writer then made locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers exceptions to this restriction. His rationale was that these were creeping things that go on all fours, "which have legs above their feet" (v:21). So if insects that go about on all fours (presumably with their other two immobilized) have "legs above their feet," they are clean and can be eaten. If not, why not? That's the only reason the description gave for exempting locusts, crickets, and grasshoppers from insects that were unclean or forbidden. Now I want some enterprising inerrancy defender to give us a list of insects that don't have legs above their feet. How could any creeping thing "go on all fours" without having legs above those four (feet)? Feet without legs! It could happen only in Bible biology.

Another anatomical mistake was made by the Leviticus writer in the same context with his four-footed insects. After stating the two characteristics that clean animals must have (part the hoof and chew the cud), he declared hares and coneys unclean because they "chew the cud" but do not part the hoof (vv:3-6). Deuteronomy 14:7 also described hares and coneys as cud-chewers. The biological facts, however,are these: hares and coneys have no hoofs to part, but they have no cuds to chew either. The Leviticus writer made a serious biological error in describing them as cud-chewers.

"What About Scientific Foreknowledge in the Bible?" (Fall 1990) briefly discussed the Leviticus writer's cud-chewing hares and coneys and the attempts of bibliolaters to explain them away. Wayne Jackson, one of two staff members at Apologetics Press who were invited to write a response to the article, declined the invitation but reviewed this section of the article in Reason and Revelation (December 1989) prior to its publication in The Skeptical Review. He resorted to the usual rationalizations: the words translated hare and coney "are rare and difficult" in Hebrew; the writer was perhaps using "phenomenal language" to describe what hares and coneys actually appear to be doing; etc. After all of this was said, however, a proven biological fact still remained. Hares and coneys do not chew the cud.

In an end-run attempt to circumvent this problem, Jackson resorted to equivocation by suddenly substituting the word ruminate for "chew the cud":

There is, however, another factor that must be taken into consideration. Rumination does not necessarily involve a compartmentalized stomach system. One definition of "ruminate" is simply "to chew again that which has been swallowed" (Webster). And oddly enough, that is precisely what the hare does. Though the hare does not have a multi-chambered stomach, which is characteristic of most ruminants, it does chew its food a second time. It has been learned rather recently that hares pass two types of fecal material. "In addition to normal waste, they pass a second type of pellet known as a caecotroph. The very instant the caecotroph is passed, it is grabbed and chewed again.... As soon as the caecotroph is chewed thoroughly and swallowed, it aggregates in the cardiac region of the stomach where it undergoes a second digestion" (Jean Morton, Science in the Bible, pp. 179-181).

Unfortunately for Mr. Jackson's end-run, "chew the cud" is the expression that needs defining, not "ruminate." The Hebrew word translated "cud" was gerah (cud), from garar (to bring up). The word translated "chew" was alah (to cause to come up). Young's Literal Translation of the Bible rendered the combination of the two words "bringing up the cud." Obviously, then, the Leviticus writer was speaking of animals that chew the cud in the literal meaning of the expression and not some figurative or "phenomenal" manner that bibliolaters might dream up to protect their precious inerrancy doctrine.

If, however, Mr. Jackson is going to quote Webster's definition of ruminate, he should refrain from doctoring it to suit his needs. In its entirety, Webster's definition of ruminate is "to chew again what has been slightly chewed and swallowed." Jackson conveniently omitted the underlined part of the definition, and in this respect hares certainly don't qualify as "ruminants," because the caecotrophs of hares consist of materials that have been chewed once and then passed through the digestive tract. This would hardly be material that has been "slightly chewed and swallowed." Notice too that Jackson's reference states that "the caecotroph is chewed thoroughly (by the hare) and swallowed." Are we to believe that hares thoroughly chew the material in their caecotrophs but only slightly chew it the first time through?

The main weakness in Jackson's caecotrophic solution to the problem of cud-chewing hares, however, is its complete failure to explain away the biological error of the Leviticus writer. After all has been said about what hares appear to be doing and how their reingesting of caecotrophic materials achieves the same purpose as cud-chewing, the fact still remains that hares do not chew the cud. Perhaps an analogy would underscore the ineffectiveness of Jackson's resolution of the problem. The duck-billed platypus, a peculiar egg-laying animal native to Australia, has been biologically classified as a mammal because the female nurtures its young with milk. But the female platypus has no teats for her offspring to suck in order to get the milk. There are glands on her stomach that "sweat" the milk, which her young then suck from strands of hair that it has collected on. This unusual method of nurturing offspring achieves the same purpose as the mammary glands of other mammals, but if one should say that a platypus has teats with which she nurtures her young, he would be biologically incorrect.

In the same way, the Leviticus writer was wrong when he said that hares and coneys "chew the cud." That he intended this to mean true cud-chewing was indicated in his use of the camel (11:4) as another example of a cud-chewing animal. Camels are anatomically equipped with the same Ruminantia as cattle, goats, buffaloes, antelopes, giraffes, llamas, deer, and bison. Camels are true cud-chewers, and the Leviticus writer's grouping them with hares and coneys as examples of animals that "chew the cud" leaves little doubt about what he meant. Perhaps he did superficially look at hares and assume from appearance that they were cud-chewers, but that is hardly a satisfactory explanation of the problem. After all, inerrantists ask us to believe that time and time again God gave to his inspired writers amazing insights into complex scientific matters. He did all that but couldn't reveal to one of his writers a simple fact about cud-chewing? It's too incredible to believe.

Jackson's final act of desperation was a claim that Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia has "classified the hare as a ruminant" and "considers the hyrax (coney) as a ruminant." His reference (1975, pp. 421, 422) did not cite a volume number, but I read these page numbers, as well as the entire sections about rabbits, hares, and hyrexes, in volume 12 and found no attempt to classify either the hare or the hyrax as ruminants. If Mr. Jackson will send us a specific reference and the exact quotation that classifies hares and hyraxes as ruminants, we will publish it in a future issue. While he is at it, we would like for him to answer this question: Do hares chew the cud? They either do or they don't, so there is no reason why he can't give a yes or no answer to the question.

Some errors in Bible biology concerned behavioral misconceptions. Proverbs 6:7-8 described the ant as an industrious creature, "which having no chief, overseer, or ruler provides her bread in the summer, and gathers her food in harvest." No one disputes the ant's industry, but what is this about its "having no chief, overseer, or ruler"? Inerrantists seem to like Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, so I suggest that they read what it says about ants (Vol. 2, pp. 441-453). The various species of this insect are therein presented as members of highly structured social hierarchies having queens, workers, soldiers, and drones. Clearly, then, ants have overseers and rulers. If inerrantists wish to dispute this, they should consider slave ants, because some species of ants actually take captives in war and make them slaves. Surely, it would be proper to speak of slave ants as having overseers or rulers. The Bible says, however, that ants have no chiefs, overseers, or rulers. The Bible is wrong. Why didn't God instill in this inspired writer's mind an insight into the social structure of ant colonies? Perhaps he was too busy telling Job about the physics of sound transmission.

Even Yahweh himself was a little rusty in his understanding of animal behavior. In speaking to Job from the whirlwind, he said this of the ostrich:

The wings of the Ostrich wave proudly; but are they the pinions and plumage of love? For she leaves her eggs on the earth, and warms them in the dust, and forgets that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may trample them. She deals harshly with her young ones, as if they were not hers: Though her labor be in vain, she is without fear; because Eloah (God) has deprived her of wisdom, neither has he imparted to her understanding (39:13-17, Bethel Bible).

Reflected in this passage is a primitive, but incorrect, belief that the ostrich is a stupid bird that lays its eggs on the ground, leaves them to be hatched by the heat of the sand, and then treats her young harshly after they have hatched. The New American Bible affixes this frankly honest footnote to what Yahweh said of the Ostrich:

It was popularly believed that, because the ostrich laid her eggs on the sand, she was thereby cruelly abandoning them.

Modern biologists know better than what the "scientifically insightful" author of Job mistakenly thought about the ostrich. Both Encyclopedia Americana and Britannica, as well as Grzimek's (vol 7, pp. 91-95), describe ostriches as very caring parents. The female lays her eggs on the ground, but so do many other species of birds. The eggs are not abandoned to the heat of the sand, but in the female's absence, the male incubates the nest. When the young hatch, they are given watchful care by their mother. As a biological creature, the ostrich has survived for thousands of years, so obviously it is a successful procreator. Its labor is not in vain, as the passage above incorrectly declares. Yet Yahweh himself, who presumably created all living things, didn't know these behavioral facts about the ostrich. He "inspired" Jeremiah to perpetuate the primitive misconception of the ostrich's careless maternal instincts by having him write this about the women of Israel:

Even the jackals draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: The daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness. The tongue of the sucking child clings to the roof of his mouth for thirst: The young children ask bread, and no man breaks it to them (Lam. 4:3-4, BB).

Amazing scientific foreknowledge in the Bible? Hardly! Bibliolaters should stop trying to find insightful statements about electronics, oceanography, meteorology, etc. in the Bible text and worry more about explaining why a divinely inspired, inerrant book has so many obvious scientificerrors in it. And if the Bible is riddled with scientific errors, they should wonder too about the truth of that often parroted claim that the Bible is inerrant in all details of history, geography, chronology, etc., as well as in matters of faith and practice. It just ain't so!
 


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