Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shape of the Earth

Lesson 2 

Shape of the Earth

The Solar System

A Brief History of Science


Discussion:  When science and the Bible seem to disagree:

For example, what is the shape of the Earth?  Is “heaven” the same as the “heavens”?  Is Hell under the Earth? 

What is the shape of the Earth?  How do you know?  What does science say?

How would the Jews have known (for example, at the time the Old Testament was completed)?


A sample of verses to consider:


1After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.  Rev 7


22            He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,

       and its people are like grasshoppers.

     He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,

       and spreads them out like a tent to live in.  Is 40


Note that Hebrew had no specific word for a sphere.


10            ….that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

       in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

       to the glory of God the Father.  Phil 2 (and see also Rev 5:3 and 5:13)


23In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  Luke 16


Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!20The tree you saw, which grew large and strong, with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth21with beautiful leaves and abundant fruit, providing food for all, giving shelter to the beasts of the field, and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air Dan 4 (and see verses 10 and 11).


8   He raises the poor from the dust

       and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

     he seats them with princes

       and has them inherit a throne of honor.

     “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’S;

       upon them he has set the world. 1 Sam 2



12  “Have you ever given orders to the morning,

       or shown the dawn its place,

13  that it might take the earth by the edges

       and shake the wicked out of it?  Job 38


41Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all.  Mark 6


29“Edom is there, her kings and all her princes; despite their power, they are laid with those killed by the sword. They lie with the uncircumcised, with those who go down to the pit.

30“All the princes of the north and all the Sidonians are there; they went down with the slain in disgrace despite the terror caused by their power. They lie uncircumcised with those killed by the sword and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.  Ezek 32 (and see verses 14, 16, 18 and 23).


2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.  2 Cor 12

And similarly see Job 9:6, Ps 102:25, Is 48:13.


7He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing.  Job 26


“The concept of a spherical Earth dates back to around the 6th century BC in ancient Greek philosophy and possibly ancient Indian philosophy.


The concept of a spherical Earth displaced earlier beliefs in a flat Earth: In early Mesopotamian thought, the world was portrayed as a flat disk floating in the ocean, and this forms the premise for early Greek maps like those of Anaximander and Hecataeus of Miletus. Other speculations on the shape of Earth include a seven-layered ziggurat or cosmic mountain, alluded to in the Avesta and ancient Persian writings (see seven climes).



Early Greek philosophers alluded to a spherical earth, though with some ambiguity. This idea influenced Pythagoras (b. 570 BCE), who saw harmony in the universe and sought to explain it. He reasoned that Earth and the other planets must be spheres, since the most harmonious geometric solid form is a sphere. After the fifth century BCE, no Greek writer of repute thought the world was anything but round.



Aristotle (384 BCE - 322 BCE) was Plato's prize student and "the mind of the school." Aristotle observed "there are stars seen in Egypt and [...] Cyprus which are not seen in the northerly regions." Since this could only happen on a curved surface, he too believed Earth was a sphere "of no great size, for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be quickly apparent." (De caelo, 298a2-10)


Aristotle provided physical and observational arguments supporting the idea of a spherical Earth:


Every portion of the earth tends toward the center until by compression and convergence they form a sphere.

Travelers going south see southern constellations rise higher above the horizon; and

The shadow of Earth on the Moon during a lunar eclipse is round.


And see the following link for an article on this from a (young earth) creationist.


Comments: Many of these Biblical passages are in poetic form.  The term “circle of the earth” is suggestive, since Hebrew (apparently) had no word for a sphere (link below).  The concept of a “third heaven” suggests that there are “lower” heavens, with perhaps the lowest one being physical.  However, a question is whether the ancient Jews took these passages literally.  It is now obvious from science that the Earth is approximately spherical, but it was not obvious then.  Science does not address the location of heaven and hell.


Discussion:  does the Sun go around the Earth, or does the Earth spin on its axis?


1    The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty

and is armed with strength.  The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.  Ps 93:1  (and similarly see Ps 96:10 and 1 Chron 16:30)


5    He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.  Ps 104


5    The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  Eccl 1


12On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel:

     “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

13  So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,

       till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.  Josh 10


8b    “For the foundations of the earth are the LORD’S;

       upon them he has set the world.  1 Sam 2


The views of the Roman Catholic Church on this topic are well known.  They strongly suppressed the views of Galileo and others who advocated that the Earth rotated on its axis.  It was not until 1992 that they formally exonerated Galileo.  As for the Protestant Reformers, we have the views of Luther and Calvin in written records.  Both wrote that Scripture taught that the Earth did not move, and that the Sun went around the Earth.


See the following link for a sympathetic discussion of Calvin’s views, which nevertheless make clear that he favored an Earth-centered view.



       The Scriptures above would, if taken in a scientifically literal way, suggest that the Earth is stationary and that the Sun rotates around the Earth.  Since it is now universally accepted that this is not literally correct, a way to resolve this is needed.  One way to do this is to say that the two views of motion are both scientifically correct, and just involve a mathematical transformation of coordinates.  However, to have a coordinate system that is fixed on the Earth means that it is not an inertial frame of reference (because it is rotating).  Distant stars would have to be traveling in huge circles at very many times the speed of light in such a coordinate system.  Also, what force would make them do that?  This explanation would have serious problems.  A more typical way to resolve this issue is to say that Scripture sometimes speaks about things as they appear from a certain perspective, such as from the surface of the Earth.  It is noted that teaching science or giving explanations or descriptions in a modern, “scientifically” correct way is not generally the Lord’s main intent.  It is not even obvious that such explanations would have been understood.  In general, the Lord adapts his message to our limitations of language and understanding. 


10“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?  John 3


It can also be said that the physical images of the Bible sometimes poetic or metaphorical.  That is fine for us to say, because we know (from mature science) that the Earth actually is spinning on its axis.  However, Luther and Calvin didn’t know that, since the science of their day had not yet matured on that point.  Hence, it seems unlikely that the ancient Hebrews knew the correct answer either.  Would the ancient Hebrews have taken these Biblical passages literally?  Perhaps they did.  If so, this would not have been the only thing in which the prophets of old did not fully understand what they were given to say:


10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.  1 Pet 1


Similarly, there are prophecies about the end times that we may not fully understand.  The Lord always reveals to the prophets what he is going to do (Amos 3:7), even if understanding of them comes later.  It is God’s message, not the prophet’s.  Sometimes only God fully understands it, until the appointed time.


20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  1Pet 1


       A take-away message from all of this is that there are sometimes uncertainties in how we understand portions of Scripture.  Some things like the gospel message are repeated in so many different ways, where it is clearly the intent of the Lord to teach them, that we have “the word of the prophets made more certain” (2 Pet 1:19).  In some cases, uncertainties have been cleared up by further revelations from the Lord.  For example, uncertainties in how to understand Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah were cleared up by the coming of Jesus and later by the completed New Testament.  Are there cases in which uncertainties about the interpretation of Scripture are cleared up through science?  I think that this issue of whether the Earth rotates or not is such an case.  However, some Christians would object in principle and say that this never happens – that the Word of God is “supreme”, and needs no other interpreter.  However, to the extent that a field of science is mature, I would say that it becomes part of the Lord’s General Revelation (in addition to the Special Revelation of the Bible).  In principle, both Scripture and nature are from him, and thus both will eventually tell the same story, if we interpret them correctly.  A corollary to this is that there will be periods in history when we, the people of God, do not yet have a mature understanding of a subject, and we must have a patient and faithful attitude, trusting that the truth will eventually be known.




A brief history of science


According to the Bible, Eden was where four rivers came together, including the well-known Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Iraq.  The location of the others, the Pison and Gihon Rivers, are uncertain.  However, satellite photos show where an ancient river (believed to be the Pison) flowed across present day Saudi Arabia, and which converged on the northern end of the Persian Gulf.  This is where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers also end.  In one popular theory, the Gihon is the present day Karun River in Iran, which also empties into the northern end of the Persian Gulf.  See the two links below.  Thus, it is likely that the location of Eden is now under water at the northern end of the Persian Gulf.  The leading theory of human origins is called “Out of Africa”, which says that Africa was the earliest place that human beings (homo sapiens) lived.  This is close to this probable location of the Garden of Eden.


The dating of what follows is contested by many young earth creationists who believe that the Earth was created around 4000 B.C.  Other young earth creationists, as well as old earth creationists, accept these more ancient dates, and explain them by gaps in the genealogies in the Bible. 


From archeological evidence, it appears that human existence (homo sapiens) goes back roughly 100,000 to 150,000 years.  For example, cave art and other artifacts of human civilization existed by 30,000 B.C. in France.  By about 10,000 B.C., the last major ice age was ending and the world population is estimated to have been a few million people.  Rice and millet were being cultivated in the “Fertile Crescent” in the Middle East.  This area is often known as Mesopotamia, which means the “Land Between the Rivers”, that is, between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. However, people survived in most of the world by hunting and gathering of wild animals and plants.  Tools were made of wood, stone, bone, etc.  Archaeological studies show that Jericho existed by about 8500 B.C. along an important trade route, with 2000 inhabitants living in mud brick houses.  By this time, many plants and animals had been domesticated.  Gold and copper found naturally (as metals, not ore) were known by 8000 B.C.  More general use of copper (the Copper Age, or Chalcolithic Age) became widespread in the Middle East by 6000 B.C.  The large cities of Sumer along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers became important around 4100 B.C.  The wheel began to be used in the Middle East and India by 3500 B.C.  Silver was discovered around 3100 B.C., and alloys of copper with arsenic or tin were used to make bronze around 3000 B.C.  The Iron Age occurred later, by around 1200 B.C.  During most of this period, science developed extremely slowly.


Advanced writing (hieroglyphics) came from civilizations in the Middle East, mostly in the Fertile Crescent, by 3100 B.C. and perhaps earlier.  Advanced writing also existed in Egypt and Pakistan by this time.  While the alphabet came later, this writing was very important in the development of science, since it was good enough for detailed, accurate records to be kept.  The pace of scientific discoveries accelerated, especially in the fields of agriculture, architecture, metallurgy, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy.  These advances were also helped by fertile land which gave a steady food supply through agriculture (as opposed to simply hunting and gathering).  The abundance of food in the Fertile Crescent meant that not everyone was needed for agriculture, and thus a more advanced civilization of miners, merchants, craftsmen, government officials, physicians, and pagan priests could exist.  Some of these people, especially priests, became philosophers as they sought to understand reality more deeply.  This early knowledge of philosophy or science was thus heavily mixed in with pagan religious beliefs.  Thus for example, astrology was mixed with astronomy, and many pagan superstitions were mixed with the practice of medicine.


Babylon (literally, “gate of god”) is mentioned as a center of civilization in Genesis 10, being founded by Nimrod, and arising in the area of Sumer along the Euphrates River.  It may have been destroyed and rebuilt a few times, and became one of the most prominent cities of Mesopotamia by 2300 B.C.  Babylon used a system of numbers in which 6, 12, 60 and 360 were important, and the fact that there are 360 degrees in a circle comes from Babylon.  Their earliest calendars used a 360 day year.  Eventually, it appears that every few years an extra month would be added to a year as needed to keep the calendar roughly stable (with each month occurring at about the same time of year).  This is similar to the way we now add a leap day (Feb 29th) every four years.  Babylon became a center of astronomy, and eventually a more accurate calendar with a 365 ¼ day year was established.  The ancient Jewish calendar is essentially the same as the ancient Babylonian calendar, and the months have the same names. Jeremiah had prophesied that the Israelites would be in captivity for 70 years, and this prophecy is correct for a 360 day year.  Daniel spent most of his life in Babylon, and his prophecy about the Messiah coming in 490 weeks of years is accurate based upon a 360 day year.


The system of 24 hours per day, and 60 minutes per hour, and 60 seconds per minute, also apparently comes from Babylon.  The names of the days of the week come from Babylon.  The “shekel” as a unit of weight and money came from Babylon.  There were 60 shekels in a mina, and 60 minas in a talent.


Later, the Greeks became interested in science / philosophy, and some of them went to Babylon and to Egypt to learn from them.  Studies of mathematics (especially geometry), medicine, chemistry, astronomy, etc, were then greatly advanced in Greece.  The Greeks measured the size of the Earth, and the distance to the Moon and Sun with reasonable accuracy.  Most (not all) Greek astronomers thought that both the Sun and Moon went around the Earth, along with the stars.  A minority thought that the Earth must be rotating, but could not explain why people had no sense of motion.  The majority view may have influenced the Church in their interpretation of Scripture as discussed above. 


Rome eventually conquered Greece, and Roman culture was not very interested in science for its own sake. Knowledge of the Greek language and much of its learning was eventually lost in the western Roman empire.  Roman culture was pragmatically centered on government, military strength, agriculture, and architecture (buildings, aqueducts, etc).  Roman practice was to conquer and enslave people, and the abundance of slave labor meant that the incentive to invent advanced technology and machines was reduced.  It was important to keep slaves busy doing menial tasks, lest they think about revolting.  Rome was eventually conquered by northern Germanic “barbaric” tribes, and western civilization entered the middle ages – sometimes called the dark ages.  Things only got worse later because of terrible attacks by the Vikings from farther north, and Muslim attacks from the east and south.  What little organization was left in “Christendom” or the “Holy Roman Empire” became heavily linked to the Roman Catholic Church, which therefore came to have much political power. 


Advances of Islam in the Middle East led to a golden age of science for them, and Baghdad became a center of Islamic learning, borrowing heavily from translation of the ancient Greek science books into Arabic.  However, Baghdad was destroyed by Mongols in 1258.  In the west, Christian monasteries were for a time the primary means by which knowledge, scientific or otherwise, was preserved.  In the 12th century, Christian universities were established, initially in Italy (Bologna), France (Paris) and England (Oxford and Cambridge).  They were different from seminaries in that they were not just to train priests, but to advance knowledge of Scripture and of other subjects, including science.  Muslim success in conquering Constantinople in 1453 in what is now Turkey caused many Christian scholars to flee to the west.  They brought knowledge of the Greek language, and also copies of the Greek Bible and of some ancient Greek scientific books with them.  This helped to rekindle interest in ancient Greek philosophy in the west.  This helped produce a revival of knowledge of both Scripture and science which is often referred to as the Renaissance.  Over the same time period there was a decline in the authority of the Roman Catholic Church because of multiple popes, moral failures, and pressures for political independence from Germany and England.  The invention of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation also contributed to this decline. 


From about 1600 to modern times, increasingly rapid scientific advances began to occur.  It was no longer possible for one person to know essentially all of science after about 1750.  This period came to be referred to as the “Enlightenment”.  Science increasingly came into conflict with Scripture, or with the understanding of Scripture that the church had.  Tension grew between increasingly secular universities and the church.  Major areas of conflict included scientific evidence that the Earth rotated on its axis, that the Earth was very ancient, Darwinian evolutionary theory, Freudian psychology, etc.  The Bible increasingly was abandoned as a source of truth in universities. Darwinian theory contributed to a German attempt during World War 2 to ethnically cleanse the world of “inferior races” as a way to promote human improvement.  While this German effort failed, the fact that much of the Protestant and Roman Catholic church in Europe did not strongly fight this Nazi effort led not to the perception of victory by Christianity over an ungodly philosophy, but to a perception in Europe that the Church had largely failed morally when it was needed.  This contributed to a decline in Christianity in Europe.  That decline had been going on for some time, partly because of a sense that Christianity got it wrong regarding important scientific questions.  There is a largely anti-Christian culture in place there today, along with many empty churches.  Note that there were those in the European Protestant and Roman Catholic churches that resisted Nazism.


The American experience of World War 2 was different, with the perception here that the church strongly encouraged Americans to fight against Nazism and later against Communism.  Thus, the church in the U.S. was probably strengthened, although the secular movement in universities spread here as well.  In the U.S., a spiritual battle is being fought out over the future direction of American culture.  This involves battles over abortion, homosexuality, teaching of science in public schools, etc.  Young earth creationists particularly are trying to influence teaching of science.  While they have generally failed to have young earth creationism taught in the public schools, they have succeeded in enforcing their view as the only acceptable one in many Christian churches and seminaries. This movement is sometimes known as Fundamentalism.  It involves attempts to refuse church membership to those who do not agree with their view of creationism.  If that cannot be attained, they sometimes try to refuse positions of leadership to those who do not share their view.  The evangelical churches, on the other hand, generally view the young vs old Earth controversy as a peripheral issue, although the majority of evangelicals are young Earth in their viewpoint, some very strongly.


Today, there are many fields of science.  Knowledge is so advanced that undergraduate university students are typically taught on the basis of “authority”.  In most fields, it is difficult for students to get to the point of doing original research until they are working on a doctorate under the direction of a professor, working on a highly specialized topic.  Some “sciences” are more mature than others, and are heavily dependent on advanced mathematics.  Physics is the most basic science, being concerned with space, time, matter and energy.  It has many sub-fields, such as classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, atomic, nuclear and particle physics, quantum mechanics, biophysics, etc.  Astronomy and geology are basically off-shoots from physics. Chemistry has many sub-fields such as inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, etc.  Other “life” sciences include biology, medicine, psychology, sociology, archeology, etc.  There are related engineering fields of applied science, such as mechanical, electrical, computer, chemical, civil, environmental and genetic engineering.


Scientific knowledge began to increase with the invention of complex writing.  It accelerated with the invention of the printing press.  With the personal computer, the internet, and on-line libraries and universities, knowledge is exploding.  With air travel, many scientific conferences are held around the world every week.


4But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.  Dan 12

1 comment:

Head Ranter said...

Dear Friends,
The summary of Lesson 2 that I sent you all contained the following statements, which I now wish to retract.

Early, rudimentary writing systems in China recorded ruling dynasties by around 5300 B.C. Thus young earth creationist chronology starting around 4000 B.C. has not in general been well-accepted there by Chinese converts.

I was discussing this with a scientist at work today who is an evangelical Christian from China, and who also enjoys studying Chinese history. While he personally is an old earth creationist, he says that the majority of Christians in China are young earth creationists. He says that he does not think that China had any kind of writing as far back as 5300 B.C. He says that there are claims that rudimentary writing existed back as far as about 5300 years ago (3300 B.C.), but these are not well substantiated. The most solid evidence of writing goes back to 1500 B.C. There is a tendency there to exaggerate such things, to make China look better. I have tried to track back to my original source of this information, but I have given up. I put a fair amount of trust what this man says. Incidentally, he asked to be added to the email distribution list for class notes. There are other scientists on the list as well.