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The Bible and Science

ORGANIZED UNDER: Faith // Science

Science is a process

Generally, a scientific idea starts out incorrect, and over time, it is refined until it becomes correct.

Consider, for example, what ancient scientists (who were then called “natural philosophers”) thought about air. For a long time, they agreed with Aristotle that air was one of the five basic elements and was weightless. The idea that it was weightless stood as absolute scientific fact for almost 2,000 years. In the early 1600s, however, some scientists began to question Aristotle’s thinking on the matter, and it led to a completely different scientific view of air.

French physician and chemist Jean Rey heated lead and tin in the presence of air and saw that their weights increased. He said the only way to explain this was to assume that air had weight and was adding its weight to that of the tin and lead.

Galileo compared air to water and decided that air must have weight, although its weight was significantly less than that of water.

Then Evangelista Torricelli filled a glass tube that was closed on one end with mercury and inverted the tube into a dish that was filled with mercury. He found that rather than just completely spilling out of the tube and into the dish, some mercury stayed in the tube, and the height of mercury in that tube changed from day to day. He proposed that the change in height was related to changes in the amount of air in the room, and the barometer was born.

The famous French philosopher Blaise Pascal added the final piece to the puzzle. He had learned of Torricelli’s barometer and made of few of his own. After doing some experiments, he contacted his brother-in-law, who lived near the Puy de Dome, a mountain in France. He asked his brother-in-law to carry a barometer up the mountain and note the height of the mercury in the tube as he ascended. As Pascal predicted, the height of the mercury decreased the higher his brother-in-law ascended, because there was less air pushing on the mercury. This provided the definitive demonstration that air does, indeed, have weight.

The First Facts of Nature

While this is a wonderful example of how science works, please understand that these great natural philosophers weren’t the first to say that air has weight.

The first mention of this fact comes from the Bible. In Job 28:25 we read,

When He imparted weight to the wind and meted out the waters by measure… (NASB).

In the end, then, while science eventually figured out that air has weight, the Bible was actually the first document to state this fact of nature.

Now the Bible isn’t a science text, but it was inspired by God. As a result, we should expect that it makes scientifically accurate statements.

Over the years, some scientists have taken this to heart. One notable example is Matthew Fontaine Maury, who is considered the father of oceanography. He was inspired by Psalm 8:8 to seek out the paths of the seas, and he ended up charting the prevailing ocean currents that make sea travel significantly easier. Because of this, he is often called the “Pathfinder of the Seas.” Here is what he said about the Bible and science in a speech that he gave at an event for the University of the South in 1861:

I have been blamed by men of science, both in this country and in England, for quoting the Bible in confirmation of the doctrines of physical geography. The Bible, they say, was not written for scientific purposes, and is therefore, of no authority in matters of science. I beg pardon! The Bible is authority for everything it touches. [Diana Fontaine Corbin, A Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury (Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington 1888), p. 178]

I wholeheartedly agree with Matthew Maury. While the Bible is not meant to be a science textbook (it is much more important than that!), when it speaks about the natural world, it is the most reliable authority, since it was written by the One who authored nature.

Dr. Jay L. Wile holds an earned Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry and a B.S. in chemistry, both from the University of Rochester. He and his wife of more than 25 years, Kathleen, homeschooled their only daughter, Dawn, from the time they adopted her until she graduated high school. Dr. Wile is best known for his award-winning “Exploring Creation With...” series of science textbooks for junior high and high school students. His latest project is an elementary science series that introduces science from a historical perspective. The first three books in that series are available at BereanBuilders.com.

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