We hear often about the scientific difficulties raised by the Bible, particularly the Old Testament—the six-day creation narrative, the Genesis flood, Jonah being swallowed by a whale, to name but a few of the best known.
But what about those Bible verses that are remarkably consistent with modern scientific discoveries? We never seem to hear much about those. Here are seven of them:
1. The singing stars. Job 38:7 declares the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy. It sounds like a bit of Bible poetry but not much more. After all, stars shine, not sing, right? Well, it turns out scientists have been able to convert patterns from start light into audio wavelengths, according to Discovery News. The “amount of hiss” in the audio reportedly allows scientists to measure the surface gravity on a star and gauge where it is in its stellar evolution. Want to hear what a “singing star” sounds like? Click here.
2. Stars and sands. In Genesis 22:17, God makes one of many promises to Abraham about the multiplicity of his descendants. This one is particularly specific: I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies. If the number of stars was not equal to the number of sands it wouldn’t be much of a knock against this text, which, more than anything, seems to be using a poetic analogy, rather than making a scientific statement. But it doesn’t hurt that some contemporary estimates back it up. According to the site Universe Today, there are an estimated 10 billion billion stars in the universe—or 10 sextillion stars. The number of sands: 2.5 sextillion to 10 sextillion. So the number of stars and sands could be the same. But, of course, we’re just working with rough estimates here. After all, no one knows the exact number of stars in the universe, a fact which is also stated in Scripture (Jeremiah 33:22)!
3. A world suspended. The Israelites, like other Near Eastern cultures, had a quaint cosmology, we are told. So how to explain this line from Job 26:7, in explaining the works of God as creator?—He … suspends the earth over nothing at all. It may seem obvious to us that the earth is suspended in space by the force of gravity, but it was hardly so before the dawn of modern science. Medieval astronomers, for example, largely held to the Aristotelian conception of the universe as consisting of increasingly large spheres, each one contained within the next like Russian nesting dolls. Our current understand of outer space itself is also quite young in the history of human thought: up until the nineteenth century scientists still believed that a substance they called “ether” pervaded the universe. As late as 1887, scientists were still trying to find evidence of earth’s drag through this ether as it orbited the sun.
4. Weight of the winds. In Job 28:25, we are told that God weighed out the wind. This one may be no more self-evident to us than it was to an ancient Israelite reader of this text. But, we know from modern science that air, since it does have mass, weighs something. You might be surprised to know how much though: an estimated one ton of air is weighing down on shoulders, according to this science site (which explains that we don’t feel it because the air is exerting its force in all directions). This is pretty basic stuff for modern scientists, but it’s quite a credit to the inerrancy of Scripture that the author of Job got it right so long ago (approximately in the second millennium BC).
5. Worship of the heavens. The heavens declare the glory of God, so says Psalm 19:2. How so? Well, one immediately thinks of the bright beauty of the stars, which, as we saw earlier, also sing. But note that this verse mentions the heavens, not the stars. Certainly the psalmist could have had in mind all the whole host of luminous heavenly bodies—from supernovas to galaxies. But the word choice is nonetheless a curious one, as elsewhere Psalms refer to the stars. For example, in Psalm 147:4, we are told that God numbers the stars, and gives to all of them their names. And Psalm 8 mentions the “moon and the stars,” in addition to the “heavens.” Back to Psalm 19, our interest is further piqued by the next verse: Day unto day pours forth speech; night unto night whispers knowledge. This suggests that the author could have more in mind that just the night lights of stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies. Is there something else that fits the bill here?
Modern cosmology offers us one compelling candidate. It’s called “cosmic background radiation.” Cosmic background radiation is everywhere in the universe (see this image.) It is detectable by radio telescope and therefore can be observed regardless of the time of day (passing the day-and-night criterion of our verse). It is also the oldest light in the cosmos, dating back to the earliest moments of the Big Bang, what we would call the moment of creation. It’s hard to think of a better match to the heavenly reality described in Psalm 19.
6. The heavenly garment. In at least 11 Old Testament texts God is described as stretching out the heavens like a garment. For example, in Job 9:8, we are told He alone stretches out the heavens. Likewise, elsewhere we read that You spread out the heavens like a tent (addressed to God in Psalm 104:2) and that God is the One Who stretches out the heavens like a veil and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in (Isaiah 40:22). Again, it’s easy for us to brush past these passages, absorbed in the sheer beauty of their poetry, and miss an obvious textual detail. As we saw above, biblical writers could and did refer to individual heavenly bodies—the stars, the moon, and the sun, so the heavens are not synonymous with these things (although they certainly included them). Had the authors of the above verses wanted to simply convey the idea that God was placing stars and planets in the sky another analogy would seem more fitting—verbs like scattered, studded, or decorated, come to mind.
One has to ask, in what sense are the “heavens” capable of being stretched out like a “veil” or a “canopy?” Is this poetry alone or is there a thread of scientific truth contained in these verses? Indeed, modern science—as developed just over the last century or so—tells us that it is useful to think of empty space like a fabric. According to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, space is not flat, as understood by Newtonian physics. Instead, the space-time continuum is flexible, capable of being stretched and bent by matter, such as stars or planets. Gravity is understood as the curvature caused by the presence of a large body.
Here’s how the Web site for MIT’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory describes it: “We can think of space-time as a fabric; The presence of large amounts of mass or energy distorts space-time—in essence causing the fabric to ‘warp’—and we observe this warpage as gravity.” Another science site, at Stanford University, offers this analogy: think of space-time as a rubber sheet. Put a bowling ball in the middle of the sheet. What happens? The ball causes a depression in the sheet. Now, if you throw a marble onto the sheet, it will roll towards the bowling ball (or perhaps go into “orbit” around it, much like a satellite or the moon orbits the earth). Now, the poetic images of the verses we cited above now seem to have some scientific weight—quite an extraordinary foresight for texts predating modern science by well over two millennia.
7. Stellar DNA. In a discussion on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul makes an intriguing digression in which he states the following: The brightness of the sun is one kind, the brightness of the moon another, and the brightness of the stars another. For star differs from star in brightness. While the early Christian may have been able to discern differences in the strength of star light in the night sky, he could not have known just how right the New Testament writer was: modern-day astronomers can analyze the spectra of light coming from stars, measuring how much light each star is emitting for each color and using that data to determine things like the temperature of the star and its chemical makeup, according to this Cornell University site. Click here to see what the spectrum of the sun looks like.
Science and the Bible: Going on the offensive
Of course, it goes without saying that most, if not all of the above texts, are not aiming to make scientific statements. Their purpose is to convey moral and spiritual truths—such as the reality of God as creator and His omnipotence in the universe as compared with man’s existential humility. But we do a great disservice to the doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scriptures when we limit their truths exclusively to matters of faith and morals, rejecting carte blanche any other potential truth value to the above verses, scientific or otherwise. (For more on that, see Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Providentissimus Deus.)
We also undermine our own efforts to defend the Faith to others (either doubters, deniers, or agnostics). All too often we find ourselves on the defensive on such questions as how the world could have been created in six days or how the entire would could have been flooded and repopulated from a single ark (there are answers to those apparent dilemmas, but that’s beyond the scope here). As the above verses demonstrate, there is plenty of opportunity for us to also go on the offensive when it comes to science and the Bible. Far from being a biblical Achilles heel, there is much in Scripture that is remarkably consistent with modern science. A believer would even dare to say that such consistencies are yet further evidence of its divine inspiration.
A note on sources: Some of the above examples of Scripture are taken from ClarifyingChristianity.com, although the analysis of all the verses is the author’s own. All Scripture quotations are from the New American Bible, Revised Edition. Other main sources are noted where used.