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Interacting with Bible Critics: Astronomy

Silhouette two men discussing: photo credit: Pixabay

[Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of Dr. Jason Lisle’s longer post demonstrating how to engage people online. Watching his style is an education in itself.]

Our critics this week have commented on the recent article on the History of Astronomy in which we examined the biblical texts that touch on astronomy. The first critic, Rubin, has clearly been influenced by the near-eastern mythology view—the idea that the Bible is a mythology similar to the surrounding pagan myths of the day. Of course, there is no evidence to support this view and abundant evidence (both internal and external) against it.

The Pentateuch and books of history are written in the historical narrative style, and generally by eye-witnesses to the events in question. This is indicative of recorded history. It is therefore properly interpreted as history, not as mythology. Furthermore, archaeology has confirmed many of the events recorded in the Bible’s history. The wisdom literature and prophets are written primarily in a poetic style, but are still conveying truth from God, and are not mythical in any sense. Rubin asserted his opinion repeatedly, but was unable to provide any supporting evidence.

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Rubin: The claim based on translation tricks that the ancient Hebrews believed in a spherical earth is easily falsifiable by looking at other documents from the time period. I’ve attached a picture for reference.
Additionally, we see this cosmology reflected elsewhere, like in the flood myth where the ark’s levels correspond to the cosmological levels.

Dr. Lisle: You seem to have missed the entire point of the article. The Bible does not teach the mythical view you ascribe to the Hebrews. On the contrary, the Bible is correct when it addresses astronomy. It teaches a spherical Earth suspended in an expanding universe in which material is conserved. How do you think the ancient Hebrews were able to know these things, the expansion of the universe for example?

Rubin: No, Jason. You are reading your modern cosmological understanding into the Bible instead of studying how the ancient Hebrews who wrote the Bible actually understood the universe.
Frankly, your article reads like how Nostradamus fans like to interpret his verses after the fact to confirm their bias that he could magically predict the future.

Dr. Lisle: [Notice that Rubin provided no evidence to back up his claims. It is merely a question-begging epithet: using emotionally-loaded language, insults, and so forth to persuade without any rational reasons.]

Rubin: If someone on my research team was this sloppy, he or she would be having a pointed meeting with Human Resources and myself pretty quickly.  Is this why you’re on the rubber chicken circuit instead of doing science?

Dr. Lisle: This is the fallacy of the question-begging epithet. This is often a last-ditch effort to persuade by emotional means rather than logical argumentation. If you come up with a rational objection to what I have written, please let me know.  But I am not interested in emotional rhetoric.

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I notice you didn’t answer my question in your diatribe. How did the ancient Hebrews know about the expansion of the universe as indicated in Scripture? Why are you trying to force pagan mythologies into the Biblical text instead of letting the biblical author speak for himself? That is not intellectually honest.

Rubin: I’ll answer it again: They didn’t. You’re reading your modern cosmological understanding into cherry picked verses. Very sloppy research.

Dr. Lisle: So when the Bible says that God stretches out the heavens, you think it does not mean that God stretches out the heavens? It sounds like you are reading into the Scriptures if you think they mean the opposite of what they say. If stretching out the heavens does not mean stretching out the heavens, then what do you think it means? Should I start interpreting your words the way you interpret the Bible—by taking them to mean something completely different?

Rubin: It’s also very interesting that you consider the Talmud to be pagan. Is this because you know nothing about the Talmud or because you don’t know the meaning of the word pagan?

Dr. Lisle: Bifurcation fallacy. I never said the Talmud is pagan. However, the view you have posted about a solid dome and a flat Earth is definitely pagan, and is contrary to the Scriptures. The Talmud is historically interesting, but is not Scripture and is not infallible.  Were you aware of this?

Rubin: Have you been binge-watching that Ancient Aliens show? From what little of the show I’ve seen, your research methods are disturbingly similar to those of that guy on the show with the funny hair.

Dr. Lisle: Question-begging epithet fallacy.  If you have a rational argument, please make it.

Rubin: Again, Jason, for someone who is supposed to be a smart guy, you do real sloppy work.

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Dr. Lisle: This is an ad hominem fallacy.  Sometimes people resort to this when they know they cannot defend their position on logical grounds.

Rubin: Oh, Jason. The thing is, it’s not an ad hominem if it’s true.

Dr. Lisle: Wrong. An ad hominem is any argument directed against the person rather than the [other] argument – that’s what the term means: “to the man.”  For example, I might point out that you apparently have a relatively low I.Q., and that may very well be true.  But that would not make your argument false. Second, your ad hominem isn’t even true.  You haven’t provided any supporting evidence anyway despite my asking you to do so.  None.

Rubin: And I have been pointing out clear examples of your research being sloppy.

Dr. Lisle: Where?!!! Certainly not on this thread. You seem to be very confused, and have not documented a single error in the article in question. All I have seen from you are unsupported assertions.

Rubin: Don’t you know shooting the messenger is poor manners?

Dr. Lisle: I was just thinking that about you.  If you have a problem with what God has said in His Word, take it up with Him and stop trolling me.

Rubin: Instead, you should take the opportunity to better yourself and stop ignoring your academic training,…

Dr. Lisle: Question-begging epithet fallacy. I would encourage you to get some academic training. Learn something about astronomy, and about the history of the Bible. I can recommend some resources if you would like to learn about these things.

Rubin: …even if ignoring it is your cash cow nowadays.

Dr. Lisle: This is a circumstantial ad hominem fallacy, and this particular one always makes me chuckle. I could earn far more money teaching the standard secular myths at a secular university. Anyone who knows anything about creation science knows that it does not pay well. And again, these sorts of ad hominem fallacies are what people resort to when they cannot provide any sort of rational argument.

Rubin: I get that you don’t like a scientist pointing out your flawed approach, but that doesn’t magically make my argument irrational.

Dr. Lisle: What flaw? So far you have not documented a single error. You have asserted that I have read into the text, but you have not provided any actual evidence. And so your comment amounts to a question-begging epithet fallacy. For example, I have asked you how I am supposedly reading into the text by taking “stretches out the heavens” to mean “stretches out the heavens” and you seem to be unable to answer that.

This is the problem Rubin. You have no trouble making assertions. But you seem to be completely unable to support them with rational reasons. Rational people have good reasons for their beliefs. I shall ask you again to document an actual error in my article and support your claim with logical reasons.

Rubin: I do find it amusing that you are the one ignoring the scientific method, yet trying to claim the mantle of rationality here.

Dr. Lisle: How am I supposedly “ignoring the scientific method?” Do you know what the scientific method is? I ask because the article is not really about that. It is about the statements that the Bible makes about astronomy being right. Subsequently, the roundness of the Earth, the fact that it hangs on nothing, the stretching of the heavens, the conservation laws, etc. were all discovered by the scientific method, thereby confirming what the Bible teaches. I didn’t go into details about how these things were discovered because that was not germane to the article. But I do teach college astronomy classes where we cover these things if you would like to learn the details.

Rubin: A rational researcher would have based their conclusions on the complete corpus of ancient Hebrew writings about the cosmos.

Dr. Lisle: Totally wrong. That’s that exact opposite of the rational approach, because the question under evaluation is what the Bible says about astronomy. (That was what the article was about). Therefore, if we are going to be rational in answering that question, we must examine the biblical data, and avoid the temptation to read into the text based on non-biblical data. Ironically, you had accused me of reading into the text—the very thing you are now recommending.

Rubin: The irrational approach is to cherry-pick isolated verses and misunderstand metaphors to support a pre-defined conclusion.

Dr. Lisle: That is what you are doing. You have already arbitrarily decided that the Bible is not the Word of God, and therefore it cannot be right about astronomy but must reflect the pagan notions of the surrounding cultures. And that is why you erroneously think that we should consult extra-biblical data to find out what the Bible means. But this is the opposite of proper exegesis. Rational exegesis evaluates the text based on what it says, not what other texts say.  This should be obvious.

Rubin: The irrational approach is to reject an important body of work like the Talmud because it contradicts the pre-defined conclusion.

Dr. Lisle: Wrong. That’s the fallacy of irrelevant thesis. If I want to find out what Einstein believed about space and time, I don’t read Newton, Tesla, Kepler, or Bohr. Why? Because they are not Einstein. If I want to learn what Einstein believed, I read what Einstein wrote. Likewise, if I want to learn what the Bible says about astronomy, I read what the Bible says about astronomy. It is irrational and anti-exegetical to read into the Bible based on the Talmud or any other text. These other works are historically interesting; but they are irrelevant to biblical exegesis.

Rubin: The irrational approach is your “Ancient Aliens” approach.

Dr. Lisle: So, in fact, you are the one taking a non-exegetical approach to the text as revealed by your own comments. I have never seen the show you reference, but if you watch that sort of thing, it may explain why you reason the way you do. I would suggest you take some classes on science, the Bible, and logic,… and watch less television. 😉  Just a thought.

Dr. Jason Lisle portrait

Written by Dr. Jason Lisle

Dr. Jason Lisle is a Christian astrophysicist who researches issues pertaining to science and the Christian Faith. You can find his ministry at Biblical Science
Dr. Lisle double-majored in physics and astronomy with a minor in mathematics at Ohio Wesleyan University. He then went on to obtain a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in astrophysics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. There, he used the SOHO spacecraft to analyze the surface of the sun, and made a number of interesting discoveries, including the detection of giant cell boundaries.
Since then, Lisle has worked in full-time apologetics ministry. He wrote a number of planetarium shows for the Creation Museum, including the popular “Created Cosmos.” Dr. Lisle has authored a number of best-selling books on the topic of creation, including: Taking Back Astronomy, Stargazer’s Guide to the Night Sky, the Ultimate Proof of Creation, Discerning Truth, and Understanding Genesis.

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