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How are we to understand the creation of the earth / world and does the bible contradict science. A few passages;

Psalm 104:5 - He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. (NIV)

Ecclesiastes 1:5 - The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. (NIV)

Job 9:6 He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. (NIV)

  • Earth moves and the other planets rotate and move in space around the Sun.
  • Earth cannot have pillars otherwise it opposes axis of rotation.
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    It doesnt contradict science bec it is an ancient literature, it does not make scientific claims.
    – Michael16
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 13:15
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    @Michael16 'ancient literature' - is the bible not Gods word / inspired / earth created by God etc... ?
    – maryhope
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 13:35
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    Earth is created by God, but the bible is completely written by man for man. If the reality appears contrary to the literature, you should change your interpretation of it rather than denying the reality of the world. "We must be on our guard against giving interpretations which are hazardous or opposed to science, and so exposing the word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers- Augustin (De Genesi ad litteram, I, 19, 21, especially n. 39)" christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/94966/…
    – Michael16
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 13:58
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    @Michael16 - the way I read your comment, you seem to be contradicting yourself - if the bible is from man (not Gods word or inspired by God) - you cannot expose God as the bible is not Gods word. Your exposing the bible and those who wrote the bible. So, your answer would be that the bible is not Gods word and therefore the author was wrong, I presume (as God cannot be wrong)!
    – maryhope
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 14:15
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    The "Word of God" belief comes from the virtue of the fact that the authors were men of God, thus, we call their writings' word of God, it is quite figurative.
    – Michael16
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 14:18

5 Answers 5

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Not so fast - even today we say the "sun rises" despite the fact everyone knows that it is the earth's rotation that makes the sun appear to rise. We also talk about the rotation of the heavens/stars which is actually caused by the earth's rotation and precession of the earth's orbit, etc.

The language of Ps 104 (and other places) is highly poetic, for example:

  • V3a - laying the beams of His chambers in the waters above
  • V3b - making the clouds His chariot, walking on the wings of the wind
  • V4 - He makes the winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants.
  • V28 - When You give it [food] to them [creatures], they gather it up; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things.

None of these things is literally true - the creatures of the earth do not literally fed from God's hand; God's throne is not literally in the rain-bearing clouds; God does not literally ride in a chariot made of clouds, etc.

Lastly, the comment in V5 about the earth not moving cannot also be taken to be literally true for several reasons:

  1. the language is poetic as described above
  2. the ancients were familiar with earthquakes just as we are today
  3. In the same Ps 104:32, we see a description of the earth "trembling" when God looks at the earth. Again, this describes (if taken literally) the moving of the earth which, should, again, be taken poetically and metaphorically.
  4. It is not a scientific statement and does not try to be. We should never judge ancient literature by modern ways of thinking.

CONCLUSION

Ps 104 is a wonderful celebration and rehearsal of the greatness, majesty, wisdom and omnipotence of God and the world He created for us. Let us allow the Hebrew poets some literary license.

Ellicott sums this up well when he writes:

(5) Who laid . . .—Better, He fixed the earth on its foundations. (Comp. Job 38:4-6; Proverbs 8:29.)

The inconsistency of this with Job 26:7, “He laid the earth upon nothing,” need not cause difficulty. Both treatments are poetical, not scientific. The word foundations implies stability and endurance (comp. Psalm 82:5), as in Shakespeare’s

“The frame and huge foundation of the earth.”

Benson is similar:

Psalm 104:5. Who laid the foundations of the earth — Hebrew, יסד ארצ על מכוניה, jasad eretz gnal mechoneah, who hath founded the earth upon its own bases, or foundations, that is, upon itself, or its own centre of gravity, by which it is self-balanced, and by which it stands as fast and immoveable as if it were built upon the strongest foundation imaginable, which is a most stupendous work of divine wisdom and power; that it should not be removed — Out of its proper place; for ever — Or, till the end of time, when it must give way to the new earth.

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    I guess we'll have to discard all of modern science because there are scientists who have used the word "sunrise" or poetry. Tis a shame.... Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 22:25
  • @HoldToTheRod - quite true - human language is far more poetic than many realize.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 22:27
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    I’m surprised that modern science somehow is allowed to define Scripture. So science is the standard and superior to the Bible? You wrote ”We should never judge ancient literature by modern ways of thinking.” and yet you have done precisely that, when you discarded the whole ancient cosmology as fake and hyperbolic, BECAUSE you judged ancient literature by modern ways of thinking. That is a perfect example of forcing modern cosmology onto the text, you’ve dismissed the whole writings as uninspired and scientifically inaccurate. No one in ancient times would agree with your modern assessment Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 6:00
  • @NihilSineDeo - I am not allowing science to define Scripture. All I said was that we cannot take this passage literally for the reasons stated - there are many other statements here that are clearly metaphorical and poetic such as God riding on a chariot of clouds and placing beams etc.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 7:08
  • @NihilSineDeo & others - the point seems to be only 'God' could have given this knowledge as clearly at the time men did not have this knowledge. If the scriptures are a true guide they would complement science not contradict. To imply as @ Michael16 that men of 'God' make minor errors would raise issues about the bible, not science. Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 11:10
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Biblical cosmology is entirely incompatible with modern secular cosmology. Anyone attempting to force the Biblical text into modern secular cosmology is not approaching hermeneutics and exegesis honestly.

The text was written for the ancient reader, with the ancient reader in mind.

As such the earth in Biblical cosmology is a plane, has two heavens, one up to the clouds, one between the top of the clouds and the firmament and then the third heaven above it. The underworld and Sheol is under the earth’s plane, it is fixed on pillars and it does not move. The ends of the earth are upturned to hold in the ocean (the ancients didn’t divide the one water into many oceans like we have name different regions today) and the sun, moon and stars are local.

Here is a graphic from the prestigious resource Logos Bible Software diagraming what the ancients envisioned the universe looked like.

enter image description here

As such there are no planets as defined by modern secular cosmology, only as they were described even by the ancient Greeks, wandering stars. Joshua literally told the sun and moon to stop because the earth was not moving in the first place.

When the text in Hebrew says the earth does not move, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t displace itself, it’s not spinning, it’s not turning, it is fixed. Earthquakes are localized and it is not the whole earth that is moving, as such it does not contradict the statement that the earth does not move. It is fixed on pillars.

A great resource is Michael S Heiser who although subscribed to modern secular cosmology had enough scholarly integrity to let the text say what it said and did not try to force the text to fit into the modern secular paradigm.

If Biblical cosmology is understood as the ancients understood it, then the passages agree with each other, otherwise it’s hard to make sense of certain phenomena like Joshua telling the sun and moon to stop or Peter saying that the firmament will be rolled up like a scroll, or the stars will fall to the earth.

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  • Images like that always seem far more detailed than what I actually see in the scriptures. No doubt that it was a Jewish cosmology at some point, but I don't think we can say with certainty that the authors of the Psalms had that exact model.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 23:17
  • It’s sourced @curiousdannii from Logos Bible Software, by very competent scholars, I could start to list the verses myself but if you haven’t dedicated yourself to studying this subject in exclusivity, it wouldn’t matter because you’re not an authority on the subject as it stands. There are over 200 verses that contribute to the creation of this diagram and the major items are depicted. Besides it corroborates with numerous archaeological depictions from multiple civilizations in antiquity. The burden would be on you to prove otherwise based on the preponderance of verses and artifacts Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 0:02
  • @NihilSineDeo - you could help your cause if you could point to the place when the edge of the earth exists. If you point me to such a place, I would be convinced. In the mean-time, I believe my experienced of having flown around the entire globe.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 4:03
  • @Dottard the information is publicly available and you won’t look into it anyway even if I showed you where. The Antarctica treaty Article VI prevents anyone from passing past 60o south latitude. All unauthorized attempts have either been turned back or destroyed/killed. Only authorized visits at certain allowed bases. According to the non-sanitized original records of Captain Cook & James Clark Ross circumnavigated Antarctica taking 3-4 years and between 50,000-60,000 miles around. British ship Challenger made an indirect but complete circumnavigation of Antarctica traversing 69,000 miles Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 11:45
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    @NihilSineDeo - Actually, I have flown over the south pole -it was most interesting.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 12, 2023 at 21:11
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Background
How are we to understand passages in the Bible which seem to contradict science? This is an excellent question. When addressing this issue there are two things to keep in mind.

First, science is often wrong. This especially true for new discoveries which are almost always misunderstood to some degree. But to the point of this question, all new discoveries mean what was previously taught was wrong. An obvious example is the Big Bang, which replaced the Newtonian model of the universe. After teaching a false theory of cosmology for over 300 years, science celebrated the Big Bang Theory. Yet history does not criticize science for over 300 years of teaching something which is now declared to be wrong.

To illustrate this issue by way of example, consider recall notices automobile makers send out. The principle is simple: the car is unsafe or fails to properly perform and the manufacturer has an obligation to correct the flaw. Do colleges recall degrees for teaching something which is discovered to be incorrect? Do professors reach out to former students to advise them they were given wrong information? When textbooks are rewritten with correct information, are previous students given replacements at no cost?

In some cases, like the cosmology of the Newtonian model, science was known to be wrong.1Further, science was not simply wrong by providing an inaccurate natural explanation; the error was compounded by claiming the Biblical account was inaccurate. Not only were there no recalls or replacement books: there was no mea culpa. When Nobel Prizes are given there is never an accompanying apology or retraction for wrongly claiming the Biblical account was in error.

Second, scientific accuracy, or lack there of, should be determined from the original language, not translations. I am quite certain that had science not misinformed the King James translators by teaching the Newtonian model of cosmology, many passages would have been translated differently. In which case the accuracy of Biblical cosmology should cause all readers to ask: how did scientifically illiterate writers get it right long before science understood the physics which prove it is right? Sadly, the first translations into English were negatively influenced by ill-informed science.

Psalm 104:5
Arguably, some things are common knowledge and scientific accuracy is expected:

He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. (Psalm 104:5 NIV)

As some answers discuss, the "inaccuracy" can be dismissed on the grounds or poetic language or the use of a metaphor or figure of speech. After all, something written to describe something else using figures of speech should not be judged as inaccurate because the figures of speech are not literally correct.

On the other hand, if the original statement, including the figure of speech, is from God, can't we also expect scientifically accuracy? When a translator approaches a text, what is their translation philosophy? Scientific accuracy is not likely to be at the top of the list, nor should it be. That is, a translator should not render a passage in a way which compromises the most important sense in order to produce a rendering which satisfies science.

However, when one chooses to throw down the gauntlet and claim the Bible lacks scientific accuracy, then it is fair to respond to such claims by re-examining the passage with scientific accuracy in mind.

יסד־ארץ על־מכוניה בל־תמוט עולם ועד (Psalm 104:5)
laid the earth upon the foundations of so not it should be moved forever and ever

What are the foundations? The word in question is מָכוֹן which is typically understood as place and more precisely, as a dwelling place:

I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.” (1 Kings 8:13)

When dedicating the Temple, Solomon uses מָכוֹן four times (8:13, 39, 43, and 49). The meaning is obvious: the Temple will be a dwelling place for the LORD.

As we think of the earth's dwelling place in the solar system, we must admit a proper description should be written as plural. Since the earth orbits the sun, a singular dwelling would be scientifically inaccurate. The earth's position relative to the sun is one of both motion and stability. The earth is in motion but it does not move about randomly. The phase is scientifically accurate if one chooses to understand it is speaking of an unmovable dwelling place, not a dwelling place which does not move.

In addition, the word move is מוֹט. The first time this is used in Leviticus:

“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. (Leviticus 25:35)
וכי־ימוך אחיך ומטה ידו עמך והחזקת בו גר ותושב וחי עמך

In Leviticus, וּמָ֥טָה challenges translators. How is one to understand a brother's "lack of movement?" Falls into poverty or cannot maintain himself work, but with the earth's orbit in mind one might better understand the sense is to fall out of place or move away. In the same way the earth will not leave it's orbit, a poor brother is to be supported so they do not have to move away.

One may also consider the accuracy of the first word יסד which is understood as laid.

He laid the earth in its dwelling places [its orbit] which will never be moved.

Is there any scientific theory which predicts the earth leaving its orbit and moving to a different place in the solar system or even another system?

Actually, the phrase He laid... follows Genesis 1 in which the earth is created before the sun, and the moon, and the stars. Isn't that good for a laugh! But what does science teach about the formation of the earth? Since only hydrogen and helium came from the Big Bang all other elements must have originated in stars. When these stars exploded, all other elements were strewn throughout the universe. In other words, the stars which now give light to the earth could not be the stars which gave the elements which make up the earth, according to scientific theory.

The Biblical sequence is declared absurdly wrong, but the scientific theory which is deemed correct "borrows" the sequence of the formation of matter from the Bible.

Science now teaches the moon was formed after a collision between a Mars sized object and the earth. Here is something to consider. What if science decides it was not the object traveling through space which collided with the earth; it was the earth which was traveling through the solar system when it collided with the object. As a result of the collision, the earth is then found in a fixed position. When He laid the earth in its dwelling places. There is a Nobel Prize just waiting for the next person to prove the Bible's scientific accuracy. Let's pray the winner stops the plagiarism and gives credit to where the idea was first written.

Ecclesiastes 1:5

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

If ever one should show a little grace, this passage is the poster child. After all, the passage is not only poetic, it personifies the sun. No one supposes the writer understood the sun as a person. Do we criticize Shakespeare or Longfellow for taking poetic license in describing nature?

But let's take up the gauntlet science may throw down:

וזרח השמש ובא השמש ואל־מקומו שואף זורח הוא שם
and rises the sun and goes down the sun, and to the place hastens arose it where

First, since the terms "sunrise" and "sunset" are still in use and mean the same now as then, science has no right to declare the first part of the passage is inaccurate. And rise the sun and goes the down sun is describing natural events as they are experienced by mankind. The same terminology continues to this day. The weather report will detail the time of sunrise and sunset.

Of course the sun does not move, it stays in one place, an idea which can be found in what follows: ואל־מקומו is understood as and to the place. However, if we dig deeper into the meaning we could understand the phrase as and against the standing in place since אל can mean against and מקומו can describe a standing place.

The next two words are verbs שואף זורח, literally hastening arose. But the most common meaning of שואף is to swallow up. So we could see the passage as expressing two separate ideas, the first a common figure of speech and the second a scientifically accurate statement of what takes place:

(A) the sun rise and the sun goes down
(B) against the standing in place it swallows up the place which it rose

Job 9:6
First, I would point out anyone who experienced the loss of ten children, destruction of most of their worldly possessions, and a horrific and painful skin disease, should be not critiqued for scientifically accuracy.

Second, what is recorded is what Job believes. If one sees scientific inaccuracies in Job's understanding of the physical world, how is that any different from Isaac Newton's wrong understanding of the universe? Science is never critiqued for teaching "facts" which are not. Why must a grieving man's wrong understanding of the universe be taken as a Biblical inaccuracy? Can't we put this in the same category as others incorrect knowledge of nature?

If one chooses to set aside the grace extended to Newton and all scientists who have ever been wrong, we can examine what Job says with the heartless objectivity of science:

המרגיז ארץ ממקומה ועמודיה יתפלצון
literal: he shakes earth out of its place and its pillars tremble

First, ארץ is just earth, not the earth, and so it can mean land, country, even just the soil. Second, pillars need not be solid or even immovable columns. The most frequent use is to describe the supernatural physical manifestations of the LORD which guided the Israelites from Egypt:

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. (Exodus 13:21)

The word which is translated as trembles is פָּלַץ, a hapax legomenon. It could mean tremble but it is fair to say Job did not use the common word for shake or tremble. Rather he has a different type of "tremble" in mind. Perhaps Job is describing God in terms of an earthquake, or a volcanic eruption, or the one responsible for the rise and fall of earthly empires. The actual language could be coerced into any of these interpretations.

But what exactly is Job saying? Is he, like Isaac Newton ignorant of correct cosmology? Is he just "running his mouth" without understanding what he is saying?

...Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. (Job 42:3)

Regardless of any scientific inaccuracy, at least Job had sense enough to admit he uttered things which he did not understand. Can the same be said of Isaac Newton?


1. The orbit of Mercury was known to violate Newton's laws of motion.

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  • When it brings pillars into the discussion we are no longer invoking a local plot of land, it’s clearly speaking about THE earth. It doesn’t have to say the earth like in English for a Hebrew to understand it’s the earth. Interesting dissonance. Also note that neither the Hebrew nor the Greek only the translations say the sun rises and sets, the words are comes and goes. This because in Biblical cosmology they are rotating locally over a non rotating flat terrain. Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 20:50
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    @NihilSineDeo Perhaps. I think the hapax legomenon calls into question the idea pillars are meant to taken as most intend. And the missing article does permit other interpretations. I am not necessarily saying that is the meaning. I am saying, 1) the sun rising and the sun going down are still contemporary vernacular which are not evaluated for literal scientific accuracy. 2) Other meanings are possible, even if it is unlikely. 3) No one uses this standard when evaluating scientists - example, Isaac Newton is known for what he got right, not his colossal error. Commented Aug 11, 2023 at 22:08
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The Greek Septuagint (LXX) translated Psalm 105:5 a couple of hundred years BCE as follows: “The one laying the foundation of the earth in its stability--it shall not lean into the eon of the eon.”

The translated Hebrew word is “mot,” which means to totter like a building, shake, or slip like a foot. Its negation doesn’t mean immobile.

Notice that Psalm 105:2 was also contrary to science and ridiculous until science decided that the observed redshift was almost entirely due to the expansion of space-time rather than from a static, infinite universe: Mystery of the Universe’s Expansion Rate Widens With New Hubble Data

According to Genesis 1, the earth was originally covered by water, which is contrary to science and ridiculous . . . except for Earth may have been a water world 3 billion years ago

And Genesis asserts that this water was older than the sun, which is also ridiculous and contrary to science . . . except for Earth's Water Is Older Than the Sun

Genesis indicates that light preceded the formation of that sun and other stars, which is contrary to science and ridiculous, except for this chronology where the stars formed after light came into existence . . . History of the Universe

Ancient cosmologies often describe warring gods, dismemberment, and repurposed body parts in their creation stories. The earth is supported on the backs of large animals such as tortoises and elephants. One of the Greek Titans, Atlas, holds up the heavens. The sun and moon are powerful deities. In contrast, the Bible contains no similar stories.

But, according to the “stone-age goat-herders” who wrote Genesis, the sun and moon are simply luminaries . . . lamps, not gods . . . and the earth is not supported by any giant animals—it hangs on nothing (Job 26:7).

Isn’t that ridiculous and contrary to science? How can something like the earth “hang on nothing”?

The Bible isn’t a science textbook and shouldn’t be used as one, but I’d not be quick to conclude contradictions with science or to dismiss the writings on scientific grounds, especially considering that science is always changing while the Bible doesn’t change.

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Genesis 8:22

"While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." ESV

As long as the earth remains its seasons and times remain constant. Their regularity show that God has purpose, i.e. is not randon in His dealings with men.

The seasons, day and night occur regularly and regularity means stability. Stability means repeating patterns which we can identify and associate with labels e.g. "day", "night".

It is from this stability that. as long as it remains, it cannot be moved.

[Storms and earthquakes{Matt 24:7} may appear to make the earth's stability[pillars] tremble and shake, but the big picture is that its spinning and orbiting continue to occur at regular speeds and stability is maintained. The pillars tremble they don't collapse].

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