BIOLOGY AND THE BIBLE

Some Miscellaneous Points

Anonymous

(Investigator 95, 2004 March)


In this article I will answer some objections to biological statements in the Bible that I haven't previously addressed. Quotes from Scott Bidstrup and Louis W Cable are from their websites.
 

BATS AND FOWL

Scott Bidstrup writes on his Internet website:

Leviticus 11:13-19 refers to bats as fowl, when in fact they are mammals. As for bats being birds, where are the feathers? The skin-covered wings and the hair are good clues that these aren't birds.
L W Cable similarly writes:

Leviticus 11:13-19 These are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten… the eagle…and the bat.
The bat is not a fowl. It's a mammal.
 
The problem is not one of biological classification but of semantics and translation. The Hebrew word in Leviticus 11:13-25 is "oph". (G V Wigram, Englishman's Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance, Bagster & Sons, pp 911-912)

In a similar passage in Deuteronomy 14:11-20 the word is "psippor" in verse 11 and "oph" in 19-20. (Wigram p. 1079) Neither word completely corresponds to the English "bird" or "fowl".

"Tsippor" is used of birds and bats. "Oph" also refers to birds and bats. However, when "Oph" is qualified by the word "creeping things" (Hebrew = "sheretz"; Wigram p. 1327) it refers to insects.

If we translate "oph" and "tsippor" as "flying creatures" or "winged creatures" the skeptic's complaint is answered since both birds and bats are winged creatures!

The misunderstanding began when the translators of the King James Bible, in the 17th century, translated "oph" as "fowl" in Leviticus 11:13, 20.

Furthermore, in the Bible the last item in any list is often put last because it differs from the previous items. The seventh day of creation differed from the first six days in being a day of "rest". Several lists of the twelve apostles have Judas Iscariot last. Judas differed in being the only traitor. The Old Testament probably put the bat last in its lists of "birds" (or "winged creatures") to acknowledge that the bat differed from other "birds".
 
 

BIRTH PAIN

Cable writes:

Genesis 3:16 In sorrow (pain) thou shalt bring forth children.
First, are we to understand that physical pain associated with normal childbirth is the result solely of this ancient curse?
 
Genesis 3:16 is a matter-of-fact declaration of what Eve would experience due to ignorance. In a future article I'll show how the medical profession's ignorance of the Bible added to the suffering of millions of women.
 

EAGLE

Cable says:

Deuteronomy 32.11 As the eagle taketh her young and beareth them on her wings.
Eagles have never been known to carry their young on their wings.
 
Cable is contradicted by:
 
…the female of this eagle has been seen, even though only on a few occasions, to catch her falling young and carry it off on her back… (Grant F C & Rowley, H H 1963, Dictionary of the Bible, Revised, T & C Clark)

 

FABULOUS ANIMALS

Skeptics G W Foote and W P Ball say, "Fabulous animals are treated as really existent." (The Bible Handbook For Freethinkers and Inquiring Christians, 1921, Pioneer Press, pp 73-74)

They mention:

Unicorns (Job 39:9-11)
Cockatrices – a serpent hatched from the egg of a cock. (Isaiah 11:7-8)
Dragons (Isaiah 34:13; Psalm 91:13)
Satyrs (Isaiah 13:21)
Fiery serpents (Deuteronomy 8:15)

These "fabulous", mythical, animals are mentioned in the Bible because 17th-century translators of the King James Bible lacked knowledge of wildlife in the Middle East. The translators could not work out what some Hebrew words meant and so they resorted to mythology. For example, the Hebrew word reem, translated "unicorn", was the wild ox.


HOOFS

Cable writes:

Deuteronomy 14:7 …as the camel, and the hare, and the coney: for they chew the cud, but divide not the hoof.
Here the Bible writer(s) compound the "cud" blunder by implying that the hare has hoofs.

The description "divide not the hoof" the Bible applies to many animals including three animals that do not have hoofs. The three lacking hoofs are the camel, hyrax and hare.

The hyrax is phylogenetically (i.e. by its evolutionary origin) related to elephants and elephants have hoofs. Hence biologists sometimes speak of the Hyrax's "hoofs" – but they're theoretical hoofs and don't look like hoofs.

The camel, hyrax and hare "divide not the hoof" because they do not have hoofs!
 


INSECT FEET

Cable says:

Leviticus 11:20 All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you.
There is not now nor has there ever been a 4-legged fowl.

Leviticus 11:21 These may ye eat of every flying creeping thing that goeth upon all four, which have legs above their feet, to leap upon the earth.
Here we have another absurd reference to four-legged animals that fly.

Leviticus 11:22-23 These ye may eat; the locust...and the beetle...and the grasshopper. But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you.
There is no such thing as a 4-legged insect.


Similarly G W Foot and W P Ball (1921) included "four footed beetles" (Leviticus 11:20-23) in their list of "Bible absurdities".

Firstly, the word "fowl" is in the King James Bible. Leviticus 11:20 says "All fowls that creep, going upon all four…" Modern versions often translate the Hebrew "oph" as "insects".

Even better, as suggested above, would be "winged creatures". However, in Leviticus 11:20 the "winged creatures" are qualified by the Hebrew "sheretz" meaning creeping things. Hence the reference is to winged creatures that creep i.e. insects.

Today we refer to an insect's six appendages as "legs". The ancient Israelites had a different convention. They distinguished the front four appendages from the two rear appendages. The front four they called "feet", the two to the rear they called "legs". This distinction probably came about because some insects such as grasshoppers leap – the two rear appendages are "leaper legs".

"Go on all fours" refers to what the front four feet i.e. front four legs do – they walk. What the rear legs do, whether they contribute to walking or are used for leaping, is excluded from the meaning of "go on all fours".

Some skeptics make fun of the phrase "legs above the feet". However, the leaper legs are longer than the front four legs. When the insect is resting on the ground, part of the leaper legs are higher than the "feet" i.e. higher than the front four legs. In that sense the legs are "above the feet".

There is no profound biological point in all of this – just a case of semantics.


SEED DIES

Bidstrup writes on the Internet:

John 12:24 says "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it ibideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
How can it bring forth any fruit at all if it's dead? The reference obviously doesn't make sense unless one assigns unusual meanings to the word "die"…


Cable similarly asks, "How could something that is dead bring forth anything?"

The original cells of the seed die as the seed grows into a plant with fruit. It's often said that all living cells in the human body are replaced every few years. The original cells, that divided and multiplied to form a human baby, die and are replaced. Similarly in plants. The original cells of seeds die as cell-multiplication progresses and the plant grows, and at some stage the original seed is dead.


SERPENTS AND DEADLY THINGS

Cable writes:

Mark 16:18 Jesus said, They shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

Many Christians have come to regret ever having taken this verse seriously. However, the supreme irony here is that the last twelve verses of Mark (16:9-20) are a recognized forgery.
 

Here Cable has answered himself. A few deceitful copyists, several centuries after Christianity began, added stuff when copying earlier manuscripts and the additions made it into the King James Bible. When such "forgeries" are exposed newer Bible translations either omit them or indicate them. When investigating the accuracy of the Bible we're concerned with the accuracy of the original, not of the forged additions.


SNAILS

Some critics query Psalm 58 regarding the snail:

Let them [the wicked] be like the snail which dissolves into slime, like the untimely birth that never sees the sun. (Psalm 58:8)
Hastings Dictionary of the Bible
refers to a plausible explanation:
 
Tristam explains it by the fact that, in the dry season, snails attach themselves to rocks, trees, shrubs, or the soil, if possible to a moist situation, or at least one sheltered from the direct rays of the sun. If, however, a snail be long exposed to the sun, it will be dried up in its shell. (1902, T & T Clark, Volume 4, p. 556)

 

WOMAN TO PILLAR OF SALT

Cable writes:

Genesis 19:26 Lot's wife behind him looked back, and she became a pillar of salt…
Alleged miracles such as this violate the most fundamental laws of science.


Probably we're dealing here with a metaphor:
 

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a name or descriptive term is applied to an object, etc. to which it is not literally applicable as, "The ship spread its wings to the breeze." (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, p. 724)


King David wrote, "I am a worm and not a man."  Here "worm" is a metaphor to denote David's low status at the time. Similarly, I overheard one person say to another, "You made a pig of yourself tonight." This did not mean that the person changed into another species but referred to some behavior of his – perhaps he ate his food in a sloppy manner.

Metaphors are not taken literally. Instead we would ask, "In what sense?" or "How?" For example, "In what sense was he a pig?" and "How did the ship spread its wings?"

The Bible uses metaphors in hundreds of verses. With Lot's wife we would ask, "In what sense did she become a pillar of salt?" A probable answer is that she lagged behind and was hit and covered by flying or falling debris and so resembled rocky/salty boulders and pillars in the area.



Scientific answers to skeptics querying the The Bible:

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/