From *The Skeptical Review*, January/February 1991 issue:
By Farrell Till
Bibliolaters claim that the Bible is inerrant in every detail, in matters of history, science, geography, chronology, etc., as well as faith and practice. It is a claim that has won wide acceptance among fundamentalist Christians, but, as is true of most zealotic tributes that have been paid to the Bible, it has no basis in fact. As past articles in TSR have clearly shown to anyone who really wants to know the truth, the Bible is riddled with mistakes. Many of those mistakes were scientific ones.
The creation account in Genesis divided time into days and the days into evening and morning for three days before the sun was even created (1:1-19). "There was evening and there was morning," we are told, "one day... a second day... a third day," but as any astronomer knows, evening (night) and morning (daylight) result from the earth's rotation with respect to the sun. With no sun, there would have certainly been evening or night, but there could have been no morning.
On the fourth day when God created the "two great lights" (the sun and the moon), he created the stars too. This creation of the rest of the universe was treated by the Genesis writer(s) as if it were little more than an afterthought: "he made the stars also" (v:16). To the prescientific mind that wrote this, it probably made sense. To him (her), the earth was undoubtedly the center of the universe, but today we know better. The solar system of which earth is only a tiny part is itself an infinitesimal speck in the universe. Surely, then, the creation of the stars would not have occurred so quickly and suddenly if six days were needed to create the world. Scientists now know that the creation of stars is an evolutionary process that is still ongoing. Matter coalesces; stars ignite, shine, and eventually burn out or explode. From the existence of heavy elements in our solar system, astronomers generally agree that it formed from debris left over from a supernova that occurred billions of years ago. The prescientific Genesis writer knew none of this, however, and that is why he viewed the creation of the universe as an Elohistic afterthought. No modern, scientifically-educated writer would have made that mistake.
The creation of the stars is the subject not only of scientific error in the Bible but also of textual contradiction. Clearly, the Genesis writer(s) said that God made the stars on the fourth day (1:16). By then, the earth had been created, light (somehow without the sun or stars) had been created, the gathering together of dry land had occurred, and vegetation had been created. One could surely say that by then the foundations of the world had been laid, yet Yahweh Elohim presumably told Job that the stars already existed when the foundations of the earth were laid:
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if thou hast understanding. Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who stretched the line upon it? Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the cornerstone there-of, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (38:4-7).
Granted the "singing of the morning stars" is clearly a poetical expression, but that does not explain away the problem. How could it be said in any sense, poetical or otherwise, that "the morning stars sang together" at a time when stars didn't even exist? Obviously, then, the Genesis writer(s) and the author of Job had different perceptions of when stars were created.
The Genesis writer(s) didn't understand the nature of darkness either. He said that God created light (somehow before the sun and stars were made) and then "divided the light from the darkness" (1:3-4). Light, however, is not something that can be separated from darkness. Light is an electromagnetic radiation from an energy source like the sun or stars, and darkness is merely the absence of light. Without light, there will automatically be darkness. No god is needed to separate or divide light from darkness. We know that today; the prescientific Genesis writer(s) didn't.
The Genesis writer's genetic knowledge was no better than his understanding of astronomy. In chapter 30, he told of Jacob's scheme to increase his wealth while he was still in the employ of his father-in-law Laban. The two had reached an agreement whereby Jacob would be given all striped, spotted, and speckled lambs and kids subsequently born in Laban's flocks. Laban then removed all the striped, spotted, and speckled animals from his flocks and put them in his sons' care at a three-day distance from the flock Jacob attended. Not to be outsmarted, Jacob devised a plan:
Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the rods. He set the rods that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the rods, and so the flocks produced young that were striped, speckled, and spotted (30:37-39, NRSV).
The editors of The New American Bible were reputable enough to affix a frankly honest footnote to this passage:
Jacob's stratagem was based on the widespread notion among simple people that visual stimuli can have prenatal effects on the offspring of breeding animals. Thus, the rods on which Jacob had whittled stripes or bands or chevron marks were thought to cause the female goats that looked at them to bear kids with lighter-colored marks on their dark hair, while the gray ewes were thought to bear lambs with dark marks on them simply by visual crossbreeding with the dark goats.
We know today that the color characteristics of animals is purely a matter of genetics, so a modern, scientifically-educated person would never write anything as obviously superstitious as this tale of Jacob's prosperity. The Genesis writer(s), however, knew nothing about the science of genetics, so to him the story undoubtedly made good sense.
One thing the Bible definitely is not is inerrant in matters of science.