Saturday, October 24, 2015

Isaiah's 'circle of the earth'- A bad creationist argument

Isaiah 40:22
"It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers..."

I think it would be really cool if the above verse was a supernatural scientific revelation that set Israel apart from the rest of the ancient word with respect to cosmology. My whole life I've grown up hearing evangelicals repeat it as proof that the Bible is inspired, and a few years ago my PhD theology professor cited it to our class as a proof for the Bible's divine origin.

The physicist Jason Lisle at Answers in Genesis propagates the idea

In reality, this is lazy folk apologetics and needs a spanking. There is nothing scientifically special about this passage, because we have plenty of pagan ancient Near Eastern depictions which describe the earth as a circle. I'm sorry if that kills people's apologetics joyride, but God doesn't need us making up stupid arguments from unchecked, sloppy assumptions to defend him.

Answers in Marduk:

The Babylonian map of the world depicts the earth as a round, flat disc encircled by the sea, from mythological sources far predating Isaiah. I guess Marduk appeared to the Babylonian priesthood and informed them the earth is a circle too?

I’ll plunder Paul H. Seely’s Westminster Theological Journal article (1997) for a few more examples: 
“Diodorus Siculus (II:31:7) tells us that the Babylonians told him the earth is ‘shaped like a boat and hollow.’ The boat is undoubtedly a coracle, used into modern times by natives on the Euphrates. The coracle is circular, rounded at the edges like the yolk of an egg, but, of course, hollow.”
Kramer and Lambert believe the Babylonians inherited this idea from Sumer

Egyptologist, John Wilson says the Egyptians believed the
“earth was conceived of as a flat platter with a corrugated rim. The inside bottom of the platter was the flat alluvial plain of Egypt, and the corrugated rim was the rim of mountains which were the foreign lands."
Othmar Keel, “noting that the ocean around the earth was long conceived of by the Egyptians as circular, concluded…:
'This fact suggests that in Egypt, visualization of the earth as a circular disc was from very ancient times at least an option.’ This conclusion is supported by evidence, as early as the fourteenth century BC, of circular representations of the figure of Osiris or Geb [the earth god].'”
In “the time of Rameses III (1195-1164 BC) in an inscription…reads ‘...they laid their hands upon the land as far as the Circle of the Earth.’”

In addition to these types of examples, in ancient Greece we have Homer and over half-a-dozen philosophers arguing the earth is a flat disc down until 400 BC.  “Herodotus (c. 400 BC) uniformly rendered the earth just as Homer had described it, as a disc.” He writes (4:36),
…all the map-makers—there are plenty of them--who show Ocean running like a river round a perfectly circular earth, with Asia and Europe of the same size. 


You can easily go all over the world finding these examples.  Because of the curvature of the horizon, it is very natural (if not most natural) for pre-scientific people groups to assume the earth is a disc. If the Bible contains scientific revelations beyond the culture around it, this verse can't be used as an example.  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

No, Isaiah 45:7 doesn't say God creates evil

This will be short.

Adam Lee, an atheist at pathos thinks Isaiah 45:7 shows point-blank that the Biblical God creates evil. I’m going to explain why I and professional translators can't give Adam’s pitch the light of day.

I form light and create darkness
I make peace, and I create ra'

יֹוצֵר אֹור וּבֹורֵא חֹשֶׁךְ
עֹשֶׂה שָׁלֹום וּבֹורֵא רָע

Usually, that last word ra' is the common word for evil in Hebrew.  Adam cites a bunch of other uses to prove this—no problem there.  The problem is the word ra' is one of the most frequent words in the Bible and can be elastic in meaning in something of the same way the English word ‘bad’ can be.

The primary reason translators don’t buy Adam’s argument is that it destroys the structure of opposites in the poem:

Line one: I create light/I create darkness
Line two: I create shalom/I create ______.

Transport yourself back to 3rd grade context clue worksheets.  What English word should go in the blank for the poetic structure of the unit to be retained?  Think about it before reading further

If you put anything like ‘wickedness’ in the blank you fail 3rd grade.  No sticker for you!  Hit yourself with a newspaper; Bad!

The meaning of ra' here is 'anti-shalom'. Whatever shalom is, ra' here is the opposite in the same since light is the opposite of darkness.

We have good words for anti-peace in English: “calamity,” “strife”…you know, those words most translators put here.  

Actually, and this is probably the only time I will ever say this in my life, the Message translation of “I create harmonies and discords” is somewhat of a clever and borderline perceptive assertion about the nature of shalom.

The idea in this passage is that God is comprehensive in his power. He has the power to create peace and the power to dish out righteous judgement on the nations (what most of Isaiah is about--rocket science, huh).  These judgments are definitely the opposite of peace.