Chapter 5 of The Christian Delusion is entitled “The Cosmology of the Bible” and is written by Edward T. Babinski. The opening sections of the chapter briefly describe the cosmologies of ancient Near Eastern cultures. Ancient Israelite cosmology was similar to the cosmology of the surrounding nations.
The main section of the chapter focuses on the Bible’s description of the universe and how it differs from our modern scientific understanding of the universe. The impact that this chapter will have on any individual Christian will be tied closely with that Christian’s view of the inspiration of Scripture. I will attempt to remain critical of Babinski’s claims even though I accept that the Bible’s cosmology is pre-scientific.
The author notes that God is depicted as having had conflicts with various foes at creation (Ps 74:12-17; 89:11-13; Job 26:7-13; 38:1-11). The first three passages contain the words of humans and therefore are probably not problematic for any Christians. In the final passage God is speaking to Job. In my opinion the Book of Job is not an historical account. To judge the book on historical or scientific grounds is to miss the message of the text. I realize that many, if not most, Christians will disagree with my opinion on Job’s historicity. If that is the case they must offer some explanation for God’s apparent lack of scientific accuracy.
Babinski goes on to examine Genesis 1. The firmament separating the waters above from the waters below (vv. 6-8; cf. Gen 7:11-12; cf. Pss 104:1-3; 148:3-4; Prov 8:27-28) is problematic for the Christian trying to find science in Scripture. Considerable space is taken up with a discussion of the solid firmament. It is noteworthy that the author cites a number of works from evangelical Christians in this section. The alert reader may begin to ask if the Bible’s cosmology is that big of an issue for Christianity considering the fact that it does not trouble a number of Christians.
Babinski goes on to cite a number of passages that imply the earth is flat (e.g., Isa 40:22), particularly those that speak of the ends of the earth or the ends of heaven. We must be careful not to take poetic passages and idioms too literally. Many of us use similar language and don’t believe the earth is flat. I am not denying that some biblical authors believed the earth is flat. Rather, I am saying that poetic passages and idioms should not be mined for scientific opinions. Likewise, visions and dreams should not be looked to for scientific facts (e.g., Dan 4:10-11).
The writer moves on to examine what the biblical authors thought was under the earth. Some passages speak of the earth resting on the waters (e.g., Ps 24:2) while others speak of pillars (e.g., Job 38:4-6). I wonder whether Babinski believes these descriptions should be harmonized with each other or not. Regardless of his opinion, many Christians may take these differences to indicate that the Bible is more concerned with theology than geology. Once a Christian adopts such a position a chapter such as this will have little impact on his faith.