Fantastic Things in the Bible
You come across some pretty fantastic things when you read the Bible. For example in the book of Exodus, the Hebrews are being chased by the Egyptians. The Egyptians have them pinned up against the Red Sea. It looks like things are hopeless for the Hebrews, but then the Red Sea parts in two, they are able to walk across on dry land, and when the Egyptians pursue them, the waters come back together and sweep the Egyptians away.
Later on in the Old Testament, a man named Jonah is swallowed by a big fish. He stays in the stomach of the fish three days, then the fish spits him up on dry land, and Jonah is not only still alive, he seems no worse for the wear.
And then in the New Testament, there’s Jesus. He was born from a woman who was a virgin—she had never had sex with anyone. And Jesus believed that people who had seizures and had diseases were possessed by demons. Then He was killed and it was said of Him that three days later, He came back to life, then 40 days later rose up into heaven.
These are just a few of the things the Bible contains that sound fantastic. The Bible is full of things like that. How can you take the Bible seriously when it is full of stuff like that?
That’s the question many modern people wonder about. Christianity points to the Bible as the foundational writing of all its beliefs, but how can anyone take the Bible seriously when it contains all those fantastic and unbelievable things?
The Bible as Myths and Fables
We live in a scientific society. Science tells us these fantastic things the Bible says happened could not have happened. Science says it has proof the world was not created in seven days like the book of Genesis says it was, and that proof is convincing. Today, with modern medicine, we all know that diseases and epileptic seizures are not cause by demons possessing people. So what do we do with the Bible?
While a small minority of Christians continue to maintain that the things the Bible reports really happened, they are definitely a very small minority. Today, most Christians, across practically all denominations, believe they have solved the problem of the conflict between science and the Bible. They take the position that the Bible is a collection of fables—stories that teach a moral lesson. “All those fantastic things in the Bible didn’t really happen,” they say, “but they teach us a moral lesson or tell us something about God.”
According to this idea, the people who wrote the Bible knew they were writing fables. They never intended for us to believe the things they wrote actually happened. They thought we would know they were just writing fables.
So, according to most Christians today, the Bible is a collection of fables, myths, and legends that never really happened but that teach us some moral lesson or something about God.
So What Has God Ever Done?
But if you stop and think about that, you’ll realize that idea has a major flaw. Ask someone who believes the Bible is a collection of fables to name one specific thing God has ever done—just one thing.
They won’t be able to come up with an answer. They might come up with an abstract concept like, “God is the ground of existence” or “God loves us,” but if you press them and keep insisting they name a specific thing God has done, they won’t be able to.
Why not? Well, the Bible purports to record things God has done in the world. Those should be things we can point to and say, “Here are some of the specific things God has done.” But if you say the Bible is fables, then what do you have to point to that God has ever done in the world? The only specific thing you could say that God has done in the world is to inspire people to write fables.
And that’s the problem modern Christianity faces–all they are left with that they can point to and say God has done is inspire people to write a book of fables.
Why should anyone bother with a God who has never done anything except inspire people to write fables? Why does a God like that even matter?
Confronted with the claims of science, Christians began backing off from the things the Bible says God has done in the world. They did that to try to make Christianity relevant for the modern world. But that didn’t make Christianity relevant for the modern world, it did just the opposite—it created a God who’s never done anything concrete, a God who is nothing more than an abstract concept, a God who doesn’t matter.
As a result of that, more and more people see nothing of value in Christianity.
The Bible in Modern Times
But if you don’t go along with the great majority of modern Christians and say that the Bible is a collection of fables, what do you do? Can you align yourself with those who continue to maintain that the things in the Bible did in fact happen? But if you do that, what do you do about science? Is science wrong?
What we’re talking about is the great gulf between the worldview of the Bible and the worldview of the modern, scientific age. The Bible says all those fantastic, unbelievable things have happened. Science says they did not happen—could not have happened—and offers proof to back up its position. It seems to be a conflict that cannot be resolved.
You’re seemingly left with three choices. First, you could go with modern Christianity and worship a God who has never done anything and who ultimately doesn’t matter. Or, you could go with the small minority of Christians who ignore science and continue to claim the things in the Bible actually happened. Or, you could just forget about Christianity. Those seem to be the only options.
But are they?
Perception vs. Reality
The disagreement between the Bible and science boils down to one thing—is the way things are the same as the way things seem to be? In other words, is reality the same as things appear to be? Today, the generally accepted idea is that reality—the way things actually are—is the same as things seem to be, that they way things seem to be is the way they actually are, that what we see is all there is. Reality is the same as appearance.
That is the modern assumption. But is it true? Well, let’s think about it, using the tools of science.
We experience the world, that is, we perceive reality, through the five senses—touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. All these senses work basically the same way, so we’ll choose one—sight—and think about how it works.
How Our Senses Work
The organ of sight is the eye. Sight works like this: Light is reflected off of an object. The light hits a part of our eye called the retina. When light hits the retina, chemical reactions are created that produce electrical impulses. These electrical impulses travel through the nerve pathway to the brain. When they reach the brain, they cause chemical reactions in the brain. The brain interprets these chemical reactions and produces the image we see. So, what we see is an interpretation our brain puts on chemical reactions caused by electrical impulses that are created by chemical reactions that occur when light strikes the retina of our eye.
In other words, we don’t see an object directly. We “see” an interpretation. In addition to that, our retinas don’t even react to all types of light. There is an entire spectrum of light, and visible light—the light we are able to “see”; that is, the light our retinas react to—is .0035% of the amount of light that’s there. Three and one half thousandths of one percent—that’s all we see. So what we “see” is an interpretation put on only a tiny, tiny portion of the light being reflected off of an object.
Reality as an Interpretation in Our Brain
We do not experience reality directly. We actually do not experience reality at all. We experience a series of chemical reactions and electrical impulses that certain aspects of reality cause in our bodies.
This is the scientific explanation of our how senses work. And so by using science, we know that we don’t experience reality directly. What we experience is an interpretation of our brain. What we experience as reality lies completely in our brain. We do not know what reality actually is like. We only know how our brain interprets reality.
Are Things Really as They Seem?
So to get back to our question: Is reality–the way things really are–the same as things seem to be? That’s a question we can’t answer. We can never know if the way things really are is the way they seem to be because we only know how things seem to be; in other words, we only know reality as experienced through our senses, which is how things seem to be. Who knows if things are really the way they seem to be?
Here I would suggest that you go back to the beginning and listen to this again. I know it can be confusing, but this is an essential point if you ever want to understand Christianity.
Why is it so important to spend so much time thinking about whether things actually are the way they seem to be? Because what Christianity really tells us, at the most fundamental level, is that things are not the way they seem to be, that reality is different from the way things seem to be.
Truth in the New Testament
This is the concept of “truth” as talked about in the New Testament. Truth is a theme in the New Testament, and truth is associated with God. The Greek word that is used for “truth” in the New Testament is the word “alethia.” Although that word is translated as “truth” in most English translations, it has a different meaning than our word truth. In the ancient world, the idea was that truth is hidden—that reality is different than appearance—that the way things are is not the way things seem to be. In the ancient world, they believed that truth—the way things really are—is hidden, that appearance is like a veil that hides reality. The word alethia connotes an unveiling, and uncovering, of reality—taking off the veil of appearance and showing things as they really are. Appearance hides reality, and so in order to see reality, you have to take off the veil of appearance.
That’s what the New Testament means when it talks about truth—taking off the veil of appearance and showing things as they really are. Christianity says that the way things seem to be is not the way they really are. Appearance is not the same as reality.
Science and the Bible Agree
Now let’s stop and think for a minute. Earlier, we were talking about the conflict between science and Christianity. Then we used the tools of science when we talked about our sense of sight. We used the sense of sight as an example to understand how our senses work, and we found that we do not experience reality directly. What we perceive as reality is an interpretation made by our brain when very limited, tiny portions of reality interact with our sensory organs.
You see, we’ve narrowed the gap between Christianity and science. It’s not as big as it seemed to be at first. We have Christianity saying that reality is hidden behind appearance, that the way things seem is not the way they really are. And then we have science saying that what we perceive as reality is an interpretation inside our brain. Those two are not all that far apart.
But we can go even further than that with science. We can go into the field of quantum physics, where we find some really astounding things. We find subatomic particles that behave differently when we are observing them than they did when we weren’t observing them. We find little tiny bits of matter that appear and disappear out of thin air. We find bits of matter separated by huge distances apparently communicating with each other. The field of quantum physics is full of a number of amazing things that illustrate things are not the way they seem to be, that reality is much different than appearance.
In the end, really, there is no great gulf between science and Christianity. They both tell us the same thing—the way things seem is not the way they really are. The supposed great gulf between science and Christianity doesn’t really exist. Science tells us, “The way things seem to be is not the way they really are.” Christianity tells us, “The way things seem to be is not the way they really are.” Science and Christianity are in agreement. It’s just that neither side recognizes it.
You know, we don’t want to be stuck in 3rd grade science and never go any further than that. If you get stuck in 3rd grade science, then maybe there is a gap between Christianity and science. But if you go on into more advanced science, you begin to see the magnitude of all the things we don’t know, all the things we don’t understand, all the things that aren’t the way we thought they were. The further you get into advanced science, the more you realize that things are not the way they seem to be.
There was a time, at least in some areas, where it was generally accepted that the world was flat. People had all kinds of reasons for believing that. From all indications, it sure seems flat. It turns out, though, that the earth is not flat. There was a time when it was thought that the earth was at the center, and the sun and everything else revolved around the earth. That’s a reasonable thing to think, because it sure seems like that’s the case. Just look up in the sky, how the sun moves across the sky during the day. It seems obvious that the sun revolves around the earth. But of course it doesn’t.
These are just two examples of how things in the world are not the way they seem to be, how things that people believed so strongly, and that seemed to be so apparent from the way things seem, turned out not to be true. And you know, sometimes we look back at those people and almost laugh at them for believing those things and we’re almost tempted to think they must have been stupid to have believed those things.
It’s fun to look at some of the things people believed in the past, but what if some of the things we believe today that seem so apparent from the way things seem turn out not to be true?
Don’t Be so Sure We Understand It All
The point of all this is that there is a lot more to things than we realize, a lot more to things than we know. Christianity tells us that. Advanced science tells us that. Advanced science tells us we haven’t even begun to understand how things really are, how things really work.
So, if we in fact don’t understand how things really work, we probably shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the things the Bible says happened. If we don’t understand how things really work, we can’t say with any certainty that the things the Bible reports could not have happened. It might not seem like they could happen, but we’ve already seen how even science tells us that things aren’t always the way they seem.
Don’t let a 3rd grade understanding of science close your mind to the things the Bible says. If you move beyond that, to advanced science, you begin to see that some things in the Bible that may seem outlandish might not be so outlandish after all.
Keep your mind open. Don’t automatically dismiss the Bible.