Is the Bible a scientific textbook?


For the majority of Judeo-Christian readers of the Bible, modern science poses no fundamental challenge to religion in general or the Bible in particular. Such readers are able to view the Bible as the inspired word of God and yet retain sufficient flexibility to accommodate modern science. At the least, they are willing to accept that the Bible was not intended to be read primarily as a scientific textbook, and that eventually both perspectives will be seen to be part of a unifying truth.

But others in the Judeo-Christian world see significant issues in this arena. For example, creationist James Truck wrote: “When presented with proof of the validity of Genesis and of the Creation — not by evolutionary processes, but by a God who brought mankind into existence as wholly complete human beings — you must either accept the Bible for what it says or reject it completely. … This is an all or nothing proposition — there is no middle ground to stand on. Either you believe every word, or you might as well throw out the entire Bible!” [Truck2010].

Science in the Bible

To answer the question of whether the Bible can rightly be considered a scientific work, even in part, we need to carefully analyze what the Bible says on scientific matters:

  1. Mathematics. The ancient Hebrews, as well as the early Christians, evidently used the decimal system of enumeration. But there is no suggestion that they understood the full system of arithmetic using positional notation with zero (this was first discovered in India roughly 500 CE), nor any indication that they understood the Pythagorean theorem or other principles of geometry, even though these were known in the ancient world by roughly 500 BCE. Along this line, it is amusing to note that the biblical passages 1 Kings 7:23 and 2 Chron. 4:2 indicate that pi, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, is 3.0, whereas we now know that pi = 3.14159…. In spite of the clear context that this was only intended as a rough approximation, not precise mathematical fact, even in the 21st century some try to explain away this discrepancy.
  2. Astronomy. There are a surprising number of verses mentioning various stars and constellations in the Bible. Job 38:31-33 (KJV), for instance, declares, “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth [meaning unknown] in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus [Ursa major] with his sons [cubs]? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?” On the other hand, nowhere in the Bible is there any detailed information on these astronomical objects, or any suggestion that they should be studied in a scientific manner.
  3. Creation. The Genesis account of the creation describes, in general terms, the formation of the earth (some say the entire universe) and the rise of various classes of living organisms. With regards to the time scale, if one accepts that the word “day” in Genesis be read in a more general sense as a period of time (as is the case even in modern English), then the “conflict” between the biblical account and the scientific largely disappears. One quibble here is that while plants such as ferns preceded most animals species, scientists have concluded that flowering plants were a more recent development in geologic history. At the very least, it is clear that the ancient biblical prophets and scribes recognized the hierarchical organization of the biological kingdom. Beyond the rudiments mentioned here, there is essentially no technical, quantitative information in these passages that could pass as scientific in our modern sense, one way or the other. For additional discussion, see Creation.
  4. Cosmology. Numerous biblical passages state or at least presume the ancient geocentric cosmology — the earth is flat and is encompassed by a circle (like a coin), is set on a foundation of pillars, is immovable, with the sun and other heavenly bodies moving on transparent spheres of crystalline material above the earth. See, for instance, 1 Sam. 2:8, 1 Chron. 16:30, Psa. 93:1, Psa. 104:5, Eccl. 1:5, Isa. 40:22. Nowadays virtually everyone concedes that such passages were intended only as literary figures of speech, not as technically precise statements of scientific fact. But why then should Gen. 1-2, which also describes the physical creation, be singled out for a very literal interpretation?
  5. Physics. There is absolutely no hint whatsoever that biblical peoples understood anything in the arena of what we now know to be modern physics. To state the obvious: the equations of quantum mechanics and relativity, the two cornerstones of the field, are not to be found in the Bible! Even the much more basic laws of motion that Galileo and Newton discovered are completely absent from the Bible, even in rough, intuitive form.
  6. Chemistry. There is no hint of modern chemistry in the Bible.
  7. Geology and paleontology. There is no mention of fossils or the nature of rock formations in the Bible.
  8. Biology. Except for the brief outline of the creation in Gen. 1-2, the only references to biology in the Bible are a few fleeting references on the nature of plants and animals. As one amusing example, Lev. 11:6 erroneously comments that rabbits are to be considered “unclean” in Jewish law because they “chew their cud” (they don’t).
  9. Quantitative analysis. One clear characteristic of modern science is its reliance on highly precise, quantitative measurements (often made using advanced technology) and the analysis of such measurements using statistical methods. None of this is to be found anywhere in the Bible. As noted above, the measurements of the circular pools (baptismal fonts?) in King Solomon’s temple courtyard were given as 10 cubits across and 30 cubits in circumference (as opposed to a ratio of pi = 3.14159…), but the context strongly suggests that these figures were provided only as approximate measurements to help the reader appreciate the scope of Solomon’s temple grounds, not with any intent of providing mathematical or scientific information.


The items above are certainly not listed here to heap ridicule on the Bible. To the contrary, they shout the obvious fact: nowhere in the Bible is there any material akin to the precise, quantitative style of modern scientific works, nor is there any hint that the prophets and scribes who wrote and transcribed the Bible even cared much about such highly technical matters. These writers were focused on grander themes, including the relation of man to God, sin and forgiveness, obligations to the unfortunate, and the moral laws that should govern society.

Along this line, it is widely recognized that a distinguishing feature of religion, as opposed to science, is a reliance on faith. However, numerous passages in the Bible stress that pure faith, especially blind faith, is not sufficient. Note, for instance, 1 Thes. 5:1 (KJV): “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” This passage is much more along the lines of the scientific method! In a similar way, note that works and the fruits of religion are frequently emphasized in the New Testament as a balance to faith, as noted in Matt. 7:20 (KJV): “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” and in James 2:17-18 (KJV): “Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”


The Bible is not a scientific textbook, nor was it ever intended to be read in this way. The Bible describes humankind’s grand and sublime search for God, the meaning of life, morality and salvation. Technical questions such as the age of the earth and the history of biological species are much better studied with the tools of modern science, tools which many believe to have been granted to mankind for the express purpose of better understanding the physical world around us.

For additional discussion, see Bible-science and Creation.


  1. [Truck2010] James F. Truck, “What Did Jesus Say About Evolution?,” Real Truth, 26 Nov 2010, available at Online article.

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