Popular Mechanics and the Bible
By Don Ruhl
Popular Mechanics Magazine is an exciting and useful publication. I remember going to my grandpa’s house as a boy and reading Popular Mechanics and Popular Science Magazines. They told of useful things for now and of exciting things coming in the future, futuristic ideas such as a new way to launch satellites, using abandoned bridges as fueling stations, and new cars of the future, clothes-dryer tune-up, adding value to your home, and new cars.
What is this on the cover story of the December 1996 issue? “Science Solves the Ancient Mysteries of the Bible.” One of the least expected magazines to take a shot at the Bible is Popular Mechanics. The abstract or subtitle is this: “Technology and a better understanding of natural processes may explain how these seemingly impossible events occurred.” You will find out quickly that even though the magazine presents exciting things about the future, and much practical advice on the present, it has not necessarily presented the past, especially the biblical past, with accuracy.
The arrogance of evolutionary scientists
There is a belief that past centuries were ignorant and superstitious, and that today we are intelligent because we only deal in facts, having been delivered by modern technology and science. Science believes that it can solve most mysteries; now it thinks that it can solve mysteries of historical literature.
As the article goes on to argue, modern technology and modern knowledge of nature is believed to be superior to whatever the Bible writers had at their disposal, which sometimes was the incident itself.
None of us will doubt that technology and our vast understanding of natural processes is great and has been exceedingly beneficial for every one of us. However, many scientists think that this gives them an elite status, enabling them to understand anything. They propose that biblical writers were superstitious, because they explained unusual phenomena in supernatural ways.
In the editorial of the same issue, the editor-in-chief, Joe Oldham, in defense of Mike Fillon, the author of the article I will review, made these statements concerning the article under review:
“The naturally skeptical members of the scientific community have long had an interest in stories found in the Bible, not so much to say the incidents never happened but rather to offer what may be logical, nay scientific, explanations of some of these incidents. After all, not everyone possesses the blind faith needed to accept occurrences that defy logical reality. Some need more, an explanation that takes into account modern investigative technology, forensic science and perspective of thousands of years” (p. 4).
Notice these things about the quote:
The scientific community will offer logic and science rather than blind faith, clearly hinting that faith is not logical and is not supported by evidence.
Science, technology and present knowledge can offer us more than faith, or more than what the biblical writers could provide.
He mentions that the Bible records “occurrences that defy logical reality.”
What is meant is that the biblical writers offer no natural explanations for the events, but Popular Mechanics believes there are natural explanations. Thus, the possibility of the miraculous is completely disregarded. It is to be expected that Mr. Fillon would make this statement, because he has had an association with a particular branch of a mainline liberal Protestant denomination that has treated miracles just the way he does.
Interestingly, Joe Oldham quotes Mike Fillon: “God gave us the ability to make scientific inquiries…” (p. 4). Mr. Fillon is vice president of St. James Lutheran Church in Norcross, Georgia, so it is not surprising that he believes that there is a God. It is surprising that Mr. Fillon cannot accept the fact that if God is truly God, He is able to work miracles, which are supernatural wonders.
Have theologians looked beyond the implausible aspects of biblical stories and just focused on the moral messages?
In the opening paragraph of the article Mike Fillon says, “For centuries, theologians have looked beyond the stories’ implausible aspects, focusing instead on their moral messages of divine punishment for the wicked and reward for the good” (p. 39).
There are many theologians, churches, and Christians who consider the miraculous elements of the Scriptures and realize that the events related cannot be explained naturally or scientifically, but only supernaturally, that miracles are the temporary suspension of natural laws.
Can miracles be explained with technology and a better understanding of natural processes?
Mike Fillon also said, “Now—with the help of high-tech methods including radar imaging, computer simulation and chemical analysis—scientists are becoming convinced that there may be another dimension to these miraculous tales” (p. 39).
First, scientists attempted to understand, test, and decipher a piece of literature. How can they test scientifically whether Moses actually saw a bush on fire without burning up? How can they test with technology whether Lot mistook his wife for a pillar of salt?
When he refers to them as “miraculous tales” he shows his denial of the miraculous work, and his denial of the Lord’s miraculous intervention in the affairs of man in the past.
Did biblical writers merely interpret events as miraculous activity?
Again, Mike Fillon discredits the biblical writers and exalts modern scientists and their accompanying technologies, “What the Bible’s authors interpreted as miracles may have been phenomena of nature” (p. 40).
Concerning this theory of biblical writers (they were not authors who originated the material, but writers who wrote what they were directed to write), misinterpreting what they saw or what they were writing about, Mr. Fillon argues, “…this is a result of the increased use by biblical scholars of archeological research” (p. 40). He quotes Steve Prothero, an assistant professor of American Religious History at Boston University, “Prior to that, what people were really working with were texts” (p. 40). As though an historical document is not as reliable as archaeological findings! As though eyewitnesses are not as accurate as research on ancient wreckage!
Moreover, there is the subtle hint that biblical writers and biblical expounders of today merely engage in subjective interpretation, but modern scientists with technology do nothing but present objective facts of what really happened, further implying that archaeology, science, nature, and related disciplines are not subject to human interpretation and bias, but that biblical data is!
Noah and the Ark
Not as much controversial information was given pertaining to Noah and the ark. Mr. Fillon argued that the ark has been discovered about 20 miles from where he says that the Bible says it is supposed to have landed, and that, of course, is assuming that the modern mountain called Ararat is the same mountain mentioned in Genesis.
There are these two notable things that he says:
1. He refers to the ark as being shiplike and shows a photograph of a formation that looks like a ship.
In Genesis 6:14 this is what God said to Noah, “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch.” The ark was not shaped like a ship, but like a rectangular box, for ark means box, even as the Ark of the Covenant was a box.
2. He quotes an American shipwreck specialist, saying, “[The Flood could have been] an astronomical event causing a tectonic upheaval or a tidal bore causing gravitational pull in the ocean waters that forced the boat into the mountains” (p. 40).
Mr. Fillon proposes that the Flood had nothing to do with Noah’s ark. This is a flat out denial of Genesis 6:17, 18 in which the Lord clearly makes a connection between the Flood and the building of the ark, “And behold, I Myself am bringing the flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; and everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.”
Genesis 19:24 says concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens.”
Mr. Fillon tries to explain that what really happened is that there was an earthquake and the rocks and soil underneath the cities liquefied. Moreover, the asphalt, which was close by, and was mined, ignited, giving the appearance of what Abraham saw in Genesis 19. Mr. Fillon justifies this by referring to other cities or places in which this very thing has happened.
However, to say that it happened elsewhere does not establish the case for Sodom and Gomorrah. What must be done is the Genesis record must be investigated for its accuracy. Since his investigation does not bear on the validity of the biblical account, it still stands.
Genesis 19:26 tells us what happened to Lot’s wife, “But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.”
The article in Popular Mechanics maintains that the earthquake caused a tidal wave on the Dead Sea and Lot’s wife was drowned by the tidal wave. Mr. Fillon goes on to say, “…what Lot saw when he looked back from the safety of the mountain was not his wife transformed into a pillar of salt, but a woman-sized block of salt on the newly formed beach” (p. 41).
Some men who do not pay much attention to their wives, but Lot was terrible! He could not tell the difference between his wife and a block of salt!
Genesis does not say that Lot looked back to see his wife, for if he had, then he would have turned into salt also, because the angels had told Lot and his family in Genesis 19:17, “…Do not look behind you…”
Moses Parts the Red Sea
Popular Mechanics argues that the water of the Red Sea was deep enough to prevent the Israelites from walking in it, but this happened, “…a moderate wind blowing constantly for about 10 hours could have caused the sea to recede about a mile and the water level to drop 10 ft., leaving dry land for a period of time before crashing back when the winds died down” (p. 42).
A moderate wind blew ten feet of water back one mile! The ground was dry enough for several million people!
On the north end of Klamath Falls, Oregon is Oregon’s largest lake. We have had a moderate wind blow constantly for at least 10 hours on about the 10 foot-deep-Upper Klamath Lake. No one has ever seen this wind blow a mile-wide path in our lake.
Which is harder to believe?
Exodus 14:15, 16 which tells us who divided the Red Sea, “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea’”?
Or this moderate-wind-theory-pushing-back-10-feet-of-water?
Mr. Fillon suggests that Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead in John 11, was only in a coma or catatonic state (p. 42). Catatonia is a schizophrenic syndrome in which a person can appear in a stupor or have muscular rigidity, thus appearing to be dead. He says that since medicine was not nearly as advanced as it is today, the people in John 11 just did not know that Lazarus was not dead.
Furthermore, a person in a catatonic state shows little indication of breathing or heartbeat. In a coma hearing is apparently the last thing lost.
So Mr. Fillon quotes Gerald A. Larue, professor emeritus of biblical history and archaeology and president of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, a secular humanist organization, as follows, “Assuming Jesus had a loud voice, and he called out ‘Lazarus,’ the man may have heard him and come out of the coma” (p. 42).
Would it not be nice to be able to get others out of comas and catatonic states simply by yelling at them!
John 11:43, 44 says, “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Loose him, and let him go.’” It was the miraculous power of the words of Jesus Christ, not the loud voice that caused the resurrection. How would Mr. Fillon explain other resurrections, including the resurrection of Christ?
A Plague of Locusts
It is said in the article that locusts often appear in Africa and Asia after unseasonable rains, and that this follows the order of the plagues, that is, there was hail and then the plague of locusts (Ex. 9, 10).
Mr. Fillon’s perplexity about the plague of locusts, though, is seen when he says, “There remains, however, this mystery. Most of the plagues were produced at Moses’s command, in one case at a time set by the Pharaoh himself, and ceased at his prayer” (p. 42).
What is interesting about this admission from Mr. Fillon is this: He refuses to acknowledge the possibility that God was operating miraculously. Mr. Fillon accepts the biblical records of the conversations between Moses and Pharaoh, but not the biblical record of the miracles.
The Star of Bethlehem
Mr. Fillon says that in May of 7 b.c. Jupiter and Saturn appeared close together, and in September of 6 b.c. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were closely aligned, thus producing the star.
Matthew 2:9, 10 shows us a star that had to be more than just the planets lining up, because the star had to be very low in the sky, perhaps just a few stories up, to accomplish a certain purpose:
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
According to verse 2 the wise men saw the star first when they were in the east. Later, when they arrived in Jerusalem, they saw the star again and noticed that the star was moving, obviously distinct from the other stars of the night. It even pinpointed the exact house where Jesus was.
Shroud of Turin
Popular Mechanics gives plenty of space to the research that has been conducted on the Shroud of Turin, which some believe was the burial cloth of Jesus. This point is not a study of the biblical text.
Even the Catholic Church, which has possession of the cloth, has not come out and said that the cloth actually belonged to Jesus.
However, we can know that the cloth was not the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. The cloth is one piece on which it appears that a body was laid and the cloth was then folded over the body at the head.
Luke 23:53 says that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Christ in linen.
Luke 24:12 tells of Peter going to the tomb when he heard of the report that Jesus was raised from the dead, and here is what the future apostle found, “But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves…”
John 19:40 gives even more information about the linen that was used to bury our Lord, “Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.”
Now listen to John 20:5–7, “And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.”
The Shroud of Turin is not the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.
The Burning Bush
Not much attention was given to the burning bush that Moses saw, only a picture and a caption.
Underneath a picture that shows Moses on the left, a bush in the center, and a fire on the right, here is what it says, “The biblical lands sit atop a sea of gas and oil. Some suspect that Moses saw a natural gas seep that was ignited by lightning” (p. 43). However, the fire must have been bright enough that Moses just thought the bush was on fire.
Was this man, who had perfect eyesight (Deuteronomy 34:7), who had been trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22), who was mighty in words and deeds (Acts 7:22), who had the literary skills to write Genesis through Deuteronomy, and who had the leadership ability to lead a few million people through a desert for 40 years, not able to see that the fire was actually behind the bush?
Exodus 3:2–4 shows that Moses did investigate the burning bush,
And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
Moses was smart enough to see that the fire was not some distance away from the bush, but was in the bush. If the fire were close enough for Moses to think that it was in the bush, then the bush would have caught fire. Moreover, the initial lightning strike would have ignited the bush, if it was that close.
Also, was Moses having hearing problems that day when he heard his name called? Can the roar of a gas fire sound like the name Moses?
Often an article of the nature of this Popular Mechanics article is a simplified version of one that appeared in a more technical journal. Thus that technical journal can be researched and the evidence studied in detail. However, this was not the case with this particular article. Science was not used in trying to explain away the miracles in the Bible. Mr. Fillon used some scientific explanations of certain things outside the Bible and then assumed that the same circumstances prevailed in the events in the Bible.
Mr. Fillon has shown us what happens when a person cannot accept the miraculous. He has become a judge of God’s word. Such a man deems part of the Bible as worthy of acceptance, but that the other part is merely misinterpretation.
Mr. Fillon is not the first, nor shall he be the last, to treat the Scriptures in this way. The skeptics come and go, but the word of God abides forever. Even as the anvil wears out the hammers, so the skeptics wear out their hammers on the anvil of the Bible.
Your faith does not rest upon the misinterpretation of natural occurrences. There is a God in heaven and He has done marvelous wonders; His greatest work is that He sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins. The article in Popular Mechanics is a proverb of ashes.