The Bible’s prescience?

August 6, 2015 • 12:00 pm

Yesterday I got an email from a reader in Illinois who claims that the Bible’s truth is attested by its prescience about later events. In Faith Versus Fact, I claimed that if the Bible had been uncannily accurate about things that were to happen in the distant future, that would be some evidence for an Abrahamic divinity.

But see how prescient this guy thought it was!:

How does the Big Bang/”Let there be light” not pass the uncannily priescient [sic] test you lay out for religion?  Or the placebo effect in medicine?  Or the Book of Daniel prediction that “Grecia” will be a great Middle East power, 400 years before Alexander the Great?  Or David writing “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” 750 years before Siddhartha said that desire is the cause of suffering?  (No archaeological proof of David?  Have you read the Book of Psalms?  We have more insight into the heart of David, and more proof he had a heart, than we do into that of, say, Hillary Clinton or Ronald Reagan.)

The part about David and Psalm 23 cracks me up. As for the “placebo effect,” I have no idea what he’s talking about.

78 thoughts on “The Bible’s prescience?

  1. He might be onto something with the placebo effect. The whole religion/Bible/supernatural thing might produce a placebo effect. There’s nothing there, but it makes some people feel better.

        1. p.s. Ive left you a comment on your Facebook page asking for captions to installment #2 your Galapagos photos, which I’d like to post as reader’s wildlife. Could you possibly send them if you still have them? Thanks.

    1. I thought he meant that magical healing (as in Jesus curing a leper) is prescient to the placebo effect (take a sugar pill for a headache and later your headache is gone).

  2. Hmmmm confirmation bias at work. I could say the same thing about HG Wells predicting lasers. All hail War of the Worlds the great predictor of humankind’s future!

    1. Douglas Adams has a pretty awesome track record. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a hand held device that is connected to a database that is constantly being revised and updated.

      1. Handheld computers were a staple of SF long before HHGG. They featured in Niven and Pournelle’s Mote in God’s Eye in 1974, as I recall, and were not exactly a new idea even then. Cyril Kornbluth’s “The Little Black Bag” (1950) featured a complete medical database in a device the size of a credit card.

      2. The Guide didn’t spy on you and report all your thoughts to the manufacturers, to help them sell more annoying advertising. Adams missed a trick there.
        Though he did have a handle on the low taste of Marketing Departments in the persona of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

      1. And didn’t Gibson predict the world wide web in Neuromancer? And hacking and some other techno futures iirc.

        1. “Predict” is much too generous. The internet (or its predecessor, ARPANET) was already 15 years old when Gibson’s Neuromancer came out in 1984, and the idea of hyperlinked documents dates back to the 1940s, with working systems dating from the 1960s.

          As for hacking in SF, Vernor Vinge’s True Names appeared in 1981 (three years before Gibson), and John M. Ford’s Web of Angels in 1980.

          1. Similarly, computer viruses appeared in fiction in John Brunner’s Shockwave Rider (mid 70s), while Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (mid 50s) predicted the Nintendo Wii.

      2. Can someone tell me what it predicts for the next century? …or the following century? no. It is just rubbish – anyone can go & pick things that they claim fit. Hindsight is the greatest gift of the bible. ha ha ha…

    2. “HG Wells predicting lasers:” In Washington Irving’s 1809 story “The Conquest of the Moon,” inhabitants from the Moon invade Earth “armed with concentrated sunbeams.” Ray guns? Is this the earliest mention in literature?

      1. I’d have to go back and read it, but didn’t Verne put some sort of beam weapon into the hands of Captain Nemo’s crew in the mid 60s?

  3. I predict that Germany will beat Argentina in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final and the score is going to be 1 x 0.
    Daniel made predictions about Alexander the Great. Easy if the book of Daniel was written after the fact, as most evidence points to.
    PCC, can I claim the prize for getting the FIFA final score right?

    1. Dr. Coyne sponsored a contest for picking the two finalists as well as the final score just before the beginning match of the World Cup last year.

      Lo and behold, one of his readers did pick Germany defeating Argentina 1 to nil in the final match! That reader received a copy of WEIT as the prize.

    2. I’m reminded that, like a lot of entitled power-mongers, Alexander wanted to take short-cuts, even in geometry. IIRC, Aristotle told him, “Sire, there is no royal road to geometry.”

  4. “David and Psalm 23 cracks me up”

    Yeah, talk about extracting something out of context. It’s clear that the Psalm suggests that if you follow the Lord, then he will provide you everything that you need; Jesus promises the same thing. That must be why no Christian or Jew ever dies of hunger, or is raped, or dies of a gruesome disease, or is murdered in a brutal fashion.

        1. Speaking of young kids, they see right through that rubbish before you can bend a pipe cleaner. The adults just go, “Ahhhhh.”

      1. Brilliant! 😀 And yeah, it reminds me of Sunday School too, except I just sat there wondering why everyone else understood and I didn’t, when at proper school it was the other way around. I did dare to question once, and got seriously growled at for rudeness and answering back. In those days the next step was always corporal punishment, so that shut me up pretty effectively.

        1. Yes, there is an implicit contract between students and teacher in Sunday school; you’re only supposed to lob softball questions, just enough to show you’re trying to think, but questions easily answered. And you have to accept the answer.

          If you don’t adhere to that contract, you’ve committed a major faux pas.

  5. In carefully controlled, double blind studies application of sham Jesus was shown to be just as effective as Jesus.

  6. Big Bang? Sort of a post-precience, as the Big Bang took place some 13+ billion (or 6000)years ago. Good to know that the Old Testament could predict the past.

      1. To be fair, the cosmic microwave background of initial photons outnumber matter particles with a factor 10^10 or so. (But see the comment below on reionization, “light” as in visibility isn’t exactly what comes to mind.)

  7. I like how the Bible predicted things like the global expansion of humanity, (i.e. a round earth full of Asians, native Americans, Aborigines, and others who had never heard of the magic three-headed sky daddy.)


    Human flight (planes, trains, and automobiles)
    The industrial revolution
    Space travel
    Atomic energy
    Germs and modern medicine
    World Wars
    Climate Change
    etc., etc..

  8. According to the New Testament, the end of the world was imminent in the first century. According to the Old Testament the Earth is the centre of the universe, doesn’t move and has foundations, pillars ends and corners. Insects have four legs, snakes eat dust bats are birds and rabbits are ruminants. Basically, the knowledge contained in the Bible is on the exact same level as that of the people who wrote it.

  9. Jesus predicted the world would come to an end before all his disciples died.

    Matthew 16:28

    Right there in black & white. And it happened just as he predicted. What more evidence do you need?

    What, you didn’t notice? -sigh- There’s always some SOB who doesn’t get the word.

    1. “There’s always some SOB who doesn’t get the word.”

      Uttered by JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis, though I’m sure that it didn’t originate with him.

  10. When God says “Let there be light” the earth is already in existence. So, not really a prediction of the Big Bang. Genesis 1:

    1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
    1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

  11. Yes, Daniel 8 does speak of Greece as a great power. And, for that matter, Isaiah 44 does speak of Cyrus by name. therefore

    EITHER we had supernatural prophesies

    OR the relevant passages were not composed at the dates that the orthodox ascribe to them.

    Take your pick.

  12. Jesus Fricking Crispy Christ On a Fricken Stick! Alexander III of Macedon was Macedonian, not Greek. The typical Greek attitude toward Macedonians was that they were barbarians.

    The association between ATG and the Greeks was that he greatly admired Greek culture and he, by use of and continued threat of force, compelled the various Greek city states to do what he told them to. For example, to re-join the League of Corinth that his father had forced upon them.

    And when one of them got uppity? Well, Thebes is a good example. As soon as ATG turned his back on them to go stamp out some resistance along Macedon’s northern borders, Thebes said “piss of.” Wereupon ATG turned right back around and “killed all of the men, sold all of the woman & children into slavery and made the city level with the ground.” Just as a little example. But he had a sweet spot in his heart for Athens. They too had rebelled, but he just gave them a little slap on the wrist.

    1. There really was no united “Greece” until the 1800s. Before that there were variations of city-states, kingdoms and fragmented cultures (during the dark ages). Alex himself Greek city-state. Macedon was backwoods but it was still a Greek city-state. Alex’s dad also smacked down Thebes. Alex wanted to unite all the Greek city-states and rule them.

      So, I think it is safe to say that Alexander the Great was a Greek from the Ancient Greek City-State Macedon.

      1. I could list references and quotes by the page full, but you know how to use the internet at least as well as I. You must know that at best your claim is contentious. There was certainly common lineage among the people of the classical greek city states and some of the peoples of the ancient kingdom of Macedon, particularly some of the royal families. But the ancient kingdom of Macedon was quite distinct from Classical Greece.

        I’ve never heard of Macedon described as a city state before. And I’ve studied quite a bit of modern scholarship on Alexander III, as well as source materials, as a minor. Not saying it never has been, but I am skeptical. In any case it is not accurate. It is typically referred to as a kingdom in distinct comparison to the greek city states of the same time period.

        Though some people do, it is not accurate to say that Alexander the Great was a Greek from the Ancient Greek City-State Macedon. No more so than to say that I am a German from the Ancient Spanish City-State of Florida.

          1. Depends who he was speaking to probably. He spoke some Macedonian dialect and probably Athenian Greek.

          2. Data regarding Ancient Macedonian (the language) is sparse, leading to many different thoughts on its origins. Such as

            “a close cousin to Greek and also related to Thracian and Phrygian”

            “An Illyrian dialect mixed with Greek”

            “part of the North-Western (Locrian, Aetolian, Phocidian, Epirote) variants of Doric Greek”

            “related to Aeolic Greek and Thessalian”

            “A Greek dialect with a non-Indo-European substratal influence”

            “A sibling language of Greek within Indo-European, Macedonian and Greek forming two subbranches of a Greco-Macedonian subgroup within Indo-European (sometimes called “Hellenic”)”

            Also, Ancient Macedonian was gradually displaced during the 4th century BC by the use of Attic Greek by the Macedonian aristocracy.

            But, if you intend to argue that peoples’ nationality is defined by the language they speak, are USians English? Are Australians? Are Brazilians Portuguese? Are Argentinians Spanish (not safe to suggest to any of the Argentinian woman I’ve known!)?

            1. I don’t think quibbling about the definition of “Greek” is relevant. If the Bible had actually predicted the rise of the Greeks (which I find very unlikely), I would be willing to grant it Alexander as close enough.

              1. It isn’t something that I worry about one way or the other either. But, just to quibble a bit, why would you be willing to grant that? In the context of historical scholarship the issue is not fueled in the slightest by any desire to invalidate the bible. It is simply a fairly strong consensus among relevant scholars, though I’d hesitate to claim it is unanimous. If you were to take a course on the history of Alexander III, it is very unlikely that you would be taught that Alexander was a Greek from a Greek city state.

                I can appreciate that from 2300+ years away it may seem close enough to say, yep they were all Greek. But if similar relationships between modern societies were considered regarding a modern person no one would agree with that general of a point of view.

              2. I was actually taught that. Just as I was taught that other Greeks were Thebans, Achaeans, etc.

                I never liked Hellenistic History for some reason. I had a really crazy professor who, though nice to me, really freaked me out with how he behaved toward some of the other students.

              3. I think everyone has had the proverbial creepy professor at least once. Mine was a Comparative Political Systems professor. He was legendary for being creepy.

                I really liked my ancient history professor. One of the stand-outs of my education experience. I took a course of his covering from the origins of the Greek peoples up through the Classical period, and another on Alexander.

              4. This guy just had extreme OCD and anxiety which he compensated for by being a bit of an ass. It’s like we recognized the crazy in each other because he was okay with me, but I knew how to not piss him off because I get OCD. Once, people were looking at pictures of a military apparatus from the Macedonian army as illustrated in a book. I could see him getting anxious while lecturing and finally he ripped the book out of someone’s hands and moved it to the next person. He figured they were taking to long with the book. See,mi would probably think the same thing, but I wouldn’t do what he did as I’d recognize that it would be shocking and hurtful to the person.

            2. “why would you be willing to grant that? ”

              This issue at hand isn’t whether they were Greek, but whether those writing the Bible might have thought of them as Greek.

              If so, then the prophecy was a good one.

    2. Agreed, though modern Greeks do tend to claim Big Al for the Greek team to some extent.

      Unlike the modern state FYR Macedonia, which is definitely not Greek at all.

  13. Agreement with any moral element of the Bible doesn’t prove a thing about divine origin, just a reasonably good human origin. So the David / Siddhartha comparison is out the window.

    But further classical traditional Buddhism says you should !*desist*! from your desires (and IMO greatly overstresses this), while David seems to think God will satisfy your desires (or at least your good ones.) Opposite messages!!!

    Buddha’s ideas have a lot more in common with the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes than they do with the Psalms of David!!! An astuter student of religion would see this quickly.

    The prophecies of Daniel have been extensively analyzed at Secular Web here

  14. The best thing about there is nothing I shall want” 750 years before Siddhartha said that desire is the cause of suffering? is that the meaning of ‘want’ there is ‘lack’ (as in “was found wanting”). Even if he only reads one version that phrases it like that, he really ought to know that (because it fits with the rest of the psalm, eg “my cup runneth over” – not really about avoiding desire, and it’s one of the best known passages in the whole bible). But other versions translate it as, for instance, “<a href=""I lack nothing".

    This guy is trying to extol the wisdom of the bible, and he doesn’t even know the basic message of one of its most famous passages.

  15. We have more insight into the heart of David, and more proof he had a heart, than we do into that of, say, Hillary Clinton or Ronald Reagan.

    You have to be a blinkered religionist to come up with shit like that. More staggering proof that religion is a primal cause of ignorance and delusion.

    1. Given all the medical records presidential candidates have to provide, and the state of modern medicine, there are hundreds (at least) of people who have actually seen Reagan’s and Clinton’s hearts in xrays etc. I assume there are several who saw Reagan’s in the flesh too.

      If there was anything about the Bible , or any other religious text, that could genuinely be considered prescient, the world would know all about it.

    1. Yeah. That point was a big WTF. Will people remember me as prescient of the final explanation of gravity because I notice that things tend to accelerate toward the Earth?

  16. It wasn’t until hundreds of thousands of years after the big bang that the universe became transparent to electromagnetic radiation, allowing “light” to travel unencumbered. Prior to this time the temperature of the universe was too high to allow electrons to couple to nuclei to form stable atoms and consequently photons were always colliding with electrons before they got very far. In effect,the light switch of the universe wasn’t turned on till well after the big bang.

  17. I’m baffled how people that doesn’t know what archeological evidence really is has the temerity to ask “where you there”.

    Or the Book of Daniel prediction that “Grecia” will be a great Middle East power, 400 years before Alexander the Great?

    Aha! If true, (and a cursory googling seem to confirm it) another constraint to how (likely) most of those texts being authored – and the religion evolved – _after_ the Hellenic Conquest. As we already knew from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it is also nice to have an internal constraint from the myth itself.

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