To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.
So far in our examination of Ray Comfort’s Scientific Facts in the Bible we have observed that Comfort has been wrong on just about everything. Not only is his exegesis of biblical texts definitionally eisegetical, but he has a lackluster understanding of basic scientific concepts as well. In every passage we have addressed so far – Jeremiah 33:22, Job 26:7, Hebrews 11:3, Leviticus 17:11, and Leviticus 15:13 – it is clear that the best way to understand the biblical texts is in their own cultural context and not our own. What Scientific Facts in the Bible actually demonstrates is that Comfort is not interested in the Bible for the Bible’s sake but rather he is interested in employing it as an apologetic weapon, a sword to counter the attacks of modern scientific progress and the means by which he props up his own Christian fundamentalism. The consequence of this is that he is unable to appreciate the biblical texts as they are. How unfortunate!
Things That Are Different…
If you listen to any pop-apologist long enough you will hear them refer to the laws of logic: the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of excluded middle. These laws are fundamentally descriptive, that is, they describe how the universe around us operates. And these laws are somewhat intuitive: if my son requests a donut (his favorite food at the moment) and I give him a banana, I can assure you that he will look at me like I have betrayed him. Why? Because he knows that a donut is not a banana. In other words, A is not non-A. Or, to put it another way, things that are different are not the same. This is a principle Comfort has apparently forgotten or abandoned.
The next text that Comfort claims reveals advanced scientific concepts is Job 38:35 – “Can you send out lightnings, that they may go, and say to you, ‘Here we are!’?” (NKJV) About this text Comfort writes,
The Bible here is making what seems a scientifically ludicrous statement – that light can be sent, and then manifest itself in speech. But did you know that radio waves travel at the speed of light? This is why you can have instantaneous wireless communication with someone on the other side of the earth. Science didn’t discover this until 1864 when “British scientist James Clerk Maxwell suggested that electricity and light waves
were two forms of the same thing”
(Modern Century Illustrated Encyclopedia, Vol. 12).
However, there is one problem with Comfort’s take on vs. 35: the text doesn’t speak of light but of lightning. Comfort has made his first mistake.
Light on the Science
Most days I’m a good husband but some days I become a rather sinister force in our home. On a cold winter day (rare here in Louisiana), while the heater has been running, I’ll quickly rub my feet along the rug in our living room and then, under the pretense of being a loving husband, I’ll touch my wife on the arm with shocking results. What causes this (apart from my devious nature)? What causes the shock?
As I rub my feet on the floor, I am grabbing up electrons that are stored in the rug. Since electrons have a negative charge, the influx of them onto my person results in me having a negative charge (and a negative attitude) as well. If I come into contact with something that is not negatively charged, like my wife, the electrons are unleashed, resulting in a visible spark and a bit of an uncomfortable jolt. This same basic principle is at work in lightning: “Lightning can occur between opposite charges within the thunderstorm cloud (intra-cloud lightning) or between charges in the cloud and on the ground (cloud-to-ground lightning).” So then lightning has to do with the movement of electrons from oppositely charged objects resulting in a spark of electricity. But why do we see it?
That too involves electrons. The nucleus of an atom is positively charged, thanks to the presence of protons (neutrons, as their name implies, carry no charge). Electrons are, of course, negatively charged and, as any elementary school student knows, opposite charges attract. This keeps electrons in “orbit” around their nuclei. But electrons orbit at different energy levels. To move up an energy level, an electron must absorb energy; to move down, it must release energy. If an electron moves down a level, the energy it releases is in the form of a photon: light. But photons, unlike electrons, are neither positively charged nor negatively charged. And unlike an electron, they are massless.
Scientifically speaking, then, light and lightning are two different things. And, as I stated above, things that are different are not the same.
Strike one for Comfort.
Light on the Exegesis
We can perhaps forgive Comfort his lack of scientific acumen. He has never claimed to be a scientist. But what about his exegetical skills? How do they fare? As it turns out, not any better.
The word translated as “lightning” in Job 38:35 is brqym, the plural form of brq. In its twenty-one appearances in the Hebrew Bible, it is more often than not a reference to lightning associated with thunder and rain. Bruce Waltke observes that in its fourteen appearances as “lightning,” the term “is associated with the LORD. This awe-inspiring phenomenon in the heavens reveals God’s greatness and separation from mortal man and accompanies him in his theophanies.” This is most certainly the case here in Job 38:35. By contrast, one of the Hebrew words for “light” is ʾôr and is a term that often refers to daylight (see Genesis 1:3-5). From a linguistic standpoint, brq is not ʾôr. Things that are different are not the same.
Strike two for Comfort.
What about the context? Comfort claims that that the Bible is asserting “that light can be sent, and then manifest itself in speech.” He then goes on to describe radio waves, a form of light. If we grant Comfort’s contention that the Bible is describing radio waves, what then do we make of Job 38:35?
The first question we need to ask is, who is the speaker in Job 38:35? According to vs. 1, it is Yahweh, who appears in a whirlwind to address Job’s complaints. Beginning with vs. 2 and continuing on through to the end of chapter forty-one, Yahweh asks Job rhetorical question after rhetorical question, each one designed to show Job that Yahweh alone is God: “I will question you,” he says to the mortal Job, “and you shall declare to me” (vs. 3). To Yahweh’s questions, Job is forced to declare, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6; cf. 42:1-5). Yahweh’s questions to Job are united thematically by their reference to natural phenomena. In Job 38, vss. 34-38 address rain and all that accompany it.
“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
so that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts,
or given understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods cling together?”
There is only one possible answer to each of these questions: only Yahweh can do these things. And this becomes a huge problem on Comfort’s view. If vs. 35 is describing radio waves which, as Comfort explains, can be sent by humans, then the answer to vs. 35 is no longer “only Yahweh can send forth lightnings” but rather “both Yahweh and humans can send forth lightnings.” Thus, Comfort completely undermines the rhetorical force of Yahweh’s line of questioning.
Strike three for Comfort.
Comfort’s Diminished God
Because Comfort does not consider context when making these erroneous claims about the biblical texts, he ends up undermining the intended force of the claims those texts are making. By changing “lightning” to “light” and inserting a modern scientific understanding of light into the text, Comfort has turned Yahweh into a bit of a charlatan. He has diminished the stature of his own God.
Let’s hope for Comfort’s sake that his claims about the existence of hell are erroneous as well.
Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016).
Bruce K. Waltke, “בָּרַק, (bāraq),” in R. Laird Harris, et.al., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (The Moody Bible Institute, 1980), 133.
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.