French Academy of Science and the 51 Facts

I’m looking into the topic of Christianity and science for a presentation, and I came across this interesting claim:

In 1861, the French Academy of Science–very prestigious scientific body–published a booklet giving 51 “scientific facts” said to disprove the authority and reliability and dependability of Scripture. Fifty-one scientific facts that showed the Bible was wrong. That was in 1861. That’s not really very long ago.

Today’s scientists dismiss all 51 of those statements, and say not one of them is right. In other words, scientific facts often contradict things previously called facts, and that’s a fact!

This quote comes from a lecture by John Blanchard in 2004, and it interested me, so I tried to find some source documents to see what sorts of things had been raised and debunked.

Several Christian and atheist forums have apparently had the same idea, and have drawn a blank. Writers on the forums report finding the same ‘fact’ repeated several times in print, (according to the forums) more than once by Loraine Boettner as early as the 30s and 40s, by WA Criswell in the 60s, and a few others since. It is regularly repeated on Christian websites. None of the writers who published this anecdote backed it up with any evidence. A forum member went as far as contacting the FAS itself and they denied record of any such document (see here on GodandScience.org).

It is unfortunate that claims such as this are treated as fact and used in argument without any concern for credibility. As one forum member points out here, it is not a harmless mistake, because,

it “poisons the well” against any past, current, or future, scientific discoveries which contradict biblical literalism…

In other words, it serves as justification for Christian apologists to irresponsibly ignore any inconvenient scientific claim on the grounds that it’ll be reversed in 50 years anyway. Science is clearly in the business of making provisional claims, and many will be overturned. But this kind of anecdote allows one to pretend that science has horoscope-like levels of credibility, which is clearly far from the truth and unhelpful as an argument.

I would love for someone to present the evidence behind this anecdote—please send it to me if you have it—but until proven otherwise, let’s do our science-loving opponents the kindness of not retreating behind comfortable fictions.

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2 thoughts on “French Academy of Science and the 51 Facts

  1. Richard Cochrane says:

    How things go…. I was just listening to a talk this week that mentioned this fact and I thought that it’s fantastic! But my own looking into some proof behind it is lacking results… In fact, it shows a lot of apparently-justified scorn by non-Christians that we’re making this stuff up. Wouldn’t be the only case of it too (http://www.snopes.com/religion/lostday.asp) although in that snopes article, I considered it a lot more obviously bogus.

    It’s also irritating because it actually makes it harder to defend the Bible when the Bible has plenty of legitimate evidence to support itself already. At least, I think it does but maybe now I have to start fact-checking a lot of it too :-(

  2. Edwin L Hathaway says:

    I too have heard that quote in Bible College. I believe they had the list could be wrong. Went to your site to find the list not knowing there were issues with it’s credibility. I am a firm believer but do try to source my statements. Thanks

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