The Bible vs. Simple Physics

About two years ago, I posted a note on Facebook which explained why the laws of physics (and really, common sense) prohibit the construction of the temple as described in 1 Kings 6 and 1 Chronicles 22. A brief discussion ensued afterward in which a pastor (and good friend) attempted to defend what the Bible said. However, the situation continually worsened for the Bible, as what it describes in physical terms (i.e., without hiding behind miracles) was revealed to be all the more physically impossible.

Because this example plainly shows the absurdity of the Bible, I’m republishing it here for your consideration, and I welcome any and all feedback on it. What follows is “The Bible vs. Simple Physics” as originally published May 18, 02011.

1 Kings 6:2 says that the temple of Solomon had a volume of 4,500 yards cubed.

The accepted conversion is 18 inches per cubit. Maximum volume of temple (if a perfect cube) = 60 * 18in * 30 * 18in * 20 * 18in = 209,952,000 inches cubed (or about 4,500 cubic yards).

1 Chronicles 22:14 says that the temple would make use of 100,000 talents of gold & 1,000,000 talents of silver, more bronze and iron than could be measured, an unknown quantity of wood and stone, as well as whatever else the builders wanted to add. (The ESV says that they *must* add to these quantities.)

Let’s look only at the silver: 1,000,000 talents is 66,000,000 pounds. That’s a lot of silver. It occupies a volume of 3,728 cubic yards. That’s nearly 83% of the volume of the temple, assuming the temple was occupying the largest possible space (a smooth cuboid) given its dimensions.

Think about that. The temple wasn’t a smooth cuboid. It’s volume would have been much less. This means that the builders used more silver than they would have had room to use!

Keep in mind that is without including the vast amount of gold. That is without including the even greater amount of bronze & iron.

So the Bible says that to build a temple, more materials were crammed into a local area than would even be possible. And to make things even more ridiculous, it took over 153,000 workers (1 Kings 5:15–16) seven years (1 Kings 6:38) to build it.

Makes perfect sense.

Hypothesis: The builders were told God allowed them to use so much material… Upon realizing that they didn’t have enough physical space to use that much material, they each stole quite a bit. The daily “missing materials” delayed the building process, pushing the process back further & further. Churches have been trying to get the wealth back ever sense, and that would be the reason behind tithing…

Alt. hypothesis: The builders tapped into hammerspace. The additional mass of the temple which would not fit within the allotted dimensions resided in the same alternate dimension from which Bugs Bunny could always produce a mallet or in which Optimus Prime stowed his trailer when not in truck form.

Note: The ESV‘s note on the 1 Chronicles passage says that a talent was about 75 pounds. My calculations were made using Wolfram Alpha’s more conservative conversion of 66 pounds. If the ESV‘s conversion is accurate, then the problem is only exacerbated.

28 thoughts on “The Bible vs. Simple Physics”

  1. Rick,
    Might I suggest that you are be reading the text with agenda colored glasses?

    You are not reading what the verse says:
    1 Chronicles 22:14 states that the materials are what King David stockpiled for his son Solomon who would later build the temple, not that the amount of materials in their entirety were what was used to build the temple.

    I have had a house built and I can assure there was a lot of material left over from what the contractors started with.

    Respectfully,
    Richard

  2. Then the alternative is that God had no clue what it would take to built a temple and so instructed the builders to gather together a ridiculous overabundance, the vast majority of which wouldn’t be used at all.

    Because nothing screams “perfect in wisdom” like extreme wastefulness.

    The “colored glasses” belong to those who read the Bible and yet somehow walk away with a positive opinion of the character of God.

  3. BTW I am a native English speaker. I just didn’t happen to proof read my last post :).

    As far as building materials, I’m sure God knew exactly what it would take to build the temple. David was pretty much guesstimating though.

  4. Just pointing out that your assumption in the statement; “So the Bible says that to build a temple, more materials were crammed into a local area than would even be possible.”, is just that, an assumption. …and that’s a fact.

    sorry, just teasing a little. Mostly.

  5. Whether the builders used that much or not is irrelevant. Either way, it reflects badly upon the Bible, as it would show two of Israel’s most important rulers (David & Solomon) to be hopelessly poor stewards, amassing untold amounts of material when a tiny fraction of the same would be needed.

    If David was indeed “guesstimating,” then it becomes immediately obvious that he was, well, not dealing with a full deck, intellectually speaking. His estimates vary so wildly from what the actual needed amount would be that it would have been obvious to anybody that David wasn’t motivated by an all-wise God but by the heights of arrogance and avarice.

    For perspective, if you were wanting a three-bedroom house built, would you trust an architect who ordered materials that occupied the space of an entire apartment complex?

  6. Actually if I were collecting silver and gold for a building project and had an abundance left over after I was done, I would consider that very good planning as I would be rich…and consequently that’s exactly what happened with Israel during King Solomon’s reign precisely because of this. Doesn’t sound like hopelessly poor stewardship or not playing with a full deck to me. In light of this, maybe he was moved by an all-wise God.

  7. Still sounds as though you’re pulling assumptions out of the air to support what the Bible says.

    Now you’re defending a monarchy for enriching itself while there were most assuredly plenty of people in need who would have benefited from having that wealth, well, not monopolized by the royalty.

    Hmm… Maybe ancient Israel invented the Republican Party. Now that’s something. :P

  8. Hah, now that’s funny. really :)

    What actually happened historically, granted according to the Bible, which I’m guessing :), you don’t take to be accurate, is that all the people prospered during the reign of Solomon.

    Anyway, I guess we’ll have to disagree on a few things. (have to go take care of kids now) As it is your site I’ll give you the last word.

    Thank you for a stimulating discussion and for your courtesy. Hope I wasn’t offensive in anything. Look forward to more discussions if I’m still welcome in the future.

    Be well,
    Richard

  9. I’m going to approach this argument the same way you did. No “God willed it so it must be true” stuff. Just strictly evidence from the verses.

    I checked the conversions, read the bible and looked at replicas. The logic in this argument is valid but it cannot be used to prove the Bible to be absurd because it is operating under two false assumptions: 1) They only built a 4500 cubic yard structure and 2) All of the materials given 1Chron22:14 in were to be used within that structure.

    If you read more of 1kings6 you will see that they also built chambers surrounding the temple. They are not included in the 90x30x45ft dimensions.

    In 1kings7:13 on down, there is a list of things made with the bronze and located outside the temple. Two columns, an altar, wheeled stands, a huge basin that could hold 12,000 gallons, and etc. All of these bronze things I listed were located outside the temple.

    Everything in the temple was covered in gold and the furnishings (lamps and whatnot) were made of pure gold.

    After all of that, 1kings 7:51 says
    “When all the work King Solomon had done for the temple of the LORD was finished, he brought in the things his father David had dedicated–the silver and gold and the furnishings–and he placed them in the treasuries of the LORD’s temple.” (When you are storing things it doesn’t really matter if you take up the majority of the space.)

    With that being said and done. I don’t expect you do up and believe the Bible. I just hope you know that there are Christians who know how to think logically and actually consider arguments because they are interested in searching for truth. I find it upsetting when people only consider arguments that align with their beliefs (whether you are a christian or an atheist). If you look at something with your mind set on what you want to see, you will blind yourself to what is actually there.

    A link to a picture of the temple along with scripture references. (I had read several chapters and compared different images before I came across this)
    http://knightsoftemplar.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/solomon-temple.jpg

  10. Tia, that came up in the original conversation on Facebook; however, the materials listed were specified as being for the main temple itself, not any of the surrounding structures.

    Richard: That’s because nations prosper when led by ladies men; America, for example, did quite well under Clinton. :P

    Even still, there’s nothing in the text to support the materials being left over from the construction project, nor are provisions given for what to do with the leftover materials.

    Given the specifics given in what God required of the temple, its construction, and its use, it’s a huge leap of faith to assume that the ludicrous amounts of materials was intentional just to divvy up among the citizens afterward. We’re talking about a God who once sentenced worshipers (WORSHIPERS, not rapists, not molesters… but freakin’ worshipers) to insta-death because they brought a candle or incense (I forget which) with them to worship; because God hadn’t told them that he wanted that particular fragrance, he ended their lives right there on the spot.

    The God of the Bible is not the type to just allow all of the materials brought forth for his temple to be used however people saw fit. He’s the type that would have a plan for every last ounce of it (just so he could punish people when they inevitably misused it).

    The flow of the text best fits with the builders somehow using all of those materials in building the main part of the temple. The text doesn’t go anywhere else with the materials or instructions.

    And the problem with it is that, well, it’s impossible for them to have done so.

  11. Decarburization = loss of mass. Ancient metallurgical production distributed amongst hundreds of thousands of workers would increase this. Casting, forging, flow forming, rolling, extrusion…Also, no mention is given to decorative cornices, spires, slopes, outer wall bedizenments and garnishings…

    1Chronicles 22:14 – “Now, look, I have made every effort to supply what is needed to build the LORD’s temple. I have stored up 100,000 talents of gold, 1,000,000 talents of silver, and so much bronze and iron it cannot be weighed, as well as wood and stones. Feel free to add more!” -NET

    …stored up…what is need…I can’t seem to misinterpret/twist this to say “allocate every element to the decimal so that the last shekel will complete the finishing touches on the throne room on the final day of building” no matter how many times I read it.

    Question: have you read many ancient/historical books with measurements either assumed or directly given? Here is a great read, if not:
    http://www.amazon.com/Archaeology-Measurement-Comprehending-Ancient-Societies/dp/0521135885

    ISBN is 0521135885

    God bless you.

  12. Jeremy, that’s a good point. It makes perfect sense that the builders would waste or otherwise lose vastly more materials than would physical fit into the dimensions given for their project.

  13. I came across your blog looking for an answer to a WordPress URL rewrite rule and somehow ended up on this topic. The Internets are so distracting!

    Once tempted, now I’ve gotta throw in my piece of conjecture:

    Talents are a form of measure. They have also come to be synonymous with the word ‘skill’. A skilled worker, who was ‘worth his/her weight’, was paid using a weighted measure of value, and talents were a unit of measure. See ‘talent’ on wikipedia I’m sure.

    Now, assuming this temple was a major undertaking, it would stand to reason that a lot of talents would be needed to pay for all the talent required. In the days before wire transfer, credit card and bitcoin, the pay would have been stockpiled. Silver would have been the most fungible sort of dough in that period. Therefore, it would have made sense to have contributed a very large amount of silver/gold for the skilled craftsmen to be paid with.

    While that would certainly take some of the treasure, there is more to be considered: This temple was a lifelong calling and a gift of devotion to God.

    I tend to agree with the other posters, this argument isn’t quite so cut-and-dry as the OP has portrayed. To imagine that the supplies were solely used as construction material is simply naive. It would be just as easy to suppose that the gold and silver listed would have literally been the entire treasury of Israel, offered to God for the purpose. Whether it was all needed, or not, has no relevance.

    David, a king, was in the act of effectively making out his last will and testament. This is history.

    Evolutionists believe in evolution, but they weren’t there. Creationists believe in creation, but they weren’t there. And the OP is trying to disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti monster by dissecting the minutia of King Solomon’s treasury. You gotta love humanity – oh, and the Internets!

    1. It seems to take far more assumptions to make what the Bible say make sense than it does to take it at its word and laugh at it for its absurdity.

      Assume, assume, assume. Ah, the burden of the apologist.

      (As for evolutionists… Yes, they are there. Evolution is happening even today. It’s one of the most well-attested, well-proven theory in all of the sciences.)

  14. Rick, your assumptions about the materials and their purpose are what is nonsense. It shows your bent, and your bent affects your reason.

    1. My assumptions actually make *fewer* assumptive additions to the text. Occam’s Razor. ;)

      If the amassed building materials were not just for the temple but were for all sorts of other things, why did the text not mention it? Why did they amass many, many times the necessary amount of materials to build a solid metal temple (solid as in no rooms and perfectly geometrical)? Why were they told not just to amass so much but to actually add even more unto it? Why would they need to add more if they already had so much?

      I think your bent — that the Bible must be right — is affecting your reason. The text, as written without added “gotta fix it” assumptions, doesn’t make sense.

  15. You started this thread by making assumptions, the rest of us are looking to apply some good old-fashion’ reason.

    >> If the amassed building materials were not just for the temple but were for all sorts of other things, why did the text not mention it?

    You really won’t let it sink in: It doesn’t say they were building materials! In fact, I will state it more bluntly, THEY WERE NOT BUILDING MATERIALS. Some of the assets may have been used as building material, but that is not what it says or implies. It lists a variety of assets provided for the temple. Maybe you wouldn’t jump to this assumption so quickly if it was listed as denominations of paper currency? Read the entire chapter you reference in 1 Kings, silver isn’t even listed as being used as a building material.

    >> Why did they amass many, many times the necessary amount of materials to build a solid metal temple (solid as in no rooms and perfectly geometrical)?

    And running with your assumption… you start your imaginary conundrum. Let’s see, we have a lot of work to be done, it’s going to take an army. Oh shucks, how can we pay for this? Can’t use all that silver, it’s building material!

    >> Why were they told not just to amass so much but to actually add even more unto it?

    I doesn’t say need. Stop assuming. Oh, and BTW, more is usually better. I just built my house – I KNOW this.

    If you were using Occam’s razor, this thread wouldn’t have started. You are pitting your assumptions against physics; that isn’t Occam’s razor my friend, it’s the way that leads to madness.

  16. Pilgrim: Okay, stop focusing on just the silver. The other materials amassed *aren’t* currency yet are still more than enough to build solid chunks of temple, without rooms yet satisfying the dimensions given.

    1 Chronicles 22 states explicitly that the materials were “for the temple,” that they were acquired at great pain, etc., etc.

    My assumption is this: That the Bible meant what it says when those materials are said to have been “for the temple.”

    Your assumptions are these: That the materials were for other projects in addition to the temple, that they were used for payment (enough to make a great many of the workers filthy stinking rich, I’m sure), that despite being acquired at great pains they still amassed a huge, unimaginable surplus… That the Bible is the Word of God and therefore must be correct… And so on.

    Occam’s razor: All things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually right, and that tends to mean that the explanation which requires the fewest assumptions is most likely to be correct.

    You may not like the conclusion that must be reached given my reasoning, but it doesn’t mean I’m assuming more.

    1. You keep trying to tell everyone that they are wrong if their opinion differs from yours and attribute their “skewed” view to be a result of faith in the bible. I and some other people have come to examine the logic of your argument and did not mention God once. your logic is off and it is because you believe God is a tyrant. that’s why you’ve made this overly simplistic assumption that  “for the temple” means they can only use all of those materials in a 4,500yd space  when the verses mention an alter and other outside structures made of bronze that were built and 1kings 7:45 says they were for the temple. In an earlier comment it was cited that the verses mention there being a temple treasury where david’s offerings were stored. And in addition to that, they have countless people needed to be hired for the temple to be built. why would anyone think that someone with so much gold and silver would not use it to pay the people? That is just common sense but of course these people are characters in the bible so they can’t possibly function sensibly. we’d be giving them too much credit to think that. instead, we can say that they tried to shove it all in a tiny room with Jesus magic and paid people using funds outside of the vast riches and materials that David contributed. You say the rule is ‘the less assumptions, the more likely’ but your assumption leaves out information from other verses. You chose to base your assumption on verses but neglected to use all of them. Don’t just use the ones that make you happy. You’re committing a strawman argument and you don’t even realize/care because you believe the bible is stupid anyway.

    2. >> My assumption is this: That the Bible meant what it says when those materials are said to have been “for the temple.”

      I’m sorry, but that simply hasn’t been your assumption. On the contrary, you have assumed that the silver was to be used solely as building material, and it is on that assumption that you have based your flawed argument.

      >> Your assumptions are these…

      Now you are assuming what I think. Sheesh. Give my earlier posts a read. How do you know if I think the material if solely for the temple, or also for the supporting structures? How do you know that I’m not an atheist who just wants to keep it real?

      You conclusion is meaningless. “For the temple” != “building material”. Yes, you are assuming more, and I assume you know it.

      1. I assume “for the temple” means “for the physical structure of the temple,” yes. I don’t assume it means, “for the temple, for crew payments, for auxiliary structures, for adornments, etc., etc.”

  17. And that is the problem. if you were to build a house, would you not use your resources to build a fence, porch, or pool? If you build a store, would you not use your resources to build a parking lot or to make a sign to go outside? Any reasonable person would, so why would that not apply here? it has been pointed out that they did just that? for example, It was said that countless amounts of bronze was given and it was said that countless amounts of bronze was used and they told you what they used it for. But hey, if you are not convinced then fine. Go ahead with that.

  18. The answer is found in 1 Chron. 29:3 “…over and above…”

    He used some of the materials in the ‘boneyard’ (general contractor’s term for ‘stuff left over from the project’) to build his own house 2 kings 7:1.

    by the way, how did he “do payroll” for the 135,600 people (2 Chron 2:17) you mentioned above without the 50 – 60 % “extra” materials? Ask an accountant what the percentage the payroll is on any budget for any type of work.

    Ahhh the job of the apologist: to believe a silly archaic book that has no relevance to present reality (because Ecclesiastes didn’t use the word “hammerspace”).

    1. That pretty much means it means nothing. You could say that “some parts of the Bible explain the symbols of another part,” but then, those explanations… How then shall they be taken literally? The whole thing becomes a malleable lump that can be made to mean whatever people want.

      Which is pretty much how Judeochristianity has always worked, so hey, maybe you’re right.

  19. I agree that the God that Calvin describes doesn’t deserve worship even if he existed.

    I have no problem reading the silver and gold as being wages – it was the currency of the time. If you were King David would you leave everything for a temple but leave the salaries of 153,000 people to chance? That would seem like poor planning to me.

    +Isaac – I am in construction costing and presently wages / salaries equals about 40% of total construction cost. I have no problem with 55-60% for a time with no power tools (despite lower wages).

    The more relevant argument to me is: why would it take 153,000 people 7 years to build this structure? Off-site construction aside, that is a lot of people / time compared to other major construction projects. Unless, when the Bible refers to the construction of ‘Solomon’s Temple’ it actually means ‘Solomon’s Temple and Palace’, but 1 Kings 7:1 indicates that the vastly larger palace took only 13 years. Let’s assume that God still didn’t like to hear hammers and due to the proximity to the temple the palace should have been largely built off-site as well.

    1. Okay, fine, the gold & silver could be for the workers. But what about the other materials, that weren’t precious? There’s more “than could be measured.” If the silver alone was enough to make a solid temple made out of silver, then just how much material did they really have? The numbers are astounding.

      You can’t defend the Bible by focusing just on the precious metals and say “well, it was wages.” Anytime an assumption must be made to make the Bible work, it’s a sign that an all-knowledgeable god wasn’t involved in the writing. Finding loopholes in J.K. Rowling is one thing; there shouldn’t be the same in the Bible.

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