by James William Treece, Jr.*

Probably not many Bible scholars or scientists are aware that Daniel

-the same Daniel who was cast into the lion's den was also a scientist.

A scientist may be defined as one who utilizes the scientific method as a

means of testing hypotheses. Scientists are also trained in research

methodology. Daniel, therefore, can be classified as a scientist both by

training and practice. In Chapter I of his book, Daniel gives the account

of his use of classical experimental design-a technique to control

variables that might bias a scientific research project-in order to acquire

knowledge and test a hypothesis.

Some months ago my wife, who is a nurse-educator, was carefully

reading Chapter I of Daniel and pointed out the value of a diet of vege-

tables and water. We are all aware of the need for vitamins and fiber,

and the harm which excessive sweets, cholesterol, alcohol, and caffeine

can cause. The food regimen which Daniel proposed would be recog-

nized as quite beneficial, according to health standards today. My wife

was impressed with the diet, but, as a sociologist with training in the

area of research methodology and the philosophy of science, my interest was

captured by the experiment which Daniel proposed.

And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat,

and of the wine which he drank; so nourishing them three years, that

at the end thereof they might stand before the king.... But Daniel

purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion

of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he

requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile

himself.... Then said Daniel, Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten

days; and let them give us pulse [vegetables] to eat, and water to

drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and

Mr. Treece holds an M.A. degree, and is Associate Professor of Sociology at

Liberty University.

the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king's

meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. So he consented to

them in this manner, and proved them ten days. And at the end of

ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all

the children which did eat the portion of the king's meat. Thus Melzar

took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should

drink; and gave them pulse (Daniel 1:5-16).

Daniel's proposed research was set up along what is known as the

classical experimental design. According to current methodology, this

design is composed of control and experimental groups, with each group

being subject to a before-and-after test. The following diagram is the

usual visual representation of the design of the experiment:

Utilization of this design requires that subjects in both groups be treated

exactly the same in every aspect except for one variable in this case,

the diet. Stated simply, both control and experimental groups were

under identical conditions, except that the control group subjects con

sumed the king's meat and wine, while the experimental group had pulse

and water. The purpose of the before-and-after test was to compare the

subjects in the control group with the subjects in the experimental group

to see if there was any change. Since other potential variables in the two

groups were the same, any change could be attributed to the one


Note that Daniel and the children were described (v. 4) as "well

favored, and skillful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and under-

standing science. . . ." He proposed an experiment in which he, along

with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would eat pulse and water for

ten days, while the remainder of the subjects would partake of the king's

meat and wine. Actually, Daniel was putting his hypothesis (statement of

the relationship between two variables) to a scientific test. His hypothesis

contained the independent variable (the cause-diet) and the dependent

variable (the effect-fairer and fatter countenances in flesh), which are

the necessary component of a hypothesis.

When I was first exposed to the concept of the experimental design as

a student in college, I was impressed with the cleverness of this method

of testing and hypothesis. A bit of research in the library revealed that

Roger Bacon is considered the father of modern science. He helped

to develop the methodologies for confirming or refuting hypotheses by

an ethical system of gathering empirical data through systematic obser-

vations. When he published his "Opus Majus," in 1266 A.D., he de-

scribed the controlled experiment as a means of acquiring scientific


The use of controlled experiments as a standard procedure for testing

hypotheses was adopted by the social scientists in the mid-19th century.

Physical scientists were using the scientific method perhaps a hundred

years earlier, with some reservation. The favorable attitude toward

empirical observations grew, in spite of the hostile environment of logical

deduction as taught by Plato and Aristotle. Skepticism and disagreement

were instrumental in retarding acceptance of what we now call the scien-

tific method. For example, Wilhelm Wundt, the psychologist, opened his

experimental laboratory in 1879, in Leipzig, Germany. Other social scien-

tists were turning to the methods of science in the 1850's, and 1860's

after observing the great strides in gathering new knowledge from the

physical sciences. Today, physics and chemistry classes, basic and ap-

plied industrial research, testing of new medicines and products, all make

use of advanced, sophisticated designs of experimental research. But

Daniel used the classical experimental design in Nebuchadnezzar's reign,

in 605 B.C.-1,871 years before Bacon conceived the idea.

It is interesting to speculate whether Bacon may have developed the

experimental method from reading Scripture. Personally, there is little

doubt in my own mind that he really did discover the experimental

method from reading Daniel. He was emphatic in his belief that all

wisdom comes from God and personally believed that Scripture was a

means of increasing faith, not a source for refuting theological arguments.

"For all wisdom is from the Lord God, as the authority of the Scripture

holds. . . ." he wrote. In other words, God was the source of all knowl-

edge and wisdom, and man obtained his knowledge and wisdom by

reading the Bible under the influence of the Holy Spirit who guided

human understanding. I believe that God gave Daniel the wisdom and

knowledge of science. Daniel, in turn, recorded his Godly wisdom in the

book bearing his name. All things considered, Bacon quite possibly con-

ceived the notion of the experimental design from the book of Daniel.

Daniel 1:20 indicates that Daniel and the three other men were ten

times better in all matters of wisdom and understanding than all the

magicians and astrologers who were in the realm. Daniel's God-given

wisdom was superior to secular knowledge ten times over. We can

wonder if much of this God-given wisdom was gained through similar

experiments as the one recorded.

Just how good was Daniel's methodology, according to contemporary

standards? One of the first considerations of an experimental design is

in selecting subjects. The usual method of assigning subjects to the

control and experimental groups is by randomization. That is, we place

participants into groups by chance, rather than by some method which

might bias the results. For example, had Daniel selected the most un-

healthy-looking subjects for the control group and the fairer and fatter

individuals for the experimental group, the experiment would not have

been valid, since a bias would have been introduced. But Daniel by-

passed randomization. For the experimental group, he selected Shad-

rach, Meshach, Abednego, and himself. This selection process satisfied

an important part of experimentation in current vogue, known as ethics.

In experiments of this type, when life patterns and habits are at stake,

subjects should be allowed to be in either the experimental or control

groups so that the researcher is not manipulating his subjects. The four

experimental subjects wanted to be on a diet of vegetables and water.

The other subjects preferred the king's diet of delicacies and wine. By

allowing the choice, the possibility of improper representation on the part

of the subjects was minimized. Both groups would present themselves in

the best possible mode, in the hope of continuing their preferred diets.

Next, equal size of experimental and control groups was ignored by

Daniel, with justification. Had the subjects been assigned by a double-

blind system (subjects and researchers do not know which subjects

receive the experimental variable and the experiment is managed by a

disinterested third party until the results have been quantified), it would

have ignored ethical considerations and opened up the possibility of

cheating. In such a case, some of the experimental subjects objecting to

the vegetable-and-water diet probably would have cheated and stolen

some of the king's dainties, meat, and wine, adding a bias to the results.

Another dimension to the strength of the design, which indicated

Godly wisdom, is the time period which Daniel selected to run his

experiment. The ten-day period, according to current medical practice, is

adequate to detect and determine physiological trends for situations like

this. Since Daniel obtained his knowledge through God, the Author of all

knowledge, ten days must be the optimum time period. Additional time

would not show any appreciable difference for the response being


The validity of the hypothesis is shown by the results. Daniel 1:15 says

it all: "And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer

and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the

king's meat."

Finally, what about statistical significance-the degree that the findings

are not the result of chance? It is often said that statistics are most

valuable when there is a small difference between the control and the

experimental groups. In this case, the difference was quite obvious to the

king's investigators. By any statistical formula, the results of Daniel's

experiment are beyond the realm of chance. The four subjects were

visibly more healthy than any one of the many control subjects.

A concluding observation: Some people have said that the Bible is not

a scientific textbook, but the book of Daniel brilliantly demonstrates the

use of the classical experimental design-the most powerful method of

testing in scientific research.

"Roger Bacon, The Opus Majus" in Selections from Medieval Philosophers 11, From Roger

Bacon to William of Ockham, ed. R.P. McKeon. (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1980),

p. 34.