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Friday, June 30, 2006

Singing In the Rain (or, 150 days of indoor fun)

From the tone of my first entry, you might think you can guess what I'm going to say about the Flood--but then, I did say it was trickier. I hope you've been able to handle the suspense.

The historicity of the flood is a mess, from what I can see. It always seemed like an out-and-out fable to me. In college, when I read The Epic of Gilgamesh and found a very similar story starring someone named Utnapishtim, I felt vindicated. Clearly, either (a) someone had plagiarized, or (b) there was some kind of flood that covered a lot of Mesopotamia, and it was important enough to the early humans that it was recorded as part of cultural heritage.

It turns out, though, that many, many early civilizations have stories about a great flood that wiped out all but a handful of people, and all over the world. Check 'em out here. It's kinda freaky.

Now it's time to figure out what the heck happened, and I'm going to be asking for a lot of help. Yeah, I'm pretty sure it didn't happen the way the Bible says it happened. Really sure, in fact. Again, this skepticism stems from information the writers didn't have. Enough water would have to have been generated to raise the level of the sea over the surface of a planet 510,000,000 square kilometers in surface area, an average of 750 feet a day. Someone with a good scientific calculator can figure out how much water that is, but it's a lot, and it all had to have gone somewhere, which it demonstrably did not. Add to that the problem of collecting animals from various continents (if God flew them to Saudi Arabia personally, I would think that would be a sensational enough sight to make it into the narrative), and the logistics are beyond miraculous. I know someone will say there's no such thing, but seriously, where did the water go? A wind blew it away, evidently (8:1)--it must have been transdimensional or something.

KJV, which I happen to have handy as I type this, says "all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered" (7:19). Nonetheless, the account itself seems to admit, albeit unwittingly, the dubiousness of that claim. After all, the fact that the ark comes to rest so close to its point of departure suggests that Noah and crew didn't sail past the Himalaya to see what was going on there, and no one else survived to give report.

Regardless of the historicity of the deluge itself, its clear moral, which isn't a bad one, is "don't mess with God." The effects are far-reaching: it is after this point, in fact, that the spirit of God leaves humans and thus stops allowing them to live so long (can't find the reference at the moment). It gives a nifty origin story for rainbows.

More importantly as we go forward, it establishes the precedent of God's prerogative to change his mind as he sees fit. In 6:6, he second-guesses the creation of man, which is how he devises the flood, and in 8:21 the smell of burning sacrifice brings him to his senses, and he promises not to do that again.

Anyway, the historicity is a problem. Clearly there was widespread flooding, perhaps at the end of the last ice age (makes sense to me, anyway), but how did all our species survive it? We have an awful lot of biodiversity nowadays, and for all of it to be postdiluvian deems far-fetched to me also. If only low-lying areas around the world were flooded, as seems more likely, that would partially explain it--but still, a few thousand years doesn't seem long enough to evolve new species to fill the erstwhile seas (the aforementioned low-lying areas, in case I got too highfalutin for a second).

I guess what I'm saying is that this story, of everything in the Bible, because of its corroboration by numerous independent sources, seems to imply divine intervention. We have to make a couple of assumptions to get to the impasse, but the impasse is real to me nonetheless--wouldn't it take a god to see all us organisms make it this far?


Blogger Jen H. said...

I apologize for working backward in a new post, but this sort of relates to the flood and the previous post (plus its extended commentary). About the creation of an ancient earth, I heard that theory for the first time within the last year, and it was new and interesting to me so I sort of clinged to it. The counter points you made were valid ones, and I'm still not sure exactly what I believe about creation other than GOD created the world, but I definitely agree with Christopher's point that our Sovereign God will not come down too hard on folks who get creation wrong as long as they see Jesus Christ as God-Man and their personal Savior. Getting caught up in that is the type of thing that creates so many splitting denominations that God must despise.

That said, I was just doing some more reading on the "Biblical" age of the earth and came across an article (not pretending it's anything other than Christian biased) that made lots of points to support the very young (6k year) age of the earth. LOTS of them are directly related to the flood, such as the rapid formation of mountains, canyons, and rock strata layers. This hits on a point that would help reduce your 15M number that makes it so unbelievable to you, suggesting that maybe there weren't even mountains pre-flood (just hills). It also claims that due to gradual shrinkage of the sun, it would have been way too large to support life as long ago as scientists think there was life (i.e. touching the earth), and a similar argument about the earth's magnetic field.

Anyway, I don't know much about the guy who wrote the article, and I can't claim to have done the research on my own, but it is an interesting read, and I'd be interested to hear from any of you who may know more about these specific things:
Click Here for the Article!

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

This one's kind of interesting as I've seen numerous things on TV both against and proving this. Logistically, it doesn't make any sense. However, I think the Ark was actually built (pieces and parts having been found that would match the dimension specified), and the thing one wonders is that there had to be advance notice of some sort to have it built before any type of mass flooding.

Now, this could be divine intervention or it could be a shipbuilder who wanted a big-ass boat that actually ended up coming into use. Forgetting the water problem that Chris mentioned as well as the locations of all the creatures, there remains the aftermath.

If all the creatures were kept together and then released in the same location, why are many animals only located on particular continents? Yeah, you're not going to find tropical animals hanging out in the arctic, but things in the same climatic areas should be consistant across the globe, right?

9:16 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

Jennifer, that was an interesting article. Bekah told me that her folks at some point told her a similar story. I think this seems like a bit of a pat explanation too, though, and the main reason is that if the Grand Canyon were formed by receding floodwaters, why wouldn't we have similar canyons all over the place? Yeah, there are different kinds of rock all over the place, but it seems like that much water would carve through all of them.

Also, his claim that we don't hear dissenting voices due to PC censorship doesn't hold water for me (hee hee)--generally, we don't hear dissenting voices only when they're overwhelmingly in the minority.

9:27 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

I was going to leave it at that, but I don't want to sound like a blind follower of science either. I know that a lot of scientists' efforts to reconstruct the distant past are based on guesswork with the evidence they have at their disposal. It's obvious that the march of scientific progress is ongoing, and things we were sure were true relatively recently we now know are definitely not.

That said, when scientists are called upon to support their suppositions, they seem to me to back up them up with data rather than newly scraped-together counterhypotheses.

Anyway, as scientific hypotheses move closer and closer toward certainty, I feel like if any given religion wants to remain relevant, it must flex a little, or risk being dismissed as sheer superstition. If I were able to come back 150 years from now, I wouldn't expect to see fundamentalist Christianity at all, in the form that we recognize it--people will simply abandon it for manifestations of Jesus' message that jell better with their experience of the world. Of course, it's already happening, and has been for a while.

The timelessness of the message itself is what's remarkable about Christianity--there are few faiths that have lasted as long. I do see longevity as something of an authenticity stamp--if many generations find solace, there's gotta be something of substance there.

9:53 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

...and one more point I think I should make before I go to bed:

I will, from time to time, dismiss explanations as backformed/reactionary, but in no way would I try to discourage the practice. I definitely welcome it; it shows the kind of curiosity and basic awareness of scientific developments that non-Christians all-too-often stereotype believers as not having. In fact, it's exactly the kind of thing this blog is designed to elicit more of--so sorry if I sound overly skeptical.

10:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where did the water go? but does that really matter? if god is who the believers believe he is, then it doesn't matter what happened to the water because god is god. He can do anything. Simply he could have made it not exist anymore. why would a god go by human instincts and feel the need prove himself? That's what faith is a part of. Him giving evidence as proof he is god and the people believing he could have made it all go underground or just cease to be. And as in my life and our lives today the strongest people I've ever met don't have to proove it but they just live as if they were. OK that went a little too far from the subject. Basically finding proof to back it up is ridiculous. all the non -believers will use it to say they are right and all the believers will say more along the lines of what i am saying. he's god.

also i hear there was no rain before the days of the flood so also there would have been no clouds. and now there are. have clouds been looked at for an explanation to some of the water? just a question.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

And then, there is the skeptic's perspective. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that many years ago, heavy rains led to a catastrophe significant enough to make many peoples notice. But if such an event did happen - what else would our superstitious ancestors attribte it to other than the wrath of a vengeful God? Even Hurricane Katrina was attributed to the W.O.G., and I'd like to think we know better by now.
Or, to put it another way, giving God credit for the flood or its cleanup is working backwards - accepting His existence first and then looking to history for possible events to prove it. But crop circles aren't proof that aliens exist, and even if there is plenty of truth to be found in the story of the Flood, it's hardly offerable as evidence.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

The Flood is a tricky topic, as Chris said.

It isn't clear to me that the numerous versions of the Flood account in cultures around the world necessarily "support" the historicity of the Genesis account anymore than it supports them. My problem, once again, is exporting our concept of "history" back in time several thousand years. If you read the Flood stories (Genesis or otherwise) as reporting/recording history... well, it won't work quite so well. But I don't think they are trying to do that, at least not within in our framework of what constitutes accurate "history." And Chris kind of hit the nail on the head when he wrote about Divine Intervention being an important message in the Genesis account... I think that's one of the main points of the passage.

An important thing to keep in mind- which Chris alluded to- Everyone in the ancient world "knew" there had been a Great Flood. Everybody had stories of the Flood, myths that explained how their own particular people survived the Flood. In many of these myths, the gods themselves are responsible for the Flood, or for the survival of the few, or for both. The fact that Genesis has a Flood story isn’t surprising; what would be surprising would be if it didn’t have a Flood story.

Now- might this mean that there was some kind of Flood early in human history that so ingrained itself upon the human consciousness that it could never be forgotten? Well, yes, it could. But it could also be archetypal in a non-historical way- that there is something in the human consciousness that sees massive water falling on us as a threat from "higher" powers. And, as Joe mentioned, human beings will often equate such things with a punishment. I mean, people complain to Jesus about falling towers and blind men as God punishing us- how can a Flood be othrwise?

In the Genesis account, there is only one God worth talking about- and so, if the Flood is a punishment, then the Flood must be a punishment from this God, who is all powerful. But what is interesting about the Genesis account is that the survivors get a Covenant with God- and the survivors are *all* that remain of the human race (not simply the people about whom the Flood is written). And so the message, in fact, is that God has made some kind of covenant with all of humanity- even before He makes one with Abraham. So we can later have Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High, who is a contemporary of Abraham- and yet who Abraham gives tithes to honor, because Melchizedek (like Job) worships the One True God apart from the Covenant with Abraham. So the story has an interesting universal message, embedded as it is within the central narrative of the Hebrew people.

But there can be problems when the text is taken too literally, rather than understood universally from the outset. In most traditional interpretations, for example, Shem (the only faithful first-born son in Genesis) is the ancestor of the "Semites" (Jews, Arabs, etc), Japeth is the ancestor of the Greeks/Europeans and Ham (whose descendants are told to serve those of his brother) is the ancestor of the Africans. This genealogy was used to justify slavery in the US (and elsewhere)- and curiously left peoples like those native to East Asia and the Americas as unclassified (with their humanity and relationship to this universal covenant in doubt). But that comes from pressing the story too far into history, with making the analogies it is trying to draw into firm answers rather than ways of seeing the world.

It seems that the point of the Flood is that God saves people- even though another point is that God punishes and destroys the wicked. Later commentators, such as the author of 1 Peter, will make this story a foreshadowing of baptism, which now saves us. (1 Peter 3:21). In Catholic interpretation, the Ark of Noah is often compared with the Boat of Peter- into which Christ steps- and both are seen as a foreshadowing of the Church in the world after Pentecost.

But I like to see the Flood as God getting involved with people again- despite our wickedness, and despite the fact of past failures. God still keeps trying to lead us to the right path- and is willing to transform everything in his creation to get us involved in his plans.

10:07 AM  
Anonymous Matthew Minix said...

Off_topic?:_On Science_

I touched on this earlier- but I decided it is worth briefly stating once before we move on to rest of Genesis and beyond:

Although I do not advocate the 6,000 year-old earth understanding of Genesis, I do have some serious concerns about the role that science plays in our modern mythical stories. Basically, many of us do not realize the mythic character to scientific theories about the origins of the world. The Big Bang and Darwinism have entered into our collective consciousness in proportions beyond their own evidential value- they form a large part of our modern story of the world... but we tend to believe that we do not have a story of the world, and we tend to think that these hypotheses are more than myth.

Although these hypotheses attempt to account for data, they are in many cases stories that stir the immagination to their way of thinking (in the style of all myths) more than they are actually an unbiased presentation of the facts as they appear. They use a lot of conjecture to fill in large gaps of (often) very shaky data in order to present a convincing story. I have no problem with this, really, as long as we realize that there is a lot of story involved in these narratives.

In his later letters, Charles Darwin admitted that he fudged large portions of his data (and pretended that the data 'compelled' him to reach the conclusions he reached about natural selection) when the reality was that he had basically his final evolutionary theory before he ever began his research. But Darwin sought to perpetuate a mythic understanding of his own work- with the result that his work became a powerful (mythic) model for later scientific/historical scholarship.

The problems that I have with the myths of science is that they pretend they are not myths. We say that we know how gravity works today- things are attracted to other things- whereas Aristotle thought that things "desired" to be close to other things. We know so much more than Aristotle! But, conceptually, the only difference between the terms "atrract" and "desire" is that we have been trained to mentally empty the term "attract" from its natural, human meaning (as in "I find her attractive," meaning, "I want to go and be next to her") when we use it scientifically- but we have not been so trained with the word "desire." But then, Aristotle didn't think his theories about reality were non-mythical... but we are quite sure that we don't have (or need) myths anymore.

End of Science Rant.

12:44 PM  
Blogger MENBAH! said...

Once again, Matt has said what I think more eloquently. More than the use of data, I suspect the reason that science so compels me is that those folks are looking for new ways to explain things, as opposed to sticking with (and occasionally refining) old explanations. To me, that's a more interesting way of looking at the world.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Liz said...

Matt Just Made My Head Asplode. o_O

10:37 PM  

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