Bill Nye vs Ken Ham

On February 4, 2014 Bill Nye, well-known as “The Science Guy” debated Ken Ham at Answers in Genesis in Kentucky. It was a very interesting debate and it has generated a great deal of interest on the internet. It was very popular on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Answers in Genesis people estimate there were probably at least 5 million people that watched the video. It can still be watched online or purchased on DVD from Answers in Genesis.

Bill Nye has done a great service over the years in explaining science to young people and lay people in an engaging and fun way. His TV programs are very well done in general. So I really like what he has done to get people interested in science. But on origins and creation versus evolution, I find his comments very disappointing and troubling. He treats it as if teaching young people a creationist view of science is somehow harmful to kids and keeps them from getting a good education. I couldn’t disagree more with this.

The debate was set up with first a 5 minute introduction from both presenters, followed by 30 minutes from each, followed by two short rebuttals from each. There were also some questions and answers at the end, making the entire program around 2 hours long. It was very fairly moderated and was well done.

Bill Nye was generally polite but he was not totally respectful of Ken Ham. He kept referring to Mr. Ham’s world view or Mr. Ham’s followers almost as if Ken Ham was a cult leader or something. Ken Ham’s world view is simply historic Biblical Christianity. Bill Nye was obviously extremely ignorant about what creationists think about all sorts of issues. He brought up worthwhile issues but often didn’t understand well enough to explain the difference between an evolutionary view and the Biblical creation viewpoint.

Bill Nye brought up a number of things that creationists have thoroughly addressed. His comments bring up many common misconceptions people in the sciences and in the media have about creationists in particular. One example was claiming that there are too many species to explain how they could all come about since Noah’s Flood. Nye totally failed to understand this issue. His answer shows he hasn’t read or understood what creationists say about it. The number of species alive today is far more than what needed to be on Noah’s Ark. There really has been some serious research on this and Nye seems to know nothing about what creationists say on it. He implied that a creation view is unlike what he thinks of as “real science” in that “real” science makes predictions. But creationist scientists have occasionally developed models that have made predictions. A great example is physicist Dr. Russ Humphreys. He developed a theory on the creation of the magnetic fields of the planets. He used this to predict the magnetic field strengths of Uranus and Neptune, before the Voyager spacecrafts measured it. When the Voyager spacecraft measured the magnetic field strengths of these planets, it was within what Humphrey’s had predicted, but evolutionary secular scientists were very surprised and were way off. I wish Ken Ham would have mentioned this but he didn’t.

Ken Ham did very well I thought in giving real Biblical answers to Nye’s challenges and in bringing up good examples of well qualified scientists, successful in the scientific world, who happen to be creationists. I don’t think Ken Ham is the best at giving scientific answers on some issues but in a debate format like this you have very limited time and it is really difficult to answer everything in the brief time of a debate setting. (I once debated a biology professor.) There are multiple articles that have popped up on answersingenesis.org and creation.com since the debate that give various commentary on it. There are also some videos on Youtube that congratulate Bill Nye for how “wonderfully” he did. He did keep a good composure but I’m not impressed with Bill Nye’s understanding of the issues. People in the secular media are too ignorant of a creationist point of view to properly evaluate how Nye did.

There’s often a tendancy of people in science to treat it as if we are superior today because of our scientific knowledge, compared to people of the past. We do have a lot of scientific knowledge and this knowledge has been to our great benefit. But you can’t just assume that people in the past were uncapable of things. There’s been examples of skills known in the past but lost as modern technology has developed. Then somewhere an archeologist rediscovers clever ways ancient peoples did things. Ancient peoples did not have knowledge equivalent to us today, but they were sometimes more ingenious than we are, in spite of the limitations of their knowledge.

This is all relevant to Bill Nye’s comments about Noah building the Ark. People in science treat many things from ancient history the same way. He brought up the idea that a large wooden ship would not hold together in the open ocean but would come apart. We don’t know many details of how Noah built the Ark. Just because few people today, including many modern ship engineers, don’t know how to build such a wooden boat doesn’t mean that Noah couldn’t do it. Ken Ham’s museum has models showing how the ancient Greeks were able to build ships that were stronger than other people using a special multi-layered interlocking construction technique. This would be a plausible method for building a very large boat. We also have historical records from China from a Chinese ruler named Zheng He. Zheng He led several journeys across the world in a very large treasure fleet in the 15th century Ming Dynasty. Chinese writings say some of these wooden ships were 450 feet long and 180 feet wide. Historians have questioned the size of these ships. But this would be bigger than anything from the Greeks and would compare in size to Noah’s Ark. There have also been modern engineering studies of the Ark based on its dimensions given in the Bible and there’s no real valid reason to doubt that building such a ship was possible or that it would not be safe or stable in the ocean. I could give technical sources to back this up. This is real research that Bill Nye has no idea about.

There’s a mindset from the unbelieving world we live in that leads people away from the answers people really need. A debate such as the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate is a rare opportunity that can attract interest enough for people of various points of view to hear both sides. I am sorry for how Bill Nye misses the boat in his understanding about creationism. While evolutionists have been dismissing and insulting creationists for the last 60 years, young age creationists with science degrees have been doing research that is important. But creationist ideas are shut out of things in many settings, sometimes even in Christian settings. Creationist answers have become stronger and stronger, but people don’t know about them. This ignorance is a sad state of affairs. But there are occasional bright lights in the darkness.

Posted in Science Related | Leave a comment

Evidence from Ai

My last blog post was about the long day of Joshua.  This was when the Jews began their conquest of the land of Canaan, as described in the Old Testament book of Joshua.  Recent news has brought up something related to another place conquered by the Jews after the Exodus – a little place called Ai (pronounced like the letter “i”).  I keep up some with an organization that does archeological research related to the Bible, called Associates for Biblical Research (ABR).  They have done some great research that confirms the accuracy of the Bible.  So what is Ai?  Ai was the second place conquered by the Jews in Canaan.  They first took Jericho, where the Jews marched around the city for 7 days and then the walls fell down (from an earthquake apparently).  The second place (Ai) was Northwest of Jericho and is a short distance East of Bethel.  Ai was not actually a city, but just a fortress.  In Joshua chapter 8 in the Old Testament, it describes Joshua using the topography of the area to hide an ambush force and draw the soldiers of Ai out of the fortress.  This led the men of Ai into a trap, and so Joshua was victorious.  After Ai the Israelites did the battle for Gibeon, which was when the long day happened.

Ai has been somewhat of an archeological controversy because archeologists and scholars who’ve looked for Ai have said it doesn’t exist where the Bible seems to indicate.  Scholars had been identifying Ai to be at a site called et-Tell that they know does not fit the Biblical account and so it has raised questions about the accuracy of the Bible.  Scholars have a great tendancy to underestimate the Bible on historical detail and assume that what scholars come up with today is more reliable than what the Bible has said.  But it is not a good idea to assume scholars today will give more reliable historical information than the Bible.  If it appears the historical data is in disagreement with the Bible, it generally just means we don’t have all the relevant information, or someone just hasn’t done a proper investigation of it yet.  Assuming the Bible is not historical leads scholars in the wrong direction in history and archeology, just as wrong assumptions about evolution leads scientists in biology or geology in the wrong direction.  Regarding the conquest of Canaan by the ancient Jews, either the Exodus is assumed to have never happened at all, or it is understood to be at the wrong time.  There are two views Bible scholars and historians tend to have on when the Exodus and conquest of Canaan took place.  For the beginning of the conquest of Canaan, one date is around 1200 B.C. and the other is around 1400 B.C.  The date that fits the Bible is 1406 B.C.  Sadly, this makes the old Cecil B. DeMille movie on the Ten Commandments wrong about the Pharoah of the Exodus.  DeMille’s view of the Exodus was incorrect on the date and which Pharoah it was.  But many scholars go along with the same view, which puts Rameses as the Pharoah of the Exodus and the Exodus as the later date.

But is there evidence for the earlier date of the Exodus and for the Jews conquering Canaan?  Absolutely!  I won’t go into all of it on Jericho here, but ABR has good evidence for the fall of Jericho around 1400 B.C. that beautifully fits the Biblical account.  The location of Jericho is well known and there is evidence that the walls collapsed and evidence of fire.  These and other details fit the Biblical account.  ABR has also been excavating at Ai for years at a site that is now called Khirbet el-Maqatir.  ABR has found pottery that suggests the 1400 B.C. date.  They’ve found clear evidence for the city gate of Ai from large stones that have pivot holes in them used by the city gate.  Now there is also evidence from an Egyptian scarab that further strengthens the date at around 1400 B.C.  The scarab is about 3/4 of an inch long, oval in shape.  The scarab is important because it can be dated well to be from between 1485 and 1418 B.C., according to Associates for Biblical Research.  So this provides a means of dating the evidence that is independent of pottery dates.  The ABR research on Ai fits what the Bible describes nicely and also agrees with the 1446 B.C. date of the Exodus and the 1406 B.C. date for the start of the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan.  To see a picture of the scarab and more archeological evidence in Israel, go to this page from Christianity Today, or this page from ABR.

Posted in Other Apologetics or History | Leave a comment

Joshua’s Long Day

In Joshua chapter 10 in the Old Testament is an amazing story. It is about an important battle in the conquest of Canaan by the ancient Israelites. This story is well known not so much for the battle but for something that happened during the battle, the Long Day of Joshua. People have debated how to interpret this story. Even many Christians do not take it literally. The idea of “taking the Bible literally” is a misunderstood concept. The correct way to look at the Bible is to take it as an imperfect translation of copies of inerrant documents. To say it is not a perfect translation is not to question inerrancy. Inerrancy is about the original manuscripts, not about translations. The way to interpret it is to interpret it according to it’s literary genre. That basically means to treat it like any other document or ancient book. There is a lot of historical and cultural background to be aware of. But the Bible is actually true to history.

I can understand people struggling with believing miracles described in the Old Testament. When I became a Christian I had trouble believing in miracles. But there’s no explaining much of anything about our existence without miracles. The Bible doesn’t make sense without miracles either. If you try to treat a miracle in the Bible as symbolic or allegorical, then the story no longer makes sense. So if the passage is a historical narrative and it just happens to describe a miracle, we should not dismiss the miracle. If God is all-powerful, miracles can happen. I know the things that physicists or scientists may bring up about miracles in the Old Testament. But science cannot disprove a miracle from a one-time event that happened in the past that cannot be repeated. Scripture has more authority than science, and more certainty. But Scripture does not describe things in scientific detail. When the Bible describes something about nature it is describing from the perspective of an eyewitness who is just describing what they saw and experienced. It is not giving a complete scientific description. This means Scripture gives an accurate account of what happened, but it does not give a scientific description of what happened. The hermeneutical term for this is that the Bible uses phenomenological language. So you have to understand this about the purpose and limits of how the Bible is written. This means science can neither prove or disprove a miracle from the past described in the Bible.

A story has gone around that NASA once did orbital calculations that showed there was a “missing day” and that this proves the long day of Joshua happened. This is nonsense. No one should believe this.  NASA is good but they couldn’t possibly do this. God hardly needs NASA’s help to give evidence to believe the Bible, God has done enough himself to give reason to believe it. Christians should not believe nonsensical ideas that go around. Believing this story about NASA or scientists proving the long day of Joshua is being too gullible. But believing the Bible is not being gullible, it is being wise.

In Joshua chapters 9 and 10 it tells about the people of the city of Gibeon. They tricked Joshua into thinking they lived far away, so that they could get the Israelites to agree to make a defensive pact with them and not destroy them. Then the other Amorite city-states considered the Gibeonites to be traitors essentially.  They must not have wanted the Israelites to take control of the lands around Gibeon. So five Amorite kings pooled their armies to attack Gibeon. The people of Gibeon then sent to Joshua for help.

It says Joshua sent the entire Israelite army (which was over 600,000 men) to this battle at Gibeon. This is why I like to call this Israel’s D-Day. There was a large battle at Gibeon and the Israelites were winning, so the Amorites start to flee. The Amorites scatter in all directions and the Israelites start to chase them down. Then it says God sent a large hailstorm and hail killed many Amorites as they tried to flee. Then as the Israelites were trying to run them down, Joshua prays for the Sun to stand still and the Moon to stop, so they could have more time in the day to complete their victory. It says the Sun stopped in the middle of the sky and didn’t go down for about a day, and that the Moon also stopped. Now, should we take this as a real long day?

The trouble with saying it was not an actual miraculous long day is explaining how the Israelites could do so much in one day! If you read through chapter 10 and pay attention to the details, in verse 28 it refers to “That day” so it was still the same day in verse 28. This means that after the big battle at the city of Gibeon, the Israelites travelled about 30 or 35 miles in that one day, and they stopped in multiple towns along the way to take them also. Then in verse 32 it says they attacked the city of Lachish and they “took it on the second day.” If it was not a truly long day, they could not have done so much in one day. In fact, they had to march all night uphill through the mountains to get to Gibeon to start with. So it is amazing all they did in that day. Israel took control of a large swath of territory that day.

Certain ideas have been suggested to explain the miracle of this away. But when you think about these alternative ideas, they don’t make sense. Like the suggestion it was just psychological, so it wasn’t really a long day, it just seemed like it. If that were all, then how was it such an extraordinary answer to prayer as it says (see verse 14)?  It describes in two different ways clearly that the Sun stopped in the sky.  It was not psychological.

I say we should believe this as a great miracle that really happened. It means God can do incredible things helping his people sometimes when it is his purpose to do so. We do tend to underestimate God. Even when we have asked him for something, it can be surprising when he does it!

Now if I were thinking as a physicist, based on my knowledge of planetary science, I could guess at how this happened. But this is only a guess. We don’t know how God did this. But I would guess the spin of the Earth was slowed down so that Earth was temporarily put into synchronous rotation. This would make Earth’s spin work like the Moon does now, it keeps the same side facing the Earth because the time for one spin on the Moon’s axis is the same as the time for the Moon to orbit the Earth. If Earth’s spin totally stopped the Sun would not actually stop in the sky, it would slowly move backwards as Earth moved along its orbit. So synchronous rotation would be the logical thing apparently. Now, understand that for God to drastically slow Earth’s spin would be a major catastrophy that might destroy most life on Earth if he did not protect the Earth. He would have to prevent the ocean from washing over the continents, and keep the atmosphere from spinning rapidly around the planet. He’d probably need to restrain the motion of the core of the Earth also. But God is big enough to handle these things.

The significant thing is that the Creator-God intervened into history to help his people. It makes me think of Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV) “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!”

 

Posted in Bible Related | Leave a comment

Creation Research 2013

Since the early 1960’s creationists with a science background, and a few others from other disciplines, have done research. What is research? I don’t mean the kind of research you do when you want to find out where a certain shop or restaurant is. I don’t mean the kind of research done by a college freshman to get a research paper done for a class, though that is getting closer. Since science has been misguided and off track regarding origins because of evolutionary and naturalistic thinking, the science of origins has been in need of being rethought and reworked from first principles. So the kind of research I’m talking about is original scholarly research on a technical level to deal with many challenging questions about origins from a truly Christian perspective. The answers that are based on unbelief in God’s word are not satisfying. But sometimes it takes a lot of work to find an alternative to the naturalistic approach that assumes the Bible is wrong or outdated. Doing original research can take different forms but it is often a slow difficult and sometimes tedious process and it usually gets no recognition. It is something you can’t expect most people to understand, most of the time. But it is necessary and creationist research has paid off, though it has not been perfect.

This summer in Pittsburgh, PA at the International Conference on Creationism (ICC) the Creation Research Society celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary. The ICC conference was well attended, over 400 people there. The evenings are open for anyone to attend and there are four full days of meetings with lecture followed by question and answers. This year it was also broadcasted over the internet via live Webinars. So questions came in from the internet during the Q and A time, which was great.

The Creation Research Society Quarterly has been publishing a peer-reviewed journal on creation research for 50 years! The CRS Quarterly is a great resource. Before new findings on creation can be communicated to the public they need to be published on a technical level by the author and scrutinized on a scholarly level. This is how there is some accountability and refinement of new ideas before they are more widely disseminated on a more popular nontechnical level. If ideas presented on a nontechnical level have not gone through this kind of peer-review scrutiny, it may not have much impact or may be a disappointment. I have often observed that the sensational new ideas are usually not important and the important new ideas are not sensational. So to find the really important research you have to learn where to look. Sometimes there are well-meaning efforts that turn out to be misguided or mistaken.

I have presented at four of the ICC conferences in the past, but this time I just attended without presenting. I did review one paper. I have been on both sides of the peer-review process, as author and as reviewer. Being a reviewer is a quiet thankless job but very important. The ICC is perhaps the best venue for creationists to share and critique each other’s research. There are always important new findings. It’s not that all the papers presented are totally right all the time, or in total agreement with each other. But over time there is progress in understanding from the efforts.

I was encouraged by new important findings such as the soft tissue found by creationist scientists in a Triceratops horn. There is a project called iDino that is researching this tissue. There are absolutely amazing microscope images and results from it. It severely challenges evolution and old age thinking. Then there was the research from Timothy Clary, now a geologist at ICR, about overthrusts and superfaults. This is some of the best evidence of a really catastrophic global Flood I’ve ever heard. Really great work. In genetics there is now important research being done by creationists on the differences between human and chimpanzee DNA. It has always been misleading to say Chimp DNA is 98% like human DNA. Now it is just so far wrong as to be absurd. Such a number may still be quoted but is very out of date and was always misleading. There has also been progress in creation biology on identifying the Biblical “kinds” or “baramins” as they have been called. The research clarifies what has happened to life in Noah’s Flood and since the Flood. I think it also underscores that God intervened into Earth history to carry out his purposes.

At the ICC Russ Humphreys presented a great paper about the problems with Earth magnetic dynamo theories. This is an important area that I’ve studied. It serves as the basis of understanding planetary magnetic fields also, even though it hasn’t been very successful in planetary science. Humphreys young age creationist approach is much more realistic in my opinion. There were other papers relating to Egyptian history, biology, geology, and cosmology. Some very interesting new ideas sometimes. The Creation Science Fellowship of Pittsburgh will produce discs that that have the proceedings papers and another disc of the presentations.

There was a panel discussion on impacts from space and Noah’s Flood at the ICC this year. Such a panel discussion, done for all the attenders during the day, had not been done before. This was very significant to me since I have done some ICC papers on the subject. I was not part of the panel up front. The discussion showed that there were different views on when impacts from space could happen in a young age view of Earth history. There was a lot of discussion of whether to have impacts occurring in the Creation week or not. There seems to be an acknowledgement of the possibility of impacts during Noah’s Flood but there’s a wide range of opinions on how many impacts and their significance. Some ideas on impacts and the Flood presented at the ICC confirms certain things in my papers but there are still a number of puzzling questions. There is radioactive decay data, impact crater data, and magnetic data and creationists have not come to a consensus on how to reconcile all these types of data. We need God’s help to figure out these puzzles.

Young age creationist scientists have a lot more good solid research than the evolutionists know. There are many exciting evidences from creation research that confirm the truth of the Bible. There are also many questions raised by new findings that show we are finite creatures who don’t have all the answers.

Posted in Science Related | Leave a comment

Dinosaurs in Noah’s Flood

I recently watched a very good video called “Behemoths Buried Alive.”  The video is a lecture by creationist Michael Oard and it is produced by Creation Ministries International (CMI)  I would like to summarize some of the main points of the presentation and comment. It has to do with what happened to dinosaurs in Noah’s Flood.  I would recommend the video.

Evolutionists have challenged creationists by bringing up evidence regarding dinosaurs that they see as incompatible with the idea of a global Flood, like the Noahic Flood described in Genesis.  One problem with evolutionist’s attempting to challenge creationists on the Flood is that they seldom look at all the relevant current research from creationists.  They tend to attack ideas that are not necessarily believed by creationists anyway, or which are simply out of date.  Another problem with evolutionists challenges to creationists on the Flood is that Noah’s Flood was a much more complex event than they envision.  It is true that creationist scientists do not all agree on every detail about how the Flood took place.  Neither do evolutionists agree on every detail about how evolution took place or how Earth’s surface features came about.  The facts are often challenging to explain from either point of view.  But creationists have made more progress in geology than they are given credit for.

Evolutionists have brought up various facts that give evidence of dinosaurs that were alive in some setting prior to fossils or fossil footprints forming.  So the argument is that since the evidence has dinosaurs making footprints it could not have been during a Flood.  Evolutionary thinking often views fossils in terms of how dinosaurs normally lived.  So though it would have been some local catastrophe that caused the fossils to form, it would not point to a global Flood.  Also, since according to evolutionists, the evidence suggests normal circumstances such as dinosaurs laying nests of eggs, it does not suggest a global Flood but just points to occasional events that happened in Earth history, such as volcanic eruptions or impacts for instance.

As an example consider the dinosaur footprints in the Paluxy river, in Texas.  There is a long dinosaur trackway of fossil footprints in cretaceous rock South of Fort Worth.  There are many other examples of fossil footprint trackways around the world also.  The fossil footprints at the Paluxy river are found in sedimentary rock, most of them are large three-toed footprints of Acrocanthasaurus.  These footprints are on top of many layers of sedimentary rock that creationists would say formed in Noah’s Flood.  So how is it that there were live dinosaurs making tracks in the mud that became these rocks?  There are different views on this from creationists.  But I suspect many creationists with a geology background would say these footprints were made early in the Flood.  Mike Oard argues for this very well I think.

The Genesis account describes 40 days and nights of rain, but that does not mean the Earth was covered in merely 40 days.  The entire Flood event, as measured by the time Noah and family were in the Ark, was a bit over a year.  Mike Oard takes the view that the peak water depth of the Flood was around the 150 day mark.  I think this is possible but I would prefer to put that somewhat earlier in the Flood year.  At any rate, this means that it may have taken somewhere between 2 and 5 months for the Earth to be totally covered with water.  It has been argued both from geological considerations and even from Biblical details that the water rose in an unsteady, possibly oscillatory manner.  There are a number of possible physical causes of this, such as tectonic uplift and subsidence of the continents, lunar tides (which may be more pronounced in a global ocean), tsunamis, and Flood ocean currents.  These effects could make waters deposit sediment (mud) on the continent, then the water could retreat, allowing animals not yet dead to temporarily escape the waters, only to be buried later when the water rises again.  So before the Earth was totally covered many things could have happened as animals, including dinosaurs, were trying to get away from the rising waters.  Dinosaurs and other animals could have survived in areas for some weeks possibly before being finally killed and buried.  Oard also says that dinosaurs that left fossil footprints are more likely to be better swimmers.  Waters “coming and going” rising in an oscillating manner could also explain the repeating sedimentary rock layers that are common.  For example, there may be hundreds or thousands of feet of sedimentary rocks that oscillate between sandstone and clay for instance.

There is also evidence of dinosaur eggs on many places around the world.  These eggs and nests are on top of sedimentary rocks that had to have formed in the Flood, yet they are evidence that dinosaurs were alive at least long enough to lay the eggs.  Oard makes some good points on the dinosaur eggs.  Actual dinosaur nests are relatively rare, compared to the eggs.  The eggs are often laid on flat plains where there is no evidence of vegetation around them.  In other words the eggs are often found in locations that would not be a good location for a dinosaur to lay it’s eggs.  A nest for dinosaur would be a shallow depression so that it would hold moisture to keep the eggs from drying out.  Vegetation would also be packed around it.  Yet the fossil eggs often do not have intact nests, though there are some nests.  Dinosaur eggs are very porous and so if they are not kept moist the embryo will die.  Yet the eggs are often found in a circle or half-circle on what was flat ground.  This suggests the dinosaurs sometimes were laying their eggs under stress, not in normal conditions.

Then there are a number of examples of bone beds, also called fossil graveyards, where thousands of animals and/or dinosaurs were buried together.  What would cause there to be as many as 10,000 dinosaurs to congregate in one area and then be buried together, if not a massive catastrophe?  In these bone beds, there are few baby or juvenile dinosaurs.  (Juveniles would likely be killed easier and possibly be scavenged more.)  The bones do not have evidence that they were exposed to the air or to normal decay for a long time before they were buried.  Yet, in some cases, the bones have been broken into many fragments by violent water action and are mixed in mud with other bones and rock.  These bone beds sometimes cover a wide area.  Well known sites include areas in Montana and Colorado, for instance.

Oard makes a number of other good points.  The part on polar dinosaurs is quite good I think.  Evolutionists don’t have a good explanation for polar dinosaur fossils because they use the present to try and understand the past.  But what if the Earth and the life on it were once very different and it was changed by God’s judgement?  Believing that there was once a global Flood makes a lot more sense than most people in the sciences think.

Posted in Science Related | Leave a comment

Science and the Exodus

The Bible describes many miraculous events. People with a background in modern science naturally have questions and sometimes doubts about miracles. I also did when I was a young Christian. As a physics major in college, who had just become a Christian, I had trouble believing in miracles. The Exodus of the Hebrews (or Israelites) out of Egypt is a dramatic account of great events that shaped the heritage of the Jewish people. It also has important lessons about what the God of the Bible is like. I accept the Biblical accounts about Moses, the Exodus from Egypt, and the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Today this entire story is doubted completely by many scholars. In today’s way of thinking, there is often a desire to make the Biblical stories “more palatable” or easier to understand in terms of science. We need to be careful about trying to explain miraculous events with science. There is a danger we may misinterpret or confuse the message of Scripture by bringing in science when it may not be appropriate. I think science can have relevance to understanding what the Bible describes about nature sometimes, but science cannot tell us how to interpret Scripture. Scripture always has more authority and certainty than science.

Colin Humphreys is a Cambridge University Professor who has written a book in which he tries to explain the Biblical events of the Exodus in terms of science. He published a book in 2011 called “The Mystery of the Last Supper,” which I think is quite good. My article on the date of the crucifixion is largely based on that book. Since I liked that book, I decided to read his other book on the Exodus. It is entitled, “The Miracles of Exodus,” published in 2003. I read the Kindle eBook.

There is a lot in Humphrey’s book and I will only explain his ideas in a brief way. This is somewhat unfair because he does put significant research and time into the book, obviously. I can accept the God of the Bible doing miracles because of who the God of the Bible is. If He created the universe from nothing, why should we have a problem in principle with miracles? Science cannot disprove some event in the past that the Bible presents as a miracle. God is the author of physical laws that we study in science and so God can bypass or supercede natural laws to do a miracle, if that is his purpose. So on one hand it is important not to doubt that God can do miracles, but on the other hand, it is also true that Christians can misunderstand miracles or not consider natural phenomena that may have been involved in what happened. There is always a risk that in trying to figure out what happened we will make a mistake because we simply weren’t there in the past.

In a book called The Biblical Basis for Modern Science the late Henry Morris distinguished between what he called Grade A miracles and Grade B miracles. A Grade A miracle is something that could never happen by natural laws. A Grade B miracle is something that happens by natural processes, but the miracle is in the timing or the situation in which it happens. The Bible has examples of both these types of miracles. God can use either type for his purpose. It may not particularly matter much whether a miracle in the Bible is a Grade A miracle or a Grade B miracle, but the important thing in understanding the Bible is to be true to what it says. Some things about the Exodus have generally been understood as Grade A miracles, such as the crossing of the Red Sea. Humphrey’s treats it more as a Grade B miracle, caused by a powerful storm that happened just at the right time and at the right place where the Israelites needed it to happen. I think sometimes Humphrey’s errs too far on the side of “reducing the miracle” you might say. But if you reduce a miracle in the Bible from the way it is described in the text, it tends to not make sense of the story any more. This is sometimes a problem for Humphreys, but there are some worthwhile points he makes as well.

Here’s some of Humphreys ideas on the Exodus events:

1) Humphreys uses a date of the Exodus of 1326 B.C. The date of the Exodus is a controversial thing in the academic world but I think this date is clearly wrong. There is evidence of the Israelites in Egypt and later of them in Canaan. There is good evidence that dates the fall of the city of Jericho, the first city conquered by the Israelites also. So the evidence is that the Exodus was at about 1400 B.C. Humphreys approach to dating the Exodus is a major weakness of the book but much of the rest of the book does not really stand or fall too much on the date. So I would not throw out everything else in the book solely because of the date problem.

2) Humphreys tries to explain the plagues of Egypt with science. Overall I don’t think this is plausible. However, there are some aspects that seem plausible. He tries to develop an approach that says once the first plague happens, that sets off a chain of natural causes that leads to what follows. I don’t think it all works, but some of it may. One of the important things to note here is that the Egyptian people were thoroughly convinced that the plagues were well beyond anything they had ever experienced and that they were miraculously caused by the God of the Hebrews. The Egyptians had seen some somewhat similar events on lesser scales. They knew the difference between the usual seasonal changes and other occasional events, and something miraculous. How do we know this about the Egyptians? Because they willingly gave the Jews so many valuables and supplies upon leaving. They were happy for the Jews to go, though Pharaoh certainly wasn’t.

10Plagues

I think his explanation of the first plague is very unrealistic. Humphreys argues that there was an algal bloom at the mouth of the Nile. It is true that there is a kind of algae that is red and is toxic to fish. This is known to happen in various places around the world. It tends to happen in an area where there is salty sea water mixing with fresh water. An algal bloom can make the water look red. But the Exodus account (Ex. 7:14-25) of the first plague says there was blood in place of water all over Egypt, including in jars! To believe that a natural process could explain this you have to ignore details of what the Bible says, or take it as a sort of embellished account that doesn’t really mean what it says. But it is not enough to propose something similar to what the Bible describes. You have to be true to Scripture & interpret it carefully. An algal bloom would not be likely to affect all Egyptians all over Egypt and it would not be found in containers. An algal bloom would have had to work its way upstream against the current also, so certainly it would not affect all of Egypt. Humphreys presents it as essentially a somewhat more intense version of things that occasionally happened seasonally. I don’t buy this

On the other hand, there may be some validity to the reasoning Humphreys uses to argue that one plague could set off effects that are like the next plague. At least maybe in some cases. As an example, Humphreys has an explanation for the Third & Fourth plagues that may be possible. The fish had died, and then there were all the frogs that died. This could naturally lead to many insects. Humphreys also identifies two species of insect that could be the gnats and flies mentioned in Exodus. These are species known to exist in or near Egypt. So this may be possible, but I don’t know if the intensity of the Third and Fourth plagues are explained by this or not.

3) Humphreys suggests the number of people leaving Egypt was less than what has generally been believed by Christians. He estimates the total number of Israelites leaving Egypt as about 20,000. He suggests this includes something over 5,000 men. This is a controversy about interpreting numbers in the Hebrew. I cannot really speak to the Hebrew. It has to do with interpreting an eleph in the Hebrew. This represents a number and Bible translators have normally taken it to represent a number of one thousand. Humphreys argues it could represent a smaller group of soldiers, which he suggests to be 10 or 20. This drastically reduces the number of people. Why do this? Because several things are “easier to explain” this way. The people need less food and water, they need less space when they camp, etc. Humphreys is not the only scholar to suggest this, but the total number of men in common English Bibles in Numbers 1:46 is always 603,550. This is the men of age that could fight in the army, in a census taken after the Israelites made it to Canaan. This would imply possibly 2 million people, or even more considering family sizes. I will not argue this point too much because I’m told it is difficult to interpret numbers in the Hebrew. But, one problem with Humphreys line of thinking here is to look at Numbers 3:43. This verse indicates there were 22,273 firstborn males in Israel. This seems impossible to reconcile with Humphreys argument, particularly because it’s not talking about the army in 3:43. (There is a good discussion of this issue in the Archeological Study Bible in Numbers chapter 1 that I’d recommend.) At any rate the number of Israelites really does make a difference in understanding various details. I think we have to come back to God doing many miracles to get the Israelites through the desert and into Canaan.

4) Humphreys suggests possibilities that he says could explain the burning bush on Mt. Sinai. He takes the view that Mt. Sinai was an active volcano. He suggests that it’s possible there was a vent of natural gas out of a fissure near a bush. If the gas started burning and it was near the bush but not right under it, it’s possible the bush might look like it was burning when it wasn’t. It is possible a fissure at a volcano could emit gas that could catch fire. Such things have been observed. Humphreys however doesn’t seem to address in the book what happened when Moses got there to see the bush. If it were a gas vent, maybe Moses would have simply said “Oh is that all” and left! This seems too contrived to me, but the important question to me here is what does Humphreys think about Moses meeting with God at the bush? That was no gas vent.

5) Humphreys departs from a common “traditional view” from many scholars that says Mt. Sinai was a mountain called Jebel Musa in the Sinai Peninsula (West of the Gulf of Aqaba). Instead he puts it at a mountain in Arabia called Hala-l-Bedr, or just Mt. Bedr. Mt. Bedr is Southeast of the Southern end of Aqaba. He also believes Sinai (or Mt. Horeb) was an active volcano. I agree with Humphreys that most Bible maps are wrong to show Mt. Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula. I agree it must be in Arabia. But there are at least a couple of possible locations there as well. So I think Humphreys could be correct about Mt. Sinai but I don’t consider it certain. I won’t go into all that’s involved with this question. There’s a lot of geographical, Biblical, and historical detective work involved. This is one of the stronger aspects of Humphreys book I’d say, though going through all the geographical details is a bit tedious. Regarding Mt. Sinai being a volcano. I don’t think this is certain but it is certainly possible. The description of the mountain when Moses went up to meet with God sure sounds like a description of a volcano. But that doesn’t mean it has to be so. Humphreys uses geological data to narrow down to Mt. Bedr because it is known to be an active volcano.

exodusroute1.jpg

Humphreys also suggests that the volcanically active Mt. Sinai was actually the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire seen by the Israelites. It was a clear landmark and the heat from a volcano can sometimes make a light at night. Since it was visible over the course of their trip it was what guided them. However, this cannot explain everything about how the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire guided the Hebrews. In Exodus 33:16 Moses describes God going with them in their travels. This included the Pillar of cloud traveling with the Hebrews because Numbers 14:14 says that the gentile people around the Israelites heard of this. The gentile people described it as “your cloud stays over them.” So, it was not the Hebrews moving to the cloud (and fire). It was the cloud moving with the Hebrews, and the gentile people of the area understood what this meant.

6) Then there is the crossing of the Red Sea. Humphreys explanation of this is very different from the scene from the famous Cecil B. DeMille movie, The Ten Commandments. He proposes that there was a powerful storm with 80-mph hurricane force winds. The winds pushed the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba back and the Jews walked across exposed land. There is a major controversy dealt with in the book a little, about what body of water it was that they crossed. I think Humphreys actually is correct that it was the Gulf of Aqaba. That is a significant story in itself and a controversy among scholars. But I think Humphreys is wrong about the location at Aqaba because of some evidence not in his book. He thinks the crossing point at Aqaba was near the Northern tip, where the water was not too deep. If the water isn’t very deep it won’t take out the Egyptian army. So I think Humphreys scenario would not kill the Egyptians very effectively. Furthermore, Humphreys seems to ignore the fact that it would be pretty hard for thousands of people to cross Aqaba under 80 mph winds. The Exodus description (see Ex. 14:22,29) twice clearly states that there was a “wall of water on their right and on their left.” Humphreys tries to relate his ideas to this but it I’m afraid it just doesn’t cut it. Humphrey’s proposal on the sea crossing just does not fit the Bible’s description of what happened. But he does have some worthwhile discussion of the question of whether the Bible means Red Sea or Reed Sea. He actually found evidence of fresh water reeds near the tip of Aqaba. This means it is possible in the past people might have called Aqaba the Reed Sea. I’m not certain on the Red Sea/Reed Sea question. But I think there is another location along the Gulf of Aqaba where the crossing could have taken place (known as Nuweiba, see below). It is deep water, the sea floor would be smooth to travel on foot, there is a geological structure there that would be convenient for the crossing, and there is evidence of Egyptian chariot wheels having been on the sea floor, from coral formations. This may not be conclusive but it is pretty impressive. There is a video about it from Questar called “The Exodus Revealed.” I think the wind that blew all night was probably mostly for the purpose of drying the sea bottom so the Israelites could walk across it easier.

The crossing of the Red Sea was a great miracle. The fact that science cannot fully explain it is not a problem. Rather it is something that points us to the greatness of God. There were many miracles God did for the ancient Israelites to give them a good land. But because they were ultimately not faithful they eventually lost the land. It all happened as God warned them in advance, and it is a lesson to us to believe God.

Possible Exodus Route

    Addition from June 2, 2013

The map above has Mt. Sinai at a mountain called Jebel el Lawz.  Humphreys argues for a different site farther South.  Jebel el Lawz is not an active volcano, Mt. Bedr, the site according to Colin Humphreys, is an active volcano.

The place I referred to above is roughly in the middle of the gulf of Aqaba. There is a narrow pass through mountains that leads up to a wide beach. This beach marks an underwater “bridge” structure that goes across Aqaba. Aqaba is very deep, several hundred meters at least. But across from this beach it is less deep. It makes a smooth surface on the bottom that could be walked across if the water were not there. Coral formations that are evidence of wheels like Egyptian chariot wheels have been found along the bottom. Corals make right angles and are formed in circular wheel-like shapes. Also one metal wheel part was found along the bottom. Looks very promising for the Exodus crossing site.

Nuweiba_beach

coralaxle
metalwheel

Posted in Bible Related | 1 Comment