Posts Tagged ‘Noah’s ark’
In a High School vocal and ensemble competition, I sang these words with my men’s quartet:
“De animals a comin’, two by two
De elephant and de kangaroo…
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah to the Lamb”.
A recent Facebook posting from a friend linked to a story of a Dutchman who had build a replica of Noah’s Ark and had opened it as a museum in Schagen, The Netherlands. According to Fox News, the replica was “built by Dutch creationist Johan Huibers as a testament to his faith in the literal truth of the Bible”.
Having once been a Biblical “literalist” myself (which made me a “Creationist” as well), and having sat in on a class at Christian Heritage College back in the seventies (when the Institute for Creation Research was based there), I began to reflect on the story of the Ark from the perspective of my current knowledge of geology and evolution. I came upon what promised to be an “aha” or “gotcha” moment: I was going to do some math to see if ALL the species of animals and insects on the earth would have physically fit into Noah’s life raft.
As soon as I began my research I found I’d been beat to the punch, mainly by the Creationists themselves. They had already prepared their defenses against my brilliant attack, and were confidently waiting to knock down my “straw man” arguments one by one.
One writer had already figured that the ark was large enough to hold some 16,000 creatures, and had determined that what God had meant in his command to Noah was to bring into the ark two of every genera (not species) from which the earth could be repopulated. Dinosaurs were included, but juveniles were the likely passengers. The Creationists have put great analytical thought into how the animals could have been fed, watered and cared for during their time on the great boat.
So I thought about the geology of the event, and found a very scholarly-sounding Creationist article about how the supercontinent Pangea (that Creationist Geologists seem to accept as existing in the past) was actually broken up in a matter of weeks by a dramatic tectonic event. This also explained how the flood waters could have covered even the highest mountains. Of course, the mountains weren’t as high at that time, rising, in fact, as part of the process through which the flood waters eventually abated (which takes care of that pesky question of how much water would it take to cover the Himalayas). I’ve even found a reference to how the recently inundated lands could shed their oceanic salinity in a short enough time period to allow Noah’s family to get back to farming.
Damn. Outsmarted again.
Here I thought the existence of some 300,000 species of beetles alone was going to sink the Ark story, or the estimated 5-50-million species of life on the planet (minus, of course, the ones that swim and could adapt to the altered salinity levels in the great flood), or the geologic evidence of Earths 4.5 billion year age. or the extinction of the dinosaurs, or the fossil evidence of the several early humans that evolved into us (or that became dead-ends of evolution). Clearly I was wrong.
But then, I prefer to base my knowledge on the mainstream of science — the areas where there is agreement, consensus and testable theory. And in this mainstream there is a flood of another kind: an ocean of evidence to the earth’s age, the reality of evolution and natural selection and an openness to the revision of opinion that new discoveries may bring.
What strikes me, then, in reading the work of Creation “Scientists” is their willingness to simply change the numbers that don’t fit. To just decide that when God told Noah to grab two of everything that walked, crawled, flew or breathed air, he didn’t mean the millions of species we’ve so far identified, but only the Genera of those species. Creationists then go on to explain that all the varieties we see today descended from those original parents, yet in so doing they are forced to contort mightily to still deny that any evolution took place. Natural Selection they allow, but claim it is only a “subtractive” process, in which no new traits are produced. They also selectively twist geology and borrow scientific descriptions of geologic processes to create a scenario in which the earth was magically flatter before the flood, then majestically more mountainous after. They are even able to determine just how many cubits of water were sloshing above the tip of Mount Ararat during the height of the flood, and determine the place where the Ark came to rest. And by acknowledging the evidence for an ancient “supercontinent”, they also neatly tie the bow on the question of how Noah found a mating pair of, say, kangaroos in the fertile crescent.
In short, it’s amazing what a researcher can determine when facts are barred from interrupting the process.
But this gets to the heart of Creation “Science”: it is ideologically wedded to a Biblical worldview and system of belief from which it reaches out to pick bits of low-hanging fruit from a handful of trees of scientific knowledge that have grown up around it, managing to both borrow credibility from science at the same time it dismisses the claims of the forest of trees of knowledge that surround it. Neat trick, that.
What is painfully clear is that Creationists want to be seen as scientific and rational and to be taken seriously. But they are stuck with an ancient bit of middle-eastern mythology which they parse like literary scholars into bits that can then be tortured into evidence for actual, real-time history. It is not an enviable position, and a part of me aches at both the sincerity and uselessness of the pursuit. For Creation “science” is, like theology (to borrow a phrase from Harris) a branch of human ignorance.
If you and I are arguing about an event, say, a car accident that we have both been involved in, neither of us may want to accept full responsibility (and may, in fact both share in the causes of the wreck), but there are often certain facts available: the testimony of a witness, skid marks on the pavement, the location of damage on both cars. As long as you and I are fairly honest and decent, we will work toward an understanding that could end with: “I’m sorry, I didn’t really see you” or “I didn’t stop in time”, and a general agreement about what happened (or allow an arbiter to make a final determination). But if, at some point in the argument, one of us decides to free ourselves from the constraints of reality, and suddenly pronounces: “You’re car suddenly appeared from out of nowhere — the devil ran your car into me. I could see the demons holding my car back from getting out of the way.” Well, we’re not going to get very far, are we?
The conlfict between Creationism and Science does not exist because of flaws in science or “gaps” in the fossil record (gaps that continue to be filled, just as the theory of Evolution would indicate), but rather because the Biblical Creationist has taken an untenable stand in support of an increasingly desperate losing cause. It’s tragic, in a way, to see so much energy, money and intellectual capital poured into extending this branch of human ignorance. But belief is strong and will fight against all evidence. And belief can fight against evidence because it has a freedom of movement that science cannot equal. Science is ever going to be wedded to evidence and reality. Belief can take flight when threatened, and simply create another story that cannot be proved (and more importantly and ideally, cannot be disproved).
I have little problem with the imaginative flights of the human animal. It is only when organized religion attempts to co-opt the mantle of science that I must say no. You don’t get to play in that sandbox unless you agree to the tenets of science (which are not a competing system of belief but the cold hard reality of fact and evidence). You can’t have it both ways.
In fact, why the need to borrow from Science at all? If God was organizing both the global flood and the salvation of everything needed to continue life afterwards (minus, of course, the sinners — animal and human — he was drowning), God could easily have picked which Species or Genera, and sent a mating pair of each right up into the Ark (and kept them from eating each other). He could have flattened the earth and created enough extra water to flood the thing, then made the mountains rise up, and made the water go away. In short, God is not constrained by the laws of physics or the principals of geology or science. He can do whatever the heck he wants to. So, why bother with science at all?
Because no one wants to be thought an idiot. None of us want to be caught believing something that is, well, verifiably wrong. Especially when we have invested a large portion of our identity in a specific belief system. So we look for “evidence” (even bad evidence) to support our beliefs. Even scientists squirm and struggle when favored theories are threatened. But by and large they submit personal belief to the better understanding that new discoveries bring. Even when it hurts. And (more importantly) especially when it hurts. This is the price of growth.
My experience has been that the more I learn, the more complex life on planet earth becomes. It is a world, in fact, that expands in complexity ever faster the more I learn. The only way to keep it simple and comprehensible, then, is to learn nothing (or learn narrowly). And so the only way to keep believing in a global flood some thousands of years ago is to remain ignorant of evolution, biological diversity, genetics, geology and cosmology. Of course there are many Christians who do not follow the path of the Creationist, (accepting many of the Biblical accounts as allegorical), or who take more seriously the demands of “faith” and do not seek evidence at all (but these are rare). But because of our uniquely “Christian” national history, the sympathy for the Creationist view is broad. The headline to a Gallup poll dated February 11, 2009 says: “On Darwin’s Birthday, Only 4 in 10 Believe in Evolution”. Despite 150 years of steady scientific progress, ignorance and denial prove to be persistent parasites on our intellectual evolution, and that ignorance now sheds the mask of the shaman and attempts to disguise itself in the scientist’s white smock.
“Oh de animals a comin’, four by four
De ol’ hippopotamus stuck in de door”*.
I wonder if that was the Common (River) Hipppotamus, or the Pygmy species?
I’m sure God knows.
*”De Animals a Comin’” is a traditional “Spiritual”, Author unknown.