26 Oct 2008

I Have a Hard Time With the Story of Noah’s Ark

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I think a lot of people are shocked to discover that I believe that, say, Jesus really healed the lame, and that He really did walk on water. Well I do, and if you think that I must not understand modern science, then I think you must have way too much confidence in your understanding of what is “possible.” Keep in mind, for example, that the apostles who saw Jesus “walking on water” wouldn’t have examined the situation with the eyes of Richard Feynman. I haven’t done research on the topic, but just to give you an idea of what I mean, it’s possible Jesus was standing on the back of an aquatic creature. You see people “coasting on water” every time you go to Sea World.

Or how about bringing people back from the dead? Does “modern medicine” teach us that is impossible? Of course not. If you were watching Nova and they interviewed a guy in a white coat with an MD after his name, and he said how a person was clinically dead but they fished her out of the frozen lake and revived her, you would totally believe that tale; you wouldn’t even bother googling for corroboration. And yet you wouldn’t hesitate to confidently tell me the Gospels are myths because it is “impossible” that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

(Incidentally, some Christians get annoyed when I “cheat” like this; it seems like I’m taking away from God’s miracles. But c’mon, I already believe that God created the universe and all of its laws. Obviously God can do whatever He wants. I just think it is more elegant if matter behaves according to some simple rules, and even so yields “miraculous” outcomes that were completely unanticipated by dull humans. This seems more impressive than parlor tricks where He suspends the laws of physics that operate 99.999% of the time.)

OK, now that you know where I am coming from, let me confess that I am having a very hard time taking the story of Noah and the flood seriously. (See Genesis 6-8.) Put aside the logistical problems of getting all the different animals on board, how to feed them, get rid of their waste, etc. etc. There are still some really serious problems with this story.

For one thing, it’s not clear to me how the waters can “recede” after it stops raining. If a local area is flooded by rain, then yeah the water levels recede after it stops, but that’s because the water goes somewhere and ends up raising the water level in a lake or the ocean.

But if the whole earth was underwater, even the mountains, then how could the water levels have receded? I suppose there could have been cracks in the ocean floor that allowed the water above to drain into underground cavities, but it sure seems like this was a tall tale written by someone who was extrapolating from his experience with regional flooding after a lot of rain.

(It occurs to me that maybe a bunch of the water evaporated. Does anyone know how much water the atmosphere holds? I have no idea, but I’m guessing it doesn’t hold so much that a shell of water bigger than the globe would shrink much. But maybe I’m wrong.)

Now a second huge problem: The wording is ambiguous, but it seems that 47 days after dry land first appears, Noah releases a dove from the ark and it flies back with a freshly plucked olive leaf. So how did that happen? Even if you say that somehow the seed of an olive tree survived the flood, even so, 47 days is not enough time for it to grow and generate a leaf, right?

Again, this smacks of someone who is writing a story and didn’t think through all of the implications.

So when people ask if I believe the literal word of the Bible, I’m not sure how to answer. I don’t, since I’m prepared to say that the story of the flood did not play out exactly as the Bible describes it. But on the other hand, I don’t just think the Bible is a collection of myths “with a good lesson.” I really think there was a guy named Jesus who healed the sick and rose from the dead. In future posts, I will eventually explain why I think my belief in Him is more “rational” than those who dismiss it as a fairy tale.

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