Monday, September 27, 2010

Is science killing God?

So, Stephen Hawking declares it was physics, not God, that set the universe in motion, and now scientists declare it was natural processes that parted the Red Sea (in a paper published in PLoS One).

New computer simulations have shown how the parting of the Red Sea, as described in the Bible, could have been a phenomenon caused by strong winds.
The account in the Book of Exodus describes how the waters of the sea parted, allowing the Israelites to flee their Egyptian pursuers.
Simulations by US scientists show how the movement of wind could have opened up a land bridge at one location.
Sustained winds of 63 mph, it turns out, could have maintained an open land bridge for 4 hours, long enough for the Israelites to cross.  

Is this proof that the parting of the Red Sea wasn't a miracle?  Moses (and therefore God) wasn't needed after all?  

Is science killing God?

We did assume that was the intent of this paper, at first glance.  If what has previously been deemed a miracle can be found to have 'natural causes', then no deity need be invoked, hands wiped, science wins again.   

But apparently we were wrong.  The 'competing interests' section of the PLoS paper says this:
Competing interests: The lead author has a web site,, that addresses Christian faith and biological evolution. The Red Sea crossing is mentioned there briefly. The present study treats the Exodus 14 narrative as an interesting and ancient story of uncertain origin.
The lead author is, it seems, a computer scientist in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado.  If you go to his theistic evolution website, you see that he's a Christian who believes in evolution and, he says, in questioning everything.  We can only guess that, as a scientist, he wanted to convince himself that the parting of the Red Sea was scientifically explicable -- and that if he could convince himself of this, this would confirm his belief in the Biblical story.  Indeed, we don't know but we're guessing that, as a scientist, he doesn't want to believe in miracles, but if he can turn them into natural events, he's sold.  

What interests us is that we're surprised that this is the point of this paper since the motivation and interpretation of this simulation could just as easily have gone the other way, evidence that no God was needed, the Israelites escaped on their own, with the aid of sustained high winds.  Of course, we would have then pointed out that this wasn't going to be good enough, and that no amount of evidence will change minds on either side.

Let's assume for the moment that a Big Wind  could, in fact, part the waters and make a walkway to Promised Land.  Why would this mean that God wasn't needed?  No, it could have been God who made the Red Sea partable.  In fact, if we accept the plausibility of the biblical story, this natural occurrence happened just at the time the fleeing Israelites needed it.  How plausible is that?  Its probability is about the same as the probability that God made it happen.

There is simply no 'scientific' way out.  If you're a believer in the Biblical story, you can find a way to explain it, be that natural or supernatural. If you're a skeptic, the partability of the Red Sea has nothing to do with whether it parted at exactly the right time, or whether the Biblical story is historically true. 

Let's have a bit of fun with this.  The old saw "How odd that God should choose the Jews" would now make sense.  So one should comb for other similarly revealing stories.  God seemed to choose the Muslims, when the Patna, abandoned by Lord Jim, did not sink as the abandoning crew thought it would.  

Of course these are fictional examples.  But Saladin really did capture Jerusalem for the Muslims!  And what about the motive for God's anger when a party of Christians, the Donner party, was fatally snowed in as they tried to cross the Sierras for their promised land?  Or the salting of the water and plagues of locusts that beset the early Mormon settlers in theirs? (they survived, showing God's favoritism yet again--but to a different group).  And why did God arrange for the massacre of Jews--his alleged favorites--by Christian crusaders, not to mention the Nazis?

Even science cannot account for God's fickleness.


Holly Dunsworth said...

Anne Buchanan said...

Precisely, Holly. Thank you!

Texbrit said...

The main proof for the non-existence of God, in my opinion, is (very ironically) the fact that we can't prove that God *doesn't* exist. Our only way of knowing all this time that God *does* exist has historically been because people suppose that he does and passes the myth down through the generations. But if our minds are too feeble to intellectually or scientifically disprove God conclusively, why would a de facto position that God *does* not exist be even less credible, given that we are using our same feeble brains to make that assertion too?

Texbrit said...

...oops, the lasts sentence in my last post had one word in the wrong order. "...God *does* not exist.." should have read "...God *does* exist NOT...".

James Goetz said...

Nobody can accuse the author of trying to evaluate a maximalist interpretation of Exodus, which includes millions of Semitic slaves leaving Egypt. This model could only work with a minimalist view of a small group of Semitic slaves leaving Egypt.