Faith and Religion: A Flood That Doesn’t Hold Water

Comparison between the Ark and the HMS Titanic. Graphic courtesy of / PZ Myers.

Comparison between the Ark and the RMS Titanic. Graphic courtesy of / PZ Myers.

     TLDR ADVISORY: This article exceeds 1,000 words, and may be lengthy for some readers, including Mr. Ray Comfort and our friends at Answers in Genesis.

     It seems like the older I get, the more skeptical I become regarding things that, for the longest time, I held to be unquestionably true. A young Earth, the Genesis story, the story of Jesus, and the Noah’s Ark story. I grew up with things like the flood story, being told by my Sunday School teachers how Noah built this gigundous boat, and brought all of the animals in the world onto the Ark by twos, male and female, because God was going to flood the Earth. God made it rain for forty days and forty nights, they said. God made the rainbow, they said.

     I guess I started questioning things the minute I discovered that I could make rainbows, (a la the prism or a sprinkler!) and the questions only multiplied from there. I learned about dinosaurs in school. When I asked about them in church, I was told that they died in the flood. I took that answer, and ran with it for quite some time…but no longer. You see, the accumulation of knowledge and a greater understanding of things like cause and effect does something funny to a person’s perception of reality. It shatters illusions, and places certainty solidly within the realm of testable theory, evidence, and proofs.

     Look around for evidence of a global flood. There is none, despite the fact that something on that massive of a scale would leave indubitable evidence behind, in the form of sedimentary layers. The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami left sedimentary evidence everywhere in its impact area. (1) Evidence of earlier tsunamis has been unearthed in places such as Japan, the Cascadia subduction zone, and elsewhere. No uniform layer of ocean sediments, however, has been unearthed that would support a global flood having happened.

     Dinosaurs. According to young-Earth creationists such as the Hovinds, Ray Comfort, Ken Ham and the nice folks at Answers in Genesis, they lived alongside early man, from Adam to Noah. Where did they go? Wasn’t Noah supposed to have taken them aboard the ship as well? Let’s look and see what the ol’ King James says about that in Genesis 6, verses 19-21:

19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.

20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.

21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them.

Elephantitis is a pain! Graphic courtesy of Desktop Nexus / LivePencil.

Elephantitis is a pain! Graphic courtesy of Desktop Nexus / LivePencil.

     So God said every living thing. Of all flesh. (Sounds pretty definitive to me!) This begs the question; was Noah an obedient man? According to the Bible, he was. That’s why God hand-picked him to preserve life on that overblown raft of his. So if that’s true, then again, where are the dinosaurs? I’ve gotten a few different answers from the “answer” folks on this. Either they died in the flood, or they went extinct after. If they went “glug glug,” then that would have to mean that Noah was disobedient to some degree. If they went extinct afterwards, then why didn’t other reptiles, such as crocodiles, snakes, turtles and lizards go extinct? T-rex and Velociraptor were apex predators, for Christ’s sakes! So, I guess we wait for the creationists to come up with a better excuse.

     Where did all of the water go? There’s only a finite amount of the “wet stuff” on this planet, and it’s not nearly enough to have covered the Earth deeper than Mount Everest is high:

19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.

20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
(Genesis 7: 19-20, King James Version.)

     “Ah! But what about all of the frozen water, locked up in polar ice?” you may ask. Here it is; if we melted every glacier, every iceberg and every ice sheet, global ocean levels would only rise about 220 feet. (2) The tippy-top of Everest sits at a whopping 29,029 feet above sea level. Maybe if we added all of the ice cubes out of everyone’s freezers, we’d add a few more inches to that previous 220 feet number.

     I’d like to know something. At what point did Noah stop off in Australia, and drop off the Marsupials? Kangaroos. They’re endemic to just one continent on this, God’s green Earth; the Land Down Under. How did they get there, especially when there’s no land bridge between New Guinea and Queensland? The interesting thing about this one, is that the YEC’ers have pulled a new explanation out of their posteriors; a post-flood ice age. Intriguing…proof, si vous plait? Conversely, why are they only endemic to Australia? If the ark landed in Turkey somewhere, then why don’t we see them in Africa? In South America? In India at least?

     For that matter, how did Aboriginal Australians and Native Americans get across the Torres and Bering Straits? Once again, post-flood ice age. Right, sure. Ya bet’cha.

     Supposedly, the flood happened around 2350 BC, according to the folks at AiG. (3) At Creation Ministries, Dr. John Osgood fixes it at 2304 BC. (4) In 1650, Irish Archbishop James Ussher fixed the date of the flood at 2348 BC. What’s a few (or 40) years, right?

     Centuries of research by the best and brightest scholars, have narrowed the date of the building of Khufu’s pyramid on the Giza plateau to sometime between 2560 BC and 2470 BC. (5) So, what gives? Were the pyramids built pre-flood then? (AiG makes an attempt to answer this question, albeit rather poorly. They fail to offer a date of their own for Khufu’s pyramid being built.) Young-Earth creationists have come up with a theory of their own with regards to the movement of land masses, which they’ve termed, “Catastrophic Plate Tectonics.” (6) If that theory was true, and the pyramids were built before the flood, then they surely would have been destroyed, don’t ya think? Again, YEC’ers can’t answer with a firmer date for the building of the pyramids, so…?

     Come on. We know that the Earth’s plates are drifting at about 2cm/year average speed. If we push “stop” on the global VCR, and then press “rewind,” it would take far longer than a mere 6k years for the landmasses to rejoin. We know about how long it takes for rocks to form. We can measure plate movement via GPS, and can prove subduction via Seismology. Science has yet again jumped in where religion has fumbled the ball, and taken it down the field and toward the end zone of understanding the physical processes that have shaped the planet. (A gratuitous football reference there, in anticipation of Sunday’s big game!)

     To sum all of this up, the global flood story has more holes in it than the colander in my kitchen cabinet. So, what are we disillusioned believers now supposed to believe?


The Chaser: Of Asteroids And Dinosaurs – More Musings on Young-Earth Creationism

"Brian, you said Chixulub was a great vaca...dude, if we live through this, I am SO unfriending you on Facebook!"

“Brian, you said Chixulub was a great vaca…dude, if we live through this, I am SO unfriending you on Facebook!”

     Every now and again, I find myself revisiting that ages-old question: why are we here? How did we get here? How long did it take? Now, I have a pretty good idea, and a lot of the time I find my own beliefs and hunches about these things, bringing me into direct conflict with established, organised religion. I guess that’s why I haven’t found a church where I can fit in, because those topics always come up, and I get the usual, “Oh, you’re letting Satan confuse your mind,” or some such codswallop.

     There are more than a few areas where religion, specifically young-Earth creationism, falls short in explaining the existence of things, but I’d like to focus on just a few here…

Asteroids. Why?

     Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, lies the main asteroid belt. It’s strewn with the debris of failed planets, “planetesimals” and even a few dwarf planets. Even farther out, beyond the orbit of Neptune, lies the Kuiper Belt, where the “trans-Neptunian objects” make their home. Even farther than that, about 1ly out, astronomers have hypothesised the existence of the Oort Cloud, home to what are known as the “long-period” comets. In other words, there’s a lot of debris flying around out there in space. Why? Did God get the solar system, six-thousand years ago, as a kit, with “some assembly required,” and after putting it all together, find that he, like all other guys who put project kits together, had some extra left-over parts? I don’t buy it.

     If God created the entire universe, planets and all, fully-mature as the YECs insist, then why did he leave all of these rocks lying about? These are the proverbial “Lego pieces on the carpet in a dark room,” but in the case of asteroids and comets, they come flying at us. Sure, comets are great to look at through a telescope, but meteors aren’t so great, especially when they impact our planet in places like Tunguska and Chelyabinsk. (1)

     Comets, asteroids and meteors don’t serve any real, stabilising purpose within the solar system, as near as the brightest minds in the fields of Cosmology and Astronomy can tell. No, actually they’ve caused at least one ELE (extinction-level event) that we know of, and may have played a part in at least one other, the Permian-Triassic extinction, which by the way, brings me to my second musing…

Dinosaurs. Where’s my Velociraptor?

     No proponent of young-Earth creationism has come up with a solid, convincing argument that can explain the conundrum of dinosaurs. No, YECs such as Eric Hovind and Answers in Genesis have tried to sell us on the idea that before the “great flood,” man walked the Earth alongside carnivores like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor. Then, the story gets a little fuzzy, depending on the YEC that you ask for answers. Some will tell you that God allowed the dinos to die in the flood, which then creates a conflict with Genesis 6:19, where God commands Noah;

“And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female.”

     Now supposedly, Noah was a righteous and obedient man, the only one of those left on the whole planet, which was why God chose him to save man and animal-kind. So, if Noah was obedient, and he did what God told him to do, and dinosaurs were walking the Earth alongside of Noah and his fam-bam, then where’s my Velociraptor? I’d like to have one as a pet, let it run around the back yard. So help me though, I can’t seem to find one of those nifty raptor eggs down at my local PetSmart.

     No, this conundrum, combined with the pseudo-quasi scientific misconceptions that Hovind et al. have about how rocks form, makes for some cringe-worthy reading. According to these guys, the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary either doesn’t exist at all, or is something other than what it actually is. Luckily for Christendom, theirs isn’t the mainstream view. Even Pat Robertson, that verbally inept “700 Club” stalwart, has admitted that young-Earth creationism is alack in its explanation of the “dino dilemma.” (2)

     I haven’t given up hope though, that there’s a convincing explanation for all of this out there, one that would solidify the young-Earth argument. So, I guess I’ll keep asking the questions, in search of the truth of the matter, and annoying the hell out of those poor young-Earth creationists!

Faith and Religion: Dragging The Line

Pulling the unpullable...

Pulling the unpullable…

“I feel fine, I’m talkin’ bout
peace of mind, I’m gonna
take my time, I’m gettin’ the good sign…
Draggin’ the line.”
(Tommy James, “Draggin’ The Line”, c1971 Roulette Records)

     This song first appeared on Tommy James’s sophomore album, entitled “Christian of The World”. The irony of this is that I’ve employed it within the context of an article that, with some characteristic pragmatism and nimble wording, will attempt to shed light on the chasm that lies between science and religion. Yes, my fine young readers, I’m “going there” yet again…

     One aspect of religion that continues to puzzle me, is the dogged adherence of some of the more literalistic, conservative denominations to the concept of “Young-Earth Creationism”, especially in the face of proven science. For the uninitiated among you, please allow me to explain; young-Earth creationism dictates that everything in existence…us, the earth, the sun and moon, indeed the entire universe, is only about 6k to 7k years old. Several theologians in Judeo-Christianity have performed calculations on the ages of the patriarchs, the earliest of which included Jose ben Halafta in 160 A.D., within the “Seder Olam Rabbah”. Several centuries later, Church of Ireland Archbishop James Ussher published a timeline, dating the moment of creation to the night preceding Sunday, October 23rd, 4004 BC. Even such well-known early astronomers and scientific observers, such as Johannes Kepler and the venerable Sir Issac Newton, the father of gravity himself…were young-Earth creationists!

     Young-Earth creationism should have met its demise in 1922-1923, when Edwin Hubble, looking through the newly-installed 2.5 meter Hooker Telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory in southern California, observed that there were in fact a plethora of other galaxies out in space, and that they were moving away from us. Hubble knew this, because of something called “Redshift”, which is a visual expression of what’s called the Doppler Effect.

     For those who are unfamiliar with this term, I can provide a simple example which is very easy to reproduce on your own. Have you ever stood on a street corner, and listened as a police car or ambulance passed by with its siren running? Did you notice how the pitch of the sound seemed to rise as the vehicle got closer, then fall as it sped away from your location? That’s the Doppler effect. As distance increases between yourself and the sound source, the length of the sound wave increases and the pitch decreases. The same goes for observable light. As the distance between our point of observation and the light source increases, so does the length of the light wave, which causes it to shift into the red end of the spectrum.

     We have also known for quite some time, that the speed of light through a vacuum is roughly 186,000 miles per second. (Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the speed is 299,792,458 meters per second.) We know this because we’ve quantified it scientifically, we’ve measured it time and again in the laboratory. Couple this with being able to observe distant stars and galaxies, and one should, if they’re paying attention and believing what they’re seeing, reach the conclusion that this little (ah, but ever expanding!) universe we live in must be far older than a mere six thousand years!

     So, we have to ask ourselves this question; why do some Christians doggedly adhere to the concept of young-Earth creationism, aside from the fact that their Bibles tell them that that’s the way it is? Why do they maintain their stranglehold on such a literal interpretation of scripture? Is it because they fear what they don’t or can’t understand? Try explaining things like the Doppler effect or the speed of light in a vacuum to a young-Earth creationist within the context of this argument, and the reaction one gets is akin to the “three monkeys” scenario. They’d rather remain willfully ignorant of scientific fact, than to endanger their long-held (albeit misguided) belief in a six thousand-year-old universe.

     I think I should clarify something at this point, before we go any farther. I’m not trying to attack religion or faith overall. What I am trying to do is to illuminate whoever might be reading this piece, with regards to just one of several areas where science and faith diverge, and to do my humble part to kill off an outdated dogma. That being said…

“The Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
(Galileo Galilei, quoting Cardinal Cesare Baronio, circa 1598.)

     The Bible also says to “fear” God, which is fine and dandy. I would suggest however, that for people of faith to live in unnecessary fear of something that can be known and understood, and otherwise only adds to the grandeur and intrigue of existence, is folly. It’s giving one’s self over to that most basal of human instincts; to fear what we do not or cannot know or understand. If one follows this line of logic, then one arrives at a conflict where the young-Earth creationist is intimating that it’s fine to give one’s self over to that basal instinct, but then turn around and preach against giving over to other basal desires and instincts, such as the desire for physical pleasure. In short, it’s hypocrisy…not only is it hypocrisy, but also intellectual laziness. (If I’m not mistaken, laziness, also known as “sloth”, (“Acedia” in the Latin) is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins”!)

     In closing, I would strongly suggest that the person of faith who honestly wants to grow in both a spiritual and intellectual way, avoid looking at matters of science through the prism of religious stained glass. Instead, try verifying and accepting these facts, and then take them back to the scriptures, and seeing those scriptures in a new way. In the meantime, the stars in the sky will continue to race away at breakneck speeds, and there’s nothing that the young-Earth creationist can do to reign them back in…that line can no longer be dragged, especially when illuminated by the light of knowledge.