Sunday, November 2, 2008

Amusing Posts on the Flood

The attempts to reconcile science and a literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis (the creation stories, Noah's flood, Tower of Babel) are quite silly. When I was in my teens and early 20s, I was intrigued by this debate. But now in my 40s, I am now amazed that this debate even occurs, especially by otherwise intelligent and serious people.

I understand why young people might be interested in this problem. Just out of childhood, they face the conflict between a childish literal view of these stories and some newfound knowledge about science. They thrash about a bit trying to resolve this conflict, and derive some silly theories along the way: maybe if this verse is read that way, and there was only a small miracle here, and days don't mean literal days, and some of the animals on the ark were in some sort of suspended animation, and dinosaurs were more dense than mammals and sunk faster, and ....

What I don't understand is why serious grown-ups would take on this issue. Dr. Harvey Babich (who appears to be a serious grown up - a professor of biology at Stern College with some impressive credentials) wrote a silly piece along these line, entitled How Many Animals Were There On The Ark?. In short, he argues that perhaps Noah simply took a set of each "kind" of animal, rather than a set of each species. These "kinds" then rapidly diversified after the flood and --- dare I say --- evolved into all the species were see today. Voila! This solves the problem of how Noah fit so many animals into a too-small ark.

My reaction is simply to roll my eyes. There are lots of problems with this specific argument, and this general approach, none of which I particularly want to discuss. Some other bloggers have already taken a whack at those. See XGH (in his most recent incarnation): YU on the Mabul with Hagaos Hagodol and Frum Heretic: Dang, He Busted My Mabul Crapometer! My questions is why would a serious biologist write such a piece?

The only thing I can think of is a slippery-slope problem. If people believe the creation stories and the flood are not literally true, the argument goes, then maybe they will believe the revelation at Sinai is not literally true either. So we need to draw the line at the former.

The tactical problem is that this argument is likely to backfire. If people start to think that Orthodox Judaism believes that the world is 6,000 years old and that there was a global flood that killed everyone in the world except 8 people on a boat in 2300 BCE, they are more likely, not less likely, to conclude that the revelation at Sinai did not occur.

If anyone else has any thought on why otherwise serious people take these positions, leave a comment.

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