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Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Parting of the Red Sea: Science vs. God

Yesterday's TorontoStar had an article on the parting of the Red Sea. Apparently, strong winds could account for making a pathway that the chosen people used to cross the sea ahead of the pursuing Egyptians. God wasn't necessary.

My colleagues and I had a good chuckle. What's the point of a "scientific" explanation for an event that never happened? What's next—a "scientific" explanation of how Little Red Riding Hood can survive being eaten by a wolf?

Little did I realize that the newspaper article was based on a paper that got published in a (formerly) reputable journal. One of the authors is a devout Christian who is determined to reconcile science and the Bible.

Read all about it on Jerry Coyne's blog [Parting the Red Sea] or on PZ Myer's blog [Inventing excuses for a Bible story, and getting them published in a science journal?]. This is a pretty clear case of science in the service of religion. It's bad science. It's probably bad religion as well but I'm not an expert on proper superstitious beliefs.


  1. As a Swede I'm very exited about this. Finally I can publish my extensive speculative material analysis of the hammer of Thor in a 'reputable' scientific journal.

  2. Where were the reviewers? An ocean general circulation model is not intended to simulate shallow water flows. Among other things, friction at the bottom is far more important in a layer of water six meters deep than in one six hundred meters, and the code is written accordingly. And the shallower the water gets, the more absurd it is to use an OGCM. I find it hard to imagine that such a model would even be numerically stable at those depths, without some serious tweaking.

    Leaving aside the question of walking in a near-hurricane wind (and why isn't that wind mentioned in the biblical account?) with thousands of people including children and the aged, can you imagine walking four kilometers of deeply muddy terrain? Now do it in just a few hours, with thousands of people including the aforementioned elders and children. When the water came back, all but a few of the Israelites would have drowned.

    William Hyde

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  4. I'm puzzled by the paper. If the believer is trying to square science and the Bible then you end up with Bible stories based on natural phenomena, not divine intervention.

    Non-believers used to make up 'scientific explanations' to de-bunk the Bible, not support it.

  5. It's probably bad religion as well but I'm not an expert on proper superstitious beliefs.

    Notwithstanding that theology is a load of arbitrary made-up crap, one can still argue this is bad religion in that the attempt to "naturalize" Biblical miracles is misguided from pretty much any POV. If your theology accepts other miracles anyway (and he accepts the Virgin Birth ad the Resurrection), then what's the point? It doesn't make the faith as a whole more credible to scientific skeptics. All he's doing is slapping a thin patina of scienciness over the Biblical story

  6. PLoS ONE is a total joke. The amount of weak papers there is astonishing. Dress anything up sexy/provocative and PLoS ONE will bite.

  7. Say what you want about PLoS folks, Nature has done the same thing. Don't be hatin'. I swear I saw a Nature paper that discussed a posible way Jesus could have walked on water. Looking for it now. Someone back me up for the time being.

  8. > DJ: Non-believers used to make up 'scientific explanations' to de-bunk the Bible, not support it.

    This is true. Scientists chuckle at such explanations, and so will believers, with something obviously stated to be a miracle.

    Say that it happened as stated, or not, I believe is the choice.

  9. It is actually strange that many believers tell stories. For them "It is possible" ~ "Bible is not lie".

    But in other hand, if it is possible it is possible without God, so is it actually erasing the "miracle part".

    That is almost as fun as those part where believer tell that bible is "so studied" book. OK. totally true. But in those years of study without actual empirican proof of God tells that this research program is not fruitful. And if we believe in Lakatos and many others, that tells us only that Bible is s.c. "bull"

  10. You got to keep an open mind. Except, of course, when it comes to the atheist jibbering about the Bible, then it's sneering, dogmatic bigotry all the way - but, hey, that's okay, the Bible says people like you will come along. You're only fulfilling prophesy.
    - Alan, Bradley Stoke, UK

  11. As we say, for those who want to believe, no proof is needed, and for those who don’t want to believe, no proof is enough!!!! Milkel