Adventures in Biblical Literalism: Mountain Majesty

In the interests of thorough and unbiased research on the foundations of creation “science,” I recently subjected myself to the Book of Genesis. I had to clear my mind of all evidence – supporting or un- – and take the thing at face value for the purposes of my quest. I can now tell you from experience that a literal reading of the Bible is not half so much fun in the New Revised Standard Version. It’s no wonder fundies plump for the KJV.

Let us begin with mountains.

The NRSV assures us, in Genesis 7:19-20, that the waters of the Great God-Will-Fuck-Your-Shit-Up Flood were very deep indeed:

19The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.

Well, gosh, that seems pretty deep. But how high were the mountains in those days? The NRSV provides no clude. And so, we turn to the Authorized (King James) Version for our answer, which I am assured by fundamentalists must be there.

19And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. 20Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

Now remember: we are reading literally. And the fundamentalists assure us the meaning of the Bible is plain and clear. You just read those words on the page, and they are the truth of God, who can’t ever be wrong.

And damn, does that water sound deep. Fifteen whole cubits, enough to bury the mountains. I mean, it says right there, the water prevailed upward fifteen cubits and the mountains were covered. So now we know how high the mountains were: just under fifteen cubits. Stands to reason.

Right. So what’s a cubit?

Nippur cubit, graduated specimen of an ancient measure from Nippur, Mesopotamia (3rd millennium B.C.) – exposed in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul (Turkey). Image and caption courtesy Ana al'ain via Wikimedia commons. (It looks something like a metal Tootsie roll.)

Nippur cubit, graduated specimen of an ancient measure from Nippur, Mesopotamia (3rd millennium B.C.) – exposed in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul (Turkey). Image and caption courtesy Ana al’ain via Wikimedia commons.

Well. According to most young earth creationists, it’s about 17.5-18 inches. Let’s be all generous and use the larger measure. That means the highest mountains were – drumroll please – a whopping 22.5 feet (6.8 meters).

Short damn mountains.

“But wait!” I hear a creationist cry. “You’re so not fair. God obviously meant the long Hebrew cubit, not the short one!”

Fine. That’s 20.4 inches. Multiply by 15… calculating… and the mountains are: a whopping 25.5 feet high. A whole 7.8 meters. Wow. Jeffrey! Fetch me my mountain-climbing trousers! You can leave the oxygen tank.

It’s about now our dear imaginary creationist begins babbling about Babylonian cubits, and so I recalculate using that extra-long 24-inch cubit, and arrive at towering peaks of thirty whole feet (9.1 meters). Jeffrey, I’ve changed my mind – you’d best fetch that oxygen tank, too.

Now, the Ark was 30 cubits tall, so by any cubit measure, it towered to twice the height of the highest mountain.* Which, perhaps, explains this illustration from the Schedelsche Weltchronik.

Image of Noah's Ark atop Ararat from The Nuremberg Chronicle (Die Schedelsche Weltchronik or Liber Chronicarum). The 14th century drawing makes the Ark look at least twice as tall as Ararat. A rather large dove brings an olive branch to the folks waiting on deck. Image courtesy Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Noah’s Ark atop Ararat from The Nuremberg Chronicle (Die Schedelsche Weltchronik or Liber Chronicarum). Image courtesy Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda via Wikimedia Commons.

Not such majestic mountains, then. And lest ye think I’m being less-than-considerate of our Bible-believing brethren’s beliefs, note that many creationists like to say the world was different before the Flood – it allows them to avoid the pesky problem of Mount Everest. Also, they play with the idea that even a sloth could make it over the stubby mountains of Noah’s day in time to catch the boat, no problem.

You may also note in the above illustration the abundance of fishies beneath the Ark. If you read your Bible literally, you’ll not that God was rather forgetful of fish, neglecting to specifically mention them as passengers Noah should take on the Ark (Gen. 6:20, 7:8), even forgetting to murder the poor bloody things (7:21-22), until suddenly recalling them several chapters later, when he’s ttelling Noah & Sons that every single creature on earth, including fish, will be shit scared of them forevermore, not to mention there to be eaten (9:2). That seems kinda harsh, considering these blokes just spent over a year shoveling shit in a wooden box to keep all these poor animals (sans fishes) alive. I’d’ve thought a little universal peace, love and understanding, perhaps vegetarianism, would’ve been nice after a genocide of those proportions, but no. This is the Old Testament God, and he’s all about the fear, loathing, and feasting on flesh.

 

*It amuses me to consider that if Noah were building the Ark on the Earth’s current surface, God would’ve asked him to make it 58,058 feet (17,696 m) tall….

Many of Your Wishes Are Already My Commands

Many of you aren’t shy about letting me know what you want – and I sincerely hope you never will be, because it’s easier than guessing. I’m always happy to get meaningful nudges from you. I’m even happier when I can oblige.

Sometimes, I can deliver what you request nearly instantly. Sometimes, it requires research and takes longer. There are times when what you want and what I can deliver don’t mesh – but that’s not to say circumstances won’t change. There are things I can do now that I couldn’t do then, so one never knows. The point is, you should never fail to make your desires known. Just, y’know, prepare for a possibly long wait. And I’ll try to let you know if something is completely impossible for me. Like, for instance, answering email on time. (Look, I answer nearly instantaneously on a geologic timescale, right? So if we could all just manage to live for a few billion years…)

So a few meaningful nudges have been given lately, and I do want to assure you I’m headed in many of the directions indicated.

Image is a Siamese cat staring raptly at a bit of raw salmon being offered with chopsticks. Caption says "Yes, master... your wish is my command"

1. Yes, there will be a Mount St. Helens book.

In fact, you’ve been reading it. For the actual book edition, o’course, I’ll add in extra stuff, clarify bits, and polish things up nicely, so don’t ever be shy about leaving comments regarding the things that pass through your mind as you read the series: questions, wishes, anything. I’ll be collecting your comments and using them as a guide for what to add to the book.

And the damn thing will bloody well be eminently affordable, too. At least, I can promise the e-book version will be. All the photos may make the dead-tree version more of a pricey option, but we’ll see when we get there.

2. Yes, there will be another Catastrophe series after Mount St. Helens is done.

Several, actually. I love this format as much as you lot seem to, and it allows for wonderful deep-dives in to some truly amazing geology. Tambora and Pelee were mentioned as possibilities, and I may very well give them the treatment someday, but there are already several excellent and affordable books on Mount Pelee, and a brand-new one coming out on Tambora that looks quite excellent (I’ll review it for everyone).

So I’ve made an executive decision and decided to ask you if you’d be happy with Thera instead. Basically a Minoan Pompeii. It’s sweet, people, and I know someone who’s worked on the remains of that volcano (which is now the lovely Greek island of Santorini), so I think we could get a good thing going.

I also plan to do one up on Barringer Meteor Crater. Yes, I know, no humans around in northern Arizona 50,000 years ago to be severely inconvenienced, but enormous rock from space going smack and leaving a mile-wide crater that still looks fresh and awesome today? Yeah, I gotta do it. I hope you’ll love it. And I know I can mount an expedition (my parents will scream for joy, they live not far from there) in order to obtain very spiffy photos.

What do you think? Sound good?

3. Yes, I am going to give the movie Pompeii a thorough geologic inspection, and likely will find it wanting.

I’ve been planning that since I first saw the trailer several weeks ago. I nearly screamed with delight. There’s nothing like a really awful volcano movie for getting the old snark muscles warmed, is there? I’ve already got a piece on Pompeii under me belt, so I feel this is a task I can undertake with confidence. And I make just enough filthy lucre from this network’s advertising revenue that I can cover the expense without having to take you up on your kind offers of paying for my ticket. It’s even going to be tax-deductible! Dang, I love this job…

4. Speaking of filthy lucre, you don’t have to worry.

Many of you expressed disappointment that you couldn’t instantly help with funding the Fundies series. It’s okay! Your needs and expenses come first, always. We’re well-funded at the moment, so relax. Besides, this is going to be a long-term project, so there will come a time when you can pitch in with a few bucks for needed materials if you wish. There are non-financial ways you can help, too: assisting with research, for instance, or tipping me off to new creationist arguments, or helping me with technical questions in your areas of expertise. Some of you have access to professional journals that I don’t, and can thus obtain papers that will be needed. This is very much going to be a group effort, because it’s a huge, sprawling topic, and I can’t do it alone. Each and every one of you will have an opportunity along the way to do important things, up to and including keeping a beady eye out for any local creationist efforts to get myths taught in science class. (Also, shoulders. You’ve got shoulders, right? There will be times I need to cry on them. Oh, my fuck, some of this stuff is agonizingly stoopid.)

This community is amazing, and I meant it when I said I couldn’t do any of this without you. All of these things above: these are you. You make them possible. You make them worth doing.

So I’m off to go do them. Laters!

New at Rosetta Stones: Why Geologists Aren’t Worried About Ending Up on the Naughty List

Some of you may remember when I originally discussed why naughty geologists have no fear of what’s in their stocking, but you may enjoy it again – especially since there are added bonus pictures!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do something naughty so that Santa will fill my stocking with coal. Yay!

Magnificent Mount Rainier

Seattle doesn’t lack for scenery. I mean, you can be coming back from gathering wool (no, seriously, Starspider and I were at The Weaving Works getting her wool for felting), and you drive through the city onto the I-90 bridge, and Mount Rainier happens.

Mount Rainier and the curved arch of a portion of the I-90 bridge.

Mount Rainier and the curved arch of a portion of the I-90 bridge.

Usually, you don’t see it on cloudy days, but the cloud ceiling was high, so there was that blush of sunset in the sky as well as on the mountain, and all of that reflected in the waters of Lake Washington, and it was one of those moments that remind you why life can be pretty damned awesome even at rush hour. So I had Starspider take shots from the car, because I wanted you to share the moment with me.

I’ve subsequently had perhaps too much fun with those photos. Like this shot, clipped from a much larger one, which caught my fancy because it’s so unintentionally artsy. I’m sure someone could come up with some sort of poignant caption, and then maybe we could sell it as a postcard to people who are grabbed by weird things.

The cloudy sky and trees behind us, reflected in the sideview mirror, with the concrete wall of the bridge rushing by.

The cloudy sky and trees behind us, reflected in the sideview mirror, with the concrete wall of the bridge rushing by.

And then you have the mountain in the sinking sunlight.

Panorama of Mount Rainier and Lake Washington. The mountain is reflected in the lake as a streak of pale pink and gold.

Panorama of Mount Rainier and Lake Washington.

Now, these were shots taken in poor light through a window from a moving car, and what you see is being clipped therefrom so that the mountain is larger than a melting mini-marshmallow floating in a soup tureen, so they’re a little grainy. But some simple photo editing can turn them into something more than just hastily-snapped and imperfect pictures, or so I like to believe.

Detail of Mount Rainier and Lake Washington. With the contrast and saturation and things fiddled with, it looks a bit like a watercolor, dunnit?

Detail of Mount Rainier and Lake Washington. With the contrast and saturation and things fiddled with, it looks a bit like a watercolor, dunnit?

And if I darken it, I can foreshadow its inevitable eruption.

A darker version, with the mountain beginning to resemble the fire mountain it is.

A darker version, with the mountain beginning to resemble the fire mountain it is.

I can pour gold down its flanks.

A detail of Mount Rainier with the gold highlights of sunset enhanced, so that the mountain looks like it's got an intimation of a halo and a lovely golden mantle.

A detail of Mount Rainier with the gold highlights of sunset enhanced, so that the mountain looks like it’s got an intimation of a halo and a lovely golden mantle.

Or I can be minimalist, and show you how it was.

A more natural version of the same photo.

A more natural version of the same photo.

As the season progresses, that thick mantle of snow will become thicker, and on the days when the clouds part and we can see it from the city, it will look very much like an enormous scoop of sweet cream gelato. At sunset, it will become so pink you’d swear it’s strawberry. These mountains surprised me, when I first saw them: I’d been used to sharp and jagged peaks, not these rounded scoops that look so innocent and culinary. Then I learned that this is what a young, vigorous volcano looks like (unless it blows its insides out). As beautiful as these mountains are, as seemingly serene, they’re wildly dangerous.

And that’s part of their beauty. There’s nothing permanent about them, and their serenity won’t last, but in these quiet moments, they add dramatic beauty to the city skyline. They make me want to stop and stare and know every detail of them, from inside out.

Which will be quite easy at Rainier soon enough (geologically speaking), when it spills its insides out…

“They’ll be led, be bled, and time’s wheel will turn on after they’ve gone.”

There is a remarkable piece written by a man who once called for Salman Rushdie to die. It’s about the awesome power of books, and the fearful power of ignorance, and the power we have to change the future.

Read all of it. But in case you needed persuading, here’s a taste.

 

"Worse crimes than burning books." Image by Eric C. Castro on Flickr. Photo is of stacked antique books, with the quote "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. - Joseph Brodsky"

“Worse crimes than burning books.” Image by Eric C. Castro on Flickr.

And in fear anything can become real. The truth can become a lie, it can die, and writing a book can become a crime, because of the noise it made.

[snip]

But then what do eleven-year-old boys know? Not much. They can be led by old men who should know better. But then what do old men know if they never read and just follow orders of other men? They knew nothing, but this was nothing new. Men have been led by men forever. Men who follow rules will be ruled. They’ll be led, be bled, and time’s wheel will turn on after they’ve gone. There was nothing new they could show me.

[snip]

Every generation must decide its own future, and with every action and decision they write it. We’re all the authors of tomorrow’s history books. Growing up we made enemies that were never there. Old men, wise old men used to tell us things and we’d listen, but why, when it’s the young who have the new ideas? Those old men believed that we’d repeat our lives in the sky and that Salman should die. I don’t want to be that old man. I want to be the new. Look, here it is, our page today that will become history. If we’ve made mistakes, turn it over and start again, you’re allowed to, and on it let’s write something new.

"Writing in the Dark." Image by Howard Dickins on Flickr. Image shows an open journal in a dark room. A hand is writing in it with a glowing pen.

“Writing in the Dark.” Image by Howard Dickins on Flickr.

Guest Post: “I know better now.”

This is an email I received from my heart-sister Nicole, in regards to this post, on which she couldn’t comment because computers can be right assholes sometimes. I love this woman, people. You can see one of the countless reasons why right here:

 

I used to be one of those “just accept it” people, as you know. In fact, I used to be a card-carrying IFB, planned to go to college for an MRS degree kind of person.

I know better now.

And now that I feel my eyes are much more open, it makes me heartsick to see what is still allowed in what is called a developed nation. The idea that Americans are enlightened is a joke.

I want to help in any way I can. I’ll share posts, help promote you, whatever you need. You want to post on my blog? Say the word.

I am ashamed that for far too long I let things go, and by not doing anything, helped perpetuate a world that I don’t want my daughter to grow up in. I can’t do that anymore. I won’t. There’s no fucking reason for anyone to ever feel less-than.

Image of a dove and its baby snuggling together on a branch.

Oh, my fuck, yes. Exactly this.

And for those of you who haven’t been reading her blog, you’re missing out on a lot of excellent and thought-provoking posts. Go there. Now.

A few recent must-reads:

A rant-y post about a recent conversation about religion

How my faith made me kind of hate myself

Don’t love me anyway.

Caution: Emo Times Ahead

First of all: all of my love and thanks to you, my darlings, for standing with me when I needed you. Having you in my cheering section, virtual arms around me, and telling me to fight the good fight has definitely kept me from dissolving. Knowing that I’ve inspired some of you to fight the fight yourselves is immeasurably rewarding. There is a reason for doing this. What I lose is balanced by what we gain.

B and I… aren’t good. We had a talk wherein he told me I had to do this, and he was all for me doing what I had to do, that I’m right on these issues. But it’s clear he thinks I’m threatening his comfort, threatening to take away the happy fun good times and replace them with soulless corporate icky times (which, for various reasons, have a profound and negative impact on him), and no amount of me telling him that our supervisor is not going to become a humorless corporate drone just because I ask him to ease up on the unconscious transphobia and give the ladiez some equal time on the projector is reassuring him. He told me he loves me and wants to be with me, then left me crying in my parking lot instead of coming up for the Doctor Who and shrimp fest we’d planned that night. Fair enough, we were both upset. And he was kindly enough to me as a colleague at work the next day. Til he practically fled from me at lunch… and I went home sick… and I haven’t heard from him since.

Not a word.

Not a call. Not an email. Just silence.

And a part of me thinks he needs some time to process, and a part of me thinks, “Well, that’s over.” Because, you see, I’d told him to come to me when he was ready to close that distance, that I didn’t want to pressure him. But he’s nowhere in sight so far, not even a casual checking up with the “Hey, I know you weren’t feeling well, and I know the Help Center was pretty freaked out by what you had – you okay? Yes? Great. See you at work.” So what the fuck am I supposed to do or think?

What my mind has decided to do is leap to worst case scenario and the mourning process has begun, no matter how sternly I remind myself it’s early times yet. B meant a lot to me. He’s a fantastic person, caring and smart and willing to learn. We had plans and he added a lot to my life, but if my intelligence intimidates him and my little crusades make him miserable, there’s not much to salvage, then, is there? This weekend, when not spent at urgent care clinics and specialists’ offices, has been spent surveying the wreckage of a best friendship and scouting a life without him. It also means my brain has been occupied with listing other people I’ve lost for similar reasons. And gleefully battering me over the head with a list of friends I’ve neglected for no good reason.

This means I will, at times, become dreadfully emo. This could spill over into blog life, as I do things like share the current sad song I’ve got on repeat.

 Hush, hush, don’t wake up, it’s not morning
Hush, hush, sleep through this, I am warning
Why are you crying? It’s not a sad movie
Why are you crying, dear? There is nothing sad here
There is nothing sad, is there?
Angels fall in to save my soul
Sorry, Absinthe, you’re much too slow
All that glitters and all that glows
Will find a way in as soon as I go
Hush, hush, I dreamed I was happy
Hush, hush, you were happy with me
Hush, hush, feel the chill and it is real
Hush, hush, but at least you can still feel
Why are you crying? It’s not a sad movie
Why are you crying, dear? There is nothing sad here
If you want wings, just tell them so
These are the things that make us grow cold
Break the code and then just go
Love is something you seek and destroy
Then ask, “Why are you crying?”

This is the way I process this shit. And the excellent good news is, it gets better. We’ll either work it out or we won’t. If not, there was a life before B that I had, and it was great, and I’ll get used to it again. There’s still all of you. And there are coworkers who will appreciate what I’ve done and feel their lives are just that much better, and who themselves will be inspired to stand up and say when something’s bothering them rather than just let it fester. There will be people reading this online – as there already have – who will decide it’s time to take a stand and be silent no more. And the more of us who do this, the fewer there are who will have to deal with lost friendships over this shit. The less social drama there will be, and the more, “Oops, my bad, I’ll fix that. Woo-hoo, let’s go have some fun!” as opposed to the current, “YOU ARE A TERRIBLE PERSON WHO HAS DESTROYED ALL THE FUN EVER.” Ordinary people will start babbling about everyday sexism and racism and microagressions and will be more cognizant of what they’re doing, and more willing to make things better for others, which will lead to a net increase in good times being had by all. This world will suck less day by day, for everyone except the dyed-in-the-wool haters, who are gonna be miserable until they make that change. As Grumpy Cat sez: “Good.”

There’s a decent future out there, just past the current bad stretch.

It gets better. But first it gets a little emo. And for that, you have my deepest, sincerest apologies.

Image is a stump and fallen log. Natural patterns in the wood have the appearance of an unhappy face. Caption says:Emo Log: always looking at its sadness. (Grammar and spelling corrected.)

Emo Log: always looking at its sadness. (Grammar and spelling corrected.)

Donate for Typhoon Victims

So the Philippines are being demolished. This is what global warming denial hath wrought.

As Super-Typhoon Haiyan moved over the central Philippines on Nov. 8 at 05:10 UTC/12:10 a.m. EDT, the MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image. Image Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption by NASA.

As Super-Typhoon Haiyan moved over the central Philippines on Nov. 8 at 05:10 UTC/12:10 a.m. EDT, the MODIS instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image. Image Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team. Caption by NASA.

Haiyan made landfall as an extremely powerful super typhoon, perhaps the strongest ever recorded at landfall, with sustained winds estimated at 195 mph (315 kph) by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.  Previously, Hurricane Camille, which struck the northern Gulf Coast in 1969, held the record with 190 mph sustained winds at landfall. After striking Samar, Haiyan quickly crossed Leyte Gulf and the island of Leyte as it cut through the central Philippines.

I’m used to storms weakening as they pass over land. This one barely blinked. The havoc it’s wrought will fit right in with what Katrina did to New Orleans. Hundreds are confirmed dead, thousands missing. Homes gone. Lives destroyed. So we’re needed. If you’ve got a spare dollar, donate it for some fellow human beings who desperately need all the assistance they can get.

We’re all we’ve got, folks. One thing we know for sure as atheists: there is no help coming from above (well, not above airplanes, anyway). There’s no supernatural aid to counter the effects of a super typhoon. Just us.

Let’s do all we can.

At Last, The Perfect Snark for the “Criticism Murderer Mah Freeze Peaches !” Contingent

You patrons of our fine Freethought Blogs establishments have undoubtedly run into the ridiculous folk who whine and howl about how we killed their free speech with nasty criticism. There’s one such meltdown just this week, which promised to be at least mildly entertaining – until The Denver Atheist took his ball and sulked home, thus infringing upon my right to pursue happiness at his expense.

Still. Must admire his ability to stick a flounce for over twelve hours, a skill which is vanishingly rare amongst those who cry about how meeeaaaannnn we are and say they’re really really leaving and they totally mean it this time. No, seriously, they’re outta here. This time – no, this time – well, definitely this time, they are so leaving because we are soooooo mean and awful that they’ll never be back again. Except for all those times they come back to tell us how mean we are and how right they are before leaving again for reals this time…

Our Freeze Peach Warrierz are nothing if not obsessively devoted to their causes, especially the cause of giving the rest of us headaches from chronic eye-rolling.

And really, what do you say to people stupid enough to argue that we are Taking Away All the Freeze Peaches by exercising our own?

The fine folks at Wonkette, who have some Freeze Peach Crusaderz of their own, have decided to turn a mirror shined with premium snark upon the doughty brigades:

But aren’t we free to write say what we want in this country? We are writing what we think is best for our blog and are not forcing our beliefs on anyone else. Why would you write a comment that disagrees, “sanwin?” Haven’t you ever hear of something called “freedom of speech”? Stop oppressing us with your words, which make it impossible for us to do freedom! This is Amercia!

I shall engrave this paragraph upon something gleaming and durable, with a blank space for the name, and present it to each intrepid Freeze Peach Warriur who comes round crying about how Criticism Equals Tyrrany. Because, really, such behavior thaws mah peaches right out. Sheesh.