I’ve attacked religious beliefs…using science!


I got name-dropped as the bad guy in an article titled “Are miracles outside the realm of science?” You see, this guy, Carl Drews, published an article in PLoS One that made up a convoluted scenario to explain how Moses could have parted the Red Sea, taking advantage of some unlikely wind patterns. I objected to it. I guess that still burns Mr Drews.

The biggest threat to scientific inquiry came from the New Atheists. The New Atheists are a small group of militant atheists who have taken it upon themselves to attack religious beliefs using science. A blogger named PZ Myers stated that he would reject the published paper out of hand if he were selected as a peer reviewer. The comments on his blog were similar to the hostility endured by climate scientists in publishing their research. The journal PLoS ONE came under pressure to retract the paper. Fortunately for me and for science in general, the executive editor, Damian Pattinson, held firm. I wrote about these events in my book “Between Migdol and the Sea.”

Except that my objection wasn’t because I’m an atheist — it’s because this article was bad science. Here’s my article that so annoyed Drews, and this was my conclusion that led Drews to feel that atheists were oppressing him:

And how is this garbage getting published in PLoS One? If a paper like this were plopped on my desk for review, I’d be calling the editor to ask if it was a joke. If it wasn’t, I’d laugh and reject it — there is no scientific question of any significance being addressed anywhere in the work. Is this representative of the direction PLoS is going to be taking, with low standards for acceptance and what had to have been nonexistent review?

A suggestion for Mr Drews, the author, who sounds like he is a software developer affiliated with a research institution: you aren’t a scientist, stop pretending to be one. I’ll also say the same thing I tell every creationist pseudoscientist who tries to resolve their mythical stories with unconvincing handwaving about science: it doesn’t work. We see right through you. Bad, overstretched technical justifications for miraculous events are even less persuasive than simply declaring “My omnipotent god did it with magic”.

His article was nothing but some contrived jiggery-pokery to rationalize a miraculous event described in his holy book that we don’t know even actually happened. This is not an interesting question. As I said then, “It should have been rejected for asking an imaginary question and answering it with a fantasy scenario.”

My atheism gives me the privilege of being able to look at his arguments from outside the Christian bubble, but I didn’t say it shouldn’t have been published because God doesn’t exist. I even pointed out that his rationale doesn’t work from an honest Christian perspective.

It doesn’t even make sense from the perspective of a believer. So one of the great miracles of the Bible is being reduced to a meteorological fluke with an entirely natural explanation? It makes bible stories compatible with science by making the supernatural elements of the story completely irrelevant, which is nice if you’re an atheist, but only if you’re an atheist who is very gullible and willing to accept other elaborate prior premises.

I said “honest Christian”, although I sometimes doubt their existence. I think Mr Drews is playing games.

I approached the Biblical story of Moses crossing the Red Sea respectfully, knowing that this epic event is very important to many religious people — myself included. I recognized the limits of what science can and cannot conclude. We can state that the narrative is plausible, but we cannot state that God was or was not involved. In particular, I avoided the use of the word “explain,” because to many people that term means to “explain away.” Exodus portrays the crossing of the Red Sea as a mighty work of God, and the hydrodynamic details of the crossing do not take away from that faith-based view. Most readers could understand that idea, whether they were religious or not.

Let’s cut through the crap. Drews believes a super-powerful, omnipotent being purposefully parted the Red Sea for Moses, and he wants to simultaneously argue that mundane, natural processes could have separated the waters, which makes his magical explanation superfluous. He uses the mundane explanation as an excuse to get his religious story published in a scientific journal. You shouldn’t have to be an atheist to be able to see right through that.

Also, by the way, note what he did there: he says his work makes the Bible story “plausible”. That’s not true. If you read the PLoS article, you’ll learn that it is actually an implausible and unlikely event, requiring a “particular circumstance of topography and wind direction”. Bad science is bad science, whether you’re an atheist or a theist.

Drews does answer the question in the recent article’s title.

By its very nature, that miracle — the resurrection — is outside the realm of science. I define a miracle as God’s temporary suspension of natural laws in response to human need.

Yep. But that won’t stop him from trying to publish religious apologetics in science journals.

Comments

  1. aziraphale says

    Unlikely events do sometimes happen. The relevant question is, did it happen at any other time in recorded history? If not, it has to be pretty implausible.

  2. call me mark says

    Of course, the whole Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea thing has the fatal flaw, in common with the rest of the Exodus story, of never actually having happened.

  3. kemble says

    The conclusions of the paper state: “Under a uniform 28 m/s easterly wind forcing in the reconstructed model basin, the ocean model produces an area of exposed mud flats where the river mouth opens into the lake. This land bridge is 3–4 km long and 5 km wide, and it remains open for 4 hours.”

    Sounds reasonable? That’s a wind of 100km/h, which is between storm and violent storm (10-11) on the Beaufort scale. Exodus might also have mentioned it if children were being blown off their feet and the Isrealites were being submerged under occasional 10m waves sweeping across the exposed mudflats as they attempted the crossing. And the referees didn’t notice this either?

  4. Matt G says

    Hilarious that he wants it to be both a miracle AND a natural event. Thinking – how does it work?

  5. Allison says

    The explanation I heard was that it wasn’t the Red Sea, but a smaller body of water (Reed Sea?) If it was a tidal inlet, then it wouldn’t be that odd that it would be empty at low tide and that when the tide turned, you’d get a rather rapid rise in waters, possibly even a tidal bore (which might seem like a wall of water.) It’s not uncommon for people unfamiliar with tidal flats to go out at low tide and then caught far from shore when the tide comes in. To people who had spent their entire lives in one place and never seen that kind of tidal behavior, it could well have seemed miraculous.

    Also, if this tribe was coming from the Nile delta and ending up in Sinai, the Red Sea would be a huge detour.

    I’m inclined to think that many or most of the stories in the Old Testament are based on real events which were passed down as oral history and got changed in the telling. It wouldn’t be surprising if people generations removed from the events would interpet “a body of water we crossed coming here from Egypt” as the Red Sea.

  6. wcorvi says

    This sounds to me like another attempt to make the bible acceptable as a science text book. They can tell the courts that this is real science, but tell the kids in school how wonderful god is.

  7. says

    @aziraphale Well, no, the real question is, given the actual archeological evidence suggests that, literally, the entire section of the Bible starting with Moses being dumped in the river in a basket, to Exodus itself, appears to be completely made up, and never happened, what is the probability that a natural phenomena, even if it was itself plausible, caused a fictional event? I mean, we are getting into a, “Did the Fantastic Four actually prevent the Ferris wheel in England from falling, during the Silver Surfer incident actually happen using plausible physics?”, sort of thing. The answer should be, “That’s nice… But why is this not in a Because Science episode, instead of a real journal?” https://nerdist.com/videos/because-science/ I.e., on a show dedicated to explaining why things are completely absurd, or how the fake science in movies and stories “might” possibly work, or why it can’t, etc.

  8. rietpluim says

    Let’s cut through the crap. Drews believes a super-powerful, omnipotent being purposefully parted the Red Sea for Moses, and he wants to simultaneously argue that mundane, natural processes could have separated the waters, which makes his magical explanation superfluous.

    Duh. God does his miracles by natural ways.

  9. says

    We can state that the narrative is plausible…

    Well, yes, you can certainly state that. Why anyone would believe it is another matter.

  10. says

    It’s all down to bad translation of course, no-one parted anything. Moses partied the Red Sea, and an ancestor of Thomas Cook did the catering on the cruise boat.

  11. militantagnostic says

    ,

    His article was nothing but some contrived jiggery-pokery to rationalize a miraculous event described in his holy book that we don’t know even actually happened.

    Actually we know it didn’t happen. The events of Exodus (and the entire Pentateuch) are set in the bronze age while the Hebrews did not emerge out of the Canaanite culture until a century or two into the Iron Age. Many years ago CBC’s Quirks and Quarks had an episode on scientific explanation events described in the bible. The last word was given to a Bible scholar who explained that “the bible doesn’t actually say that” and went on to say it is a collection of myths so using science to explain things that never happened is pointless.

  12. kome says

    “…in response to human need”?

    The takeaway I’m getting from this guy is that he believes humans needed to be drowned almost completely off the face of the earth in an event for which there is no evidence to suggest actually happened but humans apparently don’t need to be cured of Tay Sach’s disease or schizophrenia or leukemia.

  13. brett says

    Is there’s any history underneath the story of Exodus, it’s that people actually did migrate in and out of the (then much larger) Nile River Delta in the time period in question, and that Israel and Judea formed in the aftermath of the Bronze Age Collapse. I don’t know what the current thinking is, but a decade ago there was a big debate over whether there was ever even a unified Israel that then split up into two kingdoms – or if the two kingdoms were always separate.

  14. jazzlet says

    This sort of explantation always fails for a simple reason, even if taking the water off a sea bed or an estury is possible naturally, it isn’t going to make it passable as anyone who has tried to sample the life at low tide from many a beach or estury would tell you. Mud, deep mud is not easily passable even if its possible to remove all of the water above it.

  15. microraptor says

    Let’s also remember that according to Exodus, there were supposed to be six million Hebrews fleeing Egypt. There isn’t a weather or tidal phenomenon on the planet that could possibly last long enough for that many people to have crossed. On foot, with small children, the elderly, and all their worldly possessions weighing them down, crossing any major land formation would have taken weeks or possibly even months, not hours.

  16. mnb0 says

    “The New Atheists are a small group of militant atheists who have taken it upon themselves to attack religious beliefs using science.”
    Ah, I love this. At the end of the 19th Century Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (Dutch theologian and apostate) wrote: to derive a divine world from, our concrete one requires a salto mortale. In the 1920’s Anton Constandse wrote an essay called The Misery of Religion.
    New Atheists have been around for quite a while.

  17. Owlmirror says

    Let’s also remember that according to Exodus, there were supposed to be six million Hebrews fleeing Egypt.

    That’s a bit high. The bible has multiple instances of referring to numbers of about 600,000 adult males over 20 years of age. Double that to include the estimate of adult females; double that result to add to the estimate everyone under 20 years, so about 2.4 million total.

    Getting back to the OP — I saw an amusing midrash that the sea was actually split into 12 channels, one for each tribe (why each tribe needed to be so segregated during an escape was left unaddressed), which would just increase the chaos and confusion of escape to the twelfth power. But I guess it made some rabbi or other happy to dream it up.

  18. says

    Finding naturalistic explanations for ancient miracles (especially the plagues of Egypt and parting of the red sea) was a preoccupation of my high school class in apologetics. I think the idea is that we never see God intervening by poking things with his finger (although he certainly could do that if he wanted to), his style is more to manipulate unlikely events into occurring. They want to have it both ways–a miracle small enough that the story is plausible, and yet large enough that supernatural invention is the only explanation. So, they come up with an explanation which is neither plausible, nor requires supernatural intervention.

    Having seen lots of wacky physics research projects, I have to say, it’s not necessarily absurd to create a simulation of how winds can interact with water to create land bridges. But I took a look at the paper and I’m not impressed. They’re proposing 63 mph winds. I took a moment to look up the amount of wind needed to blow people away, and it’s about 40 mph. Maybe it would have been better if they wrote the same paper with a negative conclusion.

  19. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Siggy:

    They want to have it both ways–a miracle small enough that the story is plausible, and yet large enough that supernatural invention is the only explanation. So, they come up with an explanation which is neither plausible, nor requires supernatural intervention.

    This is brilliant. I will love you forever for this.

    Also, I will plagiarize this forever. But love! Don’t forget the love!

  20. unclefrogy says

    having in my youth had the memorable experience of a chatholic education of which I am still in the process of recovering from. Errors learned in childhood have surprising roots and results. I just do not understand what this kind of argument is motivated by. How is it not a complete contradiction of faith to try and rationalize all these miracles into some normal real mundane events and processes?
    Just who are they trying to convince anyway? Sounds like those who make them are having some difficulty believing in the declared magical events that their gods can produce at will. Sounds like a slightly veiled denial of faith to me.
    uncle frogy

  21. microraptor says

    Owlmirror @17:

    Six million is just the number I’m used to seeing thrown around for how many people there were supposed to be. Overall, it doesn’t matter whether there were six million imaginary Hebrews crossing the Red Sea (or Reed Sea) or two million, since either way the explanation for some sort of weird weather phenomenon pushing the water apart long enough for all of them to cross is ridiculous.

  22. jack16 says

    PZ,
    I’ve read that at times when the tides were just right it was possible to walk across the red sea (before the Suez canal). That two Englishmen walked across in eighteen twelve.

    jack16

  23. leerudolph says

    Kagehi@7:

    the entire section of the Bible starting with Moses being dumped in the river in a basket, to Exodus itself, appears to be completely made up

    “Made up”? No, indeed; it was nearly completely plagiarized, from an assortment of earlier myths.

  24. billyjoe says

    Carl Drews: “By its very nature, that miracle — the resurrection — is outside the realm of science. I define a miracle as God’s temporary suspension of natural laws in response to human need.”

    Miracles are not outside the realm of science.

    The scientific approach to miracles is no different to the approach of science to any other phenomena:

    Plausibility: This is the likelihood of X being true given the sum total of everything we already know about the world through science. In the case of miracles, such as the parting of the Red Sea, or the Resurrection, the plausibility is close to zero. This is because the laws of physics, which summarise all we know about the world through science, would have to be suspended.

    Evidence: If the plausibility of X is close to zero, the evidence for X, like the parting of the Red Sea, or the Resurrection, would have to be extraordinary. An example of the sort of extraordinary evidence we would require to overcome a plausibility close to zero would be to actually observe such an event.

    Because the plausibility of X is close to zero, and because resources are limited, scientists will not, or should not, waste time researching X. However, if this extraordinary evidence emerges, they will change their mind and give it close attention. In the mean time, they will continue to rate the plausibility of X as close to zero and, therefore, to live their lives as though neither are true.

    Which applies also to the gods that are said to be creating these miracles.

  25. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Supernatural causation is outside the realm of science. Science can tell you that someone was dead. Science could conceivably tell you that the same person is likely alive (though watch out for genetic twins).

    Science cannot tell you anything about the supernatural causation (if any) of that return to life.

    In that sense, miracles are outside the realm of science.

  26. John Morales says

    BJ:

    Miracles are not outside the realm of science.

    Of course they are; in this context, the term refers to those occurrences which are not just exceedingly unlikely or unexplainable, but indeed contrary to established science, yet alleged to be veridical.

    (Think the eyewitness accounts of Padre Pio’s bilocation)

    ObRef: “… and then, a miracle occurs”

  27. billyjoe says

    Crip Dyke,

    A “miracle” is simply: an event that someone has called a miracle (usually because they believe that event has a supernatural cause – usually a god suspending the laws of physics or causing something to happen that is contrary to the laws of physics).

    But science doesn’t care what someone labels that event. Science simply deals with that event as it does with any other event.

    Also, it is not legitimate to say that, if there is no known natural explanation for a particular event, then it is an event with a supernatural cause, because you would be using “supernatural” as your default. There is no justification for this. And there is much more justification for using “unknown natural explanation” as your default, because almost all presumed supernatural causes over the past 400 years have been supplanted by natural explanations.

  28. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @billyjoe, 27:

    A “miracle” is simply: an event that someone has called a miracle

    Well, that may be your definition, Humpty Dumpty, but the definition of Drews that was relevant to the discussion was contained here:

    I define a miracle as God’s temporary suspension of natural laws in response to human need.

    If things appeared to operate contrary to the natural laws of the universe, how would you know that this wasn’t merely the operation of another natural law not yet codified by humans? Even if you could prove natural laws were suspended, how could you test that it was a particular god that did the suspending? Drews definition requires not only suspension of laws, but also that the suspension be performed by “God” (the caps denoting a proper known, indicating he intended one particular god and not others).

    Therefore, by the relevant definition, even establishing whether or not a miracle has occurred is beyond the reach of science.

    Also, it is not legitimate to say that, if there is no known natural explanation for a particular event, then it is an event with a supernatural cause, because you would be using “supernatural” as your default. There is no justification for this….blah…blah…blah…

    You realize you’re agreeing with me, don’t you?

    …don’t you???

  29. John Morales says

    billyjoe, you entirely miss the point.

    The reason miracles are adduced by the religious as support for their supernatural world-view is that they believe there is no natural explanation for them. The very act of postulating explanations for them (particularly by pseude-scientific means, as in this example) works to diminish their very persuasiveness, which is perverse.

    As PZ put it in the OP: “Drews believes a super-powerful, omnipotent being purposefully parted the Red Sea for Moses, and he wants to simultaneously argue that mundane, natural processes could have separated the waters, which makes his magical explanation superfluous.”

    And there is much more justification for using “unknown natural explanation” as your default […]

    Nah; your default should be to determine whether there really is an explanandum which requires an explanans.

  30. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @John Morales:

    I actually had that cartoon on a t-shirt for a decade or two.

  31. billyjoe says

    John Morales

    the term refers to those occurrences which are not just exceedingly unlikely or unexplainable, but indeed contrary to established science, yet alleged to be veridical.

    Where are all those events that are “contrary to established science”.
    And “alleged to be veridical”? That’s a pretty low bar. I just saw Padre Pio at the bottom of my garden. I allege this to be true.

    Think the eyewitness accounts of Padre Pio’s bilocation

    What? You think there is no possible natural explanation for that?
    And if we can’t find evidence for a possible “natural” explanation, would you concede “supernatural” as the default?
    Of course, if you do think there is no possible natural explanation….

  32. billyjoe says

    Crip Dyke,

    BJ: A “miracle” is simply: an event that someone has called a miracle
    CD: Well, that may be your definition, Humpty Dumpty, but the definition of Drews that was relevant to the discussion was contained here: “I define a miracle as God’s temporary suspension of natural laws in response to human need”

    Did you deliberately leave out the very next part of my comment:

    BJ: (usually because they believe that event has a supernatural cause – usually a god suspending the laws of physics or causing something to happen that is contrary to the laws of physics).

  33. John Morales says

    BJ:

    Where are all those events that are “contrary to established science”.

    You haven’t read the Babble? Any religious mythology?

    But I do like your appeal to polysemy; it’s a miracle when someone has a nasty car crash but comes out unscathed, right? Yet there is a perfectly natural explanation for that.

    And “alleged to be veridical”? That’s a pretty low bar. I just saw Padre Pio at the bottom of my garden. I allege this to be true.

    Fine, made-up stories of miracles are, in your books, miracles. Gotcha.

    What? You think there is no possible natural explanation for that?
    And if we can’t find evidence for a possible “natural” explanation, would you concede “supernatural” as the default?
    Of course, if you do think there is no possible natural explanation….

    <snicker>

    What part of “alleged to be veridical” is confusing to you?

    (That the claimed events are not veridical is a natural explanation!)

  34. billyjoe says

    John Morales,

    BJ: And there is much more justification for using “unknown natural explanation” as your default…
    JM: Nah; your default should be to determine whether there really is an explanandum which requires an explanans.

    There is always an explanadum requiring an explanans as you put it.
    There is always something needing to be explained.
    Two people locate PP in different locales at the same time. You think there is nothing to explain here?

  35. billyjoe says

    John Morales,

    BJ: Where are all those events that are “contrary to established science”.
    JM: You haven’t read the Babble? Any religious mythology?

    You think there are no explanations for those events on the bible and for religious myths?

    These events are alleged to have happened and are said to be miracles. But…these events may not even have happened at all, in which case, nothing has happened that was “contrary to established science”
    That’s what I’m saying.

  36. John Morales says

    billyjoe:

    Two people locate PP in different locales at the same time. You think there is nothing to explain here?

    Not in terms of the alleged phenomena; I provided it as an example of an actual miracle-claim — it is alleged to be true, believed to be so by many people, and is contrary to established science. Thing is, it entirely relies on personal testimony.

    (Funny thing is some Catholic at one point actually raised that very thing with me to “prove” the supernatural, as if it were established fact)

    Apropos, do you personally think the Red Sea Crossing merits an attempted scientific explanation?

  37. John Morales says

    BJ:

    You think there are no explanations for those events on the bible and for religious myths?

    I think myths are mythical. Go figure.

    But…these events may not even have happened at all, in which case, nothing has happened that was “contrary to established science”
    That’s what I’m saying.

    (sigh) I refer you to my #26.

    What you actually said is “Miracles are not outside the realm of science.”

    What I’ve tried to tell you is that the miracles that matter to believers are those which they find persuasive by reason that they believe they are veridical and beyond scientific accounting.

    (That’s an existence claim, BTW)

  38. billyjoe says

    Crip Dyke,

    establishing whether or not a miracle has occurred is beyond the reach of science.

    Actually, science can establish that a miracle NOT occurred – by finding a natural explanation. Science has been doing this for 400 years! I guess you could argue that, just because there is a natural explanation doesn’t mean it was not supernatural – God suspended the laws of physics but then decided to do what the laws of physics would have determined anyway!

    And what can it possibly mean to say that science can’t establish that a miracle HAS occurred. Firstly, you would have to concede that miracles can and do occur. And then you would have to concede that science has no explanation at all for why people interpret events they have witnessed as miracles.

  39. zetopan says

    Firstly, anything involving Moses is pious fiction since there never was a Moses and his alleged antics are merely the ancient Hebrew spin of other religious fictions predating those Hebrews. The same is also true for Noah and his fictional big floating box (an ark is a chest or box). So any attempt to “explain” these ancient fables using science is not unlike using science to explain how comic book characters could actually have real super powers.

    In science, to “explain” means to render unknowns in terms of knowns, but idiot supernaturalists get this backwards and try to “explain” unknowns (and even knowns) in terms of unknowns. Carl Drews is merely acting as an apologist by pretending that the Moses “event” actually happened and positing a ridiculous scenario to “explain” the fable in a pseudoscientific manner that is common among some creationists. Note that other creationists will reject any natural explanation for alleged miracles, because they insist that their religious magic actually “works”, regardless of any actual facts (or lack thereof).

    Secondly, by definition a miracle means that magic was used and it “worked”. Anyone claiming that magic is outside the domain of science to investigate is not sufficiently informed about how science actually works. Every verifiable “miracle” event that has been scientifically investigated has not withstood scrutiny (what a surprise).

    Thirdly, anyone trying to walk across the Red Sea in a area where the “returning” water was sufficient to totally destroy the Egyptian army is marvelously unaware of what a sea bottom actually looks like. There would have been very deep mud that would have severely impeded any progress, yet this ancient fable claims that Moses used his magic wand (rod) to remove *all* of the water and caused the bottom to be dry. Drew is peddling absurdities, hardly an uncommon activity among creationists.

  40. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @billyjoe:

    The point is that you quote a definition at the beginning of your comment, then when your conclusions are called into question, you provide a very different definition that you were (allegedly) using the whole time.

    When you present a definition, even by quoting someone else, without providing a critique or alternative definition, it’s reasonable to conclude that you’re actually using that definition. Which you (allegedly) weren’t in this case.

    This is a dishonest form of argument. It might be accidentally dishonest because you had no idea you were actually quoting a definition or because of some other equally plausible reason, but it would be dishonest nonetheless.

    As for your parenthetical expression, it’s irrelevant to the definition. It appeared as so:

    A “miracle” is simply: an event that someone has called a miracle (usually because they believe that event has a supernatural cause – usually a god suspending the laws of physics or causing something to happen that is contrary to the laws of physics).

    In case you missed it, you not only emphasized part of what you wrote in italics and deemphasized another part through use of parentheses, but the plain English meaning of your words “usually because they believe” means that this isn’t defining. It’s only “usually” present. And even when present, it’s only dependent on one or more persons “believing” that laws were suspended. it’s not dependent on laws actually being suspended. Not even “usually”.

    But whether belief in suspension of laws or actual suspension of laws, a quality that only some members of a class of things posses simply does not define that class of things. It’s pretty easy really.

    So I didn’t quote the other part because it was a clarifying addendum about connotation, but provided nothing to the actual definition of the word.

    In any case, you’re critiquing other people for calling into question the conclusions that relied on a definition that – even if it weren’t written badly so what was connotation was actually definition – simply did not appear in your writing. And this isn’t even a case of others relying on the dictionary in a normal comment where no definitions appear. YOU ACTUALLY PROVIDED A DEFINITION, WHICH YOU NOW SEEM TO BE SAYING DID NOT IN ANY WAY AFFECT HOW YOU REASONED TO YOUR CONCLUSIONS.

    How fucked up is that?

  41. billyjoe says

    John Morales,

    BJ: Two people locate PP in different locales at the same time. You think there is nothing to explain here?
    JM: Not in terms of the alleged phenomena; I provided it as an example of an actual miracle-claim — it is alleged to be true, believed to be so by many people, and is contrary to established science.

    To be clear, that fact that two people locate PP in different locales at the same time does require explanation. And, to be clear, that explanation is not that it actually happened, but that they thought it happened but were deluded or lied about it happening. We have loads of evidence for delusions and lying.

    Thing is, it entirely relies on personal testimony.

    Okay, but previously you said there was nothing to explain and here you are hinting at the unreliability of personal testimony as an explanation for this event being reported as it was.

    Apropos, do you personally think the Red Sea Crossing merits an attempted scientific explanation?

    My response to that is contained in my first comment here – the second half of comment #24. In other words, of course not. Plausibility close to zero. Don’t waste any valuable resources on it.

  42. billyjoe says

    Crip Dyke,

    For the life of me, I cannot see how my definition of “miracles” has changed. My starting point – in my very first comment here – was that the plausibility of “miracles” is close to zero. Then I added that, for something with plausibility close to zero, the evidence for it would have to be extraordinary. Then, towards the end of the post I summed this up by saying that we can live our lives as if miracles and supernatural events do not occur.

    So, leaving aside all those qualifications that necessarily slip into science – even when scientists talk about such obvious nonsense as homoeopathy – there is no such thing as a miracle. There are only things which people think/believe/report to be miracles. In other words, “miracles” are events that people believe to be miracles. Science can study these events that people believe to be miracles. In other words, miracles are not outside the realm of science. That was my first statement in this thread and everything has followed from there.

    So, either I’m not writing clearly, or you’re not reading clearly, or both. But I definitely have not changed my definition of miracles through this thread. Sure I quoted the author of that article but does that imply that I accept his definition of miracles – as something that actually exists? Especially when I pretty clearly disagreed with the reality of miracles in my very first post here.

  43. billyjoe says

    Crip Dyke,

    I’m just going to quote one paragraph from your last post [with my comments interspersed] to show you how ridiculous this is getting:

    In case you missed it [I missed what I wrote myself?], you not only emphasized part of what you wrote in italics [it was simply to show equivalences: a miracle is an event that someone has called a miracle an event that has a supernatural cause Get it?] and deemphasized another part through use of parentheses [I wasn’t de-emphasising, I was expanding on the definition] but the plain English meaning of your words “usually because they believe” means that this isn’t defining [do you really mean to say that “usually” cannot be included in a definition? You’ve never seen a word defined in the dictionary that includes the word “usually” in the definition?]. It’s only “usually” present. And even when present, it’s only dependent on one or more persons “believing” that laws were suspended [that’s right, that’s what I said]. it’s not dependent on laws actually being suspended. [that was my whole point! They believe the event is a miracle. The laws are not actually suspended] Not even “usually”. [correct. Jesus]

  44. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Do you even get that the main point was that your definition is different from the definition you quoted?

    Do you even get how that’s a problem?

  45. KG says

    I’m inclined to think that many or most of the stories in the Old Testament are based on real events which were passed down as oral history and got changed in the telling. It wouldn’t be surprising if people generations removed from the events would interpet “a body of water we crossed coming here from Egypt” as the Red Sea. – Allison@7

    There’s no evidence the ancient Hebrews were ever in Egypt, or for any of the figures of the Tanakh earlier than David and Solomon, who were minor hill chieftains. The Hebrews were a branch of the Canaanites; Hebrew culture appears to have developed its distinctive features in situ. See Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts,. Finkelstein is one of Israel’s premier archeologists, and as it happens, a practising Jew.

  46. blf says

    I’m inclined to think that many or most of the stories in the Old Testament are based on real events which were passed down as oral history and got changed in the telling.

    Delete the real and interpret history loosely — think legend, or myth, or just a bloody good story — and that is very plausible: Oral stories which mutated over time, and were quite probably remembered only in a outline form, with the details (re-)invented on-the-spot by the storyteller, probably preferring recycling recollections of previous “successful” tellings. This is not unlike how Iliad and Odyssey were transmitted, which the difference Homer (to use the traditional name of the originator) presented those stories in a dactylic hexameter rhythm, making it easier to recall the outline of those (longer) stories.

  47. hotspurphd says

    Pz, in your article about Drew’s article you say
    “It’s a simple exercise in post-hoc rationalization of an unfounded event in a myth, gussied up as if it were science. It isn’t. It’s an invention of no utility, the kind of fantasy world-building that looks goofy even in fiction; and it’s going to be abused by religious nuts to argue that their superstitions are genuine.”
    Ok, sure, but I thought ,based on your post, that you were going to talk about and refute the science in the article. You didn’t. If In fact it was possible that such a “parting” of the Red Sea occurred, why isn’t that interesting as a natural explanation of the biblical story having nothing to do with supernatural causes?

  48. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @hotspurphd, #48:

    If In fact it was possible that such a “parting” of the Red Sea occurred, why isn’t that interesting as a natural explanation of the biblical story having nothing to do with supernatural causes?

    It’s not interesting because a natural explanation for how an extremely rare event – one so rare it’s never happened in the last couple hundred years for sure – might have occurred is irrelevant unless it happened to occur exactly when a bunch of Jewish people were fleeing slavery in Egypt. But we know that there was no Exodus anything like what was suggested in the Torah. We know that later books of the Tanakh have some verification of their stories – Maccabees isn’t entirely fiction, there’s some good history there – but earlier books (including the first 5) are not only unverified, but they directly contradict evidence.

    There was no large subset of people in Egypt who spoke another language and kept their own religious calendar. There was no significant, otherwise unexplained depopulation of Egypt pre-Cleopatra and post-Menes/Narmer. Facts actively disprove important aspects of the Exodus account.

    Spiderman comics include some cool stories. But we know they didn’t happen. If someone invented a conceptual web-shooter, that couldn’t be built with current technology, but that appears not to violate natural laws and so might actually work if someone were to develop the tech to put it together just the right way, that doesn’t make the Spiderman comics any more a collection of true stories. They aren’t suddenly “realistic”. They are fiction. They are fictional stories set in a real location, New York City, and some of the things depicted might actually happen, like it’s plausible that a tabloid’s editor might be a jerk to freelancers, but they’re still fiction. And if you took everything fictional out, the entire point of the stories would be lost.

    So it is with the story of Exodus. Imagine taking everything fictional out, but then adding back in that it’s possible for conditions to be just right that a human could cross a muddy lake bottom when wind “setdown” (the opposite of a storm surge – the surging water has to come from somewhere, right?) is sufficiently strong, something that was last noticed in the area in 1882. The construction of the Suez Canal has eliminated opportunities for such mud-flat exposures in the last few decades, but we do know that this occurred for less than a day over a period of a number of decades. Let’s be generous and say it happened 48 hours every century. That means the mud flats were exposed 0.0055% of the time. That’s about half of 1% of 1%. Half of a ten-thousandth of the time.

    So, we’ve got the story of Exodus, except there’s no significant enslavement of Hebrews, no confrontation with any known Pharaoh, no prince of a Pharaonic house leaving to found a new country. But! says science. There’s a half of a ten-thousandth of a chance that some slave or other was walking out of Egypt and came upon a mud flat where there is normally a barrier of very shallow water – no more than 6 feet in depth, something anyone could cross even without being able to swim by simply bouncing off the mud below, taking a breath, then sinking for another bouncy step.

    Does that actually make the story any more interesting? Since we know that there was no mass exodus, and we know that the Hebrew people most likely came into being as a development from an originating Canaanite culture sometime more recently than 1400 BCE, even if a slave that left Egypt on foot ended up joining that emerging Hebrew/Jewish culture would the locals have any idea what it meant that a normal, though very, very rare, meteorological event occurred during the former slave’s escape? Would they have a good concept of “one half of a ten-thousandth”? Would they even know exactly how rare/common such events might be in the Suez? How would they know that?

    It’s not “interesting as a natural explanation of the biblical story” in the same way that the scientific work to design a web-shooter that would work if we could produce better meta-materials through molecular-beam epitaxy for lining the insides and the channel to prevent clogging or premature precipitation of silk proteins out of solution creates a story that is “interesting as a natural explanation of the Spiderman story”.

    The Spiderman story is fiction. Saying that certain parts of the story don’t happen to violate any natural laws doesn’t make it not fiction.

    The Exodus story is fiction. Saying that certain parts of the story don’t happen to violate any natural laws doesn’t make it not fiction. And adding one more thing that doesn’t happen to violate any natural laws still doesn’t make it not fiction. Nor does it “explain” the story.

    This is the story:

    21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided,
    22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

    The meteorological phenomenon described in the science literature doesn’t create dry ground and it doesn’t create a wall of water on right and left. The science project undertaken by Drews doesn’t explain the story in any natural way at all. All it says is that things that have been previously observed in the natural world – wind setdown in shallow areas sufficient to expose a muddy bottom for a few hours – are actually possible. But we knew that already, because those things have been observed before.

    This doesn’t say how magic works. It doesn’t say how a wall of water could stand on either side of a dry path. It doesn’t “explain” the story at all.

    Now, if you want to say that humans lie, exaggerate, euhemerize, and mythologize: sure. They do that. But now what you’re saying is that someone who never saw a wall of water on either side of a dry path through the sea told other people that there was a wall of water on either side of a dry path through the sea.

    So, the explanation is that a human being lied. And we didn’t need Drews’ study to tell us this was possible.

  49. hotspurphd says

    Crip Dyke 49
    Thanks very much for that. That’s the explanation that was needed.

  50. billyjoe says

    So, basically, Carl Drews’ effort fails on multiple levels:

    – as a believer he should be trying to at least preserve the delusion that the parting of the Red Sea was an actual miracle, instead of trying to explain the miracle away as a natural phenomenon.

    – the natural phenomenon that he comes up with to explain this biblical event is almost totally implausible.

    – he does not get anywhere close to explaining the parting of the Red Sea as it is described in the bible – as a dry river bed with a wall of water to the left and right.

    – he is deluded in thinking that the bible is a genuine historical account rather than a selection of many fanciful and fictional accounts written by many authors over a long period of time, and copied and translated many times with all the unavoidable errors, exaggerations and enmelishments that inevitably occur with such human endeavours.

  51. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I’d agree with that summation.

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