Faith or Fiction?




Arguably, one of the greatest scenes in all of movie history is the parting of the Red Sea by Moses played by Charlton Heston in the blockbuster epic The Ten Commandments. (The awe inspired by the portrayal of the miracle during the Israelites’s exodus from Egypt is matched only by the awe that movie special effects have come a long way since 1956.) Cheesy? Yes. Biblically accurate? Basically. Scientifically feasible? Possibly, say a team of scientists.

The team of researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado (UC) at Boulder recently published results of a study of wind dynamics and water in the online peer-reviewed journal, PLoS ONE. As part of the larger study, the scientists described how strong winds could have pushed back water at a point where the Nile River bent to meet a coastal lagoon, creating a land bridge for safe travel across once sea-covered terrain.

The authors explain that winds of 63 miles per hour, blowing continuously for 12 hours, could have pushed back water 6 feet deep. The land bridge created would have been approximately 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide. It would have remained open for 4 hours — plenty of time for the Israelites to escape Pharaoh’s approaching armies. As in the biblical account, the authors maintain once the wind stopped blowing, the waters would have returned to their original position, drowning anyone who was in the way (that is, Egyptian soldiers.)

In order to construct the computer models and perform the necessary mathematics, the team of NCAR–UC researchers reconstructed likely locations of the great water crossing, but the exact location of the parting of the waters in the Bible are not known and the topography and locations and depths of Mediterranean water ways have shifted dramatically in the 3000 years since the exodus.

Many scientific studies have examined the mysteries and miracles in the Bible. Some present evidence of the age of the earth that matches estimations found in the Bible. Others assert that human DNA carries evidence of the existence of Adam and Eve. Still others support cosmic theories based on Biblical text. A study similar to the current NCAR-UC analysis provides geological evidence for Noah’s flood.

But, none of these studies bring anyone any closer to any real answers. People of faith do not need scientific proof of God’s actions as found in the Bible. The miracles themselves are the proof of the existence of a higher power, even if they are contradictory to experience. The faith required for belief in a higher power, by definition, does not require material evidence.

While science and religion seem to contradict each other sometimes, they need not be mutually exclusive. Some of the greatest scientists in history were people of great faith and religious beliefs. Albert Einstein even wrote, “Science without religion is lame; Religion without science is blind.” Believers simply believe that there are certain things that science cannot and will not explain. The gap between where science stops and a higher power begins is filled with gray area and unanswered questions, but it is faith that allows religious followers to find comfort in not knowing all the answers.

Many scientific explanations of Biblical miracles, such as the parting of the Red Sea, still leave too many questions unexplained to say that God did not have a hand in the wind and the water the day that the Israelites needed a quick getaway. But, for people that need a nudge toward religion, the studies might provide the substantiation required for a leap of faith. While the current study does not provide clear proof of Biblical events, it does not contradict them, either.

Science and religion are not opposing forces that one must choose between. Believers in a higher power do not have to suspend acceptance of all science, but do acknowledge that there are acts that might not be constrained by the laws of nature. The current study provides an interesting perspective on an astonishing phenomenon that has marveled believers and nonbelievers for nearly 3000 years. It is interesting food for thought, but people who need evidence of the existence of a divine being will not find it here, nor will people who want to disprove the existence. And, people who already believe do not need scientific proof, anyway.

References

Drews C, & Han W (2010). Dynamics of wind setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta. PloS one, 5 (8) PMID: 20827299

Flannelly KJ, Galek K, Kytle J, & Silton NR (2010). Religion in America–1972-2006: religious affiliation, attendance, and strength of faith. Psychological reports, 106 (3), 875-90 PMID: 20712176

Krauss LM. Faith and Foolishness: When Religious Beliefs Become Dangerous. Scientific American, 2010 August 3, 2010.

  • It’s silly to look for exact scientific explanations of these stories. The stories are for their biggest parts just that: stories, myths and legends that grew over time.

    Such stories fulfill the need of tribes to explain where they came from, what they did, the ‘miracles’ that confirmed them as ‘elected people’, etc.

    Let’s take ‘The Flood’. There was, most probably, a huge local flood that some people experienced. But they didn’t know why it happened. Yet there must be a reason, right? Especially if you already believe in a god that supposedly is your god, protects you, etc. So why would he allow something like this: ah, it had to be because most people were wicked and had to be destroyed!

    Or Jesus walking on water. No need to look for an optical illusion (Jesus was walking next to the beach and blablabla) or some other rational explanation! The message of the story is clear enough: it’s about having faith and trust (and Jesus have divine powers). So why look for some other explanation? It’s not as if people could not have invented such stories in order to promote or illustrate a message, right?

  • Mokele

    The idea that a section of the Nile was passable is moronic. Why? Because the bottom of a river isn’t a nice, paved road. It’s MUD. Lots and lots of mud. Deep, slipperly, slimy mud that you sink into and can’t pull free from. Anyone crossing it would have become hopelessly mired, only to be speared in the back by approaching Egyptians or drowned and eaten by crocodiles.

    This, of course, leaves out the fact that it requires nearly hurricane-force winds which would have snapped trees and made even small bits of debris into lethal projectiles. I’ve been through a dozen hurricanes or more in my life – anyone stupid enough to go outside in 63 mph winds deserves everything they get.

    The rest of the claims in this post are similarly stupid. No, there is no evidence for the Earth being anything less than several billion years old, and there is no evidence of any sort of Adam & Eve. If you’re referring to Y-chromosome Adam and Mitochondiral Eve, then you need to do some serious reading on evolution, inheritance and biology, since you evidently understand none of them.

  • Also: let not forget that Einstein was a pantheist and not a Jew (nor a Christian). He explicitly said that the belief in an anthropomorphic god was childish.

  • Szwagier

    When one talks about the earth being created in 6 days 6000 years ago and the other talks about being created over thousands of years 4.5 billion years ago, they’re in opposition.

    When one says that humans, and only humans, have an immortal soul, and the other finds absolutely zero evidence of this, they’re in opposition.

    When one says that eating wafers will save you, while the other points out that in fact they’re just wafers, they’re in opposition.

    I could write you a whole book on why they’re in opposition, whichever religion you’re talking about, but many others better than I have already done so. Perhaps you should read a few.

  • Pingback: 4: The Burden Of Proof. « Der Gothmann: The Humanoid Boogie()

  • I believe in a higher power (GOD) and i do not need scientific proof i now there is a god for i have faith

    And It has been proven evolution is hogwash.

    take the human eye for instance it would have taken the human eye 11 billon years to evolve so come on people.

    Darwen even stated on his death bed that evalution can not be true and he regrets wasting his life on it.

    And who cares what others believe as long as it makes that person happy i say let them be its not are place to try to prove there beliefs wrong and when the day comes if it does we will see who is right or wrong wont we

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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