Faith or Fiction?by Jennifer Gibson, PharmD | November 12, 2010
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.
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.
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