Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I Was Wrong About Noah's Flood

Ever wondered if Noah's flood really could have happened? Could all the animals fit on the ark? How did the animals disperse back to their continents? How did Noah possibly capture so many animals? How could so many animals survive for a year on a boat without climate control? What about food?

Back in my days as a marine biologist, I wrote several posts about how Noah's flood couldn't have happened in the last 10,000 years. If it were a flood that covered "all the highest mountains" in the region, it would have definitely killed 100% of certain coral species--these coral species are around today (but wouldn't have had time to evolve), so the flood didn't happen.

I really thought it was an example of a definite error in the Bible, and one that had major theological significance due to it's proximity to the stories of Adam and Abraham.

It turns out I was wrong.

The translation of two key words in a single verse, Genesis 7:19, makes all the difference.

Here is the translation from NET Bible:
"The waters completely inundated the earth so that even all the high mountains under the entire sky were covered."

And here is the Hebrew:
"והמים גברו מאד מאד על הארץ ויכסו כל ההרים הגבהים אשר תחת כל השמים"

 The two words I highlighted are הארץ and ההרים, pronounced  "erets" and "har", which mean "earth" and "mountain".

But what do they really mean?

Well, "erets" almost certainly doesn't mean the entire globe. It is most frequently translated "land", as in "land of Israel" (as opposed to "planet of Israel"), and it can also mean ground, country, territory, region, and a smattering of other closely related words (from Strong's Lexicon). "Entire globe" almost definitely is NOT what the author had in mind--ancient Hebrews didn't understand the planet the way we do. It was probably closer to something like this:

At any rate, there simply isn't a good reason to think that the author of Genesis had "entire planet" in mind. I think the best translation is "region".

As for "har", it is most frequently translated "hill", although it can also mean mountain, hill country, or mount (from Strong's Lexicon). There is no context that suggests "mountain" is a better translation, but even if it were, what exactly qualifies as a mountain? Is the cutoff at 100 meters high? or 1,000 meters? Further, the author specifies that the water covered the mountains by 30 meters. If the flood covered Everest, there would only be one mountain that could have been covered at that depth, not multiple mountains.

Because of all this, the most reasonable interpretation of the verse is as follows:

"The waters completely inundated the region so that even all the high hills were covered."

This means that Noah only needed to get the animals that were already close to him, freeing up plenty of room to stretch on the ark. There would be no extinct coral, and land animals would have no problem making a local comeback. There would be no global distribution problem. It could have just been a record-setting flood that hit a single region, but had no global impact.

What's more, the last Meltwater Pulse at the tail-end of the last ice-age was within the time range that Noah's flood could have happened. Even without divine intervention, there probably were record-setting floods going off all around the globe (think Gilgamesh and other ancient flood stories).

In conclusion, I was wrong. I thought that Noah's Flood couldn't have happened the way the Bible describes it, but it definitely could have.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Med Chess Mantises

I'm starting an online chess team for kids and youth who are removed from school due to long-term illness. Being in the hospital for a long time can be lonely, boring, and pretty much an all around bummer. My thought was that basically anyone can play chess, no matter what kind of illness you have (even if you're paralyzed). The team will meet via Google Hangouts and, so location isn't an issue either. Hopefully this will be an opportunity for kids to make friends. Depending on the number of students & volunteers, it would be awesome to offer tutoring as well. I think these measures would improve patient outcomes and make hospital stays less of a bummer.

If you know of any kids who might like to join the team, send them this flyer! Also let me know if you would like to volunteer as a chess coach/tutor.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Are you a brain in a vat?

In philosophy, there is a common thought experiment about our perception of reality, called the "brain in a vat" scenario. In this scenario, we are nothing but brains receiving electrical signals from the outside world, causing our brains to tell us that we are having experiences (but the actual experiences don't exist--the only thing that exists is the electrical stimulation of neurons).
With regards to human anatomy, this is actually describes the situation we are in perfectly. We 'feel' like we exist in our arms and legs, but we really don't--we exist only in our brain. When you feel something with your finger, your finger isn't conscious of anything--it's just part of the complex "vat" of bones, blood, muscle, and organs that supports the brain. There really isn't anything different about this scenario than a super-computer sending signals to each of your neurons in a coordinated effort. There is no way for us to tell the difference between the two scenarios!

It is important to keep this in mind, rather than ignoring it and simply assuming that the physical world exists, as most people are want to do. The implications are important for future arguments, which I will write on soon.