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The Big Picture

'Have you ever heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates? Morons.' -- Vizzini from "The Princess Bride"

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Noah's Ark Challenge

You know what I would like to see? I would like to see some creationists/biblical fundamentalists do some actual research for once. Conduct a scientific experiment which is designed to test their theory that the world is only 6,000 years old and that the bible is literally true. One such test would not be hard to set up, would not be overly expensive, would not be difficult to conduct, and its results would go a long way to proving the literal truth of the bible. It would be unique in this way, as it is one of the few instances found in the bible of something required for a young earth, and that we can test today. I am of course, referring to the great flood and Noah's Ark. The Bible gave specifics as to the design of the ark, its purpose, its precise contents, and its length of use. This little experiment would be something right up the alley of "scientific" creationist groups such as Answers in Genesis. (read their current article.)

The experiment I refer to is this: build a ark, sail it for a year, and come out with all occupants alive and ready to breed. It is simple enough, the bible gives precise details as to the shape, size and construction of the ark. So it can be reproduced. Simple, neat, and evidenciary.

I call it a challenge, because of the obvious: No bible literalist would ever actually do it. Take AiG for example, they would much rather talk about what could have happened and never test it so that if it were, God Forbid, to fail then they would not have to explain how the bible could be wrong.

But let us set up this experiment and see what we have. First let us look at the construction of the ark: (Genesis 6:13-22 NKJV)

13 And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. 15 And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds after their kind, of animals after their kind, and of every creeping thing of the earth after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. 21 And you shall take for yourself of all food that is eaten, and you shall gather it to yourself; and it shall be food for you and for them.” 22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.

Thus we have the basic plan. Build an ark of dimensions 300x50x30 cubits, with only one window and one door. The outside and inside shall be pitched and its occupants will consist of 8 humans and pairs of every animal type ("kind"). First, the dimensions of the ark, in more modern terms is 438 feet long by 73 feet wide by 46 feet high. That gives us a specific volume, 1,470,804 cubic feet. Certainly plenty of room to work with, but not so big that it cannot be built using modest funds. As for the gopherwood, well, I think it would be allowable to use another type of wood as a substitute; just not the treated wood we use to build houses, etc. Treating wood to be resistant to water, fungi, barnicles, etc. is expressly forbidden.

So now we have the basics of our experiment, a boat made of some natural wood, with pre-specified dimensions and only one window and one door. The next step is to fill it. We already have the need for 8 humans, and that will easily be supplied by some God-fearing Christians the AiG supplies. The animals that will populate the ark seems to be the next logical step. Since we no longer have dinosaurs or many of the other species ("kinds" as AiG prefers) due to extinction, it would only be fair to allow a generous substitution of of "kinds". I certainly would be agreeable to that easing on the restraints.

[Update:] One issue I neglected to address was the nature of the great flood itself. From a purely mechanical physics point of view, the flood waters would have to have been very violent, much more so than today's harshest hurricanes. In addition, the temperature of the floodwaters due only to the kinetic energy released from the deluge would raise the temperature of the water to boiling. The ark was, according to the bible, covered in pitch. Pitch in boiling water becomes very gooey and much more likely to bead up. This would have the effect of greatly reducing its ability to make the ark watertight.

I think that given the nature of today's animal kingdom, endangered and threatened species and all that, that we could further limit the varying "kinds" put on this neo-ark. We will allow only non-threatened species on board. The only real concern is that there be a fair representation of both carnivores and herbivores on board as well as parasitic species. Providing adequate food and water for everyone will be up to the decisions of the AiG and the 8 volunteers. AiG as well as many other Creationist organizations have written extensively on how this could have been done, so I will allow them their expertise on that matter. My only constraint is that the ark be fully self-contained, and only have one window and one door.

Since it is spelled out in the Bible, that this ark was completely self-sustaining for one year, this experiment must also be completely self-sustaining for one year. Here are some other issues which I think need be addressed and are vital for the success (or failure) of this experiment.

1. Since the Bible does not specify the number of "kinds" of animals, and is unclear as to whether there were just pairs of all animals, of pairs of all unclean animals except birds, and the clean animals and birds went in pairs of 7 males and females, then the best estimates of the Aig and other creationist sources be used for this number. Some estimates range from over 6,000 "kinds" to under 3,000 "kinds". I will happily accept the lower number for this experiment, as long as a representative number of carnivore and herbivores are present (along with parasitic species). For example, only two earthworms are allowed on board (unless they are also stored solely as food and not as a preservatory "kind").

2. Creationists speculate that that many, if not all, of the "kinds" brought on board were young and not adult animals. This is allowable.

3. Since many species are now extinct, substitute species are clearly acceptable.

4. Since many species alive still today are endangered or threatened, substitute species are again acceptable.

5. Again, since we do not know exactly how many, or exactly what 'kinds' of species were on board the ark, it is acceptable for the AiG to make their best guess, and use surrigate species in their places. This does mean that carnivore be replaced by carnivore, and herbivore be replaced by herbivore. This seems more than fair and adequately scientific for the purposes of this experiment, since the inhabitants of this neo-ark will not need to repopulate the planet after their fantastic voyage.

[Update II:] 6. Regarding aquatic animals, the conditions of the flood would cause all aquatic animals to die as well (also as God intended, since He did say all living things on earth), since both the PH and the saline content would be radically altered, then it seems that aquatic animals would need to be placed on the ark as well. This includes the bottom dwellers too.

As for technology and the internal workings of this neo-ark; again it will be left to the AiG to set up. I think the rules for this should be both simple and honest:
1. No modern technology be used in regards to the care and feeding of the animals, only technology available to Noah during his time is allowable. However, the AiG can determine what this technology is, given that they state it before the experiment begins.

2. Because the experiment is to last a year (as according to the Bible, Noah's voyage lasted) and due to modern nautical regulations, some emergency equipment should be placed on this neo-ark: An emergency radio.

3. If the occupants get sick or need emergency attention the experiment shall be deemed a failure. If there is a massive problem with their precious cargo, then the experiment should be called off, and deemed a failure.

4. This experiment can be repeated as many times as needed until AiG is convinced that Noah's ark is a myth.

I look forward to learning the results of this scientific experiment to prove the validity of Noah's ark and the vindication of AiG soon, as I know, as do you all, that AiG is really a science outfit and not simply a Christian apologetics evangelical operation.

Please allow me to put this in my own terms. I, as a scientist, see just how difficult it would be to design and build a spaceship to keep just 8 humans alive for the journey to mars and back. That craft would certainly have to be self sustaining, providing not just its own food, but oxygen and water as well. This type of endeavor is beyond our capabilities even today. Yet somehow, I'm supposed to believe that not only was this done thousands of years ago, it was done including the precursors ('kinds') of every single species on earth, living and long since extinct. And yet AiG would have all you believe that I'm the one who is unscientific and wrong. It just boggles the mind. All you fundamentalist Christians out there: put your beliefs where your mouth is, build the thing and prove yourselves right. It is not my responsibility to accept your outrageous claims without one shred of proof. Science provides proof for its claims on a regular, everyday, basis. Isn't it about time you did the same?

[Update Sept 13]: I found this interesting web site. Apparently they are building an "exact" replica of Noah's ark as a building. Unfortunately though, it requires concrete and steel. Not exactly materials you'd find thousands of years ago. P.S. I have no idea if this is real or a hoax, but it is funny nontheless.

The absolute last update: I make a few closing comments here.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Is Jonah Goldberg Too Stupid to Vote?

Already, so much has been written about Jonah's latest LA Times column regarding testing voters, ala Jim Crow, that I don't have much new insight to add to that. It was perfectly clear from his column that he lacks basic knowledge of civics, social studies and American History. So why focus on the obvious?

The underlying issue which he fails to breach is the real point of interest. That is, why are so many Americans (blissfully?) unaware of the details of our government and our history? The second point is, given this lack of knowledge, does this mean that Americans have no vested interest in electing politicians?

The answer to the first question is fairly obvious, not enough education in those subjects in school. Private schools tend to emphacize those subjects more than public schools, but by the same token, private schools also cater to wealthier students who are more likely to go into public life, be it doctors, lawyers, politicians or scientists. So then isn't what Jonah is really saying is that public schools have failed the public? Whose fault is that? Democrats and liberals have traditionally wanted to strengthen public schools, whereas Republicans and conservatives (like Jonah) have wanted to destroy public schools. So therefore, Jonah is really saying that policies that he himself endorses regarding public schools are the very reason for a lack of knowledge of adult voters of American politics and government. If Jonah had taken his obsewrvation to its logical conclusion, then he would have concluded that public education is failing to properly educate, and thus more emphasis on that problem be addressed. But no. He suggests that Jim Crow-like tests are the solution. It is once again an issue of "It's not my fault for my faulty policies, but the fault of others for ignoring what I believe."

The second question is more poignant. While given the fact that there are many Americans who lack knowledge in civics and history, does that mean that they have no vested interest in how this country is run? Especially since its operation directly effects their daily lives? Take something as "mundane" as wages. Voting Republican means that the poorest of the poor, those most likely to be uneducated (and most likely to fail Jonah's civics test) are those who are most affected by laws governing minimun wage. So they have the largest vested interest in voting Democratic rather than Republican. The ability to feed their families and provide healthcare are the greatest effects on the general well-being of their families; yet if they do nothing, or are prevented from voting (ala Jonah's proposal) then they suffer the most. So they have exactly the most to gain from opposing anything similar to what Jonah proposes. This also means that they are most likely to vote Democrat/liberal.

And that, I believe, is the real motivation behind Jonah's idiotic proposal. Those who most need liberal and demoratic policies are the very ones who would be discredited via Jonah's "new" policy. This would tip the balance of power towards those whom Jonah really wants running this country, Republicans/conservatives who could not give a crap about helping Americans, but only desire to enrich themselves.

Preventing people from voting in their own self-interests is the most Un-American of ideals. And it seems that this is precisely what Jonah wants: An Un-American America. I can only hope that so many people laugh at him that no one, including the LA Times will ever publish him again, excepting the wacky conservative rags whose only reach is like-minded idiots also know as Conservatives.

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