TalkingSnake

If the first talking snake had kept shtum, we wouldn't be here. Eve wouldn't have eaten the forbidden fruit. But she listened and was curious. So she fell into humanity, thank God. Good old snake, say I. I celebrate its independence of mind. Satan? Neh, that's a later interpretation. The snake was part of the divine purpose. God allowed it into the garden, aware of its linguistic abilities. He knew what would happen. Jesus commended dove-like innocence. AND the wisdom ... of the snake.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Joshua's long day

According to the book of Joshua, chapter 10

"Then spake Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and He said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon. And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies.... So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day."
I’m quoting from the King James Version, the only translation recognised as "inspired" by many creationists. One American preacher is alleged to have said "well, it was good enough for Jesus" ... which one hopes is apocryphal.

This is a long recognised problem for literalists. It came up at the Scopes trial, when Darrow (defending evolution) caused the staggeringly inept Bryan (representing the creationist view, although he was not a young-earther) some embarrassment over it:

DARROW: The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn't it, and you believe it?
BRYAN: I do.
DARROW: Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?
BRYAN: No, I believe that the earth goes around the sun.
DARROW: Do you believe that the men who wrote it thought that the day could be lengthened or that the sun could be stopped?
BRYAN: I don't know what they thought.
DARROW: You don't know?
BRYAN: I think they wrote the fact without expressing their own thoughts.

Darrow held that Joshua’s "long day" assumes a geocentric solar system, and that in any case the story of an enormous heavenly body being required to stand still in the midst of heaven, simply to facilitate a local military campaign on behalf of one side, is an obviously partisan fantasy. But of course if this miracle did not take place, fundamentalism is in trouble; so it must be defended as literal fact and one can rely on there being an "answer" to the problem on creationist websites, even though it is not directly relevant to their cause.

Answersingenesis' page on this denies geocentrism: "The Bible uses the language of appearance and observation", which is fair enough - I have no doubt the Bible does assume geocentrism, but this is not the passage to prove it. It is AIG’s follow-on argument that makes the jaw drop: "the mention of the moon also standing still seems to confirm both the divine authorship of the account and the fact that it is the Earth which moves. Since all Joshua needed was extra sunlight, and most ancients believed the sun moves, not the Earth, a human author of a fictitious account would only have needed to refer to the sun stopping." Attempting to unravel the logic of this defeats me.

AIG suggests three possible explanations

1. Some form of refraction (bending) of the light from the sun and the moon. According to this view, God miraculously caused the sunlight and moonlight to continue in Canaan for ‘about a whole day’

Such an event is not inconceivable, says AIG, in the light of what happened in the reign of Hezekiah when the shadow on Ahaz’s sundial retreated ten degrees (2 Kings 20:11). So one implausible event is quoted to prove the plausibility of another.

2. A wobble in the direction of the Earth’s axis of rotation. This involves a precession of the axis of the Earth, wobbling slowly so as to trace an ‘s’-shaped or circular path in the sky. Such an event could have made it appear to an observer that the sun and the moon were standing still, but need not have involved any actual slowing of the rotation of the Earth.

or, the most obvious one:

3. A slowing of the earth’s rotation.

According to this view, God caused the rotation of the Earth to slow down so that it made one full revolution in about 48 hours rather than 24. Simultaneously God stopped the cataclysmic effects that would have naturally occurred, such as monstrous tidal waves. Some people have objected to this on the erroneous assumption that, if the Earth slowed down, people and loose objects would fly off into space. In fact, the apparent centrifugal force (tending to throw things off the Earth) is only about one-three-hundredth of the gravitational force. If the Earth stopped rotating (whether suddenly or not), this outward ‘force’ would cease and we would actually be held more firmly by gravity.

This scenario need only imply that God slowed the rotation of the atmosphere, oceans, and Earth simultaneously to prevent any tidal-wave effect, and any heat build-up inside the Earth due to friction from still-rotating liquid layers of the earth’s core. And after the long day was over, the whole process would need to start up again.

What is so hilarious about all this is AIG’s use of contemporary scientific knowledge to make sense of a story rooted in a pre-scientific worldview. It’s a story that can only be told on certain cosmological assumptions; one these collapse, it makes no sense as history or science. The reasons for its telling are not far to seek; it reinforces Israel’s belief in a God who could and would do anything to make sure that his people prevail. It's a piece of morale-boosting propaganda raising more questions than it answers, notably: if God could fix it for Joshua on that occasion, how come he didn't fix it for his people throughout their history?

In its own terms, AIG’s conclusion is sound enough:

There is not one logical, scientific reason to claim that, given a God powerful enough to create a universe in six days, Joshua’s long day ‘could not have happened’. Those who balk at this account are almost invariably those who have already rejected 6-day creation through compromise with evolution’s fictitious long ages, and have thus rejected the authority of the Bible.


However, such a claim is vulnerable to the charge that a God who behaved in such a cavalier fashion with respect to normal experience might easily do so again on a whim, which renders scientific endeavour impossible. Scientists have to work on the assumption that reality will behave itself and act consistently - the dreaded "materialist" position. Creationists resist this insofar as they need to defend Biblical miracles; when these are not under discussion they can be as materialist as the next man.

As for rejecting "the authority of the Bible", the charge holds only on the basis that fundamentalists are allowed to define the phrase. It is not only possible to discount the supernatural tall tales of the Bible while still acknowledging its supreme place as a source of spiritual insight and guide to conduct; most theologians do.

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