Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dang, He Busted My Mabul Crapometer!

Every year at this time, I peruse the web to try and find some intelligent commentary on the Mabul. Although the Deluge as described in the Torah clearly cannot be taken literally, I am still curious at seeing how people attempt to reconcile the story with modern science. My personal approach is similar to that found in Before the Flood: The Biblical Flood as a Real Event and How It Changed the Course of Civilization. This book, which backs up many of its claims with hard science, states that the ubiquitous flood myths around the world mostly represent wide-scale flooding caused by end of Ice Age glacier melting, especially following the Younger Dryas period at the end of the Pleistocene about 12,000 years ago.

The Mabul in particular may have been the result of a massive flood through the Bosporus about 5600 BCE, according to geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman who in 1998 published evidence for such an event. Glacial retreat caused the Mediterranean to rise until it finally spilled over a sill at the Bosporus into Black Sea. To get an idea as to the magnitude of this event, Ryan and Pitman state that ten cubic miles of water poured through the straits each day - two hundred times the volume of water that flows over Niagara Falls - for at least three hundred days!

I recently came across the article "Noach and the Tayva, Some Torah, Some Biology" which appeared in Derech HaTeva, a publication for undergraduate students at the Stern College for Women. It was written by Harvey Babich, a Biology Professor that teaches at Stern. Although Dr Babich has an impressive curricula vitae, his speculations - which frequently rely on rabbinic commentary - are jampacked with the most appalling pseudoscience. I read the article slack-jawed. Here are some of his speculations and you can see why my BS meter is now completely busted.

1) Noach was the first person to be born circumcised (besides Adam HaRishon) and with distinct fingers, while antediluvian man webbed hands. Babich explains that every fetus has webbing at an early stage but this eventually disintegrates due to apotosis. Because Noach had distinct fingers, he was able to invent the plow, scythe, and axe (Torah Shelaimah). This was around 2705 BCE.

2) Animals imitated man and cohabitation between different species was common, resulting in hybrid species (Netziv). The dinosaurs came from such forbidden sexual relationships which is why they were destroyed in the Mabul (about 2100 BCE). That Netziv and Malbim state that dinosaurs and man were contemporaneous is not a problem because C14 dating is inaccurate due to changes in cosmic radiation striking the earth.

3) Either all animals - including 800,000 species of insects, 35,000 species of spiders, 8,600 species of birds, etc etc - fit into the ark because of a miracle (Ramban), or only basic "minim" entered to preserve the necessary genetic information. "Postdiluvian diversification" (i.e., a super speeded up evolution, a word that Babich avoids, but see the last point) yielded the different genera and species of today.

4) The ark had three floors. The upper was for people and kosher animals, the middle for all of the other animals, and the bottom for the foul-smelling excreta that was deposited there via a trapdoor on the second level (Babich doesn't say how the refuse from the top floor made it to the bottom; presumably there were also trap doors and they just dumped it on top of the animals.) The refuse was not dumped overboard because it contained the plant seeds and spores needed to repopulate the world, as fertilizer to replenish the washed away top soil, to preserve the microbiota, and/or to provide the proper habitat for some creatures such as earthworms.

5) Noach took along food for all of the animals. Carnivores survived on a vegetarian diet (Ibn Ezra) similar to dogs who require a special vegetarian formula due to allergies (note to Babich: dogs are not carnivores.) Wild animals - who didn't have meat - were quieted down by some sort of radiation that God produced (Meam Loez). Such tranquility may have been a form of tonic immobility from the adverse environment.

6) Noach cared for all of the wild animals, Shem for domesticated, Cham for birds, Yefes for reptiles. All animals retained their natural inclinations, food preferences, and behavioral patterns. (Did they plant trees for monkeys? Mini-ice floats for polar bears and penguins?) Avraham's servant, Eliezer, was told by Shem that the inhabitants never got any sleep because they had to feed the diurnal species by day, the nocturnal by night.

7) Babich quotes the renowned scientist, Avigdor Miller, to describe how volcanoes superheated the water. Fish had to escape to the deepest parts of the sea where the water remains cool (presumably also fish who are not able to descend or survive at such depths. Hmmm, what about fresh water creatures and those in shallow ponds?) We are then given a science lesson about why heat will increase the volume of "aqueous water" until it becomes a gas at 100 degrees C; for some reason this had something to do with the turbulence and volume of the floodwaters but the ark floated "like any buoyant object".

8) Short-lived creatures like the fruit-fly either stayed alive (via a miracle, of course) or did die but reproduced so that their offspring left the tayva (Sanhedrin 108b).

9) When the flood waters began to recede, Noah knew that it was too soon for vegetation to grow, so he sent out a raven first because it is omnivorous and would eat the dead carcasses that washed atop mountains. (Interlude for a discussion of the raven diet.) And it did find and eat a dead human carcass (Meam Loez). He then sent out a dove because it would return to bond because it mates for life, but we are unsure of the exact species of dove that was sent! (Note: 90% of bird species are monogamous, including ravens, Dr. B.)

10) Predator/prey relationships resumed about a year after leaving the ark. The world had changed dramatically; lower air quality, poor soil productivity, four seasons instead of one (Sforno, Malbim).

11) All races of man trace their ancestry from the humans on the ark. Dark-skinned races came from Cham (Bereshis Rabbah.) (Interlude to discuss the genetics of skin color.) Whew, at least he avoided the racist nonsense of Tanchuma, as popularized by Meam Loez.

12) Biodiversification (see #4) occurred via natural selection. This was speeded up during the separation of the continents, due to plate tectonics, at the time of the Towel of Babel.

No, the above is not a spoof! Dr. Babich, Ph.D, is being perfectly serious, and isn't at all embarrassed at passing off this crap as science (or presumably teaching similar crap to students.) Nor is Yeshiva University embarrassed at making this crap available on yutorah.org. One could literally spend hours demolishing the pseudoscientific claptrap in the article and still not reach the top of the pile of steaming crap. Sorry for the loss of eloquence, folks, as my crapometer is way off the scale.



jewish philosopher said...

I just put up a great post about the Mabul.

Frum Heretic said...

JP - A great post? You gotta be kidding. More like a moronic one. Can't answer specific, pointed questions? Just say "It was a miracle!" No thinking required. Same old fundamentalist garbage that believes that only a literal interpretation of Torah is valid. What a childish notion. That's why I stopped reading your blog a long time ago.

(I left a comment there but probably wasted my time as I forgot that you moderate everything.)

Baal Habos said...

>No, the above is not a spoof!

Reminds me of a comment by Ami Hersh in his debate with Reinman in "One People, Two Worlds". Something to the affect " I don't want to contort into a theological pretzel every time they find a dinosaur bone."

Bruce said...

I just blogged about why an otherwise serious biologist would write this article.