One phrase that starts to pin my BS meter is “Scientists Say.” First, you have this amorphous but supposedly YUGE! grouping of “Scientists.” Then this “amorphous but supposedly YUGE! grouping” is caught in the act of “saying” something in some sort of unison; a kind of vast Mormon Tabernacle Choir pronouncement that is “most scientific.” Sounds about as solid and stable as a bucket of eels. And just about as distasteful. This is especially true when the media gets a chance to debunk “religion” with “Because Science! Damnitall.”
Back in 2006, National Geographic got all heated up about biblical ice in the sea of Galilee and so let drop a “Scientists Say” chunklet: Jesus May Have Walked on Ice, Not Water, Scientists Say. I’m not nearly so objective. After I read the story, I thought it could more reasonably be headlined, Scientist Confirms Popular Theory That Most Scientists Are Atheistic Asses with Too Much Time and Money on their Hands, Sensible People Say
The New Testament says that Jesus walked on water, but a Florida university professor believes there could be a less miraculous explanation — he walked on a floating piece of ice…. Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said on Tuesday that his study found an unusual combination of water and atmospheric conditions in what is now northern Israel could have led to ice formation on the Sea of Galilee…..
“If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don’t,” Nof said. “Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don’t know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it.”
“We leave to others the question of whether or not our research explains the biblical account.”
I leave to others the question of whether or not this research is worth diddly-squat. What is of broader interest is the present state of the secular mindset to all things religious.
Religious in the Christian sense, that is, since the current global climate of “Fear of Muslims” seems to have created a shortage of “scientific research” into the various miracles and powers assigned to Allah in the Koran. Indeed, given the reaction to a drawing of the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, it is not hard to imagine that even if a “scientist” were to notice “something natural that explains” Allah, his next thought would be something on the order of “Why should I put my head on the chopping block?” Jesus, being a more forgiving God, is a safer game.
Of course, it is, as scientists are wont to say, ‘only a theory.’ This ‘only a theory’ argument is common and is used in two ways.
When it comes to a central tenet of modern science, Darwinism for example, the word “theory” is used in a manner that merges it forcefully into the word “fact,” and a great deal of effort is put into why “The Theory of Evolution” really means “The Absolute and Forever Established Fact of How the World and Life and Everything Else Came to Be and Everyone Else Can Just Shut UP and Sit Down.”
Professor Nof opts for the Non-Denial Denial use of “Theory” in his paper. The Non-concluding Conclusion to his paper, “Is there a paleolimnological explanation for ‘walking on water’ in the Sea of Galilee,” reads:
We hesitate to draw any conclusion regarding the implications of this study to the actual events that took place at Tabgha during the last few (or several) thousand years. Our springs ice calculation may or may not be related to the origin of the account of Christ walking on water. The whole story may have originated in local ancient folklore which happened to be told best in the Christian Bible. It is hoped, however, that archeologists, religion scholars, anthropologists and believers will examine such implications in detail.
Translation: “I just pulled the pin and threw the grenade in the building. Can’t blame me. I was just the hand grenade’s messenger. And, by the way, you may cower and abase yourself when you note the insertion of the word “paleolimnological” in the title. Makes it sound real solid scientific, don’t it?”
Of course, when Nof gets a little attention from a supportive and loving media, he phrases it a bit differently, “If you ask me if I believe someone walked on water, no, I don’t,” Nof said. “Maybe somebody walked on the ice, I don’t know. I believe that something natural was there that explains it.”
Nof’s entitled to his ‘belief’ in “something natural.” That belief system is not only the foundation of his career but of his self-limited life itself. And this self-limited view is, in a very real sense, his religion.
As far as the whole “Jesus walked on the water” issue goes, my own belief is: “I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I can’t seem to find the weather report from that day online. And there’s no videotape that I’m aware of. Just some eyewitnesses, with all that implies.”
I’m also aware of another theory that holds that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that just happened to show up in the sky at Christ’s birth. Arthur C. Clarke used this to good effect in his short story “The Star.” T.S. Eliot used it earlier in “The Journey of the Magi.” In a much less distinguished manner, I’ve even used it myself in Sunday Meditation: The Star where I noted, in passing,
In time stronger sciences would rise upon the structures of the proto-sciences of astrology and alchemy. These sciences would push the first sciences into the realm of myth, speculation, and popular fantasy. The new sciences, you see, were much, much more about Reality. They would never be tossed aside in their time as so many playthings of mankind’s youth. The authority of astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry and others was certain. Unlike astrology and alchemy, they would never be questioned. We had the evidence. There was no doubt. They were as eternal and as fixed in the truth as… well, as astrology was in 5 B.C.
All of this gets us back to pretty much where we are today where Christ is revealed to have been, at the very least, pretty good at ice-skating. And, with a supernova at birth and a frozen lake near the end, you would have to say, even as a secular scientist, that Jesus had a great sense of timing as well as a way with words.
Professor Nof seems to have a sense of timing and a way with words as well. I’m sure there are nods of approval and various other high fives constantly pinging into his email from other true believers worldwide. After all, it seems that the only thing that makes a bigger splash in Science these days than a cure for cancer is some bit of “cutting-edge research” (almost always with the aid of computer modeling) that either warms the globe or disparages religion.
To the secular, nothing is sacred. Then again, why should it be? They’re “secular.”
Why? Because it is a central tenet of faith, of pure faith, in the Secular Religion, that traditional Christianity is the “Anti-Darwin” to that faith. Strange when you consider that, in terms of actual dogma and actual acts, Islam is far more hostile to all the core tenets of science, but — as I noted above — it really isn’t very safe to take too close a look at that collection of ergot-derived insights out of the desert. Those adherents are a bit more lethal when it comes to accepting slights on their religion. But then Christianity is the dominant religion of the First World and that’s what we’re discussing here — not which faith is right, but which faith is to be master. It seems that for Science to triumph as the new religion, Christ has to die again — and this time he’s got to stay dead.
There are fundamentalist Christians who hold that everything in the Bible is as the Bible says it is. And there are fundamentalist Scientists, like Nof, who hold that nothing in the Bible is as it says it is.
My very small puppy in this fight says that there is a lot in Science that lets all of us live longer and better lives while there is a lot in Christianity that lets us live deeper and more meaningful lives.
I don’t look to Christianity to bring me the weather reports for tomorrow. At the same time, I don’t look to Science to ever, in its wildest dreams, reveal the core of the miracle and mystery of being a conscious entity who has been granted the gift of being able, in my better moments, to witness — even for an inch of time — the wonder of Creation.
I know that there are many zealots of the Secular Faith who will think the less of me for not being “tough-minded” enough just to face up to the fact that everything really is “purposeless matter hovering in the dark.” I know that habit of mind well. I wore it like a pre-fab Medal of Honor for many years. Then one day I had had enough of Nothingness and I sent it back.
I guess you could say that being a Secular Atheist started to feel like trying to walk on thin ice.