Wednesday, April 05, 2006

When "Science vs. Faith" is an Easy Choice

Yesterday's New York Times ran a story in its science section entitled: "A Cold, Hard Explanation for a Biblical Feat." The, umm, report ran under the heading "FINDINGS" -- apparently to assure that the reader understands this is not mere conjecture.

The story describes a recent article in the Journal of Paleolimnology by Dr. Doron Nof. He "conducted an inquiry" into the story of Jesus walking on water and "found what might be a natural explanation: ice." Noting that 1,500 to 2,000 years ago there were colder stretches in the area of Galilee, the "surface ice could have formed thick enough to support human weight and inspire the biblical story." Then: "From a distance, the scientists suggested, a person on the ice might appear to be walking on water, particularly if it had just rained and left a smoothed-out watery coating on the ice."

Notice the serious consideration that is given to the findings of these scientists (and how carefully chosen are the words findings and scientists). But then think again. Is it really plausible to assume that Jesus walked on ice thick enough to hold him up while the disciples nearby rowed their boat along in water deep enough to hold them up? And were these professional fishermen truly so ignorant of their own Sea that it took "observers" from 2000 years hence to point out their ignorance? Furthermore, in this scenario, what led Jesus to take his own life in his hands by strolling out on uncertain footing - which apparently grew ever so feeble the nearer he came to the boat?

The most serious questions, however, involve whether this explanation best fits the picture of Jesus we have from antiquity. Was he a trickster, a mere ice walker, or the Son of God?

Well, this is the kind of thing that will likely appear in biblical commentaries for years to come. Even if ruled out of court, generations of students will have to interact with the "ice man theory." And, I believe, this is the true goal of the article, which concludes with these words: "In a bow to biblical literalists and other skeptics, Dr. Nof's group concluded, 'Whether this happened or not is an issue for religion scholars, archaeologists, anthropologists and believers to decide on." The goal isn't to promote research, but to promote doubt. Or, we could say, to promote science as the only true faith.

Well, let's make sure that we find out what happened after the story of Jesus walking on water... from Mark 6:

"Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. ... And wherever he went - into villages, towns or countryside - they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed."

Jesus can heal all ailments - including hardness of heart!

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