Archive for category Culture

“Friendly” Atheist wonders why people don’t trust Richard Dawkins

A blogger named Hemant Mehta writes a column at patheos.com which he calls “Friendly Atheist.” On June 18, 2015 he wrote about a scientific article published in the journal Public Understanding of Science by Christopher P. Scheitle of West Virginia University, and Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University. The original article is:

The influence of science popularizers on the public’s view of religion and science: An experimental assessment (2015)

The blog at Friendly Atheist is titled “New Research on the Science vs. Religion Debate Looks at the Effectiveness of Different Science Popularizers” (June 18, 2015)

Dr. Francis Collins

Dr. Francis Collins

The atheist blogger does not like the scientific results of the study, which find that Christian scientist Francis Collins is more effective at persuading people that religion and science are compatible, than New Atheist scientist Richard Dawkins is at persuading people that religion and science must be in opposition to each other. But what caught my attention here is how this blogger attributes the difference to “social prejudice” against atheists. The self-proclaimed “Friendly” Atheist is taking a page from Ken Ham’s playbook at Answers in Genesis. Young-earth creationists routinely claim to be persecuted for their views, and here is “Friendly” Atheist claiming the same thing:

The one thing this suggests for me is that scientists who are known for being atheists will have a hard time moving the public with them because of social prejudice.

The word “prejudice” means pre-judgment. No, “Friendly” Atheist is wrong. It is a case of simple judgment. When the general public sees Professor PZ Myers pulling an offensive stunt like The Great Desecration of a communion wafer, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that New Atheists are very dislikable people. If some of the public, religious or not, encounter his foul-mouthed ranting on Pharyngula, the judgment is confirmed. Word gets around. Very few voters want a Mayor or Senator like PZ Myers in public office.

Dr. Richard Dawkins

Dr. Richard Dawkins

Just about every presentation of young-earth creationism I have seen features a few inflammatory quotations by Richard Dawkins, sure to provoke outrage among the Christian fundamentalists. YEC activists are savvy enough to know that Dawkins moves their target audience away from science. Richard Dawkins is the best friend that young-earth creationism has ever had.

And it’s not just the prominent New Atheists who are ill-mannered and uncouth. The “Friendly” Atheist was unable to comment on the historical Adam without including the f-word in his post:

“There Was No Historical Adam” (June 2011)

I love how some Christians are debating things that secular science figured out a long fucking time ago.

The social problems of the New Atheists are entirely of their own making. Now of course we know that the First Amendment protects free speech. Hemant Mehta is free to fill up his “Friendly” Atheist blog with insults, cuss words, profanity, and foul language. Then he can claim “social prejudice” against the New Atheists and their causes. But nobody else will be surprised if the general public (outside of his blog followers) doesn’t buy it.

The unfortunate part of this situation is that most atheists (lower case a) will inevitably be stereotyped by the uncivilized behavior of the few prominent New Atheists. None of my friends have to use the f-word when discussing a theological matter. It’s up to the mainstream atheists to distance themselves from the ill-mannered activists.

The influence of science popularizers on the public’s view of religion and science: An experimental assessment

The research and publication by Christopher Scheitle and Elaine Howard Ecklund is far more interesting than the “Friendly” Atheist would have you believe. They used Francis Collins as the archetype of the religious scientist and Richard Dawkins as the archetype of the atheist scientist. Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian. Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist at Oxford University and one of the New Atheist activists.

For the relationship between faith and science, the researchers considered three philosophical models:

  • Conflict: Faith and science must be in opposition to each other.
  • Independence: Faith addresses questions of morality, while science discovers how the natural world works.
  • Collaboration: Faith and science influence and guide each other toward better results.

Scheitle and Ecklund note that “While this conflict narrative receives a great deal of attention, a relatively small proportion of the US public states that they personally see religion and science as in conflict (Baker, 2012).” Young-earth creationists and New Atheists most commonly hold the Conflict model.

Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould is well-known for advocating the independence model with his “non-overlapping magisteria.” Theistic evolutionists hold the Collaboration model (such as Francis Collins, Ken Miller, John Polkinghorne, and Karl Giberson).

So here is what Scheitle and Ecklund did. They analyzed the Religious Understandings of Science (RUS) study. Respondents to the study were asked if they had ever heard of a scientist named Dr. Richard Dawkins, or Dr. Francis Collins. If not, then some respondents were given a short description of that scientist, including their position as Conflict or Collaboration between faith and science. Others were given no description (and presumably were left forever wondering why the survey would ask about that scientist). Finally the survey respondents were asked to state their preferred position; and if Conflict, which side they personally were on. Table 2 shows the results for Richard Dawkins [Scheitle and Ecklund 2015].

Table 2: Richard Dawkins

View Group No description Given Description Change
Conflict – on side of religion Young-earth creationists 15.6 14.7 -0.9
Conflict – on side of science New Atheists 10.7 12.4 +1.7
Independence Gould 35.8 34.4 -1.4
Collaboration Theistic science 38.0 38.6 +0.6

The researchers say that these small changes are not statistically significant, and since I’m not a statistician I’ll take their word for it. Nevertheless, Dawkins seems to increase his New Atheist position by a small number (+1.7%), at the expense of the Gould Independence position (-1.4).

Table 3: Francis Collins

View Group No description Given Description Change
Conflict – on side of religion Young-earth creationists 15.4 10.3 -5.1
Conflict – on side of science New Atheists 12.5 11.2 -1.3
Independence Gould 36.8 28.7 -8.1
Collaboration Theistic science 35.3 49.8 +14.5

Francis Collins makes the numbers change. The researchers state that the changes in Table 3 are statistically significant. Collins reduces the New Atheists by a small amount (-1.3%). But the big message here is that Francis Collins takes significant portions of Young-Earth Creationists (-5.1%) and Gould Independence advocates (-8.1%), and converts them to his own Collaboration model (+14.5%). And all by just a short description of his professional status and religious views. That’s remarkable!

Why is Francis Collins more convincing than Richard Dawkins?

Why does Francis Collins have more convincing power than Richard Dawkins in the RUS survey? Scheitle and Ecklund suggest:

  1. Familiarity. Although Richard Dawkins may be unknown, his Conflict position is familiar from media coverage of religion and science. Readers are neither surprised nor swayed by the Dawkins description. It follows that the New Atheists can manage to convince about 12.4% of the population that their Conflict position is correct, but that’s about all they will get.

    Francis Collins, on the other hand, presents a surprise to many survey respondents. Table 1 of the original paper notes that 21.4% of the respondents had heard of Dawkins, while only 4.3% had heard of Collins. It follows that theistic scientists can convince 49.8% of the population that their Collaborative position is correct, if we can just get the word out.

  2. Perceived credibility. Scheitle and Ecklund state, “research has shown that the US public is generally distrustful of atheists and view them more negatively than most other ethnic, religious, and minority groups (Edgell et al., 2006; Gervais et al., 2011).” This is the point that “Friendly” Atheist Hemant Mehta calls “social prejudice” in order to deflect the blame elsewhere. Yet episodes like PZ Myers and The Great Desecration at his blog Pharyngula show that this distrust is well-deserved. We never know what offensive stunt the New Atheists are going to pull next.
  3. Tone and Openness. The researchers suggest that Francis Collins’ message is more appealing to the public. Richard Dawkins’ message, and the combative way he expresses it, does not appeal to anyone not already in his camp.

I will suggest another reason: 4. The Conflict model of Dawkins, Myers, and Jerry Coyne is just plain wrong. The very existence of Francis Collins, a world-class scientist and evangelical Christian, disproves their thesis of inevitable conflict. And if he were not enough, the thousands of scientific papers published annually by religious scientists provide sufficient evidence that there is no necessary conflict between faith and science.

The “Friendly” Atheist blog of June 18, 2015 is another example of atheists vehemently rejecting science when they don’t like the results (see Between Migdol and the Sea, Chapter 6). In this respect the New Atheists are much like their opposite counterpart, the Young-Earth Creationists. Science does not mix well with ideology, no matter what extreme position is the source of that ideology.

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Crossing the Red Sea is indeed a miracle

I have come across yet another blogger who has gotten the idea that the purpose of my scientific research on Moses crossing the Red Sea was to refute the miracle. This time it’s blogger Nick Foust and “Science Explains How Moses Could Have Actually Parted The Red Sea”. If you decide to look up the original post, you are hereby warned of foul language.

Crossing the Red Sea

Cover of “Between Migdol and the Sea” by Carl Drews (2014)

Ancient Hebrew writers and we modern Christians have always viewed Exodus 14 as a miracle. Unlike us, the writers of the Old Testament did not quibble over which laws of physics were temporarily suspended and which held fast. They focused on the Israelites’ deliverance from certain death at the hands of Pharaoh and his army of pursuing chariots. They praised God when they ended up alive on the other side of the sea, and we should also praise God for His salvation.

According to Exodus 14, God sent the east wind at just the right time to part the Red Sea and reveal a path of escape for Moses. The miracle is in the timing, and in the advance notice given to Moses. The Bible states that God used the natural agent of wind to deliver His chosen people. Nick Foust apparently comes around to this view (theistic meteorology) in his final paragraph, but you’ll have to wade through some disparaging comments about me and science before you get there.

It is entirely appropriate for science to study this mighty work of God (Psalm 111:2). To the ancient Hebrews, God is in charge of the natural world and all its forces. To modern Christians, science is the study of God’s creation. My research reveals the mechanics of this great miracle, and locates the site where it happened in the eastern Nile delta. Commenter Sam has it right – God is amazing!

Carl Drews, author of “Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science

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Book Review: The Annotated and Illustrated Double Helix, by James Watson, Alexander Gann, and Jan Witkowski (2012)

Watson-Crick double-helix

“Traditional” Watson-Crick double-helix, by user Notahelix at Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Watson-Crick_double_helix.gif

I really enjoyed reading this book! The Annotated and Illustrated version of The Double Helix includes photos, letters, sketches, and biographical information about the other actors in this human drama over the structure of DNA. Author James Watson narrates the intrepid scientific journey of discovery on which he and Francis Crick traveled, eventually leading to the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Maurice Wilkins.

By my reckoning Watson’s two greatest blunders were his move from Copenhagen to Cambridge in September 1951 before getting permission from the NRC Merck Fellowship Board (p. 38-39 and Appendix 3), and the embarrassing presentation to the King’s College group in December 1951 (where he mis-remembered the water content of DNA, p. 91-93). Despite these setbacks, Watson’s exuberance, keen curiosity, resilience after failure, and sense of humor carried him forward to the published solution on 25 April 1953. The Double Helix should inspire graduate students everywhere when research gets tough.

Page 182 should at last refute the longstanding claim that Photo 51, taken by Rosalind Franklin, was used by Watson and Crick without her knowledge or permission.

Permission:

 X-ray diffraction image of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule

X-ray diffraction image of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule, taken 1952 by Raymond Gosling, commonly referred to as “Photo 51”, during work by Rosalind Franklin on the structure of DNA. Wikimedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Photo_51_x-ray_diffraction_image.jpg

Page 182 contains dual statements by Ray Gosling and Maurice Wilkins about the fateful handover. They both agree that as Rosalind Franklin was hurriedly preparing to leave King’s College for Birkbeck College (also in London) in January 1953, she directed Gosling to turn over Photo 51 to Wilkins as a “present” to use as he wished.

Accordingly, on January 30, Gosling met Wilkins in the corridor, handed him the crucial X-ray diffraction image, and assured the surprised recipient that he could do whatever he wanted with it. Shortly thereafter (early February 1953) came the angry encounter between Rosy and Jim Watson, leading to Maurice showing Watson Photo 51 (Chapter 23). Yes, the transfer was irregular, and Franklin’s lack of formality here has cast suspicion that lingers to this day. But Rosalind Franklin did indeed turn over her DNA research results to Maurice Wilkins with explicit permission to use as he judged best. That usage properly included sharing the photo with research collaborators Francis Crick and James Watson.

Knowledge:

Well, you just read this book review without my knowledge, didn’t you?

Carl Drews is author of Between Migdol and the Sea: Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science. This review was also published at Amazon.com.

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God’s role in crossing the Red Sea

Certain bloggers have begun to misrepresent my religious views on how God works through science and the natural forces. It’s time to post a clear statement (again).

Exodus 14:20-21 states:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
(Exodus 14:21 ESV)

We may summarize the Exodus passage as follows:
1. God sent the east wind.
2. The wind moved the water.

Part 1 is the realm of Theology since it involves Divine action. I would love to know if God used a low-pressure system here, but without further description I cannot tell.

Part 2 is the realm of Science. Wind moving water is what the COAWST ocean model calculates, and this is what I published in PLoS ONE in 2010.

If anyone wishes to replace Part 1 with a scientific statement and hypothesize how Moses knew where to stand at just the right time, they are free to submit a manuscript to their favorite scientific journal. Since the Bible says God sent the wind, I’ll stick with Part 1 as stated.

For readers of Funmurphys: the Blog who wish to know how God works through science, I recommend the following books:

“Finding Darwin’s God” by Kenneth Miller.
“The Language of God” by Francis Collins.
Anything by Karl Giberson.

These three Christians (and others) receive harsh criticism from Young-Earth Creationists and New Atheists alike. I am proud to be in their august company in one small way.

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The Science Behind Biblical Events

That was the title of the article in Newsmax magazine, December 2012, pages 64-66. The subtitle was:

Researchers use new technology to search for the truth behind the stories in the Bible.

This article gave several examples of scientific research that supports certain biblical accounts. Newsmax reporter Jack Penman led off by describing my research about Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. I published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE describing the meteorological phenomenon of wind setdown occurring at a place called the Kedua Gap in the eastern Nile delta. A strong wind blowing overnight can indeed cause the waters of the yam suf to recede and divide.

Newsmax covered the following research topics:

  • Parting of the Red Sea during the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt
  • The 10 Plagues
    Author Graham Phillips attributes the plagues visited upon Egypt during the Exodus to the eruption of the volcanic island Thera (Santorini) in Greece. I am more familiar with biblical scholar Kenneth Kitchen, who points out that the first nine plagues correspond to a physical sequence of catastrophic natural events following a high Nile. (See “On The Reliability of the Old Testament” (2003), Table 18 on page 251.)
  • Resurrection of Lazarus
    The article cites the resuscitation of a woman declared medically dead. To me, this example does not match the details of the story recorded in John 11. Nevertheless, we Christians are supposed to follow Jesus’ example, and if we can prevent premature death by medical means, that’s all to the good!
  • Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
    The article mentions a hypothesis that the two sinful cities were destroyed by an asteroid, and the event was recorded on a Sumerian clay tablet. You can read more at this article, or search for these keywords: Sodom Gomorrah asteroid Sumerian astronomer Alan Bond Mark Hempsell Köfels.
  • Burning Bush
    Colin Humphreys suggested in his book “The Miracles of Exodus” (2004) that the burning bush was above a volcanic fissure emitting hot gases.
  • Noah’s Flood
    The article cites William Ryan and Walter Pittman and the Black Sea Flood as being the probable source of the Flood story in Genesis and the Gilgamesh Epic.

Whether these ideas will withstand further research and scientific scrutiny remains to be seen, and this is true of all hypotheses. What is notable about the Newsmax article is that they have taken neither extreme position:

  1. Every biblical event occurred exactly as some fundamentalists interpret the King James Version of the Bible.
  2. The Old Testament contains no valid history prior to the Babylonian exile; it was fabricated by Hellenic Jews to create a fictional glorious history.

With regard to extreme position 1, Ryan and Pittman understand the Flood to be a local flood, not a global one. The Black Sea flood was a traumatic event for the people of the time, and they carried those memories forward in their oral history. There is no young-earth Flood Geology here.

Extreme position 2 is rejected by the findings of science. Not only are the biblical narratives scientifically plausible and difficult for ancient bards to fabricate, but research confirms important details of the stories. The plagues follow a natural chain of environmental events; the author of Exodus is not merely stepping through the Egyptian pantheon.

Reporter Jack Penman concludes: “maybe science and religion can better coexist.” Amen to that!

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Improper use of Scripture by Senator James Inhofe

Senator James Inhofe (Republican, Oklahoma) says that the Bible refutes climate change. From Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, March 9, 2012:

On a radio show yesterday, Inhofe explained: “Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

Senator Inhofe’s comments were in reference to his recently published book: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

What we have here is a politician using the Bible to make a political point. Unfortunately, Senator Inhofe is wrong. He claims that since God controls the earth’s climate, we human beings cannot possibly change the climate, and it’s arrogance to think that we can. But Genesis 8:22 does not say that.

This verse occurs at the end of the Flood story. Here is Genesis 8:20-22 in the English Standard Version:

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

God’s covenant here refers to what God has promised to do, not what mankind can do. God will not send another Flood that destroys civilization. Verse 22 is not a guarantee that God will preserve the earth from the consequences of man’s poor stewardship.

Suppose we were to take this covenant as some kind of “assurance of stability” as James Inhofe wants us to do. What exactly does verse 22 say? And what does it mean? Here are the points God makes about the earth’s climate and weather system:

  • seedtime and harvest: There will always be seasons.
  • cold and heat: There will always be variation in temperature.
  • summer and winter: There will always be seasons.
  • day and night: The earth will continue to rotate.

No climate scientist anywhere is suggesting that seasons will cease. This is a straw-man argument by Senator Inhofe. No climate scientist anywhere is suggesting that temperature variation will cease. Scientists are suggesting that there will be more heat and less cold. Genesis 8:22 does not contradict that.

Is there any indication in the Bible that humans can drastically affect the earth? Yes, there is. Consider Genesis 1:28:

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God’s command in Genesis 1:28 to “subdue the earth” is meaningless if mankind cannot possibly accomplish this. But God does not give meaningless commands. According to the Bible, we are capable of changing what’s going on here. Our actions have effects and consequences.

Stewardship of the earth

We are stewards of the earth. We are supposed to take care of this planet. But that relationship as stewards is not for our benefit, contrary to what Rick Santorum has suggested. Consider the Parable of the Wicked Vineyard Tenants in Luke 20:

13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

The tenants don’t own the vineyard. The vineyard is not for their benefit! The Master owns the vineyard. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,” (Psalm 24:1, ESV) We really can mess up the earth through poor and sinful stewardship, and if we do, we really won’t like what happens when the Master returns.

Christology, not climatology

Senator James Inhofe would do much better to read the Bible not from a climatological viewpoint, but from a Christological viewpoint. All Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The Flood was an early attempt by God to rid the earth of sin. The human race was re-started with a righteous man (Noah), but fell back into sin again. The Law was given at Mt. Sinai, but that too failed to make mankind righteous (Romans 3:19-20). But Jesus Christ came, and Christ succeeded in making mankind righteous. (Romans 10:4)

Genesis 8:22 does not point to climate science. Genesis 8:22 points to Jesus Christ.

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“Proving God” on the History channel

Wind setdown and Exodus 14

On December 13, 2011, I appeared in a TV documentary titled “Proving God” shown on the History Channel. My section of the program described how scientists investigate the narrative of Moses parting the “Red Sea” in Exodus 14. Sir Colin Humphreys and I explained how the meteorological phenomenon of wind setdown matches the Biblical account. I am providing here a transcript of what I said on the program; since this blog represents Fair Use in a scholarly setting, I can only provide a limited section of the text.

Ancient Nile delta

Figure 1. Reconstruction of the Nile delta by James Rennell, based on the writings of Herodotus. The black rectangle shows the site of Drews and Han's proposed crossing site at the Kedua Gap (30.9812 North, 32.4553 East). This is Figure 2 of Drews Carl, Han Weiqing, 2010 Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta. PLoS ONE 5(8): e12481. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012481.

Narrator: Atmospheric scientist Carl Drews of the National Center for Atmospheric Research believes Humphreys may be onto something.

Carl Drews: Wind setdown occurs when a strong wind blows over a period of time across a surface of water; and gradually the water moves in the direction of the wind, and pulls away from the shoreline, and so the surface of the ocean moves down. So what you have there is a section of dry land where there was formerly sea bed.

Narrator: Accessing the power of supercomputers, Drews has studied the effect of wind setdown in locations ranging from the Nile, and coastal England, to a pair of such episodes in the Great Lakes in 2006 and 2008.

Carl Drews: Wind setdown is observed about every 5-10 years on Lake Erie. You have these strong storms that come from the west, and they cause storm surge at Buffalo; but on the Toledo side, which is the upwind side, the large sections of the lake will be completely dry. The water will have disappeared over the horizon!

Colin Humphreys: It’s been observed that the difference in height between one end of Lake Erie and the other can be as high as 16 feet. Absolutely staggering, right? You’d expect Lake Erie to be level water, but in a strong wind, blowing for many hours – 16 feet difference!

Reconstructing the event

Narrator: Harnessing data gathered from NASA satellites, Carl Drews creates an ocean model and terrain map of the Gulf [of Tineh], to examine the possible effects of such a storm.

Parting the Sea at the Kedua Gap

Figure 2. Wind parting the waters at the Kedua Gap. The east wind creates a temporary land bridge at Tell Kedua in the eastern Nile delta. This is Figure 1 from Parting the waters: Computer modeling applies physics to Red Sea escape route, press release by University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, September 21, 2010. (©UCAR, Illustration by Nicolle Rager Fuller.)

Carl Drews: I used geological maps, geological surveys, and sediment cores to reconstruct the configuration of lagoons and rivers that were [present] during the Exodus period. Then I ran this on the ocean model with a supercomputer and applied a digital wind to this, a wind blowing at 63 miles per hour. It would be difficult to walk into that kind of wind, but it’s possible. You can make forward progress.

[break]

Narrator: Combining the Biblical account of the crossing with the scientific modeling, Drews constructs a timeline that matches the conditions described in Exodus: the perfect storm.

Carl Drews: The Bible says that this occurred over a night, so – wind blowing for 12 hours suddenly stops, and I find that the waters part, and stay parted for a period of 4 hours. Then they rush back together again.

Narrator: But even given 4 hours to cross the exposed land bridge, it would have been impossible for 2 million Israelites to traverse the Red Sea and escape. Does the scientific evidence disprove the Bible account?

Carl Drews: That would be a lot of people to get through a small space in just 4 hours.

Colin Humphreys: This number is unbelievably large! A lot of people think the Exodus story is made up.

[Humphreys goes on to explain that the word ‘eleph in ancient Hebrew (Strong’s Concordance H505) can mean “thousand”, or it can mean a “company” of soldiers – about 10 fighting men. This re-calculation leads to a total number of 20,000 Israelites of all ages, a much more manageable group of people.]

Narrator: If Humphreys’ new calculation is accurate, it bolsters the case that the Red Sea miracle really did happen.

The return surge

Narrator: From cosmology, and archaeology, to oceanography, researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines have launched a global search to discover quantifiable proof of God. Sir Colin Humphreys and Carl Drews are looking for evidence that will prove that the events described in the Bible actually occurred. Using precise calculations, along with complex computer modeling, each man has detailed a perfect storm scenario which they claim could have caused the parting of the Red Sea, just as described in the book of Exodus.

Tidal bore on the Qiantang river, China.

Figure 3. Tidal bore on the Qiantang river, Hangzhou, China. This image is from Wikimedia Commons at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tidal_bore_at_the_Qiantang_river,_Hangzhou.jpg.

According to their theory, a phenomenon known as wind setdown caused winds of rare duration and force to peel back the waters long enough for the Israelites to make their way to freedom across an exposed land bridge. But the book of Exodus also describes the sudden destruction of the Pharaoh’s army as they chased the Israelites across the sea bed. To explain this, Drews and Humphreys point to the opposing natural force that can follow extreme cases of wind setdown.

A bore wave. The term defines the phenomenon where a tide returns displaced water with such force that it forms a giant wave of enormous power.

Carl Drews: When the wind stops, suddenly that water comes back again, and you would get these walls of churning water, thundering in! and crushing anybody who is left in the passage there.

Narrator: Drews’ calculations reveal that a wind setdown powerful enough to part the Red Sea would have unleashed a bore wave of staggering magnitude.

[break]

Narrator: Whether invoked by the hand of Moses, or the natural reaction to wind setdown, a bore wave of this force would have obliterated the Pharaoh’s army in an instant.

Carl Drews: Suddenly they hear this roaring in the distance! Then they look up, and what looks like a mountain of water is bearing down on them from both sides, and from the back.

Colin Humphreys: It sweeps these people back into the sea, which is precisely what the book of Exodus says. So even this little detail in the Exodus fits what we know from modern science.

Theology – faith and science

Narrator: But while these natural phenomena offer a scientific explanation for the events described in Exodus, that alone does not prove God.

Anglican cross

Figure 4. Anglican cross. From Letterkenny Cathedral, by Scolye17 at Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Celtic_Cross_Letterkenny.jpg

Carl Drews: It could be that Moses got very, very, very lucky. It could be that he was a very, very good weather forecaster.

Colin Humphreys: So you may say, Why do we call this a miracle? The reason is because of the timing. They would have been slaughtered!

Carl Drews: It’s a very unlikely event, to happen on a certain night just when you need it. If Moses is that lucky, we should all bet on Moses! (he chuckles)

Colin Humphreys: So I think it’s the timing that shows the hand of God at work.

Narrator: Both Drews and Humphreys agree that the evidence of God is not in the natural events themselves, but rather in their miraculous timing. Ultimately, it is beyond the powers of science to explain how a once-in-a-lifetime storm occurred at the exact place and time to rescue the Israelites.

[break]

Narrator: While their work has narrowed the divide between science and the Divine, these scientists admit that, for the moment, faith is needed to span the last gaps.

Carl Drews: The scientist should be humble and realize when their science cannot go into the supernatural. We only study the natural. So I study the movement of the wind and the water. According to the Bible, God sent the wind at the right time and told Moses to be there.

Further reading

Purchase “Proving God” on DVD from the History channel:
Proving God DVD

Our original scientific paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE:
Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta, by Carl Drews and Weiqing Han, August 30, 2010.

A story by reporter Anna Maria-Basquez in the Denver Catholic Register that explores the theology behind the research:
Boulder scientist’s research affirms parting of the Red Sea, December 15, 2010.

An article that I wrote for Weatherwise magazine to explain the research to a general audience:
Could Wind Have Parted the Red Sea? January/February 2011.

Other news coverage:
Parting the Sea.

Proving God” was produced by Karga Seven Pictures for History.

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Code Review and the King James Bible

I am a big fan of code review! Whether the software is written in Java, C++, Python, or (shudder!) Fortran, code review serves a number of important purposes in an organization that develops software. When I worked at Smarttalk.com we used a system of code review designed to produce high-quality code quickly. Here were the steps:

  1. When a developer thinks he/she is done with a single code module (one source code file), that developer calls for a code review. The broadcast e-mail and meeting invitation must go out no less than 48 hours before the scheduled review, so the other developers have at least 48 hours to look over the code before the meeting. You can schedule a code review for 3:00 pm on Thursday as long as you click on the Send button by 2:59 pm on Tuesday (and there were a few of those).
  2. The software developer can invite anyone they want to the review, but at least one participant must be at the Senior level. Go ahead and invite your friends! There was some worry about people only inviting people who would be favorable to them, but we quickly learned this principle: Friends don’t let friends write bad software. You are more likely to accept constructive criticism from your friends than from people you don’t get along with.
  3. A quorum is three people: the developer and two other software engineers, one of whom must be at the Senior level. The code review works better with about 4-5 people.
  4. The code file to review must be less than 1,000 lines long. Generally the other developers retrieve the code from the repository.
  5. The meeting will not last longer than 1 hour. If the code review runs overtime, the participants adjourn and re-schedule.
  6. The goal of the code review is to improve the code. All our jobs depend on producing and marketing high-quality software, and it is in everyone’s best interest for the code in the repository to work well and be easily maintained.
  7. Everyone is nervous at first about their work being reviewed, and for this reason there is a Moderator. The moderator makes sure everyone stays on track, watches out for criticism that is not helpful, and ensures that the experience is professionally positive for the developer. The moderator has the power to kick someone out of the meeting if they are being arrogant or derogatory. I never saw that happen, though – usually it is enough to remind someone that the goal of the code review is to improve the code.
  8. Everyone at the review sits around a table with a listing in front of them. The listing is printed with line numbers for easy reference. The developer begins with a brief explanation of the purpose of the code.
  9. The developer leads everyone else through the code, page by page, or subroutine by subroutine. Everything is fair game for improvement. The reviewers speak up in they have comments on a certain section. If not, the review moves on.
  10. It is great for less experienced programmers to attend! They can learn a lot from someone else’s code. Often they make very worthwhile contributions by requesting more extensive comments for some algorithm that is not clear. Sometimes you get people who just watch out for uniform spacing or lines longer than 80 characters. Those people contribute something positive to the process.
  11. Everyone looks for adherence to the coding standards.
  12. Sometimes design flaws are caught in a code review. The script has to sanitize input for web security. The code has to handle Unicode characters. Sometime a subroutine is just too long!
  13. Reviewers can suggest tests that might produce a failure, if they suspect a bug. The developer makes a note of those and will verify later that the software operates correctly, or fixes the bug if it does not.
  14. If extensive changes are requested, then another code review will be scheduled when the first round of changes are complete. This is rare. Even if there are lots of comments, usually the revisions take only a few days to complete.
  15. After the review: When the developer completes the requested changes to the software, he/she adds a note to the header comments of the file saying that the code was reviewed on that particular date by the following people (full names). Then the developer may check in the code, and move on to another file.

The developer under review gets completed feedback in 49 hours. I’m sure our loyal Funmurphys readers can add to this process and improve it. Tweak it for your organization. Remember that the primary purpose of code review is to improve the code. A secondary purpose is to provide on-the-job training for the more junior programmers. From time to time people will see a clever way of doing something, or suggest one, and notice code overlap that can be eliminated.

Those should be reasons enough for any professional software developer to conduct code reviews. But suppose you are out there thinking, “I’m a good engineer! I’ve written code for years, it’s well tested, and there are only a few minor bugs in my work. I’m good! I don’t need code review. It’s just a waste of my time.” Yeah, you’re kind of arrogant, but you have a right to be.

Here’s why you should request and schedule code reviews on your own code. Because someday, when you least expect it, someone else will come along and have to maintain or extend your code. And yeah, they won’t be as smart as you. They won’t understand your brilliance. They won’t take the time to read through your code and figure out how it’s carefully designed to work. What they will do is go to your boss and say the following: “This code that YourName wrote is dog poop! (but they won’t say ‘poop’)! I can’t follow it at all. This code has to be completely re-written!”

Then your boss will be faced with a dilemma. She knows you are a good software engineer and you write good code. She has not heard any problems with your code until now. But the new person is so insistent that your code is dog poop, that it has to be thrown out and re-written from scratch, and the new person uses lots of CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation marks and derogatory language in his e-mail complaint. I have seen this happen. What should your boss do?

Your boss has to evaluate the complaint. Your boss has to examine the code you wrote with a fine-toothed comb, checking if you are correct or if the new guy has some validity to what he says. Your boss has to call a technical review at which your detractor will be the star witness. You can’t defend yourself very well since you have moved on to another part of the project. You’re under suspicion. Unless . . .

Unless there is a short section in the header saying the following: This code was reviewed on March 28, 2010 by the following people: Ashley Adams, Bob Biltmore, Charlie Chang, and Debbie Dumas. When your boss finds that comment in the code, her course of action is simple: “Sorry, Mr. New Guy, but this code was reviewed by the software development team and found to be acceptable. You can suggest some improvements, but we are not throwing it out and re-writing the whole thing from scratch. If you cannot understand some else’s code, we will send you back into circulation and hire someone who can.”

Yes, code reviews can be held to Cover Your Anatomy. It’s not a great reason to do them. If the good reasons above are not sufficient to urge you to do code reviews, perhaps this bad one will. Enough said.

Now let’s turn back the clock 400 years to post-Elizabethan England, during the reign of King James I. He decided to produce a new translation of the Bible, the Authorized Version that would bear his name. Alister McGrath has written a great book about this period, which you should stop reading this blog to go out and buy, then come back here. The book is “In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture” (2001). The translators worked in teams. On page 187 we read this account of the actual translation process:

The translation in King James’ time took an excellent way. That part of the Bible was given to him who was most excellent in such a tongue (as the Apocrypha to Andrew Downes), and then they met together, and one read the translation, the rest holding in their hands some Bible, either of the learned tongues, or French, Spanish, Italian, etc. If they found any fault, they spoke up; if not, he read on.

When I read this excerpt I laughed out loud. These guys are doing a code review! They used the same process 400 years ago to produce a good translation of the Bible that we use in modern times to produce good software! They all sat around a table and checked up on each other’s work. When the King James translators found a discrepancy, they worked together to resolve the problem That’s just what we do, too! I am sure that nobody at Smarttalk or any other software company set out to emulate the King James Bible scholars. But we have hit on the same process to produce a high-quality product.

This does not mean that the King James Bible is a perfect translation; the McGrath book documents a few errors that were corrected later. Another example is Hebrews 11:3 in the King James Version, which reads as follows: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” But the Greek word used for ‘worlds’ there is Aion (Strong’s Concordance G165), and should be translated into English as ‘eons’ or ‘ages’. God’s word of command caused huge spans of time to come to pass, as well as physical worlds. The KJV is not perfect. Nevertheless, if people are still using my code 400 years from now, my descendants should be very proud!

Maybe someday I will compare and contrast the process of code review with the peer review conducted by scientific journals.

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Middle School Field Trip – by Airplane?

Even Dads have to grow up.

My daughter in Middle School is taking a field trip to Washington, DC over Spring Break. They will tour our nation’s capital with American Christian Tours, a tour company that emphasizes our Christian heritage throughout history. She earned part of the money for the tour, and I am making her study up on the places she will visit. When she gets to Gettysburg Battlefield she will know who Pickett was, why and who he was charging, and what happened on that fateful day. When she tours the World War II memorial she will know who were the major powers and leaders on each side of the conflict. When she enters the American History Museum she will tell her friends to look for the half-naked statue of George Washington.

All this is normal.

The strange part for me is that she and the rest of the kids are boarding an airplane to fly to Washington, DC. An airplane! We live in Colorado, so Washington DC is too far to drive over the one-week break. It makes sense to fly. But an airplane??!!! For a Middle School field trip? Sheesh, next thing you know these kids will be taking a field trip to the International Space Station!

I grew up in New Jersey, and my class took field trips by bus to Philadelphia and New York City to see the sights. The historical sites were within easy reach. On the Circle Line ferry around Manhattan Island some elementary school kids from the city challenged us to fight: “Get your gang together. We’ll meet you in the boys’ room!” Remarkably, we were mature enough to laugh, politely decline, and ask them where they were from? They were fun kids once we got past the macho thing.

An airplane!

Perhaps Sean call tell us if airline travel has dropped in cost relative to the Consumer Price Index since the 1970s? In any case, this Dad has to let go and realize that times have changed and let my precious daughter fly to Washington DC for a wonderful and educational adventure with friends I know and teachers I trust to take good care of her. It should be a good trip! She’ll bring her cell phone with her. Oh yeah, you bet she will!

Remembering Y2K

Happy New Year’s Eve!
Happy Last Day of December!
Happy Last Day of 2009!
Happy Last Day of the 2000s decade!

Ten years ago today I was working from home, since I was an independent software developer back then. This was The Day that the dreaded Y2K bug was supposed to hit. The End Of Civilization As We Know It, or just TEOCAWKI for short. Remember?

A number of social commentators were predicting that the Y2K computer bug would cause large-scale failures in our computer-based infrastructure, including some Christian conservatives like Michael Hyatt and Chuck Missler. Ed Yourdon predicted that computer systems administrators would head to the hills en masse because they realized that the problem was huge and couldn’t be fixed. My local hardware store carried large electrical generators with signs saying: “Don’t even think of returning this on January 5 if Y2K turns out to be a bust! We’re onto you.” There were tales of survivalists cashing out their retirement accounts, buying a ranch in the mountains, stockpiling guns and ammo, taking their wives and children up to the compound after Christmas, and keeping a loaded gunsight out for looters when the millennium sun peeked over the horizon. Even modern cars weren’t supposed to work. Remember all that?

As a software engineer, I issued my own prediction in March 1999: Y2K will be no worse than a hurricane. Power and basic utilities will be restored within 48 hours. You’ll be able to go back to work in a week. My prediction seemed pretty mild at the time.

I had a plan, too. I stockpiled about one week’s worth of food, water, and firewood for the “hurricane”, taking care to be sure that anything I bought could be used later for camping trips if Y2K fizzled out. Partly it made good sense to be prepared, partly I was fascinated by the social aspects of worried people getting ready for TEOCAWKI, and partly I wanted to reassure those around me. I still have some extra jugs of drinking water and a few packs of candles and lighters left over. All the Ramen noodles and beef jerky are long gone.

During the summer and early fall I received lots of letters from my bank, my insurance company, my utilities, my retirement company, my post office, all declaring that they had been certified as “Y2K Compliant”. Then in November I got a letter from the supplier of my diskette mailers, saying that they were certified as Y2K Compliant and that the supply of diskette mailers would be uninterrupted by the dawn of the new millennium. I just stared at the letter. Diskette mailers. It’s come to this, probably the most trivial and non-essential item that I purchase. That’s when it hit me that Y2K was gonna be a big bust. The alarmists were wrong. Everything’s going to be all right.

New Year’s Eve fell on a Friday that year, leaving an entire weekend for the computer people to fix whatever problems they found. Ed Yourdon was wrong – the computer system administrators (my friends and colleagues) behaved like the responsible professionals they are, working all that weekend to run tests, re-boot machines, and examine diagnostics for signs of any technical Y2K problems. The weather in Colorado was unusually warm.

I filled up all the bathtubs in my house with drinking water. I remember thinking, “Why should I do this? It’s just a waste of water. Nothing bad is going to happen.” But filling up the bathtubs was Part Of The Plan, so I did it anyway. That evening I discovered that the drains in my tubs didn’t seal very well, and I had lost about half my supply already. The best-laid plans . . .

Since I was working from home, I could keep an eye on the TV. Midnight and the Millennium Dawn were sweeping around the globe. The celebrations were wonderful to watch! In Australia they had trapeze dancers swinging from ropes affixed to the top of the Sydney Opera House. Japan had marvelous dancers and costumed performers. China had spectacular fireworks! Then came Thailand, India, and celebrations in Africa. A few minor problems were reported, like weather maps that displayed the year 19100 and some video rental fees not calculated correctly. But everything was coming out fine, even in Italy who had not done much to prepare. I just relaxed, let all the technical concerns slip away, and watched in wonder as the happy festivals spread around the globe with the coming sunshine. Wow!

Praise God! Happy New Year!