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The Red Sea, Fluid Dynamics and Silly Dynamics

October 6, 2010

Speaking of science, faith, agnosticism, and what we can and cannot know, am I the only one who finds reports like this one pathetic and hilarious and utterly beside the point? Here’s Reuters news service:

Moses might not have parted the Red Sea, but a strong east wind that blew through the night could have pushed the waters back in the way described in biblical writings and the Koran, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday.

Computer simulations, part of a larger study on how winds affect water, show wind could push water back at a point where a river bent to merge with a coastal lagoon, the team at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado at Boulder said.

“The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus,” Carl Drews of NCAR, who led the study, said in a statement.

“The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in.”

How silly. Biblical scholars have long held that there seem to be three competing accounts in the Book of Exodus regarding how the Israelites managed to escape the chasing Egyptians while crossing the Red Sea. And in the oldest version of the story, the Egyptians perished not by being engulfed by water but by somehow falling into the sea, hence this famous line from Exodus: “I will praise the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously; Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” Thrown. Into.

What matters about the story of the crossing of the Red Sea is that against what seemed to be terrible odds, the Israelites managed to escape the Egyptian army and to cross the sea even as the Egyptians failed to do so. How exactly did it happen? Who knows? Most importantly, we take it as an article of faith that God ordained the outcome by somehow helping the Israelites and hindering the Egyptians. The rest is the stuff of legend and lore and tribal memory.

Don’t these scientists and their computer simulations have anything better to do?

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