A bigger boat

A bigger boat May 10, 2007

Why are crows' feathers black?

As it happens, there's a story that tells why. It's a lovely story, told in a lovely children's book, and nicely retold at Sandy Schlosser's folklore site.*

Read the story, though, and you'll see that it's really not mainly concerned with the question it nominally addresses. The structure of the story is something like this:

Q: Why are the crow's feathers black?

A: Courage and helping others are good. Remember that every time you see a crow.

The answer doesn't seem to follow logically from the explicit question, but this is how origin stories tend to work. This is why they're worth telling and hearing even if you know that the color of a crow's feathers are a matter of adaptation and genetics.

One of my favorite origin stories is nominally the answer to the question "Where do rainbows come from?"

The answer the story gives has nothing to do with the refraction of light, because the story isn't really about where rainbows come from. The story, of course, is that of Noah's ark, as famously told in chapters 6-9 of the book of Genesis and side one of Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow Right!

The structure of that story is, in part, something like this:

Q: Where do rainbows come from?

A: Selfishness is destructive — to you and to every living creature. Remember that every time you see a rainbow.

Again, the answer isn't directly related to the apparent question because the apparent question isn't really what the story is about. This may seem complicated, but if you read these stories it's quite obvious. They're not subtle about it. Their message is not some hidden meaning that needs to be decoded. It would be very difficult, in fact, to read or hear such stories without taking away the meaning they are meant to convey.

Difficult but, alas, not impossible. See, for example, the sad case of Johan Huibers (via):

A half-sized replica of the biblical Noah's Ark has been built by a Dutch man, complete with model animals.

Dutch creationist Johan Huibers built the ark as testament to his literal belief in the Bible.

The ark, in the town of Schagen, is 150 cubits long — half the length of Noah's — and three stories high. A cubit was about 45cm (18in) long.

The ark opened its doors on Saturday, after almost two years' construction, most of it by Mr Huiber himself.

Well, OK. Huibers' ark is kind of cool as a sort of Field-of-Dreams-ish eccentric marvel. You have to admire the splendid goofiness of it. But it also seems like Huiber has been cutting down trees to get a better view of the forest.

Most people who insist that the story of Noah is "literally" true don't go to such great lengths to illustrate their belief, but it's still startling how many people have gotten drowned in the details of this story. They travel to Mt. Ararat in search of the ark, or they obsess over details of hydrology and storage space. Just as lost at sea are these poor folks' mirror opposites — those who obsess over the details to prove that the story is "literally" false. (I'm forced to place the word literally in quotation marks here because it is the word they insist on using, although what they mean by it is far from clear.)

Both sorts of literalists approach these stories with the same incomprehension as that of people who don't understand jokes. "What kind of bar?" they ask. You try to ignore them, to get on to the punch line, to the point, but they keep interrupting. "A duck? I don't think you'd be allowed in the bar if you were carrying a duck."

Such people are particularly infuriating when you're trying to tell a really good joke. They're even more infuriating when you're trying to tell a really important story.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Sandy was a classmate of mine in high school. I had no idea where she was or what she was up to until stumbling across her site while googling "Rainbow Crow." The Web is pretty neat.

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  • bulbul

    A Dutch guy? Even Holland is going to the dogs…

  • Cythraul

    One of my favorite origin stories is nominally the answer to the question “Where do rainbows come from?”
    I know all of my favourite stories involve the nigh-extinction of humanity, man woman and child! :D

  • Cythraul

    (Er. “… and a unwittigan cild”.)

  • Doctor Science

    … to hold the shark?

  • Toby

    I always thought the story of Noah would be one of my least favourite parts of the Bible (divine near-genocide doesn’t sound terribly edifying). Then I actually read it. Good story.

  • Doctor Science

    Toby:
    The Bill Cosby version is *definitive*. “How long can you treat water?”

  • Doctor Science

    Tread water! Tread!
    *drowns self in shame*

  • J

    Fuck you very much, Fred. My sense of humor is FINE . . . AND I believe that the story of Noah is literally false. Want me to define “literally”? Fine: Nothing like it actually occurred in real history.
    And I don’t get where you get this interpretation:
    Selfishness is destructive — to you and to every living creature. Remember that every time you see a rainbow.
    ‘Cause that ISN’T the “moral” of the “story”. The rainbow is God saying, “I promise not to kill everyone again. I reserve the right to kill lots of people in huge numbers, though. Or to give my approval when you Israelites kill lots of people in huge numebrs. Or to twiddle my thumbs while you Israelites are killed in huge numbers, or else other groups of people you won’t have heard of called the Cambodians, Sudanese, Kosovar Albanians, Cherokee, and others. The end.”

  • J

    Hmm, I feel like ranting some more.
    Most people who insist that the story of Noah is “literally” true . . . Just as lost at sea are these poor folks’ mirror opposites — those who obsess over the details to prove that the story is “literally” false . . .
    Yeah, I’m sure it’s very gratifying for you to smear atheists like me this way. To posit us as being somehow the equal and opposite of the people I hate. (Yeah, that’s right, I HATE strictly religious people. Someone want to make something of it?) I’m sure it’s very pleasing to you, in a moral-masturbation sort of way. Here *hands tissue*. Enjoy yourself.

  • J

    Third pass:
    Both sorts of literalists approach these stories with the same incomprehension as that of people who don’t understand jokes. “What kind of bar?” they ask. You try to ignore them, to get on to the punch line, to the point, but they keep interrupting. “A duck? I don’t think you’d be allowed in the bar if you were carrying a duck.”
    Are you saying that origin stories are just meant to be taken figuratively; as metaphors meant to enlighten us? Fine. I’ll accept that. Just as you as you drop all rhetoric about these stories being in any away affective of where I’ll “spend” “eternity”.

  • Drocket

    *The rainbow is God saying, “I promise not to kill everyone again.*
    Actually, I was always told that the moral was that God promises not to kill everyone again WITH WATER. The next time it’ll be fire.
    My, what a happy and cheerful version of god I was taught as a child…

  • bulbul

    Wow, I’d never thought I’d see this day, but there really is someone who makes me look calm, composed and polite…
    Nothing like it actually occurred in real history.
    What do you mean by “like that”? Deluges? There have been plenty.
    Yeah, I’m sure it’s very gratifying for you to smear atheists like me this way.
    That would be smear as in Bill O’Reilly’s Dictionary of English: smear v. 1. quote correctly; 2. describe accurately.
    When it comes to exegesis – and that’s what we’re talking about here – people like Dawkins are indeed the exact opposites of people like Falwell and Robertson.
    Just as you as you drop all rhetoric about these stories being in any away affective of where I’ll “spend” “eternity”.
    Again, which stories do you mean? Fred and all of us here are the last one who would believe that you’ll be judged based on whether you believed in “literal” flood or not.
    And just why should anyone drop anything for your sake? You don’t like what’s written here, go fucking hang out fucking somewhere else.
    Dang, I almost had it…

  • Rosina

    J: you’re an atheist. You don’t really think that God ever made a covenant sealed with a rainbow. So you can’t blame him for the death of large numbers of people (albeit fewer than everybody, this time) or for slaughter by or of Jews, or the troubles in Africa, Iraq or America.
    Fred is not getting at people who simply do not believe in the story of the Ark (and even Christians can ‘not believe’ in the Ark). His target, if I read it rightly, is those who obsess over the details to prove that the story is “literally” false . . . You presumably don’t do that, because you don’t believe in God, so you don’t believe he sent a flood, warned Noah, helped collect the kangaroos on a package trip from Australia…
    Since we moved to the wide open spaces of the Anglo/Scottish Borders near Carlisle, we have seen so many more rainbows than we used to see down south (they have replaced thunderstorms as the natural accompaniment of rain). And although I’m not a practicing Anglican, my heart still leaps and my mind recites “I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.” But the rainbow doesn’t get a mention in Genesis 8, with the ‘seedtime and harvest’ quote – it doesn’t appear until Gen 9.

  • J

    Actually, I was always told that the moral was that God promises not to kill everyone again WITH WATER. The next time it’ll be fire.
    Ooh, that’s right. Forgot. Reading about God’s “promises” is about as reassuring as a Tony Snow press conference on, well, anything.
    Anyone else read the recent teen/kids novel Not the End of the World. The story of Noah, retold by children and animals. Noah and Shem, um, do not come off well.

  • Rosina

    J: Reading about God’s “promises” is about as reassuring as a Tony Snow press conference on, well, anything.
    How come you expect them to be reassuring ; you’re an atheist: you don’t believe in God: you don’t even believe he exists, let alone makes binding promises.
    Noah and Shem, um, do not come off well And if you don’t believe in Noah and his ark, then what does it matter how a kid’s novel portrayes him. Even if he did exist, he’s not going to sue for Libel. Or are you suggesting that the Ark was true, just Noah’s spin was wrong and Geraldine McCaughrean has uncovered the true story.

  • J

    Noah and Shem, um, do not come off well And if you don’t believe in Noah and his ark, then what does it matter how a kid’s novel portrayes him. Even if he did exist, he’s not going to sue for Libel. Or are you suggesting that the Ark was true, just Noah’s spin was wrong and Geraldine McCaughrean has uncovered the true story.
    All I’m suggesting is that I’m not the idiot you and Fred and bulbul take me for. Yeah, I get jokes and metaphors too. And yet, they form no obstacle at all to, as you’ve notice, a rather hard-nosed approach to religion.

  • Alex F

    “ABC News PrimeTime Poll. Feb. 6-10, 2004. N=1,011 adults nationwide…
    I’m going to ask about a few stories in the Bible. [See below.] Do you think that’s literally true, meaning it happened that way word-for-word; or do you think it’s meant as a lesson, but not to be taken literally?

    The story of Noah and the ark in which it rained for 40 days and nights, the entire world was flooded, and only Noah, his family and the animals on their ark survived.
    Literally True: 60 %
    Not Literally True: 33 %
    Unsure: 7 %”
    (from http://www.pollingreport.com/religion2.htm ).
    >>Just as lost at sea are these poor folks’ mirror opposites — those who obsess over the details to prove that the story is “literally” false.
    That’s not fair. As you say, there are people who believe in the “literal” truth of the story. (Not sure what your issue is with the word…) A lot of people. These people — in my opinion, in the debunkers’ opinions, and I gather in your opinion — are mistaken. It’s in no way unreasonable for those in our camp to defend the position that we all share against the many, many who believe otherwise. Again, as you point out, the skeptics aren’t attacking a straw man. They are pointing out inconsistencies in a very common interpretation of a story. This is worthwhile work — not so different from your criticisms of premillenial dispensationalist eschatology, I’d say.
    And as a nonbeliever, I’ll add that there are a lot of great stories in the world. If some of us nonbelievers fail to appreciate the story of Noah as an allegory, well, why should we? It’s just another story to us, one of no special import. For us, what distinguishes it from Aesop’s Fables and the stories of Anansi the Spider is that 60% of Americans believe in its literal truth. That’s why we focus on the veracity of this particular story rather than the literary merits.
    Anyway — I’m a huge fan of your blog. While we obviously have some deep differences, I appreciate your point of view and I don’t mean to sound combative.

  • bulbul

    All I’m suggesting is that I’m not the idiot you and Fred and bulbul take me for.
    Ehm, I did not suggest you were an idiot. Nor did Fred.
    The way you acted just now (Rosina’s got it nailed) certainly calls for a stronger language, but far be it from me to administer it.
    Instead, I’d like to point out that you have almost proven Fred’s point about literallist of both kinds. Here
    Are you saying that origin stories are just meant to be taken figuratively; as metaphors meant to enlighten us?
    it seems that you are incapable of telling the difference between what we could call pure mythology and the rest of the stuff bible consists of. Am I wrong?

  • bulbul

    That’s why we focus on the veracity of this particular story rather than the literary merits.
    The problem is that Fred is not talking about literary merits, but rather moral lessons. And the funny/ironic/strange thing is those who believe that the flood story is literally true care more about the literal veracity of the story and its particulars than about the moral lesson.

  • J

    Okay, let me take a crack at being all high-minded and metaphorical and shit:
    Q.: Why did the man hunt the white whale?
    A: It is foolish to either impose or derive Judeo-Christian moral concepts (i.e. revenge) on/from the natural world.

  • Jeff

    Just as lost at sea are these poor folks’ mirror opposites — those who obsess over the details to prove that the story is “literally” false.
    What I hear Fred saying is that the story can be literally false, but rthere’s no need to obsess over details. I can’t see how it can be anything other than literally false without a lot of fanwanking (it was really a TARDIS!), but I don’t need to figure how many ton[ne]s of hay were needed to feed the unicorns.
    It does seem to be “mythologically” true, since Deluge / Flood stories seem very prevelant. (I think they might be derived from our ancestors dealing with an Ice Age or two.)
    I think J missed the bolded part, and is obsessing over it.

  • Doctor Science

    J —
    So is the white whale equivalent to the white shark? Which is why we need a bigger boat? A boat that neither literalists nor symbolists think whale or shark has need of?
    Cool.

  • hf

    Yes, bulbul, and then he makes a gratuitous attack on people who have no reason to consider the story important. No doubt you could get some enlightening message from the story of the Nephilim and the flood if you squint and turn your head, but why should we care about that half as much as the fact that 60% of Americans or ABC viewers believe something insane?

  • bulbul

    Q.: Why did the man hunt the white whale?
    A: Anyone who thinks Moby Dick is about how the man hunted the white whale has not read the book.
    Go and read it.

  • hf

    In other words, non-Christians have no reason to care about the moral message of the story because if we (and Fred) actually agree with it, we can probably get a better effect by reading some clearer story.

  • hf

    Okay, Jewish people might also have more reason to ask what the story means.

  • bulbul

    but why should we care about that half as much as the fact that 60% of Americans or ABC viewers believe something insane?
    Who said you should care? Don’t, I couldn’t care less. Go on for hours about how 60% of Americans are batshit insane, how Christians fucked up your life or whatever.
    But do you really have to hijack Fred’s blog to do it?

  • hf

    And here I thought we were talking about Fred’s gratuitous attack.

  • bulbul

    And here I thought we were talking about Fred’s gratuitous attack.
    Oh yeah, about that: there was no attack. And there is nothing gratuitous about/in what Fred wrote.
    Nighty night, hf.

  • hf

    “Gratuitous” in fact seems like the wrong word, since the people he refers to there probably have more chance of reading his post than the nominal subjects.

  • bulbul

    “Gratuitous” in fact seems like the wrong word
    No shit, Sherlock.

  • PepperjackCandy

    I’m confused.
    Where’s Scott when we need him?
    :headdesk:

  • David

    Hmm… I read Fred’s post differently than a lot of the comments, it seems. The “literally true” crowd makes the false inference “The Bible is true, THEREFORE the story of Noah’s ark is a literal historical record.” What I took to be the “literal” opposites he spoke of was not those who don’t believe in Noah’s ark, or God, or whatever, but those who accept the preceding false inference, but use it in contrapositive form: “The story of Noah’s ark cannot be a literal historical record; THEREFORE the Bible is false.” The implication that a literal reading of the story is an inextricable part of Christianity is equally wrong in both directions, and in both directions it completely misses the point of the story.
    So, J, I don’t think Fred was talking about you at all unless you insist not only that God does not exist, but that the lack of a literal global 40-day flood is proof of that fact (or, similarly, that anyone who believes in the Bible must believe in said literal flood). If you just happen to believe there is nothing particularly special or true about the Bible, that isn’t really related to the current discussion, and has no particular bearing on your ability to understand jokes or metaphors…

  • 85% Duane

    I read Fred’s post as a total slapdown to some commenter or other in the not-so-distant past. Now the question is who could it be?
    *rubs thighs*

  • Brandi

    Has someone put pissybitch pills in the water supply or something?

  • rm

    On the word literal . . .
    I don’t speak for Fred, but I’ll tell what my problem with the word is.
    1.
    Literal comes (by descent through several Romance languages) from litera, “letter.” Literal literally means “exactly as written,” “according to the letter.”
    2.
    So, . . .
    3.
    What “reading literally” really should mean, if people were smart and, um, literate, is reading faithfully what the text gives them. In the case of the book of Genesis, what the text gives us is a lot of moral allegory and creation myth. Tell people it’s a “myth” and they think “you don’t believe it’s true!” but, on the contrary, I believe it’s very true. It has the kind of truth that myth is able to give. That’s a different kind of truth than what history, a very recently invented genre of writing, is able to give. The Bible isn’t “history” because, duh, it’s scripture, a different form of writing. And there wasn’t any “history” as we think of it then.
    4.
    Myth gives us a certain kind of truth.
    History gives us a certain kind of truth.
    Personal anecdote . . .
    Fiction . . .
    Laboratory science . . .
    Social science . . .
    . . . give us each distinct kinds of truth. Or falsehood, of course.
    5.
    But you don’t get what the writing has to give you — its truth or falsehood — if you aren’t able to see what genre it is, what its original context was, what its purpose is.
    The story of Noah was never written to be a historical account. So the believers who insist on “proving” its truth or the debunkers who calculate the volume of water needed to inundate the earth are both missing the point.
    It’s not that kind of story.
    6.
    So many arguments about the uses of parts of the Bible could be avoided if we would not take a story of genre A and demand that it fulfill purpose X. Or hate it for not fulfilling purpose X.
    7.
    What’s the original sin of the Worst Books Ever Written? Pretending that the “literal” meaning of Revelation or Daniel or Isaiah is something that’s not in the literae on the page, but is interpretive. Revelation very literally gives us a lot of symbolism and allegory.
    8.
    The folk definition of literal has become “really really physically real in the real world, like not just in a book” which is almost the opposite of its proper meaning. If the book refers to things that are physically real, then the folk definition is not far off. If the book offers us fantastic symbolic visions, the folk definition of literal is 100% wrong. And if one says such a book is “literally” wrong, one is just as off base as the one who is waiting for a beast with seven heads to physically rise out of the Mediterranean sea.
    9.
    Which is just stupid.
    10.
    We like to say in literary studies that a good poem (or novel, whatever) teaches you how it needs to be read. A literal reading is a reading concerned with the kinds of truth the text is able to offer. If you are concerned with other kinds of truth, you are reading against the grain, and that’s okay, but it might make you look kind of dumb; it’s like trying to find gold in a silver mine; it’s like trying to pour whiskey from a bottle of wine.
    11.
    Goodnight, Gracie.

  • X

    rm: “We like to say in literary studies…”
    Ahhh… I thought your diatribe read very much like a specialist. It had all the hallmarks – a fine grained parsing of jargon nobody else can follow, etc. Not as exciting to read as all the above pissiness, but better for the soul, and probably more edumacational.

  • Jos

    A Dutch guy? Even Holland is going to the dogs…
    It gets worse. After the last elections, two of the three ruling parties define themselves as Christian.
    And the first thing they did was trying to get a law passed saying that civil servants who don’t want to marry a homosexual couple shouldn’t be forced to.
    I tell you, we’re two steps away from becoming a theocracy!

  • mcc

    I was going to write a comment here. But after several tries I couldn’t get my opinion expressed in any state I quite liked, and I want to go to sleep. So instead I am going to quote the opinion of a Mr. Robert G. Ingersoll, who at one point spent a considerable amount of time combing over various bits of the bible and pointing out those things that were plainly false when taken literally.
    He doesn’t necessarily speak for me here, but considering he’s the best fit I can think of to these mysterious “mirror opposites” of biblical literalists that Fred vaguely describes toward the end of this post, and that description was somewhat negative, I figure he should have a chance to speak for himself. So, whatever:
    It will not do to say that this is allegory, or a poem, because this proves too much. If the Serpent did not in fact exist, how do we know that Adam and Eve existed? Is all that is said about God allegory, and poetic, or mythical? …
    If we say that the Devil was a personification of evil, are we not at the same time compelled to say that Jehovah was a personification of good…?
    And elsewhere:
    Too great praise challenges attention, and often brings to light a thousand faults that otherwise the general eye would never see. Were we allowed to read the Bible as we do all other books, we would admire its beauties, treasure its worthy thoughts, and account for all its absurd, grotesque and cruel things, by saying that its authors lived in rude, barbaric times. But we are told that it was written by inspired men; that it contains the will of God; that it is perfect, pure, and true in all its parts; the source and standard of all moral and religious truth; that it is the star and anchor of all human hope; the only guide for man, the only torch in Nature’s night. These claims are so at variance with every known recorded fact, so palpably absurd, that every free, unbiased soul is forced to raise the standard of revolt.
    We read the pagan sacred books with profit and delight. With myth and fable we are ever charmed, and find a pleasure in the endless repetition of the beautiful, poetic, and absurd. … But if the world were taught that all these things are true and all inspired of God, and that eternal punishment will be the lot of him who dares deny or doubt, the sweetest myth of all the Fable World would lose its beauty, and become a scorned and hateful thing to every brave and thoughtful man.

  • NonyNony

    The structure of that story is, in part, something like this:
    Q: Where do rainbows come from?
    A: Selfishness is destructive — to you and to every living creature. Remember that every time you see a rainbow.
    I only see it if you’re talking about God’s selfishness. God is pretty damn selfish in that story — willing to petulantly wipe out all life on Earth because human beings tick him off. He’s God after all, I’m fairly certain he could design some kind of plague that could kill all the humans and leave the animals standing. We’re never really told what humans did to tick him off so bad either – something about men having evil thoughts all of the time, or being evil to each other all of the time, or something. And, actually, I don’t really doubt that the person or persons who incorporated the story of Noah into what would become the Judaic tradition thought of it as a “just-so” story about how selfish and cruel the God could be — ancient religions had not requirement to believe that their gods were “good”, just that their gods were “powerful” and that you should honor them or they would smite you.
    For the record, I’ve always figured the just-so story of Noah was more something like:
    Q: Where do rainbows come from?
    A: Do what God says or he’ll cut you.

  • Raka

    bulbul: there really is someone who makes me look calm, composed and polite
    You don’t just look “calm, composed, and polite”; you are championing those causes in the face of pretty inexcusable dickery. Go, bulbul!

  • VorJack

    you’re an atheist. You don’t really think that God ever made a covenant sealed with a rainbow. So you can’t blame him for the death of large numbers of people (albeit fewer than everybody, this time) or for slaughter by or of Jews, or the troubles in Africa, Iraq or America.
    Can we get really, really creeped out about how people use the story, then?
    I’m sorry, maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the way my brother & sister-in-law decorated their nursery in a Noah’s Ark theme. I know it’s got lots of happy animals and pretty water and rainbows and stuff, but I kept thinking about all those animals and people that were drowning under those pretty little wave-lets. I kept wanting to ask, “Shouldn’t all the rotting corpses be floating to the surface by now?” How can a story about global genocide become “child friendly”?
    It’s not so much that I’m angry at God for killing all those folks, I’m worried about the people who can recite the story with a happy little smile and say “Isn’t it wonderful that God promised to never drown us all again?” I know that the universal death and destruction isn’t the point of the story, but it’s kind of hard to focus on the intended moral when you keep thinking about all those people crushed by the rising waters.

  • Packerland Progressive

    Wow, what a comment sh*tstorm! I’m not sure if I’ve ever commented here, but I’ve been a regular reader over here for probably over 3 years now. I’m also a Unitarian Universalist, and most of the time describe myself as an atheist, occasionally as an agnostic, occasionally as a deist, and sometimes if I’m feeling philosophical (and/or if I feel the need to show off my vocabulary) as a pantheist or a panentheist. I very much respect and admire Fred’s deep, intelligent, mature spirituality — and while the myth of Noah’s ark really doesn’t speak much to me spiritually or poetically or mythologically at all (and for many of the same reasons others have already noted — the “God” it presents really doesn’t seem to be the sort of God who merits even much in the way of old-fashioned mystical/existential dread or awe, let alone reverence, respect, and love; rather, the story makes God out to be a rather stupid, amoral, pathetic anthropomorphic despot worthy of nothing but pity, scorn and contempt (sort of like an immortal version of George W. Bush who’s term will not end in January 2009 but instead will continue to eternity)) — but having said that I can appreciate that others can read it and take away a very different message (as myths can be), as obviously Fred has.
    However, I do share the sensitivity that others have expressed about Fred’s strawmen, “these poor folks’ mirror opposites — those who obsess over the details to prove that the story is ‘literally’ false,” because it seems so uncharacteristic of the thoughtfulness I’ve come to expect from Fred’s writing — it reeks of High Broderesque “pox on both their houses”-ism, and it seems to be embracing the right-wing canard, which has disturbingly been taken up by many among the “religious left” (including Barack Obama and Amy Sullivan at Washington Monthly) about us Atheists who Secretly Control the World and Oppress Religious People of All Stripes (TM).
    I don’t know if Fred actually spends much time reading all these comments, but if he does, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask him to explain exactly what he meant, and either give some real-world examples of such people who “obsess” about disproving the literal truth of the bible, or retract his statement.

  • Chuck

    bulbul: A: Anyone who thinks Moby Dick is about how the man hunted the white whale has not read the book. Go and read it.
    As Fred says in the post, “Read the story, though, and you’ll see that it’s really not mainly concerned with the question it nominally addresses.” And I think that’s what J was trying to give an example of, there. Moby Dick isn’t about the whale just like Noah’s Ark isn’t about the rainbows (or the boat, or the flood, really).
    I think a problem of teh intarwebs is that we often ignore real points people make because we’re too busy being angry at them. Hell, even Scott occasionally says something that contributes to the discussion, you just have to get past his…interesting…way of presenting it.

  • histrogeek

    Maybe Huibers is just worried about global warming. I mean, he’s in the Netherlands which is up with Bangladesh, Louisiana, and Florida for most likely to be an aquarium by 2100. Maybe he figures he needs an ark, although that design doesn’t seem too seaworthy.

  • Geds

    I don’t even get why there’s an argument here. I’m assuming it’s because somebody pooped in J’s cereal or something.
    I do believe, mostly because I think Fred and I think alike on such topics, that Fred realizes that stories like Noah’s Ark are in the realm of mythology. Mythology functions on a different level than the literal. The myth is a story that may or may not be true that’s designed to tell us something about our values as humans and members of society. The myth contains the paradigm of Truth without necessarily being true.
    For instance, take Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, my favorite examples for this sort of thing. No one thought there was any truth to them for a long time. They were just fantastic stories designed to show pride and arrogance and jealousy and love and determination and all the things that make humans human. Then Schliemann found Troy. It was where Homer said it would be, right in a place where the Greeks probably had to fight against the Trojans for trade and colonization purposes. Schliemann then went on to prove that another city was actually Mycenae.
    Did historians start saying that Homer was actually completely right and look for evidence of the manse of the gods on top of Mt. Olympus? Did archaelogists start trying to dig up cyclops skeletons? No. Did writers go back and re-write the “true” version of the Illiad where the “face that launched a thousand ships” was replaced by the “greed that launched a hundred commerce raiders?” No.
    They didn’t have to. The historical Troy and Homer’s Troy exist in their own, separate realms. They’re both true in their own way, one because it tells us about our past and the other because it tells us about ourselves.
    That, I assume, is what Fred was getting at when he said “[b]ut it also seems like Huiber has been cutting down trees to get a better view of the forest.”

  • nieciedo

    The Noah/Flood myth isn’t really about God at all. It’s about humanity and our impact on the world — both the social world of human interaction and the physical world.
    One of the central themes of the Torah is that human choices are of cosmic moral import. A second central theme is that there is a fundamental absolute which is the basis of morality — that absolute is life. The supreme imperative is to always choose in favor of life and the improvement of the overall quality of life. The commanding authority of this imperative is symbolized by “God.”
    The flood is not a punishment but a consequence. The earth had become full of “violence” (the Hebrew word is “hamas” — interesting, that). In turning against each other, in becoming “corrupted” by giving themselves over to violence, crime, greed and selfishness, human beings were turning against life itself.
    Based on the belief that humans are created in the image of God, it was believed that human choices and human actions had moral value that affected the physical universe. Our righteous actions — in support of life — improved the world; our evil actions — attacking life — destroyed the world. The myth of the flood tells us that human behavior had sunk so low that the world could not take it any more.
    The Flood represents the undoing of the work of creation. On the 2nd day, the waters above the sky were separated from those below. On the 3rd day, the sea was separated from the dry land and plants were created. On the 4th day, the sun and moon were created. On the 5th and 6th day animals and humans were created. The flood represents the complete dissolution of the work of creation, the destruction of the moral order of the universe which God proclaimed “very good.”
    And it was entirely the fault of human beings. Which is a lesson to us that selfishness can destroy the entire world and therefore we should remember that whenever we see the rainbow.
    That is at least how I, as a Jew, read this.
    Also, there is nothing about God reserving the right to destroy the world again, by fire or by any other means. The terms of the covenant indicate that spring and winter, harvesting and reaping, shall never cease.
    Granted, the Earth will someday be destroyed by fire when the Sun expands to a red giant and consumes the inner planets, but ideally the “world” — as in the human world — will continue elsewhere. And if it doesn’t continue, then all of this is moot anyway. :-)

  • Angelika

    Funny, probably I was a really odd kid, but I always loved the story of Noah and the ark. I loved the story of Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac, but in the end being provided with a substitute ram, as well. The way I understand them, these stories talk about God being generous and merciful not to take back all the lives that belong to him anyways (because he made life in the first place), but to allow life to go on.

  • VorJack

    nieciedo:
    So where do the Nephilim fit into this? Or do they? I had sorta gotten the impression that their breeding with the daughters of men had something to do with the corruption that God saw. Being born part angle doesn’t strike me as a moral choice, but perhaps I’m confusing things.

  • VorJack

    Angelika: The way I understand them, these stories talk about God being generous and merciful not to take back all the lives that belong to him anyways (because he made life in the first place), but to allow life to go on.
    I guess that’s part of my problem with most interpretations of the story. This notion that God created us, so therefor he has every right and authority to destroy us when he judges us unacceptable. If two parents were to announce that they found their child’s direction in life immoral and corrupt, and that they were therefor going to drown him or her, we would see this as monstrous. But when God chooses to wipe only most of us out, we consider that merciful?