One of my hobbies is studying plane crashes, and also arguing about whether or not god exists. Today I get to do a post incorporating both. 🙂
When arguing with your everyday Joe Christian it isn’t long before you encounter the question “Were you there?” This comes as a response to all sorts of things: global flood, Jesus’ resurrection, the origin of the universe, and on, and on.
The idea is that if we weren’t there to see it, how do we know what happened? It originates with Ken Ham “preparing” children to be oblivious pains in the ass to their science teachers:
So no, none of us where there for most of the universe’s history. Does that make a guy rising from the dead just as plausible as people making that story up about their religious leader (like people have done for their religious leaders throughout history)? Well, no.
But also, so what if we weren’t there? We figure out what happened when we weren’t there all the time (otherwise police investigators and forensic experts wouldn’t have jobs).
The comparison I’d like to draw is with plane crashes. Last March was the Germanwings 9525 crash. The day it happened I wrote a post speculating on the evidence at hand, concluding:
What’s so damn strange about this is that the pilots never issued a distress call or sent a mayday signal. It was actually air traffic control that declared the emergency. If the plane was out of control, this might be understandable (but even in those situations the pilots generally manage to contact air traffic control to declare emergency).
However, it doesn’t seem like the plane is in an uncontrolled descent. The rate of descent is constant, which suggests the pilots had some degree of control (though clearly not complete control). It’s been determined that the speed on impact was about 350 mph, which is consistent with engine failure as is the steady rate of descent (it’s also about the speed at which you would try to reignite the engines). It looks like the pilot was gliding and trying to make an emergency landing. But engine failure would not result in a wide debris field, nor would it prevent the pilots from communicating with air traffic control. On top of that, the A320 can fly safely on a single engine and dual engine failure, though not impossible(see Air Canada #143, Air Transat #236, British Airways #9, Southern Airways #242, and US Airways #1549 which famously landed safely in the Hudson River – it was also an A320 model) is extremely rare.
We now know that the pilot did have control because he flew it into the mountain on purpose. When I wrote that the pilot clearly did not have complete control I was ruling out suicide in my head. I guess that’s why I’m a blogger.
The day after I wrote that post it was confirmed to be a suicide crash. Had I not made a bad assumption I would’ve been able to figure it out completely a day before the announcement from half way around the world. Clearly, I was not there, but it didn’t matter.
The same can be said of the EgyptAir flight that crashed yesterday. Nobody was there at the crash site, and no person alive was on the plane when it crashed. So why even bother trying to figure out how it happened?
Well, because we can. We can look for evidence that points to what happened. One of the first things investigators look for is the “four corners”, these being the nose, both wing tips, and the tail. If they are in a tight formation then they know the plane was intact when it hit the ground. If they’re spread out then they know the plane began to come apart in mid-air.
In this case they’ve found pieces of the plane in a different location from the crash site:
Kammenos also said it appears that aircraft crews participating in the search “have located further findings in a different location.”
This tells investigators that the plane was breaking up in mid-air, rather than striking the ground completely intact. Even without having been there we can know this as an absolute fact.
While the initial hypothesis is a terror attack (investigators are being very assertive that this is a hypothesis and not a conclusion), the plane breaking up in mid-air doesn’t necessarily confirm it was a bomb or a matter of terrorism. Plenty of crashes have been caused by pieces falling off a plane due to a technical malfunction or faulty maintenance, such as with Alaska Airlines flight #251, Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529, Japan Airlines Flight 123, and El Al Flight 1862 (where one engine detached from the wing and knocked the other engine off the same wing). Plenty of other such incidents have occurred but not resulted in crashes such as with United Airlines Flight 811, Aloha Airlines Flight 243, and British Airways flight 5390 when the windshield broke free due to improper maintenance. It didn’t cause a crash, but it sucked the captain out of the plane. Coolest shit ever though: he survived!
While the EgyptAir plane breaking up in mid-air doesn’t confirm a terrorist attack or a bomb, but plenty of other things do. There are some flight patterns that are simply incompatible with a technical malfunction. What’s more, bombs leave molecular residue and particular tear patterns in the wreckage.
So once again, even without having been there, we can piece it together to figure out what happened — and investigators will. Eventually, probably sooner rather than later, we will know why this plane crashed even though none of us were there.
The same can be done with claims of people rising from the dead or even for the origins of the life and the universe. Sure, nobody alive was there, but so what? Evidence often lives on, and we can see that. We can see that the surface tension of water cannot support a full grown human being, so before we accept that Jesus actually did it as opposed to this just being a tall tale, we’d need some evidence — otherwise the evidence we do have works against that claim.
Ditto with Jesus rising from the dead. Ditto with a global flood, and on, and on.
The “were you there?” line of argument just serves as a distraction from the “which side has more evidence?” line of argument, which doesn’t do much for us in any other part of our lives. I find it terribly unlikely it serves us well when determining the truth of religious claims.