Mark Twain, Philosophy

Thoughts on God (by Mark Twain)

How often we are moved to admit the intelligence exhibited in both the designing and the execution of some of His works. Take the fly, for instance. The planning of the fly was an application of pure intelligence, morals not being concerned. Not one of us could have planned the fly, not one of us could have constructed him; and no one would have considered it wise to try, except under an assumed name. It is believed by some that the fly was introduced to meet a long-felt want. In the course of ages, for some reason or other, there have been millions of these persons, but out of this vast multitude there has not been one who has been willing to explain what the want was. At least satisfactorily. A few have explained that there was need of a creature to remove disease-breeding garbage; but these being then asked to explain what long-felt want the disease-breeding garbage was introduced to supply, they have not been willing to undertake the contract.

There is much inconsistency concerning the fly. In all the ages he has not had a friend, there has never been a person in the earth who could have been persuaded to intervene between him and extermination; yet billions of persons have excused the Hand that made him – and this without a blush. Would they have excused a Man in the same circumstances, a man positively known to have invented the fly? On the contrary. For the credit of the race let us believe it would have been all day with that man. Would persons consider it just to reprobate in a child, with its undeveloped morals, a scandal which they would overlook in the Pope?

When we reflect that the fly was as not invented for pastime, but in the way of business; that he was not flung off in a heedless moment and with no object in view but to pass the time, but was the fruit of long and pains-taking labor and calculation, and with a definite and far-reaching, purpose in view; that his character and conduct were planned out with cold deliberation, that his career was foreseen and fore-ordered, and that there was no want which he could supply, we are hopelessly puzzled, we cannot understand the moral lapse that was able to render possible the conceiving and the consummation of this squalid and malevolent creature.

Let us try to think the unthinkable: let us try to imagine a Man of a sort willing to invent the fly; that is to say, a man destitute of feeling; a man willing to wantonly torture and harass and persecute myriads of creatures who had never done him any harm and could not if they wanted to, and – the majority of them – poor dumb things not even aware of his existence. In a word, let us try to imagine a man with so singular and so lumbering a code of morals as this: that it is fair and right to send afflictions upon the just – upon the unoffending as well as upon the offending, without discrimination.

If we can imagine such a man, that is the man that could invent the fly, and send him out on his mission and furnish him his orders:

“Depart into the uttermost corners of the earth, and diligently do your appointed work. Persecute the sick child; settle upon its eyes, its face, its hands, and gnaw and pester and sting; worry and fret and madden the worn and tired mother who watches by the child, and who humbly prays for mercy and relief with the pathetic faith of the deceived and the unteachable. Settle upon the soldier’s festering wounds in field and hospital and drive him frantic while he also prays, and betweentimes curses, with none to listen but you, Fly, who get all the petting and all the protection, without even praying for it. Harry and persecute the forlorn and forsaken wretch who is perishing of the plague, and in his terror and despair praying; bite, sting, feed upon his ulcers, dabble your feet in his rotten blood, gum them thick with plague-germs – feet cunningly designed and perfected for this function ages ago in the beginning — carry this freight to a hundred tables, among the just and the unjust, the high and the low, and walk over the food and gaum it with filth and death. Visit all; allow no man peace till he get it in the grave; visit and afflict the hard-worked and unoffending horse, mule, ox, ass, pester the patient cow, and all the kindly animals that labor without fair reward here and perish without hope of it hereafter; spare no creature, wild or tame; but wheresoever you find one, make his life a misery, treat him as the innocent deserve; and so please Me and increase My glory Who made the fly.”

We hear much about His patience and forbearance and long-suffering; we hear nothing about our own, which much exceeds it. We hear much about His mercy and kindness and goodness – in words – the words of His Book and of His pulpit – and the meek multitude is content with this evidence, such as it is, seeking no further; but whoso searcheth after a concreted sample of it will in time acquire fatigue. There being no instances of it. For what are gilded as mercies are not in any recorded case more than mere common justices, and due – due without thanks or compliment. To rescue without personal risk a cripple from a burning house is not a mercy, it is a mere commonplace duty; anybody would do it that could. And not by proxy, either – delegating the work but confiscating the credit for it. If men neglected “God’s poor” and “God’s stricken and helpless ones” as He does, what would become of them? The answer is to be found in those dark lands where man follows His example and turns his indifferent back upon them: they get no help at all; they cry, and plead and pray in vain, they linger and suffer, and miserably die. If you will look at the matter rationally and without prejudice, the proper place to hunt for the facts of His mercy, is not where man does the mercies and He collects the praise, but in those regions where He has the field to Himself.

It is plain that there is one moral law for heaven and another for the earth. The pulpit assures us that wherever we see suffering and sorrow which we can relieve and do not do it, we sin, heavily. There was never yet a case of suffering or sorrow which God could not relieve. Does He sin, then? If He is the Source of Morals He does – certainly nothing can be plainer than that, you will admit. Surely the Source of law cannot violate law and stand unsmirched; surely the judge upon the bench cannot forbid crime and then revel in it himself unreproached. Nevertheless we have this curious spectacle: daily the trained parrot in the pulpit gravely delivers himself of these ironies, which he has acquired at second-hand and adopted without examination, to a trained congregation which accepts them without examination, and neither the speaker nor the hearer laughs at himself.  It does seem as if we ought to be humble when we are at a bench-show, and not put on airs of intellectual superiority there.

(Written in early 1900s)


Using Science to Establish the Plausibility of the Biblical Account of Noah’s Ark

The World Is Destroyed by Water (Gustav Dore)

Can science establish the plausibility of the Biblical account of Noah’s ark?

Those who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and that every word in the Bible is true often struggle when certain questions are posed by those who are skeptical of the literal truth of the story of Noah’s ark:

How did Noah construct a seaworthy vessel made of wood of the size described in the Bible?

How were all of the animals gathered to the ark?

How could that many animals fit on the ark?

How did Noah successfully feed and care for all of those animals?

How did the animals disburse to the rest of the world after the ark landed?

Because Christian apologists (those who seek to present reasoned arguments in support of Christianity) want to prove to people that the ark story is true by using facts and reason, apologists must provide a plausible answer to every one of those questions if they want to establish the overall plausibility of the story. If a critical question does not have a plausible answer, then the entire story is implausible (it’s like the links in a chain: If one link fails, then the entire chain fails).

Creation scientists Bert Thompson, PhD and Brad Harrub, PhD wanted to answer those questions when they co-wrote an essay entitled An Examination of Noah’s Ark and the Global Flood (published by Apologetics Press). Thompson and Harrub said that “the primary focus of this article will be to document both the feasibility and the scientific accuracy of the account of Noah and the ark as revealed in Genesis.”

Let’s look at just one of those critical questions and see if there is a plausible scientific answer to that question, which would, in turn, support the “scientific accuracy” of the overall story of Noah’s ark:

How were all of the animals gathered to the ark in the first place?

There are about 20,000 zoologists and wildlife biologists in the United States today. They are among the most highly-trained animal specialists in the world. If we could hire all of them to seek the tens of thousands of animals of every “kind” (however that term may be defined) claimed to have been on the ark and then gather them to a single location, does the reader think the scientists could accomplish that task?

No, because the problems facing the scientists would be myriad and insurmountable.

The scientists would first have to have a detailed list of all of the animals they would need to find and they would need to know each animal’s specific habitat so that they could locate all of those animals (penguins in Antarctica, polar bears in the Arctic, kangaroos in Australia, toucans in the Americas, and so forth).

Once the habitats were located, the scientists would have to find and select robustly healthy specimens of each kind (avoiding not only ill specimens but also all specimens that harbored certain unseen genetic disorders). The scientists would have to find pairs of both sexes (which is not obvious for many animals where sex can only be determined by subtle morphological differences between the sexes). And, of course, each pair would have to be fertile, which cannot be determined by just looking at an animal. Identifying the necessary specimens (who would all have to be healthy, genetically fit, the right sexes, and fertile) would require the use of every modern veterinary analytical tool now available to scientists (and perhaps some tools that don’t even yet exist).

After a particular specimen pair was located, how would the scientists capture the specimens? How would they capture thousands and thousands of varieties of birds? Capturing a rhinoceros or a cape buffalo or a polar bear or an African lion or a hyena or a komodo dragon or a leopard or a hippopotamus – all of which are exceedingly dangerous animals – would almost certainly require the use of modern tranquilizer guns.

Once captured, all of the animals would have to be carefully caged, cared for, and transported to a single gathering place.

If we were to take a poll of those thousands of zoologists and wildlife biologists before asking them to take on this task, who thinks the scientists would have any confidence that they could accomplish such a task, even with tranquilizers, sophisticated analytical veterinary tools, modern transportation, and vast amounts of money?

Could Noah have done the task, even if he was assisted by every human being then living on Earth?

In their essay, Thompson and Harrub immediately concede that the task of gathering the animls was not Noah’s job. His job was to build the ark. Instead, the co-authors simply point to Genesis 6:20, which says that the animals “will come to you”.

How might that plausibly happen?

The conclusion that Thompson and Harrub ultimately provide for the gathering of the animals to the ark is that the gathering was almost certainly “prompted by divine instinct” (the animals all walked, crawled, slithered, and flew to the ark due to a special instinct instilled in the animals by God). What is Thompson and Harrub’s logical – and scientific – support for such a conclusion? “If God could bring the animals to Adam to be named (Genesis 2:19), could He not just as easily bring them to Noah to be saved? If not, why not?”

That is not science. That is not proof of the “scientific accuracy” of that portion of the tale. As Benjamin Radford in Live Science said, “Once a supernatural miracle is invoked to explain one thing, it can be used to explain everything.” And, if miracles are used to explain anything, then they actually explain nothing at all.

A publication written separately by one of the co-authors (Bert Thompson) entitled The Global Flood of Noah, which was also published by Apologetics Press, directly addresses the essential role that miracles had to have played in the story of Noah’s ark.

Thompson said that the “account of the Great Flood in Genesis 6-8 entails the overriding power of an Almighty God in what undoubtedly were supernatural (i.e., miraculous) events” and that the flood story is “a miraculous situation from beginning to end.” He quotes the work of Whitcomb and Morris (1961): “The simple fact of the matter is that one cannot have any kind of a Genesis Flood without acknowledging the presence of supernatural powers.” Thus, Thompson said, “the fact remains that certain aspects of the Flood record cannot be accounted for on the basis of purely natural processes.”

Thompson is admitting that the flood story cannot be proven using science. The story could only happen if supernatural miracles occurred “from beginning to end” of the flood story. Yet, he and Harrub claim that their explanation establishes the “scientific accuracy” of the tale of Noah’s flood.

That is simply not true.
I would love to read a defense of the Noah’s ark tale that did not repeatedly rely on miracles to prove the truth of the tale. But after an extensive search, I don’t believe such a defense exists. I don’t believe such a defense can exist.

To answer the question posed at the beginning of this essay: No, science cannot establish the plausibility of the Biblical account of Noah’s ark, notwithstanding protests by creation scientists to the contrary, because science cannot, among other things, establish the plausibility of the gathering of the animals to the ark.

Why do creation scientists cling to the false pretense that they can demonstrate the “scientific accuracy” of the story when such a demonstration simply cannot be made? Rather than claiming, dishonestly, that science can establish the plausibility of the tale of Noah’s ark, why don’t creation scientists just cut to the chase and say: “The Bible tells the story of Noah’s ark. Therefore, the story is true. Period.” — and stop misleading people with claims that science can prove the truth of the tale?

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