Dating the flood

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Tue Oct 3 14:03:59 EDT 2000

Banyai Michael wrote,

>Rolf Furuli wrote:
>> Gen. 11:10 These are the descendants of Shem. When Shem was a hundred years
>> old, he became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood;
>> Gen. 11:11 and Shem lived after the birth of Arpachshad five hundred years,
>> and had other sons and daughters.
>> Gen. 11:12 When Arpachshad had lived thirty-five years, he became the
>> father of Shelah;
>> In each case from Shem to Abraham we find the age of the father when the
>> son was born and how long after the birth the father lived. As a linguist I
>> am very well aware of the ambiguity of language and I wrestle with it
>> daily, but I cannot see the slightest possibility that there can be gaps in
>> this genealogy where the fatherhood is so clearly stated. Your examples
>> above do not cover genealogies of this kind. So I think you have to face
>> the fact: If it can be proven that a worldwide flood did not occur around
>> 2.400 BCE the Bible is wrong.
>Dear Rolf, as a long working linguist in the field of the ANE you should
>observed, that this is not the kind of genealogies we usually have to do,
>they be Assyrian, Egyptian or else.
>Genealogies in the ANE DON¥T usually consist of such data, like the age
>ancestor was born to his begetter and so on, so on. They rarely say
>about the age one reached. This invites to caution.
>As it looks for me, the shorter, more realistic looking set of data, that
>concernining the age of the patriarchs as their heis were born, is
>Those numbers, once added, gave once a sum of 1460 years between flood and
>destruction of the Schechem temple by Abimelech. Thus the data were
>meant as of a Phoenix period (we recognise the Phoenix both impersonated
>by the
>pigeon and the raven sent by Noah after the flood, Phoenix being a wood
>according to a sumerian gloss quoted by Pettinato) ending in destruction.
>This later set ought thus be dated to the aftermass of this destruction.
>The ages of the patriarchs seem to be older data and are in harmony for
>with the high data of the early babylonian dynasties or with those
>the "predynastic" rulers of Egypt as quoted by Manetho. Maybe they once
>alluded to the same Phoenix period somehow, but it lies beyond our
>to demonstrate.
>However the data don¥t fit for proper chronological use. This has nothing
>to say
>to the historicity of the flood.
>I don¥t however understand the logic of those stressing the fact that
>could not have been a global flood, so the flood story would be
>unhistoric. Are
>we to suppose the Hebrews or Assyrians writing about a "global" flood, had
>idea about the existence of Australia or of the Americas? I don¥t know who
>the naive in this play? Their little world (I mean at the time we first
>hear of a flood story) was cofined to an area of several 100s of

Dear Banyai,

Your points are interesting from a philological point of view, although I
think we should not ascribe a Cabbalistic numerical view to the Biblical
genealogies. Your words, however, make visible a very important question of
which I think many on the list will be interested: Is there any place for

"God" or "a god" in scientific research? (I will use "God" in what follows
without necessarily imply the Christian "God")

In the natural sciences God is a priori excluded, because questions
including such an entity is viewed as metaphysical. However, in
astrobiology (the science working with the question whether there is life
other places in the universe than on the earth), the methodology used can
in principle be applied to questions about the existence of God as well. On
one hand it is understandable that only natural phenomena are used for
explaining scientific questions, on the other hand the question about our
origin is a pressing existensial question, so it can be argued that it is
not fine just to exclude it on the grounds of principle.

I have groppled with the question about the place of God, and I see the
great disadvantages for its general exclusion at least in some of the
sciences. I subscribe to Popper's view that theories should be falsifiable
and realize that according to the hypothetic deductive method (HDM) nothing
can be verified, but something can be falsified. Taking the principles of
exobiology as a point of departure, and using the HDM,I have worked the
following way (this is just a sketch) with the question about the origin of
life, a question which can be illuminated in a systematic way.

1) If a theory is construced, predictions are made and some of these are
falsified, we have not come very far toward the "truth" if there ar one
hundre other possible interpretations. But if we can be sure there are just
two possible answers and one is falsified, we have a very strong case in
favor of the other possibility (even though it is not verified by this).The
question about the origin of life can be ruduced to just two possibilities:
Either life originated by chance, or its origin is one or more "living

2) To dig into this I first calculated the existence (in numbers) of the
bioelements (atoms such as carbon, nitrogen etc. used by living organisms)
on the earth.Then I calculated their availability. Phosphorus is a
particular problem which I have never seen addressed by evolutionary
scientists. It is important for the DNA, yet it existed on the primordial
earth in fluoprapatite, a highly unsulubable and unreactive rock. If some
of it was dissolved and it entered the oceans, it would almost immediately
precipitate and be useless.

3) Thereafter I calculated the available energy (particularly from the sun,
and how it could be used to synthetize molecules). Interestingly each
atom/molecule will only accept energy at different vawelengths, each
element being different. The vawelengths below 1500 Angstrom which are
accepted is for instance just 1 thousandth of the energy of the sun light.
This means that the destructive force of the sun is 10.000 to 100.000
greater than its synthetizing power.

4) A calculation of the equilibrium constants of the bioelements in water
solution is also impressive, carbon 0,02 %, phosphorus 0,00000007 %,
sulphur 0,00000001 %, nitrogen 10 (in -50 order) %. Any primordial soup
could only exist if the laws of chemistry as we know them were not valid.

5) Much more problematic than the destructiveness of energy and the small
equilibrium constants of the bioelements is the *information* requirement
in living organisms. The smallest living cell is Mycoplasma hominis H39. It
contains 300.000 bits of information. The absolutely smallest *theoretical*
living cell would contain 57.600 bits of information. According to the laws
of probability, 200 bits is the most that can be generated by chance.

6) There are also different centers in the cells containing huge amounts of
information. When a cell will divide to make two cells, more mitocondrions
must be made and this requires mitocondrion proteins, The chains of amino
acids constituting these proteins are partly coded in the big DNA of the
nucleus and partly in the small DNA of the  Mitochondrion. So both must at
the same time start a synthetizing of the correct part that eventually will
be lead into the mitocondrion and being fit together to form proteins. This
means that there must be some information center which *knowns* both the
DNAs, the constitution of each protein, where the parts of it are coded,
and which can start the complicated process at the right moment. There is,
however, a problem of size between the DNA and each amino acid coded for by
three of its steps. To compensate for this, the  "information center" must
activate the enzymes which I think are the most fantastic molecules extant,
namely, the Amino-acyl-t-RNA-synthetases. The 20 different molecules - one
for each amino acid used in living organisms- must already exist (and the
construction of them is even more complex). They are very complex, because
they can read DNA-language on one side and translate it to amino acid
language on the other. These enzymes together with hundreds of other
specialized molecules work together and form the parts of the Mitocondrion
proteins. The problem for the chance-origin-view is that all these
molecules together with the central information must be present
*simultaneously*. And this is just a very small part of the functions of
the living cell.

I have used much time to study the origin of life. By pointing to objective
data: the evailability of biolements and and their acceptance of particular
kinds of energy; and by the applying of chemical and physical laws and
calculations of probability (which all are only *statistics*, but still are
the best we have; thus having a strong force), I see one of the two
possibilities for the origin of life falsified. Mere chance cannot be the
origin of life! This does not mean that the "God" of the Bible immediately
treads into the scene. I see the alternative to a chance origin as "living
intelligence(s) and nothing more. The nature of this intelligence(s) cannot
be construed on the basis of science, so the only possibility for this is a
supernatural revelation.

On the basis of this I do not think the scientific approach of a priori
excluding God is the best approach in all situations. There are several
sides of the Bible that makes it a special book, and in addition, several
authors claim that their message came from God. To use inerrancy as a basis
in scientific work with the Bible and its text is metodologically
unacceptable. Your approach is on the other hand scientific and therefore
perfectly acceptable. However, your approach is in effect the very opposite
of inerrancy, because it excludes the possibility that any part of the
Bible can have a divine origin. My approach is somewhat in the middle,
namely,that we neither should presume or exclude a divine origin of the
text, but that we at the outset should take the text at face value and then
test it against all our knowledge. This is the reason why I have stressed
that we need to se exactly what the Bible says about the flood, and then
evalue this information.

I would like to stress that this approach to the text of the Bible does not
effect my linguistic study of the verbal system of Classical Hebrew. This
is an inductive (and deductive) study of the very text and is not directly
affected by the origin of the text. In just one minor respect will this
study be affected, namely, regarding the dating of the individual books. I
am for instance not much impressed by the deuteronomistic historical
hypothesis and other dating schemes, because they contain just as much, or
evem more conjecture than even dating schemes do in historical geology. At
the outset I take the claims of each book as a point of departure, and then
see where the data will lead me instead of beforehand subscribing to a
particular hypothesis. Nobody has been able to demonstrate that the meaning
of finite verbs has changed from the oldest to the youngest part of the
Tanach, and therefore my study is very little affected by the dating of the
different books.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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