Between Migdol and the Sea is the book, by Carl Drews, of the paper Dynamics of Wind Setdown at Suez and the Eastern Nile Delta, by Carl Drews and Weiqing Han. Just so you don’t get confused, its subtitled “Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science”. Those with long memories will recall the Great Fuss and Part II four years ago when the paper was first published. Since I was nice then, Carl asked if I’d like a copy of the book, and I said yes.
Having read the book, and re-read what I wrote then, and a number of comments by other people, I don’t find anything I’d want to unsay; and about the science, nothing more I need say. I feel a bit guilty for calling it a harmless minor piece of hydrodynamics (Carl asks if he could perhaps be promoted to “mostly harmless”). How one approaches a subject affects the language one uses: I came to this from the PZM side, not agreeing with him, but trying to find some compromise with him (which didn’t work, but never mind). So my language towards Carl wasn’t so conciliatory. We get one minor extra data point from a four year’s perspective, which is who has chosen to cite it. The answer (if we ignore one from ICR) is a couple of times, but only as an example of the sort of simulations ROMS can do. So, not great, and clearly it hasn’t started a new field. But almost nothing does, so that’s hardly a complaint. The best defence of the paper remains what it was before: academic freedom, the value of curiosity-driven research, and playfulness.
The paper is the center of the book, but there’s rather more. Perhaps the core is in the subtitle “Crossing the Red Sea with Faith and Science”; that’s what he really wants to establish. And before we re-open all the old arguments: no, this still doesn’t affect the value of the paper, considered in isolation. To convince you of his thesis, he needs to do a couple of things: 1, that it could have physically happened; 2, that it kinda fits, in terms of the mechanisms of getting people across; 3, that it works historically. There’s also an interesting survey of other people’s proposed places where the crossing might have occurred, and such.
For 1, we have the paper. To do 2, there’s a couple of chapters of “story”: a re-telling as he imagines it. Fair enough, and readable. There’s also a need to re-work the numbers given in Exodus for the numbers who crossed, and so on – there’s a lot of detail that I won’t attempt to summarise. For 3, well, this isn’t my subject but I’m inclined to believe the std version: as the Not So Good Book says:
Other attempts to date the Exodus to a specific century have been equally inconclusive. Details in the story in fact hint that a complex and multilayered editing process has been at work: the Exodus cities of Pithom and Rameses, for example, were not inhabited during most of the New Kingdom period, and the forty years of wilderness wanderings are also full of inconsistencies and anachronisms. It is therefore best to treat the Exodus story not as the record of a single historical event but as a “powerful collective memory of the Egyptian occupation of Canaan and the enslavement of its population” during the 13th and 12th centuries (Ann Killebrew (2005), p. 151).
Doubtless you have your own opinion. Carl has several chapters addressing this and trying to demonstrate the historical reality of the Exodus.
Type A and type B
The Good Book says:
And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
This is interesting, to me, because had you asked me I’d have said “well the Bible says that God parted the waters”. Or somesuch. But it says no such thing: it says fairly clearly that God caused a wind, and the wind moved the sea. Who cares about such distinctions? Well, I do: because its interesting when a piece of text you thought you knew turns out not to say quite what you thought it did, when you read it closely.
The second interest is not one for me, since I’m a good atheist: the distinction between miracles that are clear suspensions of the laws of physics, and miracles that are merely massively improbable; that are essentially only miracles because of the coincidence of timing. Carl wishes to establish the crossing of the Red (really Reed) Sea as one of the latter type. To me, its a weird distinction: if I were an all-powerful God, why would I ever bother with the second sort? Causing a wind to occur at just the right time would be “as hard” as just pushing the water aside directly (I put “as hard” in quotes because it doesn’t mean anything, physically; both are suspensions of the laws of physics, only one of them is indirect). But I’m an atheist, not an all-powerful god.
There’s also some examination of words. Does “the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left” mean as with Charlton Heston, with a physical “wall of water”? Or does it mean “wall” in the sense of protective barrier? Depending on how you view things, this is either an interesting exercise in trying to understand the language, now, as written thousands of years ago; or weaselling. I’m happy to go with the former.
The snappy conclusion
I feel I ought to have one, but I haven’t. Oh, but what about conclusion of the article Jerry A. Coyne aka Why Evolution Is True wrote? He really really didn’t like the paper, in much the same way as PZM. JAC boldly predicted But I predict that… will open the floodgates for a whole host of Jebus-scientists to publish “technically sound” defenses of the Bible. So, he was wrong. Ha. Snappy enough?