Saturday, January 9, 2010

282. Babel 4

1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children built. 6 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech. 8 So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9 Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

The authors of one of the greatest scientific treatises of all time, the Hebrew Bible, also posited a Big Bang to start things off. Given the scarcity of reliable data way back then, we can hardly blame them for getting the date wrong. It was an Out of Africa theory too, though the Children of Israel crossed a different portion of the Red Sea. And they too saw the need for an equivalent to Cosmic Inflation, i.e., a one-time only fudge factor that could explain why things are the way they are now. They too realized that any event likely to produce large global differences had to come early. The Great Flood wouldn't do. It came early enough, but just started things over again from scratch, so the problem remained.

What was the problem they saw? Well, if we are all descended from the same ancestors (in this case, Adam and Eve, via Noah and his children), and we expanded smoothly over the face of the Earth from one generation to the next, then why is it that we don't all speak the same language?

To explain this strange situation, which is in fact very difficult to explain, they proposed a one-time only event, early enough in history so that all the people on Earth would still be gathered in one place: Babylon, or Babel. And, since one-time only events were the specialty of God, they got God to get upset with what these mishuginahs were up to -- building a tower all the way to Heaven -- and hypnotize them into forgetting their original language and babbling incoherently instead. And out of this incoherent babel, all the many language families of the world were born. They really didn't need God. A large enough dose of LSD could have had a similar effect. But it doesn't really matter. Just like Cosmic Inflation, all you need is some event, at exactly the right place and the right time, of exactly the right sort to magically produce, many years down the line, what you already know to be the case in your own time.

But, unfortunately for them, the Tower of Babel story doesn't really work. Because not only do you have to come up with the right event at the right time -- it also has to fit the evidence. And THIS was their weak point.

The things that you're liable, to read in the Bible, they ain't necessarily so.

Now it's our turn.


Maju said...

The authors of one of the greatest scientific treatises of all time, the Hebrew Bible...

You must be kidding, right?

DocG said...

Maju: "You must be kidding, right?"

They knew how to ask the right questions. You could learn from them.

Maju said...

They knew how to write amusing fantasy tales. There are no questions asked: just false answers.

DocG said...

No, Maju, they don't ask questions. But their answers tell us they were aware of certain problems that required answers. And some of the answers they supplied tell us that they were thinking logically. Genesis answers the question of where the universe came from and the Biblical version is a lot like the Big Bang in some ways. It was a singularity for one thing. And it was certainly a bang. And it was BIG!

And their idea of human history is definitely phylogenetic, taking us back to common ancestors. And they even present an Out of Africa model.

And they realize that if we are going to end up with lots of different languages, there has to be a point, very early on, when that division takes place.

As with many myths, there is an underlying science at work, imo, which reveals itself in the kind of questions answered by the myth, which are often very logical questions.