Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Natural, preternatural, and supernatural in Exodus

I'd like to make a point about assessing supernatural explanations. Consider an illustration. On the issue of large numbers in the OT, Colin J. Humphreys said the following: 
A further reason relates to the crossing of the Red Sea, which the book of Exodus records happened in less than one night. 1.75 million people, ten abreast and 1 metre apart, would form a column of people 175 kilometres long. It is hard to believe that so many people could cross the Red Sea on foot in one night. 

Now a Christian might object on the grounds that we're dealing with a miracle. But I think that's too indiscriminate. Parting the Red Sea is a supernatural (or preternatural) event, but crossing the Red Sea is a natural event. God does the parting, but humans do the crossing. The Israelites crossed on foot at a natural pace. God was able to teleport them from one side to the other, but he didn't. When it comes to interpreting the narrative description, when it comes to visualizing the scene, it's not inappropriate to consider logistics. It's not wrong to ask if 1.75 million Israelites is a realistic figure. To say "it's a miracle," or "God did it" is not an adequate response to that specific issue, for the narrative doesn't say or imply that there was anything supernatural about the Exodus in that particular respect. To appeal to a miracle to solve that problem (if it is a problem) would be a classic deus ex machina. Hence, it's proper to question the traditional interpretation of the figures. 

Even within a supernatural framework, we need to be consistent. We need to follow through with the same principle–be it natural or supernatural. Not begin with one principle, but end with another–after changing horses in midstream. Not begin with a horse but end with a unicorn, or vice versa.   

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