God + Wit = Godwit

The new That’s a Fact video for this week, Land Ho!, consists of a jab against those silly, silly people who believe that the biblical flood was somehow ‘local.’ I don’t think I’ve ever met such a person myself, with most non-creationists I know not really believing in a literal flood at all, but young Earth creationists do seem to devote a fair bit of their energies to attacking them as a perceived threat.

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Land Ho! Getting ready to book that flight? Despite the no-frills travel these days, millions continue to fly each year.

Jab it might be, but this video takes an awfully long time to get to it, dealing mostly with irrelevancies.

But few travel over seven thousand miles in just nine days, and no aeroplane can do it without stopping.

While, again, irrelevant to the point at hand this statement is incorrect. The Auckland-Los Angeles leg of a flight, which I’ve done myself, is around 6500 miles – and that is in no way the limit that an aircraft can fly. Sydney to Los Angeles is 7486 miles, for example, and there are likely flights making that trip (or in the opposite direction) as you read this.

As I noted on twitter last night, aeroplanes have, in fact, circumnavigated the Earth without stopping. The Rutan Voyager took just over nine days to make a 26,366 mile (42,432 kilometres) journey in 1986, while the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer took less than three days in 2005 to make the same trip. In other words, while it doesn’t actually matter here the “no aeroplane can do it without stopping” is simply not true. What does matter, however, is that they wrote that throwaway line without even checking its factual accuracy, and then expect people not to think that the name of the series isn’t deeply ironic.

That’s what a bar-tailed godwit did in 2007. It flew 7,145 miles from Alaska to New Zealand in just nine days, setting the record for the longest non-stop bird migration. The godwit slimmed down to half its size by the time it landed.

This is true, at least – although by ‘size’ they should say body weight.

The Sooty Shearwater flies nearly 40,000 miles round-trip each year, but even these long-distance fliers need to find land and rest at some point.

The Sooty Shearwater turns out to be another name for what in these parts is called a titi, or muttonbird. By virtue of being a rock jutting out over the edge of the Earth, New Zealand has a lot of these long-distance migratory birds. It should go without saying that a 40,000 mile trip would include stopping, as that’s greater than the circumference of the Earth.

After forty days and nights of rain, when the Earth was covered with water, Noah released a raven and a dove from the Ark to find out when dry land would appear again. When Noah released the dove it eventually returned, unable to find a place to land. After a week he sent the dove out again, and it finally returned with a fresh olive leaf in its beak.

The flood narrative (in Genesis 7 and 8) is rather confusing. It opens by talking about “forty days and forty nights” of rain, but then goes on beyond that to mention a period of 150 days over which the waters abated, while it was apparently only in the tenth month (the flood started in the second) that the tops of mountains could be seen. The story then goes back to the “end of forty days,” which would seem to be the original forty days (like the video says) as there there was apparently no exposed land at this point, and the raven and dove were sent out. The raven did not return, instead travelling “to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.” Depending on your interpretation of this mess, questions may need to be raised about whether it could have survived, though it isn’t explicitly stated that it did not rest or feed during this time. Noah departs the ark a only week or so later, after the dove fails to return after the third release, which would suggest that there had to be two periods of forty days for Noah to be able to land so soon – but then how come the dove couldn’t find land the first time, even though it’s explicitly stated that the “tops of the mountains” were already seen? Very confusing.

We must also consider how this ties into the flood models that creationists put forward in the present. According to many of them, the “high hills” that were covered during the Flood were in fact made then, there not having been anything particularly tall before then. More relevantly, some models have floating rafts of plant material that the insects (and seeds, presumably) could have survived on and not needed to have been transported and distributed from the ark. Couldn’t the dove have found “rest for the sole of her foot” on one of those, or – heaven forbid – taken a leaf from one of them back to Noah?

Furthermore, in the article covered in Cenomanian Last Stand, Brian Thomas argued that at the end of the 150 days (which he interpreted as being the height of the flood, for some reason known only to himself) there were still pockets of land available for dinosaurs to fight to the death on as the interiors of continents had been “repeatedly washed by successive wave-like surges,” which would raise further problems if we took the single set of forty days view – making the first dove release prior to the disappearance of the last land. But you shouldn’t expect creationists to base their wild guesses around what the bible actually says, that would be silly.

Of course, if the flood was just a local splash of water, then sighting land right away would have been no problem.

The obvious reason for all this talk about migratory birds was to make it sound like, if there was land within about a third of the circumference of the Earth from where the dove was released, it would have been found by the dove. But the titi and the godwit both know where they were going, following the routes of previous years and of their ancestors before them. Our (hypothetical) dove does not know where it is or where it is going, and has no landmarks or other guidance – whatever distance it travelled is unlikely to have been very far. It wouldn’t have flown for nine days either, both because its not a godwit and because tt would seem that on the second try, at least, the dove came back as soon as that evening!

The "splash," at 1:11On a related note, if we took this video’s depiction of a “splash” literally we end up with something like the most recent xkcd What if? discussion, but on a truly grand scale. Something like that, assuming it wasn’t travelling at a velocity sufficient to destroy the planet, could at least have flattened all life in a radius easily large enough to cause the dove to return in despair. Then we would have the question of how the ark survived, but that’s a constant among all non-tranquil envisionings.

But the bible says that all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered by water. God’s judgement was worldwide. And in the end, God used one of his smallest creatures to give hope to Noah and his family that the Earth, and humanity, would be restored once again.

Yes, Noah needed hope – hope that God would not kill him and his family like he did the rest of the world, which I’m sure He thought was funny. This is an aspect to the story that seems to be glossed over, and it’s no wonder that people would want to call it metaphorical. Or, if you’re me, simply not true.


For this fortnight’s housekeeping I’ll note that the switch from the old showpage to the new is really killing the views for these videos. In addition, the new logo that I’ve been seeing around has showed up in this video (not on the main site yet, however) and seems to be an official switch.

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