Silly Rationalizations

The notes to the New Jerusalem Bible include the following comment on Exodus 16:15: “Manna is an insect secretion found on tamarisks.”

This is one of the more unfortunate and absurd notes in the NJB. The editors apparently think it’s credible to think the following:

  • Insect secretions could be collected in sufficient quantity to fill 6 bushels each for 600,000 men without anyone noticing or mentioning the presence of the bazillion insects that would be necessary to produce such a volume. A single bushel is about 9 gallons. That means there would have been 54 gallons of insect secretions each: more than 32 million gallons total. Every night for forty years. Is it even remotely plausible to believe that such a volume could be produced by insects on a nightly basis without anyone bothering to mention them?
  • The insect secretions would rot overnight…except on Friday nights. For forty years.
  • Twice as much insect secretions appeared on Friday mornings, and none on Saturdays. For forty years.
  • The insect secretions stopped when Israel was able to eat from the produce of the Promised Land.

Is it more reasonable to believe in unmentioned insects achieving these remarkable things, or to believe that God miraculously fed His people?

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Posted in Apologetics, Fides et Ratio, Scripture
5 comments on “Silly Rationalizations
  1. beholdin says:

    And there weren’t really quails; they were insects, too. :-)

  2. aquinasetc says:

    Heh. Undoubtedly. :-)

  3. davidmeyer75 says:

    I sympathize with your frustration.

    I recently was reading Warren Carroll’s History of Christendom Vol. 1, and when it goes over the Exodus miracles, he points out similar things with the water from the rock and making the water not bitter, etc. But I really trust Carroll, so I gave him a chance. I knew he wasnt the type to need to rationalize miracles like a higher critic or some unbeliever or sceptic. I really liked his take on things.

    He mostly convinced me that these are not merely silly rationalizations. Of course for some people they CAN be merely silly rationalizations. What he explained is how God uses creation for his miracles. We see it over and over.

    The plagues were natural stuff (frogs, boils etc.) that were used in a miraculous way. Looking back after the plague though, people could say “oh it was just some extra frogs, not a miracle”. Perhaps it is the same with the manna… a natural substance apearing in a miraculous and naturally unexplainable way. Even the parting of the Red Sea actually says that a wind blew all night to make the path (unlike Holywood).

    “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided,”

    A naysayer could have said that Moses simply lifted up his hand and pretended to do what nature was doing anyway. Warren Carroll puts a pox on both houses though by pointing out that all these things could reasonably only be seen as true miracles, but on the other hand, they do use natural processes as well in many (not all) cases.
    Ok so there was perhaps a land bridge that dried out sometimes. BUT for it to dry out right when Israel needed it to, and then close right when they needed it to… that is miraculous.
    The scientific fact is that there is a white substance that naturally occurs that people can eat. But for it to appear in such quantity?!… and at strange intervals timed with the sabbath? that is not natural.

    Overall I reccommend Carroll’s explaination to you.

  4. aquinasetc says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your comments. I certainly agree with them, and it wasn’t my intention to suggest something otherwise in the post. I agree that miracles are often God’s providential administration of otherwise natural causes and effects. I’m not really convinced that we can make such an appeal when it comes to the manna, though.

    It would be one thing if natural processes could be used (in keeping with providential timing, for example) to achieve God’s purposes, certainly. In the case of the manna, the particular details seem to me to just plain rule out anything other than a supernatural explanation for the stuff: no natural process that I can imagine would provide for such a volume of food 5 days a week, doubling on the sixth day, which rots daily (except for on the seventh day), and repeats like this for forty years when it stops basically overnight.

    And I forgot to mention that if it had been a naturally occurring thing, the Israelites would not have been mystified by it. They might have been surprised by the quantity, but not baffled by the substance itself (as the text says that they were). And again: no mention of the vast number of insects required to produce it? Really? This seems improbable to me.

    Lastly, the manna is described as the bread of heaven. I find it improbable to suppose that over the course of 40 years no Israelite would have drawn the connection between the bugs that were infesting their camp wherever they went and the presence of these secretions, if that was in fact their source.

    Having said all that…I’m definitely open to hearing a hypothesis that might explain the source of this food on natural terms. I’m pretty doubtful that one exists. On the other hand, it’s not impossible to suppose that Exodus shouldn’t be taken literally with regard to the history it presents, if Moses didn’t intend it that way. That’s another possible explanation of the manna: it wasn’t a literal event. I’m not really convinced of this either, but I concede it’s possible.

    I certainly agree with your overall point, and I have often wondered whether the Flood (for example) was the result of an event like a comet or meteor strike.

    Peace,

    Fred

    • davidmeyer75 says:

      Good points Fred. I want to re-read Carroll now and perhaps I will get back to you here. He seemed convincing to me at the time, but your points are also convincing.

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