This week included Presidents’ Day. But the reason that the holiday was Monday–which is not the birthday of any President–is more of a complexity than most people may want to bother with. After reading all of this, you may need a holiday! But the issue actually winds up confronting another matter: namely, do you believe Noah’s Flood really happened?
For starters, as to Presidents’ Day, neither Washington nor Lincoln was born on this year’s holiday, Feb. 16.
Lincoln was born on February 12. But originally his birth date was not included in the congressional law that created the holiday. Originally, the holiday was created to honor only Washington.
But Washington’s birthday itself is confusing. Washington–when he was actually born–arrived on February 11, 1731 in colonial Virginia. But for centuries now February 11 has not been regarded as the date of his birthday. Rather, February 22. And not 1731–rather, 1732.
Here’s what happened:
When Washington was born, it was 1731–a full two centuries after Martin Luther had ignited the Protestant Reformation. The reform movement resulted in many churches breaking from Roman Catholicism. Thus, whatever the Roman Church did, Protestants did the opposite. If Catholic churches had statues of saints in their buildings, Protestants didn’t. If Catholic churches had an organ and other musical instruments in their worship services, Protestants didn’t–at least some Protestants didn’t–like the Calvinists who arrived in Massachusetts: the Pilgrims and the Puritans. This is why even today you won’t find an organ (nor statues, nor stained-glass windows) in some of the bare, plain, whitewashed church buildings in New England.
Washington was born into the Church of England. The practices of his community were likewise wary of Catholicism.
In the Roman Catholic Church, a problem had arisen with the dating of holy days, particularly Easter.
Easter is supposed to be connected to the full Moon at the start of Spring (going back to its Old Testament roots of Passover, which itself originated as a festival of Spring). The first full Moon of Spring occurs soon after the moment when the Sun crosses the Equator from south to north, converting winter into Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Sun’s position over the equator creates the “equinox.” Equinox means “equal night.” It refers to the equal split of 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night that occurs on the date when the Sun crosses the Equator, officially ending winter and starting Spring. Today, we date the Equinox as occurring on March 20.
But that’s the way we date the Equinox today. For over a thousand years, time had been kept differently. It goes all the way back to Julius Caesar. Before Caesar became emperor, he held the position of “high priest.” The term in Latin was pontifex maximus. Pontifex means bridge (as in the word pontoon). The high priest was thought to be the bridge between people and the gods. A main responsibility of the high priest was–to set the dates for religious festivals.
When Caesar became the high priest, he reformed the Roman calendar (after the Roman conquest of Egypt, when they discovered the Egyptian calendar calculating a year as being 365 and 1/4 days). Caesar employed this time-keeping for the Roman republic. His reform of the calendar became known as the “Julian calendar.”
But the Julian calendar itself was slightly off. It was out of sync with the actual orbit of the planet around the Sun. One year according to the Julian calendar was later found to be off by a little more than 10 minutes. A year was occurring 10 minutes too fast, compared to the actual orbit of the Earth around the Sun. Being off by a mere 10 minutes may not seem like much. But over the span of a thousand years, the 10 minutes’ difference accumulated. When the Sun would cross over the Equator, the date kept changing. It kept occurring–on the calendar–sooner than it was occurring in outer space. In other words, on the Julian calendar, the Equinox wasn’t happening (the way we know today) on what would be March 20. The date kept moving earlier in the Month. By the 1500s, the Equinox was 10 days off–it was being dated as March 11 when (by today’s reckoning) it should be March 20. The Equinox on the calendar was out of sync with the Sun’s actual crossing of the Equator by 10 days.
By this time–the Middle Ages–Christianity had taken over most of Europe. Easter was supposed to be the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox. That dating of Easter had been settled since the year 325 at the Council of Nicaea. But the date for Easter kept moving “backwards”–towards the start of the calendar–because the Equinox that it was dated by kept moving backwards–from late March to mid-March.
By the 1500s, the problem had grown so apparent that it was addressed by the new pontifex maximus. The high priest was no longer a pagan official in the Roman Empire but the Pope (called even today the pontiff). The Pope at this time was Gregory XIII. He ordered the calendar to be adjusted. What his advisors did was–they took those 10 days that the calendar was out of sync with the orbit of the Earth around the Sun–and they simply erased those 10 days from the calendar. The days were taken out of the calendar in October of the year 1582. That year, October 4 was followed by October 15!
Catholic countries like Italy and Spain adopted the Gregorian calendar. But–remember–other countries were mainly Protestant–like England. And the Protestants were wary of seeming obedient to anything ordered by the Pope. So the countries were split. Some used the Gregorian calendar. Some stayed with the Julian calendar.
The Julian calendar gave the date of Washington’s birth as February 11 (1731). It took another few decades, but finally the resistance of Protestant countries to the Gregorian calendar broke down. England adopted the change in 1752. By that time, Washington was 21 years old. He experienced the oddity of learning that his birthday was no longer his birthday. He had been born on February 11 under the Julian calendar; his birthday would now be a week and a half later–February 22 under the Gregorian calendar. Even the year was found to need changing. He had been born in 1731; his birth would now be reckoned as occurring in 1732.
So Washington’s birthday came to be known as February 22, 1732. In honor of Washington, the date of his birth became a national holiday. The act was created by Congress in 1879. But some states also honored the birth date of Lincoln, February 12. Over time, both birth dates merged into a single holiday, such that “President’s Day” (singular) became “Presidents’ Day” (plural).
Congress fixed the date as the third Monday in February. So, as it turns out, neither President was born on Preidents’ Day. The date is a compromise between Feb. 12 and Feb. 22. Today is Feb. 16. Other years, Presidents’ Day ranges from as early as Feb. 15 to as late as Feb. 21.
Now–how does this lead to the matter of belief or disbelief concerning Noah’s Flood?
Well, one other person was born on Lincoln’s birthday who shook the world like the great President himself. February 12 is the birthday of Charles Darwin.
Darwin caused people to do what people discovered they always had to do when they got new information: adjust! The calendar was found to be out of sync with the actual revolution of the Earth around the Sun by around 10 minutes. People learned to adjust. A new calendar came to be used. Likewise, people used to read the Bible as being word-for-word true. Darwin knew it couldn’t be.
The Earth could not have been created in six days. Nor could each “day” of the Earth’s creation be creatively translated as an “age”–like a million years. Because even stretching the understanding of “day” to mean an age like millions of years, the order of creation in the Bible still did not match reality. In Genesis 1, the order of creation is human beings, then oceans, then trees and plants, then fish and birds, then land animals. Fossil evidence witnesses differently. Birds did not exist originally at the same time as fish. Some fish evolved into land animals. Some land animals evolved into birds. Genesis 1 has it backwards. Birds exist before land animals. Not to mention the cart going before the horse in the very beginning–when light is created before the Sun and the stars.
Darwin introduced new information. How did the Earth and it creatures come to be? Not by instant creation, but by gradual evolution. At first, Darwin was condemned in pulpits all over Europe and North America. But more & more findings affirmed evolution as a reality. New information meant–people learned to adjust. Many stopped taking the Bible literally. They could recognize the stories in Genesis as myths, containing amazing similarities with the creation stories of other ancient cultures (like the first man being created from clay, and the first woman being formed from the man’s rib).
The Scriptures are valued for their truths about human nature and our relationship with God. But the Bible is no longer regarded by many as science. The Bible is expert in explaining relationships; it is not an expert in geology, astronomy, paleontology, anthropology…
As these sciences have developed, the literal reading of the Scriptures to explain creation has lost credibility.
Geology, for example, helps us to know that there is no evidence of a world-wide flood ever occurring. But even without comparing the story in Genesis 6-10 to the actual findings of science, let’s just consider what’s in the story itself. Let’s consider two items.
First, the only persons whom God plans on saving are eight individuals: Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives. At this point in the story, Noah is 600 years old. His kids–Shem, Ham and Japheth–are over 100 years old.
But we read nothing about their children–the children of Shem, Ham and Japheth. In the days of the Bible, it was unheard of that a couple would not have children. There are biblical stories about a wife who can’t get pregnant–Hannah in 1 Samuel 1, the Shunamite woman in 2 Kings 4 and Elizabeth in Luke 1. But they are favored by God, and each delivers a son. What about Noah’s three sons and their wives? Did all three couples have no children at all? What are the chances that all three couples were infertile–and remained that way until after the Flood? Because after the Flood, they had no trouble procreating (even in their 100s).
Typically, by age 100, by the time of the Flood, they would have had children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. But we’re to believe that none of these offspring were allowed in the Ark. Only the patriarchs–Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth–and their wives. They boarded the Ark knowing that everybody else–all of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and their babies–were left to drown, and it was God’s decision.
Can you stomach that and still take the story as factual?
A few years ago, when I was living in Peoria, Illinois, there was a news story about a couple children who were playing on the banks of the Illinois River (which runs through the city). They lost their footing and fell into the river. The strong current took them under.
This is the scene one has to accept as really happening if a person takes the Flood as factual. There’s no cleaning it up. Shem, Ham and Japheth and their wives had to board the Ark knowing that all of their offspring would be left to drown. The fate would be the same for infants and toddlers all over the planet. And it was all God’s doing.
Let’s consider a second item–the animals. Noah is told to bring into the Ark two of every kind of animal. How did they get the message? I mean, the animals in North America, South America, Europe, the Far East, Australia, the Arctic, the Antarctic…How did they get the message? “Two of you are needed for a long journey.”
“God told them,” obstinate believers would say. Obviously.
Okay, how long did it take? I mean, the story is set in Mesopotamia–“between the rivers”–meaning the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that today is Iraq. How long did it take creatures from North America, South America, Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa, the Arctic and the Antarctic to arrive in the area that is today Iraq?
Penguins living in the Arctic somehow get the message: “Two of you are needed to go on a long journey.” The distance from Barrow, Alaska to Baghdad is 5,200 miles. How long would it take two penguins waddling step by step to go the 5,000 miles from the Arctic to Mesopotamia? Plus, it’s desert. How would penguins survive crossing desert to get to the Ark?
Australia has no land bridge. Its closest neighbor is 90 miles away (Papua New Guinea, itself an island). How did kangaroos and koala bears cross miles & miles of water in order to get off from their island continent on their way to the Ark?
Noah is told to bring the animals on board, two-by-two. I have heard of the Horse Whisperer and the Dog Whisperer. But Noah would have needed to be a Horse Whisperer, a Dog Whisperer, a Grizzly Whisperer, a Komodo Dragon Whisperer, a Wolverine Whisperer, etc.–and an awfully good snake-charmer–to get all of those creatures to board in an orderly fashion and to live together in the Ark for over a year without tearing each other apart.
And what did they eat, if not one another? We read that God instructed Noah to store up food. We could imagine hay and grass. That may be fine for cows, rabbits, camels and zebras. But every member of the feline family from lions to cats eat meat. Did Noah kill enough creatures and store their carcasses in the Ark to feed every meat-eater for more than a year?
When considering new information, or when considering old information from a new viewpoint, can you do what people have done all through the centuries in like situations? They learned to adjust.