Irreducibly complex is a $37 phrase used to describe the intricacies of certain mechanical and biological processes that can be widely disparate from one another, yet share the fact that missing or inferior parts to their wholes render them useless. For instance, a mousetrap and a human eye cell are both irreducibly complex — if you remove one element of their structures they cease to be what they were intended to be. Remove the spring or the triggering mechanism from a mousetrap or take away the mitochondria or nucleus of a human eye cell and you will not catch mice and you won’t be able to see where the little buggers scampered off to either.
The Bible is a lot like that. People have made a good living ever since 1571 A.D. taking the Bible and running with it, discarding inconvenient parts, changing the words in other parts … basically making a mess of things and leaving a Tower of Babel of interpretations, new findings and all manner of revelation that heretofore remained hidden from the rest of us. At times like these I have a greater than usual appreciation for the gift of Magisterium and one holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.
Now turning any biblical story into a kind of amusement attraction is rife with theological and pop culture landmines conjuring mental pictures of life-size sculptures of the Last Supper hewn from giant blocks of Wisconsin cheddar cheese. And it flies very close to the sun of irreducible complexity. Nevertheless, we now have a Noah’s Ark built to biblical specifications and biblical proportions, located — where else? — the Bible belt. On cue, the secular world descended (or would they have to ascend?) on this new Kentucky attraction in the person of Bill Nye “the science guy,” who immediately heaped the requisite amount of disdain and hostility toward it as one would expect.
Catholics have an advantage over our separated brethren, as we can accept the truth of the Old Testament account of a great flood without insisting it enveloped the whole world or that it took place on an earth that was only six literal days in the making.
We can accept the truth of the story told in a way ancient Hebrews believed was the best way to convey God’s truth. We can revel in the ark representing a premonition of baptism, the Ark of the Covenant and the ultimate human “ark”: our Blessed Mother — all vessels that contained cargo of extraordinary worth. We can also accept the possibility that the real Noah built a real boat with the assistance of his sons and their wives and that a real flood came and washed away everyone and every other living thing, save for what was on their boat. Respected scientist Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who found the Titanic, has seriously researched some evidence that a catastrophic flood took place in the Black Sea region about 7,000 B.C.
Besides the creationist insistence on the earth’s age being calculated in thousands of years rather than billions, Bill Nye and others found something else among the replicas of Noah’s Ark passengers to question: dinosaurs. Reading the explanation for the existence of replica dinosaurs on his attraction, this new ark’s aptly named prime mover Kenneth Ham gave a very unsatisfactory and unscientific explanation. I know many good sincere and better Christians than I, who also cling to the literal interpretation of the Bible as strongly as I hold to the Real Presence — but their removing and reordering things in the Bible demanding literal interpretations for every vowel and consonant tempts irreducible complexity and, before you know it, you’ve got dinosaurs on a Noah’s Ark exhibit in Kentucky.
The Church’s biblical perspective from the “In the beginning …” of Genesis to the “… Amen” of Revelations has been, is now and always will be all about the truth of what the Bible teaches, as then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger taught in his appropriately named book “In the Beginning”: “The Bible is not a natural science textbook. … One cannot get from it a scientific explanation of how the world arose; one can only glean religious experience from it. Anything else is an image and a way of describing things whose aim is to make profound realities graspable to human beings.”
So with the truth of the story of Noah’s Ark we do get rainbows … just not unicorns.
Robert Brennan has been a professional writer for more than 30 years, including many years in the television industry.