http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3053571.ece From Times Online Whatcha all thunks, huh? =========================== December 14, 2007 Ten Plagues were just natural imbalances says scientist Ruth Gledhill Religion Correspondent of The Times The Ten Plagues of Egypt recounted in the Bible and which caused Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves go free were nothing more than natural “population imbalances” caused by environmental factors, a leading scientist has claimed. Professor Roger Wotton, a biologist at University College London, says in the student academic journal Opticon 1826 says the dramatic series of events, that included the Nile turning to blood and a plague of frogs, are explicable as natural phenomena. He does not deny that God could have instigated the events - if God does indeed exist. But he concludes: “Perhaps the Ten Plagues teach us that many explanations are possible for one series of events, and warn against allowing belief in the truth of one explanation to inspire fundamentalism.” Professor Wotton, who specialises in zoology and aquatic biology, says the plagues, described in the Book of Exodus, were central to the liberation of the Jewish people from the oppression of the Egyptians. “The succession of disasters demoralised the Egyptians and were seen as a victory for Jewish monotheistic beliefs,” he argues, going on to propose a series of natural explanations. He supports his thesis by using the example such as the explosion in the rabbit population in Australia caused after they were introduced there with no natural predators, and aided by their high rate of reproduction. He also describes the proliferation of ladybirds in parts of Europe in the dry summer of 1976. “It was difficult to drive through some parts of Europe without encountering swarms of ladybirds that required windscreen wipers and washers to be operated at maximum,” he says. “Tabloid newspapers in the 80s referred to AIDS as the ‘Gay Plague’,” he says. “It is not easy to be rational when faced with a plague and mythical accounts, often focusing on divine retribution and the supernatural, are common.” “Myths” arise around natural events when no rational explanation is immediately apparent, he argues. Christians and Jews accept the stories of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. The events described in Exodus precipitated the triumph of monotheism over polytheism in the ancient world, and that in turn led to the foundation of Islam. Professor Wotton says the plagues probably did happen, but argues they have been “embellished, ordered and described through the lens of religious mythology.” The “rivers of blood” could have been caused by heavy rainfall on baked soil, leading to sediment-rich water flowing into the Nile from tributaries where the underlying soil and rocks are red. Egyptians often spoke of the “red lands” surrounding the fertile, “black lands” they occupied. The sediments would also have killed the fish, as described in the Bible, he says. The plague of frogs could have been migrating frogs, or the sudden appearance of the froglike Spadefoot toads from hiding places in damp undersoil after a sudden rainfall. Similarly, the plague of lice could have been merely the sudden hatching of lice throughout Egypt after rain that followed unusually hot and dry weather. The description of swarms of flies match the behaviour of dancing midges, which can sometimes be so dense that livestock have to be taken indoors to avoid asphyxiation, he says. Again, unusual weather conditions could have led them to the Nile. An abundance of biting insects would also have led to the “pestilence” that caused the death of the country’s cattle. Similarly, the boils on the human population could have been caused by insect bites. The “fiery hail” could have been the large hailstones accompanied by ball lightning that sometimes appears during severe, dramatic storms. The locust swarms would also have been caused by severe environmental conditions, and a dense storm could also have produced the darkening of the skies described in the Bible. But Professor Wotton ducks out of explaining the most difficult plague, where God caused the “death of the firstborn”, “Perhaps it relates to some infectious disease, but why the effect on the first born?” he asks. He says the chronology as set down in the Bible can be explained by the probable weather conditions but the impact of the plagues upon religious belief was profound. “The victory of Jewish monotheism also became the victory of Christian monotheism as the origins of both religious groups are shared,” he said. “Islam then developed from the same roots in the first Millennium and it, too, is strongly monotheistic. It was Islam that resulted in the final overthrow of widespread polytheism in Egypt,” he said.