Friday, May 23, 2014

Bible: Medium-Well

It's a story heard pretty much anytime there's a church fire (or even a home fire). There was a blaze, but when the remains were checked in the aftermath, a Bible survived! Somehow this is celebrated as a miracle... Celebrated as proof of the Bible's importance. This book with paper pages was in a fire, and somehow survived! Impossible, right?!

I find it odd that the Christians that spread these stories are able to convince themselves that God's own hand protected this book, but don't wonder why he wouldn't, I don't know... Maybe just prevent a fire from catching in a church in the first place.

Sometimes these stories are even more absurd than usual. One example I read touted the 'amazing' fact that a Bible was found on the alter, open and in tact. What they failed to mention in this case was that the fire station was half a mile from the church, they sent all their trucks and had the fire extinguished in minutes. The fire hadn't even made it to where the Bible was, yet somehow it's survival is supposed to be a miracle. I'll have to remember that the next time my barbecue grill catches a hotdog on fire and my neighbor's house doesn't burn down as a result...

One horrible example actually left me feeling rather disgusted. There was this one church that kept it's oldest Bible closed and on display. But an electrical fire broke out one day and caused a terrible blaze that killed nine. While surveying the damage however, it was found that this specific Bible was mildly singed, but in otherwise in fine shape. In the wake of nine deaths the main story was shockingly, "The Bible survived! God is great!"  What! The lives of nine people, people who belonged to that church are overshadowed by a Bible? God is so great that he'll save a book, but not nine followers? I must be missing the 'great' part, so please... point it out for me.

There are obviously rational explanations as to why Bibles may survive a fire. Explanations that don't rely on magic... The first should be obvious. The Bible is regularly the best selling book year after year. Statistically speaking, is it any surprise that the most plentiful book in the world will survive a fire from time to time? Of course not!

A church actually claimed this Bible as a survivor?
It looks like it's at least 50% gone. What's the percentage
of loss when it ceases to be a miracle?
The more important explanation is a scientific one. Books are almost always stored closed, and a closed book is actually quite hard to burn. You can throw gasoline on a  closed book, you can light in several times, but you'll likely just end up with a book with no more than charred edges. This is because books are too dense. The outside gets hot, but not hot enough to ignite the inside of a book that's just sitting in a normal closed manner. Heat from the initial fire is dissipated to the inside of the book. But the inside doesn't reach ignition temperature. But the fire on the outside of the book causes a layer of char which in turn raises the temperature needed for ignition. So what you need is a hotter fire.

But how do you get a fire that's hot enough? Because the fire from one closed book just won't get hot enough. Well, you could take a page (pun intended) from the book burnings throughout history. First you start with a big fire. Perhaps started with kindling and pages torn from the books that are about to be burned. Then books are thrown in one by one. They may land open, which burns much easier, or they may land closed. But a pile begins to form... an irregular pile that has many gaps and channels for airflow. This allows for a much hotter and sustainable fire to form.

All that said, I hate the idea of burning books. Sure, I don't agree with many a holy book, but I don't want to burn them. Books are an amazing thing. A way of recording ideas and thoughts and passing them on to following generations. Sure, sometimes they contain and pass on rubbish. But sometimes
A church burning Harry Potter books... Wait, what?
they are invaluable. To this day, when I think of the great loss the world sustained when the Christians burned the great library of Alexandria, I can't help but still feel wronged by them, as well as wonder how much more advanced we could be today if that knowledge had not been forever lost.

So yes, a Bible may survive a fire, but it's in no way miraculous. What it is, is physics in action. It could be a Bible, Qur'an, cook book, or an illustrated history of the Ford Mustang. Physics... explaining 'miracles' since, well... always.

-Brain Hulk

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