A few months back, I went to Pittsburgh, Texas and got a good look at a replica of the Ezekiel Flying Machine. It took to the air a year before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, but only for 167 feet before crashing into a fence. The story is intriguing and noteworthy, but more as a cautionary tale than a serious scientific achievement.
In 1900, Reverend and lumber mill owner, Burrell Cannon decided he’d been called by God to build a flying machine. He’d studied the Book of Ezekiel for years and was captivated by its description of an “aircraft” that featured “a wheel in the middle of a wheel” by which “living creatures were lifted up from the earth.” Cannon believed he could recreate the craft, so he sold his lumber mill in Pine and moved to Pittsburgh.
In Pittsburgh, he preached the Gospel and peddled his ideas for an aircraft designed straight from the Good Book. With the Almighty on his side, he sold $25,000 worth of stock and began construction.
Within two years, he completed a one-man, 26-foot flying machine that featured a light, tubular metal frame, an almost circular, fabric-covered flying-wing, a secondary lower wing and two pairs of wheels tucked below the wings. The outer wheels were eight feet in diameter and designed to taxi the craft up to take-off velocity; the inner wheels were paddle-operated and devised to drive the craft once it was aloft.
In mid-1902, one of Cannon’s employees piloted the craft on its maiden flight. According to eyewitness reports, it picked up speed, left the ground, drifted in the air and began vibrating violently before its undercarriage collided with a wooden fence post as it passed over. Later that year the craft was destroyed by a storm while sitting on a flatbed train car on its way to the St. Louis World’s Fair.
In the end, the Ezekiel Flying Machine was a marvel to behold, but Cannon’s engineering was more beholden to the Holy Writ than the laws of gravity. Adhering to the wheel within a wheel concept made the craft a faithful clunker that was too heavy and unwieldy for practical flight.
We make this mistake all the time, even today. Creationists believe that God made human beings out of the dust of the ground, fashioning our oldest female ancestor as an afterthought and from one of the first human male’s ribs. No sperm or egg. No DNA. No birth, infancy or adolescence. Just clay figurines animated and given a soul for good measure.
New or “Young” Earth theorists believe the Earth is no more than 7,000 to 10,000 years old and most of their data is based on counting up the generations in the Bible and adding them to the calculated number of generations since the Bible. No Homo erectus or Cro-Magnon steps in the process—just ready-made Homo sapiens that hit the ground begetting other Homo sapiens.
Both claims are more beholden to the Holy Writ than objective scientific analysis and they arguably require a suspension of critical thinking. For starters, the Bible was a latecomer on the scene. The Pyramid of Giza and the Epic of Gilgamesh predate it by millennia. Millions of folks were living in self-sustaining, fully-functioning communities long before Christ and Christianity ever appeared. And any serious student of the Bible and the history of the region knows that “Eden” narratives like the one found in Genesis and metaphors like the lord being a shepherd were borrowed from older cultures and pre-existing religions.
The Bible is an inspiring, poetic text but parts of it are hardly original and the parts that were original have been translated and re-interpreted more than once. Sacred, yes, holy, perhaps, but scientific—no.
If Reverend Cannon hadn’t been hamstrung by the Bible, Texas might have been first in flight (the controllable, steerable, safely-landing kind). If the basis for our children’s education was rooted in science instead of superstition, they might fare better against their overseas counterparts. If the Scriptures hadn’t have indicated that Christians were meant to “have dominion” over “every living thing that moveth upon the earth,” we probably wouldn’t have such an absurd sense of entitlement and perhaps it wouldn’t be so easy for us to continue marginalizing the rest of the natural world.
Religion isn’t a bad thing unless it’s applied badly.
Relying on religious beliefs to navigate gravity, education or science in general isn’t just a bad idea; it’s a bad application of faith.
As we stumble towards an uncertain future, do we really want to base our fate on faith?