Thaw the Chicken
Subject: Fowl Science. Scientists at NASA have developed a gun whose purpose is to launch dead chickens. It is used to shoot a dead chicken at the windshields of airline jets, military jets, and the space shuttle, at the vehicle's maximum traveling velocity.
As such it simulates the frequent incident of collisions with airborne fowl, thereby determining if the windshields are strong enough.
British engineers, upon hearing of the gun, were eager to test it out on the windshield of their new high-speed trains. Upon firing it, the engineers watched in shock, as the chicken shattered the windshield, smashed through the control console, snapped the train engineer's backrest in two, and imbedded itself in the back wall of the cabin.
Horrified, the engineers sent NASA the results of the test, along with the design of the windshield, and asked the NASA engineers for suggestions.
The NASA scientists sent back a three-word response.... "Thaw the chicken." (from the www--Anonymous)
The question of the use of alcohol and the teachings of the Bible is an area where a similar situation to the above story is used. Instead of shooting frozen chickens at windshields what has happened has been that people have thrown arguments frozen by changes in time, culture, and conditions at Bible believers to support the use of alcohol. The result of this kind of application has not been humorous.
The story of the positive uses of alcohol goes back about 10,000 years. As people began to live in cities, pure water became a commodity that was impossible to come by. Hippocrates suggested that water from springs, deep wells, and rainwater collected in cisterns was safe to drink, but warned that other water was unsafe for human consumption. Babylonian clay tablets more that 6,000 years old told people of that day how to use alcohol to make beer recipes that would purify water. Ancient Greek statements about breakfast use the word akratidzomai which literally translates "to drink undiluted wine" and using bread in wine as a dip was as common as today's bread and butter.
It does not take much experience with rivers to understand the problem. In this country we make some effort to stop industries from putting raw chemicals into flowing waterways. Most cities have sewage treating facilities which remove at least some of the contaminants in raw sewage. Imagine a city of thousands of people with no garbage or raw sewage or animal waste disposal system. What would a river flowing through the city be like? The famous rivers of the world have all suffered such contamination that their waters actually smell. In the United States, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio actually caught fire several years ago.
It is with this background that we see the reasons for alcohol being used by ancient people, including biblical characters. Examples are the water-to-wine story of Jesus in John 2:1-11 and Paul's recommendation of "take a little wine for the stomach's sake" in 1 Timothy 5:23. Alcohol in this concentration is quite low. Yeasts produce alcohol, but they can tolerate only very low concentrations (less than 16%). Up until 1500, alcohol was going to be of low percentages and would be a primary source of fluids and nutrition. The Roman Catholic church operated the biggest and best vineyards for some 1300 years and it was thought of as a resource.
In 1500, Alsatian physician Hieronymus Brunschwig described distillation in the first printed book on the process entitled Liber de arte Distillandi. Because alcohol vaporizes at 172°F (78°C) and water vaporizes at 212°F (100°C) it was now possible to produce much higher percentages of alcohol than would ever be produced naturally. Beverages produced by boiling water such as coffee, tea, and cocoa also provided options not previously available. The result was that alcohol moved from being a purifier of water to being a recreational drug. By 1813, Thomas Trotter and Benjamin Rush described alcohol abuse as a disease. The latest figures show 20 million people whose lives are disrupted by their relationship with alcohol and 12,000 children per year damaged seriously by the use of alcohol by their mothers.
There are several lessons we hope are obvious from this discussion. The first is that the use of alcohol in biblical times is not the same as the use today and cannot be used as an argument to sanction drinking. Alcohol today can be strongly argued to be the most destructive substance to humans on the face of the earth. The idea of 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 and 10:28-33 that Christians will do nothing that negatively impacts their brother makes it hard to justify on a biblical basis any use of alcohol or any other recreational drug. Another lesson is that alcohol is a useful and productive substance and not a destructive agent by nature. Man has misused alcohol to his own destruction; anything can be used in a destructive way.
Discussion about the rightness or wrongness of alcohol needs to be couched in what the condition of the alcohol is--just as the condition of the chicken in the story at the start of this article needed to considered. The alcohol used in the days of Jesus and the alcohol being used today are as different as the frozen chicken and the thawed chicken. (Source of alcohol data: "Alcohol in the Western World" by Bert Vallee, Scientific American, June, 1998, pages 80-85.
--John N. Clayton
Back to Contents Does God Exist?, SepOct98.