THE OBLIQUITY OF THE ECLIPTIC

Vic Lloyd (c)

(Investigator 33, 1993 November)


It goes without saying that, besides being a chronicle of ancient events, the Bible offers a wealth of profound wisdom, solace, and spiritual guidance to countless people. Unfortunately for those with analytical minds, it also presents a maze of contradictions, incongruities, discrepancies, and a host of things which simply do not add up. This has resulted in argument, bitter recrimination and in some cases outright hostility between those who take the Bible's doctrines literally, and those who require cold, unambiguous logic.

But then there are those, taking into account all available data, try very hard to equate Biblical reference with contemporary scientific rationale. Particularly in the case of the Book of Genesis.

Which brings us to George Francis Dodwell (1879-1963) BA, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, Government Astronomer for South Australia from 1909 to 1952 and a valued member of ASSA for over 40 years including its presidency. He was also a nephew of Sir Frank Watson Dyson KBE FRS who was Astronomer Royal for Scotland (1905-10) and for England (1910-33).

Additional to this illustrious background, those who knew him (including a few present-day members) will attest that George Dodwell, besides being likeable and friendly, was an intelligent, extremely scientifically informed gentleman.

And in a professionally-written, logically set out, painstakingly researched and wonderfully detailed manuscript – running to some 400 closely-typed foolscap-sized pages – entitled "The Obliquity Of The Ecliptic", Mr Dodwell expounds his unequivocal conviction that the Great Flood (vide Noah), lacking not one iota of its original Biblical detail, took place as recently as 2345 BC.

And not only that. The event, he insists with unshakeable confidence, was responsible for altering the axial tilt of the Earth from its former 5o to its present 23.5o. These conclusions are no less than incredible, especially in the climate of the scientific understanding of his day (he died only six years before the Moon landing) and his impeccable scientific credentials.

By any standards, nonetheless, his arguments and supporting data are persuasive, and were it not for generally accepted alternative evidence, even convincing.

To attempt to record the detail sustaining his deductions, replete as they are with abundance of graphs, charts, tables, diagrams and equations (the maths involved in beyond me) would be impossible within the limits of an essay of this length. Suffice it to say, however, his calculations coincide with and confirm the Genesis account of the Flood and the Biblical events surrounding it.

And surprisingly, especially for a scholar so obviously well-versed in the ramifications of geology, archaeology, anthropology and the discovery of carbon dating (Willard Libby in 1947), Mr Dodwell employs, as a foundation for his calculations, the same conclusion reached by Bishop Ussher in 1645, namely that the universe came into being in 4004 BC (although his computations amend the venerable bishop's date to 4000 BC).

This is something of an unpromising start, because since it conflicts with present day scientific thinking, a good many people, including most Biblical scholars, would be inclined to feel that the rest of what he had to say would not be worth bothering with. Regrettably, especially for those whose sympathies would be inclined in Mr Dodwell's favour, this unorthodox trend continues as his thesis unfolds.

Nevertheless, what follows is a tribute to his obvious huge mental stature and is thus well worth pondering.

Conjure up, if you will, his scenario where the entire Earth enjoys what amounts to perpetual spring. With an axial tilt of only 5o the planet is not subject to seasons and even the poles are a good deal warmer than those of today. It is, moreover, a world where it never rains. How plants grow in the absence of this vital commodity is not revealed but apparently there are modest rivers and a 'mist which rises from the ground', the combination evidently being sufficient to do the trick.

There are also no oceans. There is however, a canopy containing 820 million cubic kilometers of water weighing 90 million, million, million tonnes, suspended some 240 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. These revelations generate two mysteries. How does the water stay up there, defying gravity? And how could the Sun, Moon and stars be visible with all that liquid blocking the view? Mr Dodwell almost certainly had answers to these questions but no disclosure is made in his manuscript.

Having been forewarned, Noah builds his Ark and takes on board his wife (whom we learn, is Naamah, daughter of Enoch – another mystery solved), his three sons with their wives, and assorted fauna. And this latter leaves us with a huge and complicated can of worms which has been argued about and fought over for many years. By all accounts the capacity of the Ark (1.5 million cubic feet, displacing 66,000 tonnes) was adequate for the accommodation of an enormous number of creatures. Nevertheless, commonsense dictates that it would not have been physically feasible for Noah to have gathered together a pair of each of the Earth's multitudinous species (over 15,000 species of mammals for a start, let alone the reptiles and the insects) unless by some extraordinary supernatural means. In Mr Dodwell's account this latter solution is not discussed; science and the arcane make an uneasy mix. But nor is any other, so we are left wondering.

Particularly intriguing is the question of the dinosaurs. There are only three options: (a) the dinosaurs never existed, (b) they were included in the Ark's complement, or (c) they either appeared and became extinct during the period 4000 BC to 2345 BC, or in the period since the great Flood. And since none of these options seem to be logically tenable, what really happened? Mr Dodwell makes no mention of dinosaurs or any other species.

Now, although it rains for forty days and nights, causing massive and destructive flood damage and the loss of every creature on Earth - except those safely in the Ark - another much more significant event with far reaching effects occurs. In the vast empty basin now occupied by the Pacific Ocean the water arrives in one huge deluge. The force of its fall is so great that the land around the basin is thrust up into mountains and thus remain to this day. Tectonic plate activity, as an alternative, is not discussed.

The same enormous volume of water arriving at once has a dramatic additional effect. It literally knocks the Earth 'sideways' increasing its axial tilt (or its obliquity to the ecliptic, as Mr Dodwell puts it) to 23.5o thus condemning us to the vagaries of the seasons with all the weather implications involved, from that time forward. Rain, snow, hurricanes, bleak polar caps, glaciers, icebergs, droughts, and all such weather-oriented phenomena replace the previous permanent tranquillity.

According to the Genesis account (confirmed by Mr Dodwell) the flood water level is sufficient to cover 'all the hills and mountains'. It is not made clear if Mount Everest was included but if it was, the occupants of the Ark would have been gasping for breath. The atmospheric content of oxygen is distressingly thin at 8848 metres. And it isn't much better at 5165 metres, the height of Mount Ararat.

However, in due course the water recedes – although where it all goes is another of those small mysteries – everyone emerges from the Ark and presumably, although not remarked, the surviving animals make their way back to their countries of origin. What they exist on in the meantime is a matter for conjecture. The carnivores have only each other and the herbivores to eat. And the herbivores don't have as much as a blade of grass to sustain them. Nevertheless, we must not allow ourselves to be side-tracked by unessential and tedious detail.

Noah and his family descend to the plain as an alternative to being frozen to death and these eight people over a period of 4337 years, multiply to our present population of over five billion. Not impossible of course. Mr Dodwell has it all neatly calculated and charted. But there must have been some unhealthy inbreeding and a decided absence of wars, famine and plagues during those early years.

Now, you may regard this whole matter as debatable (and I, for one, would dearly have liked to have discussed the queries with Mr Dodwell). However, in the main he sets out his case with faultless and convincing mathematical precision.

And it must be made clear that he did not merely take the Biblical account (or Bishop Ussher's premise) with a view to confirmation. In his research he discovered that the record of ancient and medieval observations of the obliquity of the ecliptic (the axial tilt of the Earth) did not tally with the accepted 'Newcomb Formula' and set out on a voyage of investigation to find the reasons for the discrepancies. In short, with enormous patience and single-minded diligence, he started from scratch. Nor did he allow himself to leave any stone unturned. In his manuscript he cites the Egyptian Dynasties, the Aztec Empire and Stonehenge among many other references; his tenacity and apparent logic are irreproachable.

And it's all there, in its detailed glory, for anyone with the time, the patience, the fortitude and an open mind to examine at the Mortlock Library, Adelaide. Mr Dodwell also sent a copy of his manuscript to the Royal Society but this august body decided against publication on the grounds that 'errors of ancient observations needed further discussion'. And so far as I know, there the matter ended.

Which was a great pity. The manuscript represented nearly thirty years of painstaking hard work and whether his conclusions were astonishingly right or shatteringly wrong, they were remarkable enough to deserve an airing.

Whatever may be the outcome will remain to be seen, but there is plenty of precedent for the ultimate success of theories that appeared inconclusive when first formulated. Take Copernicus, for example.

We have no way of knowing how the future will change our thinking but, who knows, the inestimable George Francis Dodwell's beliefs may yet be vindicated, dramatically changing our scientific direction...

Stranger things have happened...

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