(Ex. 7:14) Is there a feasible naturalistic explanation for the 10 plagues?

CLAIM: Some interpreters believe that these plagues actually result from natural causes. Consider each plague from this naturalistic perspective:

1. Blood in the Nile? Under this view, the first plague (blood) is really the red clay swept down into the Nile from the Ethiopian highlands. Abnormally high water levels caused the erosion of clay upstream, making the water red, undrinkable, and uninhabitable by fish.

2. Frogs? Next, the mud choked the fish in the area inhabited by the Israelites. The fish clogged the swamps, where the frogs lived. Then, the fish were infected with anthrax, which caused the frogs to leave the Nile for cooler areas, taking refuge in people’s houses. However, since the frogs were already infected with the disease, they died in the houses of the Egyptians.

3. Gnats? As a consequence of the dead frogs, gnats began to feed on the dead frogs. Mosquitoes and lice would have improved breeding conditions with the Nile being high.

4. Flies? The presence of gnats gave rise to flies, which attacked the animals.

5. Bulls? The abundance of flies attacked the animals. The death of the livestock and the boils were probably both caused by disease passed through insect bites.

6. Boils? The pestilence that attacked the animals was boils in men.

7. Hail? Hailstorms do rarely occur in Egypt (rarely in Upper Egypt and occasionally in Lower Egypt).

8. Locusts? These are common to Egypt. The locusts of the eighth plague would have been brought about by heavy precipitation, which created good conditions for breeding.

9. Darkness? Under this view, the darkness resulted from a Libyan dust storm. The darkness was merely a windstorm that kicked up the red clay from the first plague.

RESPONSE: God can use natural causes in order to accomplish his will, if he so desires. For instance, the Bible teaches that God is in control of the weather (Deut. 11:14-17; 1 Kings 8:35-36; Job 5:10; 37:6; Jer. 14:22; Deut. 28:12, 24; Ps. 135:7; Jer. 10:13) and natural law (Jer. 33:25). However, in response to this naturalistic view, a number of observations can be made:

First, the text seems to describe supernatural events. The plagues were so stunning that even Pharaoh’s own men believed it was the “finger of God” (Ex. 8:19). If this was a natural occurrence, then why would God’s enemies attribute these things to Yahweh, rather than natural forces?

Second, Moses could pray and the plagues would be immediately rescinded. This doesn’t fit with a naturalistic explanation. At the very least, God is responsible for ending the plagues supernaturally, if not beginning them this way.

Third, the explanation of the frogs carrying anthrax is untenable. Anthrax only affects warm-blooded animals, and frogs cannot carry this disease. Therefore, this part of the theory breaks down.

Fourth, even if these explanations are true, they do not account for the tenth plague. What naturalistic explanation can there be for the firstborn of the house dying? Moreover, how could this coincide with the blood being over the doorpost of the house? For these reasons, it seems that the naturalistic account of the plagues is unlikely.