Monday, October 24, 2016

A Theological and Scientific Conversation about Humans

A reader has asked: "What about the idea that the evolution of the human physical body from other primates is a possibility, as long as the soul is believed to have been directly created by God?"

Response from a Roman Catholic friend:

That is not an historic Christian view. St. Paul and Thomas Aquinas make it clear that the human is not human without the body.

Aquinas believed that the soul is the form of the body, as Aristotle said, and gives it life and energy. But against Neo-Platonism, he taught that the soul and body are inextricably linked and that the soul this declared dogma by the ecumenical Council of Vienne in 1312, which the Catholic Church consider binding. So the question arises: how can the Catholic Church teach that the soul is created immediately (i.e., without secondary efficient causes) by God at the moment of conception? That teaching of the Church is reaffirmed at CCC §366.

Both body and soul are essential to the individual human's being. God creates the soul ex nihilo, and the parents generate from gametes the body that the soul informs and vivifies, thus enjoying the privilege of co-creating with God.

Well, there is no reason to suppose that the two teachings are mutually inconsistent. By generating the body of their child, and thus acting as efficient causes of their child, parents only produce the material cause, not the formal cause, of the entire person who is their child. The soul does not come into being without the body and the body does not come into being without the soul. Yet the body is that of a human person, from the moment of conception, only in virtue of God's infusing it with a spiritual soul.

The soul need not, therefore, be itself produced by the parents in order to be the form of the body. And so the dogma that the soul is the form of the body offers no support for traducianism, which some but not all Church Fathers held. Aquinas even argued: The process of spiritual generation is impossible; since the soul is immaterial and indivisible, no spiritual germ can be detached from the parental soul (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles II, 86; Summa Theologiae I:90:2, I:98:2, etc.).

Response from JandyonGenesis:  Archaic humans were fully human. The essence of the human is Trinitarian: body, mind and soul (anima). There is no substantial evidence that archaic humans lacked this essence. In fact, to argue such is to assert that such creatures are not human.

We must begin by identifying the 4 keys ideas of evolution and examining the evidence for each:
1. mutation
2. adaptation
3. natural selection
4. common ancestry or common descent
Touching on the first point there is no doubt that mutation is a reality. Living organisms under go mutation both gradually over long periods of time and sometimes rather quickly. However, there appears to be a boundary to mutations in a given class of organisms. This is referred to as horotely, a Greek word that is a reference to horos - limit or boundary, and to the word horizon. The term is likely related to Horus, the "son" of the Creator who was said to be the fixer of boundaries.

Adaptation is also a reality. God created organisms with the ability to adapt to their changing environments. It appears that organisms gradually "accumulate" certain physiological, behavioral, and structural traits that aid their ability to survive and reproduce under existing environmental conditions. Those that are unable to adapt become extinct.

Natural selection takes place.  The theory of evolution by natural selection does not attempt to explain how life first began or why living things are on Earth. Rather, the theory of natural selection explains the observable processes that change the physical characteristics of living things through time. That said, we are still speaking of the theoretical rather than a law of nature, since some poorly adapted organisms nevertheless thrive in their environments. If we are honest, we must admit that there are factors in survival that we do not understand, and which may pertain to supernatural oversight, something beyond the realm of science.

Common ancestry or common descent of all living organisms is a hypothesis proposed by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species.  He believed that it is likely that all currently living organisms on Earth share a common genetic heritage with each being the descendant from a single original species. He wrote, "There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one."

The common descent hypothesis is suggested by developments in the Cambrian explosion and later, but anthropologically speaking, there is no physical evidence to permit us to state as fact that humans and apes have a common ancestor. Molecular genetics has not proven this, but it has provided a model for how this might be so. We must accept that common ancestry is quite contrary to what Genesis asserts about humans as a special creation. As Christians who take Scripture as a first/primary authority, we cannot gloss over this or assume that this view represents ignorance on the part of the ancient Biblical writers.

The Rising Star Expedition in Southern Africa has retrieved and cataloged over 1000 hominid fossils, and large numbers of fossils remain at the underground site to be retrieved in future expeditions. The findings of this expedition are forcing paleontologists to rethink the evolutionary model. First, these archaic humans practiced ritual burial. Second, these fossil remains reveal a wide range of physical features. The features that have been identified are found in modern humans. One feature that has been shown in various images is of a skull with a protruding chin (projecting jaw). This same feature is found in R1b lineages from Africa to Serbia to Ireland, and most commonly among the metal working castes (who intermarried) and who dispersed widely in service of ancient rulers.

My concern is that we not allow labels to skew our interpretation of the data. When we look at the labels attached to various remains we find see that these are not very helpful. Neanderthals were fully human. The features associated with them have been found very widely, well beyond the Neander Valley of Germany.

A. Afarensis also had human dentition which is quite easily distinguished from that of apes. In humans, the back teeth are larger than the front teeth (not so with apes), and the canines are not pointed. Humans also lack the characteristic diastema or tooth gap found in apes.

Mary Leakey’s 1979 discoveries in Tanzania added to the evidence that humans walked the earth about over 3 million years ago. At Laetoli, about 25 miles south of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Leakey discovered footprints of a man, woman and child created about 3.6 million years ago and preserved under falling ash from the nearby Sadiman volcano. The raised arch and rounded heel of the footprints showed that whoever left these footprints walked as humans today. Unfortunately, Donald C. Johanson had already announced to the world that the finds were apes, though Mary Leakey would have classified her Laetoli finds as Homo/human. She expressed her regret that “the Laetoli fellow is now doomed to be called Australopithecus afarensis.”

Johanson and Mary Leakey were scheduled to speak at a Nobel Symposium in Sweden in May 1978. The conference honored Mary Leakey, who received a medal from the King of Sweden for her scientific investigations. Mary Leakey received the Golden Linnaean Medal, but also was very embarrassed when Johanson announced the new name - Australopithecus afarensis - for his Afar Triangle finds and included Mary Leakey's 4 million year old Laetoli specimen (jaw bone LH4) from Tanzania as an exhibit. Johanson, who was scheduled to speak before Mary Leakey, scooped Mary's speech. She was angry that Johanson had named her discoveries, using a designation that was totally at odds with what she believed to be the evidence. Johanson's name stuck though today, based on more recent discoveries, he doubts the accuracy of the ape designation.

Based on years of teaching students, I have found that labels such as Neanderthal and Australopithecus tend to cause confusion. Among these groups the range of physical traits is the same as the range of traits found in modern human populations. So much so, that it is more helpful and more accurate to speak simply of archaic humans and modern humans. This is one reason I believe that the earliest humans appeared on Earth about 4 million years ago, and although they show archaic anatomical features, they were created fully human with the potential to develop (evolve) into modern humans.

Cranial capacity is not an indication of complexity of thought. The bicameral brain and the binary feature in the order of creation are what trigger complexity of thought and innovation. This binary pattern in the order of creation and among living organisms is found in Genesis, but has been largely overlooked by Bible commentators.

Related reading:  Fully Human From the Beginning; Binary Feature Triggered Greater Diversity;  Questioning the Common Ancestry Hypothesis

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Animals on Noah's Ark

Alice C. Linsley

The historicity of Noah’s concern for animals is supported by the discovery that Proto-Saharan rulers kept royal menageries of exotic animals. The oldest known zoological collection was found during the 2009 excavations at Nekhen on the Nile. The royal menagerie dates to about 3500 BC and included hippos, elephants, baboons and wildcats. Noah would have known about the shrine city of Nekhen. It was one of the earliest worship centers for the Horite Hebrew.

This Nekhen tomb painting shows a sickle boat
in what is today the Sahara.

During a period of flooding in the Chad Basin Noah preserved his animals by putting them on a ship. These prehistoric rock paintings found in the Sudan show the boats and cows of Proto-Saharans. Clearly moving animals by boat was a common practice.

The boats were made mainly of large bundles of reeds bound together over a wood frame. Boat types have been identified as sickle, incurved sickle, square, incurved square and flared boat. These images were found on rock surfaces in the Central Eastern Desert of Egypt. (Read more here: Boat Petroglyphs in Egypt's Central Eastern Desert)

Nilo-Saharan rulers built large boats out of גפר (gofer/gopher), as described in Genesis 6:4. The word gofer refers to reeds and is used in reference to the basket made for the baby Moses (Exodus 2:3). The Schocken Bible reads: "Make yourself an Ark of gofer wood, with reeds make the Ark...", Vol. I, p. 35. Noah's ark likely looked like the boat shown below.

Noah was a ruler in the region of Lake Chad. He was one of the "might men of old" mentioned in Genesis 6. These archaic rulers dispersed out of Africa into Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Southern Europe. Nimrod was one of Noah's descendants. He built his kingdom in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. These great rulers were known as sar, meaning king. The word corresponds to the Sanskrit śāri and the Nilo-Saharan and Hausa word sarki. The Sumerian word for king is sar and the Chadic word for ruler is gon, so Sar-gon means "High King" or "King of Kings." The Elamite word for king was sunki, a variant of sarki. Another variant is the word šarka, found in the Lithuanian language.

Climate studies reveal that the Lake Chad Basin held much more water in Noah's time. Noah lived between 2490-2415 BC, when the Sahara experienced the Gurian Wet Period (also known as the Aqualithic or the African Humid Period). His reign coincided with the Old Kingdom, a time of great cultural and technological achievement in Egypt. This places Noah and his sons in relatively recent history, not at the dawn of human existence. They ruled over territories during the 7th, 8th and 9th Dynasties in Egypt.

DNA studies indicate that Noah's R1b peoples dispersed from Africa. The dispersion of the R1b group is shown on the map below. Note the bright red mark in central Africa. This is the region of Lake Chad, Noah's homeland.

The dark red spot in Central Africa is the Lake Chad Basin.

Related reading: Noah's Birds; Noah's Flood; When the Sahara Was Wet; Boats and Cows of the Proto-Saharans

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Archaic Nes Peoples

Alice C. Linsley

Much research needs to be done to gain a better understanding of the ancient Nes peoples who appear to have dispersed widely. Likely these were a caste of metal workers in the service of rulers and chiefs. One of their totems was the serpent and its signs were NS and HT.

The words Hittite and Het share the same primitive root HT. HT is the Hebrew and Arabic root for copper - nahas-het. As an adjective, HT means shining bright, like burnished copper. Nahash (NS) refers to a serpent. The HT copper smiths ranged from Timnah to Anatolia. The serpent image was sacred for them, just as it was for Moses the Horite ruler who fashioned a bronze serpent and set it on the standard (Numbers 21:9).

The root NS appears in the variants: Nes, Neshi, Nehesi, Nesli, and Nuzi. Nuzi was a Horite administrative center on the Tigris. The Horites were devotees of Horus and his mother Hathor, the patroness of metal workers. Documents from the household of a Nuzi official named Tehiptilla record grants of food, clothing, and shelter to a number of Habiru in his service. One who likely served in a military role received a horse.

Nehesi is a name found in ancient Nubia. Hesi is a variant of Hathor, and she was the patroness of metal workers in the archaic world. The metal workers of Anatolia (modern Turkey) called themselves the Nes (NS) and their language was called Nesli. They are referred to as Hittites or Hivites (likely related clans) in II Chronicles and I Kings 9:20. The Nes/Neshi/Nehesi appear to be in the same R1b haplogroup as Abraham. This haplogroup is both European and African.

These ancient stone masons built palaces, tombs and temples, and the metal workers fashioned weapons and symbols of royal authority. Many magnificent artifacts have been recovered from these tombs, including this magnificent sun disk from Alaca Hüyük.

In southern Anatolia royal stone masons built Catalhoyuk beginning in 7500 BC. (The Turkish words catal means fork and hoyuk means mound.) This was a settlement built on two mounds (east and west) and a channel of the Çarşamba River once flowed between them. The houses excavated in Catalhoyuk date between 6800-5700 B.C. Recent excavations have identified a shrine or small temple on the eastern side. At Horoztepe, in northern Anatolia, they built royal tombs dating from 2400–2200 BC. These are richly furnished with finely crafted artifacts in bronze, gold, and silver.

Related reading: The Nuzi Tablets; Abraham and the Hittites; Hittite Religion

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Noah's Birds

Alice C. Linsley

The historicity of Noah’s great flood is supported by findings in many disciplines. The key to the alignment of the data of the Bible and science is placing Noah in the correct location. He was a ruler in the region of Lake Chad in central Africa. Climate studies reveal that the location of Lake Chad was much wetter in Noah's time than it is today. Noah lived between 2490-2415 BC, when the Sahara experienced a wet period (called the Gurian Wet Period, or the Aqualithic, or the African Humid Period). He was a Proto-Saharan ruler whose reign coincided with the Old Kingdom, a time of great cultural and technological achievement in Egypt. This places Noah and his sons in relatively recent history, not at the dawn of human existence. They ruled over territories during the 7th, 8th and 9th Dynasties in Egypt.

Noah was one of the "might men of old" mentioned in Genesis 6. These rulers of the archaic period dispersed out of Africa into Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Southern Europe. Nimrod was one of the rulers who descended from Noah. He built his kingdom in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. These great rulers were known as sar, meaning king. The word corresponds to the Sanskrit śāri and the Nilo-Saharan and Hausa word sarki. The Sumerian word for king is sar and the Chadic word for ruler is gon, so Sar-gon means "High King" or "King of Kings." The Elamite word for king was sunki, a variant of sarki. Another variant is the word šarka, found in the Lithuanian language.

DNA studies that show that Noah's R1b peoples dispersed from Africa. The dispersion of the R1b group is shown on the map below. Note the bright red mark in central Africa. This is the region of Lake Chad, Noah's homeland.

In the story of Noah's ark, the Bible recounts how Noah released two birds after the rain stopped: a dove and a raven. In Africa the dove is a symbol of prophetic discernment so sending out a dove was Noah’s way of seeking guidance. Knowing the location of Noah's homeland helps us to narrow the species of doves and ravens.

The most common dove in the part of Africa where the flood occurred is the Pink-bellied Dove. This species is abundant near water sources and and was associated with shrines located at rivers, springs and wells, so the idea of the Spirit hovering like a dove over the waters at the beginning of creation is consistent with empirical observation of these doves. The pink belly is suggestive of blood sacrifice which made peace between the penitent and God. This peace is symbolized by the olive branch which the dove brought to Noah.

The raven mentioned in Genesis is probably the Fan-tailed Raven, in the crow family. Its habitat extends across North Africa, Arabia, Sudan and Kenya. It also ranges across the Air Massif in Niger where it nests in crags. The red area shows the Fan-Tailed Raven’s habitat. This is the location of ancient Eden described in Genesis. Noah's descendants were rulers and priests in this red shaded area.

This is the natural habitat of both the Pink-bellied Dove and the Fan-tailed Raven, the birds that Noah might have released.

The raven was a symbol of the Creator and his son Horus. The root of the word is ḱoro- and koro is a variant of Horo or Horus. Koro is also an ancient term for war, suggesting a scavenger bird, similar to the falcon (Horus' totem) and the Egyptian vulture, both significant birds in the Bible.

The vulture, scorpion, horse and lion are found on stone pillars at the Gobekli Tepe site in Turkey which dates to about 9000 B.C. Here they appear to correspond to constellations at a time when Thuban was the pole star and they are likely clan totems. These creatures are commonly found on African images, which suggests that the structure at Gobekli Tepe was influenced by priests whose origins were in Africa. The vulture is especially important totem among the Nubians among whom the name for God was Yah.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Binary Sets and the Binary Worldview

A reader has asked what is meant by the terms "binary set" and  "binary worldview" of the Bible.

A binary set refers to a universally observed pattern in nature where two entities are naturally linked and complementary. One of the entities in the set is recognized empirically as greater in some observable way than its complement. Biblical theology hinges on this binary view of reality. We find the binary view expressed in the biblical assertions that 1) life is greater than death; 2) God is greater than Man; and 3) the heavenly realm is more glorious than the earthly realm.

Binary sets attest to the fact that there are some fixed patterns in Nature. The east-west axis of the solar arc is an example. The person of faith believes these patterns to be fixed by the Creator. They stand as a witness to the Creator's existence, divine nature, and eternal power. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in Romans 1:19, 20:
For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.

Genesis 1:6 speaks of the Sun as the greater light that rules the day. This implies masculine because the male of the species is anatomically larger than the female. In the ancient world objects commonly were perceived as reflecting male or female attributes. This is evident in many languages even today. For example, the Spanish word for ship is el barco (masculine), but the Spanish word for boat is la barca (feminine). A pond is el charco (masculine), but a puddle is la charca (feminine). The Spanish word for Sun is el sol (masculine) and the Spanish word for Moon is la luna (feminine).

In terms of the biblical understanding of complementarity, the Sun and the Moon are not equals (dualism) because the Sun is the "greater light" and the Moon reflects the greater light (reflugence). This is the main distinction between the binary worldview of the Bible and the dualism of Asian religions that developed in the Axial Age.

In the book of Genesis the Sun - Shemesh - is masculine, as in Genesis 19:23. A later Hebrew word for the Sun is Chammah, and this is feminine. It is clear that the Sun was regarded as having masculine attributes among Abraham and his ancestors. The binary worldview of Genesis comes from them and is older than the Hebrew language.

Abraham’s ancestors were Nilotic peoples who regarded the Sun as the symbol of the Creator. Both the Creator and the Sun were called Ra, and Ra is said to be the "Father" of Horus. The masculine designation is emphatic.

The masculine terminology also is apparent in Psalm 19:4-6:
…the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The ancient Sumerians were culturally like the cattle-herding, Proto-Saharan Nilotes. In the Sumerian language, the word for the Sun was Utu and he is called a “son” of Nanna and Ningal.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Genesis and the Stone Age

Alice C. Linsley

During the Stone Age the primary material used for tools and architecture was stone. People crafted tools from stone and build structures such as tombs and temples. This was a very long period of time during which human populations dispersed across much of the Earth. The Stone Age lasted roughly 3.4 million years and ended about 2500 BC (the time of Abraham's grandfather, Nahor the Elder).

Early stone tools include sharp-edged flakes, flake fragments, and cobbles dated to between 2.5 and 2.6 million years. These were discovered at three sites along the Gona River in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Similar stone tools, known as Oldowan, have been found at Omo in southern Ethiopia, at Lokalalei in northern Kenya, and at Hadar, five miles east of the Gona River study area.

One of the oldest known stone working sites is located at Kathu in South Africa. Here archaeologists collected many thousands of stone tools and products of tool making in a few sample pits over a several acres. The archaeologists estimated that there are on average 900 artifacts per 100x100x10 cm volume of material in this area with much of the area up to 2 meters deep in artifact rich soils. This high concentration of stone artifacts, along with available source rock in nearby outcrops, suggests that this was a tool making center between 800,000 and 500,000 years ago.

Stone Age peoples crafted tools from stone and built tombs and temples using stone. Temples typically had many stone pillars such as those shown at the temple entrance below.

The two Ġgantija temples in Gozo, on the island of Malta, are some of the world's oldest free-standing stone structures. They were constructed during the Neolithic period (c. 3600–2500 BC). Other ancient temples include those found at Göbekli Tepe and Nekhen. Nekhen (called Hierakonpolis by the Greeks), is the oldest temple known to have association with Abraham's ancestors. The temple was located on the Nile, making it easy for temple officials to weigh and measure goods and assess tolls on the vessels that docked there.

Rulers at Nekhen acquired exotic goods and animals from central Africa and Afghanistan 4000 years ago. Nobles were buried with red ochre at Nekhen. At Tomb 100 there are two boats painted on the walls. Tomb 23, discovered at in 2005, is the largest burial structure from the Naqada II period (c.3500-3200 BC).

Typically the shrine cities of the ancient world were built near major water systems such as rivers and lakes. One example in the Bible is the shrine city of On (Genesis 41:45). On was called Heliopolis by the Greeks. Heliopolis means "city of the Sun." Plutarch wrote that the “priests of the Sun at Heliopolis never carry wine into their temples, for they regard it as indecent for those who are devoted to the service of any god to indulge in the drinking of wine whilst they are under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King. The priests of the other deities are not so scrupulous in this respect, for they use it, though sparingly.”

The people who lived at Biblical On called it Iunu, which means "place of pillars." Plato, who studied under a Horite priest for thirteen years, wrote "Tell me of the God of On, which was, is and shall be."

Heliopolis was the geodetic center of Egypt. The pyramid triads at Giza, Abusir and Saqqara were aligned to the obelisk at On. The shrine city of Baalbek in Lebanon, with its massive stones, also aligned to On.

Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of a priest of Heliopolis. Study of the Heliopolitan cosmogony makes it apparent that Heliopolis was conceived as the sacred center of the primeval ocean, called Nun. The many pillars of the temple symbolized the connection between the waters below and the waters above (Gen. 1:7). It is likely that Joshua, a great Hebrew leader, belonged to a ruler-priest family associated with On because he was a son of Nun (Numbers 11:28).

Usually, shrine cities were built at higher elevations to make it easier to defend the city against enemy attacks. In the Bible these ancient cities are called "the high places" and they are criticized for some religious practices that were not pleasing to the Creator.

Standing stones at the Gezer high place (Israel)
Photo: Dennis Cole

At some high elevations the ancient stone workers constructed circles of standing stones. These have been found in many parts of the ancient world. They were places of religious ceremony linked to astronomical events. One of the most famous sites in the world is Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. Here visitors from around the world are able to see the remains of a circle of standing stones set within earthworks.

The oldest known stone circles date to 175,000 years ago and were formed inside the Bruniquel cave in southwestern France.

In western Europe the tall upright stones erected in prehistoric times are called menhirs. In Sardinia, 200 menhirs have been identified in the area of the island's geographic center. These date between the late Neolithic (3200-2800 BC) and the Eneolithic (2800-1800 BC). Stone circles and megaliths also have been found in Senegal and Gambia. These date to the 3rd century BC.