James and the Giant Flood

The Hobbit.  FernGully.  Gulliver’s Travels.  James the Giant Peach.  Noah and the Great Flood.  All are more or less equally factual, because none are factual at all.  None of these cute little tales are really true.  Let’s be honest about it: the stories of a massive deluge that wreaked havoc on humanity are all hogwash.  Utter nonsense.  Please . . . just call it for what it is.

This is of course the standard narrative that is pushed by the precious few who are enlightened enough to know better.  To these intellectual “grownups,” science and rationality have slowly extinguished the flame of religious folklore.  However—and as is seemingly always the case—they are clearly wrong.  More than being wrong, they appear to have it completely backwards.

In 1993, Columbia University scientists William Ryan and Walter Pitman made a scientific expedition to the Black Sea with the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Utilizing sonar imaging techniques, they were able to detect that shorelines had once been about 140 meters (nearly 460 ft.) lower than they were during the measurement.  The presence of a single, uniform layer of mud was also found, suggesting that a flood may well have occurred on the Black Sea.  Moreover, the expedition recovered sun-bleached freshwater mollusks via sediment samples. Using carbon-14 dating methods, they were able to tell that the mollusks from both the deepest and the shallowest layers of that sediment were only about forty years apart; the waters had not risen gradually, but rapidly.  What typically causes rapid flooding?  Hmm, you got me.  A column on Columbia News summarized their subsequent theory in the following way:

“Ryan and Pitman believe that the sealed Bosporus strait, which acted as a dam between the Mediterranean and Black seas, collapsed when climatic warming at the close of the last glacial period and caused icecaps to melt, raising global sea level.  With more than 200 times the force of Niagara Falls, the flood caused water levels in the Black Sea, which was no more than a large lake, to rise six inches per day and swallowed 60,000 square miles in less than a year.”

In effect, it was perhaps the Mediterranean Sea that had flooded, causing the Black Sea to fill so drastically.  Isn’t the Mediterranean Sea located just west of present day Israel and ancient Israel/Palestine?  Wouldn’t that actually be the most probable biblical location of the Great Flood?

A number of other researchers have come to believe that there was indeed a flood of large proportions that occurred at the Black Sea, several thousand years after the last ice-age.  Perhaps most notably, renowned Titanic researcher Robert Ballard has taken a special interest in the possibility of a Black Sea flood.  Ballard’s overarching theory was that around 7,000 BCE, post ice-age warming caused oceans and seas to rise, resulting in the “swelling” of the Mediterranean Sea and a subsequent push of its waters north through modern-day Turkey.  In fact, he too speculated that this water ended up hitting the Black Sea with a force 200 times harder than those created by the incredible Niagara Falls.   A surge of that magnitude could be called nothing other than a “Great Flood.”

Additionally, a 2004 expedition by a number of prominent scientists also led to the conclusion that the Black Sea was once “. . . an immense lake of black water that at one point in history began to widen in an unusually rapid way.”  While neither the works of Ryan and Pitman nor Robert Ballard suggested that the entire earth was covered in water, they certainly suggested that a sizeable flood occurred in an area that would fall right in line with the biblical account.  It’s worth mentioning that the size of Noah’s Flood is seriously debated, even among those coming from either Jewish or Christian backgrounds.  It is quite conceivable that the Flood was a local or regional flood, and that it occurred in this specific area.

While the proposition that an event of this magnitude actually occurred in the areas of the Black and Mediterranean seas is not widely accepted as absolute fact—William Ryan himself has ask some perplexing questions about the theory—it is nonetheless still compelling.  While parts of these theories have somewhat fizzled out—having found no tell-tale signs of extremely ancient housing, only wreckage dating between about 350-550 AD—the general idea that there was indeed a type of major flooding event that occurred in the Black Sea region is still difficult to ignore.  Was this the site of the Great Flood?  We don’t know.  It certainly does seem as though something of the sort happened, though.

But enough about the science.  Clearly, there are prominent researchers who support the idea of at least a local flood that occurred in the same general area described by the biblical authors.  Anyone who is familiar with my blogs knows that I value good science: honest, open, and investigative science.  However, they also know that I equally value the traditions of our earliest ancestors.  After all, who has ever been closer to the source of human origins than they were?  With every generation, we get farther away from the beginning of our race and the major events of our early history.  Of course, the early civilizations are precisely where the whole notion of a giant flood began in the first place.

The ancient Hebrew tradition tells of an immense flood in which God wiped humanity almost entirely off of the map.  Having become exceedingly angry with their consistent and egregious rebellion, God decided to destroy the world of men.  Genesis 6:11-13 records the following:

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.  God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.  So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.  I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.”

As the text describes, only a man named Noah and his family were allowed to survive the impending destruction.  While the Bible’s portrayal of the Great Flood is undoubtedly the most popular, it is not by any stretch the only flood tradition.  In fact, nearly every ancient culture had its own flood story.  Besides the biblical account, the most notable probably comes to us from the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh.  In its introduction of Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk—who is, incidentally, both part god and part man—the first “tablet” of the Epic makes several allusions to a great flood of destruction.

“He saw the Secret, discovered the Hidden, he brought information of (the time) before the Flood . . . Mighty net, protector of his people, raging flood-wave who destroys even walls of stone! . . . It was he who reached by his own sheer strength Utanapishtim, the Faraway, who restored the sanctuaries that the Flood had destroyed!”

While allusions to the flood show up very early on, it isn’t really until the end of the Epic (Tablet XI) that we are given greater clarity concerning the event.  Utanapishtim—the man commissioned by another god, named Enki, to build a massive boat that would preserve him and his family during the flood (sound familiar?)—reveals the “secret of the gods” to Gilgamesh:

“Shuruppak, a city that you surely know, situated on the banks of the Euphrates, that city was very old, and there were gods inside it.  The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood . . . The gods were frightened by the Flood, and retreated, ascending to the heaven of Anu.  The gods were cowering like dogs, crouching by the outer wall.  Ishtar shrieked like a woman in childbirth . . . Six days and seven nights came the wind and flood, the storm flattening the land.  When the seventh day arrived, the storm was pounding, the flood was a war–struggling with itself like a woman writhing (in labor). The sea calmed, fell still, the whirlwind (and) flood stopped up.  I looked around all day long—quiet had set in and all the human beings had turned to clay!  The terrain was as flat as a roof.”

While the Epic’s insistence that there are a great number of gods and god-like beings (Gilgamesh being one of them) involved in this particular flood story, the Bible clearly depicts the Flood as being the product of one God, Yahweh, who had reached His limit with human disobedience.  Still, the similarities are striking.  There is a massive flood due to divine dissatisfaction with humanity, a righteous man who builds a giant ship to escape the flood, and the preservation of human beings and civilization through this great “Ark.”

Then we have a number of ancient flood myths recorded by the ancient Chinese people, the Gun-Yu myth being the most prominent.  Though the accounts vary slightly, the ancient Greeks also believed in a great flood that was sent by Zeus (the “father of the gods”) to destroy humanity.  Clearly, the flood traditions are very widespread among ancient cultures.  The ancient Sumerians, who actually preceded the Babylonians, also wrote (see Kramer, below) about a flood: “All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one, at the same time, the flood sweeps over the cult centers.”

These references to a flood indicates something very important—all of the most prominent cultures on record believed that there had been a massive flood.

It would appear that flood stories are not only extraordinarily widespread, but also extraordinarily ancient.  What was the cause of this catastrophic event?  The ancients were adamant about the cause: divine, heavenly beings were responsible for the Great Flood.  While these beings go by different names—Gun-Yu, Zeus, Yahweh, etc.—none of these cultures believed that the flood occurred by purely naturalistic causes.  According to the ancient traditions, it was intentional.  Even if we hold that the Flood was simply a product of ordinary causes, we would be left with the questions behind the question. 

How is it that Noah, for example, could have known that he needed to construct a giant boat in order to survive the event?  Who was responsible for warning those inhabitants about their impending doom?  Who could have known that the flood was coming, in a day and age without anything close to sufficient weather technology?  How could all of these cultures have similar stories when they were spread so far apart?

We can be nearly certain of several points in all of this.  The first is that there was almost certainly a Great Flood (or floods) because every prominent ancient culture affirms it, and modern science has slowly been verifying that something of the sort occurred.  To call all of these accounts “myths” is truly unfair.  It is more probable that this event occurred than not.

The second point is related to the first, in that there is essentially a cross-cultural consensus concerning the event.  While several of the most prominent accounts were mentioned, there are actually more than three hundred ancient flood stories from around the world.  More than three hundred.  It is quite true that many of the particulars (the details) of the flood stories differ from culture to culture, but the main aspects of each account are consistently present.

Can we really believe they were all just propagating some ancient lie that originated with a small group of people?

The third point is that there is also a consensus among the ancients that the flood was caused by greater, extraterrestrial beings who were releasing the waters upon the earth for the express purpose of destroying earthlings.  These cultures seem largely to affirm that the god/s decided to spare a remnant of human beings so that the human race could ultimately outlast the catastrophe.

In the end, this appears to be yet another case where ancient history and modern science are converging.  The simple fact that the ancient accounts all point to beings who possessed both extraordinary power and knowledge should cause us all to take pause.  We might dismiss the whole thing if only a couple small groups promoted the idea of a massive flood.  But when there are hundreds of accounts to consider—including the testimonies of the most renowned civilizations in ancient history—we have to admit that there might just be something to this.

Yeah, the notion of a Great Flood is no more realistic than all of the other fictional stories we love to read and tell about: the fairy tales we read to children before nap time.

Really???

 

References

Ballard, Robert. “Ballard and the Black Sea.” http://www.nationalgeographic.com/blacksea/ax/frame.html

Vintini, Leonardo. “Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood, Did it Really Happen?”.  The Epoch Times. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/61371-was-there-really-a-great-flood/

Hannah Fairfield, “Finding Noah’s Flood”.  http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/99/11/flood.html

Holloway, April. “Gun-Yu and the Chinese Flood Myth.” http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends/gun-yu-and-chinese-flood-myth-00370

Kramer, Samuel Noah. History Begins at Sumer. Pg. 153. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday / Anchor, 1959

“Noah’s Flood.” http://www.columbia.edu/cu/newrec/2412/tmpl/story.4.html

Ryan, William. “Status of the Black Sea Hypothesis.” http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~billr/BlackSea/Ryan_Chapter7_Springer.pdf

Stone, Larry. “Did the Story of Noah Really Happen?” http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/03/28/did-story-noah-really-happen.html

The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablets I and XI. http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/tab1.htm

 

 

A B Normal: Decoding the Evolution Confusion

Among many other descriptions, Merriam-Webster’s defines the term “evolution” in the following ways:

  1. one of a set of prescribed movements
  2. a process of change in a certain direction
  3. unfolding
  4. growth
  5. a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state
  6. a process of gradual and relatively peaceful social, political, and economic advance
  7. the process by which new species or populations of living things develop from preexisting forms through successive generations

Do things change over time?  Has life on Earth changed over time?  Have geographical structures like canyons and river banks been altered throughout history by factors like wind and water erosion?  Do some viruses develop a resistance to particular antibiotics?  Do living organisms adjust to their surroundings in at least minimal ways?

If you agree with any of the definitions above, and/or answered “yes” to at least one of these questions, then you are indeed an evolutionist.  Of course, it’s not quite that simple.

The big “E” word is sown like a badge of honor on a uniform by many people, and is avoided like a pack of rabid hyenas by others.  In truth, neither of these positions is rational.  But the immense confusion surrounding the term “evolution” has no doubt caused both the worship and the hysteria to persist within our modern world.  Nowhere is this confusion more prominent (and more important) than when evolution is applied to the biological world.

Let me say at the onset of this discussion that people on both sides of the aisle are guilty of either misrepresenting or misunderstanding what “evolution” really means.  So allow me to evaluate each side in turn.  On the one hand, there are those of us who view the world as the product of an extremely powerful Deity who produced life in a very intentional way.  On the other, there are those from the cloth of raw scientific materialism who believe that evolution has provided us with a completely godless explanation of the biological world around us.

I’ll begin on the theistic side of the equation, specifically with those who have been conditioned to be horrified of anything having to do with evolution.  There are of course plenty of theistic evolutionists (also known as “evolutionary creationists”) who believe that God created the biosphere by using some combination of evolutionary processes, namely the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection working on heritable variation (caused by random mutation).  Sense this worldview is actually more compatible with atheism than it is with theism (I believe), the next section will deal with their major failures.  There is certainly a paranoia on the side of some theists (Christians in particular), telling them that evolution is of the devil, and that we should not even use the term to describe things like how the game of football has changed (evolved) over the years.  Specifically, those coming from the side of Young Earth Creationism (YEC)—who tend to take the Bible literally at nearly all points—often feel that the word is a complete abomination.  But the dirty little secret here is that even the YEC view of creation has “evolutionary” processes built into it.

The YEC perspective typically holds that there once existed a large group (some 2,500) of “proto-species” that God created, and Adam only had to name those rather than hundreds of thousands (or millions) of species in one 24-hour period. As Answers in Genesis—Ken Ham’s apologetics brainchild—contributing author, Andrew Kulikovsky, explained:

 “Since many genera contain dozens, even hundreds, of species, it is far more likely that Adam had to name only a couple of thousand of these proto-species—a task which could easily have been achieved in a few hours. (Assuming Adam had to name 2,500 proto-species (genera), and he named a single proto-species every five seconds, it would have taken him approximately three hours and 45 minutes to complete the task if we include a five-minute break every hour.)” 

I could say plenty about the notion that God continuously paraded a couple thousand animals in front of Adam as he spat out new names every five seconds, and I could speculate about what Adam did during his breaks (hacky sack, perhaps?), but there are more important things to attend to at the moment.  On this view, truly massive speciation (how species diversified) occurred in only a few thousand years.  This is particularly true when we lump the rest of the Animal Kingdom—apparently all marine organisms, insects, beetles and arachnids—that Kulikovky’s 2,500 proto-species excludes (because Adam supposedly had no part in naming them).  We would have Darwin’s mechanism of natural selection working on the incredible variation of genetic information thought to have been intrinsic to the 2,500 proto-species.  On this YEC view, 2,500 proto-species diversified into the millions—at least 2 million, and probably many millions more—of species that exist today, based on Kulikovky’s article.  I should add that they must have diversified at lightning-fast speeds because there is only a few thousand years of time for this to occur on the YEC view.  Further, this furious series of speciation events occurred not once, but twice, because the same process had to have occurred after the global Flood too (on their view).  Unless one wants to suggest that millions of species existed on Noah’s Ark during the Flood, that is.  No credible thinker has been willing to do that, thankfully.

I find all of this to be stunning, considering the fact that Ken Ham and his associates are so emphatic that the Darwinian mechanism would never have enough time to work, regardless of how old the Earth actually is.  I, of course, agree with that point.  But I’m not the one proposing that all of the world’s species actually diversified (on two separate occasions) far faster than either Darwin or his followers have suggested.

What this means is that, in effect, YEC holds to something eerily similar to the Darwinian mechanism that many of its adherents despise.  In some sense, this would actually be a sped-up version of biological evolution, but with God specifically creating the genetic information on the front end rather than random mutation doing this over the course of millions of years.  I am not trying to attack YEC here, but am simply pointing out how it alleges to explain the living world around us.  Biologically speaking, this perspective clearly qualifies as some form of evolutionary process.  2,500 biologically-loaded “proto-species” (also described in YEC as “genera” or “kinds”) are believed to have diversified into all of the species on the planet without any further divine intervention.  Once the proto-species were loaded with incredible amounts of genetic information (how does something like that survive?), natural processes—namely, natural selection—sorted out the variation and produced the biosphere.  And, again, this occurred at a rate that would make even the most ardent Darwinist’s head spin.  There must have been hundreds or perhaps thousands of brand new species coming into existence every day.

This tells us that the most conservative theistic views of creation affirm that biological evolution—in some way, shape, or form—occurred.  But that leads us to the most important aspect about the evolution discussion: the term has come to mean so many different things that it actually has almost no real meaning at all.  To clarify this point, I now turn to the other side of the evolution ledger.

It should have been apparent at the beginning of this blog that to say that “evolution is true” is to make one of the haziest and most ambiguous statements imaginable.  Yet, we hear it all of the time.  The theory of evolution is simply beyond dispute.  It has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.  As Richard Dawkins puts it—on behalf of Darwin worshippers everywhere— “Is it a Theory? Is it a Law? No, it’s a fact.”  It’s a sure as gravity.  Just ask Neil deGrasse Tyson, he’ll tell you; “The theory of evolution, like the theory of gravity, is a scientific fact.”

I wonder: if you drop an ape from the sky, will it turn into a human being before it hits the ground?

Though you still won’t read about the failures of Darwin’s theory in most biology textbooks or hear about them in many public forums, they most definitely exist.  The doubts about Darwin and the neo-Darwinian synthesis are so pronounced at this point that many alternative theories have been put forth, as well as theories that simply seek to supplement its apparent inadequacies.  There are now views positing that mass amounts of genetic information must have been present in earlier life-forms (biological front-loading), that diversification essentially occurred in massive jumps (punctuated equilibrium) rather than through the painstakingly slow process that Darwin proposed, and that less complex biological systems can give rise to more complex ones by simple interactions (self-organizational theory), just to name a few.

In fact, scores of researchers have expressed deep concerns about the efficacy of Darwin’s mechanism through what is called the “Third Way” of evolution.  Perhaps the most well-known among them is James Shapiro, from the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago.  Most of these individuals are anything but religious zealots.  Many are actually atheists, but they can no longer ignore the facts: Darwin’s proposal that natural selection could act on heritable genetic variation (mutation-driven) in order to produce the biosphere just doesn’t obtain.  It won’t work to explain everything, at the least.  In my estimation, it doesn’t work to explain much of anything.  As a matter of undisputed fact, the overwhelming majority of mutations are lethal and result in the death of the organism.  It is a matter of simple common sense that mutation would not be a good foundation upon which to build an evolutionary theory.  This point, along with many others, has severely damaged the neo-Darwinian enterprise.

The head has been severed, but the snake continues to twitch.

My brother and I have long referred to biological evolution as the “great blob” because it absorbs everything in its path.  “Evolution” gets larger and larger as the umbrella widens to cover every supplemental (and sometimes competing) hypothesis.  Darwin’s theory has sort of become the corroded old statue that awkwardly stands in the middle of the evolutionary graveyard.  Though surrounded by many other decaying corpses and temporary visitors, it remains the most visible; it’s still what most people ultimately mean when they refer to evolution in the biological sense.  Theories of biological evolution now unite to form what is very much a Frankenstein of explanations.  It ultimately bears the name of Darwin, but its parts come from a host other places.  Mainly, they come from A B Normal, a reference that any Young Frankenstein fan will understand.  This predicament was the reason for the sentiments expressed by Dr. David Berlinski when he was asked whether or not Darwin’s theory of evolution is true.  His response remains a classic:

“Before you can ask is Darwinian Theory correct or not, you have to ask the preliminary question, is it clear enough so that it could be correct. That’s a very different question. One of my prevailing doctrines about Darwinian Theory is: man that thing is just a mess. It’s like looking into a room full of smoke. Nothing in the theory is precisely, clearly, carefully defined and delineated. It lacks all of the rigor one expects from Mathematical Physics. And Mathematical Physics lacks all of the rigor one expects from Mathematics. So we’re talking about a gradual decent down the level of intelligibility, until we reach Evolutionary Biology. We don’t even know what a species is, for heaven sakes!”

Again, you will virtually never read something like this in a high school biology textbook or hear it from the science professor at the university down the street.  But this assessment is spot on.  When someone says, “biological evolution is a fact” (or anything of the sort), they are absolutely right . . . but they are right for all the wrong reasons.  As I previously discussed, anything we observe in the biosphere is “evidence” of evolution because evolution now encompasses every possible outcome.  Rapid changes, gradual changes, no changes, and everything in between.  It’s all “evolution.”  And again, don’t just take my word for it.  Last year’s Royal Society of London meeting featured biologist Gerd B. Müller, who suggested—among others at the meeting—that there are more than half a dozen ways that “evolution” is defined in the biological sense alone.  He proved this by referencing the literature being published in today’s scientific journals.  Forget the different varieties of evolutionary theories for the moment: this means that “biological evolution” itself has many different meanings.  How do you begin to talk about something that is so clearly undefined?

A “room full of smoke” may actually be a strangely generous statement.  It now looks more like a coliseum full of smoke.

There is no simpler and less inescapable critique of any theory than to say that it is unfalsifiable: that no evidence could ever be brought to bear that might disprove it.  Biological evolution is the filet mignon of all unfalsifiable theories.

I have now discussed the various ways that the term evolution is used in both the biological sense and in the everyday sense.  It should be clear that nothing has “evolved” as much as the word evolution itself.  I told you in the title of this blog that I would decode the evolution confusion, and I realize that I have not done so in the normative way.  This is because decoding something that is quite literally incoherent is not possible in the normative way.  But that’s just it—understanding that evolution has come to mean so many things (almost everything, really) is exactly how we decipher the way that we should understand it.  That knowledge, in itself, ought to liberate those who fear the term, and it should also restrict those who use the word like a sledgehammer on others.

In conclusion, I want to leave you with a few general guidelines or approaches that we should take with regards to the issue of evolution.

  1. Everyone believes in evolution, in the very broadest sense of the word.  This is true of ordinary things like how business procedures or fashion trends have changed over the years, and is also true of the ways that speciation (how animal species diversify) occurs in our world.
  2. Never forget that evolution has come to describe everything that is either thought to change or thought to have changed.  The word is a giant blob: a tar-baby that sticks to everything it touches.
  3. There is nothing intrinsically good or evil (or true/false, if you’d like) about the word.  Rather, there are only appropriate and inappropriate ways to use it.
  4. When discussing biological evolution in particular, we absolutely have to define our terms.  When someone talks about evolution—in any way, shape, or form—do not let the conversation progress until you have asked one very important question: what do you mean by the word “evolution?”  Make the person explain his or her perspective.  (Oh yeah, and don’t let them tell you that evolution is simply about how species change.  We all believe that happens.  Make them tell you exactly how (which evolutionary mechanism/s is at work, so to speak) evolution occurs.  Beyond spitting out a few general catch phrases, most people will not actually be able to do this.)

Based on the engorged nature of the word evolution, clarity is the key.  Clarity is essential.

I hope that this blog has in some way helped you to understand the truth about the most enigmatic word in the English language (or any other).  I think we would all do well to take this issue very seriously.  When used appropriately, the word evolution has the potential to tell us a great deal about the God who created us.  When used inappropriately, it has the power to lead us to the conclusion that this great Being has no part to play in our existence.  Worse, that He does not exist at all.

 

References

Berlinski, David. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. 2008. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1091617/quotes

Dawkins, Richard. “Is it a Theory? Is it a Law? No, it’s a fact”.  Richarddawkins.net. Nov 30, 2015. https://richarddawkins.net/2015/11/is-it-a-theory-is-it-a-law-no-its-a-fact/

Ham, Ken. “Evolution—Not Enough Time.” Answers in Genesis. Jan 19, 2006.  https://answersingenesis.org/media/audio/answers-with-ken-ham/volume-120/evolution-not-enough-time/

Kulikovsky, Andrew. “How Could Adam Have Named All the Animals in a Single Day”? Answers in Genesis. June 1, 2005.  https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/adam-and-eve/how-could-adam-have-named-all-the-animals-in-a-single-day/

Merriam-Webster. “Evolution.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evolution

Müller, Gerd B. “The extended evolutionary synthesis”. The Royal Society. Nov 7. 2016. https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2016/11/evolutionary-biology/

Rossiter, Wayne D. Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God.  Pickwick Publications. Eugene, OR. 2015, print.  https://shadowofoz.wordpress.com/

“The Third Way of Evolution.” http://www.thethirdwayofevolution.com/people

Tyson, Neil deGrasse. “Neil deGrasse Tyson Smacks Down Creationists Who Are Demanding Equal Time on Cosmos.” Politicususa. Mar 23rd, 2014. http://www.politicususa.com/2014/03/23/neil-de-grasse-tyson-smacks-creationists-demanding-equal-time-cosmos.html

 

Inconceivable! Re-examining the Rise of Human Civilizations

I openly admit that I find very few topics to be as interesting as the origins of the human race.  To think: at one point in history, the first human beings existed in a fantastically large and mysterious home.  I cannot begin to imagine what must have gone through their minds.  What is this place?  What are those creatures above us in the air, below us in the sea, and around us on the dry land?  What are those giant orbs in the sky?  Heck, they probably thought the world was ending every time it got dark outside.  At least the first few times, right?  I’m sure I would have.

They must have asked a thousand questions as they slowly began to search out their home and the reasons why they existed.  But there is a fundamental issue that I have been wrestling with as of late.  How in the world did human beings end up scattered around the globe to begin with, and why does it appear to have happened rather quickly?

Both mainstream science and most of the world’s religions agree that there was a first human being who existed alongside of a second, and that we can all trace our lineage back to these people.  In Judeo-Christian thought, we know the world’s first couple as Adam and Eve.  In the scientific world, this religious terminology has been copied in the terms “Y-chromosomal Adam” and “Mitochondrial Eve.”  It’s scarcely possible to find a belief system that does not affirm the existence of a first man and a first woman.  But this ought to be expected.  How could there not have been a first man and a first woman, at some point in time?  It’s an undeniable, logical necessity.

But the thing that bothers me is what happened afterwards.  Subsequent to the arrival of the first human beings on planet Earth, something incredible happened.  You see, we don’t have an historical record of just one group of people who lived in some isolated location for some thousands of years.  Rather, we have an historical record of scattered groups of people who existed around the globe at a very early time: perhaps at the earliest of times.  In fact, many archaeological anthropologists now believe that the most ancient civilizations in human history arose independent of (and perhaps even parallel to) one another.

Of course, this realization is leagues apart from what most of us have heard throughout our lifetimes.

We all know that it was the ancient aboriginal peoples (the earliest Australians) that first existed as a civilization of Homo sapiens, some 50,000 years ago.  Well, that’s what some authorities tell us, anyway.  In reality, it was actually the ancient Chinese that first existed as a certified civilization, perhaps as early as 80,000 years ago.  But that’s not the consensus opinion, of course.  Everyone who studies anthropology and archaeology can tell you that human civilization first arose somewhere in Africa . . . or was it the Middle East?  Yes, the ancient Mesopotamians came first, right?  No, no, no: human civilization arose “out of Asia.”  Well, it originated somewhere for Pete’s sakes!

At least we agree on that much.

Like the issues surrounding abiogenesis (first life) and the plethora of evolutionary theories out there today, the rise of human civilization is still utterly shrouded in mystery.  Say what you want, but it’s all about as clear as smoke.

But the professionals who study such matters are actually converging on one other point of agreement: human civilizations appear to have arisen all over the globe, from a very early time.  For so many years, we were fed the idea that modern human beings descended from some ape-like ancestor in the jungles of Africa, and that they ever-so-slowly disseminated across the world.  But if it all started with a pair of human beings who came to exist at a particular place in the world, how is there an historical record of human beings who existed all around the globe at such an early time?  Clearly, the earliest civilizations did not have any type of advanced transportation vessels, and they most certainly did not have access to maps of the ancient world.  Not on their own, at least.

Without an intrinsic geographical knowledge of the planet and no way of travelling great distances with any real speed (or at all?), shouldn’t they have remained at least somewhat centrally located?  I mean, it took European settlers nearly one thousand years to send someone to the “new world.”  Of course, what Christopher Columbus found in 1492 was that people already existed there: and they had for a very long time.  Did the ancient Native Americans develop a Santa Maria long before the Europeans did, or were they there by some other means?  Even if the earliest people had developed a great many ships that were sea-worthy enough to traverse vast oceans—and developed them exceedingly early in their histories—did they really relocate their entire cultures in such a way?  I can imagine how that dialogue must have played out.  “Hey, you take your group thousands of miles that way.  And you: go take your people thousands of miles that way.  We’ll stay here.  Good luck!”

Man, does that ever strain credibility.  Of course, maybe the ancient peoples simply walked along giant land bridges that supposedly existed all over the world some tens of thousands of years ago.  Not that we have any concrete evidence that ever happened.

So regardless of when and where civilization first arose, it is more and more the belief that the most primitive cultures developed independent of one another.  If true, how in the world might that have happened?  I mean, we have the first human beings (as we established earlier), and then a host of civilizations existing apart from one another on just about every major continent.  How on God’s green earth did they all get dispersed so quickly?  Well I’m glad I asked.  When you think about it, there are really only two reasonable explanations for this phenomenon.  Both of these explanations fly in the face of nearly every evolutionary theory out there, and both also lead to the conclusion that beings of higher power and intelligence were responsible for how human civilizations spread and developed.

The first possibility is that Homo sapiens came about on numerous (and separate) occasions in diverse places in the world.  Rather than having one common origin—as is normally assumed—the human race would actually have multiple origins.  Now, that on its face destroys any notion of universal common ancestry, which is proposed within nearly all evolutionary views (most notably, within Darwinism).  If we don’t all share some common lineage in an unbroken tree of diverse species, going back to first life itself, then most theories of evolution fall flat on their faces.  There are scores of hardcore materialists—of all people—who have their doubts that human beings could ever have been the product of an unguided process.  So the idea that we could have arisen on multiple occasions is utterly out of the question.  As Vizzini said on The Princess Bride: inconceivable!!  I know of no one (yet) who would dare to argue that such a thing could happen.  Needless to say, the only way this could have occurred is if a “creator,” a “designer,” or some type of extraterrestrial intelligence created human beings and placed them on different land masses.  Yes, there would still technically be a “first” human being in this scenario (or in any scenario), but there would be others who were specifically created in much the same way elsewhere.

Then there is the second realistic possibility: human beings arose in one specific place on Earth, but were physically scattered in a holy-hurry through what can only be explained as, well, an unexplainable event.  It comes as no surprise to some of us that this is actually the most ancient explanation of all.  To some, the biblical story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) is a complete laughingstock: a cute little story created by people who could scarcely tell the sun apart from the moon or the stars apart from the angels.  To others, the story happened in a completely literal way; having watched all of the world’s inhabitants create a tower for themselves (and not their God), the Creator came “down” from heaven to confuse their common language and send them all packing.  While there may well be some metaphor found within the story, the general concept that a variety of civilizations ended up emerging independent of one another is undeniably close to what modern disciplines are affirming.  It’s also not a belief affirmed only within the Bible.

Even the esteemed Jewish-Roman historian, Josephus, often recounted history based on the Old Testament.  In his Antiquities of the Jews, he stated that the people of the world—led by a corrupt leader named Nimrod—built a tower in an act of rebellion against God.  God, knowing that the Great Flood had not taught the peoples of the world to live righteously, administered justice on them by confusing their languages and preventing them from understanding one another.  But just as it is with Josephus’ statements about the existence of Jesus and his affirmation of many of the Bible’s claims, Josephus is often considered to be a treasured ancient witness when discussing secular events (like emperors), but is seen as a deceitful historian with an agenda when “religious” matters are on the table.  The selective nature of affirming someone’s credibility never ceases to amaze me.

What these ancient sources tell us is fairly straightforward: before modern archaeology, biology, genetics or anthropology, many of the “primitive” and “unlearned” peoples of the world believed that human beings were physically scattered around the globe in astonishing fashion.  As I continue to discover, modern science—when pursued in an open and honest way—typically ends up affirming what human beings have believed from the beginning.  The more we discover, the closer we return to our beliefs of old.

Of course, none of this prevents the eternal skeptics and naysayers from regurgitating the same stale company-lines.  Since we “know” that evolution is true (whatever we mean by “evolution” at this point), we also “know” that all human beings must have slowly descended from primitive, ape-like ancestors, where they proceeded to ever-so-gradually disperse around the globe.  They did so by meandering out of Africa in order to cross ancient land bridges that apparently existed all of over the place some time ago.  Despite the fact that every single step in this scenario has never been more debated than it is now, many of us will still tow this line without asking any questions.  I communicate with these types of materialistic die-hards on a weekly basis.

But we have to look at the evidence we have in hand, and try to make sense of it.  We can feel reasonably confident about the following things:

  • Human beings appeared at various places around the world at roughly the same time period.
  • The question—who came from where, and when?—is hotly debated within the scientific community, and is very far from settled.
  • The overall consensus is that the earliest civilizations developed in isolation from one another.

But one more thing needs to be added to this.  You see, it isn’t just that these civilizations seemed to have appeared in different areas rather abruptly, or that they developed independently. The really mysterious part of all of this is that these civilizations also shared astonishing similarities with one another.  I have written about this elsewhere, so I refer you there for further details.  But it is undeniable that the scattered cultures of the ancient world display an uncanny resemblance in their architecture, religious beliefs, creation accounts, and even their emphasis on particular numbers and themes (like describing “air beings” in identical ways).

To bring this to a close, let’s consider which theory makes the best sense of these points.  How did human beings get dispersed all over the world at a very early time in our history, and what can account for the undeniable connections between these well-circulated peoples?

It could well be that Homo sapiens came about in a remote place in Africa via some extraordinarily speculative evolutionary process, that they aimlessly wandered the planet via lost land masses and fortunately came across new dwelling places, and that our most primitive cultures just happened to develop—in isolation—nearly identical creation accounts, building methods, and overall worldviews.

Or . . . perhaps human beings were specifically created at a particular place in the world, where they learned about their creator/s, learned to build structures in a particular fashion, were given advanced understanding of astronomy and mathematics, and came to understand reality in very similar ways.  By the judgment of the One/s who had made them, they were then rapidly scattered around the globe.  The ancient civilizations shared so many commonalities and appeared at similar times because they were all once connected, and their ancestors once experienced the same events.

In the end, it is really up to each of us to evaluate the information we have and to adopt whichever position makes the most sense of this information.  Which explanation for the formation of the earliest civilizations makes sense to you?

Personally, I believe that a being of a higher power and intelligence was responsible.  I think this conclusion is where the evidence—not wishful thinking—leads us.  I call that being “God”.

As for the alternative, naturalistic theories?  Well, I personally find them to be (you guessed it): inconceivable.

 

References

“Cradle of Civilization.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle_of_civilization

Kluger, Jeffrey. “Here’s Proof That the First Modern Humans Were Chinese.” Time. Oct 14, 2015. http://time.com/4071342/earliest-humans-china/

Klein, Christopher, “DNA Study Finds Aboriginal Australians World’s Oldest Civilization.” History In the Headlines. September, 2016. http://www.history.com/news/dna-study-finds-aboriginal-australians-worlds-oldest-civilization

Lovgren, Stefan. “Who Were the First Americans?” National Geographic News. Sept 3, 2003. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/09/0903_030903_bajaskull.html

Mann, Charles C. New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Vintage Books. New York City, NY. 2006, print.

Von Däniken, Erich. Evidence of the Gods: A Visual Tour of Alien Influence in the Ancient World. New Page Books. Pompton Plains, NJ. 2013, print.

Beneath the Rock

I came across an article the other day that is not unlike many others that are now commonplace within the scientific community.  Though I am not going to write a full-length blog on this, I did want to say a couple words and redirect you to a blog I have already written on this issue.

The article I am referring to comes from the New Scientist, and it continues to demonstrate what all of the honest people among us have been talking about for centuries: nay, for millennia.  In no uncertain terms, life on planet Earth is the result of an intelligent being/s.  It simply is, and almost no one is even trying to deny it at this point.  This article discusses that Lee Cronin—a respected chemist at the University of Glasgow (UK)—recently conceded that the complexity of life requires an artificer, saying: “Biology has one signature; the ability to produce complex things that could not arise in the natural environment.”

In other words, life is so complex that it requires an intelligent cause.  But where, oh where, have we heard that before?  It sounds so familiar, yet I cannot seem to place it.  Hmm . . .

Oh yeah, I have it now: this is the foundational view of the Intelligent Design movement.  What? . . . Those pseudo-scientific hacks?  It can’t be.  Of course, it also sounds a lot like the crazy ideas put forth by religious dreamers.  You know, the rock-dwelling, iron-age peasants among us who actually believe there is a powerful being who created life on Earth.  How did that idea ever get off the ground?

I hope you have noticed the sarcasm because I am laying it on pretty thick.

Cronin’s suggestion is absolutely no different than those put forth by the previous parties, save for the fact that he doesn’t explicitly reference a “Designer” or a “Creator.”  But come on; did he really have to?  Did any of the scientists who have made identical types of statements—and they come from nearly every scientific background imaginable— need to employ this type of forbidden terminology?

Who do they think they are kidding?

The point I am trying to make is very simple.  It is high time that those who have been living under the naturalistic rock put on their booties and come join the rest of us.  While the exact identity of the being/s that created life on our planet is certainly something we should all be discussing, there is no reason to continue to pretend that natural causes could have produced the life we experience on our planet every day.

It seems to me that the only ones who are living under a rock are those from the scientific community (and their worshippers) who are unwilling to accept the inescapable reality that life is not an accident or the product of universal happenstance.

Of course, pride is often the hardest thing to swallow.

 

References

Holmes, Bob. “We could detect alien life by finding complex molecules.” New Scientist. 27 April, 2017. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2129252-we-could-detect-alien-life-by-finding-complex-molecules/

 

 

Lost in Space

There are just so many questions that one could ask about the nature of our existence.  Whenever we think we have an answer to one of them, it seems as though countless others emerge to take its place.  All the while, those new questions cause us to rethink the first one that we supposedly answered already.  But what do we really know about our existence?  Even at a basic level: what do we know?  It has recently occurred to me that the foundational beliefs upon which we all rest our entire worldviews are anything but sturdy.  In fact, they’re often tragically fragile.  Sometimes, I wonder if we can even get off the ground with any of this: if we can even get started on our quest to be the masters of the universe, so to speak.  Already, you may be wondering what on earth I am talking about.

Well, let’s start with the universe.  It seems to me that the first question any of us should ever ask is this: did the universe actually come into existence at some finite point in the past?  Was there a point in which it did not exist?  Certainly, many philosophical and religious traditions have taken this belief for granted throughout the centuries.  Scientifically, most who have lived after the dawn of Big Bang Cosmology and Georges Lemaître’s 1927 postulation that the universe is expanding from a single point have also agreed.  Sure, the universe came into existence.  Or did it?  Even the fundamental belief that the universe is expanding has been challenged by numerous physicists and astronomers of late.  An article like this comes to mind.  You may look here as well.

Of course, others have understood that high temperature and density states—which supposedly gave rise to the Big Bang—also require causes; temperatures and density states are measures of something.  What exactly was so hot?  What was so dense?  We would need an explanation for whatever existed before the Big Bang . . . and what existed before that . . .and so forth.  Material causes couldn’t give rise one to the other infinitely into the past because they could never get started.  This problem is called an infinite regress fallacy.  Naturally, some have proposed that the universe is eternal and had no origin.

But if the universe actually did begin to exist, what existed before that?  Nothing?  But, what is “nothing”?  It’s black space, err . . . I mean, infinite darkness.  No, I’ve got it— “nothing” is the complete absence of something!  Hmm, I wonder what that would look like.  Isn’t it paradoxical to even ask what something is when it is by definition, not anything?  But I’ll get back to that.  Then there is the “multiverse theory,” which postulates that our universe is part of a network of other universes, which are perhaps even infinite in nature.  Maybe our universe came from a pre-existing universe/s.  But even if that were true, was there a first universe?  Even on the multiverse view, it seems like there would still need to be one.  Of course, then we are back to having to explain how a universe could come into being without pre-existing material causes.  If this isn’t an issue, then we could make the case that the universe did not need to be brought into existence at all, since universes wouldn’t require causes.

Maybe we need a new explanation.  Let’s call it, “the eternal multiverse theory.”  Yay!  Problem solved.

So there it is: who can even be sure if the universe began or not, or how many universes there are?  To date, it’s anyone’s guess.  After one hundred more years of further scientific progress, those living in that day will no doubt look back and laugh at us for our ignorance on these subjects.  Don’t we say the same about preceding generations?  But one hundred years after that?  Repeat.  And all the while, it is doubtful that we will really know—to a certainty—the true nature of our universe.

But let’s look at this from the vantage point of space-travel, for a moment.  Is there something beyond the universe?  Not only in theory, but in reality, if we were to travel at the speed of light in one direction long enough, we should be able to reach an “end” to the universe.  But would we hit “nothing” at that point?  I mean, the universe is typically thought to be expanding from nothing, so that same nothing should also exist at the edge of the universe, know?  If there actually isn’t an edge of the universe or a point where we would find nothing, then it would stand to reason that “nothing” is simply a myth and material worlds are infinite.  And now we are back to the multiverse again.  We have arrived at another “answer” that reveals more problems than it solves.

But if “nothing” cannot be a reality, then the universe could not possibly have come from nothing, right?  Wait, wait.  Of course it could have.

By now my fellow Christians—and those from certain other backgrounds—may be feeling a bit misrepresented.  We all know how this went down.  God created the universe from scratch: from nothing.  Ex Nihilo my friend, ex nihilo.  Ah, but is it that simple?  If we are to agree with the atheist and other non-religious folk (yes, it is unavoidable on occasion) that our universe could not have come into being from pre-existing material causes infinitely into the past, and that it also could not have come from nothing, we have to put something else back there.  The universe still requires a cause for its existence.  But what?  Well, God of course.  But there are actually problems here, too.  There are problems with the traditional understanding of things, anyway.  Was God once sitting there all alone in a spaceless, empty, isolated vacuum of nothingness?  (Again, I do not mean a realm of black space or something of the sort; black space is not “nothing.”)  Many of us believe so.  Take one of the most well-known Christian philosophers of our time, for example.  William Lane Craig speaks for many from the cloth of “traditional” or “classical” Christianity when he says that God is an “. . . uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful cause . . ..”  Really, all of those things huh?

That being said, let’s play a quick game.  In ten seconds, come up with as many ways to define “nothing” as you possibly can.  Go ahead, you only have ten seconds.

Time’s up!  I’ll bet some of the terms you came up with are eerily similar to those used by Craig when he describes God.  Immaterial . . . timeless . . . spaceless . . . and so forth.  Notice that God is essentially being described here as nothing.  Craig and others would remark that my statement is unfair because God is an unembodied “mind.”  Great . . . so what is a “mind,” and how can one of these things cause a material universe to spontaneously generate?  Further, simply throwing the term “mind” into the fray effectively changes nothing.  Pumpkin.  Yacht.  Beaver.  Jacuzzi.  Did that help to clarify things?  The fact remains that God (or the great unembodied Mind?) is defined as not being anything at all.

So how can we make God the cause of the universe if He cannot be just another ordinary material cause among infinite others?  That’s easy: we can define God as nothing.  If you really think about it, this is what a great deal of us mean when we say, “God created the universe ex nihilo.”  We mean that nothing created the universe from (you guessed it), nothing.  Yeah, we have simply called our nothing “God,” and thrown the irrelevant term “mind” in there to give the appearance of something: a bit of pizazz, if you will. This is all especially curious to me, considering the fact the Bible never actually says that God created the universe from nothing to begin with.  It simply says the He “created,” or “formed,” or perhaps “fashioned”—all of which come from the Hebrew word used here (bara) — “the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).  But was that a creation from nothing (ex nihilo), or a sculpting from pre-existing matter (ex materia)?  This, too, has been debated for centuries.

I don’t know.  Maybe we really need to rethink this whole thing.

Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the topic of my first blog—the origin of life.  We are all at a complete loss to explain the issue of abiogenesis (how life could have arisen from non-life), but we all accept that it happened somewhere.  No matter how you slice it, life must have arisen unexplainably from non-life.  Unless, of course, we hold that some form of life is both infinite and eternal, having no prior cause. Enter once more the “G” word.  But then again, how could God have existed infinitely into the past (i.e., He had no prior cause), as nearly all theists claim?  Wouldn’t God have lived forever prior to creating anything?  But if forever is interrupted by the creation of something, then it wasn’t really “forever,” was it? Within that line of reasoning, how could our universe have gotten started—if it did indeed get started—in the first place?  How could any realm or universe have come into being if God existed for an eternity before creating them?

On and on we go.

I am fully aware that I have not attempted to provide any “answers” in this particular blog.  And despite how it may sound, I do actually believe that the evidence in favor of God is much stronger than the evidence to the contrary.  I have already shared several arguments in favor of God’s existence, and will continue to do so in the future.  But sometimes it is healthy to take a step back and truly evaluate where we are with respect to our understanding of the universe and our Creator.

With all our cunning and 21st century brilliance, it appears that we are still very much in the dark.  We are still lost in space.

But who among us is willing to admit it?

 

References

Jon Cartwright. “Cosmologist claims Universe may not be expanding.” Nature. http://www.nature.com/news/cosmologist-claims-universe-may-not-be-expanding-1.13379#/b1

William Lane Craig. “Is the Cause of the Universe an Uncaused Personal Creator of the Universe?” Reasonablefaith.org. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-the-cause-of-the-universe-an-uncaused-personal-creator-of-the-universe.

“Scientist claims that universe might not be expanding at an accelerating pace.” Physics-Astronomy.com. http://www.physics-astronomy.com/2016/10/scientist-claims-that-universe-might.html#.WOkl9Y-cHIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Darkness Among Us

In March of 2012, Dr. Richard E. Gallagher—of the New York Medical College—released a report that no doubt raised eyebrows among his esteemed colleagues.  In this report, a woman named “Julia” (a pseudonym used to protect her identity) was said to have been possessed by an unseen force.  Julia was described as entering into insane trances, speaking in very dark tones and in languages she had never previously studied, exhibiting a supernatural understanding about the people working on her case, and at one point, she even supposedly levitated six inches in the air for an extended period of time.

Just like others who have made claims of this nature, Gallagher has been labeled a fraud and a failed psychiatrist by many since the publishing of his findings.  He was well respected prior to his reckless decision to step outside the bounds of naturalism, and a laughingstock to a lot of “educated folks” thereafter.  Funny how that works.  In the end, maybe his accounts were factual and maybe there weren’t.  Regardless, Gallagher was describing what scores of people before him (and after him) have talked about for millennia.

The notion that otherworldly beings can interact with us is most definitely not new.  In fact, it is about as old as even the most primitive beliefs in superhuman deities like God (or the gods).  More than that, the thought that some of these beings carry with them malevolent intentions can be seen in just about every major religion or culture that has ever existed.  You might even say that, on the whole, the cultures of the past have shared somewhat of an obsession with the prospect of dark forces.  Humanity is indeed rich in traditions about evil entities.

The Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, contained a group of dark beings called the daevas, which were essentially considered to be adversaries of the “one wise Lord” Ahura Mazda and his creation.  There is also the notion of an ultimate evil entity within Zoroastrianism, which is the Evil Spirit Ahriman.  Further, there were good beings named ahuras, which are eerily similar to the angelic beings discussed within the Bible.  Hindu belief has regarded the counterpart of the ahuras—who are known as the asuras—as evil entities that would resemble what the Bible describes as demons.  The Egyptians believed in an evil god named Set who fell from the grace of the pantheon after murdering his brother.  They also believed in demonic activity.  For example, the demon Nehebkau—who was sometimes regarded as an earth spirit and a source of strength for the other gods—was often viewed as being a menacing monster: a sort of serpent/human hybrid who could affect the souls of the dead.  As a Christian, this sounds a bit familiar, know?  Islam affirms the existence of the Devil (called Iblis, or Shaitan).  He is thought to command the darker group of supernatural beings called “shaitans,” who belong to a class of entities called djinni or jinni (genies, to you and me).

It should go without saying that the Bible is absolutely loaded with examples of ill-intentioned, non-human entities.  I will not begin to discuss all of these examples, but a few should make the point.  The first thing to mention is that Jesus’ initial popularity—his earliest “claim to fame,” as it were—came as an exorcist.  Really, it’s true.  In the Gospel of Mark—which has long been thought of as the first gospel account to be written—Jesus’ very first miracle came in the form of an exorcism.  Mark 1:21-25 records this event, and this is precisely what caused Jesus’ fame to spread across the entire region of Galilee afterwards (1:28).  Jesus would later cast multitudes of demons out of individuals (Lk. 4:31-35).  As usual, the people were absolutely astonished by his ability to deliver individuals from demonic influence, and his fame continued to spread (4:37).  Jesus of course met the ultimate evil entity (Satan) at the very beginning of his ministry, when he was tempted in three different ways so that he might give up on his mission (Mt. 4:1-11).

Countless other examples could be mentioned about Jesus’ encounters with evil entities.  Forget the fact that he commissioned his disciples to tangle with these dark forces as well.  In one such occurrence, seventy-two of Jesus’ followers attested to having been able to cast out demons (Lk. 10:17).  In terms of all alleged exorcists in world history, Jesus most certainly ranks at the top.

Jesus was the exorcist of all exorcists.

Evil entities are spoken of throughout the world, in every major culture, and in just about every religious tradition you could look at.  The attempt to either reduce all of these claims to an unidentified psychological disorder or to relegate them to the land of delusion has not satisfied most of us; if we are being honest, it is hard to ignore that something real is going on here.  Even in a country where spiritual skepticism and fear of organized religion is at an all-time high, a large number of Americans still appear to believe in demonic activity of some sort. In fact, the belief is growing within our youth.  As recent at 2012, Public Policy Poll reported that 63% of Americans, ages 18-29, who were polled admitted to the belief that demonic forces can in some way control human beings.  The belief doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.

Clearly, something is going on here.  But what?  If evil entities of a higher order really do exist, then what type of beings are they?

Those who come from the “ancient astronaut” background hold to the idea that these dark entities are actually extraterrestrials from somewhere else in the cosmos.  This view can be seen very clearly on one particularly interesting episode of the show Ancient Aliens, called “Dark Forces.”  I do not find this view to be laughable in the least.  On the contrary, I think that ancient astronaut theory has plenty of merits, and that its proponents are often closer to identifying the nature of our Creator than many who live within religious communities.  But on this particular point, I find that possessions and dark activity are best explained in another way.  There are two major reasons why I believe this is the case.

The first is something I refer to as the “spatial problem.”  Simply put, a being who lives elsewhere in the universe would need to travel quite a long way to get to Earth.  But in examples of possession—or even spontaneous human combustion, as discussed in my previous blog—there never seem to be any accounts of witnesses who saw either beings or crafts flying through space, whether on route here or on route “home.”  The second issue I would mention here is the “invisibility problem,” and it is very much connected to the spatial problem.  How can it be that most accounts of possession or evil influence that we might look at mention nothing about a physical manifestation?  Though they can physically appear (as I discuss momentarily), how is it that they have the capacity to avoid being seen?  It seems to me that an extraterrestrial who lives within the cosmos would be spotted in their efforts to manipulate individual persons.  But they aren’t.  They aren’t seen on the way here, on the way back, or even typically while they are here on Earth.  How can that be said of something like a traditional alien: a physical being that is confined within our universe?

If not an alien from outer space, then what?  Well, let’s consider what types of conditions these beings would have to satisfy.  We know that they are often unseen.  We know that they can seamlessly interact with us, and cease interacting with us, in an instant.  We also know that these beings must be extremely powerful (at least by our standards) in order to control and manipulate human beings.  To me, all of this adds up to one probable conclusion: the evil forces at work in our world are not from somewhere else in the cosmos, but are from somewhere outside of it.

True, perhaps an extraterrestrial that lives within our universe could use some sort of cloaking device, the likes of which we are simply unaware of from a technological perspective.  Maybe their crafts employ similar technology.  Maybe they could even travel enormous distances in a matter of moments while using this cloaking technology.  It’s all at least hypothetically possible, but it strains any sense of credibility, to say the least.  The speculations would continue to build upon one another as the explanation gets bigger and bigger.

But what if our superhuman tormenters are able to go physically undetected not because of some theoretical cloaking device or some travelling capability that is utterly unfathomable to us, but because they affect us from another realm of existence all-together?  What if they don’t need to travel across the universe in a flying machine in order to interact with us?

This seems to be very much how things are described in most of the ancient texts mentioned earlier, and particularly in the Bible.  In the Bible, we have two realms of existence—not simply two locations within the universe—being described to us.  There are the “heavens,” and there is the “earth.”  The heavenly beings live in heaven, and the earthly beings live on Earth.  Throughout the entirety of the biblical text, heavenly beings often appear and vanish at will.  Angels appear and reappear, as in cases like the story of Lot (Gen. 19) or the angels who appeared at Jesus’ tomb (Jn. 20:11-13).  Satan and demonic entities do the same, as seen in the aforementioned temptation of Jesus and the many possession accounts in the New Testament.  Even Jesus appears and disappears, as evidenced by his mysterious vanishing act after his walk to Emmaus (Lk. 24:31) or his abrupt appearances to his terrified disciples after the resurrection (Jn. 20:19-29).  At no point do we hear talk of smoke, exhaust, or anything else associated with flying crafts.

Not only do heavenly beings appear and reappear at will, they can also interact with us without being seen.  It’s almost as if they can assert control and influence without having to be physically present.  It’s almost like they can be “here” and be “there” simultaneously.  Perhaps their realm lays over top of ours, and perhaps both their power and physical makeup permits them to move between “here” and “there.” Maybe, to them there is no barrier between the two realms, and to us there is.

There can be no doubt that this is a proposition that most of us are not familiar with.  Some may even be uncomfortable with this notion.  But it is worth considering which scenario makes the best sense of the higher beings that appear so evidently to be involved in our world.  Ask yourself: does a being aboard a flying ship who must travel immense distances while using some type of astonishing cloaking technology make better sense of things, or does a being who is able to seamlessly come and go between our realm and another better explain these phenomena?

If we are at least willing to consider the second possibility—a possibility that the Bible seems to allude to—then it may well change our views about many other things.  What else could this mean about the overall nature of the being/s who put us here?  What could it mean about the nature of their home?  What could it mean about the possible events that are going on around us at any given time, that we are often unable to comprehend?  I personally find all of this to be incredibly intriguing.

There are many places we could go from here.  But for now, “the darkness among us” has been a great place to start.

 

References

Asis, Adrian. “6 Cases of ‘Demonic Possession’ That Might Convince You”. The Richest. 2 April, 2014.  http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/most-shocking/6-cases-of-demonic-possession-that-might-convince-you/

“Devils and Demons”. Mythencyclopedia.com.  http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Cr-Dr/Devils-and-Demons.html

Williams, Jim.  “Halloween Poll Results”. Public Policy Polling. Oct. 30, 2012. Polling http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2012/10/halloween-poll-results.html

https://pixabay.com/en/light-in-the-dark-tunnel-hope-1872961/

 

 

 

 

Bodies and Ballads

“I’m burnin’, I’m burnin’, I’m burnin’ for you!”  The acclaimed rock group Blue Oyster Cult once expressed these sentiments of passion in their 1981 mega-hit.  Of course, this was intended in a metaphorical sense.  An entirely different type of “burnin’” has occurred to a number of unfortunate souls in a hideously literal way.  I am speaking here of “spontaneous human combustion” (SHC, for short), and it is a very real phenomenon.

Like most of you who are reading this, I spent most of my life believing that the idea of someone spontaneously catching on fire should rank up there with claims about the Lochness Monster and Bigfoot.  Upon closer inspection, I no longer feel this way.  I firmly believe that it happens.

But let’s start with the basics.

What is spontaneous human combustion?  Essentially, SHC is an event in which a human being initiates a fire on his or her person without the application of heat from an external source; nothing can be pinpointed as the cause, so the fire appears to have originated with the individual.  Throughout the centuries, there have been literally hundreds of reported cases of SHC.  Victims are typically found at their private residences, burned to ash, with little-to-no evidence that anything else had happened within the home.  The evidence of intruders or fire damage to objects around them is basically nonexistent.  Stranger still is the nature of their corpses; the victims are not simply burned to death, but are literally reduced to dust.  To put this in perspective, the cremation of a deceased human body at your local crematorium does not even achieve such complete incineration.  Though the bodies are typically burned for hours at heats in excess of 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, there are remaining bones that still need to be ground-up afterwards.  Morbid, I know.

It was an episode of the Science Channel’s The Unexplained Files that really got me thinking about the issue of SHC.  On one particular episode, a man named Frank Baker was the subject du jour.  Frank seemed like a perfectly normal person, but he had an extraordinarily abnormal problem—every once in a while, he would burst into flames.  This happened on two separate occasions, and both events were witnessed by Frank’s friend, Pete Willey.  It’s a good thing Pete was there, too.  On the first occasion, Frank caught on fire while sitting on his couch and Pete was able to extinguish the flames.  On the second, the two were actually out in a boat fishing.  Both times, Frank caught on fire in the complete absence of some external heat source, and both times Pete was able to help “put him out”.  The most incredible aspect about all of this is that the doctor who saw Frank after his first case of SHC supposedly told him that, by all appearances, it seemed as though the fire had actually originated from within his person.  There was no known naturalistic explanation for what had happened to Frank.  There still isn’t.

There are many other cases of SHC of course, most of them much better known than Frank Baker’s.  In July of 1951, Mary Hardy Reeser—known to some as the “The Cinder Lady”— is believed by many to have burst into flames in her apartment.  As is often the case (for some reason), one foot remained intact, as well as her shrunken skull (odd).  Both John Irving Bentley (1966) and Henry Thomas (1980) were also both found incinerated, though both also retained at least one leg.  Oddly, the slipper covering Bentley’s remaining foot was completely untouched.  One of the most famous cases of SHC, and one of the most recent, was the strange case of Michael Faherty.  Faherty was discovered on December 22, 2010, in his home in Ballybane, Ireland.  According to reports, only Faherty’s body and the areas directly above and below him were affected by the flames, and the coroner on the case—like the doctor who saw Frank Baker—actually felt as though human spontaneous combustion was the most reasonable explanation for the event.

This is just a sampling of various cases of SHC.  So yes, I do believe that it happens . . . crazy as it may seem to be.

The obvious question with these incidents of SHC is—to follow with our tune above—who did they burn for?  Who, or what, did this to the victims of SHC?  As previously mentioned, despite our 2017 technology, we cannot even intentionally destroy a corpse as thoroughly as we see in these cases.  No human being murdered these victims, unless they possessed a technology that we are not aware of and they were able to leave absolutely no trace of their presence on all of these occasions.  Is there some naturally occurring reason for SHC?  There may well be, but we do not presently know of one.  Perhaps the most famous naturalistic suggestions on the issue have been the so-called “wick theories”, which generally posit that the human body is something like a candle-wick that slowly burns as subcutaneous fat is released from the body.  But these notions have been D.O.A. from the beginning.  If a body slowly burned at such an extreme heat for the amount of time generally posited within the various wick theories, it is almost impossible to imagine that everything else around the individuals would not have caught on fire as well.  Besides, a wick needs to be lit, and the whole mystery surrounding cases of SHC is that there was no external heat source found near the victims.  The dagger is that, even if we grant all the factors involved in the wick theories, that still would not generate the kind of heat needed to turn a human body to ash.  Like I said, the wick theories are dead on arrival.

But I suppose we could still do what many people in the natural sciences do with issues like abiogenesis (how life began) or the origin of the universe, and simply wish on the future.  Yeah, we don’t have a natural explanation now . . . but we will someday!  But as one who is unwilling to tow-the-line of philosophical naturalism—which suggests that the only explanations that can possibly exist are purely naturalistic ones—I have to be willing to entertain the idea that there are metaphysical reasons for this.  More than simply entertaining the idea, I have to think that a metaphysical answer is the best explanation for the cases of SHC.

We have to account for a few major things when considering the topic of SHC.  First, we have to account for a source of extreme heat.  We are talking about a heat that can turn a body—bones and all—to ash.  Second, we have to explain how there is literally no evidence of breaking-and-entering or that anyone was involved in the event.  With all of our advances in forensic science, we would be able to at least tell if there had been an intruder at a murder scene.  Lastly, we need to explain why the entire dwelling doesn’t burn to the ground when an object (the burning body) laying in direct proximity to furniture, walls, appliances, etc., is radiating unimaginable heat.  For the most part, only the individual is affected.

None of this adds up.  Natural causes cannot explain cases of SHC and neither can human interference.  But perhaps there is yet another type intelligence behind it all . . .

For millennia, people from various backgrounds and ideologies have explained such types of phenomena by invoking beings of higher power and intelligence.  Buried in what some may call “superstition”, an answer may well have always been with us.  The most famous ancient text of all time is the Bible, and there is not a remotely close second.  It would surprise most people, particularly those who share my belief in Jesus Christ, to learn that the Bible certainly explains a number of events that correspond quite closely with the phenomenon of SHC.  For starters, both testaments of the Bible discuss the reality that divine beings can cause the sudden death of human beings without being seen.  An ark-bearer named Uzzah found this out the hard way when he reached down to grab the ark of the covenant, in order to keep the holy relic from falling to the ground.  The result—as God had forewarned the Jewish people—was horrific, and Uzzah was stricken dead on the spot (2 Sam. 6:6-7).  A very similar event was recorded in Acts 5:1-11, where we read about two frauds, named Ananias and Sapphira, who were struck down in an instant for lying to God and withholding money from the church.  It is even recorded that an angel destroyed 185,000 Assyrians in a single night (2 Ki. 19:35, Is. 37:36)!  These examples don’t directly match cases of SHC, but they certainly exhibit the type of power on display within them.

Then we have the rather unfortunate case of Lot’s wife.  Prior to God’s act of pouring fire and brimstone down on the rebellious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot—who just happened to be the nephew of the great biblical patriarch, Abraham—and his family were told to flee to the town of Zoar, in order to escape the coming destruction (Gen. 19:21-22).  For undisclosed reasons, Lot’s wife did not heed the angels’ warning and was turned into a “pillar of salt” (Gen. 19:26).  Perhaps she was covered by the explosions of surrounding salt deposits or ultimately petrified (becoming “salt”) under piles of ash.  Whatever the case, it is important to consider the context of the situation.  God—a non-human, metaphysical being—caused a fire and a heat of such magnitude that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (and their inhabitants) were absolutely obliterated.  So was Lot’s wife.  This is precisely the same type of power that must be at work in cases of SHC.  And again, the being responsible remained unseen.

Now we are getting warmer.

A few more quick examples should be enough to illustrate the point.  First, take the descriptions of God’s fiery power in the sacrifices of the Old Testament.  The book of Leviticus records that after Moses’ brother, Aaron, and the Levites had been inaugurated as the priests of Israel, God ordered that a series of sacrifices be made.  One of those sacrifices was to be a “burnt offering”, which consisted of both a calf and a lamb (9:3).  After making all of the appropriate sacrifices and placing the burnt offering and fat portions on the altar, something astonishing happened: “Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar.  And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down (9:24).”

Later on in the Old Testament, we see an eerily similar event take place when the prophet Elijah takes on the prophets of the god Baal, in a sort of “my God is better than your god” competition.  The rules of the skirmish were pretty simple: two bulls were sacrificed and set on altars to test the competing deities, and whichever alleged deity sent fire to burn the sacrifices was the real God.  Where the 450 prophets of Baal had failed, Elijah succeeded.  It is said that Yahweh sent fire to swallow up the bull that had been sacrificed: a fire so intense that it destroyed the entire altar, and even “. . . licked up the water in the trench” that surrounded the altar (1 Ki. 18:38).  Just think—a fire so intense that it even caused the surrounding water to immediately dissipate.

Finally, we cannot forget the way that Satan is described within the Bible.  The book of Job is the first place we really encounter Satan (at least his supernatural abilities) within the entire Bible.  On route to destroying just about everything and everyone that Job held dear, the Bible records that Satan was able to conjure one truly hellacious fire-storm.  In true Sodom and Gomorrah fashion, Satan poured fire from the heavens, completely eradicating all of Job’s sheep and his servants (1:16).  Even in the New Testament, Satan is given aliases like the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).  Clearly, producing fiery death and destruction is not outside the realm his abilities, or his desires.

The question of which type of heavenly being is to blame for these events, or whether or not all of these examples are “fair” acts, is beyond the scope of this particular blog.  But there are two points that should emerge from this.  The first is that something like SHC—as “kooky” as it may sound to many of us—seems to be a reality we must accept.  There are many real-life examples of this phenomenon, and even the Bible records events that are extraordinarily similar in nature.  That leads us to the second major thrust of this blog.  The Bible doesn’t just describe similar events; I believe that it gives us the only logical solution to the enigma.

I have already discussed the fact that science has found no reasonable explanation for spontaneous human combustion.  At best, one may scientifically assert that we will one day uncover that there is a perfectly good “natural” explanation for SHC.  But we can all wish on the future until the cows come home.

It is only fair to say that we need to deal with what we do know rather than what we do not.

What we have in the cases of SHC is the destruction of individuals through an incredibly rapid and exceedingly hot process: a process that outdoes our human capabilities, and most definitely surpasses anything rational in nature.  The two most peculiar and haunting items we must explain is why there is just so little evidence of intrusion, and why so little else is disturbed within the rooms in which the victims of SHC breathed their final breaths.

There are no natural explanations.  There aren’t even any human explanations.  So where exactly does that leave us?  Maybe we should go back and read a little more from the “superstitious” texts of old.  They spoke of beings that surpass our levels of power and understanding.  They even spoke of beings that are not confined within our realm of existence, and would therefore not need to be seen in ours.

Maybe they pegged the culprits of SHC long ago.

At the very least, their explanations are no more absurd than having no explanation at all.

 

References

Hill, Bryan. “Spontaneous Human Combustion: A Burning Mystery”.  24 August, 2015. http://www.ancient-origins.net/unexplained-phenomena/spontaneous-human-combustion-burning-mystery-003665

“Human Combustion Victim”. The Unexplained Files.                     http://www.sciencechannel.com/tv-shows/the-unexplained-files/videos/spontaneous-combustion-victim/

Kim, Michelle.  “How Cremation Works”. How Stuff Works. http://science.howstuffworks.com/cremation1.htm

Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings. Baker Book House.  Grand Rapids, MI. 1976.