Reasons to Believe

Connections 2005, Vol. 7, No. 2



Agriculture's Origin Fits RTB Human Origins Model
by Fazale (Fuz) R. Rana, Ph.D.

Did Adam and Eve really exist? Some people say no. They view the biblical account of humanity's beginning as mythical. However, recent scientific advances substantiate the historicity of the biblical record,1 and now a new discovery sheds light on an apparent discrepancy regarding the emergence of agriculture.

Studies on the genetic diversity of people groups from around the world indicate that modern humans originated recently (less than 100,000 years ago), from a single location (at or near the presumed location of the Garden of Eden), from a small initial population that traces back to a single man and woman. Archeological and genetic evidence reveals that by 30,000 to 40,000 years ago humans had spread from the Middle East into Asia and Europe with a migrational pattern that fits with the biblical text.

Despite such affirming genetic data, the timing of agriculture's emergence presents a difficulty. Scientific evidence indicates that wide-scale agricultural practices emerged suddenly and independently in three separate locations around the world less than 12,000 years ago-well after humanity's origin and global spread.2 Agriculture first became prominent in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago, and next appeared in Mesoamerica about 9,000 years ago, and finally in southern Asia around 7,000 years ago.

The RTB human origins model predicts that some type of farming and animal husbandry existed at (or close to) the time humanity first appeared. Genesis 4:1-4 explains that Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel, "worked the soil" and "kept flocks," respectively. The RTB model also maintains that farming and animal husbandry spread from the Middle East to different locations around the world as a consequence of human migrations.

Does the scientific evidence contradict the predictions made by the RTB human origins model? Not necessarily. The archeological and genetic evidence traces the origin of large-scale domestication of plants and animals. It's quite possible that the first humans engaged in small-scale farming and animal husbandry well before 12,000 years ago - at levels that escape scientific detection. Although the first humans lived as hunter-gatherers, they may have supplemented this lifestyle by harvesting wild plants and taming wild animals.

The near-simultaneous, independent, and sudden rise of agriculture in three disparate regions of the world supports this assertion. It seems highly unlikely that human beings would have independently and simultaneously engendered plant and animal domestication. It could be argued that humans took with them a well-developed understanding of farming and animal husbandry when they migrated to different regions of the world.

Recent excavations of the Ohalo II site, located on the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, support the idea that small-scale agricultural practices were established long before the Neolithic revolution (~ 10,000 years ago).3 Archeologists have found the remains of six grass huts, a hearth, and graves at Ohalo II. Over 40 radiocarbon measurements date the site to about 23,500 years ago.

The site also contains well-preserved plant remains in its water-logged sediments. Archeologists discovered wild grasses, including wheat and barley, among the plant remains. Size analysis indicates that the Ohalo II humans were preferentially harvesting grasses that had larger seeds. Researchers also uncovered starch grains derived from the wild grasses that were associated with stone grinding implements. Some were even charred, indicating that the occupants of the site had ground the seeds to make flour and to bake dough in the hearth.

The Ohalo II site shows that at least 12,000 years before the Neolithic revolution, humans engaged in proto-farming. It's possible that humans developed these practices as far back as 45,000 years ago. Stone grinding implements have been discovered at sites in northern Africa, Europe, and southwest Asia. Because plant remains have not survived at these sites, it's not known whether the implements were used to process wild grass seeds. (These grinding stones could have been used to prepare pigments from ochre, for example.) The discovery at Ohalo II, however, makes it much more likely that grinding implements at other sites were also used to process grass seeds.

In light of this evidence, it seems reasonable to conclude that agricultural practices may have extended back to near the time of humanity's origin, as the RTB model predicts.

References:
  1. The scientific papers that describe these advances are copiously reference in RTB's upcoming book, Who Was Adam?, slated for publication in October, 2005 by NavPress.
  2. Roger Lewin, Principles of Human Evolution: A Core Textbook (Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, 1998), 499-508; M. A. Jobling, M. E. Hurles, and C. Tyler-Smith, Human Evolutionary Genetics: Origins, Peoples & Disease (New York: Garland Publishing, 2004), 300-38.
  3. Dolores R. Piperno et al., "Processing of Wild Cereal Grains in the Upper Paleolithic Revealed by Starch Grain Analysis," Nature 430 (2004): 670-73.

 


Staving Off an Ice Age
by Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

Global warming may not be all bad, and it may not be all that recent. Drilling deep into the ice of Antarctica and Greenland, scientists have found a different story, including some thought-provoking surprises.1 They see hints of a providential connection between global warming and civilization's development-not to mention survival.

As rings tell the story of a tree-not just its age but also conditions affecting its growth-so, too, the layers in Earth's oldest and thickest ice packs reveal the history of Earth's atmospheric and temperature conditions. Each layer traps some air bubbles as it is buried below the next, and these bubbles can be analyzed when scientists extract cylindrical "cores" from the ancient ice fields.

What has motivated detailed analysis of deep ice cores (one is three kilometers long!) is the desire to determine when the next ice age will begin. As it turns out, that ice age should have begun already. In fact, it would have begun several thousand years ago had it followed the warming-and-cooling pattern made clear by those cores (a pattern explained by familiar solar system cycles, including precession of the tilt in Earth's rotational axis, variations in the inclination of Earth's orbit, and variations in the ellipticity of Earth's orbit).2 So, what kept-and still keeps-the ice at bay?

The deforestation of Eurasia to make way for intensive crop cultivation and pasture land about 6,000-8,000 years ago apparently raised the atmospheric carbon dioxide level from 245 parts per million to 285 parts per million. A few thousand years later, extensive irrigation (for rice farming, especially) and increased cattle breeding-yielding larger numbers of these large domestic animals and greater quantities of milk and meat per animal-raised the atmospheric methane level from 450 parts per billion to 700 parts per billion.3 Because carbon dioxide and methane efficiently trap the sun's heat (that's why they're called "greenhouse gases"), Earth's surface began to warm. It warmed enough, in fact, to forestall the onset of the ice age that Earth's orbital pattern predicted, a pattern firmly established for hundreds of thousands of years, as attested by the ice core studies.

In the industrial/technological age, human activity has continued to increase atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. The extent of that warming has raised some alarm, and it does threaten Earth with some potentially dangerous consequences if it is not managed wisely. However, it has also stretched the time window for relatively comfortable, civilization-essential climatic conditions.

Consider this series of "amazing coincidences" that worked-apart from human understanding or awareness-to benefit human survival and sustain civilization's advance: Though humanity came on the scene 50,000 years ago or more (according to biblical genealogies, archeological discoveries, and DNA analysis), the massive deforestation program waited at least 40,000 years. It was initiated just when the cooling cycle would normally begin. Then, for some unknown reasons, humans switched from primary dependence on easy-to-domesticate goats and sheep to dependence on the more difficult-to-domesticate cows, further sustaining the warmth. Next humans launched an incredibly difficult farming enterprise-extensive irrigation for rice production.

All these changes seem to have occurred with just-right timing and amplitude. How is that possible? It seems reasonable to conclude that divine providence, rather than dumb luck, is on the side of humanity-past, present, and future.

References:
  1. William F. Ruddiman, Stephen J. Vavrus, and John E. Kutzbach, "A Test of the Overdue-Glaciation Hypothesis," Quaternary Science Reviews 34 (2005): 1-10.
  2. William F. Ruddiman, "How Did Humans First Alter Global Climate?" Scientific American (292:3), March 2005, 46-53.
  3. Ruddiman, Vavrus, and Kutzbach, 2.

 


Why Would a Good God Create Parasites?

by Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

Some skeptics base their rejection of the Christian faith on bugs-specifically parasites. They argue that the existence of parasites is incompatible with belief in the all-loving, all-powerful God of Christianity. While human beings will never know all God's reasons for creating parasites, the following true story1 illustrates how their existence may be considered a good thing, rather than an excuse for rejecting God.

In the nineteenth century, a famous Harvard anatomy professor, Dr. Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, took up the hobby of studying exotic insects. One afternoon in 1868, a few gypsy moths he had obtained from Europe escaped from his home laboratory. Unchecked by any predators or parasites, the moths multiplied to pandemic proportions. Within several years, deciduous forests all over the eastern United States were stripped bare as the moths in their larval state consumed every leaf. When this happened, not only were the forests devastated, but so were hundreds of species dependent on those forests, including the gypsy moths.

For some time, the only significant control on the gypsy moth population (and its effects) was the episodic deterioration (quality and quantity) of forest foliage. Following each devastation, the forests would take decades to recover, and when they did, the moths would multiply again-leading to another cycle of widespread destruction. What's worse, each cycle yielded a progressively weakened gene pool for all species involved.

Eventually, local carnivores, primarily birds and mice, adapted to the new source of prey. Epidemics became less catastrophic but were still very destructive.

A turnaround began with the introduction of a virus (from Europe) that attacked only gypsy moths. It hastened the collapse of the gypsy moth population but did not stop the epidemics.

Major help arrived in 1989. A second parasite, a fungal pathogen, was introduced to the gypsy moths. Finally scientists saw evidence that the cycle of epidemics could be broken and balance restored. They found that multiple predator species and at least two different parasite species must feed on the moths to prevent epidemics and ensure that North American forests remain healthy-healthy enough to sustain hundreds of different species, including gypsy moths, with an optimal quality of life.

As this story demonstrates, without the right parasites, everybody loses. But, with an adequate number and diversity of parasites, all species in the ecosystem thrive, even the species the parasites attack. In this one simple case, where researchers gained a fairly complete understanding of the relevant ecological data, the existence of parasites proves clearly compatible with an all-loving, all-powerful Creator. And while the data for more complex creatures (than moths) and their ecosystems prove vastly more complicated, this one case might encourage a skeptic to reconsider his position before charging God with weakness or malice.

References:
  1. Greg Dwyer, Jonathon Dushoff, and Susan Harrell Yee, "The Combined Effects of Pathogens and Predators on Insect Outbreaks," Nature 430 (2004): 341-45; Lewi Stone, "A Three-Player Solution," Nature 430 (2004): 299-300.


Creation Ex Nihilo
by Kenneth Richard Samples

Historic Christianity has always maintained a belief in Creation ex nihilo (CEN) as expressed in the ancient Nicene Creed: "We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible." Scripture teaches that there was nothing but God, and that God by means of his incalculable wisdom and infinite power alone brought the universe (all matter, energy, time, and space) into existence from nothing. There was no preexistent physical reality; therefore nothing should not be understood as an actual something.

Support for this truth-claim of historic Christianity can be found throughout Scripture, from Genesis through Revelation. (See sidebar.)
Reference   Creation ex nihilo Statement
Genesis 1:1  Implies a singular beginning and that God created everything in its totality
Proverbs 3:19     By His wisdom God created the heavens and the earth
Psalm 90:2     Only God is eternal; the created order had a distinct beginning
John 1:3     Jesus Christ, who shares the divine nature, identified as taking part in the work of creation
Romans 4:17     God calls things into existence
Colossians 1:16     God created all things visible and invisible
Acts 4:24     God is the absolute Creator of everything
Acts 17:28     Creation is dependent on God for its very existence
2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2     God existed before time, implying that He created time
Hebrews 11:3     An explicit statement of Creation ex nihilo
Revelation 4:11     Describes what creation's (humanity's) response to the Creator should be
Theological Implications

It is important to underscore that when God created the universe He made no use of preexisting materials, nor did He make the world out of His own being. Christian theism rejects the view that identifies the world with God's being or essence (either pantheism or panentheism). God alone is infinite, eternal, and independent, while the physical universe, the creation, is finite, temporal, and contingent (matter is not eternal but results from the power of God's Word). CEN teaches not only that the universe had a singular beginning but also that the created order is continually dependent upon God's sustaining power. Since creating the world, the sovereign God continues to uphold, preserve, and direct His creation (Acts 4:27-28; Col. 1:17). The God of the Bible is therefore revealed as the transcendent Creator and immanent Sustainer of all things. God's wondrous intervention in His creation through the doctrine of divine providence overturns the deistic view of God. Deism sees the divine as wholly transcendent, a being who creates but does not intervene in the universe.

A profound practical implication of the doctrine of CEN is that only the sovereign Creator (who is also our benevolent Redeemer) is deserving of our worship, adoration, and devotion. A denial of the CEN doctrine would imply that matter is eternal and would constitute a challenge to God's independence and sovereignty. Scripture explicitly warns believers not to fall prey to idolatry by engaging in the false worship of the world or of particular things in the world (Ex. 20:3-6; Rom. 1:18-23). Yet, while not a proper object of worship, the universe because it was created by God nevertheless possesses objective meaning, purpose, and significance. This notion is even more emphatically true of human beings who were made in the expressed image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27) and who will live even after the present creation is destroyed and replaced (2 Pet. 3:7, 10, 13; Rev. 21:1).

An important qualification of God's creation out of nothing is that it only applies to God's initial creation of the universe. For example, God's subsequent creation of the animals (Gen. 2:19) and of humankind (Gen. 2:7) involved some use of preexisting materials (namely "the dust of the ground").
Apologetic Implications

Modern scientific cosmology buttresses the doctrine of CEN more pointedly and potently than does any other discipline. According to prevailing scientific theory, the universe had a singular beginning nearly 14 billion years ago. All matter, energy, time, and space exploded (in a carefully crafted event) into existence from nothing. This basic big bang cosmological model, which is embraced by the vast majority of research scientists because it has withstood extensive scientific testing, uniquely corresponds to the biblical teaching concerning CEN. It is nothing less than strikingly probative that a book written so long ago nonetheless contains a view of cosmology that matches so closely the latest and best scientific findings.

The Bible's description of God as sovereign over His creation serves to remind humans of their place in creation. And for Christians eager to engage skeptics with evidence for CEN, Scripture provides a basis for humility:

"This is what the LORD says-your redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself" (Isa. 44:24).

Although some Mormon writings refer to Jesus as the Messiah, Mormon doctrine about Jesus and the meaning of his messianic role are incompatible with historic Christian doctrine ("Starting Points," Q1, 2005, p.6). -ed.
For The Record

Although some Mormon writings refer to Jesus as the Messiah, Mormon doctrine about Jesus and the meaning of his messianic role are incompatible with historic Christian doctrine ("Starting Points," Q1, 2005, p.6). -ed.