Reasons to Believe

Connections 2007, Vol. 9, No. 4



Human or Hobbit?
Fazale (Fuz) R. Rana, Ph.D.

"Middle Earth" is not a real place. Humans, dwarves, elves, and hobbits never lived together. But in the fall of 2004, Australian and Indonesian paleoanthropologists stunned the archeological world when they published evidence for hobbit-sized hominids (see “Who Were the Hominids?”) that coexisted for a time with modern humans.  Since their discovery, these little creatures have been at the center of a big scientific controversy. They have also prompted questions about the validity of RTB's views on human origins.

Who Were the Hominids?

RTB's biblical creation model views the hominids as animals created by God.* Accordingly, these extraordinary creatures walked erect and possessed some level of intelligence. These abilities allowed them to cobble crude tools and even adopt  some level of “culture.” The RTB model maintains that the hominids were not spiritual beings made in God’s image. RTB’s model reserves this status exclusively for modern humans.

        * Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), 48-50.

The model predicts biological similarities will exist among the hominids and modern humans to varying degrees. But, because the hominids were not created in God’s image, they would be expected to be distinct from modern humans in their cognitive capacity, behavior, "technology", and "culture".

Fossils recovered on the Flores Island of Indonesia indicate that these hominids stood just over three feet tall with a chimpanzee-like brain size (380 cm³). Their cranial and facial features bear resemblance to Homo erectus and their post-cranial skeleton combines characteristics of the australopithecines (like "Lucy") and H. erectus. The paleoanthropologists who recovered these remains classified them as a new species, Homo floresiensis

The most remarkable specimen recovered was a nearly complete skeleton of a female that dates to about 18,000 years in age. Other fossil and archeological evidence indicates that H. floresiensis existed on Flores Island from about 95,000 to 12,000 years ago, when they became extinct. From those dates it appears that H. floresiensis coexisted with modern humans, but paleoanthropologists are not sure if the hominids had any contact with human beings2.

Archeological evidence and animal remains reveal that H. floresiensis hunted and scavenged the dwarf elephants on the island, as well as rats, fish, snakes, frogs, birds, and tortoises.

The coexistence of H. floresiensis with modern humans and their remarkable behavior-given their small brains-has prompted a minority of paleoanthropologists to argue that these creatures are microcephalic (abnormally small-headed) human beings3.  Young-earth creationists, who generally regard hominids like Neanderthals and H. erectus as deformed human beings, also espouse this position.

This interpretation is untenable, however. Since the discovery of the initial H. floresiensis specimen, paleoanthropologists have recovered fossils from twelve other individuals, all of which display identical characteristics to the original find4.  Brain shape studies and additional characterization of skeletal features distinguish H. floresiensis from microcephalic humans and confirm its status as a distinct hominid5. Some skeptics argue that the tool use and hunting practices of H. floresiensis undermine the RTB model, which holds that the two species should show behavioral disparity6. This critique, however, fails to recognize the profound behavioral differences between H. floresiensis and modern humans. Even though they used tools and hunted, the hominids’ behavior was still crude compared to modern humans. Like H. erectus, they used tools (from stones-see "Tool Time") reminiscent of the Acheulean industry7.

Tool Time
H. habilis appears to be the first hominid to use tools. Referred to as Mode I (or Oldowan), the technology during this prehistoric period consists of chipping away rock flakes from a stone core using a rock, called a hammerstone. Mode I technology appeared in the archeological record about 2.5 million years ago and persisted for at least 1 million years with no perceptible change. H. erectus used a slightly more sophisticated technology, called Mode II (or Acheulean). This technology, which appeared about 1.5 million years ago, involved shaping stones, called bifaces, into a variety of forms. Once this technology appeared in the archeological record, it remained static for nearly 1 million years.

Analysis of all the data reveals that H. floresiensis behaved in nonhuman ways. These diminutive creatures-especially in light of contemporary cultural depictions of hobbits from Middle Earth-may conjure evolutionary connections, but in fact H. floresiensis easily fits the RTB human origins model. This hominid stands distinct from modern humans, not only in anatomy, but in behavior.

References
1. P. Brown et al., “A New Small-Bodied Hominin from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia, Nature 431 (October 28, 2004): 1055-61; M. J. Morwood et al., Archaeology and Age of a New Hominin from Flores in Eastern Indonesia,” Nature 431 (October 28, 2004): 1087-91.
2. Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert Foley, “Human Evolution Writ Small, Nature 431 (October 28, 2004): 1043-44.
3. T. Jacob et al.,Pygmoid Australomelanesian Homo sapiens Skeletal Remains from Liang Bua, Flores: Population Affinities and Pathological Abnormalities, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 103 (September 5, 2006): 13241-46.
4. M. J. Morwood et al.,Further Evidence for Small Body Hominins from the Late Pleistocene of Flores, Indonesia, Nature 437 (October 13, 2005): 1012-17.
5. Dean Falk et al., The Brain of LB1, Homo floresiensis, Science 308 (April 8, 2005): 242-45; Dean Falk et al., Brain Shape in Human Microcephalics and Homo floresiensis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 104 (February 13, 2007): 2513-18.
6. Glenn R. Morton, The Dilemma Posed by the Wee People,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 58 (June 2006): 142-45.
7. M. J. Morwood et al., Archaeology and Age of New Hominin, Nature 431 (October 28, 2004): 1087-91; Adam Brumm et al., Early Stone Technology on Flores and Its Implications for Homo floresiensis, Nature 441 (June 1, 2006): 624-28.

 


The Dark and Bright Sides of Cosmology
Hugh Ross, Ph.D.

Astrophysics has its ironies. Here’s one: Studies of the brightest galaxies in the universe led to the discovery that 99 percent of all matter is "dark matter".1 But matter is only part of the universe (about a fourth). The rest is energy. Adding irony to irony, research focusing on the brightest stars in the universe shows that "dark energy" is far more abundant than dark matter, making up most of the rest of the universe. Despite its often negative connotation, this "darkness" is not a bad thing.

Under the influence of dark energy (the self-stretching property of the cosmic space surface), the universe now expands at an accelerating rate. As astronomers today look far away (thus back in time), they can observe the most ancient stars in the universe, the first stars to form out of the cosmic creation event. They also observe that cosmic expansion is pushing those stars away from us faster and faster, at a rate (right now) just slightly slower than the speed of light. But that accelerating rate will one day exceed light's velocity. And when it does, those earliest-formed stars will cease to be visible to us.

In an award-winning essay, physicists Lawrence Krauss and Robert Scherrer announced that because of dark energy, astronomers will one day be unable to ascertain any of the universe's important features.2 Eventually, no one living anywhere within the universe will be able to determine whether the universe had a beginning or how the elements originated. In other words, the scientific discipline of cosmology (the study of the universe's history and structure) will come to an end.

The existence of dark energy implies that the later we human observers arrive on the cosmic scene-after about 14 billion years from the moment of creation-the smaller the fraction of cosmic history remains visible. An earlier arrival would also present problems. For someone arriving and researching much before the human era, the light from those earliest stars would not yet have reached our telescopes. However, right before and up to that dark-energy limit, the older the universe, the greater the span of cosmic history we can see. The universe is now at that just-right age-the moment when astronomers can directly view and analyze 99.9972 percent of cosmic history.

From an astronomer’s viewpoint, both the past and future look dark for cosmology. The present, however, is ideal. There’s no better time than now to investigate and comprehend our surroundings. What are the odds that we humans would appear on the cosmic scene at the best possible time to witness the sweep of cosmic history, to study the universe’s beginning and attributes? Given that we humans also occupy the best possible location for viewing all of cosmic history (unblinded by the light of nearby nebulae, star clusters, galaxies, and our own galactic core and protected from multiple other cosmic hazards), it seems reasonable to conclude that the Creator intended for us to be here and to make Himself known.

References:
1. Ordinary dark matter is comprised of protons, neutrons, and electrons; exotic dark matter is composed of particles that do not strongly interact with photons.
2. Lawrence M. Krauss and Rebert J. Scherrer, "The Return of a Static Universe and the End of Cosmology," eprint arXiv0704.0221, fifth prize 2007 Gravity Research Foundation Essay Competition, to appear in General Relativity and Gravitation, October 2007.



Searching for Earths
David H. Rogstad, Ph.D

I once saw a toy that served as a visual example of the saying "one in a million". It consisted of a clear plastic ball about 4 inches in diameter filled with literally a million little plastic cubes. All were painted silver but one, which was painted red. The object was to find the red cube! Needless to say, finding it was no mean task.

Searching for Earth-like planets revolving around stars other than our sun (exoplanets) presents an even more difficult task. The parent star will typically be more than a billion times as intense as the planet with a separation of only a few tenths of a second of arc (a very narrow angle as measured from Earth). The ultimate goal of the researcher is not only to find a planet in this environment but to get enough information about the planet to tell if it can harbor life. Some have likened it to searching for and photographing a firefly in the face of a searchlight.

For any planet revolving about a star, the planet reflects some light from the star. In addition the planet will give off some thermal emission because it is being heated by the star. Both of these forms of light can be captured with a telescope that can detect the spectrum of this light. The figure below shows what a spectrum of the Earth would look like from some distance away using such an instrument. If a researcher can get a similar spectrum of the exoplanet, he can be reasonably certain that life could exist on that planet. The goal, of course, is to establish that we are not alone.

A NASA project called the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) will launch into orbit two observatories for capturing the reflected and thermally emitted light from terrestrial (Earth-like) exoplanets. One uses coronagraphic imaging (TPF-C), which incorporates a mask to block out the light coming from the parent star. The other uses interferometric imaging (TPF-I) to eliminate its light. Both techniques require exquisitely fine-tuned optics to successfully reject the star light and image the planet. The TPF will have 100 times the imaging power of the Hubble Space Telescope. Plans call for launching the TPF-C around 2014 and the TPF-I before 2020.

How do the scholars at Reasons To Believe view this research from a creation-model perspective? We encourage ongoing research as the way to determine scientific truth. "Test everything," the Scripture says (1 Thessalonians 5:21), so we adopt this position in our study of the cosmos. It is our expectation, however, that as more information becomes available, the truth of God's word (and the creation model derived from it) will gain further support. We expect that scientific advance will further establish the uniqueness of the Earth as an advanced life site, and for the purposes God has revealed in the Bible.



If God Created All Things, Then Who Created God?
Kenneth Richard Samples

This question is posed by small children, by college students, and by leaders of atheist societies. It is essentially an interrogative about the nature of causality. To answer this common query effectively requires both a philosophical and a theological response.
 
Philosophical Answer

Some atheists argue that if the universe needs a cause (namely God), then why doesn't God need a cause? And if not everything needs a cause, then maybe the universe is one of those things that doesn't need a cause. This reasoning is an attempt to sidestep the basic cosmological argument (see sidebar) that has been around for centuries (at least since Aristotle, 384-322 BC).

Here are two forms of the cosmological argument.

Kalam Cosmological Argument:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause for its coming into being.
    2. The universe began to exist.
    3. Therefore, the universe has a cause for its coming into being.

Contingency Cosmological Argument:

    1. All contingent realities depend for their existence upon a non-contingent or necessary reality.
    2. The universe is a contingent reality.
    3. Therefore, the universe depends for its existence on a non-contingent or necessary reality.

Christian theists, however, don’t argue that everything needs a cause. Rather, they argue that anything that begins must have a cause. The argument involves a distinction between a contingent reality and a necessary reality. A contingent reality is something that is caused (begins), is dependent (an effect), and lacks an explanation in itself (unexplained). A contingent reality could either exist or not exist, but it certainly could not bring itself into existence from nothing.

A necessary reality, on the other hand, is uncaused, independent, and self-explanatory. A necessary reality cannot not exist (or must exist). So how does this distinction help in answering the question about God and causality?

Consider the universe. Big bang cosmology provides powerful evidence that the universe is contingent. According to the prevailing scientific view of cosmology, the space-time-matter-energy universe had a distinct and singular beginning about 14 billion years ago. The universe, therefore, appears to be an effect and, thus, is seemingly dependent upon something outside of and beyond itself (a transcendent causal agent).

Remember, a contingent reality by definition cannot bring itself into existence. But since the universe came into existence (had a singular beginning), then some other reality must have caused or created it from nonexistence.

Also, a contingent reality cannot be explained by appealing to another contingent reality. For example, it isn’t coherent to argue that the universe was created by God, but God was in turn created by God to the second power, who was in turn created by God to the third power, and so on. As Aristotle cogently argued, there must be a reality that causes but is itself uncaused (or, a being that moves but is itself unmoved). Why? Because if there is an infinite regression of causes, then by definition the whole process could never begin. And nothing is explained. Many Christian thinkers view Aristotle's reasoning on this point as probative.

In summary, then, the universe appears to be a contingent entity and, therefore, cannot stand on its own without a causal explanation. For many Christian scholars through the centuries, the contingent universe (a creation) requires a necessary reality (an eternally existent Creator) that by definition needs no causal explanation.

Theological Answer

A theological understanding of God's nature can help address the question as well. According to the Bible, God is self-existent. Theologians refer to this trait as God’s attribute of aseity. God does not need, nor does he depend upon, anything outside himself (such as the creation) for his continued existence. Unlike all creatures, the source of God's eternal or everlasting existence is found within himself (self-sufficiency). As the only uncreated and uncaused being, everything else (the entire created order) depends upon his creative and sustaining power. This absolute independence places God in a different category of being than that of man.

The Creator is qualitatively different than the creature and is a necessary being (God must exist or cannot not exist). Theologian J. I. Packer contrasts God's existence with that of man:"He [God] exists in a different way from us: we, his creatures, exist in a dependent, derived, finite, fragile way, but our Maker exists in an eternal, self-sustaining, necessary way."1

Scripture reveals God's attribute of self-existence or aseity (Isaiah 40:13-14; John 5:26; Romans 11:34-35). As the Apostle Paul proclaimed in his speech before the Greek philosophers: "And he[God] is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else"(Acts 17:25).

Therefore the God of the Bible reveals himself to be an eternal and self-sufficient being without beginning or end.2 God is the logically necessary being that explains why all the contingent realities of the universe have actual existence.

Perhaps the Who created God? question can be condensed to this answer: nobody did because nobody could.

References:
1. J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1993), 26
2. For more on the Christian view of God, see Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian
3. Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007)



Ice Cores Reveal History
Jeff Zweerink, Ph.D.

I received a cordless drill for Christmas last year. Many of its features make my around-the-home projects far easier to accomplish: two batteries (one recharges while I use the other), a keyless chuck for easy changing of bits, an LED work light, a built-in level, and a torque adjustment ring, to name a few. Having the proper tools makes a world of difference in the quality and efficiency with which projects get done.

A team of Chinese scientists has begun the process of providing a new tool to study Earth’s atmosphere and climate over the last one million years or more.1 And their work stands to improve the quality and efficiency of ice age studies.

The frequency of ice ages switched from a 41,000-year cycle to a 100,000-year cycle sometime within the last million years. No one knows for sure why the frequency dropped, but samples of the atmosphere covering this period would provide abundant clues. Ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica have done just that-provide samples-because air bubbles were trapped in the ice as it froze. Since a layer of ice is laid down each year, scientists can identify the ages of the air bubbles by counting the layers. The difficulty arises in finding old-enough ice.

Greenland ice cores date back only 100,000 years because of how much the ice flows. Antarctica, on the other hand, is much colder and the ice more stable. Thus, previous teams have extracted Antarctic ice cores dating back 420,000 years at Vostok Station and almost 800,000 years from Dome C. Though impressive, these dates are not ancient enough to answer why the ice age frequency changed.

However, an ice core from an even colder, more remote Antarctic location called Dome A should remedy this deficiency. Dome A stands over two and a half miles high and over 750 miles from the edge of the Antarctic ice cap. The higher elevation, scarce yearly precipitation, and stability of this region make it very likely that an ice core would retrieve usable ice from as far back as one to two million years ago. Currently, scientists are working to map out the most promising areas to drill in Dome A. Scientists hope that an international drilling operation might begin as early as 2012.

The importance of this search for old ice cannot be overstated. Humanity’s time on Earth dates back around 50,000 years. However, the extensive glaciation of Earth during ice ages would severely hamper humanity’s ability to fulfill God's command to fill the Earth and subdue it. Thus, the frequency of the ice ages needed to drop before humanity arrived on Earth.

As my cordless drill provides a tool for building and improving my house, a Dome A ice core will provide a powerful tool to better understand the mechanism driving the reduction in ice age frequency. Additionally, RTB's creation model predicts that the data derived from the ice core will provide further evidence of the work of a supernatural creator fine-tuning His creation to support human life.

References:
1. Nicola Jones, “Buried Treasure,” Nature 446 (March 6, 2007): 126-28.