Once again, a bit of biblical history has been matched up with an archaeological finding.
A team led by archaeologists from the United States and Jordan has made a discovery of perhaps biblical proportions at the Ruins of Copper (Arabic “Khirbat en-Nahas”), a region south of the Dead Sea now lying in Jordan.
The site has been known for decades to have hosted metalworking dating back some seven centuries BC. But the current team, led by Thomas Levy of the University of California–San Diego and Mohammad Najjar of Jordan’s Friends of Archaeology, unearthed materials such as seeds and sticks that are claimed to be from the 10th century BC. That was the time of King Solomon, whom the Bible notes was “greater in riches . . . than all the other kings of the earth” (1 Kings 10:23) and who had unprecedented access to natural resources, presumably including copper, but also many others from sources near and far.
As for Levy, he cautions that “We can’t believe everything ancient writings tell us” even while acknowledging that his research “represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible.”
We might ask Levy just why it is that we can’t believe what the Bible (which we presume is the main target of “ancient writings”) tells us, even when his own research reminds us of the accuracy of this specific part of it. Our expectation is that Levy’s answer would center on either his presupposed religious beliefs or his acceptance of evolution in explaining the origin of life and the history of humanity. But when we start from the Bible, we find it makes perfect sense of the science we conduct and the observations we make.
In related news, BBC News reports on what could be the oldest Hebrew text found to date: five lines on a shard of pottery found at a dig 20 km southwest of Jerusalem. Researchers are still working to translate the full text, which is written in proto-Canaanite, a precursor of the Hebrew alphabet. A few of the words have been translated already, including “judge,” “slave,” and “king.” But for now, they can’t be entirely sure it was the language of the ancient Hebrews, as opposed to a related language spoken in the same area.
What’s behind most of the headlines, however, is the dating of the pottery at just around 3,000 years ago—the time of King David (and just before King Solomon). Because the pottery and other artifacts where found near the Valley of Elah, where the Bible says David fought Goliath, lead archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel believes “the findings could shed significant light on the period of King David's reign,” reports the BBC.
The Associated Press reports that the “discoveries are already being wielded in a vigorous and ongoing argument over whether the Bible’s account of events and geography is meant to be taken literally.” We certainly can’t imagine what person familiar with, in this case, 2 Samuel would suggest it’s meant to be taken as anything other than literal history!
The report also adds a comment by archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, who cautioned against “the belief that what’s written in the Bible is accurate like a newspaper.” Thankfully, we know that the Bible is much more accurate than newspapers are! And while an artifact from the time of David would be a wonderful discovery, we do not use “evidence” to prove or disprove Scripture; that would be setting up something (in this case, archaeology—and carbon dating) as an authority over Scripture.
The discovery of how to make fire—was it a turning point in human history?
The scientists aren’t saying anything about Prometheus, the Greek god who, according to ancient myth, gave humans fire. But what they are saying is that the ability to make fire marked a major turning point in human history.
Led by Naama Goren-Inbar of the Institute of Archaeology at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a team conducted excavations of the archaeological site Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, located in the Hula Valley in northern Israel. According to Goren-Inbar’s findings, the humans who once dwelled there had mastered fire-making ability.
The twist is that Goren-Inbar’s team dates the site to nearly 800,000 years ago—half a million years older than evolutionary anthropologists had previously concluded humans mastered fire.
According to team member Nira Alperson-Afil, “Concentrations of burned flint items were found in distinct areas, interpreted as representing the remnants of ancient hearths . . . [and] evidence for fire-use throughout a very long occupational sequence.” This indicates that the humans weren’t merely collecting fire from natural blazes, but rather could make it at will. And because the “hearths” are found throughout all eight “levels of civilization” at the dig site, the team concludes humans were making fire throughout the hundreds of millennia they supposedly lived at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov.
“Domesticated” fires would have given humans a new line of defense against predators, along with providing warmth, light, the ability to cook foods, and the ability to make new types of tools. Alperson-Afil adds, “The powerful tool of fire-making provided ancient humans with confidence, enabling them to leave their early circumscribed surroundings and eventually populate new, unfamiliar environments.”
The Bible gives no specifics over when and how humans “learned” to make fire, though by Genesis 4 Cain and Abel were making sacrifices (whether burned or not, the Bible does not say), and later on in the same chapter we are told that Cain’s descendant Tubal-Cain “forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron”—which obviously would require a heat source, presumably fire.
It’s possible that Adam was created with an innate understanding of fire or even that God Himself instructed Adam in fire-making. Or, since we know Adam and Eve (and their descendants) were fully intelligent (probably even smarter than us), they may have discovered how to make it on their own.
While these archaeologists date Gesher Benot Ya’aqov back almost 800 millennia, those dates are based on presuppositions about everything from human evolution and the development of human culture to radiometric dating. The Bible makes it clear, however, that humans first employed fire no more than 6,000 years ago, probably not long after creation.
It’s some amazing science—or should we say science fiction?
NASA astronomers studying nearby star Epsilon Eridani have learned a little more about a solar system very near our own. This week, a team announced that the star has its own asteroid belt and a planet about the size of Jupiter—in “roughly the same orbits as in our own solar system.”
Of interest to science fiction fans is that the Epsilon Eridani system was the location of planet Vulcan, home of perennially logical Spock (portrayed by Leonard Nimoy) in television’s Star Trek.
For the astronomers, the excitement is that if the Epsilon Eridani system has the discovered similarities to our solar system, perhaps it harbors an earth-like planet (or planets) as well.
Because Epsilon Eridani isn’t as bright or as large as our own sun, the “habitable zone” where an earth-like planet might be found is much closer to the star itself. But astronomers don’t agree on whether the Jupiter-sized planet would be a help or a hindrance to the formation of an Earth-like planet.
The research was conducted with NASA’s Spitzer space telescope, which cannot directly detect the star’s planets, but rather registers the infrared heat given off by dust surrounding the star—and thus astronomers can infer the existence of planets.
While it’s fascinating to learn about the possibility of planets “close” to our own solar system (Epsilon Eridani is only about a “mere” 11 light-years, or 62 trillion miles [100 trillion kilometers] from earth), our fascination is driven by a scientific interest in all that God has created—not the belief that life might evolve on a distant earth-like planet that hasn’t even been shown to exist yet. That’s plain science fiction!
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has discovered a gem of evidence that gives further support to the idea of an ancient, wet Mars.
The MRO has found evidence of the mineral hydrated silica (a.k.a. opal) on the surface of Mars, adding to evidence that the surface of Mars was once partially covered in liquid water.
Using an instrument on the MRO called the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer, the probe detected the minerals by scanning reflected sunlight from the Martian surface. The same minerals were found at Gusev Crater by the Spirit rover.
The hydrated silica would have likely formed as liquid water interacted with minerals from volcanic sources or meteorite impacts. Also, in some locations, the hydrated silica was found near iron sulfate sources in or around dry river channels, which suggests surface water likely lingered on Mars for some time.
Scott Murchie of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory probably represents the attitudes of most evolutionists in his comment on the discovery: “This is an exciting discovery because it extends the time range for liquid water on Mars, and the places where it might have supported life.”
NASA’s Ralph Milliken echoes Murchie: “What’s important is that the longer liquid water existed on Mars, the longer the window during which Mars may have supported life.”
Since water is crucial for life “as we know it,” evolutionists realize that they need to find sources of water, present or past, in their search for extraterrestrial life. That mission drives much of modern-day astronomy, and is a major factor in our missions to Mars and elsewhere. For creationists, this further evidence that Mars was once covered in water is just that: evidence that Mars once had surface water.
It’s not our inner, inherent goodness that leads to morality and good deeds.
While that’s a page out of Christian theology, it’s also the conclusion of an anti-religion review by psychologists at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
Two UBC psychologists reexamined studies that tried to understand the relationship between religious involvement and good deeds (or what the researchers term “prosocial behavior”). But according to the psychologists, religion might promote such behavior just because adherents believe an authority figure (i.e., God) is watching, or because they want to maintain their good standing in their religious order.
“We found little or no evidence that empathy plays any role in religious prosociality,” coauthor Azim Shariff reported. They also claimed that “courts, police, cameras, credit records and other justice-related authorities” can essentially replace religion’s role in upholding morality. “The fact that many non-religious people act as cooperatively as religious ones, and that many predominantly secular states are as (and often more) stable and functional as predominantly religious ones, attests to this,” coauthor Ara Norenzayan said. Furthermore, the psychologists point out that not all religion-inspired behavior is prosocial, citing suicide bombing as an example.
Richard Sloan of Columbia University Medical Center, a professor of behavioral medicine unaffiliated with the review, commented, “I don’t believe there is any evidence to support the necessity of religion for prosocial behavior.”
It sounds as though this review comes down on religion nearly as hard as is possible—in complete ignorance of the testimonies of literally thousands, and likely millions, of Christians who can attest to the change “religion” (or, actually, a relationship) has made in their attitudes about right and wrong, and about how much empathy they should show to others.
And while the review treats empathy and authority separately, Christian readers will probably recognize that they operate in conjunction when it comes to making a moral decision. We can empathize even while remembering that God knows our hearts and wants us to care for others. They are not contradictory, but rather complementary. Furthermore, there’s a big difference between doing something entirely out of fear (of imprisonment, for example) and doing something because you not only fear judgment, but also because you know what is objectively right and wrong.
Also, replacing religion with government could theoretically be as effective in “enforcing” prosocial behavior, but what if it undermines the objective basis for right and wrong? Sloan’s suggestion that prosocial behavior doesn’t need religion smacks of the idea that whatever helps the species is inherently good. But what about justice? And why is “prosocial” behavior good in the first place? If society tries to drive out religion, it risks driving out the very foundation for any objectivity in moral questions.
Besides, Christians already know that humans aren’t inherently good and that the fear of the Lord and a relationship with Christ are the basis for true morality. So in a sense, this review merely confirms the Bible’s teaching even while trying to write off religion.
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