Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Bible proved right again
The revelation came to Professor Andrew Parker during a visit to Rome. He was in the Sistine Chapel, gazing up at Michelangelo's awesome ceiling paintings, when a realisation struck him with dizzying force. 'A Biblical enigma exists that is on the one hand so cryptic it has remained camouflaged for millennia, and on the other so obvious one cannot miss it.' The enigma is that the order of Creation as described in the Book of Genesis, and so powerfully depicted in the Sistine Chapel by the greatest artist of the Renaissance, has been precisely, eerily confirmed by modern evolutionary science.
Such was the starting point of Parker's jaw-dropping new book, The Genesis Enigma: an astounding work which seeks to prove that the ancient Hebrew writers of the Book of Genesis knew all about evolution - 3,000 years before Darwin. It takes a journey back through aeons of geological time, and also into the minds and imaginations of the ancient Israelites.
Andrew Parker is a leading scientist in his field: a research fellow at Oxford University, research leader at the Natural History Museum, and as if that weren't enough, a professor at Shanghai's Jiao Tong university. As a scientist he never paid much heed to the Book of Genesis, assuming, like most of his colleagues, that such primitive mythology - which is believed to have been compiled from several sources between 950 and 500 BC - has long since been 'disproved' by hard scientific fact. But after his Sistine Chapel moment, he went back to look at Genesis in more detail. And what he read astonished him. It was even, he says, 'slightly scary'.
Somehow - God alone knew how - the writer or writers of that ancient text had described how the evolution of life on earth took place in precise detail and perfect order.
It is always disturbing and haunting to encounter an ancient wisdom that seems to anticipate or even exceed our own. More fanciful writers immediately start to theorise wildly: that those who built the pyramids, or Stonehenge, must have been guided by super-intelligent aliens, that sort of thing.
Andrew Parker, a scientist and proud of it, has no time for such twaddle. But he does gradually come to understand, in the course of his investigations, that our ancestors of thousands of years ago, though they may not have had iPods and plasma-screen televisions, nevertheless possessed a wisdom that was, quite literally, timeless: as true now as it was then.
In the Book of Genesis, God first and most famously creates heaven and earth, but 'without form', and commands: 'Let there be light.' A perfect description of the Big Bang, that founding moment of our universe some 13 billion years ago, an unimaginable explosion of pure energy and matter 'without form' out of nothing - the primordial Biblical 'void'.
He then creates the dry land out of the waters, but it is the water that comes first. As Parker points out, scientists today understand very similarly that water is indeed crucial for life. When 'astrobiologists' look into space for signs of life on other planets, the first thing they look for is the possible presence of water.
On the third day, we are told: 'God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so."' Now factually speaking, grass didn't evolve until much later. In the Triassic and Jurassic epochs, the dinosaurs knew only plants such as giant conifers and tree ferns. But since grass did not in fact evolve until much later, a sternly literal-minded scientist would declare the Bible wrong, and consign it to the nearest wheelie bin.
But wait a minute, says Parker. If you take 'grass, herb and tree' to mean photosynthesising life in general, then this is, once again, spot on. The very life forms on earth were single-celled bacteria, but the first truly viable bacteria were the 'cyanobacteria' - those that had learned to photosynthesise. As a result, they began to expire oxygen, creating an atmosphere that could go on to support more and more life. They were the key to life on earth.
Naturally, says Parker, 'the ancient Israelites would have been oblivious to any single-celled life form, let alone cyanobacteria', but 'grass' as a loose description of life forms that photosynthesise?
On the fourth day, Genesis famously becomes confusing. On the first day, remember, God has already created light, and made Day and Night. But it isn't until day four that he makes the lights in heaven, the greater light to rule the day and the lesser the night. Hang on - so he made 'Day' three days before he made the Sun? Houston, I think we have a problem.
Yet the writers of Genesis were just as well aware as us, surely, that the sunrise causes the day. You don't need a degree in astronomy to work that one out. What on earth did they mean? Here, The Genesis Enigma comes up with a stunningly ingenious answer. For Parker argues that day four refers to the evolution of vision. Until the first creatures on earth evolved eyes, in a sense, the sun and moon didn't exist. There was no creature on earth to see them, nor the light they cast. When Genesis says: 'Let there be lights... To divide the day from the night,' it is talking about eyes.
'The very first eye on earth effectively turned on the lights for animal behaviour,' writes Professor Parker, 'and consequently for further rapid evolution.' Almost overnight, life suddenly grew vastly more complex. Predators were able to hunt far more efficiently, and so prey had to evolve fast too - or get eaten. The moment that there were 'lights', or eyes, then life exploded into all its infinite variety.
And yet again, that's what Genesis says happened, and in the correct environment too. In the sea. For on the very next day of Creation, the fifth day: 'God said, "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life."' That is exactly what happened. Life that had hitherto been lived in the dark, by simple, slow-moving, worm-like creatures, erupted into dazzling diversity. We know all about it from the world famous Burgess Shale fossils. They were discovered in the summer of 1909 by one Charles Doolittle Walcott, on holiday with his family in the Canadian Rockies. Walcott began to chip away at the shale with his geological hammer, and quite by chance stumbled upon one of the greatest finds in all science.
For the shale records what happened on our planet around 508 million years ago, long before the first dinosaurs: the 'Cambrian expolosion,' which most scientists now think was indeed the direct result of the evolution of vision. The life-forms discovered look like nothing else: fabulous, phantasmagoric, alien beings. One had five eyes, and a long wavy snout with jaws on the end. Another looked like an octopus with its head stuck in a beaker, and another can only be described as 'a swimming pea with a pair of beady eyes, bull's horns, a pair of "hands" and a fish's tail.' Others resemble balls of spines, vase-shaped pin-cushions, or badminton shuttlecocks with chameleon-like tongues. Anyone who doubts the power of evolution by natural selection only has to look at the Burgess Shale fossils.
How does Genesis describe the teeming aquatic life of the Cambrian explosion? 'And God said, "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life." ' Immediately following the creation of vision.
How did the writer/writers know that life suddenly diversified into this rich and staggering variety, under the oceans, not on land? Why would a very much land-based people, pastoralists and shepherds, even think like this?
After the Cambrian come the Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian periods - or the appearance of 'great whales', as Genesis succinctly puts it. How better to describe those epochs which gave us such monsters of the deep as Dunkleosteus, a carnivorous armoured fish whose appearance, says Parker, was 'simply terrifying'. Some 35ft long, 'the size of a small coach', with massive, bone-crunching jaws, even its eyes were armoured.
And after the sea monsters come the birds, the animals, cattle, and finally, homo sapiens. All present and correct, and all still in the right order. Once again, 'In describing how the planet and life around us came to be, the writer of the Genesis narrative got it disturbingly right'....
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
THE PISHON RIVER--FOUND!
by Calvin R. Schlabach
Where was the Garden of Eden? Every believer in the Bible has wondered at one time or another about the location of this idyllic home of our first parents. Moses wrote that it was "in the east, in Eden" (Gen. 2:8), and he named four rivers that converged there: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates (2:10-14). The courses of these last two are known to all, but the other pair have been impossible to identify--that is, perhaps, until now.
The Pishon River (2:11-12) has been variously identified by scholars with the Nile, the Indus, the Ganges, or other rivers. The lack of any general agreement stems from the fact that no known river matches Moses’ description: "it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and onyx stone are there."
"Havilah" itself is of uncertain location, but is generally associated with the western or southern regions of the Arabian peninsula. "Bdellium" is usually understood to be a fragrant resin, found in abundance in Arabia, as are various types of precious and semiprecious stones (the identification of the "onyx stone" is uncertain). The only known Arabian source for "good gold" is the so-called "Cradle of Gold," (Mahd edh-Dhahab), located about 125 miles south of Medina, in the Hijaz Mountains, which currently produces more than five tons of gold a year.
The problem is that there is no river flowing today from this area toward the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. But once it was different. A scientist from Boston University, Farouk El-Baz, taking clues from alluvial deposits in Kuwait, carefully examined satellite photos of the Arabian peninsula. There he spotted the unmistakable signs of a river channel cutting across the desert. Originating in the Hijaz Mountains near Medina and the Cradle of Gold, the ancient waterway, currently concealed beneath sand dunes, runs northeast to Kuwait. Dubbed the Kuwait River by its modern discoverer, it once joined the Tigris and Euphrates at the head of the Persian Gulf. Then because of climate changes, it dried up, the archaeologists say, sometime between 3500-2000 B. C.
The agreement of all of these details of the Kuwait River with the biblical description of the Pishon, has led some scholars to make the obvious connection. James A. Sauer (former curator of the Harvard Semitic Museum, archaeologist, author, and a research associate at the museum), a man who describes himself as "a former skeptic," wrote that "the Kuwait River . . . may well be the Pishon River, one of the four rivers, according to the Bible, associated with Eden." That such a near-confession could be coaxed from a reputable archaeologist is nothing short of amazing. Those of us who believe that the Bible stories are literally true will show much less hesitation in the identification.
Does this mean that the Garden of Eden itself can now be located? Probably not. When we understand the destructive and scouring effects of modern, limited floods, we realize that whatever of the Garden remained in Noah’s day was certainly erased by that catastrophic, worldwide Flood. We may, however, with some degree of confidence suggest that the territory at the head of the Persian Gulf (where Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran meet) is the general locale of the Garden.
The real importance of this discovery is in the confirmation of the accuracy, historicity, and literal veracity of the Bible. While many scholars feel no compunction about relegating the stories in the Bible to the realms of fable and myth, this find substantiates the literal, historical nature of the records in the Scriptures. Many people have long doubted it, but the Bible is true.
(For more information, see James A. Sauer, "The River Runs Dry," Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August, 1996. In addition, see articles on "Pishon," "Havilah," and "Eden" in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, and The Illustrated Bible Dictionary.)