Sunday, April 11, 2010

Recent "Earthquakes" and the Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth

The earth moves and it shakes, in different ways (because of different types of earthquakes), at different times, and in different places, affecting many different people according to our activities, our location, and our surroundings when the earthquake or its aftershocks hit. Recent evidence of this comes from the effects of quakes in Haiti, in Chili, in Central and South America, and now another large quake hit a populated area in the Solomon Islands. It is at times like these when some  religious persons consider the relationship between earthquakes and various "prophecies," such as those we find expressed in certain parts of the Bible.

The most popular or frequently referenced biblical accounts involving "earthquakes" come from the best historical records of the teachings of the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth. Without making any special claims, and following my pattern on Twitter, "DAY TEXT" translations based on my experience studying biblical and related texts, below I present what I believe accurately represents the meaning of Jesus' words about "earthquakes," according to the three New Testament accounts referenced.

In what follows I will present only those parts of the accounts which I believe are needed to have a reasonable appreciation for the context of Jesus' reference to "earthquakes" in each account, in his response to questions (Matthew 24:3) about dramatic events which were to occur in connection with the temple in Jerusalem and the "conclusion of the age" (with my underlining):
Matthew 24:6, 7

[Jesus said] "Make sure you are not afraid." ... "Because ... there will be ... earthquakes in different locations."

Mark 13:5-8

[Jesus said] "Look out so no one misleads you. Many will come in my name ... and they will mislead many. But whenever you hear of wars or reports of conflicts, do not be afraid. It is necessary for these things to take place, however, the end is not yet. Because a nation will rise up against a nation and a kingdom against a kingdom, there will be earthquakes in different locations, there will be famines. These things are just the start of the sufferings."

Luke 21:9, 11

[Jesus said] "Whenever you hear about wars or insurrections do not be frightened. It is necessary for these things to come first. But the end is not immediately after [these things]. ... There will be great earthquakes and famines and plagues in various places ..."

When you compare what Jesus taught above with what those who have proclaimed, "The end has drawn near!" (Luke 21:8) have also taught about the significance of "earthquakes" over the past 100 years, or since 1914, it is clear that there is good reason for concern about the message which some have attached to "earthquakes" and to Jesus' name, for example:

This is another part of the sign that [Jesus] gave: ‘There will be earthquakes in one place after another.’ Do you know what an earthquake is? It makes the ground shake under your feet. Houses fall down and people often get killed. Since the year 1914 there have been many more earthquakes every year than there were before.—“Jesus Gives a Sign,” The Watchtower, July 1, 1971, page 406.
The “time of the end” has come. The sign of the “last days” is visible evidence. Never before in history, prior to 1914, have all these things occurred at once upon one generation: ["Signs" and "Scripture Proof" are then listed, including:] Unusual number of earthquakes ... Matthew 24:7.—“Time of the End,” The Watchtower, December 1, 1954, page 712.
Jesus also mentioned famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. (Matthew 24:3, 7, 8; Luke 21:6, 7, 10, 11) In many respects, such calamities have increased in scope and severity.—“Our Watchfulness Takes On Greater Urgency,” The Watchtower, December 15, 2003, page 14.

The effect of continuous presentations like these which associate "earthquakes" and other "signs" with "one generation" or with a date such as "1914" is revealed in part by the following:

[O]ur reviewing from time to time the Scriptural proof that we are living close to the end of this system will help us not to lose sight of the important truths regarding that coming end. It is also good to take note of unfolding world events that fulfill Bible prophecy. One brother in Germany wrote: “Every time I watch the news—the wars, the earthquakes, the violence, and the contamination of our planet—it drives home to me the nearness of the end.”—“‘Keep on the Watch’!” The Watchtower, January 1, 2003, par. 5, pages 18-19.

Christians do not need "earthquakes" to 'drive home the nearness of the end,' that is, if we are balanced in our outlook, in part, by not looking to such things for any kind of 'reminder.' For why should we or anyone else depend on an "earthquake" for our belief, that is, if our belief is both based on good reasons and if those good reasons make clear to us otherwise that each day we should be alert to the times in which we live, for no matter what "time" it is it is our time, at least for now.—Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Romans 2:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:1, 2, 15; Revelation 3:2-3.

Other than general, regular safety reminders and related good counsel, Christians should not be afraid of anything which occurs on this earth, or in the heavens, and we must try never to misuse such occurrences by, for example, proclaiming, "The end has drawn near!" in association with signs such as "earthquakes" or anything else, for Jesus of Nazareth warned us against those who would do these very things (Luke 21:8). Instead we should help others and do good in Jah's image, like Jesus of Nazareth, whether there are "great earthquakes," small ones,  or none at all.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Intentional Intelligence in Non-Human Life: The Division of Human Language

Humans are not that old. By “that old” I write, of course, comparatively, that is, where it involves the apparent periods of life for various other life forms or other bio- or ecosystems which we find through searching the layers of earth’s history (fossils), though there are even here questions about sedimentation and dating which I will consider separately, specifically, as it relates to dating the great variety of life which has come upon the earth.

Viewing the existence of man comparatively with what may be prehistoric forms of life which appear to have lived on the earth for long periods of time, measured by hundreds of thousands or perhaps even by millions of years, when it comes to humankind (men and women) the best available evidence today suggests our existence is from 6,000 to perhaps as old as 10,000 years. True, there are findings and claims by some relative to what is considered early “human” activity in Australia based on what are thought to be pieces of “flint” and “tiny sharp stones that were used as knives,” dating as far back as 35,000 years ago (see, “Ancient Tools Found in Australia,” AP [April 8, 2008]), as well as what some believe to be “footprints” in the same area from about 20,000 years ago (see Sean Markey, “20,000-Year-Old Human Footprints Found in Australia,” National Geographic News [August 3, 2006]). But whether such findings and their present dating are accurate (and some appear questionable on several grounds [see my pending, separate Blog article]), other than what is considered a “paleolithic bone flute” found in Europe (which I will also discuss as part of my separate, pending Blog on dating methods), these and similar findings are limited to things which do not necessarily indicate human existence or intelligence.

Below I will provide several examples of what we would accept as early, incontrovertibly clear human activity like (and even greater than) we see in our modern age. Indeed, though there is evidence to show the existence of various other human-like creatures on the earth (the most popular of which is “Neanderthal,” who was similar to but also very different from humans today), “humans” are now thought by some to have caused the disappearance of these other, similar but different creatures (see, “How Neanderthals met a grisly fate: devoured by humans,” by Robin McKie, science editor for “The Observer” [May 17, 2009]).

Though there are many ways in which we might define our present-day humanity or our identity as “humans,” the following are five (5) clear indicators of the presence of what I believe we would without hesitation consider a present-day “human”:

1.     Metallurgy:

This involves the study and mixture of metals which is ultimately, and which was originally, for the making of tools and weapons. However, according to Piotr Bienkowski and Alan Ralph Millard, “there is a lack of evidence for metal tools because metal was extensively recycled, because tools were rarely placed in graves, and because much research has focused on public buildings” (Dictionary of the Ancient Near East [Philadelphia: University Press of Pennsylvania, 2000], page 294). Bienkowski and Millard go on to reveal that as far as metal tools are concerned, these are only as early as “Old Babylonian date” (from the 20th century BCE to the late 18th or early 17th centuries BCE), and that a “group of tenth-century BC iron tools from Tell Taanach in Palestine shows a similar range of implements” (Dictionary of the Ancient Near East, page 294). Even if we accept that “the Hongshan” (early Chinese culture from 4500 to 2250 BCE) had “knowledge of metallurgy and employed the use of copper (possible iron) metal tools to work their Jade masterpieces,” this puts the manipulation of metal for use as tools and/or for weapons by humans resembling our use of the same (metal) today, to as far back as between 3,800 and 6,500 years ago.

Again, for a planet that is said to be billions of years old, with life forms which have existed in spectacular completeness and variety for millions of years, 3,800 to 6,500 years is “not that long”! Of interest and in further support of a similar time for when humans began to intentionally and with what we consider “intelligence” manipulate and then use metals and their mixtures (alloys), the historical record in the Bible names the one who began the manipulation of metal within the first 130 to the reported 930 years of the biblical Adam’s life, “Tubalcain.” In Genesis 4:22 Tubalcain is said to have been “the one shaping any kind of bronze or iron.” Compare this with Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (Book I, Chap. 2.2), “But Tubal/Jubel, ... first of all invented the art of making brass” (Whiston/Loeb translations).

The Bible has been consistently shown to contain reliable historical information confirmed by numerous archaeological findings. For example, in addition to findings such as the Moabite Stone (840-830 BCE) and tiny silver scrolls (7th century BCE), both of which provide ancient validation for portions of the Bible (including 2 Kings Chapter 3 and Numbers 6:24-26, respectively), there is evidence from other nations and kingdoms about events or people from the Bible. These include the Stele of Merneptah (13th century BCE) and the Tel-Dan Stele of the mid-9th century BCE, which records the victory of the Syrians over the “King of Israel” and the “King of the House of David,” the latter of which is consistent also with 2 Kings 6:24, 8:28, and 9:15-16.—See also “Beliefs Based on the Best Available Reasons” (Elihu Books, 2009 [2011]), inside column labeled, “The Bible,” note 8.

It should, therefore, be no great surprise to find that the Bible also records the approximate time and the name of the one who invented metallurgy, or that the time the Bible gives for the rise of metal-working is consistent with the best archaeological evidence concerning the same. The rise and development of metallurgy allows us to trace our modern human history back to between 3,800 and 6,500 years.

2.     Buildings and Civilizations:

Humans today and throughout our recorded past have built buildings, structures, and cities or civilizations in or around them and in which to live. While there have been some findings of structures believed to date back approximately 8,000 years (see, “Prehistoric building found in Tel Aviv,” AP January 11, 2010), these are far different from the kinds of building or structures described as having had their “top in the heavens” (compare Genesis 11:2). Indeed, the oldest of such buildings or cities which have come to light through archeological discovery include the Egyptian pyramids (3809 to 2853 BCE) and Stonehenge (2400-2200 BCE), neither of which exceed 6,000 years in age.

This approximate but good-reason based view is consistent with what is recorded as having occurred within the first 130 or the entire 930 years of the biblical Adam’s life, namely, the birth of “Lamech,” who is described as the first “of those who dwell in tents” (Genesis 4:20). Subsequently, the Bible records that humans like us “migrated from the east” and “came upon a plain in the land of Shinar,” or Babylon (in modern-day Iraq), where they decided to build “a city and a tower with its top in the heavens” (Genesis 11:2-4). This “tower” or “ziggurat” (Hebrew: migdal [likely a loan-word from the Akkadian ziqqurat or zaqaru, meaning, “to be high up”]) of “Shinar”/Babylon may be consistent with archaeological findings of other, similar structures in the region of ancient Mesopotamia, such as the Ziggurat of Ur, which is dated to around 2100 BCE.

3.     Writing:

The oldest evidence of any form of written (and, hence, likely spoken) language is believed to be on pottery from Harappa, in southern Egypt, which contain “primitive words” at the tomb of the “Scorpion king” dated to between 3300 and 3200 BCE, as well as the writing of the Sumerians from “the Mesopotamian civilization around 3100 BCE.” The earliest of these Sumerian writings are believed to date between 3500 and 3000 BCE. This is also around the time (early 40th to around the 22nd centuries BCE) when the Tower of Babel (see 2., above) and other, similar structures were likely built. Further, this is the precise area where the division of human language is said to have occurred, at least according to the historical record of the Bible (Genesis 11:7-9), which is supported by the best available evidence here and in 4. and 5., below.

The engravings found on what are alleged to be 60,000 year old egg shells or on “75,000-year-old engraved ochre chunks from the Blombos cave in South Africa,” which “have mostly been one-offs and difficult to tell apart from meaningless doodles,” are not “writing” in the sense which communication is conveyed through the images and markings found in the above-cited evidence (see Kate Ravilious, “Oldest ‘writing’ found on 60,000-year-old eggshells,” New Scientist 2750 [March 3, 2010]). Another form of “writing” or human expression may be in the form of cave drawings and from “semicircles, lines and zigzags also marked on the walls,” which some claim represent a “highly symbolic” “written ‘code’” believed to have been “familiar to all of the prehistoric tribes around France and possibly beyond,” approximately 40,000 to 10,000 years ago.—See Kate Ravilious, “The writing on the cave wall,” New Scientist 2748 (February 17, 2010).

I will consider these and other potential expressions of “humans” whom we might associate with our modern-to-6,000-year-old-or-so “humanity” further in a separate Blog on the subject of the use and the accuracy of various dating methods, including a review of newer technology for dating rock paintings, which is also carbon-based.

4.     Marking of "Time" and Season:

I believe for the good reasons that I provided in my prior Blog article on this subject that intentional intelligence within and outside of humankind can be seen in our use of “time,” in as much as our use of “time” points each one of us to the intelligence in life and in objects which exist all around us, life and objects which move and exist in predictably reliable ways and which we accept and which show us (by our measure) our own existence in relation to these other objects and to other life forms. These objects which exist and which we accept and which we routinely use in our measurement (our “time”) of events, actions, or even our thoughts include the rotation and the axis of the earth, our location on it relative to others who also live on it, as well as the earth’s orbit and its position relative to the moon, to the sun, and even to other stars.

When it comes to humankind’s use of “time,” or our measurement of our existence or that of other life forms, objects, or to our measurement of anything involving our earth, to our location on it relative to others, or concerning our evaluation of the earth’s orbit and position relative to the moon, to the sun, and even to other stars, the best available reasons from our history indicate that we have only kept “time” in these ways since between as late as 5,000 or as early as 7,000 years ago.

For example, the Goseck Circle is presently dated to between 5000 and 4600 BC. Yet, it is considered to be “the earliest sun observatory currently known in the world,” measuring “the heavens far earlier and more accurately than historians have thought.” After this, we find other similar objects being used by humans for measuring or marking time and season, such as the Nebra Disk, which was found 25 kilometers (about 15.5 miles) away from the Goseck Circle, and which is believed to be “the oldest concrete representation of the cosmos” (“Archaeologists Unearth German Stonehenge,” August 8, 2003). Dated to around 2600 BCE (2,400 years younger than the Goseck Circle), the Nebra Sky Disk was found near Goseck and it appears to have an image of very similar if not the same astronomical positions that are believed to exist as part of the Goseck Circle. Therefore, the Goseck Circle and the Nebra Sky Disk likely mark an event of historical significance.

Note what is said in one of the best published understandings and conclusions concerning the Nebra Sky Disk that I have seen to date:

Our revised interpretation of the Nebra Sky Disk concludes that the Nebra Sky Disk records the solar eclipse of April 16, 1699 BC for posterity. That solar eclipse took place next to the Pleiades at sunrise near the point of the Vernal Equinox, together with a near conjunction of the planets Mercury, Mars and Venus as “bridesmaids” for the “wedding” of the Sun and the Moon - a total solar eclipse - a rare and spectacular event for the ancients. This interpretation allows not only for a partial explanation of the Nebra Sky Disk but in fact explains all of the elements found on the disk in an integrated astronomical context which abides by the rules of the burden of proof. This interpretation fulfills the requirements of the preponderance of the evidence. The prevailing balance of probabilities is clearly in favor of our interpretation as opposed to the partial interpretation which has thus far been advanced [Andis Kaulins, “The Sky Disk of Nebra: Evidence and Interpretation,” page 13].

The dates for both the Goseck Circle and the Nebra Sky Disk are also consistent with the date ranges for other types of cosmic representations intelligently designed and built by humans. For example, the dates for the building of the three Egyptian pyramids of Khufu (also called the Pyramid of Cheops and the Great Pyramid of Giza), Khafra, and Menkaura are not older than 3000 to 2500 BCE. Yet, together these three pyramids represented the constellation known as the Belt of Orion. The Khufu/Giza Pyramid has to this day defied the best of human engineers to satisfactorily account for how it was even built (compare this overview article from the Great Pyramid of Giza Research Association).

The Goseck Circle, the Nebra Sky Disk, and the Giza Pyramid and other pyramids of Egypt represent incredible human understanding of cosmic objects and of their position relative to the earth and to each other in ways which are not only consistent with our modern human understanding and use of many of these same objects, but in many ways the earlier human uses comparatively exceed or go beyond what humans today can admittedly accomplish! Yet, before the earliest date of these three (the Goseck Circle: around 5000 BCE), there is nothing comparable which would suggest the existence of humans in our modern image, that is, humans who could mark “time” and season by means of the position of the earth, or by the location of the people then on it, and in relation to the sun, to the moon, and to the stars.

The use of structures (the pyramids and the Goseck Circle) to mark or to indicate time, season, or which depict or indicate solar or other cosmological significance, is consistent also with the dates for humankind’s earliest buildings, towers, and civilizations, as noted in 2., above. Further, as noted in my prior article in this series, human use of "time" is consistent with the biblical book of Genesis, which accurately records the intent behind our use of the sun, the moon, and the stars (with my underlining):

Genesis 1:14-15, New Revised Standard Version (1989):
And [Jah] God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.

5.     The Division of Human Language:

The fifth good reason I will here present for the age of that which we define today as “human/mankind,” as opposed to any other, similar but more primitive types of creatures (or concurrently existing creatures, such as Neanderthal or those whom the Bible refers to as “Nephilim” [Genesis 6:4]), will also take us into the expressed subject of this article. That is, to show how the division of human language indicates an intentional, intelligent involvement by some living thing or person, but not solely due to any previously living man or woman, for we are the subjects of what I believe for good reasons to be an intentional act of non-human intelligence which divided our human language.

This is also around the time (between 3500 and 2400) when the Tower of Babel may have been built (see 2., above), which is also where the division of languages is said to have occurred and, more importantly, why it is believed to have occurred, which will be considered (but not merely accepted without testing) according to the following biblical account (with my underlining):

Genesis 11:1-8, New Living Translation:

At one time the whole world spoke a single language and used the same words. As the people migrated eastward, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there. They began to talk about construction projects. “Come,” they said, “let’s make great piles of burnt brick and collect natural asphalt to use as mortar. Let’s build a great city with a tower that reaches to the skies—a monument to our greatness! This will bring us together and keep us from scattering all over the world.”
But [Jah] came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. “Look!” [Jah] said. “If they can accomplish this when they have just begun to take advantage of their common language and political unity, just think of what they will do later. Nothing will be impossible for them!  Come, let’s go down and give them different languages. Then they won’t be able to understand each other.” In that way, [Jah] scattered them all over the earth; and that ended the building of the city.  That is why the city was called Babel, because it was there that [Jah] confused the people by giving them many languages, thus scattering them across the earth.

The division of human language is not merely a dialectical one, or due solely to differing accents within one language which we all share. In our history and in our present human societies and cultures, there are a myriad of different human languages. If the best available evidence today suggests that humankind seeks to break down communication barriers with each other, and to unite in furthering our knowledge and our understanding, then why did we ever develop entirely different, separate language systems dividing people, nation, and tribe by our “tongue,” or by our language, in the first place?

There are, therefore, good reasons to accept the timing and the actual events described in Genesis Chapter 11, and also for accepting the reasons given therein for why human language was intentionally divided, namely:
  • The division of our language (as per 3., above) is traceable to the same time frame wherein we find evidence for what humans would today also consider intentionally intelligent “metallurgy,” or metal working (4500 to 2250 for the dating of tools potentially used by the early Chinese Hongshan culture [see 1., above], or to possibly as late as the 20th or even late 18th or early 17th centuries BCE for other metal tools).
  • The division of human language is also consistent with what we would for good reasons consider to be the dates for the first human buildings and associated civilizations (namely, 3809 to 2853 BCE for the Egyptian pyramids, or possibly as early as 8,000 years old according to some recent findings [see 2., above]).
  • The best available evidence for the division of human language comes from our dating of human writing (from 3500 to 2400 BCE according to Sumerian tomb writing and early cuneiform tablets [see 3., above]).
  • All three of the above are consistent with the earliest dates for our use of the sun, the moon, the stars and the earth, and of our position on the earth, that is, for measuring or for marking our “time” and our seasons (that is, from 5000 to 2600 BCE, based on dates for the Goseck Circle and the Nebra Sky Disk, respectively [see 4., above]).
Therefore, it is clear from the best available evidence from our human history, which includes our actual separation into different people, distinguishable by race, nationality, and tribe, that  each group retained a highly effective, intentional intelligence capable of using a particular language system complete with words and with understandings of objects including buildings and civilizations and which language, in fact, defined each civilization and its people’s culture. Since then, humans continue to do the same things, also using language as a means of uniting and dividing people. 

Related to the significance of the development of human language Professor Stephen Hawking writes the following from the perspective of the biological (that is, non-intentionally-intelligent) evolution of life:

The process of biological evolution was very slow at first. It took two and a half billion years, to evolve from the earliest cells to multi-cell animals, and another billion years to evolve through fish and reptiles, to mammals. But then evolution seemed to have speeded up. ... with the human race, evolution reached a critical stage, comparable in importance with the development of DNA. This was the development of language, and particularly written language. It meant that information can be passed on, from generation to generation, other than genetically, through DNA. There has been no detectable change in human DNA, brought about by biological evolution, in the ten thousand years of recorded history. But the amount of knowledge handed on from generation to generation has grown enormously [Hawking, “Life in the Universe” (underlining added)].

Now consider what may have occurred, that is, if after seeing what we have seen or what we see and knowing what we have good reasons to believe about humanity today, the “good” and the “bad,” in particular, the really bad or worst of what we can do or have done, though we may have survived if we had always kept “one language and one speech” (compare Genesis 11:1), that is unlikely. It is even less likely that early humans like us would have been able to or would have committed themselves to diversifying their shared language on their own, so fast, with similar if not equally expressive capacities though using entirely different language systems, which neither could understand when speaking to the other except for special learning or circumstance (such as the number of languages spoken in a given region when growing up as a child).

When it comes to the subject of this Blog, namely, language(s), or what the division of human language may constitute as far as a good reason indicative of intentional intelligence in non-human (but human-involved) life, just think how “enormously” the “amount of knowledge handed on” would have been had it not been for what for what appears to have been done intentionally by an intelligent, living, non-human, but for good reasons, namely, divide human language in order to:

1) Protect humanity from the consequences of our own self-glorification at an early age when it is unlikely (as I am sure Professor Hawking would agree) we would have been able “to reduce or eliminate the risk of self-destruction” (Hawking, “Life in the Universe”), even if we spoke only one “language” and used the same words; and

2) ‘Scatter’ humankind across the surface of the earth, exactly as we see happening throughout our history and since the time when mankind’s language was first divided several thousand years ago, and which remains divided even to this day.—Compare Genesis 1:28.

Professor Hawking’s concerns about our human potential are not at all unfounded. Indeed, while in my next Blog article on in this series I intend to show that Hawking’s non-biological, evolutionary view of the origin of life is not well-founded, Hawking appears right to me when he speaks about how “with the exponential rate of growth of knowledge that we have had in the last three hundred years,” impulses humans had thousands of years ago could now “destroy the entire human race, and much of the rest of life on Earth” (Hawking, “Life in the Universe”). Of course, that depends a good deal if not entirely on your view of the origin of life.

Thankfully, it appears that for good reasons we were intentionally diverted away from our own self-destruction, and then ‘scattered across the earth’ into peoples, nations, and tribes, separated by our “tongues,” so that only rather recently, or perhaps not even yet, have we truly ‘filled the earth’ as was also the expressed intent of the biblical God, “Jah,” even as is our use of the earth and of the heavenly objects for keeping “time,” and the separation of our human language.—Genesis 1:28; 9:1; 11:1-9; compare Revelation 7:9; 21:24, 26.

[*AUTHOR'S NOTE: On Monday, May 3, 2010, I removed "biological, evolutionary view of life" from the second-to-last paragraph in this article and in its place I am using "non-biological, evolutionary view of the origin of life." By this I intend to correct and to make clearer that I believe Hawking's (and others') view of life ultimately involves acceptance of something other than "life" or of what or of who is already alive as the origin of life itself. I believe such a "non-biological" view of life's origin is not only unscientific (because it does not build from even one single, observable, repeatable example) but it also contradicts what science otherwise, everywhere, and always to this day has shown us: Life only comes from something or from someone already alive.]