Sunday, September 13, 2015

Did Jesus Die for Homo Naledi?

I ask this question with the deepest possible meaning. No flippant answer would work here . . . but maybe after years and years of contemplation you could just start to scratch the surface.

Background:  I will give a brief description of the Homo Naledi find but encourage you to follow the story in detail here.  In summary, ancient human ancestors are found and reproduced from small fragments of bone that date back well over 1 million years, and sometimes more than 2 million. However last year a team of anthologists and archeologists asked a couple of amateur spelunkers in South Africa to explore a tiny tunnel in the back of a well explored cave.  What they eventually found, through three long small passages was astounding. 

 This will probably be the greatest find ever in the search of ancient human ancestors.  They have only examined about 10% of the remote cave chamber and have found 17-18 individuals, many near complete skeletons. It is hard to think of a metaphor to describe the value of this find.  Maybe like a prospector spending his entire life, with his donkey and gold pan, searching for one nugget and then stumbles into the vault at Fort Knox.

Not only is this a new, yet undiscovered species, it raises many intriguing questions. First, it is not an ape. The hands and feet of Homo Naledi are almost identical to humans.  But it is certainly not human and, we don’t have DNA yet so we are not sure, probably could not have interbred with humans like the Neanderthal did. The most remarkable thing is that the remains of these 2 million old ancestors could not have been piled up in this remote cave chamber by natural means. For example, there could not have been some type of ancient wolf that only ate Homo Naledis and carried their bones to this cave. There have been no other animal bones discovered in the cave.  There could not have been some type of flood that washed the bodies into the cave. There is scant evidence of water being in that part of cave and no other outside debris that you would certainly have with a flood.  There is only one rational answer, this was a ritualistic burial.  There are some death observances in the animal kingdom, such as elephants, dolphins and possible apes, this entombment is unique, prior to this point, to humans.

So how does Homo Naledi fit into the Christian story?  In most evangelical churches, you can’t even begin to have this rational conversation.  I started to discuss something like this in my old evangelical church and one of the elders said to me, “That evolution stuff is just a bunch of crap.  They created the Neanderthal from a pig’s tooth and clay. Carbon dating has been proven wrong.” Of course they don't use carbon dating to date these ancient inorganic fossils.

I knew that I was no longer talking to a friend but to a chick tract or a Ken Ham video. My friend’s mouth was moving but Ken’s words were coming out.

A lot of people prefer not to think about these difficult questions.  I love them because of my natural curiosity.  They certainly don’t make my theology simpler. It would be nice if the Genies story was more clear and detailed and fit perfectly with the fossil record. It is confusing when things like Homo Naledi walk into the scene, like a Macbethian character walking onto a stage where a futuristic sci-fi play is being performed.

There are so many questions to be asked.  My sense that there was a long process, guided by God as a creative process, to form humans.  I think the Homo Naledi creature was a pre-human and innocent form . . . pre-fallen in other words. But then it raises other theological questions. If sin had not entered, why was death everywhere?  After all, the cave is full of death.


Headless Unicorn Guy said...

"Did Jesus Die for Homo Naledi?"

Smartass comment: No, only for HETERO Naledi.

Serious comments:
* 17 near-complete skeletons 2 million years old = paleo-JACKPOT!
* Were the skeletons articulated, i.e. bones arranged pretty much as they are in life? If so, that would argue for burial or some other protection against scavengers.
* And were they of varying developmental ages, so we could establish a development/growth pattern?

As for the "Created Neanderthal from a pig's tooth and clay":

There's a Steven Jay Gould essay on just this subject, don't remember which of his paperback collections it was in. (Gould wrote as many essays on the history of science -- including the weird and dark sides of it -- as he did on anything else.) Here's the gist of it:
* First, it wasn't a Neanderthal; we've got some complete skeletons of Neanderthals. This was a mistake called "Nebraska Man" in the manner of its time.
* Second, the find was TWO peccary teeth from different digs; one find means nothing, two establishes a pattern.
* Third, the type of paleo-peccary tooth found is pretty much identical in appearance to a human molar. If it's been worn, there is no way to tell them apart. Gould relates that identifying this particular peccary tooth is a trick often pulled on senior paleontology students.
* And finally, the "Nebraska Man" mistake happened around the same time as Piltdown Man, AKA "The Earliest Englishman", PROOF that modern man originated in England. Scientific Racism of the time included a competition that "WE evolved first, not YOU; WE are the Most Advanced/Evolved Race" and Piltdown and "Nebraska" played right into this trope.

abmo said...

Mike, I too think the Homo Naledi creature was a pre-human and innocent form. As Genesis 2:7 says God guided the process forming man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his/her nostrils the breath of life.

To answer your question "If sin had not entered, why was death everywhere?" I believe the answer lies in the innocent part. For a fish to find out that there is such a thing as water, it has to be out of water. Somewhere a line was drawn, free will was used. The creature stepped over it and became self-aware. Self-awareness brought self-preservation and the realisation that innocence has been lost. Suddenly the creature was naked. There was shame. Things got tough. Separation. There was death.

The question is how to get back to before the line was drawn? How do we get away from being in a broken world, broken systems and broken lives? And then Jesus came. Showing us that in order to live in a broken world, you have to be weird. Servants who focus on God's Kingdom and loving others and do not value their own lives seem best suited to change the world. Jesus said in John 15:4 "Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.

Did Jesus die for the Homo Naledi? Probably not, but then again the death of Jesus echoes in the universe and throughout time and perhaps there was a day where Homo Naledi looked up and saw the lion and the lamb lying together... and it was a good day.

Gary said...

Imagine growing up in a culture that has never heard of Jesus or Christianity. Imagine a conversation with a Christian missionary attempting to convert you to Christianity:

Christian: Hello, Friend. Do you have a moment?
You: Sure. What's up?
Christian: I would like to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with you.
You: Who?
Christian: Jesus Christ. He is God's Son who came to earth to die for our sins and to make it possible for us to live forever with God after we die. He loves you and wants to save you.

You: Save me? Which god are you talking about?
Christian: There is only one God, my friend.
You: Are you joking? There are many religions and many gods. So which god are you talking about?
Christian: The god of the Hebrews, Yahweh.
You: Never heard of him.

Christian: Yahweh is the one and only true God.
You: How do you know that?

(Conversation continued here):

nestusv said...

I wanted to ask you, "Why is medical costs in America so expensive?"

Anonymous said...

Mike? I miss your posts, but I'd like you to reassure me (us) you're doing well.


Michael Jones said...

Anonymous, that was very kind of you to be concerned. In a nut-shell, I started a medical practice five years ago. In this age of Affordable Care Act, it was not a good time to try and start a new practice. The amount of paperwork, constant fighting with insurance companies, almost wasted my soul. The new system appears to put patients last. I was devoting 15 hours a day to that and had no energy for anything else. I got out on December 31st and took a month to mentally recover from that ordeal.

Since then, besides working a new job where I only "clock in and clock out (trying to put patients first again)," my energy and time came back to me. I had been working on a book for over 12 years (putting it on the back burner 5 years ago). I decided to focus on that. I worked with two professional editors and re-wrote it a few times. What I had posted here once (is it still here somewhere?) was only a very rough and long draft of the final product. In order to publish the book (for the first time in my life, I had a couple of real publishers offer me a contract) I decided to create my own publishing company "Naked Christian Press," so that I can say the things I want to say in Candor. So, my energy has now been devoted to getting the publishing company up and running AND getting my book out. It should be on the market in about two months. The book's final title is Butterflies in the Belfry--Serpents in the Cellar, An Unintentional Quest for a Raw Christianity.

So that's where I have been. I am creating a new webpage devoted to the book and as part of that webpage, I will create a new blog where I hope to start writing once again.

But again, it was very kind for you to ask. I would ask how you are doing if I knew who you were.


Michael Jones said...

"with candor."

Gary said...

Dear Readers: You do not need to be a scholar to disbelieve resurrection claims.

Two thousand years ago, hundreds of millions of people on earth believed in a god named Zeus who lived on top of Mount Olympus in Greece who performed many fantastical supernatural deeds. The existence of Zeus and the historicity of his alleged deeds have never been disproven.

Approximately 1300 years ago, a man named Mohammad claimed to have received a visit from a supernatural being who gave him the true word of the creator of the universe and who enabled him to fly on a winged horse into the heavens. Hundreds of millions of people today believe in the historicity of these claims. These claims have never been disproven.

Approximately 200 years ago, a man named Joseph Smith claimed to have received golden plates from a supernatural being containing the true, updated, word of the creator of the universe. Millions of people today believe that this claim is historical fact. This claim has never been disproven.

Since these claims have never been disproven, should we believe them? Should we believe these fantastical, extra-ordinary claims that defy the established laws of nature? The proponents of the above claims would say that the possible/probable existence of a Creator greatly increases the probability of these claims being true. But is that really correct? Doesn't the evidence seem to suggest that if a Creator exists, he/she/they/it have chosen to operate, at least within our universe, within the natural laws? How often have experts confirmed that established natural laws have been violated?

I would therefore suggest that the possible existence of a Creator can in no way be assumed to increase the probability of un-natural events occurring within our universe. We have no confirmed evidence to suggest that a Creator routinely or even sporadically violates the laws of nature. We have no evidence to believe that gods live on Greek mountains; that celestial beings enable humans to ride on winged horses; or that persons in upstate New York receive plates of gold from angels.

So when another large group of people living today tells you their fantastical, extra-ordinary claim that two thousand years ago a three-day-dead corpse was suddenly reanimated back to life by an ancient middle-eastern deity, broke out of his sealed tomb, ate a fish lunch with his former fishing buddies, and then levitated into the clouds, I suggest that we consider this claim to be just as probable as the three claims above.

And unlike what you have been told, dear friend, you do NOT need to be a scholar to disbelieve all four of these supernatural claims. Why? Answer: Because the onus of proof is NOT on you, the skeptic. In western, educated society the onus is always on the person making the fantastical, extra-ordinary claim, not on those who doubt it.

Therefore, the onus is on the proponents of these four supernatural tales to prove their veracity, and so far, the evidence presented by these groups of believers is dismal to pathetic. That is why no public university history textbook in the western world lists any of these four claims as even "probable" historical events.

You don't need to be a scholar to disbelieve supernatural religious tales of gods living on mountains, prophets flying in the air on winged horses, upstate New Yorkers receiving heavenly messages in cow pastures, or reanimated dead guys flying off into outer space. Don't let the proponents of these tall tales convince you otherwise.