Friday, August 04, 2006

Davis Young and Human Antiquity

Catching up again. In the early 1980s, Davis Young, a geologist at Calvin College in Michigan wrote a top-flight book called Christianity and the Age of the Earth. In it, he argued that there was compelling, undeniable evidence not only that the earth was 4.5 billion years old but that a literal understanding of the early chapters of Genesis (particularly the Flood) is unwarranted.

In that book, he expressed considerable reservations, if not outright rejection, of evolution. Since that time, he has written an article called "The Antiquity and the Unity of the Human Race Revisited." In it, he struggles mightily with the revelation that the fossil record of modern humans extends back 100 000 years. Dr. Young is kind of over a barrel here. He cannot bring himself to accept evolutionary theory, but at the same time, he knows good and well that absolute dating methods work exactly the way they are supposed to. This understanding of the fossil record also has an impact on his understanding of the later chapters of the Primeval History (Genesis 1-11). Along the way, he makes a statement that many Christians privately think but don't say publicly:

I suspect that ancient Near Eastern flood epics and Genesis 6-9 are referring to the same event. The similarity in structure between Genesis 1-11, the Atrahasis Epic, and the eleventh tablet of the Gilgamesh Epic renders it likely that all have the same deluge in mind. If so, the biblical flood is appropriately identified with a flood that occurred shortly before the time of the Sumerian king Gilgamesh who lived in the early 3rd millennium B.C. Thus the biblical flood should probably be dated in the 4th or very early 3rd millennium B.C. Possibly the biblical flood should be related to some of the flood deposits encountered at a variety of archeological sites within Mesopotamia. If this is the case, early evidences of agriculture at ancient Near Eastern sites plainly pre-date the biblical flood, just what seems to be suggested by Genesis.

His second revelation is crushing because it completely circumvents the anti-evolution arguments. With regard to the claim about the antiquity of modern humans, he writes:

This claim has nothing to do with evolutionary theories of human origins or even with such ancient hominids as Homo erectus, Homo habilis, or the various species of Australopithecus. The claim does not even concern remains of Neanderthal man. I am dealing solely with the fossil evidence of anatomically modern humans. That evidence suggests that anatomically modern humans may have appeared as early as 100,000 years ago in Africa while elsewhere in the Old World the appearance of anatomically modern humans occurred somewhat later but surely by 40,000 years before the present.

Interestingly, there is evidence for the appearance of modern humans in the Near East at about 100 thousand years ago. It is not a done deal that modern humans appeared in Africa first.

Dr. Young suggests that if we wish to continue to think of Adam and Eve as actual, historical people, there are three alternatives open to us.
1. Adam and Eve as Recent Ancestors, in which there are humans living today that were not descended from Adam and Eve. Firstly, how would you know who was who and, and can these "non-adamaic" people have union with God?
2. Adam and Eve as Recent Representatives, in which Adam and Eve are the actual representatives of humans, both ancestral and descendent. Original sin, then is not bound up in Adam per se, but in all people related to him. It is, as Young puts it, a "federal headship."
3. Adam and Eve as Ancient Ancestors, in which Adam and Eve were biological progenitors of modern humans as a whole. This is okay scientifically, but makes mincemeat of the genealogies in Genesis.

By his own admission, Young's intention is not to solve the problem, but to get Christians thinking about what the problems are with a straight literal reading of Genesis. He congenially closes by saying:

Once we have solved this issue, perhaps we will be ready to solve the evolution question!

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