Monday, September 17, 2012

Anyone out there good at the Bible?

I have a couple of questions you might be able to help with.

Is there any indication, (genealogies, etc) how long Adam and Eve were in the Garden before the fall? Are there any reliable scholars (ie. saints) who have written about the state of man before the fall? Thomas, I think, right?

Apart from the Protestant fundies and creationists, are there any Catholic scholars who have thought about the time frame for the existence of the world? When it all happened?

I ask because I was discussing with someone on email the theories being put forward by some rather interesting, and rather odd, Egyptologists who say that the pyramids and the sphinx and temples built in the time of the Old Kingdom were in fact a great deal older than the academic consensus would have us believe. Someone has said, for example, that there is irrefutable evidence of water erosion on the base of the Sphinx, the sort that could only be made by many hundreds of years of heavy rain. Well, the Sphinx is in a desert... no rain. At least not for a very long time. Much longer than academia thinks is possible. But there it is.

There were lots of other things this person told me that I didn't read the details of much, but sounded damned interesting. Things about astronomy, the placement of temples to look at star patterns that are no longer in the right place. Meaning, the temples have been there so long that the star patterns they were built to map have shifted in the sky (or the world shifted under them, I guess is more accurate). Meaning the temples were built a hell of a lot longer ago than, again, academia wants us to think.

Another thing was the incredible tale, which is the academic consensus, that the pyramids were built with no tools more complex than rocks, copper tools and plumblines. Like they made millions of huge stone blocks, hauled them up the side of a man-made mountain, all within 20 years. According to modern engineers, we would have a hard time doing it in that time now, with our modern stone-cutting techniques and heavy cranes. But we're supposed to believe they did it with stone mallets and hemp ropes?

I went through my Egypt phase at about eight, the usual time, and never heard anything about this. I vaguely knew that the temples lined up with the sun rise at the equinoxes, and that some of them had something to do with astronomy. But these guys are saying that they are complex pieces of, essentially, stone machinery, technology, and that the Egyptians were way past stone tools by the time they were built, which was way before anyone thinks. Someone said just after the last ice age.

The trouble is that the people making these claims then go off all wild and wiggy about mystical energies and stuff, and totally lose all credibility (to me, anyway), but it's incredibly interesting nonetheless. And even if we don't think that the planet was once ruled by a race of super-smart space hippies, or giant-headed warring Nephilim from Planet Nibiru, some of the things they said about the age and mathematical complexity of the temples and pyramids, certainly sound plausible to this unschooled ear.

Now, I'm not up much on paleoanthropology other than the stuff I read as kid in National Geographic, but I have had the impression, from other things, that the current academic consensus actually kind of blows. I know that it does on a variety of other scientific things (pregnancy starts at implantation because we damn well say it does!) and the arrogance of the materialist Darwinians does not match the rigor of their arguments. We're just supposed to believe it because they say.

Not being a fundamentalist protestant, or still less a young earth creationist, or a biblical literalist, I don't have a pressing need to prove that the world is only 4000 years old, according to the genealogies in the old testament. So I wanted to consult the more reliable sources. What do Catholic biblical scholars, especially the ones, as Philip said, whose names start with an S, say about the time scale?

And the millions of years the world is supposed to have been capable of sustaining life is a really, really long time. If civilisation has only existed since the times of Çatalhöyük and the neolithic and chalcolithic, how do we explain a thing like Gobekli Tepe? a large stone temple complex built during what is supposed to be the paleolithic, predating pottery, metallurgy, writing, the wheel, agriculture and animal husbandry?

I've read a few books recently, not by gnostic Egyptologists, but by perfectly respectable archeologists and geologists, that suggest human civilisation is not only far older than we thought, but is actually cyclical, that is, that not just individual civilisations like the Egyptians, but the whole human endeavour of civilisation itself, everywhere, comes and goes. That we go through periods of civilisation and primitive tribal societies, every few tens of thousands of years.

So, anyone have any idea how this idea could be reconciled with the biblical accounts of the creation? (I mean anyone sensible, that is, neither a Protestant fundamentalist, a young earth creationist or a dedicated materialist Darwinian).

I don't know what relevance it has for us now, what it has to do with any of our pressing problems, but wouldn't it be cool to think that there were ancient civilisations running around building flying pyramids before the ice age?

And isn't it just a bit of a modern conceit the idea that history is a natural progression from primitive to sophisticated societies? That we're doing nothing but get better, taller, smarter and more sophisticated? That it could never ever go the other way? Or be in any way cyclical? The modern historical theory of uninterrupted progress is bollocks on the face of it. We've seen societies decay, morally, economically, even technologically. They go up; they go down. Peoples learn things and forget things collectively. Technology waxes and wanes.

Ours certainly is. It's an observable fact that a large portion of the manufactured goods available today are less useful, less enduring and less functional than the same things as they were produced 50 years ago. Right now, for example, I would not buy a new domestic sewing machine. They're crap. I'll regret to my dying day that I didn't manage to retain my mother's sewing machine, made of metal, with beautifully machined parts, weighing about a half a ton, that was never, ever going to break down. We might have fancier technologies, cell phones, but can you drop one and have it still work? Is it going to last 70 years? Or will it die if you splash your latte on it? The 1937 bakelite rotary dial phone in my room still works just fine, thanks.

I have no doubt whatever that the accounts in Genesis are true. That God made the universe out of nothing, made the earth for the animals, plants and man to live on, that we had two genetic parents who transgressed and undid their original state of primal grace, were taught to fend for themselves in a transformed creation after the Fall. I've got no problem at all with any of that. But I would like some thoughts of scholars on the exact when. How long ago are we talking about.



a Christopher said...

... Dante contends that Man was created in the Morning, and fell some time towards Evening. However, it seems to me this doesn't fit too well with God resting on the Seventh Day, because then it would be "not good" again.

So, here's a thing: There are at least three genealogies given for Jesus, at least two of them through Joseph. They do not read the same, and that's fine. The one that emphasizes "fourteen" apparently is addressed to Jews as would understand "14" as the sum of David's name. This isn't a problem! In fact, none of the genealogies given is complete, for you can find many of their names in the Old Testament, and there you will find that several generations get skipped. There is no reason to suppose that generations between Adam and Noah, or between Noah and anyone else, didn't also get skipped in the Old Testament; and the point of all this is that fundamentalist contentions for a particular Calendar date for creation all ignore these harmless elisions, the standard method being to add up the quoted years each patriarch lived before he begat so-and-so. This, furthermore, does not constitute scriptural dishonesty, for the inspired scribes understood the Jews and many of their neighbors as holding that in various circumstances children begotten strictu sensu by a particular man will be accounted the children of, say, his dead older brother; Jacob Israel himself extends direct inheritance to Joseph's first children, technically Jacob's grandchildren.

If you ask Fr. T. to put you in touch with his fellow Fr. D, the latter has made a special study of popular heretical readings of scripture, and their refutations.

Jonathan said...

Is there any indication, (genealogies, etc) how long Adam and Eve were in the Garden before the fall? Are there any reliable scholars (ie. saints) who have written about the state of man before the fall? Thomas, I think, right?

I think most of the Fathers took the brevity of the Genesis account to infer that very little time was spent between the creation of Eve and her temptation. Many of them asserted that she was a virgin when she fell, which would mean that she and Adam hadn't gotten around to consummating their marriage yet. Dante of course ascribes the very brief period of six hours to the period of unfallen bliss in the Garden; likewise, he ascribes six seconds from the creation of the angels to Satan's rebellion. I think Milton's Paradise Lost was the first major work arguing that man spent an extended period of time in the Garden.

Apart from the Protestant fundies and creationists, are there any Catholic scholars who have thought about the time frame for the existence of the world? When it all happened?

St. Augustine is famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) for interpreting the six days of creation not as 24-hour periods of physical light and darkness, but as symbols of "days and nights" of a revelation of creation to the angels. This is somewhere in his massive City of God, as I recall. (For what it's worth, St. Thomas thought Augustine was probably wrong about this.) He also, however, argued against an ancient age for the earth, not because it offended against Scripture, but because there was no evidence for it. The only people arguing in its favor were the Manichees, who believed that human existence was an eternal cycle. That might sound familiar. In addition to the New Age crystal nuts, there was a resurgence of occult historical theories in the early 20th century that argued for an immensely ancient history for the human race; these fellows were also opposed to the Darwinian theory of "transformism," as some of them called it, since they wanted to believe that the Aryan race had remained unchanged for millions of years. I like to imagine them burning piles of Ovid's Metamorphoses on weekends.

Part of the problem when trying to sort all this out is that the Church has never seriously attempted to make any definitive statements about the scientific discoveries and theories of the last two centuries. Maybe this is because the Church does not see the physical sciences as being especially under her doctrinal jurisdiction, but what we have received from bishops and priests opining on their own authority is a mixed bag.

Many glossed Bibles from pre-V2 have notes explicitly arguing for a young earth exactly the age suggested by adding up the years of the genealogies, but those were written before more conclusive scientific proofs for an older earth were discovered. Since then, clerics have mostly capitulated entirely to the scientific establishment, often making wild assertions about how Catholic doctrine can be reconciled with whatever scientific theory was most popular at the time of their writing. Tielhard de Chardin is the worst example of this sort.

There's still a small coterie of clerics with an interest in defending what we now call creationism. I think the FSSP trains its priests along those lines, at least in America. What's especially bizarre about this group is their dependence on Protestant materials. One would think that if creationism were so clearly Catholic we wouldn't have to go running to the heretics for help.

I wish I had some contemporary works to recommend. I have yet to find a common sense approach that avoids the Scylla of science fads and the Charybdis of creationism. Back in my Protestant days I thought Hugh Ross was the most reasonable of all the people I read (; he even quoted the Church Fathers on a regular basis. I have yet to find any reasonable Catholic writers on this topic.

Anonymous said...

I think about this a lot, quite a lot more than I think about the Duchess of Cambridge's biceps. - Karen

BruceB said...

As numerous Popes have now averred, there is no reason NOT to believe the cosmological theories of the universe's age - currently 12.5+ billion years. Pius XII applauded these discoveries for what they said about God. As Aquinas, following Aristotle, always said, the artist creates according to his nature. What kind of universe would an eternal and infinite God create? Would it be a brief and puny one, or a quasi-eternal and infinite one (at least on human scales)? If the anthropologists are right, man came along in his current form about 35-50,000 years ago, which could explain what you read about the pyramids and ancient societies. Whether this was by an immediate special creation, certainly preferred historically by Catholic exegetes, or an intervention of God in the life of a sub-human form (speculatively allowed by Pope Pius XII, with reservations, cf. Humani generis), would be compatible with any time frame.

The Young Earth theories presuppose a modern conception of family history in which geneologies are an ancient version of - i.e. every name in every generation. In fact, they are likely "representative" histories with a theological purpose, to show God's interraction with the great, and infamous, men of history. Could they span many more thousands of years than Church of Ireland Bishop Usher's 6,000 years of creation? If the universe is older than that and truth (revealed and natural) is integral, they must. Since the Church points us to the natural and historical sciences on such questions, our duty is to reconcile, as opposed to asserting the unnecessary conclusions of Scripture which the Church herself refuses to assert.

GreteAK said...

Have you ever heard of The Kolbe Center?
I taught the origins of man and Genesis in the core program at the local liberal arts university and always assigned its excellent site as a required source.

The newest studies on Sedimentology are especially interesting and may be of benefit to this discussion, particularly Guy Berthault's ground-breaking research:

Here is a paper dealing specifically with the age question:

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...


Thanks for this link, it was extremely interesting and I haven't finished getting through it yet. But I do see what Jonathan meant above when he said that much of the writing being done by Catholics in this area depend heavily upon Protestant sources.

He starts off well by quoting Leo XIII, but the pope knew that he was not a scientist and would not definitively say that the idea of an immensely old earth was wrong or contrary to scripture, or that Genesis had to be understood literally (which would be difficult since much of it is contradictory).

Then your Kolbe author goes some into the science, which was very interesting, and quotes a lot of scientists who are sceptical of the currently accepted ideas.

But I wish that the sources referenced were not so dependent upon Protestant creationists and I was frustrated that though he mentions the writing of the Fathers, including Augustine, he quotes none of them and does not give any citations one could look up.

Leo was a good place to start, but I wish he had stuck to the point and related what the Fathers have said about it. And I remain as unconvinced as before that a Catholic has any need to follow the somewhat bizarre obsession of the Prots in demonstrating that Scritpure must be interpreted absolutely literally. I'm afraid I find this habit childish and limiting and is one of the reasons I find Prots themselves to be intellectually irresponsible.

Hugh Miller said...

The Kolbe Center web site noted above is indeed a source worth promoting regarding Catholic historical documentation on origins. And I must add that provides much of the science necessary to support the Kolbe center's listing of the Church's doctrines. You see, if dinosaurs coexisted with man and mammals as C-14 dating of their bones suggest, then there is NO 65 million years between man and dinosaurs - evolution is thus a fairy tale. If you study the pages on C-14 dating carefully you will see that even the 20,000 to 40,000 years for dinos may also be way too old - depends on where the dinos got their nutrients while alive. Theistic and atheistic evolutionists do not like these two sites or that of the one on sedimentology. But all they need to do is cross check the C-14 data by C-14 dating other dinosaur bones world-wide - Right? Maybe Academia needs to be reminded that real science requires they do that.

Rocks for Brains said...

I think Leo XIII is a little to recent. One has to go back to the Fathers of the Church. I found that the info presented in this packet to be easily accessible to Catholics especially those suspicious of Protestant sources.