On the third day according to the Scriptures

I received a couple of emails on this article after it was published.  The most important was from John Child (Doctrine lecturer at George Whitefield College, Cape Town, South Africa).  He wrote:

 Dear Michael/Mike,

I picked up RTR as I left College yesterday afternoon & turned to your article ‘On the Third Day’ with interest.  ‘According to the Scriptures on the third day’ in 1 Cor. had puzzled me for years & I’d never found anything really tackling it.  So I’d had hoped one day to do a little research of my own.  Well you’ve done far better than I would have done, so I can now drop that one!  As there was no specific OT prophecy re the Messiah rising on the third day I guessed there had to be an OT pattern re new life on the third day & one would have to search the OT to see if there was such a pattern or a similar applicable pattern.  I hadn’t thought much about ‘three days’ nor guessed the theme ‘sufficient time for certainty’ though was aware of the Jewish teaching re the decomposition of the body on the 4th day.  That was a new angle to me but it makes sense apologetically.  ‘On the third day’ in 1 Cor. 15 I would think picks up the climatic reversal, escape from death motif.

The bottom line is you have written a great article solving a nearly 2000 year puzzle, an article that will be helpful to many a scholar and preacher and eventually folk in the pews/chairs.  I look forward to next Easter & maybe using what you have taught me in an Easter sermon.  I’ll also pass it on to my students […]

With much appreciation,

Yours John

On the Third Day According to the Scriptures


Human evolution: 6 points on the origins of modern human behavour

ne of the debates in anthropology, archaeology and sociology is over the emergence of modern human behaviour. The human behaviours identified as modern include symbolic thought and cultural creativity.  There are two major views:

‘Venus of Laussel’ – an Upper Paleolithic carving
Image source here
a. Great Leap Forward
Those of the this school describe a ‘Great Leap Forward’ or ‘Upper Paleolithic Revolution’ which occurred around 50000 years ago. They distinguish between anatomically modern humans (AMHs) and behaviourally modern humans (BMHs), and argue that the AMHs who lived before 50000 years ago were primitive in their behaviour: The behaviour was then ‘indistinguishable from other extinct hominids such as the Neanderthals or Homo erectus’
b. Contintuity Hypothesis
Those of this school do not believe there was a great revolution.  They claim that modern human behaviour is the result of gradual accumulation of skills, knowledge and culture over hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution.
I have six points about this debate, from a Bible believer’s perspective.  The first three consider the question: What is human?  The second three points apply more directly to the debate about modern human behaviour.
1.  Both the Bible and our God-given moral compass point to a sharp distinction between human identity and animal identity.  Unless we have personally suppressed the moral compass God has placed in us, we all understand that the killing of a human is fundamentally different and more serious than the killing any animal.  Cruelty to humans is always morally more culpable than cruelty to animals.  This is the case because there is and always was a clear distinction in reality between human and animal.  This distinction is not subjective, but is grounded in God’s assignment of those identities.
2.  Humans are more than the sum of our anatomy and behaviour.  Our identity as a human is more than our biology plus our behaviour.  If we lose our legs, or arms, we are still human.  If we can not think or function properly because of (say) a coma, we are still human.  We have an indentity as human which rests on more than our molecular structure and its working.  So the question ‘when did the first humans live’ is not fully or centrally answered by considering only our historic anatomy and behaviour.
3.  The ‘image of God’ is the Christian contribution to the question, ‘What is human’.  The term ‘image of God’ isn’t primarily referring to our behaviour or our anatomy.  ‘The image of God’ refers to our appointment by God as those ordained to rule the world, under God’s own rule.  So it captures the essence of what it is to be human much more than mere anatomical and behavioural definitions of humanity.  ‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; A)”> for in the image of God has God made mankind.’ Genesis 9:6.  Ignore if you can implications about capital punishment in this verse.  Note instead the point that the immorality of shedding human blood is grounded in mankind being made in God’s image.  This is a safer grounding for protecting the weak and damaged than an anatomical or behavioural grounding of what it is to be ‘human’.  Even if your anatomy or behaviour is deeply faulty, you are still human, because you are in God’s image.
4.  The Great Leap Forward Hypothesis excludes some of humanity from its Great Leap.  To theorize a time gap of around 100 000 years between the arrival of the first anatomically and first behaviourally modern humans is problematic.  For Great Leap theorists with secular assumptions, it is unavoidable that there coexisted some AMHs who were BMHs, and some AMHs who weren’t BMHs.  So then, if we imagine that the BMHs of the time were indeed human, trying to live a holy, moral life, how would they do it?  In identifying those they should treat as humans, and those they should treat as animals, what should their thought process be?  After all, some of the AMHs who weren’t BMHs might become so later in their life.  They might give birth to those who would become BMHs.  So who should be given the dignity of being treated as human, morally speaking, and who not?  It’s hard to imagine that a just God would have subjected people to such moral challenges and difficulties.  I don’t see this as a valid option for Bible believing Christians, nor for those who want to take the moral conclusions of the Bible regarding the dignity and value of all human life.  For it presents God as having made life’s moral choices unbearably hard for our earliest ancestors.
5. The Continuity Hypothesis leaves no sharp distinction between human and animal
If there was no revolution at some point in evolutionary history, and no sharp break between animals and humans, it becomes untenable to hold that there is a sharp distinction today.  To hold to a concept that humans are those who have the image of God, and animals are those who don’t, one must hold that there always was such a sharp distinction.  This means that there must have been a sharp change between the last AMH who was not in God’s image and the first AMH who was.  One would expect that sharp change to be seen in sharp behavioural difference.  The Continuity Hypothesis leaves no room for such an historical sharp change in behaviour.  So I don’t see this as a valid option for Bible believing Christians, nor for those who want to take the moral conclusions of the Bible regarding the dignity and value of all human life.
6. The Biblical View of Humanity implies a striking intervention in all AMHs simultaneously, if evolutionary assumptions are accepted.
For those who accept that we do, at least partially, descend from non-humans, via evolution, a striking intervention of God must be posited at some point.  It can’t really be an intervention in just one man and one woman, since even our matrilineal or patrilineal most recent common ancestors had many others like them coexisting near them – including their parents, brothers, sisters, etc.  It won’t do to have them living in the midst of those who looked just like them, and were related to them. but weren’t human.  So the only conclusion I can see that works is to have God changing all AMHs simultaneously, endowing them all with his image simultaneously, and bringing about the changes in behaviour in all of them simultaneously.  By simultaneous, I mean in an instant of time:  a big divine ‘zap’ all across the globe, all at once, endowing us with his image.  This simultaneous ‘zap’ in turn means being open to a very different sort of thing in anthropology and archaeology – a thing which won’t be contemplated under secular assumptions:  It means expecting there to be a point in time in pre-history, where vast changes occurred in AMH behaviour, across the globe simultaneously, without any physical explanation existing for the simultaneous nature of the change.
I think we see such an event around 4000 BC, after which time we see the rise of many civilizations (Sumerian/Egyptian cf. Harappan) independently across the globe.  Others might see such a change at a different point in time.  But whenever it is, Christians who believe in evolution should be looking for a globe-wide stark change in AMH behaviour which will be unexplainable on secular assumptions.

We all bear Adam’s image. We are not all descended from him

In my last post and also here I pointed to developments in genomics which make it ever harder to accept that Adam and Eve are the ancestors of all humans ever to live.  I myself believe in an historical Adam and Eve, but I do not think they are the ancestors of all humans ever to live.  As we saw last time, the best reading (or at least a possible reading) of Eve as the ‘mother of all the living’ in Genesis 3:20 is consistent with this.

But what about Adam?  Doesn’t the Bible teach that Adam is the biological ancestor of all humans ever to live?  I don’t think so.  Let’s look at a few texts on the subject, and I’ll make a few comments:

the first man was of the dust of the earth‘ (1 Corinthians 15:47).  Yes, Adam was the first man.  There were Homo sapiens before Adam was made from dust.  But these were not made human until after Adam sinned.

we have borne the image of the earthly man‘ (1 Corinthians 15:49).  Yes, all humans ever to live have borne Adam’s image.  Some received Adam’s image through being descended biologically from those who also bore Adam’s image.  Others – those Homo sapiens who were alive at the time of Adam’s sin – were given Adam’s image by God in a miraculous intervention which made them human.

sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned‘ (Romans 5:12).  Yes, before Adam was made, there was no sin.  Sin is a human activity, so with no humans, there was no sin.  How did death enter the world through sin?  Notice that only human death is in view here entering the world, not animal death.  After all, the phrase ‘death came to all people’  is referring to the death of people, not of animals.  And yes, death came to people because of Adam’s sin which led to all people’s sin.

through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners‘ (Romans 5:19).  Yes, when Adam disobeyed it had a widespread negative effect.  God took of Adam’s image and applied it to Homo sapiens everywhere, making them human.  But Adam’s image was flawed, due to his sin.  Thus through his disobedience, the many were given a flawed version of humanity – they were made sinners, even as they were made human.

 This raises a bunch of questions about the justice of God giving a flawed humanity to all these who until that time had been animals.  But I don’t think the questions are very different from those which are already asked:  why does God blame us, when he made us this way?  The same kind of answers apply:  in the end, sin came through our fault, not through God’s fault.  We can’t blame him.

 Let’s finish with the great conclusion of 1 Corinthians: And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

 I am very much looking forward to bearing the image of Christ, joining in his resurrection.

Eve is not the biological mother of us all

Recent developments in genomics are problematic for those who believe one woman (and one man) were the biological ancestor of every human ever to live.  With more accurate calculation of the mutation rate,  a slower mutation rate has been determined than previously thought, which has important implications.  One implication mentioned by Scully and Darbin (Nature Reviews Genetics) is:

‘for the split between the Khoe–San and other modern humans, revised estimates from nuclear genomic data suggest a divergence 250,000–300,000 years ago, older than single locus estimates for the root of the human tree.’

That is, the Khoe-San people are seen diverging from other humans at a time before the best estimates of any potential ‘Adam and Eve’ point in time.  Additionally, we are finding more evidence of ‘archaic admixture’ in Africa, which means that anatomically modern humans mated with those who weren’t anatomically modern.  Regular readers will know my theory of origins, that I don’t think the Bible teaches that Adam and Eve were the biological parents of every human ever to live.  So this does not trouble me.  But what should we make of Genesis 3:20?  ‘Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.’  Isn’t this a problem for my understanding of origins?  Doesn’t it say that Eve is the biological mother of all?  I don’t think so.

Commentators discuss the placement of this verse, immediately after the curse. Gordon Wenham writes: ‘What prompted the man to call his wife “Life” especially at this juncture in the story? It comes immediately after the curses announcing man’s mortality (v 19), the pains of childbirth (v 16), and the struggle of the woman’s seed with the snake (v 15). Any of these curses could furnish the cue for the naming of the woman “Eve”’.

In fact, of these three options, only verse 15 explains why Adam called his wife ‘Eve’ (“Life”) at this point. Think about these three things that are new to Adam at Genesis 3:20 – that Adam and Eve will die (v19), that the woman would have pains in childbearing (v16), and that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent (v15). Of these, only the last makes Eve in a new fashion ‘mother of all the living’. That they will now die (v19) does not make Eve in a new sense ‘mother of all the living’. That Eve will have pain in childbirth (v16) does not make her in a new sense ‘mother of all the living’. Only the promise of her offspring crushing the head of the serpent makes her ‘mother of all the living’ in a new way.

What is happening is that Adam is putting into his own words God’s promise to rescue humanity through one of Eve’s descendants. God’s promise to the serpent was stated in these words: ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’ God is saying that one descendant of Eve will be a man (Jesus) who will crush Satan’s head and thus return humanity to spiritual and eternal life.

So Adam is naming Eve ‘Life’ to recognize God’s promise that Eve will be the mother of all the living in the manner of their redemption, not in the manner of their biology. The ‘living’ in Genesis 3:20 refer to those who will ultimately be saved by Jesus Christ, rather than to all humans who have ever lived. In that sense, Eve is the mother of all the living. And this sense poses no problems for those who, like me, do not believe that Eve was the biological mother of all humans ever to live.

Animal Facts: a cockatoo can make its own tools

Here is a new addition to the list for those of you interested in animal facts:  Cockatoos can make their own tools.  eScience news has a write up here.  The video is here.

In discussing when in evolutionary history Homo sapiens first became “human” (my preferred label), or “behaviourally modern” (the popular scientific label), one of the important questions is this: What traits or skills are uniquely human?  I have argued that the list of uniquely human skills or traits is shorter than most people think.  It’s part of my understanding of origins, for which you can read on this blog.  While this latest discovery surprised scientists, it won’t surprise me if we continue to find examples of animal activity previously considered to be uniquely human.  I expect the ‘official’  list of uniquely human traits to continue to shorten, as more animal facts are discovered.

For the record, my list of uniquely human activities and traits includes marriage, promise making and law making.  (Yes, I know God makes laws and promises, but let’s not be picky here… we are comparing animals with humans)

Statistical analysis of Genesis 11:10-26

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that our thinking about Genesis 11 (verses 10-26) will benefit from some serious statistical analysis.
Genesis 11 describes the decline of the lifespans of the patriarchs from Noah onward, with the longest lifespan post-flood being Noah’s 950 years, declining over 14 recorded generations to Joseph’s 110 years (these 14 generations include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, which are in Genesis, but not in Genesis 11).  In particular, analysis of the lifespans of the patriarchs Noah-Joseph can focus on answering these questions:
Is there a distribution function which fits the lifespan data well?  If there is such a function, this will help to explain what the data is conveying.  Finding a distribution function with a good fit will also provide basis for an argument that the ages are meant to be taken ‘literally’.  If the data fits an exponential decay model well, this is evidence that Genesis depicts an exponential decay of lifespan from c. 950 years to modern lifespans.
This is an argument that has been made before, e.g. here.  But I haven’t seen a probability distribution function fitted taking into account the fact that the function should approach an asymptote of around 70-80 years (modern life-spans).  I also haven’t seen a statistically valid measure of ‘goodness of fit’ applied to an exponential curve so fitted.  Such a measure will give an accurate analysis of the likelihood that the data is derived from a process governed by exponential decay.
We can look to find answers to the questions:
What is the probability that the data comes from a process governed by exponential decay?
What is the probability that generations are omitted (skipped) in the data?
This last question is important, because many evangelicals believe that generations have been skipped in the Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 data.  Such people often further assert that if there are generations skipped, then the Genesis 5 and 11 data have no implications for the chronology of Genesis.  I am unconvinced by these claims, and statistical analysis could provide one argument against such a position.
Overall, what is at stake is the historicity and chronology of Genesis, as well as the meaning of the text.
So here’s what I got when I fitted an exponential curve to the data.  Since Noah spent two thirds of his life before the flood, and one third of his life after the Flood, it was hard to know whether to include him in the data for the purposes of fitting the curve.  So I fitted one curve with him, and one without him.  Note that the exponential curve has an asymptote at age zero in these two graphs.  On the x-axis is number of generations passed (starting at 0), and on the y-axis are the years lived by the patriarch of that generation:



Without Noah (the lower diagram) was a better fit, with R-squared of 0.9.  With Noah was a worse fit, with R-squared of 0.84

However, the fit of this curve is unrealistic, in that the long run asymptote is 0.  We know that the long run expectation should be that the lifespans decline to around 75 years.  So I shifted the asymptote to 75 years of age (by subtracting 75 years from each patriarch’s lifespan, and fitting an exponential curve.  The curve fits a little better, both with Noah and without, as you can see:


Again, without Noah (the bottom diagram) was the better fit, with R-squared 0.91.  With Noah was a worse fit, with R-squared 0.88.

I’ll leave commentary interpreting these results for a later update.

Update 1 :

I made the age of the asymptote into a variable, and solved for that variable, maximising the fit.  The result was 92.56 years (on the ‘without Noah’ data).  The R-squared was still 0.91.  That is to say, when choosing the exponential curve which fitted the data best, the best curve implied a decline to an expected lifespan of 92.6 years.

On the ‘with Noah’ data, the optimum age asymptote was 92.57 years.  The R-squared improved to 0.89

A way out of the welfare state: compulsory charitable accounts

It is becoming increasingly clear that many countries in the Western world have a serious problem.  The problem is that our governments are handing out more and more welfare, without a capacity to sustain the level of generosity:  We have become too much the welfare state.

One appealing way out would be through the use of Compuslory Charitable Accounts (CCAs).  Here’s what I have in mind – while I speak in terms of what ‘Australia’ will do, this could be applied to any country overly addicted to welfare.

1. Each taxpayer is forced to pay some of his/her money into a CCA.  For example, at the outset, it might be 1% of pay.  (This should be accompanied by a 1% tax cut across the board, so that employees are not out of pocket)

2. In Australia, we already have compulsory superannuation accounts, which are similar in nature to what I have in mind, so the infrastructure is already there to set up the CCAs.

3. The money in the CCAs must be donated to charity, at the discretion of the taxpayer who owns the account (the same person who earned the money that is in the account gets to say where it goes)

4. To ensure that the money is paid to a genuine charity (and not to a place that benefits the owner of the CCA), two random taxpayers are assigned to each taxpayer to ‘audit’ their giving. The two ‘auditors’ must both approve the sending of the money to the chosen charity for that year.  The criterion is that the money is used for a genuinely charitable cause (This would need careful definition).

5. These two random taxpayers (‘auditors’) will be changed every year, so that those who are assigned overly harsh or extortionate citizens get a reprieve from them the following year.

6. At least 90% of the CCA account donations must go to Australian charities.  This means that the government is able to cut its welfare spending, since the CCA giving of Australians will go to Australians in need, and therefore fill the gap left by the reduction in government welfare spending.

7. If the money in the CCA is not donated to charity within a year, the government takes 10% of the account.  This encourages people not to hoard, but to give “If you can’t give it away, we can!”

8. If a taxpayer does not properly perform their duty of auditing two other taxpayers’ giving, they lose the privilege of giving from their CCA for one year.

The idea is that individuals will do a better job finding (and creating) good charities, than the government does at present.  There will be more competition in the charitable sector, and that will improve performance. We know how to give our money away better than the government does – it’s just that we don’t want to.  If we are forced to, we will be very good at it!

So even though we might have (say) a 5% reduction in government spending on welfare, this will be more than made up for by the charitable giving of Australians.  The assignment of two taxpayers to ‘audit’ the charitable giving of each person will serve to bind us together as a nation of givers.  When we hear hard luck stories, or of people. in real difficulty, Australians will give generously, and there will be less red tape.

The CCAs will have another benefit, too:  They will motivate people to work in order to give money away, rather than only working to spend on themselves. This will discourage workaholism and greed.

What do you think?  Are there big problems you can see?