Saturday, April 19, 2014

Out of Africa

In theory, science and religion should be able to co-exist peacefully, but too often, that’s simply not the case. If you go back in history a few hundred years, you’ll discover that the astronomer Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church in April of 1633 because he believed that the Earth revolved around the Sun. The Church, in contrast, had decided that the idea that the Sun revolved around the Earth was an absolute fact of scripture, and could not be disputed. The view of the Church was still its dogma in 1633, even though scientists had known for centuries that the earth was NOT the center of the universe.

As a result of the hearing before chief inquisitor Father Vincenzo da Firenzuola, Galileo agreed not to teach his “heresy” anymore, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. It took the Church more than 300 years (1992) to admit that it was wrong, and before they finally cleared Galileo of the heresy charge.

One of the modern arguments that pits religion against science is the discussion of how old the earth is, and there is a HUGE difference of opinion between the two interpretations of the issue.

Young Earth creationism is the religious belief that the Universe, Earth, and all life on earth began somewhere between 5700 and 10,000 years ago. According to Gallup polls, somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the American population believe in Young Earth creationism.

For those who believe in the scientific view of the age of the Earth, scientific facts state that the Earth is at least 3.8 billion years old, and scientists have found ice in Antarctica that is roughly 1,000,000 years old. These facts are unlikely to change the opinion of the 30% of the American population who believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible.

Since there are large groups of people who can’t agree how old the Earth is, it’s pretty obvious that there isn’t going to be any agreement on how old the human race is.

Ken Ham, the founder of The Creation Museum, believes that the human race is less than 10,000 years old, and co-existed with dinosaurs (who actually disappeared 65,000,000 years ago). Although Mr. Ham was a high school science teacher for a brief period of time early in his career, he quickly switched to working for the Institute for Creation Research, which is a Young Earth creationist organization.

The most comprehensive discussion on the scientific viewpoint of the age of the human race was a 5 part series presented by Dr. Alice Roberts, and released by the BBC in 2009. In total, the series runs just under five hours, and can be viewed by clicking on the links below:

Part 1: (Africa)

Part 2: (Asia)

Part 3: (Europe)

Part 4: (Australia)

Part 5 (the Americas)

In addition to being a medical doctor, Dr. Roberts is an anatomist, osteoarachaelogist, anthropologist, paleopathologist, television presenter and author. In her spare time, she is professor of public engagement in science at the University of Birmingham in England).

It is her belief that modern home sapiens evolved from dark skinned humans that originated in modern day Ethiopia approximate 195,000 years ago. Although she briefly mentions the Neanderthal race in her video on Europe, she does not discuss even earlier versions of the genus Homo, which evolved around 2.3 million years ago.

To a very large degree, the series narrated by Dr. Roberts confirms the findings of an American geneticist and anthropologist named Spencer Wells, who published a book titled "The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey" in 2002. His book became a TV documentary in 2003.

You are free to believe whatever you want about the age of the Earth, or the age of the human race, but I’m of the opinion that Dr. Roberts’ version of things is a lot closer to the truth than the opinion held by Ken Ham. If we really ARE all descended from dark skinned people in Eastern Africa, then it makes absolutely no sense to criticize our fellow humans because of their skin color or their national origin. Unfortunately, the bigotry that was very evident in Little Rock in 1957 still exists today, it’s just a little more subtle. In some states, it’s known as Voter ID laws, but it takes other forms as well.

I wish that we could forever keep religion and science separate, but when you add politics into the mix, we’re all faced with a virtually impossible situation, one that our African ancestors never had to deal with. Fortunately, we can, and the best place to start is the Big Bang theory, which theorizes that the universe started out with a "Big Bang" more than 13 billion years ago. The "father" of the Big Bang theory is a Catholic priest named Georges Lemaitre.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Do you believe in the Easter bunny?

At our weekly Thursday evening dinner this week, one of our fellow diners asked how the Easter bunny and Easter eggs came to be related to the celebration of Easter.

After a little research, I discovered that they actually have no relation at all. Like both Christmas and St. Valentine’s Day, all three dates are tied to pagan celebrations. Christmas, of course, is closely related to the pagan holiday of Saturnalia, and St. Valentine’s Day is closely related to the pagan festival of love, which is called Lupercalia.

According to the University of Florida’s Center for Children’s Literature and Culture, the origin of the Easter Bunny can be traced back to pre-Christian 13th Century Germany, when people worshipped several gods and goddesses. The Teutonic deity Eostra was the goddess of spring and fertility, and feasts were held on her honor on the vernal equinox. Her symbol was the rabbit, due to the animal’s high reproduction rate. The Old English version of her name, Eostre, translates into modern English as Easter, and is derived from the old Germanic word austron, which means “dawn”. By no small coincidence, the Greek goddess of dawn is named Eos.

Spring has long symbolized new life and rebirth, and eggs are an ancient symbol of fertility.

The first Easter Bunny legend was documented in the 1500’s. By 1680, the first story about rabbits laying eggs and hiding them in a garden was published. conveniently ignoring the fact that rabbits give birth like humans, and do not lay eggs. The legends of the Easter bunny and the eggs came to America in the 1700’s, when German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania Dutch country in Pennsylvania.

If you dig a little deeper, though, you’ll discover that the pagan celebration of Easter goes back a lot further than 13th century Germany. As a matter of fact, the celebration actually goes back to the time of Noah, who was born somewhere between 2700 and 2800 B.C.. Appropriately enough, the true origins of the festival start with his son Ham. It’s a long and complicated tale, and the full details can be found by reading the details posted at the link below:

when did Easter REALLY start?

The short version of the story, though, is this:

During the later years of Noah’s life, the pagans celebrated a festival called Ishtar (which is pronounced Easter) . Officially, the festival commemorated the resurrection of their god Tammuz, who was the only begotten son of the moon goddess and the sun god.

Tammuz was especially fond of rabbits, which became sacred in the ancient religions. Like his father, he was an avid hunter. One day, while hunting rabbits, he was killed by a wild pig. To commemorate his death, his mother (Queen Ishtar) proclaimed a 40 day time of sorrow each year prior to the anniversary of his death. Every year, on the first Sunday after the vernal equinox, a celebration of his life was held, and was celebrated with rabbits and eggs. Due to the fact that he was killed by a pig, Queen Ishtar proclaimed that a pig must be eaten on that day.

The practice of decorating eggs, surprisingly, goes back in time even further, since ostrich eggs with decorations that are 60,000 years old have been found in Africa.

The Christian celebration of Easter also has a long history, but it doesn’t go back as far as you may think. Early Christians, in fact, continued to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover. It wasn’t until the time of the Nicaea Council (in 325 A.D.) that the Catholic church ruled that Easter Sunday would be celebrated on the first Sunday immediately following the full moon which came after the vernal equinox.

At some point in time (possibly as early as the 15th Century) , the pagan symbols of rabbits and eggs merged with the Christian celebration of Easter, which is why we now have the Easter bunny and Easter eggs.

Due to today’s political correctness, I’ve actually seen newspaper ads for “spring bunnies”. Although they are technically correct, I don’t have a problem with anyone who wants to call them Easter bunnies. After all, I also believe in the Easter bunny, and I’ve got an awful lot of company.