Monthly Archives: July 2014

Armchair archeology

Since I don’t have the training (or really, enough interest) to participate in field archaeology and anthropology, I am limited to what I can gather from what has been published.  This is a more hazardous endeavor than it would seem.

For one, there is a difficulty that papers and reports are published over time, and the newest results take time to disseminate. In popular opinion,  the latest and most sensational news is mingled..or mangled…with outdated results to give a thoroughly confused picture.  Many people have so little sense of the geological or archaeological time scale that they cannot tell the difference between ten thousand years ago and a hundred million, and so imagine cavemen being chased by dinosaurs. Since filmmakers are generally more concerned with drama than fact, they have perpetuated such images, which make it into the public consciousness somewhat more easily than the impenetrable prose jargon employed by professional archaeologists.  Filmmakers are scarcely the only culprits. Many authors of simplified introductions to strictly human prehistory freely mingle artifacts from widely separated times and places and discuss them together.

Academic dispute is a second difficulty. It may take years of advanced scholarship just to be able to read the papers that are written.  Some Important findings may be buried in obscurity, while others are cited over and other.   Authors have a tendency to describe the same things using different words, and use the same words for different things, and the disputes about the meaning of artifacts are wondrous to behold.  A glance at the professional literature of archaeology might well bring the response:  Here there be monsters.

When I read about an archaeological site, I want to know..where did these people come from? Where did they go? Who was there before? Who was there after? Who were their neighbors? Did they talk with, trade with, mate with, or fight them? And, if these questions have known or suspected answers, how do we know?


A bit of caution

On the main Sapience website, I have adopted a more or less conventional outline of human prehistory, based on the findings of scholars and paleontologists.  I want to emphasize that this outline is tentative. It does not mean that I am not a Bible-believing Christian.

There are various problems with accepting the Biblical account as the whole truth of human origins, while there are also problems with an uncritical acceptance of the speculative reconstructions of anthropologists.  There is simply too much we don’t know.

There are indications that the account of the creation and fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden may be spiritual, metaphorical, or symbolic, in the same manner as I have taken the account of creation, and perhaps even more so.  It is as if we are given the meaning of the human condition, without knowing the actual events of human origins.  There is also the fact that the Bible account as we have it is probably not older than the early 2nd or late 3rd millennium BC, and is quite sparse with details. It is evident from what we have found that there were older records and traditions that are now lost to us.

There are two chief reasons I am skeptical of the accounts and reconstructions of anthropologists is, for one, these accounts are subject to change with each new scientific discovery, not to mention fads of scholarly opinion; and second, that these modern myths are purely naturalistic and exclude any role for God.

Creation and the Temple

Those familiar with Mormon teachings about the creation of the earth will recognize that instead of only one (Biblical) account of the creation of the world,   they recognize four: the one in the Bible, two in the Pearl of Great Price, and one given in the temples.  The differences in these accounts make it difficult for Mormons to adhere to either strict biblical literalism or a Young Earth Creation theory.  Since the scientific revolution beginning in the 16th century, there is a competing and purely secular account of creation given by scientists.

It is largely recognized by scholars that the account in Genesis is actually two accounts: The first of them, in Genesis 1 and 2:1-3, giving a seven days account, and the second, giving a more abbreviated account and focusing on the origins of mankind.

It has long been recognized that the account in Genesis is not strictly consistent with a scientific view of the world. The Earth is a sphere, not flat, and the blue of the sky is not water separated from the ocean and dry land by  a transparent ceiling.  Since plants depend on light, it seems out of order to have plant life created before sources of light (or for that matter, to have light before the Sun).  However, before dismissing the Biblical account as nothing more than a version of ancient Middle Eastern mythology, there are other things to consider.

The account in the Book of Moses (in the Pearl of Great Price) was written by Joseph Smith, and is closely related to his translation, or revision, of the Bible. This closely follows the accounts in Genesis, with the difference that the “we” and “us” references in Genesis 1 are explicitly identified as God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, in accordance with Christian doctrine that represents Jesus Christ as the Creator.  Moses specifies also that “all things” were created spiritually first, before they were created physically.

It is somewhat puzzling that the account of Moses (with its various scientific inaccuracies),  should be presented as given by God, but there are two principles given elsewhere in scripture that may help account for this.   One is the principle that God often speaks to men on the level of their understanding.  (2 Ne 31:2) This suggests that God did not consider it necessary to give the ancient Israelites an accurate physical cosmology: other things were more important.  Another is that God gives revelation a little at a time, not all at once.  (2 Ne 28:30)  The successive accounts of creation each add a little to our understanding of the process.

The account in the Book of Abraham, (also in the Pearl of Great Price), given by Joseph Smith later,  is parallel to the accounts given by Moses, but in this case, instead of a single creator or a pair of them, reference is made to “the gods”, who are not further identified or specified: One could reasonably identify them as God the Father and his Son, but one could also legitimately include other beings as participants in the creation.  It also specifically mentions “times” rather than days, and implies a lengthy process of setting up conditions for life and observing until the conditions were fulfilled. This account is far more compatible with a belief in biological evolution.

The fourth account, given in the temples, is the most compatible with modern scientific understanding: most notably in placing the creation of plant life after the appearance of the astronomical bodies.

However, the temple account is spiritual and religious in purpose, not primarily scientific. Its close similarity to the Genesis account suggests that that, too, was intended to be spiritual and religious, and may have accompanied the worship in the Israelite tabernacle and temple.

Much of the modern value of the creation accounts is that they establish  that the earth was created, with and for a purpose, and did not arise by chance. They also establish that the earth,  sea, sky, sun, moon, planets, plants, trees, animals,  and mankind are creations of God, not gods themselves.

There is reason to suspect that those who look for Intelligent Design,  conclusive proof that something could not have arisen by chance, are doomed to failure.  It is hardly surprising either that a god of Nature should use natural means, or that the means that He uses look natural.   Without knowing His purposes,  it is impossible to tell whether what looks like an accident or random chance is purposeful or not.    There is no fundamental incompatibility with Mormonism and genuine scientific understanding, but there may be a conflict with atheistic secular philosophy which is often mingled with science and sometimes confused with it.


From the Ground IV

This is approximately the fourth version of my blog, From the Ground.

I have been blogging for about ten years now, and when I recently went back to try to categorize my posts on the latest version,   I became dissatisfied with the limited features available with the previous software, and thought it would be useful to switch to WordPress, which has been successful on several sites I visit.  At the same time, I came sufficiently close to republishing the third and rebuilt version of the Sapience Knowledge Base, and decided to bring all my various activities under one umbrella. The Knowledge Base is now just one section of the site. This blog is another.  A few years ago, I had begun a bulletin board for independent learners, and set aside the effort. I also had some role-playing gaming material and some family history information that were in a hidden sections. I mean to gather all these into one accessible place.

This new version of my Blog is also includes a revised purpose. I mean to include religious discussion, political commentary, and various other musings related to the process of self-directed education.

I am an active, believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   I am a politically conservative citizen of the United States of America and seriously concerned with the state and fate of the nation.  Although I am physically disabled with a heart condition and limited in employment, I believe in being industrious and occupied in something beneficial to humanity. I do not have a bachelor’s degree, but I have been a life-long avid reader and student of many different subjects.  I am also thankful for my family heritage.