Correspondence: Antiquity of Mankind
May 16, 2012
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Can radiocarbon dating be used to show the first evidence of human activity on earth? If so, how long, according to radiocarbon dating, has man been on earth? In other words, if I didn't buy your explanation of "virtual history" beyond Adam's creation (5200 BC) how many years has anthropology been able to go back? (And I mean ONLY modern man... not the various skulls and bones they claim are related to humans... the transitional creatures before the arrival of modern man).
I appreciate your helping me understand this.
No. Radiocarbon is limited (by technical issues) to 50,000 years at best, and for most practical work 25,000 years is more realistic. The Paleolithic stretches back to 1.5 million years ago. Radiocarbon confirms human remains and activities throughout its entire range.
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Thank you again for answering my question. Just to be sure I understand your answer, you're saying that radiocarbon is being used to confirm human (modern human) activity going back 1.5 million years? If it is reliable to only 25,000--50,000 years (due to technical issues) how can this be?
When I read The Biblical Chronologist Age of the Earth Collection and sections of your BC newsletters on this subject, I thought you said that the evidence for man's activity went back 3300 years before Adam. I thought you said that the conundrum that you faced was how to reconcile the Bible's teaching that Adam and Eve were the first humans created and the scientific proof of man's existence 3300 years before this. Is there sound scientific proof for man's existence to 1.5 million years?
I could read all kinds of articles from all kinds of sources on this subject, but since I am not qualified to objectively judge what I'm reading from a scientific viewpoint as you are I don't know how to limit my study. While I don't know you I have come to trust you due to your helping me through a crisis of faith I had in regards to the Bible and the Exodus. So I hope you understand why I'm seeking some direction.
Radiocarbon dating is just one of many dating methods. It is based on decay of the carbon-14 atom. Because carbon is the atom which is used to build living tissues, radiocarbon is especially useful for dating things which were once living --- like wood or charcoal, or linen cloth, or seeds. This makes radiocarbon dating especially useful in the study of archaeology. But its usefulness is limited to less than 50,000 years. For dates greater than 50,000 years, other dating methods must be used. An example of another method would be potassium-argon dating.
The conundrum is simply the evidence for the existence of mankind prior to the biblical date of creation (roughly 5200 B.C.). At Jericho, this evidence goes back a few thousand years prior to the biblical date of creation. So the conundrum was easy for me to illustrate using the archaeology of Jericho, a site which my readers were already familiar with. The evidence goes back much further at other sites. The important point is that the evidence for the existence of humans does, indeed, extend well before the date of the creation of Adam given by modern Biblical Chronology, so that it is not reasonable to suppose that this evidence is somehow due simply to some sort of dating error.
The facts which must be reconciled are: 1. that the Bible seems simply to say that Adam was the first man to ever have been created and that he was created roughly 5200 B.C., and 2. that the evidence we have from nature shows the existence of mankind long before 5200 B.C. These facts find reconciliation within the principle that created things exhibit a virtual history.
Dear Dr. Aardsma,
Thanks for summing it up for me. I got it. I don't know why I missed the Jericho piece, since I did read it. I don't have difficulty with the virtual history part. While I had never thought about this idea before, it seems obvious once explained. Where I'm having difficulty is the idea that somehow the Fall just makes it look like people died before Adam's choice when in fact they had not. And you state that you doubt that God is laying some sort of an intellectual trap for the "fools" or those who deny God's existence or the revelation of Scripture or Jesus, etc. (I think you doubt that... although I think I had a question there, whether you think the dinosaurs are just part of some ruse).
I know you're a scientist and limit your writings to the confines of your expertise. And you are an excellent communicator. But let me ask you this: why is it unreasonable to conclude that Adam was not actually the first man created? While Biblical writings appear to make this clear, perhaps there is something about his being first that is exclusive but not first in general.
I go to a conservative church. People do not like to get their feathers ruffled there when you talk about "errors in Scripture" and all that. Some people won't even look at your book on the Exodus because of its premise. But I don't care about that much. Why? Because I want to arrive at some reconciliation that is satisfying and still preserve's the Word of God's reliability as God's revelation of Himself to mankind. That said, what is wrong with concluding that Adam was God's first "chosen" man specifically created to begin a process that led to Messiah's birth? I think I can argue this by reading the Genesis account (Chapters 1--2) showing that 1 shows a general creation of man and 2 specifically calls out Adam's creation. Why? Because Adam was chosen to make a point: even if a man was placed in an environment (Eden) where he was immune from sickness and death, where he was sheltered very specifically and given very specific rules to follow (and only like a couple of rules) and where all of his human needs were met, he would still end up needing a savior to get the job of salvation done for mankind. And maybe for angelkind? When he failed, the curse of "death" (or separation from God) followed and extended to the entire human race (although physical death was already a reality).
I recently read in Lewis Sperry Schafer's theological writings (founder of Dallas Theological Seminary) that angels who originally rebelled against God are unforgivable. Maybe they are now... but maybe they weren't then. I mean I find it very hard to believe that God who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent would create the universe knowing the kind of pain and suffering that was about to ensue without some grander purpose than just the salvation of mankind (most of which He knew would perish on the broad road of destruction). Paul writes to the Colossians that Jesus was the goal of creation! The incarnation was the ultimate reason the earth was made. Really? That's profound because there must have been a need for this outside of man since man wasn't even created yet. Why not the salvation of all including angels? There was a point of no return for angelkind... but that wasn't prior to creation.
OK! I'll stop! You are probably thinking that this is not the kind of thing you engage in... this is not science... I'm tracking into philosophy. I'm a bit anxious and need someone who can help me --- a scientist, but a believer --- come to grips with what I'm writing because I know I'm about to draw conclusions that will offend, irritate, or really disturb some of the people at my church. I'll be called unfit to teach, a heretic, flipped out, off the deep end, and all kinds of... you know. I'm writing my first non-fiction book (I usually stick to fiction and have written a couple of novels) and I want to maintain my integrity and use sound judgment without sounding like I know it all. Your chronologies have been helpful for me to put things into perspective but I want to feel safe in drawing some conclusions. I think I'm hoping you can make me feel safe. This is probably totally irrational...
I know there are things that I'll never know until I come face to face with God and get the answers.
You are right that I am a scientist, that I try to stick to the science, and that I don't put much stock in philosophy [man's study of ideas] (or, for that matter, even in theology [man's study of God] --- one has only to look at what the theologians have done and continue to do to the Exodus, for example, to understand my view on this). So I try to stay clear of discussion in these two areas as much as I am able. But, between friends, let me try to do what I can for you.
I am totally opposed to the idea of some sort of ruse. That seems to me to be the essential aspect of the "creation with appearance of age" idea which has caused me to part company with that idea and restructure in terms of virtual history.
The standard (theological) answer to your question about Adam's primacy is that the Bible says "by sin came death", and the archaeological record of mankind prior to Adam is a record of death. Another (philosophical) answer to it is that it really does not help with the apparent discord between biblical and secular accounts of earth history to allow humans before Adam's creation because you will run into the fact of virtual history at some (yet more remote) point in the past (with equivalent strangeness attached to it back at that more remote point) in any event. The only way to get around the strangeness of virtual history is to get rid of supernatural creation altogether (and thus get rid of virtual history), i.e., to start things up with an inexplicable Big Bang followed by natural law. But (back to theology) that seems just a denial of "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..." with "In the beginning God evolved the heavens and the earth..." taking its place.
I think it is generally necessary to ignore people's opinions if one wishes to get at the truth. But, in my experience, and given what history has to teach us on this matter, one needs to take seriously the fact that newly discovered truth seems to be a very dangerous commodity. A great deal of God-given discretion is called for in its use.
Trust this all helps,