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Creationism and social history
| The divine comedy|
Young Earth creationism and known social history are utterly incompatible.
Christian Young Earth creationists would have us believe that the world is somewhat over 6000 years old, having been created shortly before 4000 BCE based on their reading of the Bible as a literal history of the world, and counting backwards from some known dates for events during the Roman Empire's domination of the Middle East. During the 4000 years between the creation of the world and the birth of Christ, creationists assert there was a world destroying flood that left only a single family of people alive. This flood is believed to have occurred some 1000 to 1500 years after creation, placing its date between 3000 and 2500 BCE depending on which version of the Bible used as source material for the claim. In this article, we'll generously assume the earlier date is correct.
In choosing to base social history of the Middle Eastern, North African and Aegean civilizations only on preserved and verifiable from multiple sources such a history would begin sometime around 1000 BCE with written records of Egyptian, Phoenician, ancient Greek and various other Middle Eastern civilizations. This would leave, at most, 2000 years of history in the region for which the chronology may be disputed, and historical convention relies heavily on a combination of sources such as verbal chronologies recorded in later periods, radiometric dating and assumed population dynamics interpreted from the distribution of artefacts.
This period largely covers what mainstream historians would describe as the transition from the neolithic age to the Bronze Age; the date of this transition tends to be earlier for Mediterranean civilisations and later for other parts of Africa, Europe and Asia. The currently most widely accepted scientific theory of human population dynamics is that the first modern human society originated in east Africa about 190,000 years ago, in and around what is now Ethiopia. From this origin point, humans migrated throughout the world forming separate societies each developing to agrarianism at their own pace with little contact with human society beyond the local area. This theory of population dynamics has come to be known colloquially as Out of Africa theory. To support this theory, scientists present a body of archaeological evidence backed by radiometric dating, and studies of modern populations' mitochondrial DNA familial lines and language groupings. Creationists tend to dispute the accuracy of these methods and serve up a variety of Goddidit ad hoc objections and alternatives.
Creationists, on the other hand, believe that all humans alive today stem from a single family that survived the great flood, led by their patriarch, Noah, in his jolly boat. In evidence they present a single "historic" document, the Bible. It is unclear if creationists have an accepted, unified theory of population dynamics stemming from this single family. Creationist social history tends to be created on an ad hoc basis to answer challenges to Biblical chronology, and supported by very little evidence.
The development and widespread production of alcoholic beverages was one of the most important factors in the development of agrarian society, and in the transition from the hunter-gatherer tribes that typified neolithic societies to fixed settlements that allowed development of culture and technological artefacts, and eventually the Bronze Age with small-scale metal smelting. Alcohol is a powerful anti-microbial agent, which in concentration will kill the majority of pathogens in a drink. This is important in ancient civilisations that had only the choice between alcohol or boiling to sterilise the water they drank. Alcoholic beverages have been the primary drink of the majority of cultures throughout recorded history, as not only was the effect of boiling not always realised, but drinking alcohol rather than boiled water also adds much-needed extra calories to the diet, a boon for hard-working farmers—plus the action of the yeast during fermentation produces B-complex vitamins, which provided additional nutrition that wasn't always available otherwise.
In the accepted mainstream chronology of civilisation, beer was first intentionally fermented as early as 10,000 years ago. As evidence, historians present neolithic stone brewing jugs. In recorded history, wine and beer production was both known and important to the ancient Egyptian and Babylonian civilisations, with wine being used for religious ceremonial and funereal purposes at least as early as 2700 BCE and for medicinal purposes from around 2000 BCE, while beer was a staple of any farmer's diet in the ancient Fertile Crescent. In the Mycenaean civilizations of Greece, the art of winemaking became widely known around 2000 BC; however before this time there is a considerable history of the production of mead as the main beverage for consumption, as well as for ritual purposes.
For creationists, the Bible recounts the first recorded production of wine by Noah himself. Some of Noah's first recorded acts after the great flood involve planting a vineyard and using the grapes to produce wine. This suggests that the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine was widely known before the flood, and that knowledge continued afterwards. If the creationist view of population dynamics is to be accepted, then it must be assumed that every culture that stemmed from the one original family would have known about the production of alcohol.
However, it is hard to reconcile this assertion with the known facts of the spread of alcoholic beverages. There is considerable evidence of significant agrarian communities to whom the production of alcohol is entirely unknown, despite the ingredients for its production being readily available. One example would be the neolithic peoples of what is now the British Isles. Despite those islands having agrarian civilization in earlier years, only with the migration of the so-called Beaker people from central Europe (circa 2500 BCE) was alcohol (in the form of mead) introduced. In a more modern example, before European settlement, alcohol was effectively unknown to some native peoples of North America, but quickly became a part of daily life for them both for consumption and for ritual use.
It seems unlikely that any civilization would knowingly give up the production of alcohol with its advantages as a safer alternative to natural drinking water, which may be a carrier of many water-borne parasites and bacteria, something which, even if not understood in a scientific sense, would have easily observable effects. Indeed, in the example of the ancient British cultures, the migrating Beaker people tended to be both bigger and stronger than the native ancient Britons. The Beaker people's way of life was quickly adopted by all the peoples of the area, without much in the way of armed conflict, simply because it presented a considerable advantage over previous modes of life. The evidence of the spread of the production of alcohol strongly favors a view of population dynamics that includes the migration of early humans who were ignorant of the production of alcohol, and its later discovery and spread as opposed to the migration of civilizations who already knew how to produce alcoholic beverages (especially when such independent discoveries of fermentation as those in the Americas are factored in).
The proliferation and diversity of organised religion
According to creationists, Noah and his family received direct communication from God, and knew well the consequences of angering him, i.e. wrath in the form of a world-destroying flood. Noah and his descendants were all remarkably long-lived. Shem, a son of Noah and a passenger aboard the ark, is said to have been 98 years old when the flood ended, and to have lived a further 502 years. This means that people who had direct and meaningful contact with God were supposedly still alive comfortably past the middle of the third millennium BCE.
Nimrod, described in the Bible as a "mighty hunter before the LORD", was said to have been a great grandchild of Noah and the founder of a number of cities. In the Islamic tradition, Nimrod allegedly ordered the construction of the tower of Babel, and at the time of its construction evidently Nimrod's kingdom still worshipped the Abrahamic god.
However, only a scant 200 years after the last survivor of the Ark is said to have died, there is firm evidence that there was considerable organised religion not in the Semitic tradition in the Middle East region. The dominant religion of the Sumerian people seems to have been the worship of a pantheon of gods, led by the moon-god Sin. We know from writings about the high priestess Enheduanna that the Sumer religion was firmly established in Akkad (one of the cities founded by Nimrod) and that several other cities engaged in the worship of the Sumer pantheon by 2300 BCE.
The Sumerian people built great temples with which to worship their gods, such as the Great Ziggurat of Ur which was built in 2100 BCE on the site of an older temple. Some of these ziggurats are far older, though the dating depends on radiographic methods and so creationists disputed the chronology.
During the same time-period, many other cultures were worshipping other, unrelated gods. From the earliest pyramid inscriptions of the 5th and 6th dynasties in Egypt, we know that Egyptians worshipped Thoth, Set and Horus (amongst other gods). It is also surmised from archaeological evidence, though not confirmed by any discovered texts, that the Indus Valley civilization had its own system of religious beliefs. This proliferation of religions sits uneasily with a world where every person alive descends from a family who worshiped a single god.
- Of course, we can easily trace these civilizations further back, especially in Egypt and Mesopotamia with such entities as the Old Kingdom of Egypt flourishing around 2686–2181 BCE and the Akkaddian Empire around 2334–2254 BCE, but we're again being generous here.
- Gen. 11:10
- Biographic information about Enheduanna