Archive for the ‘Biology Related’ Category

useless human body parts

There is this great misconception today that the human body is covered with useless organs. Blogs, youtube videos and scientific news sites frequently release the top 5, top 10, or top 20 most useless human organs or body parts. It makes for fun reads and as interesting as the topic is, all these sources are incredibly misleading because most of the organs they mention actually do have a function. Some, incredibly important functions.

So here is my rebuttal to the top 10 most useless human organs:

Plica semilunaris:

The plica semilunaris is that tiny fold of pink tissue in the corner of your eye where your little eye crusties tend to collect. According to many authors who believe this tissue is useless, they speculate that it is the remains of a third eyelid or nictitating membrane that many of our distant ancestry utilized and other animals use today, but that it is essentially functionless for humans.

This is not the case though. According to ophthalmologist Peter Gurney, the plica semilunaris enables unrestricted movement of the eye when turned outward, stretching and contracting to allow the eye ball and eyelids to move independently of each other when the eye looks side to side (Gurney, 99). Other studies suggest that the plica semilunaris secretes an agent that binds with free particles caught in your eye, coating them and minimalizing any scratching damage the particles may cause.

anat eye

Darwin’s point (tubercle) (extra skin flap on ear):

Darwin’s point, aka Darwin’s tubercle, aka the extra skin flap on your upper ear, is often mentioned as a useless part of the human body that is a throwback to some early ancestor that allowed the top of the ear to swivel or flap down over the opening. According to Dr. David Dewitt, professor of biology at Liberty University, the extra skin flap is a “harmless congenital defect” resulting from a malformation as the ear folds during early development only found in about 10% of humans (Dewitt).  In this case, the flap is indeed functionless, but the claim that the flap once had a function and no longer does is not correct. The flap is a random trait no different from other dominant traits (like a widow’s peak) which don’t serve a purpose, but were never supposed to in the first place.

Body Hair:

Body hair is a very popular example of a supposed useless organ because we tend to associate it as a sparse remnant of fur seen on apes which use it for warmth, sun protection ect. It is a fair question to ask;  why do we need facial hair, chest hair, leg hair, etc. ?

Dr. David Menton, retired professor of anatomy at the Washington School of Medicine and contributor to Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, points out that the difference between the dense hairs on apes and our sparse hair is related to our sweat glands. If our hair was too dense the water from our sweat glands would not be able to evaporate and we would not be able to keep cool. As far as purpose, the hairs are attached to several nerve endings that act as sensory receptors (called mechnoreceptors) which helps us detect motion and object proximity (Menton, 238-239). In addition, a recent study completed at the University of Sheffield in England found that body hair aids in fending off parasites and insects that land on our body. On one level it stimulates nerve endings letting us know a creature has landed on us. On a second level the hair provides a larger surface area prolonging the time required for the creature to get to our skin, allowing us enough time to swat the creature away (Hooper). But the most important function of hair and hair follicles is reepithelialization, in which in the event of a cut or abrasion hair follicles act as a source of epidermal cells for the skin to utilize for restoration (Menton, 239). If it wasn’t for hair follicles skin repair after injury would be impaired.

Vomeronasal Organ:

The vomeronasal organ (aka Jacobson’s organ) is a sensory organ associated with smell that many mammals have and utilize, but it is said that humans don’t use it. The vomeronasal organ is a chemoreceptor organ that responds to nonvolatile cues which in turn activates locations of the hypothalamus that regulates reproductive, defensive, and ingestive behavior along with neuro-endocrine secretion (Keverne, 716). This organ is present in humans, so the question is, do humans use it? A study  completed by Oxford University found evidence that indeed it may be used, and though usage may be minor it is not insignificant (Meredith, 433). Though the study is cautious to say more experimental testing is required to reach a final conclusion.

Wisdom Teeth

Wisdom teeth (or third molars) are considered a useless body part because there does not seem to be any room for them on the jaw. Hence, they are often removed, as I’m sure many of you readers can attest to. But, there not being enough room on the jaw is not always the case for everyone. In fact, when people do have sufficient room on their jaw the wisdom teeth operate as fully functional molars used just as much as the first and second molars (Menton, 236). So why are some jaws too small to house the third molars? One reason is diet. In less developed countries diets are coarser, where in more developed nations the diet consists of softer foods (Bergman, 297). Coarser foods can influence the jaw to widen, which in turn creates the room necessary for the third molars. Other factors come into play as well, but the point is that they are not useless for everyone, only on those with small jaws.

In America it has been estimated that only 20% of all young people develop impacted molars and actually need them removed (Menton, 236),  but most Americans have them removed because the outdated consensus within the dental community is that they are useless and only run a risk of impacting the rest of your teeth. So it is better to play it safe and have them removed. Whether the dentists are right or wrong in doing this is not in question here, it is the use of the teeth that are in question, and it is certainly true that wisdom teeth are not useless.

Auricular muscle

The auricular muscle is a muscle attached to your ear that some people can stimulate to make their ears twitch. It is considered useless because it is thought to be a remnant of a more developed muscle that other mammals have which allow them to rotate their ears around much like cats, deer, etc. The problem is that most people consider muscles for only one use: movement. But movement is not the only role muscles can serve in the body. Some muscles in our body serve as sensory muscles while others, like the auricular muscle, serve as formation and positioning muscles, whose job it is to not necessarily move an appendage, but allow the appendage to form and be held in place.

This is nothing new however. A 1970s study from the University of Washington School of Medicine found that the auricular muscle serves a role as the foundation for cartilaginous pinna development and positioning (Smith and Takashima). That is, the auricular muscle ensures your ears develop and are held in position properly. For example, deformations of the auricular muscle lead to abnormalities known as “lop” ear. In fact, many defects of the ear can be linked back to muscle abnormalities surrounding the ear.

anat-Auricularis_superior

Coccyx (tail bone)

We’ve all heard that our tail bone is useless, or a throw back to when we had tails. It seems simple enough, we have this tail like bone structure, but we have no tail… how useless! This is actually very incorrect. The coccyx is an anchoring point for many muscles. The levatorani muscle group for example, attaches to the coccyx and plays a very important role of supporting the pelvic floor and maintaining fecal continence (www.coccygectomy.org). Other muscles that anchor to the coccyx are the anococcygeal raphe used for support of the anus and the gluteus maximus which facilitates a wide range of body movement from the waste down. Dr. Menton writes, “The incurred coccyx with its attached pelvic diaphragm supports the organs in our abdominal and pelvic cavities such as the urinary bladder, uterus, prostrate, rectum and anus. Without this critical muscular support, these organs could be easily herniated,” (Menton, 238).

So clearly the bone not only serves a function, but its function is vastly different from the function that a tail provides for other mammals. Dr. Menton writes, “The coccyx is commonly called the ‘tailbone’ because of its superficial similarity to a tail. The coccyx does occupy the same relative position at the end of our vertebral column as does the tail in tailed primates, but then where else would it be? The vertebral column is a linear row of bones that supports the head at one end and the other must end somewhere,” (Menton, 237).

anat coccyx_lg

Erector Pili

The erector pili are small muscles that give us that goosebump look when we’re cold and scared. The general idea of these muscles are that in the event of conflict, the pili engage causing our hair to stand on end, something many mammals do to appear larger or more intimidating. In the event of cold weather or chills, the pili engage causing the hair to rise trapping more air and creating additional insulation to keep the body warm. Both functions, for warmth and intimidation, are both considered useless on humans due to our lack of sufficient hair.

Yet, there are actually two functions the erector pili still provide to humans. The pili are positioned to help squeeze oils from the various sebaceous glands on our bodies, allowing the oils to secrete onto the skin surface (Menton, 239). This oil, called Sebum, provides Vitamin E, antioxidants and anti-microbal lipids to the skin. Additionally, even though our body hair can be sparse, goosebumps still do generate heat on our body and are still useful as an initial reflex in keeping us warm. Though this warming effect may not nearly be as effective as it is with hairier mammals, it is still a useful function. Plus, if you recall, it is a trade off for our ability to sweat and cool off during warm weather.

The Appendix

The appendix is a well known organ because of the risk it poses of bursting and killing us. Its function is, however, rarely publicized. In the past it was criticized as a useless organ that once served a purpose for digesting food. However, in more recent years it is being widely acknowledged as a major player in our immune system. The tissue lining the inside of the appendix has been found to make antibodies (Leyner & Goldberg, 64). Further research revealed that the appendix also serves as a “safe house” for storing bacteria used in the intestine for digestion. In fact, in the event of a pathogen making its way into the intestine, beneficial digesting bacteria are often lost in the ensuing purge. The appendix however replenishes the intestine with bacteria after just such an incident (Bolinger). Can you live without the appendix? Yes. But at great cost to your immune system. People who lose their appendix are more susceptible to acquire viruses like Hepatitis C.

Male Nipples

The number one cited useless organ has to be male nipples. It seems so obvious. Men do not need nipples. They are useless. And unlike other claimed useless organs, I make no argument of use for male nipples. They are indeed useless.

Where I will make an argument is the inference people draw from the uselessness of the nipples. Whatever your philosophical reasoning is for why men have nipples, the truth is that the purpose of all nipples is for breast feeding to rear young. But I’m sure you’re thinking, men don’t breast feed! Yes, men don’t breast feed, but females do. Well, during embryonic development our bodies follow a female template for about six weeks, after which, if you are to be a male, the male sex chromosome kicks in and male characteristics develop (Leyner & Goldberg, 61). In the same way, a female’s ovaries and a male’s testicles were originally the same organ, called gonads, before sexual differentiation.

 

Closing Thoughts

I hope you can see now that many of the organs that are claimed to be useless actually do have a use. Granted, many of these uses were not identified for a long time, which led to the misnomer that they were functionless. This leaves me skeptical of other and future accusations for useless organs whether on humans or other animals. As Mention points out, “The problem with declaring any organ to be without function is discriminating between truly functionless organs and those that have functions that are simply unknown. Indeed, over the years nearly all organs once thought to be useless have been found to be functional. When we have no evidence for function of an organ, we need to bear in mind that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” (Menton, 231).

Additionally, I’ve heard many people argue that an organ is useless simply because you can live without it. Wisdom teeth and the appendix are common examples. People have them taken out every day and are just fine… sort of. This argument is poor because it equates organ use to mere survival. You can technically live with no eyes. You can technically live with no legs. If you went into surgery to have your ears removed you could live without them. But your abilities will obviously be greatly impaired. In the same way, you may be able to live without any of these ten organs I listed, but at what cost?

A great example is the coccyx (tail bone). Brandon Miller, a contributor to live science and convinced that the coccyx is an evolutionary leftover writes, “It has been suggested that the coccyx helps to anchor minor muscles and may support pelvic organs. However, there have been many well documented medical cases where the tailbone has been surgically removed with little or no adverse effects,” (Miller). Miller  ignores the “suggested” notion that the coccyx has a purpose simply because of the lack of profound adverse effects if you have it removed. Yet medical sources that discuss the removal of the coccyx warn of the draw backs to the procedure. A common complaint among patients that have had it removed is the sagging of pelvic contents and fecal incontinence (Lakshmanan). And as Menton mentioned earlier, hernias are much more common in the pelvic region as well with the tail bone being removed. Whether you consider these drawbacks “minor” is irrelevant to the argument of function.

The last point I’ll discuss is the term vestigial, which is applied to many of the organs listed as useless. A vestigial organ is an organ surviving and remaining in a degenerate or imperfect condition or form (Miller). So an organ may have function, but because it is believed the organ once had greater function, it can be considered vestigial. This is precisely the problem I have with this term: How can we know an organ once had greater function? All claims would fall under the category of speculation. It seems that many people are failing to acknowledge a very reasonable and obvious notion: Perhaps these organs have always had the functions they continue to have. Yes, the  auricular muscle and vomeronasal organ may have minor uses we could live without, but these uses may have always been at their functional limit. Pointing out other mammals with similar organs used to a higher degree to argue the vestigial nature of our organs only works within an macroevolutionary worldview. It does not objectively provide any conclusive evidence on its own because it is circumstantial evidence. In other words, evolution must be assumed first, before vestigial organs can be used as evidence for the evolution. It is a circular argument: The vestigial organs prove evolution, evolution proves those are vestigial organs. As Dr. Dewitt concludes, “They [vestigial organs] are evolutionary relics of common ancestors with animals only if you begin with evolutionary presuppositions,” (Dewitt).

So next time you read of useless organs and evolutionary left overs just remember that most of the claims are outdated with origins that are exaggerated and speculated.

References:

“What is a coccyx and what does it do?” www.coccygectomy.org, accessed 10-06-2013.

Bergman, J., (Dec 1998) “Are wisdom teeth (third molars) vestiges of human evolution?” Journal of Creation, 12(3).

Bollinger, R.R., (2007) “Biofilms in the Large Bowel Suggest an Apparent Function of the Human Vermiform Appendix,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, 249 no.4, pp. 826-831.

Dewitt, D.A., (May 28, 2008) “Setting the Record Straight on Vestigial Organs,” www.answersingenesis.org accessed 10-06-2013.

Gurney, P., (December, 2001), “Dawkin’s eye revisited,” Journal of Creation, 15(3)

Hooper, R., (Dec 14, 2011) “Hairier is better- bedbugs bite our barest bits,” www.newscientist.com, accessed 10-06-2013.

Kevern, E.B., (Oct 22, 1999) “The Vomeronasal Organ,” Science, 286(5440).

Lakshmanan, P., (Aug 23, 2013) “Coccygectomy,” emedicine.medscape.com, accessed 10-07-2013

Leyner, M., & Goldberg, B., (2005) Why Do Men Have Nipples?  (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press)

Menton, D.N., (2010) “Vestigial Organs- Evidence for Evolution?” as written in Ken Ham’s The New Answers Book 3, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books)

Meredith, M., (May, 2001) “Human vomeronasal organ function: a critical review of best and worst cases,” Chem Senses, 26(4).

Miller, B., “Top 10 Useless Limbs (and Other Vestigial Organs),” www.livescience.com, accessed 10-07-2013

Smith, D.W. & Takashima, H., (1978) “923 Ear Muscles and Auricular Anomalies,” Pediatric Research, 12.

Debate has long reined over the mysterious origin of oxygen in our atmosphere. Because oxygen is such a key ingredient in life it would seem necessary for oxygen to be present before life could have formed.  However, the most accepted theory in scientific circles today is that life came first, then came oxygen. But isn’t oxygen needed for life? Here I will briefly introduce the dilemma of oxygen’s origins on earth and the conclusions (or lack there of) it provides.

The story starts with earth. Earth is hungry to consume oxygen. Oxygen reacts with minerals in the earth, with hydrogen in the atmosphere, and dissolved minerals and gases in the ocean. The earth consumes oxygen relentlessly (Catling, 70). The oxygen absorbing substances are called “reductants,” and they are a problem for any source of oxygen (Catling, 69). David Catling, an Astrobiology Professor at the University of Washington writes, “While oxygen appears to be essential for complex life, planets are constructed with chemicals that consume oxygen, so oxygen should not accumulate. Earth’s oxygen rich atmosphere is rather mysterious,” (Catling, 69). In fact, the only way for oxygen to accumulate is for oxygen production to exceed earth’s ability to consume it. So what are the potential sources for oxygen?

There are two sources for oxygen; biological and non-biological. The latter is a process called photodissociation, in which ultraviolet rays break apart water molecules separating the oxygen from the hydrogen. Studies have shown that the rate at which this could occur is the same rate at which hydrogen would escape the atmosphere (Des Marais). However, the rate at which this would occur is hardly sufficient to produce the amount of oxygen present on earth. (Des Marais).

So the only other solution is biological. When organic carbon and pyrite become buried in sediments, mostly from the ocean, oxygen is released (Catling, 69). There is a problem with this theory though because it would require an increase of the burial rate to create the exponential increase needed for oxygen to overwhelm earth’s reductants, yet studies show that carbon burial in sedimentary rock was constant during this period of time in earth’s history (Siegel). So carbon burial cannot be the predominant cause.

oxygen evolution model

The standard uniformitarian model for the evolution of life and chemical compositions in earth’s atmosphere.

However, organic life itself creates oxygen. Cyanobacteria was the first photosynthesizer, and thus the first producer of oxygen (Eden, 33 and Wolfe, 143). Cyanobacteria itself cannot be the cause for the accumulation though because according to current theories and history models cyanobacteria appeared almost a billion years before the oxygen accumulated in earth’s atmosphere. So again, we hit a brick wall. In the end there are a variety of theories explaining the oxygen build up, but there is a reoccurring theme in all of them: Life came before oxygen, because life is the cause of oxygen. As science writer David Biello writes, “Climate, volcanism, plate tectonics all played a key role in regulating the oxygen level during various time periods. Yet no one has come up with a rock-solid test to determine the precise oxygen content of the atmosphere at any given time from the geologic record. But one thing is clear—the origins of oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere derive from one thing: life,” (Biello). This “fact” that oxygen origins come from life is assumed, yet when analyzed, presents a problem that jeopardizes the entire theory of oxygen’s origin.

cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria. The assumed origin of oxygen on earth.

Oxygen and life have a catch 22 relationship. Oxygen is very harmful to life (Eden, 33). At the same time oxygen is needed to provide the ozone layer which protects life from ultraviolet radiation (UVR)coming from the sun (Perlman & Milder, pp. 121). If Cynobateria came before oxygen, because it is the cause of oxygen, then Cynobacteria would have had to develop several forms of protection to mitigate the damage from UVR: avoidance, scavenging, screening, repair, and programmed cell death (Singh, Hader, and Sinha). However, UVR damage is immediate and the time needed to “evolve” protection against it via natural selection, incredibly slow. So, UVR damage would occur before any such defense mechanisms could evolve.

One seemingly good solution to this problem is water. More specifically, the ocean. If cyanobacteria first evolved in the ocean, the ocean would protect them from UVR, right? Well not exactly. The only way for the ocean to block UVR is if you go deep underwater. At which point the depth is too deep to photosynthesize. The argument then follows, that perhaps life first originated in the ocean, then overtime evolved enough to come up to the surface to photosynthesize without getting burned by UVR.  But even this theory has its own problems. Namely the problem of hydrolosis or “water-splitting.” The US National Academy of Sciences explains, “In water, the assembly of nucleosides from component sugars and nucleobases, the assembly of nucleotides from nucleosides and phosphate, and the assembly of oligonucleotides from nucleotides are all thermodynamically uphill in water. Two amino acids do not spontaneously join in water. Rather, the opposite reaction is thermodynamically favored at any plausible concentrations: polypeptide chains spontaneously hydrolyze in water, yielding their constituent amino acids,” (Luskin). Physicist Richard Morris concurs, “… water tends to break chains of amino acids. If any proteins had formed in the ocean 3.5 billion years ago, they would have quickly disintegrated,” (Morris, 167). Additionally, the cytoplasm of living cells contain essential minerals of potassium, zinc, manganese and phosphate ions. If cells manifested naturally, these minerals would need to be present nearby. But marine environments do not have widespread concentrations of these minerals (Switek). Thus, it is clear, life could not have formed in the ocean.

What we’re left with is a perplexing paradox: Water prevents the formation of life. Oxygen prevents the formation of life. Lack of oxygen prevents the formation of life. Yet the only source of oxygen currently accepted is organic. How can organics be the source of something it requires present in the first place? The only way for life to create oxygen is if the life itself already has built in mechanisms present from the very beginning to protect itself from the outside environment.

Needless to say, the specific details regarding the origin of oxygen remain mysterious. Catling writes, “Although we think we know when oxygen first appeared and rose, we know very little about its rise to the present level, especially about the relationship between atmospheric oxygen and the development of animals,” (Siegel).

As time goes on maybe these issues will be clarified. But the paradox between life and oxygen remains. So much so that it leaves me to postulate the more likely scenario of life being created with infrastructure necessary to survive in its environment. That is, God created an environment for life, and life for an environment. There are just too many problems with a step by step natural origin for all the factors required for the origin of oxygen. As of right now, at least, it is the only answer to this paradox.

Biello, D., (August 2009) “The Origin of Oxygen in Earth’s Atmosphere,”  www.scientificamerican.com

Catling, D., (2008) “Where did the oxygen in the atmosphere come from?” as written in Seventy Mysteries of the Natural World, ed. M.J. Benton, (London: Thames and Hudson)

Des Marais, D.J. (Oct 1999) “Where did the Earth’s atmospheric oxygen come from?” scientificamerican.com

Luskin, C., (Feb 2012) “More Scientists Admit the Mystery of Life’s Origin,” www.evolutionnews.org

Morris, R., (2002) The Big Questions, (Times Books/Henry Holt:New York,NY)

Out of Eden, (2005) (London: Transworld Publishers)

Perlman, D.L. & Milder, J.C. (2004) Practical Ecology for Planners, Developers and Citizens, (Washington, DC: Island Press)

Siegel, L., (July 2003) “The Rise of Oxygen,” Astrobiology Magazine, http://www.astrobio.net

Singh, S.P., Hader, D.P., & Sinha, R.P. (April, 2010) “Cyanobacteria and ultraviolet radiation (UVR) stress: Mitigation Strategies,” as accessed on Feb 18, 2013 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19524071

Switek, B., (February 2012) “Debate Bubbles Over the Origin of Life,” http://www.nature.com

Wolfe, N., (Jan 2013) “Small Small World,” National Geographic

Radiocarbon dating is a popular dating method the general public is fairly familiar with. Though they may know it as carbon dating or carbon 14 dating, there is an understood notion that when anything old is found, like an ancient artifact, it can be radiocarbon dated to find out exactly how old it is. Yet, as simple and straightforward as this seems, the process of dating objects via radiocarbon is far from simple and straightforward. Here I will present what radiocarbon is, the dating methods, the assumptions that govern them, and the known discrepancies that plague the method. With a thorough understanding of this dating method, it is my opinion that its ingenious fundamentals can be appreciated, yet greatly overshadowed by its limitations.

Radiocarbon

Every day cosmic rays bombard our atmosphere. These cosmic rays release free neutrons which zip around our nitrogen rich atmosphere at high velocities. The neutrons eventually slow down and bond with the nucleus of the nitrogen changing the atomic weight to that of an unstable carbon atom, Carbon 14 (or C14) (Warf, 212 & Taylor, 6). As the Carbon 14 slowly descends into our lower atmosphere it bonds with oxygen becoming the very unpopular CO2 greenhouse gas (Bowman, 10). Though the vast majority of CO2 is comprised of the more common and stable isotope of carbon, carbon 12 (C12), a small fraction of CO2 (one in 765 million), contains C14.

As is common fact, plants photosynthesize and consume CO2, fixing its carbon. Since a small fraction of CO2 contains C14, some of carbon fixed within the plant is that of C14. Animals eat the plants, ingesting the C14 which in turn enters the animal’s tissues (Warf, 212). When an organism dies, it obviously no longer eats, photosynthesizes, etc. There is therefore no way for additional C14 to enter the organism once dead.

This leads to an important fact: Only materials once part of the biosphere (organic) can be dated with radiocarbon (Bowman, 12), with the exception of some non-organic materials which can be dated with radiocarbon if their formation involved C14. For example, when lime absorbs CO2 it creates mortar, so the mortar can be dated via radiocarbon since some CO2 molecules are comprised of C14 (Bowman, 13). But in general, non-organic materials usually cannot be dated via radiocarbon. This is a common misunderstanding the general layman has of radiocarbon dating that is important to clarify.

What makes C14 significant is that it is an unstable atom. Eventually the extra neutron it picked up in the upper atmosphere will break off releasing a high energy beta particle. This beta release allows the atom to turn back into Nitrogen. This is radioactivity, hence the name radiocarbon. This radioactivity occurs at a measurable rate with a half-life of 5,730 years (Warf, 212).  C14 on average emits 15.2 beta particles per minute, or 15.2 disintegrations per minute (dpm), for every gram of carbon (Warf, 213). After one half-life (5,730 years) activity will drop to 7.6 dpm, then 3.8 dpm (Warf, 213). Knowing that C14 degrades into nitrogen at a known rate and organisms do not take in C14 once they’re dead, then it logically follows that the presence of C14 in a dead organism will decrease over time. Therefore, by measuring the amount of C14 in an organism, it can be known how long ago it lived with high C14 remains representing a recent age and lower C14 remains representing an older age.

la_06_16

Methods

So how is radiocarbon measured and dated? There are in essence, two different forms of carbon dating: the original conventional methods and the more recent AMS (Accelerated Mass Spectrometry). Of the conventional dating methods there are three types; Solid Carbon Counting, Gas Counting, and Liquid Scintillation Counting. AMS on the other hand directly counts atoms. The limit for conventional carbon dating is 10 half-lives (57,300 years) (Warf, 213) or within 40,000 to 60,000 years (Taylor, 3).  After that, background radiation and cosmic rays overwhelm the miniscule amount of C14 left. AMS can look back as far as 75,000 years (Warf, 215 & Bowman, 38), though some labs claim it is possible to go as far back as 100,000 years.

Conventional carbon dating involves measuring the beta particles that break free as C14 decays (Bowman, 34). These methods were fraught with dating conflicts, many of which will be discussed later. AMS, developed in the 1980s, which overcomes many of the shortfalls of conventional carbon dating, directly measures C14 atoms relative to C12 and C13 atoms (Bowman, 31). This is the main method utilized today.

Assumptions

As straightforward as radiocarbon seems to be there are actually a large number of underlying assumptions that the entire dating process relies on. As geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling of the Institute of Creation Research writes, “There can be no doubt that this constitutes a very ingenious dating tool, provided of course that the inherent assumptions are valid,” (Snelling, 856). In researching the pivotal assumptions that the methodology relies on I have found quite a range to consider:

Sheridan Bowman of the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum lists the assumptions as follows:

-The atmosphere has had the same amount of C14, (in terms of production, mixing and transfer rates) in the past as it is now.

-The biosphere has had the same overall concentration of C14.

-C14 concentrations exist in all parts of the biosphere.

-The death of a plant or animal, is the point at which it no longer exchanges C14 with the environment.

-After ceasing exchange, C14 levels are only modified by radio decay. (Bowman, 14).

Dr. R.E. Taylor, professor of anthropology at University of California Los Angeles and University of California Riverside lists the following assumptions:

-The concentration of C14 has been constant over the C14 timescale.

-There has been complete and rapid mixing of C14 throughout the various carbon reservoirs on a worldwide basis.

-Carbon isotope ratios have not been altered except by that of C14 decay.

-The half-life of C14 is accurately known.

-C14 can be measured accurately. (Taylor, 3).

Dr. Snelling lists the following assumptions:

-Cosmic ray influence on the atmosphere is constant.

-C14 concentration in the carbon dioxide cycle is constant.

-The decay rate of C14 is constant.

-There is no contamination of the dated object.

-Carbon dioxide levels in the sea and ocean are constant.

-C14 decay formation and decay rates are in equilibrium (Snelling, 856).

All these assumptions can be summarized as follows:

1) C14 production in the atmosphere is constant.

2) C14 rapidly mixes and is spread evenly throughout the biosphere.

3) Carbon ratios are only altered by C14 decay after an organism dies.

4) The half-life of C14 is accurately known.

5) C14 can be measured accurately.

6) C14 decay rates and formation rates are in equilibrium.

In order for radiocarbon to be effective in dating objects of antiquity, these assumptions must be true. But as you soon shall see, the assumptions are rife with flaws and unquantifiable variables. Many of these problems have been solved in recent years, but many have not.

Response to Assumptions

Assumption 1 C14 production in the atmosphere is constant.

In order for C14 production in the atmosphere to be constant, cosmic ray influence, which creates C14, must be consistent. However, cosmic ray influence is not constant, but varying. One factor that accounts for this variable is earth’s magnetic field. Our magnetic field is generated by earth’s iron and nickel core (Snelling, 873). Variations in the earth’s magnetic field have altered the production of C14. When the field is highly charged more cosmic rays are deflected. When the charge is low, more cosmic rays enter producing more C14 (Bowman, 18). Studies show the earth’s magnetic field decays at 5% a century and that earth’s magnetic field was 40% stronger in 1,000 AD then it is today (Snelling, 873).

The magnetic field is also subject to influence from our sun. Sunspots, which occur on 200 year and 11 year cycles, cause shifts in the earth’s magnetic field and thus alter C14 production. The 11 year cycles can cause as much as 20 years of radiocarbon variation, whereas the 200 year cycles can cause over 100 years’ worth of radiocarbon variation (Bowman, 19). These variations in C14 production in the past can be observed by examining tree ring samples which supposedly go back 8,000 years. In the last 8,000 years cosmic rays have varied as much as 10% (Warf, 213). Beyond this time cosmic rays could have fluctuated more or less, but we have no way of knowing.

Yet, there is one aspect of our magnetic field that poses a problem today just as much as it did in the past. The cosmic ray intensity is five times greater at the genetic poles than it is at the equator because our magnetic field is weaker at higher latitudes (Taylor, 7). The turbulent atmosphere mixes inconsistencies quickly enough that this problem is believed to only offset carbon dating by no more than 40 years. But this is still a factor to heavily consider between objects dated near the equator versus near the poles.

Bowman writes, “… there are some influences that are both global and pertinent to all samples and thus can neither be avoided nor circumvented by careful choice of content or sample: these are the production effects. They are not insignificant in magnitude, having at some periods in the past accounted for a discrepancy of some 900 years between radiocarbon dates and true calendar years” (Bowman, 43).

Human activity has also played a large role in C14 production. Only specimens that lived prior to the advent of nuclear weapons usage can be carbon dated since nuclear blasts created an influx of C14 in our atmosphere (Warf, 213). Fossil fuel consumption also wreaks havoc with the atmospheric ratio between C12 and C14. Because the human-caused burning of large quantities of fossil fuels has altered the atmospheric CO2 concentration, only objects prior to 1950 can be tested accurately (Bowman, 19 & Taylor, 35). Because of this effect, more modern organisms, like wood, appear “dead” with an apparent age much older than they actually are. This is known as the Suess Effect (Taylor, 36). Between 1900 to 1940 C14 levels were steady. After the 1950s, C14 levels shot up over 20% and by the 1970s had increased over 80% (Bowman, 20).

Dendrochronology and the Production Effect Problem:

As mentioned earlier, tree ring samples, which can be radiocarbon dated, can give us insight into the past as to what the historical atmospheric ratios of C12 to C14 were. This was needed because the first radiocarbon dating methods were yielding very inconsistent dates regarding objects of known age. These discrepancies, many of which will be discussed further later, were chalked up to the variable nature of C14 production and C12/C14 ratio in the atmosphere. Thus a “cheat sheet” was needed to provide a template of past C12/C14 concentrations so that dating methods could be calibrated based off the known variables. In the 1960s an 8,000 year old tree ring sequence was established by Wesley Ferguson, which when compared to the radiocarbon dates, revealed large discrepancies. Calibration curves were established in light of these discrepancies and can go back to 2,500 BC (Bowman, 17). As useful as the calibration curves are, they only go back as far as the tree ring chronology. Using live trees and preserved dead trees (mostly bristlecone pine trees) a master tree-ring chronology has been established going as far back as 8,700 years (Snelling, 895).

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Tree ring chronology is known as Dendrochronology. And as much of a hero as it seems to be for radiocarbon dating, it isn’t perfect. No items can be accurately dated within the time span of 800 BC to 400 BC because the calibration curve during this time falls flat. In fact, many labs will not date objects believed to have been from this time for that very reason (Bowman, 55). Other issues with dendrochronology lie with the trees themselves. Ring patterns in trees are produced season to season, year to year, and fluctuate depending on temperature and precipitation (Snelling, 895). Trees have been observed to be missing up to 45% of their seasonal rings (Snelling, 895). In other instances trees have been observed to grow multiple growth rings in one season (Snelling, 897). This means that the dendrochronology relies on an additional assumption; that tree rings are a seasonal constant. Since there is no guarantee they are a seasonal constant, we have no way of knowing exactly how far back the tree ring chronology goes.

Chronologies can only be established when comparing the same species of trees in the same location. When there are no overlapping areas between older and younger trees, and thus a gap, a floating chronology is established. If missing links of wood are found radiocarbon is used to piece and the fit the wood into the overall chronology (Snelling, 896). This is troubling because it becomes a circular system; tree ring chronology is used to calibrate radiocarbon dating, yet radiocarbon dating is used to date the tree rings.

So the assumption that C14 production is constant is incorrect. Though dendrochronology has allowed for calibration adjustments accounting for the production variations, the chronology goes back less than 10,000 years and even so, there is no guarantee that the tree rings are as accurate in chronicling the passing of years as many make them out to be. In one way it can be seen as an assumption to rescue another assumption. What is known is that C14 production has varied in the recent past, so it has surely varied greatly in prehistory as well.

Assumption 2 C14 rapidly mixes and is spread evenly throughout the biosphere.

According to Bowman, “Equally fundamental is the need for the method to be globally applicable, it should be valid at all, or a good range of, periods in the past. In the case of radiocarbon this in turn requires a global level of C14 in the atmosphere that has not changed with time; in addition, the biosphere should be in equilibrium with the atmosphere” (Bowman, 14).

Taylor writes, “One of the most important characteristics of the C14 method is its ability to provide comparable age estimates for organic materials on a worldwide basis. For the ability to be realized, C14 must be mixed quickly (within a few years) and completely throughout all of the carbon-containing reservoirs. If such a condition prevailed, the contemporary C14 content of all organic samples would be essentially identical. Early in the history of C14 dating it was determined that in a number of instances, this was not the case,” (Taylor, 34).

As Bowman and Taylor state, the accuracy of radiocarbon dating relies on C14’s equilibrium within the biosphere. Though we have already covered that C14 production has been a historical variable, now we come to the issue of mixing. Atmospheric mixing between the stratosphere and troposphere takes 2 to 4 years (Taylor, 38). However, when C14 production is high, atmospheric mixing is quick. But when production is low, atmospheric mixing slows and C14 is thus not distributed globally quickly.  Furthermore, the biosphere does not absorb C12 and C14 equally (Bowman, 18). Organisms have been proven to ingest more C12 than C13, and more C13 than C14. Regardless of the atmospheric ratio of C12 to C14, organisms will consume a higher ratio of C12 atom per every C14 atom than that of the atmosphere (Bowman, 20). Taylor writes, “During certain natural biochemical processes (e.g. photosynthesis) ‘lighter’ isotopes are preferentially incorporated into sample materials. Because of this, variations in C14/C12 rations can occur that have nothing to do with the passage of time,” (Taylor, 35).

Another problem is that of ice ages. During the ice age(s) the biosphere contained less plant life. Additionally, colder water temperatures globally would have increased the solubility of carbon. Thus, during cold periods like the ice age, which extends into the time ranges of C14 dating, the C14 exchange globally was not the same as today. Bowman writes, “The effect of these interrelated factors on radiocarbon dates has not yet been established” (Bowman, 19). The last ice age is believed to have peaked 20,000 years ago. This cuts right into the age span that radiocarbon dates for. Thus, the lack of vegetation worldwide during this time constitutes a C12/C14 ratio vastly different than what we observe today, which translates into a lack of confidence for radiocarbon to accurately date during this time span.

Marine Effect: The marine effect is an example of a reservoir effect in that the ocean has less C14 concentrations. Though atmospheric and terrestrial biosphere environments can mix C14 quickly, the ocean cannot mix quickly, especially the deeper you go. Ocean mixing is so slow that there are deep areas where radiocarbon dating would reveal radiocarbon ages in excess of a few thousand years. Shallow waters take about 10 years to equalize, but deeper waters are not quantifiable because of unique currents and upwelling effects (Bowman, 24). But in general, exchange between the atmosphere and shallow ocean takes 6 to 10 years and exchange between the shallow ocean and deep ocean can take hundreds of years, possibly 1,000 years (Taylor,  8 &38).

Evidence of the marine effect is obvious when one tries to date sea life. In one example, shells dated in two different locations (but in close proximity) dated centuries apart (Bowman, 25). Marine animals like whales and seals show radiocarbon ages of hundreds of years (Bowman, 25). Bottom feeding fish often exhibit old age because of reservoir effects (Taylor, 131). Even shallow marine life can be affected by the reservoir effect. The Colorado River (before it was drained) would carry large amounts of carbon, from the limestone rock it flowed over, into the Sea of Cortez. This diluted the C12/C14 ratio in the Sea of Cortez , giving marine life a carbon age of 900 years (Taylor, 129). The only way to accurately date sea life is if the reservoir effects and the value of stable carbon isotopes are known (Taylor, 52). Since the ocean mixes much slower and reservoir values vary from region to region, the reservoir effects alone prevent accurate dating, much less the numerous sources of stable carbon in the ocean that alters C12/C14 ratios.

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Scientists have proposed average correction factors (reservoir age estimates) to introduce to dating marine life, but these factors are far from absolute due to the nature of slow upwelling mixing which can vary from wind, climate, coastline shape, near-shore currents and seafloor topography (Taylor, 129). These variables make it impossible to establish standard global correction since they all differ in magnitude and are subject to change, especially if we’re looking back thousands of years.

Hemisphere Effect: While atmospheric mixing is good within hemispheres, it is not good between them since winds rarely blow between the two. This is further compounded by the southern hemisphere having more ocean surface, and thus, there is more “interface” between ocean and atmosphere (Bowman, 25). This translate into a difference in C12/C14 between our two hemispheres.

Volcano Effect: When volcanoes erupt they release large quantities of CO2 that contain no C14. This dilutes the ratio of C12 to C14 in the atmosphere (Bowman, 26). Plants near volcanoes typically exhibit high ages because of this. Vegetation found on the volcanic island of Santorini often carbon date in excess of thousands of years (Bowman, 27). Carbon dating volcanic debris is wrought with controversy because of this. However, the negative effects volcanic eruptions have on carbon dating isn’t isolated to volcanic debris, but extends to the entire atmosphere it released its CO2 into.

In summary, because of varying C14 production rates, plant life ingesting a ratio of C12/C14 different from that of the atmosphere, reservoir effects, the hemisphere effect, and the volcano effect it is painfully clear that the original assumption, that the  C12/C14  ratio in the atmosphere is equally distributed in the biosphere, is far from accurate.

Assumption 3 Carbon ratios are only altered by C14 decay after an organism dies.

In order for radiocarbon dating to accurately gauge the amount of time that has passed since the organism died, the radio decay of C14 must be the only factor influencing the ratio of C12 to C14 within the organism. Any other factor influencing the ratio other than C14 decay is contamination. Bowman writes, “Any addition of a carbon contaminating material is contamination, and it must be removed before the dating process begins, otherwise a false result can be obtained” (Bowman, 27). This problem of contamination is quite a thorn in the side of radio carbon dating because it is very common.

Hard Water Effect: Hard water often has calcium ions in it from calcium carbonate. This adds additional carbon into the plant or animal that takes it in. Since hard water varies from region to region, especially over large time scales, it is an unquantifiable variable. Other similar unquantifiable variables that contain carbon are soil humus materials and carbon dioxide in soil. Bowman writes, “The hard-water effect is not quantifiable since it is dependent on local factors…” (Bowman, 26). Unfortunately, many incredibly valuable finds, like bones, are easily susceptible to hard water contamination.

Bones are prone to absorb waters in the ground due to their porous nature (Taylor, 54). If the water is rich in carbonates, as ground water often is, the bone becomes contaminated with carbon ratios that make the bones appear much older than they actually are. Taylor writes, “It is clear that it is difficult to generalize concerning the age relationships of the organic and inorganic fraction in bone without detailed geochemical information concerning the depositional environment,” (Taylor, 55). This problem, however, is no longer so devastating to dating bones since the AMS can date portions of the bone that are non-porous, such as an individual amino acid,  to avoid the contamination factor (Warf, 216).

Pretreatment: Samples for dating are often “pretreated” to remove any carbon contaminants. This is usually done with acids. But not all contaminants can be removed, neither can they, at times, be identified for that matter (Bowman, 27-28). Often pretreatment can’t be used because it would destroy the object trying to be dated.

Some objects are so intermingled with their surroundings they can’t be accurately dated. For example, a human body was found in a peat-bog in Cheshire England. The carbon rich bog was united with the carbon rich body. This mixing of carbon proved to be problematic. Two forms of carbon dating were used; conventional gas counting and AMS. AMS dated the man’s death to the first century. The conventional dating placed the man to the fourth and fifth centuries (Bowman 52).

Another source of contamination comes from microorganisms. Microorganisms can contaminate samples causing 1,000 to 2,000 year discrepancies. The longer a sample is exposed to microorganisms the greater the chance of contamination, and subsequently, greater the age discrepancy (Taylor, 51).

The farther one goes back in time, the more severe contamination becomes. Because of the exponential nature of carbon decay, objects older than 30,000 years can have massive discrepancies if there is even 1% contamination of modern carbon (Taylor, 116). For example, objects 50,000 years old will carbon date at 35,000 years old with a 1% contamination. Even objects less than 30,000 years old can be greatly affected by modern carbon contamination. An object 10,000 years old will appear 1,000 years younger with a 5% modern carbon contamination. Introducing 1% of “dead carbon” to a sample will increase it sage by 80 years. Introducing 10% “dead carbon” increases its age by 850 years (Taylor, 119).

Though contamination can be pretreated, and the AMS is so precise it can avoid many contaminants, many other contaminants can slip by unknown if not detected. Some contaminants are so embedded in the sample that they cannot be removed without destroying the sample. Thus, there are many ways to detect and avoid contamination, but it would be fallacious to say that there is any 100% certainty that all contaminants have been removed from any given sample. The assumption cannot be validated with full certainty.

Assumption 4 The half-life of C14 is accurately known.

The decay of carbon is not a prediction, but statistical probability estimation. Taylor writes, “It is assumed that if the decay events are truly random, if no other factors intervene, and one had the time to measure an infinite number of events, the counting data would be identical to a normal distribution,” (Taylor, 103). C14 decays randomly. There is no way of knowing exactly when a C14 nucleus will decay and release a beta particle. Instead, large numbers of C14 atoms are measured over periodic intervals, and overtime there is a normal distribution (Taylor, 103). However, because the decay rate of C14 is a statistical estimate, this makes laboratory error estimation difficult as you will read about in the next assumption. As far as this assumption, we can conclude the half-life is known, and thus the assumption validated, but the nature of the estimation limits error estimation which comes into play in the next assumption.

Assumption 5 C14 can be measured accurately.

The first thing to address here is the misconception that radiocarbon dating provides exact points in time for objects of antiquity. As Taylor explains, “… by definition, a C14 ‘date’ does not indicate a specific point in time. It expresses the time interval within which there is a given probability that the C14 age equivalent of the actual C14 activity of a sample actually lies,” (Taylor, 125). Because of this, there are two ways to gauge the validity of a radiocarbon dates; precision & accuracy. Accuracy is the ability to date an object accurate to archaeological dates. Precision is the range of dates determined (Taylor, 106). For example, an object might be dated to 1,300 B.C. plus or minus 200 years and thus be high in accuracy but low in precision. Or that object might miss the mark completely and be dated at 2,000 B.C. plus or minus 10 years, in which case it wasn’t accurate but had high precision. Due to the amount of variables involved in carbon dating, results can have varying accuracy and precision.

Since radiocarbon dating is a scientific process it is subject to experimental error. And as mentioned in the previous assumption, that the decay of C14 is a statistical probability estimation, it becomes very problematic to derive any concrete error estimations. Bowman writes, “Experimental error, inherent in any operational process, is usually evaluated by replication of the measurement process. In radiocarbon dating, time, cost, and (for conventional radiocarbon) sample size mean this is not a practical proposition. The error term is therefore estimated and then usually treated as if it were known” (Bowman, 38).

Another issue in the process of radiocarbon dating is the range of date estimates. Since not every test will give the same result, not every object will give the same result, and the error factor is a mere estimation, the only way to truly generate accurate results is to date multiple samples multiple times to provide a range of results. Taylor writes, “The accuracy of an individual C14 determination is directly related to the degree to which the assumptions of the C14 method are fulfilled for the carbon-containing materials in a given sample. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to evaluate directly the various factors that could influence the accuracy of a single C14 value. For this reason, little reliance [is] placed on an individual C14 ‘date’ to provide an estimate for a given object, structure, feature, or stratigraphic unit… actual age can be best made with a suite of C14 determinations on multiple samples… Unfortunately, until recently, multiple C14 analyses on different fractions of single samples have not been routinely employed due to limitations on sample size and costs,” (Taylor, 105).

Even the machines themselves are not 100% reliable. The conventional radiocarbon methods have been historically fraught with inconsistencies and can be contaminated by other sources of radiation. Conventional carbon dating also depends on a background count rate, which varies from laboratory to laboratory (Bowman, 37). But these issues are not just limited to the older conventional methods, AMS has issues as well. Often, labs will try to calibrate their AMS with “procedural blanks” or “dead carbon” materials to test for carbon contamination of their equipment. Such materials are Precambrian since nothing that old should have detectable C14. Yet, these materials have continually been known to give off detectable C14 readings (Snelling, 860).

So knowing that radiocarbon dating requires multiple tests on multiple samples in order to ensure accuracy and precision, something not commonly done, in combination with the fact that experimental error is not known, but only estimated, it is reasonable to say that this assumption cannot be validated beyond reasonable doubt. It thus remains an assumption open to inquiry.

Assumption 6 C14 decay rates and formation rates are in equilibrium.

This assumption, unlike the others, is very straight forward. C14 formation and decay must be in constant equilibrium for radiocarbon dating. As we’ve already discussed, production rates in the atmosphere are variables. Currently, the rate at which C14 decays is not in equilibrium with the formation rate. This ratio may swing in either direction depending on variables in C14 production. Either way, this assumption is false.

 

Other Issues

Outside of the assumptions, there are other issues that come into play within the radiocarbon dating process.

Old Wood Problem: As a tree grows and adds rings the outer rings continue to exchange carbon whereas the older internal rings do not. Thus, if one were to date the heartwood vs. the outer sapwood there will be a discrepancy. This is even greater if the tree aged to hundreds of thousands of years (Bowman, 15). This poses a problem for modern artifacts because the only way to accurately date the wood is to know how old the tree was and whether the wood was from the inner heartwood or outer sap wood (Bowman, 16). The only way to date wood with radiocarbon is if the sapwood and heartwood are identifiable. After which, the rings can be dated backwards from the sapwood to the heartwood to calculate the age of the tree. Bowman writes, “Quite often this ‘old-wood’ problem is inadequately considered by those who submit radiocarbon samples” (Bowman, 51).

Object vs. Alteration: This is also known as the Delayed Use problem. An item is used after it “dies,” thus the item can be dated, but not its usage. For example, a carved elephant tusk can be carbon dated to show when the elephant lived but not when the tusk was actually carved.

Re-Use: Items that are generally long lasting, like wood, may be used multiple times. For example, a tree is cut down, its wood is shaped to build a structure, then 100 years later it is scrapped and used for kindling. The wood can be dated, but the intervals of use and re-use are not necessarily datable.

Known Discrepancies

Another popular misconception is that radiocarbon dating is always right. I hope, by now, you’ve realized this isn’t the case. But often the success stories of radiocarbon dating are paraded around in magazines, journals and textbooks while the failures of radiocarbon are conveniently never noted. Additionally, the known dates that carbon dating has accurately verified tend to be recent dates. Whereas, radiocarbon dates prior to 400 BC increasingly “diverge,” (Snelling, 856). Here are just a handful of known situations where radiocarbon dated incorrectly.

-In the 1950’s discrepancies were found between known dates and radiocarbon dates to magnitudes of 600 to 800 years (Taylor, 19).

-Snails living in artesian springs can produce carbon ages of up to 27,000 years (Snelling 857).

-An Egyptian coffin known to be 2,280 years old, carbon dated to 2,190 years old (Warf, 213). Many Egyptian artifacts carbon dated have had discrepancies as well. Something which Bowman states were, “far from insignificant…” (Bowman, 16).

-Archaeological items from 400 BC were providing results 900 years too young. Items from 1,000AD provided results 100 years too old (Bowman, 17).

-A stratified medieval village that existed from 600 to 1200 AD was excavated, its remains carbon dated. There were a total of 5 stratified layers within the 600 year span of the village. Yet the artifacts dated provided 300 to 500 year age ranges in each layer. This can’t be so if the village only existed from 600 to 1200 AD. In fact, one artifact from the latest layer (1200AD) dated at 600 AD, and another artifact from 800 AD layer dated to 400 AD (Taylor, 112).

-Snail shells found in a French Archaeology site yielded radiocarbon dates 300 to 1300 years in excess (Taylor, 52).

-During the 17th century C14 variations throw off radiocarbon ages (Taylor, 35).

Another shocking factor is that items that are most difficult to date accurately are in fact items most likely to be dated with radiocarbon. 80 to 90% of all C14 age estimates are based on wood/charcoal and marine shells, because they are best preserved, and thus are more commonly found (Taylor, 61). Yet the Marine Effect and Old Wood Problem often corrupt the accuracy of radiocarbon dating, and these problems are directly related to the dating of marine shells and wood/charcoal. As discouraging as they may be, there is, however, a more discouraging factor to consider: Radiocarbon often conflicts with established geological dates.

Inconsistencies with the geologic timescale:

-Materials found in earth deposits often don’t date in agreement with the pre-determined dates of the deposits. For example, domesticated wheat and barley where found in deposits in Egypt that were supposedly 17,000 to 18,000 years old, yet the wheat and barley date to no more than 5,000 years old (Taylor, 110-111).

-In another example, fragments of maize were found in 2,000 year old sediment deposits in Illinois, but the maize carbon dated to no more than 1,500 years old in one site, and no more than 600 years old at three other sites nearby (Taylor, 111).

-A limestone rock layer considered hundreds of millions of years old via geologic estimates, carbon dated with an age of 1,600 years (Taylor, 34).

-Radiocarbon has been found in fossilized wood within Tertiary, Mesozoic and upper Paleozoic strata that themselves are dated from 32 to 250 million years old. The wood dated between 20,000 to 45,000 years of carbon (Snelling, 859).

-Coal beds wedged between rock strata dated 300 million years old have been carbon dated to 50,000 years old (Snelling, 847).

-Dating diamonds is significant because there is little chance of contamination. Yet diamonds that are supposedly one to three billion years old have yielded carbon 14 readings. Coal and diamond samples from the US to Africa, believed to be 40 to 350 million years old, have yielded consistent carbon dates of 50,000 years old (Snelling, 861).

It may seem odd that radiocarbon dating would be in conflict with the conventional geological ages, but these ages were established long before radioisotope dating technology was invented.  As Snelling affirms, “By the time the radioisotope ‘dating’ methods had been developed, the geological timescale had already been imposed on the globally-correlated rock sequence,” (Snelling, 838). This leaves us with a conundrum. If we hold radiocarbon dating to be accurate, we then exclude the conventional dating of geological features. And vice versa.  However, the stronger argument is that the conventional geological dates are incorrect because anything millions of years old should have no trace of carbon left that would be picked up by the AMS. For example, if a beginning mass of C14 the size of earth began to decay with a half-life of 5,730 years, over the course of 1 million years (175 half-lives) there wouldn’t be one single carbon 14 atom left (Snelling, 859). So this presents a rather large problem for the dates assigned to geological formations.

These errors overall, however, only account of “known” discrepancies. The vast amount of radiocarbon dating being applied to prehistoric objects, of which there is sometimes no way of confirming their accuracy, cannot be proven wrong. So they remain success stories, innocent until proven guilty. However, based off the numerous known false instances given here, it would be appropriate to understand the radiocarbon dating method as anything but precise and accurate beyond reasonable doubt.

Conclusions

Many of the problems facing the radiocarbon dating of objects can be identified, pretreated, and calibrated for. But there are more significant issues that cannot be quantified and thus cannot be addressed to ensure accurate results. The first two assumptions, production and biosphere equilibrium, remain the most significant problem radiocarbon faces.

Many scholars and scientists have recognized the limitations of radiocarbon dating. Bowman writes, “Rarely is the interpretation of radiocarbon results completely straightforward. Occasionally a sample is dated simply to determine roughly whether an object is modern or of considerable antiquity; in essence, an authenticity test” (Bowman, 57).

Another shortcoming of the practice of radiocarbon dating is lack of data in regards to invalid ages. Submitters of Radiocarbon Journal often list their successful radiocarbon results as “archaeologically acceptable.” However, they do not list their “archaeological unacceptable,” results (Bowman, 62). Many are disappointed at this because it does not allow open divulgence of data for investigating the errors in order to produce more accurate and precise future dating. Additionally, lack of data of failed radiocarbon prevents an overall assessment on just how accurate the dating method is.

When you get down to the bottom line, it is more than evident that radiocarbon dating is extremely limited. Only very particular objects, from very particular places, that have been pretreated, that have been compared to a calibration curve (and only fall within areas of the curve that aren’t flat), and have been dated many times to provide an error range, can be considered somewhat trustworthy findings. That is, if you overlook the shortcomings of the C14 production problem and biosphere equilibrium problem. Accordingly, these evident shortcomings need to be appreciated and a certain degree of skepticism should be maintained when reading of radiocarbon results. All too often one hears of a discovery from antiquity that has been radiocarbon dated, of which the authors conclude they now know the exact date of the finding. Yet such confidence is often unwarranted. Yes, radiocarbon is an ingenious method and noble pursuit to answer questions about our past, but it is far from perfect, and our strong desire to have absolute answers to our biggest questions will not be satisfied from overextending confidence into a constrained method simply because there is no other alternative. But until we can lay our egos aside to be comfortable with the humbling notion that “we don’t know exactly,” radiocarbon dating will remain the absolute say on exactly how old something is.

Sources

 Bowman, S. (1990) Radio Carbon Dating, (Berkley, CA: University of California Press)

Snelling, A.A. (2009) Earth’s Catastrophic Past, Vol. 2, (Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research)

Taylor, R.E. (1987) Radio Carbon Dating; An Archaeological Perspective, (London: Academic Press, Inc.)

Warf, J.C. (2004) All Things Nuclear, 2nd Ed., (Los Angeles, CA: Figueroa Press)

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The following is a re-posted article from: http://www.faithandscienceresource.org.uk/id/design_rehab.html

Origins Science Needs Design Rehab

The following article was written by Dr John C Walton in response to an article by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne which was published in the Guardian on 1 September 2005. Dr Walton’s response was sent to the Guardian on Tuesday 20 December 2005 but not published. Dr. Walton is Professor of Reactive Chemistry at St Andrews University.

Are highly accredited scientists like Professor John Walton “ignorant, stupid, insane (or wicked)” because they reject the ‘molecules to man’ view of origins? This is what Richard Dawkins would apply to scientists like him. With prestigious qualifications Professor Walton surely has a right to object! He can be found speaking on the Edinburgh Creation Group.

During the last decade a fresh, enlightening breeze has been blowing into every corner of the house that Darwin built. The enterprise promoting this sea change, known as Intelligent Design (ID), started to cohere in the mid 1990s. Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe published his book Darwin’s Black Box in which he convincingly showed that many biological structures display “irreducible complexity”. Structures like vision cascades, cellular cilia, bacterial flagella and other “molecular machines” require many complex and coordinated molecular working parts. Behe combed the literature in search of evolutionary scenarios involving many small steps, to account for the origin of such structures, but found them few and far between and totally inadequate. For biological machines to work, all (or most) of the molecular parts are needed at once, i.e. the complexity cannot be reduced to some much simpler state. Individual component proteins, or small selections of them, do not function at all and hence the Darwinian mechanism cannot build the observed complexity by gradual selection of increasingly efficient precursors. Irreducibly complex mechanical and electronic machines offer a pertinent analogy and are known to be the products of intelligent minds taking advantage of natural laws. Consequently, Behe argued that biological machines are powerful evidence of intelligent design in biology.

At about the same time Berkeley Law Professor, Phillip Johnson, applied his relentless logic to show that the full diversity of Darwinian evolution is not supported by compelling factual evidence from palaeontology or by empirical data from biology (see his book Darwin on Trial). Most importantly, Johnson highlighted the fact that the main support for Darwinian Theory derives from its philosophical assumptions. Evolutionists see science as essentially materialist and based on philosophical naturalism. Only chance and the laws of nature are admitted as acceptable explanatory tools. Any interpretation departing from this narrow arena will automatically be rejected as non-science or worse still as superstition.

But how is it possible to decide if something has been designed or if the design is only apparent? An important step was taken by mathematician and philosopher William Dembski who established criteria for detecting design. Dembski drew attention to the fact that detecting design is already a well established scientific activity in fields such as forensic science, archaeology and cryptology. Methods employed with obvious success in these areas to distinguish criminal from accidental activity, to differentiate artefacts from natural objects and to decode messages, should also be applicable to biological structures and to events in nature. In his book The Design Inference Dembski described a general method he called “specified complexity” for identifying design and distinguishing it from the effects of natural causes. He demonstrated that systems exhibiting high complexity combined with “specification” are always produced by intelligent agents. To be “specified” an object or event must correspond to an independent pattern or dynamic sequence. An example of specification would be a dart board with a bulls eye in the centre. The bulls eye is the specified target. Randomly throwing darts is unlikely to result in hitting a bulls eye. There is something special about hitting a bulls eye in a board on a wall that is very different from throwing darts then drawing a bulls eye around them wherever they hit. The difference is that the bulls eye is specified. It turns out that nature, and particularly biology, is equivalent to a long series of bulls eyes that have all been hit by darts. When something has the property of specified complexity it is logical and rational to conclude it was designed.

Dembski, Stephen Meyer and others have applied the specified complexity criterion to biological phenomena and find good agreement with Behe’s conclusion that their origin implies intelligent design. It is especially significant that the Intelligent Design criterion enables data from across a spectrum of scientific areas to be rationalised. Physicists have discovered that the existence of life in the universe depends on a highly improbable balance of fundamental factors, often referred to as the “fine tuning of the universe” or as “anthropic coincidences”. Application of the specified design criterion to this cosmic enigma also signals intelligent design as the most likely cause.

It is apparent that this is a fresh, logical and rational way of thinking, which enables design to be detected independently of any philosophical or religious beliefs. Objective thinkers will welcome this as a way of shedding light on some of science’s most perplexing impasses. In practise Intelligent Design is growing in influence among scientists and philosophers who are willing to consider design as a third fundamental cause along with chance and natural law. On the other hand the old school of materialists, who hold that only chance and necessity are admissible causes, oppose Intelligent Design with every means their powerful establishment positions give them.

Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne are long-time members of this vintage group and are adamantly opposed to Intelligent Design. No surprises there! Distinguished philosopher of science Karl Popper wrote “the wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right”. The intolerant tone of the article written by Dawkins and Coyne “One Side Can Be Wrong”, which appeared in the Guardian Newspaper on September 1st. 2005 is a pity, and shows an emotional and ideological attachment to their world-view has led them deeply into wrong territory. For them evolution should brook no rivals. Origins research is one of the softest sciences so proponents particularly need to avoid the craving Popper spoke of and to cultivate an impartial and objective attitude. It is worth taking time to evaluate the more coherent of the points made in the article.

One label Dawkins and Coyne immediately stick on Intelligent Design is: “There is nothing new about Intelligent Design. It is simply creationism camouflaged with a new name.” The major players in Intelligent Design science emphatically reject this assertion. Proponents of Intelligent Design regard it as a scientific research programme that investigates the effects of intelligent causes. Intelligent Design advocates such as Michael Behe and William Dembski are not young earth creationists and do not reject evolution. For Dembski the purpose of Intelligent Design is “to rehabilitate design as a mode of scientific explanation.” Meyer wrote “The question that must be asked about the origin of life is not ‘which materialistic scenario seems most adequate?’, but ‘what actually caused life to arise on the earth?’”. The specified complexity criterion for detecting design makes no appeal to sacred books and is independent of all religious authority. Phillip Johnson remarked that, “Our objective is not to impose a solution, but to open the most important areas of intellectual inquiry to fresh thinking”. Of course Intelligent Design research has important implications for creationism, but support for creationism is not its objective. Intelligent Design advocates accept evolution, but they doubt that it can do everything that Darwinists claim. Their purpose is to ‘follow the evidence wherever it leads’. This statement has become a slogan of Intelligent Design advocates, and is entirely in harmony with the open-minded attitude with which any scientific investigation should be pursued. It is important to understand that Intelligent Design is not a claim that miracles occur. Rather, it seeks to establish if design is an actual feature of the universe that cannot be duplicated by the effects of natural law and chance.

Early in their article Dawkins and Coyne say “So, why are we so sure that intelligent design is not a real scientific theory, worthy of “both sides” treatment? Isn’t that just our personal opinion? It is an opinion shared by the vast majority of professional biologists . .”. “If Intelligent Design really were a scientific theory, positive evidence for it, gathered through research, would fill peer-reviewed scientific journals. This doesn’t happen. It isn’t that editors refuse to publish Intelligent Design research.” As already mentioned, for material naturalists “real science” only admits chance and necessity as valid causes. Dawkins and the majority of his evolutionary peers automatically rule out Intelligent Design on these philosophical grounds and consider it a waste of time to evaluate the evidence. The majority of professional biologists work in institutions dedicated to evolution and its sister disciplines. Many institutes are specifically named “Evolutionary Biology” or some variant of this. The research funding, the livelihoods, the careers, the professional reputations of all these scientists depend on adherence to evolutionary orthodoxy. Objectivity on foundational questions of origins is not an option for them in these circumstances. The majority scientific opinion cannot be taken as a trustworthy yardstick for gauging the validity of Intelligent Design. In any case, Dawkins and Coyne, after making their misleading point admit that it is nonsense: “[But of course science does not proceed by majority vote among scientists.]”

It is totally unsurprising that Intelligent Design research is not reported in mainline science journals. Contrary to Dawkins and Coynes’ assertion, editors routinely refuse to publish. When Dr Richard Sternberg, editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, published a single paper by Cambridge educated Stephen Meyer making the case for Intelligent Design, he immediately became the subject of a closet campaign of ridicule and intimidation. “They were saying I accepted money under the table, that I was a crypto-priest, that I was a sleeper cell operative for the creationists” said Sternberg. He was advised not to attend a biological society meeting because feelings were running so high order couldn’t be guaranteed. An independent agency, the US Office of Special Counsel, examined email traffic emanating from the Smithsonian Institution, where Sternberg held a fellowship, and noted that “retaliation came in many forms … Misinformation was disseminated through the Smithsonian and to outside sources. The allegations against you were later determined to be false” (see: www.rsternberg.net for Sternberg’s own restrained account of the affair). Editors are well aware of the intimidation and harassment they will face so it is small wonder they shy away from publishing articles favourable to Intelligent Design. It is ironic for Dawkins of all people to denigrate Intelligent Design because, “Its advocates bypass normal scientific due process by appealing directly to the non-scientific public and – with great shrewdness – to the government officials they elect” when these are exactly the methods he adopts himself! His main contribution to science is the series of popular books expounding his brand of evolution to the general public. In fact Dawkins is following a long line of evolutionists including Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Stephen Gould all of whom have appealed directly to the non-scientific public in books and popular articles. Dawkins and Coynes’ belief that it is fine for evolutionists to appeal directly to the public, but wrong for those who disagree with them, is deeply revealing of their ultra-partisan approach.

According to Dawkins and Coyne, Intelligent Design scientists make unreasonable demands for evidence: “One side (Evolution) is required to produce evidence, every step of the way. The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty – the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.” For over a century evolutionary scientists have been promising that laboratory science will someday discover a quantifiable mechanism for evolutionary change. Scientifically rigorous explanations have also been promised for: how life originated; how the genetic code and new genetic information could arise; how complex biological organs like eyes, cilia, etc. originated; how new biological species developed from ancestral forms and why the fossil record does not show the “innumerable transitional forms” Darwin expected. Intelligent Design scientists do not denigrate the huge progress that biologists have made in understanding how smaller changes have come about, how new varieties of animals and plants are produced, i.e. microevolution in general. Evolutionists assert that the large steps to really new structures (macroevolution) are just an accumulation of smaller steps. It is very significant however, that even after all this time, verifiable laboratory evidence is completely absent, the fossil record presents major problems, and only fanciful “scenarios” are on offer. The point Intelligent Design scientists are making is that the time has now come to examine alternative explanations in which design is evaluated alongside natural causes. The relish with which scientists work in solving origins problems could be pleasantly enhanced by adding the Intelligent Design criterion to their arsenal of scientific tools.

Dawkins and Coyne believe: “Biologists, on the other hand, can confidently claim the equivalent “cinematic” sequence of fossils for a very large number of evolutionary transitions. Not all, but very many, including our own descent from the bipedal ape Australopithecus.” This claim is seriously at odds with considered opinion in the scientific literature emanating from specialists in palaeontology. For example, Kemp says “the observed fossil pattern is invariably not compatible with a gradualistic evolutionary process” (Fossils and Evolution, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 16; see also: Carroll, Patterns and Processes of Vertebrate Evolution, Cambridge University Press, 1997, p. 8-10.) Even evolutionist icon Stephen Gould admitted: “The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking pretty much the same as when they disappear, morphological change is usually limited and directionless; 2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and fully formed.” The fossil record does not supply evidence for macroevolution. What is more, if the fossil record were really as portrayed by Dawkins and Coyne, there would have been no need for the “Punctuated Equilibria” hypothesis to have been formulated to try and explain the universal gaps.

Dawkins and Coyne keep up their courage by suggesting: “And – far more telling – not a single authentic fossil has ever been found in the “wrong” place in the evolutionary sequence. Such an anachronistic fossil, if one were ever unearthed, would blow evolution out of the water. As the great biologist J B S Haldane growled, when asked what might disprove evolution: “Fossil rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.”” This is to seriously underestimate the capacity of evolution to absorb bad news! When it comes to the fossil record, even Charles Darwin admitted that it was strong evidence against his theory and appealed to the incomplete nature of the record to try to get around this. Not surprisingly, Dawkins and Coyne also appeal to the incompleteness of the record. But appealing to fossils that have not been found, and trying to explain away those that have been found, hardly constitute strong evidence supporting Darwinism. There is a great deal of flexibility about exactly what the right evolutionary sequence is. Furthermore, geochronology is far from an exact science. Different dating methods frequently give discordant results. Samples for radioactive dating may contain contamination from younger material or from older source rock so that the classify them either as intrusive, i.e. buried at a later date by human or natural means, or they are labelled frauds. Enough doubt can always be thrown. For a recent example, consider the report by Bennett, Huddart et al. of fossil human footprints in volcanic ash near Puebla, Mexico, dated to 40,000 yr by a variety of techniques including radiocarbon analysis (“right” date can usually be found, either by “selection” from available samples or by selection from the range of dates. A nice example of this process unconsciously in action during the controversy over the date of skull KNM ER 1470 from the Lake Turkana region of Kenya is described by Roger Lewin in his book “Bones of Contention”. Nor do grossly out of place fossils like rabbits in the pre-Cambrian present any threat to evolution. Evolutionary palaeontologists “know” such fossils are impossible and therefore they always classify them either as intrusive, i.e. buried at a later date by human or natural means, or they are labelled frauds. Enough doubt can always be thrown. For a recent example, consider the report by Bennett, Huddart et al. of fossil human footprints in volcanic ash near Puebla, Mexico, dated to 40,000 yr by a variety of techniques including radiocarbon analysis which challenged evolutionary views about the timing of human entry into the Americas. No surprise that it was rapidly followed by a rebuttal from Renne et al. (Nature 2005, 438, E7) re-dating the footprints by a gigantic leap to 1.3 Myr and redefining them as “markings” caused by erosion. Although many anachronistic fossils have been found, evolution routinely shrugs them off.

Dawkins and Coyne assure us that: “In fact, the bacterial flagellum is certainly not too complex to have evolved, nor is any other living structure that has ever been carefully studied. Biologists have located plausible series of intermediates, using ingredients to be found elsewhere in living systems”; but this is largely wishful thinking. What is meant by “located”? Does this mean located in the fossil record, located in laboratories or located in the imagination? When it comes to explaining the origin of the bacterial flagellum, and similarly complex, information-rich biological organelles, evolutionary ingenuity has found little to offer, as recourse to biochemistry textbooks and journals has demonstrated. Of course, a few, short “plausible series of intermediates” for these organelles may be “located” in imaginary scenarios regarded even by their originators as incomplete and highly tentative. Scientific imagination knows no limits! But the broad picture of this area of evolution is noteworthy for the scarcity of ideas and their insubstantial character.

The oft repeated dictum “evolution is fact” has become a password ritually affirmed by orthodox Darwinians. Even distinguished academics like Dawkins and Coyne clutch this shaky prop. “The weight of the evidence has become so heavy that opposition to the fact of evolution is laughable to all who are acquainted with even a fraction of the published data. Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.” The trouble is, the word evolution has become too ambiguous in its meaning. In many contexts “evolution” means simply change, and who would deny change in the natural world? There is indeed a large volume of evidence that microevolution happens. This is not in dispute; but neither is this the process Intelligent Design scientists are addressing. To quote Phillip Johnson “The point … is whether it (microevolution) tells us anything important about the processes responsible for creating birds, insects and trees in the first place.” All the evidence favouring evolution is of the “finch beak” kind; small variations within a known species or closely related group of species. Fossil sequences of trilobites showing size gradations are well known, as are the laboratory experiments developing fruit flies with divergent morphology. The problem is that this kind of evidence does little to advance knowledge of how trilobites or fruit flies came into existence in the first place. That evolution was supposed to be about the origin of species has become lost in a maze of trivia.

For about 150 years science has striven mightily to explain the origins of everything in terms of only chance, allied with the laws of nature. Dawkins and Coyne offer nothing new, just the same unsubstantiated assertions and unfulfilled promises that have led origins science into decades of sterile wandering. Origins science seems gripped in a mesmeric addiction to games of chance. It is now time to check into design rehab. Their article shows that Dawkins and Coyne are still in full denial. The prime objective of the Intelligent Design enterprise is to establish design as a basic cause, along with chance and natural law, and hence to advance understanding of how complex biological and other structures originated. There are hopeful signs that a new generation is recognising this as a logically sound, rational and reasonable programme.

John C Walton (St Andrews, December 2005)

The virgin conception is a highly scrutinized event within the nativity story. As with other biblical miracles, the virgin conception has been explained by a whole host of conspiracy theories devoid of actual supernatural cause. Was the story copied from other pagan mythologies? Copied from Old Testament scripture? Was Christ simply the result of a shameful affair, the virgin conception concocted to hide His illegitimate origins? Is Jesus the result of an extremely rare but possible asexual reproduction? The theories are abundant, yet all try to find a way to rationalize the story without consideration that what is written in Matthew and Luke is actually plausible.

Even in the church, skepticism is present, spreading, slowly but surely. Bishop John Shelby Spong of the Episcopalian Church believes the virgin birth as written in Matthew and Luke is not literal truth.[1] Protestant theologian Wesley Wildman of Boston University believes that Jesus must have gotten his Y chromosome from Joseph, so what He received from God was more spiritual than physical.[2] Anglican Bishop John Arthur Thomas Robinson, former Dean of Trinity College in Cambridge shares similar beliefs, “… we are not bound to think of the Virgin Birth as a physical event in order to believe that Jesus’s whole life is ‘of God.’”[3] Doubt is clearly creeping into the nativity story and it is leading to explanations of spiritual analogy instead of literal acceptance. These compromises on the scripture all stem from doubt in something that seems too impossible to be true.

Yet, we all seem to overlook that it was just as impossible and hard to believe then in the first century as it is today. Luke and Matthew seem to have trouble writing of it. Even Mary noted of its impossibility when she was standing in front of the angel telling her it would happen! And it was additionally a target of skepticism then just as it is now, being doubted by the Pharisees and the Greek philosopher Celsus himself, among others. So we should not assume that skepticism of the virgin birth belongs only to a more modern and intelligent generation of people. Doubt was present right from the beginning, across two thousand years, to the present.

Here I will present the most popular arguments against the virgin birth that have emerged over these thousands of years. It is my hope that after exploring these issues you will see that they do not stand to refute the story of the virgin birth. In the end, you will find that the only way to deny the virgin conception is to deny the supernatural all together.

PAGAN MYTH THEORY

The most modern rebuttal to the virgin birth is a conspiracy that the gospel writers copied the story from other pagan mythologies. The train of thought is that only two of the gospels mention the virgin birth, and of these two there are shocking similarities to other mythologies commonly known in the first century. The motivation being that Matthew and Luke wanted to better promote Jesus to the gentiles, and giving Him attributes that resembled popular pagan mythologies would give Christianity more appeal.

Dr. Gerald Larue Professor Emeritus of Archaeology and Biblical Studies at USC, writes, “Sexual relationships between divine beings were common in hero stories. The Greek god Zeus impregnated women to produce heroes like Hercules, Perseus, and Alexander the Great. The god Apollo had intercourse with human females, who bore such heroes as Asclepius, Pythagoras, Plato and the emperor Augustus. Some of the women were said to have been virgins. The use of mythological symbolism was part of the first century literary tradition. The gospel writers simply used it to exalt Jesus.”[4] Even scientists like Dr. Aarathi Prasad, a former cancer researcher, have an opinion on the subject, “Hers [Mary’s] is the best known story of a virgin birth in the world, but it is by no means the only one. From the mothers of Buddha to Genghis Khan, most cultures tell the tale of a maiden untouched by man who gives birth.”[5] Other theories refer to influences from Greco-Roman deity (Perseus- Romulus, Mithras, Apollonius of Tyana), Egyptian deity (Horus, Osiris), and even oriental religions (Buddha, Krishna, and son of Zoroaster).

Right off the bat a discrepancy should be easily recognized here. How could the nativity story have so much in common with mythology from Greece, Rome, Egypt and even the orient? The nativity story is not that long! Most certainly not long enough to be capable of borrowing from all these other religions. Furthermore, even if intense similarities were to be found, that doesn’t in any way prove that the gospel writers copied from them. In fact, to make such a claim would be a genetic fallacy, the error of trying to disprove a belief by tracing it to its source. Regardless, an examination of each one shows that there is hardly any comparison to be made!

Alexander the Great: Born of King Philip II of Macedonia and Queen Olympia,[6] there are no records of Alexander being conceived from a non-sexual divine source.

Apollonius of Tyana: Apollonius was born after his mother fell asleep in a meadow where swans began to dance around her causing her to give birth prematurely. But more importantly, the story of Apollonius was written down no earlier than AD 217, well after the gospel accounts were already written down and being circulated.[7] Thus no claim of copying can be placed on Matthew or Luke.

Buddha: To declare the story Jesus was copied from Buddha is incredibly hard to substantiate considering the histories of Buddha are contradicting, convoluted and written hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years after the supposed events took place. For example, research when Buddha was born and you’ll get a wide range of answers ranging from 1700 BC to 400 BC. Regardless, the details of Buddha’s birth are not similar to Jesus in that Buddha’s mother Maya was a married woman to which there is no original declaration of her being a virgin. Historical scholars maintain Buddha’s birth has no hints of any abnormality. A tradition from the first century did emerge later in which Maya is declared a virgin and became pregnant after dreaming of a white elephant.[8] Hardly comparable to the gospel account.

Genghis Khan: Was born in AD1155,[9] thus no one can claim the gospel writers copied from a man not born for another one thousand years.

Hercules: The myth of Hercules is that Zeus fell in love with a married woman named Alceme, they had sexual relations, and Hercules was conceived.[10] Though Alceme had not yet slept with her husband (her cousin), the encounter between her and Zeus was sexual in nature, and therefore in contrast with the gospel narrative. It should additionally be noted that Alceme slept with another God, Tiresias, at a later date.[11] Other story details bring incredible contrast to the gospel narratives.

Horus and Osiris: This one is slightly more complicated because many pharaohs were named Osiris and Horus after the gods Osiris and Horus. Egyptian mythology holds that Pharaohs were thought be the result of their mother in union with a God.[12] This however would make the mothers non-virgins. The wife’s encounter with a God is sexual in Egyptian tradition, were as the account from Matthew and Luke is not. Even the mythologies of the original gods doesn’t match up; Horus was not born of a virgin. In fact one depiction is that of his mother Isis in falcon form hovering over the erect penis of Osiris. Scholars agree that Egyptian mythology maintains Isis had sexual intercourse with Osiris.[13]

Krishna: Krishna was born as the eighth son of princess Devaki. She was apparently impregnated by her husband god Vasudeva via “mental transmission.” And though one can argue the conception was non-sexual, the fact remains that Devaki had already had seven children and was therefore not a virgin.

Mithras: Mithras was born as an adult, not a child. Mithras was also born out of rock, not a virgin mother.[14] More importantly, the birth stories of Mithras come AFTER the gospels were being circulated.[15] Therefore, one cannot accuse Christianity of borrowing from it.

Perseus: Perseus was not really virginally conceived at all, but was the result of sexual intercourse between the god Zeus and Danaë. Zeus had previously turned himself into a shower of gold to reach the imprisoned damsel.[16] This is in high contrast to the gospel narrative.

Romulus: Romulus was born one of two twins to the virgin Rhea Silva after having sexual intercourse with Mars, and were thrown into the river Tiberinus where they were rescued by a she-wolf that reared them.[17] Though Rhea Silva may have been a virgin, she wasn’t considered one after being impregnated by Mars. Thus, it is not comparable to the gospel narrative.

Zoroaster: Like Buddha, Zoroaster is difficult to pin point as well, living any where from 1,700 to 600 BC. The details of the conception are vague and can only be sourced to a time after Christianity had already originated.[18]

To claim Matthew and Luke copied from pagan myths either comes from a lack of historical knowledge of these other mythological characters, or from a direct intent to mislead others. Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, AKA Pope Benedict XVI, writes, “Extra-biblical stories of this kind differ profoundly in vocabulary and imagery from the story of the birth of Jesus. The main contrast consists in the fact that in pagan texts the godhead almost always appears as a fertilizing, procreative power, thus under a more or less sexual aspect hence in a physical sense as the ‘father’ of the savior-child. As we have seen, nothing of this sort appears in the New Testament: the conception of Jesus is a new creation, not begetting by God. God does not become the biological father of Jesus.”[19]

Reverend Raymond E. Brown of the Roman Catholic Church writes, “In short, there is no clear example of virginal conception in world or pagan religions that plausibly could have given first-century Jewish Christians the idea of the virginal conception of Jesus.”[20]

Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, a chemist and national chess champion, writes, “The earliest Christians were Jews who abhorred paganism (see Acts 14), so would be the last people to derive Christianity from paganism.”[21]

Jean-Guenolé-Marie Daniélou , a Jesuit theologian, historian, cardinal and member of the Academie Francaise, writes, “… such attempts (to compare the Christian nativity to pagan mythology) are foiled by the absence of any precise element of comparison.”[22]

In summary here are some main points to consider regarding this poor theory:

A.         There is no proof that first century Christians knew of, or were at any point exposed to these pagan myths and stories.

B.         If they were known, what is the attraction to them, or motivation to borrow from them? Especially considering the NT’s aversion to anything pagan.

C.        When extra-biblical stories are compared to the virginal conception from Matthew and Luke there is arguably no similarities what so ever.

With these points considered, it becomes very clear that this theory has no legs to stand on and should be abandoned by skeptics.

COPIED FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT

Another theory holds that Matthew and Luke didn’t copy but pagan mythologies, but instead copied from the Old Testament. The motivation is the same for the pagan mythologies in that they wanted to make Christ more appealing. But instead of making Him more appealing to gentiles, they instead wanted to make Him appealing to Jews. And what better way to do this then to connect the nativity story with other Old Testament stories and attach a prophecy to the virgin conception.

The first concept of appealing to Jews was to copy from the stories of Isaac and Samson in which through the miracle of sexual reproduction God makes the conception of these heroes possible, much like Jesus. This theory is easily refuted though. Mary was a virgin, unlike Isaac and Samson’s mother. She was also very young whereas the other mothers were very old. The miracle is thus of a completely different nature since the other mother’s pregnancies were miracles in that they were too old to conceive. Mary’s pregnancy, conversely, was a miracle in that she was a virgin. Additionally, the other mothers conceived through sexual intercourse between two humans, with God only making the conception possible. Mary on the other hand had no sexual intercourse, and was made pregnant via the Holy Spirit. The nature of these miracles is different enough to refute the notion that Matthew and Luke fabricated the story from Old Testament scripture.

The second concept is that of prophecy. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 as prophecy of the virgin conception: “Therefore the Lord himself will give youa sign: The virginwill conceive and give birth to a son, andwill call him Immanuel” (NIV). Since this prophecy already had a historical fulfillment unrelated to Christ, many argue that Matthew was forcing prophecy on the nativity to convince Jews of Christ’s authenticity. Many scholars, still to this day, argue on the meaning and usage of this OT text by Matthew.

The Hebrew word used for virgin in Isaiah 7:14 is “almah.” When translated into Greek in the Septuagint, the word used is “parthenos.” “Parthenos” can be translated to “virgin,” but it can just as easily mean “young woman.”[23] Another Greek word “neanis,” could have been used and has closer meaning to “almah.” But it was not used, so the Septuagint translator interpreted “almah” to represent “parthenos.”[24] Others believe virgin is an accurate translation for “almah” since it is used in many other places in Old Testament for young women that were unmarried (virgin) women.[25] Many theologians argue why the Septuagint translator(s) used “parthenos.” But whether Isaiah 7:14 pertains to a woman being a “virgin” or “young,” it should be noted that Mary was both, so there is no contradiction no matter which way you put it. The issue is not so much as whether the woman mentioned was a virgin or not, but more so, the reason for Matthew’s use of it.

Some theologians believe that the virginal conception was so unexpected that it forced Matthew and Luke to interpret Isaiah 7:14 in a way very different from how Jewish tradition did.[26] Thus, Isaiah 7:14 is used out of context to be assimilated to the virgin conception of Christ. This is troubling for many to accept. However, there is another approach to this issue. The literal prophecy is directly linked with a past historical event, the birth of Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, which is directly followed by disasters in Israel. This has led other theologians to counter that Matthew is using the prophecy within context, but that we’re reading the wrong part of the prophecy. The purpose of Isaiah 7:14 (when read in context with 7:13) is that there will be a descendant of David that is a “sign.”[27] This prophecy should not be used to “prove” the virgin birth that fulfills the prophecy, but instead to indicate a parallel with offspring from the lineage of David born unto a “young” or “virgin” woman. After all, Isaiah 7:14 says the child would be named Immanuel, and Jesus is named… well… Jesus. Yet there is a parallel meaning between what the names mean; Immanuel meaning “God is with us,” and Jesus meaning “Savior.” So it can be argued the reference to Isaiah is not for fulfillment, but to establish a parallel.

Danielou concludes, “…the point of the reference to Isaiah 7 in Matthew is to support the central statement of the episode that Jesus is to be of the house of David… It does not base faith in the virgin birth on the fact that it is the fulfillment of a prophecy; on the contrary, it provides a Christian exegesis of the prophecy in the light of the virgin birth.”[28]

Further refutation of the original conspiracy in general can occur if we put ourselves in Matthew and Luke’s shoes for a moment, as first century Jewish men. Let us hypothetically say we were going to fabricate Jesus’ birth story to make it contextual to the Old Testament and Jewish tradition. They would have said the Messiah came down from heaven, or was the Son of David through Joseph. Yet, they went with virginal conception from Mary, a woman from the lineage of David. This is not expected. Clearly the gospel writers did not fabricate the virgin conception from Old Testament scripture.

LATER ADDITIONS

Both the pagan mythology theory and the theory of borrowing from the OT have a similarity in that they are additions to the gospel accounts. This leads to another theory that the virgin conception (and nativity story overall) was added long after the gospels were originally written. The theory proposes a multitude of motivations, some pertaining to the two previous theories of trying to make the story of Christ more appealing. Other motivations lie in trying to force sexual restrictions on men and women through lessons learned from the virgin birth. The case to me made is, why else would such an important story be found in only two gospel accounts and yet nowhere else in the New Testament. Since the books were written in the second half of the first century, it is argued they could have been added at any point during this time. Some believe that Mary was never even considered a virgin until the middle ages!

However, there is strong evidence that the gospels were written prior to the Pauline epistles in 70AD. In fact, famous archaeologist Dr. William F. Albright writes, “There is no reason to believe that any Gospels were written later than A.D. 70,”[29] Additionally, the composition of the infancy gospels in Matthew and Luke is archaic, Judaic, Old Testament character that preserved the first Judeo-Christian community traditions. And furthermore, the virginal conception doctrine is scriptural and affirmed by early Christians such as Ignatius (d. AD c. 108), Justin Martyr (c. 100 – c. 165), Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200), and Tertullian (c. 150 – c. 212).[30] Lastly, by the 3rd century or after, the gospel accounts were so wide spread it would be literally impossible to track down every single one to add in the nativity story.

French theologian Rene Laurentin writes, “A closer investigation of the prehistory of the oral traditions or written sources of the gospels reveals that there is no reason for considering the infancy gospels as late.”[31] Indeed, considering that the text is consistent with that of first century writing, it is consistent with the rest of the gospel text all dated prior to AD70, it would be impossible to add to every copy at a later date and was affirmed by first and second century Christians, it is unquestionably accurate to say the nativity story is not a late addition to the gospel accounts.

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER… AND RECORD

Ok, so maybe we can conclude the gospel writers didn’t copy or add in the nativity story later. But that still doesn’t prove the virgin conception. How do we really know Mary was a virgin? Maybe Joseph and Mary had pre-marital relations? Maybe Mary had an affair? This is of course neglecting the gospel accounts themselves.

Here is what we first need to establish. The gospels are clear that Mary was committed to Joseph. Matthew writes that Joseph was “husband of Mary” (1:16) and that she was “his wife” (1:20, 24) Luke says she was his “betrothed” even at the time of birth (1:27, 2:5). Therefore to suggest Mary had an affair with someone else presents a significant obstacle: Why did Joseph stay with her? Even in today’s culture that is a tall order, but in first century Jewish culture, that is unacceptable. There is no way Joseph would stay with Mary if she was pregnant with another man’s child. There would be at the very least be a divorce. Yet Joseph stays with Mary, clearly indicating there was no affair.

This leads the argument to another possible theory that Joseph and Mary had sex and conceived Jesus. This isn’t as shocking, but it contradicts the gospel accounts of Mary being a virgin. In addition, It was not Joseph who begot him (Mt 1:16, 18-25, Lk 1:31, 34-35, 3:24). Mary is Jesus’ only human source (Mt 1:16, 18, 20-23, Lk 1:27, 35). The origin is not referred to the Father, but to the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18, 20, Lk 1:35). Furthermore, if Joseph was Jesus’ father, why the need to concoct a story of virgin conception?

The only way to suggest the conception of Jesus was not supernatural is to deny the gospel narratives all together which affirm a virgin conception. To go further and propose an affair or normal human conception is to do so with no evidence and a denial of other historical facts.

SKEPTICISM AND EXTRA-BIBLICAL EVIDENCE

Skeptics argue, however, that there IS evidence of an affair or other illegitimate origin for Christ. Evidence that is extra-biblical and thus takes us into the realm of testimony from those who were skeptical of the virgin conception.

Ancient Jewish tradition maintains that Jesus was born of adultery.[32]  In the late 2nd century Celsus, a second century Greek philosopher, wrote, “[Jesus] came from a Jewish village and from poor country woman who earned her living by spinning… She was driven out by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, as she was convicted of adultery. After she had been driven out by her husband and while she was wandering about in a disgraceful way she secretly gave birth to Jesus.”[33]  And, “The mother of Jesus is described as having been turned out by the carpenter who was betrothed to her, as she had been convicted of adultery and had a child by a certain soldier named Panthera.”[34]

Even in the Bible we see skepticism of Jesus’ father from the Pharisees in Mark 6:3 when they refer to Jesus was as the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph. This would be an insult in Jewish culture, unless of course they believed Joseph was not His father, and the real father was unknown.

The skeptics seem to provide evidence that the origin of Christ is questionable. Or do they? Consider the source; Jews and Romans skeptical of Jesus being the Son of God. The only value this evidence has is evidence of doubt from others. The doubt being no different than the doubt experienced today as a way to rationalize Christ’s origins without the supernatural. The inclusion of these doubts in the gospel accounts themselves only solidifies this notion.

Celsus was far removed from the events in question by about one hundred years. His only knowledge of the nativity story coming from what the gospel writers had already established. Hence, his critique of the story is based on what he thinks really happened under the presupposition that the virgin conception did not occur. Case in point is his claim that Mary was convicted of adultery, something Joseph would surely divorce and leave her for, and something Mary most likely would not have survived. He also claims Joseph turned her away, which is not found in the nativity stories, and in fact contradicts them as both Mary and Joseph went to find Jesus in the temple at age twelve. Then there is his claim that the father was a soldier named “Panthera,” which he obviously derived from “pantheos” (virgin).[35] Thus, Celsus’ testimony only proves that there was doubt of Christ’s origins among the Romans, but there is nothing to substantiate these doubts other than preconceived opinion.

These records of doubt additionally defend three points made earlier; the virgin conception was not a later addition, not copied from pagan myth and the gospel writers did not copy from the Old Testament. If the virgin conception was added at a later date how come we see Jews and Romans challenging it so early on? If copied from pagan myth why did the Romans challenge it? If copied from Old Testament scripture why would the Jews challenge it?

Likewise, we must also consider the difficulty and skepticism encountered from Matthew and Luke while writing virginal conception story as further testimony to its accuracy. Why would Matthew and Luke write of it, unless it actually happened? The strange conception of Jesus would only lead to criticism and attempts to discredit the miracle from those who heard of it, as it subsequently did receive from both Jews and Greeks, which is testimony it was not invented by the disciples.

Laurentin writes, “…the virginal conception was, for Luke and above all for Matthew, a crucial difficulty, indeed a scandal. It ran counter to their apologetic concern, to establish that Jesus was son of David, which was the very reason that had inspired Matthew to begin his Gospel with a genealogy. It was a tradition that came to them from reliable Jewish Christian circles, and nothing prepared our evangelists to resolve it. They managed to do so, however, in a more convincing way that Paul himself (Gal 4:4), not by choosing an easy route, but by accepting the very originality of this significant novelty.”[36]

Let us, for the moment, assume the virgin conception did happen as written in the gospels. If so, we would naturally expect opposition from skeptics since the claim of a virgin conception is extreme. We would naturally expect some form of mention of the virgin conception outside the bible. Which we do find this extra-biblical support in the form of skepticism. Thus, the factors we naturally expect to find in the event the story is true, we do indeed find.

A RELIABLE SOURCE

All the rebuttals to these conspiracy theories relies on a foundation that proposes the gospels are reliable texts. As can be shown by the overly abundant other historical events confirmed by the Bible, the gospels themselves present many cities, people and events which have been substantiated by archaeology and other extra-biblical histories. Luke’s gospel alone proves to be rich with details that testify to his objective to provide an accurate account of Jesus’ life. Also consider the historical accuracy of events surrounding the birth. The references to Quirinius’ census, the accuracy of the genealogies, the mention of Herod, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, etc., all historically verifiable people and places. Details of the nativity story in general, like there being no room at the inn, child laid in a manger, etc., have no real theological value other than being straightforward historical details. This adds more teeth to the reliability of the nativity story overall.

With so many facets of Matthew and Luke’s gospels validated, why would one immediately move to a position of doubt when they mention the virgin conception? For the disciples to accept this event as accurate, it is because it imposed itself as fact. Additionally, between Luke and Matthew we see many divergences, yet they both share a similar account of the conception. Laurentin remarks, “… the virgin birth stands as a serious and solid datum. It is affirmed in an independent way, as we have seen, by the two infancy Gospels. There divergences at other points corroborate this remarkable agreement.”[37]

Danielou agrees, “… it is important to notice how Matthew and Luke converg- which indicates at the very least that the virgin birth is an element in a tradition that antedates them both. And if it is further true, as now seems incontestable, that the infancy narratives are based, not just on the preaching of the apostles, but on the traditions in Jesus’ family (traditions related in Luke to Mary’s side, and in Matthew’s to Joseph’s) then we are faced with two independent witnesses fully in agreement with one another.”[38]

But what about the fact that only two places in the New Testament mention such a significant event as the virgin conception? The resurrection was a very significant, and we see it mentioned numerous times in the NT, and definitely in all four gospels. Why is the nativity story so scarce?

Well such might not be the case. Some theologians argue that John 1:13 confirms the virgin conception, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (NIV)”  Mark 6:3 seems to also support the virgin conception in that it testifies to skepticism among the people as they referred to Jesus was the son of Mary, not Joseph, which was not custom at the time to reference the mother instead of the father, unless there was doubt of who the father was. This likewise is shown in John 8:41, where the Pharisees tell Jesus that they were not born out fornication (ek porneias). Was this an insult to Jesus?

Some suggest Paul confirms the virgin birth in Galatians 4:4, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law…” (NIV). Declaring Jesus was born of a woman in that time in place is substantial to say the least. And thus it appears we have confirmation from Matthew, Luke, John, Mark, and Paul that Jesus was conceived from a virgin woman. The claim that the nativity story should be rejected because it only appears in two places in the NT was refutable originally, but now it would appear to be an unquestionably spurious claim to make.

Laurentin writes, “…Paul’s theology of Christ’s origin contains nothing that conflicts with the idea of virginal conception, but in fact, contains some surprising traits which harmonize with it.”[39] Scholar Antonion Vicent Cernuda writes, “His [Paul’s] archaic formulas confirm that [the virginal conception], often considered illusory in these times, did belong to the most ancient Christian tradition.”[40]

One factor that troubles some skeptics is the fact that Matthew and Luke did not witness the events described in the nativity story. How could they know the details of Mary and Joseph being visited by an angel? The story of the conception of Jesus is believed to come from Mary herself, since Luke makes reference to her prayerful recollection. Mary is of course the only witness to the annunciation.[41] Thus, Luke received the story from Mary’s testimony.[42] It should be likewise considered Matthew received it from the same source.

Considering the historical accuracy of the Bible in general, and more specifically Matthew and Luke, it is rational to presume the stories told are accurate. In addition, other books within the Bible confirm the tradition of a virgin conception. Again, if we assume for the moment that the virgin conception did happen in the first century, the evidence we would expect to find from the first century is supporting eye witness testimony and skeptical testimony from those that did not witness it. And this is indeed what we find.

SCIENTIFIC SKEPTICISM

The most common objection to the virgin conception I often hear myself, is that of scientific impossibility. Such an event is a miracle, considered impossible, and thus rejected unless it can be proven otherwise. Usually the skeptic requires scientific proof, ignoring the fact that there are many truths we all accept everyday without a shred of scientific proof. Yet, this has not prevented many from drawing up explanations for the virgin conception that are supposedly scientifically sound. Just as the previously mentioned conspiracy theory of an affair looks to find a simple and scientifically acceptable explanation, there are others to consider as well, such as Parthenogenesis.

A few years ago, discover magazine posted an article on Parthenogenesis which stated, “Virgin birth may sound like the stuff of myths and miracles, but now it’s the stuff of science, too. In recent years, asexual reproduction, aka virgin birth, has been confirmed in a number of organisms.”[43] Parthenogenesis is the capability for an organism to reproduce without the need for fertilized eggs. It has been observed in pythons, sharks, bats, and even lab mice.[44] So if it is possible for these animals to give birth without sex, then maybe it is possible for humans too. Maybe such was the case for Jesus. This would serve to provide scientific plausibility for the skeptics and maintain the virgin birth for believers. In fact, many Christians have indeed adopted Parthenogenesis into their theology. Problem solved! Right?

Wrong. There are theological and scientific implications to parthenogenesis that prove to be anything but harmonious with scripture. The theological problem: Parthenogenesis removes any need for God, the Holy Spirit, or anything supernatural, chalking up Mary’s pregnancy to incredible, but still natural, causes. The denial of any divine influence renders the event non-miraculous and pointless to the Gospels. As Dr. Prasad confirms, “…when it comes to having babies without males, the hand of God now seems redundant.”[45] The scientific problem: parthenogenesis works by giving the egg an X chromosome from the mother, creating an XX combination which results in a female. Jesus was a male however. Meaning he required a Y chromosome which mothers cannot give, but fathers can.[46] As Prasad clarifies, “In humans, a virgin birth would mean that a woman’s eggs develop successfully without sperm. This presents a sex chromosome problem. In mammals, females are XX while males are XY so a woman should never be able to provide the necessary Y chromosome genes to produce a son. They can only come from a father.”[47]

However, some argue it could still be possible for Jesus to have been conceived this way if Mary had a condition called “testicular feminization syndrome.” Meaning, Mary had an X and Y chromosome (like that of a man) but her X chromosome was mutated preventing her body from being sensitive to testosterone, and thus, would develop like a female.[48] Normally the syndrome leaves the carrier sterile, but if she were to spontaneously become pregnant, she would have a Y chromosome to give, making it possible to have a male child.[49]

This, however, leads to another problem. Such a case of parthenogenesis among a carrier of testicular feminization syndrome would mean the offspring would inherit the same X chromosome mutation, and subsequently develop like a female as well. The only way around this problem is to propose a “back mutation,” in which the X chromosome mutation mutates back to the original gene that doesn’t cause testicular feminization. The odds of a back mutation are, however, “highly unlikely.”[50]

Another theory maintains that Mary didn’t have testicular feminization, but was instead a genetic mosaic caused while she herself was in her mother’s womb. This scenario involves a twin embryo (with a Y chromosome) fusing with Mary’s at a very early stage.[51] Thus, Mary is a female, but has the Y chromosome from her unfortunate fused twin. Yet problems emerge just as before; why is that Y chromosome not expressed in Mary’s phenotype? Whatever would suppress that Y chromosome allowing Mary to be female, would likewise prevent Jesus from being male as well.

Furthermore, the processes required for natural virgin birth are extremely unlikely. Parthenogenesis has never been observed in humans. Testicular feminization syndrome is very rare, only effecting one in 20,000 to 64,000 births in modern times.[52] The possibility of females with testicular feminization syndrome giving birth is very rare. Mary being a genetic mosaic is also very rare. And a back mutation is also very rare. When you stack unlikely scenarios upon piles of other unlikely scenarios, you’re left with an overall scenario so unlikely, it might as well be a miracle! As Prasad writes, “You could be forgiven for thinking that the scientific possibilities are no more plausible than a miracle.”[53] Clearly, the purpose of parthenogenesis to provide a scientific explanation for the virgin conception absent of miracles completely fails in this regard.

This is naturally where the argument heads into the realm of miracles and the question of whether or not miracles can or have happened. There is obviously a great deal that can be written on this subject alone, but I will only briefly attend to it. I will start by suggesting that it is a fallacy to claim that science disproves miracles. Science can only measure and study the regular natural order of things. A miracle, being a suspension of the regular natural order, would thus not be detectable by science. Ergo, to argue that science leaves no room for miracles is to argue that science has a monopoly on determining what truth is. However, the process of science is the data collected from observable repeatable experiment. Thus, science is limited as to what it can prove or disprove.

We also need to recognize that science is descriptive, not prescriptive. It does not determine what is possible, it only recognizes what is possible, and hence is always changing as we discover and understand more and more. Things that once defied science in the past are now standards in science. So if we recognize the limitations of science it becomes clear that the assumption it disproves miracles, is ultimately, false. After all, if science absolutely disproved miracles we should see a complete absence of Christian scientists. Such is not the case though.

Here, I believe, it is important to understand God’s role between miracles and natural law. Philosopher and apologist Norman L. Geisler does a wonderful job in identifying this, “Natural law is a description of the way God acts regularly in and through creation (Ps. 104:10–14), whereas a miracle is the way God acts on special occasions. So both miracles and natural law involve the activity of God. The difference is that natural law is the regular, repeatable way God acts, whereas a miracle is not… Natural law is the way God acts indirectly in and through the world he has made. By contrast, a miracle is the way God acts directly in his creation from time to time… Natural law describes the gradual activity of God in the world, whereas miracles manifest his immediate actions.”[54]

Overall, attempts to reconcile the virgin conception through pure natural causes devoid of divine intervention have to be recognized as attempts to remove God from the picture completely. And to remove God from the event, ultimately leads to an even easier denial of it. Brown writes, “It [virgin conception] was an extraordinary action of God’s creative power, as unique as the initial creation itself (and that is why all natural scientific objections to it are irrelevant, e.g., that not having a human father, Jesus’ genetic structure would be abnormal). It was not a phenomenon of nature; and to reduce it to one, however unusual, would be as serious a challenge to deny it altogether.”[55] So there should be no interest for Christians to search out natural explanations for it in an effort to make the story more plausible to skeptics.

Yet, the removal of any natural cause might be the deal breaker for you, yourself. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, I could never believe in miracles! I can, however, argue that you most likely all ready do. Atheists and agnostic skeptics tend to have more in common with Christians than they would like to think. The virgin conception proves this greatly in that it involves the spontaneous generation of Jesus’ first embryonic cell. Scoff and mock this notion if you wish. But it is no different than the first spontaneous generation of life on earth. Think of the parallels: Both involve a spontaneous generation of a cell. Both unobserved by modern science. A purely natural origin of life on this earth involves the same degree of miraculous cellular formation we see in the virgin birth. Yet skeptics will scoff and mock the notion of the virgin birth (of which we have eye witness accounts) and yet religiously adhere to the natural origin of life on earth (in which there is no eyewitness account, and additionally no conclusive evidence)! Such irony!

So from a scientific perspective there is no valid excuse to deny the virgin conception unless you wish to throw out every other miraculous non-observable event in history like the spontaneous generation of life on earth, the big bang event, etc. etc. Yet, if we believe these events to have occurred, than you no longer have any scientific grounds to refute the virgin conception.

CONCLUSION

My research has lead me to conclude the virgin conception story as recorded in the Bible can stand up to the refutations skeptics attack it with. As Laurentin concludes, “After so many hypotheses, which have on examination turned out be as many impasses, the obvious critical solution is to recognize that the virginal conception is a datum of tradition, handed down in Judeo-Christian circles. The two evangelists received it by different routes as a statement of fact… This is the conclusion to which an objective study of the text leads.”[56]

Through out the course of researching this topic it occurred to me that in arguing for and against the virgin conception of Christ, the issue will always boil down to a single question: Is there a God? This is ultimately the issue at hand. If there is no God then the virgin conception becomes null and void. If there is a God, then miracles are possible, and the virgin conception possible and confirmed. This is the question one must decide for themselves first, as the virgin conception debacle will only lead back to it. For Christians who claim to believe in God there is absolutely no reason to deny the literal accuracy of the virgin conception. To do so would be to pull on the thread of God’s capability that is tied to all Biblical events, unraveling the entire Bible itself.

Although this article does not alone prove whether the virgin conception actually happened or not, it does bring up two significant points: First, that if the virgin conception did occur in the first century as expressed in the gospels, all the evidence we would expect there to be of this event are indeed found. Second, if God exists as expressed in the Bible, then the virgin conception is possible, tied to the first point that there is evidence of the virgin conception, it can then be concluded it did occur. Alas, we are left with one final question then; does God exist? If your answer is yes, then I believe it is necessary to conclude the virgin conception is a historical fact.


[1] Spong, J.S., (1992) Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus, (San Francisco, CA: Harper)

[2] Flam, F., (May 2006) “What would Jesus’ DNA do?” seattletimes.com

[3] Robinson, J.A.T. (1967) But That I Can’t Believe! (New York, NY: The New American Library, Inc.) pp. 44.

[4] Larue, G. (1983) Sex and the Bible, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books). Pp. 70.

[5] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[6] “Alexander the Great,” http://www.biography.com

[7] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from Apollonius of Tyana?” http://www.tektonics.org

[8] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from Buddha? (Part 2)” http://www.tektonics.org

[9] “Genghis Kahn Biography,” (2012) http://www.biography.com

[10] “The Life and Times of Hercules,” http://www.perseus.tufts.edu

[11] “Alceme,” dante.udallas.edu

[12] Cazelle, H., (1959) “La mere du roi-Messie dans l’Ancien Testment,” Maria Ecclesia 5, pp. 39-56.

[13] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from that of the Egyptian deities Horus and Osiris?” http://www.tektonics.org

[14] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from that of the Persian deity Mithra?” http://www.tektonics.org

[15] Sarfati, J., (1994) “The Virginal Conception of Christ,” Apologia, 3(2) pp. 9.

[16] Sarfati, J., (1994) “The Virginal Conception of Christ,” Apologia, 3(2) pp. 9.

[17] Lindemans, M.F., (March 2002) “Romulus,” http://www.pantheon.org

[18] Hold, J.P., “Was the story of Jesus stolen from that of Zoroaster?” http://www.tektonics.org

[19] Ratzinger, J.A., (1969) Introduction au christianise. Translated, Queriniana, Pp. 207-208

[20] Brown, R.E., (1977)  The Birth of the Messiah: a commentary on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, Garden City, NY: Doubleday) pp. 523

[21] Sarfati, J., (1994) “The Virginal Conception of Christ,” Apologia, 3(2) pp. 9.

[22] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 53.

[23] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 48.

[24] Larue, G. (1983) Sex and the Bible, (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books). Pp 69.

[25] Bott, M. & Sarfati, J., (1995) “What is wrong with Bishop Spong? Laymen Rethink the Scholarship of John Shelby Spong,” Apologia 4(1):3–27

[26] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 403.

[27] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 50.

[28] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 52.

[29] Quoted in, Little, P.E., (2000) “Know Why You Believe,” 4th Ed., (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press) pp. 41-42.

[30] Sarfati, J., (1994) “The Virginal Conception of Christ,” Apologia, 3(2) pp. 4.

[31] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 410.

[32] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 405.

[33] As quoted from Chadwick, H., (1953) Origen: Contra Celsum, Cambridge, The University Press, 1:28, pp. 28

[34] As quoted from Chadwick, H., (1953) Origen: Contra Celsum, Cambridge, The University Press, 1:32, pp. 31.

[35] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 539 (ref 13).

[36] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 416.

[37] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 402.

[38] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 42.

[39] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 409.

[40] Vicent Cernuda, A., (1978) “La genesis humana de Jesucrist segun S. Pablo,” Translated, EB 37, pp. 289.

[41] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 23.

[42] Danielou, J., (1968) The Infancy Narratives, (New York, NY: Herder and Herder). Pp. 58-59.

[43] Bai, N., (January 2009) “The Science of Virgin Birth,” blogs.discovermagazine.com

[44] Bai, N., (January 2009) “The Science of Virgin Birth,” blogs.discovermagazine.com

[45] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[46] Bai, N., (January 2009) “The Science of Virgin Birth,” blogs.discovermagazine.com

[47] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[48] Kour, V. & Abrol, A., (January-March 2005) “Testicular Feminization Syndrome,” Vol. 7, No. 1, http://www.jkscience.org

[49] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[50] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[51] Bai, N., (January 2009) “The Science of Virgin Birth,” blogs.discovermagazine.com

[52] Kour, V. & Abrol, A., (January-March 2005) “Testicular Feminization Syndrome,” Vol. 7, No. 1, http://www.jkscience.org

[53] Prasad, A., (December 2008) “Virgin conception would be more plausible if mary was a man,” http://www.theguardian.co.uk

[54] Geisler, N.L., (1992) Miracles and the Modern Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker) pp. 111.

[55] Brown, R.E., (1977)  The Birth of the Messiah: a commentary on the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke, Garden City, NY: Doubleday) pp. 531.

[56] Laurentin, R., (1982) The Truth of Christmas; Beyond the Myths, Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications) pp. 416.

The following is an article written by synthetic organic chemist Dr. James M. Tour called, “Layman’s Reflections on Evolution and Creation. An Insider’s View of the Academy .”

It is a very insightful and incredibly fascinating article about his stance on the creation/evolution debate that is put into wonderful perspective. You can find it here: http://www.jmtour.com/personal-topics/the-scientist-and-his-%e2%80%9ctheory%e2%80%9d-and-the-christian-creationist-and-his-%e2%80%9cscience%e2%80%9d/

Tour writes,

“Assuming that I have something significant to contribute to the evolution vs. creation debate, many ask me to speak and write concerning my thoughts on the topic. However, I do not have anything substantive to say about it. I am a layman on the subject. Although I have read about a half dozen books on the debate, maybe a dozen, and though I can speak authoritatively on complex chemical synthesis, I am not qualified to enter the public discussion on evolution vs. creation. So please don’t ask me to be the speaker or debater at your event, and think carefully about asking me for an interview because I will probably not give you the profound quotations that you seek. You are of course free to quote me from what is written here, but do me the kindness of placing my statements in a fair context.

I have been labeled as an Intelligent Design (ID) proponent. I am not. I do not know how to use science to prove intelligent design although some others might. I am sympathetic to the arguments on the matter and I find some of them intriguing, but the scientific proof is not there, in my opinion. So I prefer to be free of that ID label. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaise_Pascal), one of the finest scientists, mathematicians and inventors that the world has ever enjoyed, and also among the most well-respected and deepest thinking Christian apologists, wrote in his Pensees 463, “It is a remarkable fact that no canonical [biblical] author has ever used nature to prove God. They all try to make people believe in him. David, Solomon, etc., never said: ‘There is no such thing as a vacuum, therefore God exists.’ They must have been cleverer than the cleverest of their successors, all of whom have used proofs from nature. This is very noteworthy.’” As Kreeft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Kreeft) points out in his commentary on Pascal’s Pensees, “If the Scripture does not use nature to prove God, it can’t be the best strategy. Notice that Pascal does not say that there are no good proofs of God or that none of them begin with data from nature. Elsewhere, he specifies merely that such proofs are psychologically weak, but he does not say they are logically weak. More important, they are salvifically weak, [meaning that] they will not save us. If nature proved God clearly, we would not have to search for him with all our hearts.” Pascal further writes in his Pensees 429 , “This is what I see that troubles me: Nature has nothing to offer me that does not give rise to doubt and anxiety; if there is a God supporting nature, she should unequivocally proclaim him, and that, if the signs in nature are deceptive, they should be completely erased; that nature should say all or nothing so that I could see what course I ought to follow.” Though 350 years since Pascal penned his dilemma, as a modern-day scientist, I do not know how to prove ID using my most sophisticated of analytical tools. I share Pascal’s frustration. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if, when scientists had obtained the first molecular resolution images of human DNA, it had self-assembled (a thermodynamic process) into the Hebrew script to say, “The God of Heaven and Earth was here.”? But it did not, and I suppose that the wonder would have elicited no love from the skeptic anyway. Therefore, God seems to have set nature as a clue, not a solution, to keep us yearning for him.

Not that it matters much, but since many want to know, I will ask the question for them: Where does Jim Tour stand on the evolution vs. creation debate? I do have scientific problems understanding macroevolution as it is usually presented. I simply can not accept it as unreservedly as many of my scientist colleagues do, although I sincerely respect them as scientists. Some of them seem to have little trouble embracing many of evolution’s proposals based upon (or in spite of) archeological, mathematical, biochemical and astrophysical suggestions and evidence, and yet few are experts in all of those areas, or even just two of them. Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway. When hearing such extrapolations in the academy, when will we cry out, “The emperor has no clothes!”?

From what I can see, microevolution is a fact; we see it all around us regarding small changes within a species, and biologists demonstrate this procedure in their labs on a daily basis. Hence, there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution. Here is what some supporters of Darwinism have written regarding this point in respected journals, and it is apparent that they struggle with the same difficulty.

  • Stern, David L. “Perspective: Evolutionary Developmental Biology and the Problem of Variation,” Evolution 2000, 54, 1079-1091. A contribution from the University of Cambridge. “One of the oldest problems in evolutionary biology remains largely unsolved; Historically, the neo-Darwinian synthesizers stressed the predominance ofmicromutations in evolution, whereas others noted the similarities between somedramatic mutations and evolutionary transitions to argue for macromutationism.”
  • Simons, Andrew M. “The Continuity of Microevolution and Macroevolution,” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 2002, 15, 688-701. A contribution from Carleton University.”A persistent debate in evolutionary biology is one over the continuity of microevolution and macroevolution — whether macroevolutionary trends are governed by the principles of microevolution.”

So the debate between the validity of extending microevolutionary trends to macroevolutionary projections is indeed “persistent” in evolutionary biology.

Some are disconcerted or even angered that I signed a statement back in 2001 along with over 700 other scientists: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” Do not the texts written by the two authors above underscore what I signed, namely, “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged”? And these “oldest problems in evolutionary biology” lead me and many others to our being “skeptical.” It is not a matter of politics. I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? Furthermore, when I, a non-conformist, ask proponents for clarification, they get flustered in public and confessional in private wherein they sheepishly confess that they really don’t understand either. Well, that is all I am saying: I do not understand. But I am saying it publicly as opposed to privately. Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught, so I invite them to meet with me. Lunch will be my treat. Until then, I will maintain that no chemist understands, hence we are collectively bewildered. And I have not even addressed origin of first life issues. For me, that is even more scientifically mysterious than evolution. Darwin never addressed origin of life, and I can see why he did not; he was far too smart for that. Present day scientists that expose their thoughts on this become ever so timid when they talk with me privately. I simply can not understand the source of their confidence when addressing their positions publicly.

Furthermore, most of my scientist colleagues do not discuss macroevolution very often because they are too busy with their own fields of interest to be sidetracked by such tangential matters. Though the acceptance of macroevolution is rather implicit within their core understandings, most science professors are simply too harried to take much notice of the details. Pondering and thoughtfulness has been pounded and distilled out of many of us; there’s another meeting to attend, another proposal to write, another manuscript to proof, yet another lecture to deliver, 100 more emails to answer, and the anxieties about our futures must be allayed. “The peace which passeth all understanding,” is beyond reach, nay beyond understanding.

Likewise, I do not well-understand the stance of many of my creationist friends regarding their scientific evidence for creation or intelligent design, but they seem to be quite comfortable in most respects with the natural and historical suggestions for its claims. I am happy for them, but I hope that their position does not cause them to trump brotherly love or charity in thought or words. When they write on these topics, they are too quick to cite each other or to refer to 40-year-old studies, and slow to consider the newer findings in the mainstream scientific literature. The scientist is not the creationist’s enemy, and most scientists are quite sincere in producing research that is accurate to the best of today’s measurement abilities. For example, the gross dismissing of radiometric dating experiments that use even multiple corroborating nuclei, not by a mere 20% or even 100%, but by 4-5 orders of magnitude, based on antiquated “scientific” arguments, is unscientific and unfair. Moreover, to simply suggest that “God made it look older than it really is” is also unreasonable. With what else is God deceiving us? The virgin birth, the crucifixion or the resurrection, perhaps? Never. God is not in the business of deception, but in causing man to seek so that he could find. And my creationist friends need some thoughtful explanations for their children because, in my experience, young college-aged people seek truth, and if you threaten them, try to brow-beat them, or show them a select set of cloistered “scientific” data, they’ll smell hypocrisy, and sooner or later in life, reject it altogether.

What a comfort it must be to be pleasantly settled in one camp or the other, but I can not be so settled, and hence I have few tent-fellows. Based upon my faith in the Scriptures, I do believe (yes, faith and belief go beyond scientific evidence for this scientist) that God created the heavens and the earth and all that dwell therein, including a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. As for many of the details and the time-spans, I personally become less clear. Some may ask, What’s “less clear” about the text that reads, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth”? That is a fair question, and I wish I had an answer that would satisfy them. But I do not because I remain less clear.

I hope that’s satisfactory; I mean for me, a scientist and a Christian, to be unsure of a few things in both science and Christianity. The question is not fundamental to my salvation as a Christian which is based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ, my confession in him as Savior and my belief in his resurrection from the dead. And I used to think that my outward confession of skepticism regarding Darwinian Theory was also of little consequence to my career as a scientist. Specifically, in the past, I wrote that my standing as a scientist was “based primarily upon my scholarly peer-reviewed publications.” I no longer believe that, however.

In the last few years I have seen a saddening progression at several institutions. I have witnessed unfair treatment upon scientists that do not accept macroevolutionary arguments and for their having signed the above-referenced statement regarding the examination of Darwinism. (I will comment no further regarding the specifics of the actions taken upon the skeptics; I love and honor my colleagues too much for that.) I never thought that science would have evolved like this. I deeply value the academy; teaching, professing and research in the university are my privileges and joys. Rice University, from the administration, has always been gracious and open. The president of Rice University, David Leebron, has even written to the faculty that a,

“core value of our university is free and open inquiry. We encourage robust debate on the difficult issues of the day, and we welcome people with many points of view to our campus to better understand those issues and the differences that can divide us. That can and does mean that we sometimes provide a forum for opinions that may be controversial — or even on occasion reprehensible — to many or a few. While we cannot and will not censor the expression of divergent opinions, we do expect those opinions be expressed with civility and with respect for other points of view.”

Hence, by my observation, the unfair treatment upon the skeptics of macroevolution has not come from the administration level. But my recent advice to my graduate students has been direct and revealing: If you disagree with Darwinian Theory, keep it to yourselves if you value your careers, unless, of course, you’re one of those champions for proclamation; I know that that fire exists in some, so be ready for lead-ridden limbs. But if the scientific community has taken these shots at senior faculty, it will not be comfortable for the young non-conformist. When the power-holders permit no contrary discussion, can a vibrant academy be maintained? Is there a University (unity in diversity)? For the United States, I pray that the scientific community and the National Academy in particular will investigate the disenfranchisement that is manifest upon some of their own, and thereby address the inequity.

So what should be taught in schools regarding evolution? As I wrote, I am not a proponent of Intelligent Design for the reasons I state above: I can not prove it using my tools of chemistry to which I am bound in the chemistry classroom; the same tools to which I commensurately bind my evolutionist colleagues. But I think that a better approach might include more teaching about evolution, namely coverage of legitimate scientific criticisms of neo-Darwinism and disputes about the origin of the first life. That would be more balanced.

Some have asked me what I think of the movie, “Expelled. No Intelligence Allowed.” I saw a closed viewing of the movie in February 2008, two months before its public showing. It was difficult for me to watch because it struck so close to home, thus I am sure that my feelings were different than the other non-scientists in the theater. As to the veracity of the specific claims by others in the movie, I cannot judge since I was not walking in their shoes. But here is what I fear: the movie might serve to increase the polarization between the scientific and lay communities. That a subset of the scientific establishment is retarding the careers of Darwinian skeptics is true as far as I have witnessed personally. If there are legitimate scientific skepticisms regarding the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution, those skeptics are sometimes stifled through unfair treatment regarding their career advancement; that is real although most scientists would say that such attacks on careers are nonexistent. Most would say such a thing because they are not involved in the skirmish and they are not aware that a colleague down the hall is hemorrhaging. Like many, they are absorbed in their own work because science can be all-consuming. I do not fault them for that. Most scientists, as I said, are far too busy with their own careers to be involved with other’s problems of this sort. A small number of scientists would say that the stifled deserve stifling. Therefore, if attention can be brought to the unfortunate state in science through the movie, let it come. I hope all welcome freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry, even if that freedom threatens one’s own preconceived views or areas of research. But I also hope that the reaction will not be too great on the layperson’s side wherein their disgust induces a politician or two to become incensed in the investigation because of the unnecessarily incendiary portrayals to Nazism, Berlin-walling and church-demolishing in the movie; although entertaining from a theatrical perspective, that part of the movie is taken to an unrealistic extrapolation point. But then again, one who is far more qualified than I am, and further seasoned by fire, believed differently. Viktor Frankl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Frankl), a former Auschwitz inmate wrote in The Doctor and the Soul, that the source for much of the 20th Century’s inhumanity has come from the very origins being discussed here.

“If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

“I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers [emphasis added].”

If Frankl is correct, God help us.”