Tuesday, April 1, 2014

DNA History and space Aliens

One of the fundamental problems with religious scripture –and there are many- is that it attempts to present historic fact. The basic concept is that the scripture says that things happened at some time, and that these things actually happened. This creates a problem in that the process of “things happening” should leave a residue, and that residue is often missing.

“So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel; Even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.” – Numbers 1:45-46 (KJB)

One of the most famous scriptural histories which lacks a residue is that of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. According to biblical scripture the number of individuals escaping Egypt was over 2 million (The 603,550 men over the age of 20 from numbers 1:46 plus this or that group with special tasks and all their families. The text is specific but tedious). There is the problem that 2 million people leaving ancient Egypt with its population of around 3 million should have generated some bit of news, but there is very little ancient chatter concerning the magical escape of two thirds of Egypt's population. There is also the problem that a band of people approximately four times the size of the current-day population of the Sinai peninsula would wander around a measly 61,000 square kilometers of desert for 40 years without leaving a trace; unless you count those bits of stone tablets that nobody has actually seen (except those Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark). There should be expansive and obvious evidence for so large a group existing in such a confined space for so long, and there isn’t any.

One reason that the lack of evidence for the precisely enumerated exodus horde is extremely problematic is that these numbers make little sense on their own. A group this size arraigned five abreast would form a line well over 300 miles long, and it is only 230 miles from Cairo to Israel. If there were some sort of physical evidence, like huge trash dumps or expansive fields of pit toilets, then one could at least argue that we know it happened even though it makes no sense. Without evidence it just sounds impossible and it looks like it did not happen. It is very easy to come up with stories that sound impossible and never happened. It is done all the time. Such stories are usually labeled as fiction or have some person using them as some kind of justification to ask for money. Supporters of the bible insist that it is not fiction.

“Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief.” -- Austin Farrer

The exodus issue is not new. The problem with the numbers is so fundamental as to have inspired doubt for hundreds of years. One of the most common ways of dealing with it, shy of the preferred complete abandonment of Judeo-Christianity, is to suggest that the numbers are code, or allegory, or over-exaggeration; in other words simply not accurate. This opens the door to a more secular interpretation of the bible. The stories in it are just stories. The laws in it are just suggestions that made sense to desert-dwelling tribesmen thousands of years ago; this is especially nice since some of the laws, like stoning people to death for gathering sticks on Sunday, would be especially awkward to enforce in a polite society.

“ And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men;” 2 Nephi 28:4-5 (Book of Mormon)

Not every religious person is willing to abandon the literal interpretation of scripture as history. The LDS church has recently gone to great lengths to reconcile their story of American colonization by a family from Israel with the lack of residual evidence of that history. They have even changed their scripture slightly (in 2006) by rewording an official introduction to the Book of Mormon that stated that the Lehi family was “"the principal ancestors of the American Indians" to instead say that they "are among the ancestors of the American Indians". That type of re-revelation can only be accomplished by a scripture that can be edited by living prophets. The reason for this divine re-inspiration was the lack of residual DNA evidence linking the American Indians to the inhabitants of Israel in 600BCE.

The LDS Church posted an in-depth argument about how the lack of DNA evidence does not say the colonization did not happen. At issue is why native Americans have DNA that would be expected if their ancestors emigrated over an ice-bridge from Siberia about 40 thousand years ago instead of sailing over from Jerusalem about two and a half thousand years ago. The Mormons take a two-pronged approach. First they explain that the Israelite DNA markers could be lost through genetic drifts or bottlenecks. Second, and this is my favorite, they invoke what they call “the founder’s effect”.

The LDS Church describes “the founder effect” in this way: “It is possible that each member of the emigrating parties described in the Book of Mormon had DNA typical of the Near East, but it is likewise possible that some of them carried DNA more typical of other regions. In this case, their descendants might inherit a genetic profile that would be unexpected given their family’s place of origin. This phenomenon is called the founder effect.” A more readable explanation would go like this: “Lehi’s family, unlike all their known neighbors, could actually have moved to Israel from China”. Why not? They were the only folks who knew reformed Egyptian so why shouldn’t they be the only Chinese Jews on the planet at that time?

“It is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.” -- Dallin H. Oaks

All this raises the obvious question: “If you are going to make up history why not make it extremely interesting”. Mark Twain famously called the Book of Mormon “Chloroform In Print”, but I wager he would never have insinuated that the scripture of the Church of Scientology was boring!

The scientologists believe that Aliens some 75 million years ago flew around in magic DC8s dropping hydrogen bombs into volcanoes (volcanoes that still exist) in what is called “Incident II”.

One might ask “why?”

As in “Why not make up scriptural history and then invent fabulous evidence to prove it”. This is difficult with pesky historians trying to interject “accurate” information. This is not a problem in North Korea. In 2012 North Korean archeologists confirmed that a site they were excavating was indeed a magical unicorn lair. If they would only put their surviving scientists to the task of cloning magic unicorns from the DNA they retrieved from the lair instead of making those pesky atom bombs then people would treat them nicer.

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