7 more things that are older than (Ken Ham’s) Adam

Ken Ham and other young-Earth creationists tell us the universe is 6,000 years old.

The universe says different.

Here are a few more things recently in the news that are older than Ken Ham’s universe.

1. Thirty-four 7,500-year-old cheese strainers unearthed in the Kuyavia region of Poland. Cheese-strainers is just a guess — they’ve got holes in them, and researchers found evidence of milk-fat residues in the holes. But “They could well have been flame covers, chafing dishes, honey strainers or used for beer-making, to strain out chaff.”

Upheaval Dome in Utah is either an ancient meteor impact site, about 170 million years old. Or else it’s where Noah’s anchor scraped the bottom during the flood 4,400 years ago. Teach the controversy.

2. The 50,000-year-old leather-working tools found in a cave in France. The big news there is not that these tools are 44,000 years older than the YEC universe. The big news there is that these are Neanderthal tools and that they’re more sophisticated than anything we had 50,000 years ago.

3. Gobleki Tepe. At 11,000 years old, or so, the monoliths in Turkey are older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids. Scientists think they’re religious in nature, but aren’t really sure because scientists don’t listen to Coast to Coast AM and therefore dismiss Zecharia Sitchin as a crank.

4. The rodent-like Rugosodon eurasiaticus lived 160 million years ago. They were multituberculates — a category of early mammals that died out about 35 million years ago. Extinction is sad, but 125 million years is a pretty good run.

5. This one’s kind of borderline: Residue-encrusted pottery fragments show that ancient humans used mustard as a spice. The fragments were found at three sites in Denmark and Germany. The youngest of those sites dates back 5,750 years, but the oldest dates back about 6,100 years. So humans were cooking with mustard a century before Ken Ham’s Eden.

6. A scorpion-like fossil recently found in South Africa is evidence of the earliest-yet discovered land creature living on what was then Gondwanaland, 350 million years ago.

7. Upheaval Dome in Cayonlands National Park, Utah. It’s about 170 million years old. Joel Duff went there and took some amazing pictures (even better than the one above, from Wikipedia). Duff describes the site:

This crater is not what you might expect. There is a large mound in the center. The idea here is that this is a very very old crater. One that was caused by a meteorite impact after the thick sandstone layers were laid down but then this entire area was covered by additional rock which has since eroded revealing this former scar on the earth.


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  • skyblue

    I’m reminded of this classic article from The Onion:

    Sumerians Look On In Confusion as God Creates World

    “..the Sumerians were taken aback by the creation of the same animals and herb-yielding seeds that they had been domesticating and cultivating for hundreds of generations.”

  • Vermic

    Residue-encrusted pottery fragments show that ancient humans used mustard as a spice. The fragments were found at three sites in Denmark and Germany.

    Served alongside some form of primitive knackwurst, no doubt.

  • Jim Roberts

    There’s such a thing as non-primitive knackwurst? I admit, I prefer my sausage primordial in its complexity.

  • Panda Rosa

    There’s got to be a joke somewhere about 7500 year old cheese graters, I just can’t think of it. Especially if they’re older than Eden.

  • Vermic

    I’m confused. Why would anyone make a tool to strain 7,500-year-old cheese?

  • skyblue

    Makes total sense-cheeses that age for a long time (i.e. Parmesan) are often served grated!

  • P J Evans

    Whey has to be drained off the curds.

  • reynard61

    Maybe it came from…(wait for it!) The Garden of Edam.

    Thank you! Thank you! I’ll be here all week! Don’t forget to tip your waiter!

  • walden

    Blessed are the cheesemakers

  • Launcifer

    Was that a plug for Cheeses of Nazareth?

  • arcseconds

    I kind of like the borderline status of the mustard-seed one, actually.

    If I put my brain in neutral, I can see how someone might just fail to parse statements about time periods longer than 6,000 years. From the perspective of a human lifespan, 6,000 is a comprehensible number (about 100 human lifespans. We can cope easily with a community of 100 people, so to imagine your relationship to this time period you can just imagine 100 of your ancestors forming such a community, extended in time rather than space. I’m not explaining that very well, but hopefully you can see where I’m going with this).

    One or two orders of magnitude above that, it just starts getting silly. Many people, not just YECers, just lump long lengths of time into “a really really long time ago”, which sets the stage to not seeing much difference between things happening a few thousand years ago and a few million.

    6,000 years ago is the horizon of the YEC position. They’re happy to think about that time period. They could agree that mustard could be being used at that time.

    But what wouldn’t work out so well would be if there were lots of disparate groups all over the world with cooking sites around 6,000 years old.

  • arcseconds

    I thought the claim that some words have been preserved for 15,000 year mentioned by the mustard seed article a bit dodgy, though, so I checked to see what the language log had to say about it.

    Lo, they are also sceptical, to say the least.


  • J_Enigma32

    Anyone citing Altaic Languages with any seriousness would do well to follow my example above: head off any criticism by acknowledging it’s a crackpot idea.

    I mean, the ideal for Altaic Languages is a very appealing one. If you look at the map of how those languages are distributed, they seem to come from the same and they all seem to gather around the Altai Mountains (below is a really pretty map of the proposed Altaic Languages; it covers the Samoyedic Languages, the Turkic Languages, the Finno-Ugric Languages, the Mongolic Languages, the Japonic Languages and the Koreanic Languages; it’s in German, though).


    But at the same time, I think it’s coupled with a drive to try and cram everything back to one language source, where we can look at the world and definitively say “all language began there”. The further you hitch them together and the more neatly you can cram them in that box, the happier some people are. Languages are messy, though; you can’t do that; humans are naturally wired for language, it’s in our biology. Languages probably evolved spontaneously across the globe, not really interconnected, and then spread out from there, with certain features preserved while others were lost or forgotten – but there’s no one progenitor language, and I get the feeling that Altaic and the greater Nostrartic Languages are attempts to do just that.

  • arcseconds

    One of the language log comments says that proto-indo-european (and the other reconstructed ‘proto’ languages) are hypotheses themselves, and need to be empirically confirmed before they can be used as a launching point for further linguistic reconstruction (proto-proto languages?). And of course we’re not likely to ever find an inscription in PIE, or a native speaker, so we’re probably unable to do this.

    I don’t think that’s quite right. You don’t need to empirically confirm hypotheses directly before you use them in further theory construction. Inferred entities can be used to infer further entities so long as you’re sufficiently sure of the interactions: physics is full of this sort of stuff.

    The problem is not so much that we don’t have examples of PIE, but that PIE is fundamentally quite uncertain in various respects. One thing I read pointed out that we should probably understand the phonemes as we write them as variables. That is to say, we don’t really know how the phoneme we write as ‘s’ would really be pronounced (was it voiced? maybe it was more of a ‘sh’… or even an ‘f’ (I’m just making this bit up, I don’t really know what kind of variation is suspected)). But however it was pronounced, it was probably pronounced more-or-less the same way (within the bounds of the usual variation in pronunciation of phonemes) the same way whenever it appeared.

    (This point is made very clear with the three ‘unknown lanryngeal’ phonemes, where the usual transcription doesn’t even guess at the pronunciation.)

    So the problem with going further back than the usual accepted proto-languages is that you’re using very uncertain data. Further reconstruction is probably just amplifying noise.

    (The authors of the paper in question are doing something a little different than that, to be fair, but I think the overall point still holds)

  • arcseconds

    Hmm… my last comment doesn’t really have that much to do with your one. Oh well.

    Regarding the Altaic hypothesis, I don’t really know a huge amount about it, but I can see some of the attraction. Japanese, Korean and Turkic languages are all left-branching, for a start. I can’t remember the other tempting connections that can be made, but there are a few.

    On the other hand, humans have a huge propensity to fall for seductive theories…

  • Maniraptor

    There’s a reasonably good case to be made for Korean and Japanese being similar, or at least one having a substrate closely related to the other. (Similar grammar, at least in terms of what forms exist and how particles work, and some evidence of Japonic ancestry in the language of a now-extinct Korean kingdom iirc. Vocabulary is pretty tricky considering the strong Chinese influence on both, but in my limited experience they’re pretty different for things that aren’t obviously loanwords and the phonology’s fairly different.)

    Anything beyond that you get into very-difficult-to-support territory afaict. (There’s also Ainu, but I have yet to see any connection for Ainu that doesn’t at least whiff of crackpottery; seems likely that they were isolated long enough that whatever linguistic ancestry they had is muddled now.)

  • arcseconds

    Just like with human beings, there’s a big difference between attractive and good :-)

  • Maniraptor

    A fair point – I guess that, just as with humans, I stop finding linguistic theories attractive beyond a certain threshold of total bullshit ;)

  • J_Enigma32

    Well, Japan’s a series of islands. So the early humans who settled in Japan had to come from somewhere, and not likely in a series of waves, but riding a series of waves, requiring boats (unless the low sea connected Japan to Korea, in which case disregard this comment). While it’s possible they came through Korea (probably the most likely course of action), there could always have been island hopping from Kamchatka. That latter might be how the Ainu arrived on the island, actually (warning: new unsubstantiated crackpot idea): in fact, maybe the Ainu language and people are more closely related to the Aluet-Eskimo, Tungusic, and the Chukotko-Kamchatkan.

  • Maniraptor

    Yeah, that’s not a new theory re: the Ainu and their language. Also, the speakers of Japanese/Japonic languages were demonstrably not the first settlers of Japan, and they definitely moved up from the south because the Ainu were already there in the north.

  • The_L1985

    I would also point out that Japanese writing has a very strong Chinese influence, to the point that the kanji characters (still used alongside hiragana and katakana) are almost all traditional Chinese characters as well.

  • David S.

    Language is in our biology, and evidence is that it was fully there before we left Africa, which would make me conclude that it did not evolve spontaneously across the globe. We must have had language before we left Africa, and thus all our language should trace back to languages once spoken in Africa. There’s pretty much nothing known linguistically about that time period, whether so human language evolved from proto-language in one tribe and spread or evolved in several tribes simultaneously, but I’m confident every language spoken outside Africa is the descendant of one spoken by a group of Africans crossing the Sinai at some point, baring some amazingly persuasive proto-Tolkein.

  • Maniraptor

    Language Log is always the best place to look for this kind of thing. (And for what it’s worth, Pullum is like that in real life too.)

  • J_Enigma32

    Neanderthals pose an interesting problem for YECs.

    For starters, we can prove they existed. We can prove that they were a subspecies of humanity. If you’re Eurasian, in particular, from Europe or the Middle East, anywhere from 1-5% of your genome is inherited from Neanderthals.

    At the same time, Neanderthals aren’t the only subspecies we’ve shared the planet with over the last, say, 600,000 years:

    H. s. neanderthalensis: 600,000 to 35,000 years ago. Extensive interbreeding; we can prove with DNA testing that Eurasians have Neanderthal genome in them, because we’ve mapped the genome. Within the next 10 to 15 years, we may have the technology to resurrect the Neanderthal species, using willing humans as surrogate parents.

    H. floresiensis: 94,000 to 13,000 years ago. Suffered from Insular Dwarfism, possibly survives in the stories of the Flores natives, who speak of a short hairy human (although orangutan also match the description). There’s nothing that isn’t controversial about them; from their existence as a separate species (some believe the skulls we had were just humans with microcephaly) to their name: scientists wanted to use “hobbits” to describe them but the Tolkein estate issued a cease and desist.

    H. s. idaltu:200,000 to 156,000 years ago. The earliest known anatomically correct modern human, hales from Humanity’s Cradle, modern Ethiopia. The skulls we have date back to about 194,000 years ago, so there’s a lot up in the air about idaltu. Their name means “first born” in Afar.

    H. rhodesiensis: 300,000 to 150,000 years ago. Another name for H. heidelbergensis, regarded as “Africa’s Neanderthal” and might – just might – be the ancestor of H. s. idaltu. H. rhodesiensis comes from “Rhodesia”, while H. heidelbergensis comes from Heidelberg, where the skulls were discovered.

    Denisova Hominid: ~41,000 years old. Most recent addition to the Homo family (not in the taxonomic sense) is the Denisova Hominid, discovered in the Altai Mountains. mtDNA is genetically distinctive of either H. s. sapiens or H. (s.) neanderthalensis. they made some really pretty tools and jewelry. Melanesians and Australian Aborigines have as much as 6% of their genome from the Denisova Hominid**.

    But the existence of these hominids pose a huge problem for YEC. You can’t dismiss them out of hand because there’s genetic evidence I can show you that says otherwise. And the Bible says nothing at all about other human species (because they didn’t exist when the Bible was written), so you can either claim they were demons (which isn’t far, because they look a lot like you or me), claim they’re not different (which a simple mtDNA test can disprove in most cases), or claim they didn’t exist (Satan was pretty damn good when he created those fossil casts, don’t you think?) Because if you acknowledge they exist, you open the door to a lot of other questions that they’re not ready to answer.

    Which is probably why they just sweep it under the rug and hope nobody asks any questions.

    ** For those interested in my crackpot ideas regarding languages, I’ve often pegged Basque as the ancestor of a Neanderthal language and Proto-Turkic as being a descendent of or being influenced by Denisova Hominids (since Turkic, Japonic, Korean, and other languages are “linked” under Altaic Languages, meaning they all stem from the same source – the Altai Mountains). Do I have evidence? Pfft. Nope. If I did, I wouldn’t be referring to them as my “crackpot ideas.”

  • P J Evans

    surely you mean Basque is the descendant of a Neandertal language?

  • Laurent Weppe

    No: he means that Basques will one day build a time machine, come back in time, and build an anachronistic navarese empire in the distant past.

  • J_Enigma32


    Give me a time machine I’ll fix my typo by making it real.

  • Maniraptor

    “Within the next 10 to 15 years, we may have the technology to resurrect the Neanderthal species, using willing humans as surrogate parents.” Ahahahahaha nope. We haven’t even been able to resurrect things that died out a few decades ago. Maybe in that time we’ll manage to create a gastric-brooding frog embryo that survives long enough to become a tadpole, but even that’s looking pretty shaky. http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/15/resurrecting-the-extinct-frog-with-a-stomach-for-a-womb/ And even if you managed to somehow create something with entirely Neandertal DNA that was actually healthy, which would only come after a whole lot of miscarriages and stillbirths and babies that die young, cloning a species at least as intelligent and social as us into a world without anybody to raise and socialize them as Neandertal means that at best, you’ll have created a funny-looking modern human.

    Also Korean and Japanese/Ryukyuan/etc. being Altaic is not exactly a consensus position. But on both those fronts your crackpot theories have a lot of other crackpot theories for companionship.

    (I often wonder what the Basque think of everyone assuming that they’re so very bizarre and primitive. From what I understand most genetic analyses of Europe start with an assumption that the Basque are an accurate representation of the Paleolithic population, which probably isn’t true. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/02/the-basques-may-not-be-who-we-think-they-are/ )

  • J_Enigma32

    I’m reminded of that old cartoon: “You’re not a bear. You’re a funny looking man in a fur coat who needs a shave.” Cloning and raising a Neanderthal in modern society would lead to similar arguments, I’m sure. After all, we have very little idea what Neanderthal society was like. They’d have their own biology that would make them stand out from humans – I’ve seen some people who suggest that Neanderthals would be hyper-expressive and very, very good at reading body language – but it raise an interesting specter of a question: is it the socialization that makes the species or the species that makes the socialization, and what, if any, impact does that have? Chimpanzees are our closed living relatives now and they resist a lot of socializing tendencies due to their nature. Would Neanderthals be the same way?

    Basque is a language isolate; in addition to being a language isolate, it’s infuriatingly difficult to place in a family; some of the more reliable theories I’ve heard include a pre-IE European Language (that is, a language spoken by the Magdalenian Culture; this has the Haplogroup R1b to back it up), that it’s an Caucasian language (this one has Haplogroup R1b3 backing it up, without any linguistic evidence at all, mind you), and that it developed there along side Aquitianians and Iberians, who have been asserted spoke a different language.

    I know that Basque scholars have questioned the idea that Basque was spoken throughout the whole of Europe (that is, was *the* European language), but I haven’t heard much else. If you think about it, wouldn’t it be kinda cool to say “Yes, I speak a language that’s not spoken on Earth anymore, that’s likely older than any other spoken language on the planet?”

    Of course, I can only speak for myself, and I’m not a native Basque speaker.

  • Maniraptor

    Surely all language isolates are difficult to place in a family? That’s kind of a prerequisite. The only thing that’s special about Basque is that it’s in western Europe.

    Not sure what you mean by “older than any other spoken language on the planet”. Unless you’re a time traveler, we all speak modern languages. Basque is definitely not unchanged from its ancient roots. Some languages or dialects do seem to preserve more features than others, but every language changes with use over time. If the language isn’t changing, it’s probably dead.

  • The_L1985

    A lot of YECs claim that the fossils are miscategorized, and are all either fully human (i.e. H.sapiens) or fully ape. They can’t stand the idea that humans aren’t special in some way.

  • arcseconds

    Perhaps it’s more that they can’t stand the idea of things transgressing categories — that is to say, they’re uncomfortable with the idea of creatures somewhere between apes and humans (when do they get souls?).

    More generally, fundamentalists seem to have a lot of rigid categories that make them comfortable. They don’t like it much when people transgress masculine and feminine categories, either, or, in some cases (more so in the past, fortunately) black and white.

  • J_Enigma32

    You also see the same thing when you argue about abortion with these people.”Life begins at conception!” No, that’s a demonstrable lie. There’s a continued line of life that goes back 3.5 billion years on Earth – *that’s* when life likely began. But because that utterly defies their internal categorization, and their stumble and falter.

  • Panda Rosa

    I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. Life in general began about 3.5 billion years ago, but the other kind is individual life (in this case human), which is often considered to begin at conception, though the issue is up for debate. Let’s stick to the Young-Earth vs Evolved Earth thing for now.

  • dpolicar

    Life in general began about 3.5 billion years ago, but the other kind is individual life (in this case human), which is often considered to begin at conception

    But these aren’t different kinds of life.

    An individual human life is a life by virtue of the same properties that an individual cow life is a life, or an individual paramecium life… properties like reproduction, energy production, resource consumption, and so forth. What exactly the relevant properties are is up for debate, but I know of no serious proposal that includes humans but not cows, for example. And a fetus is most definitely alive by those standards.

    So is my pancreas. And mold. And unfertilized eggs. And sperm cells. We don’t really care that much about life. Life is all around us, often in very problematic ways, and we eliminate it in ton lots.

    But you’re right, of course, that when people talk about “life” in this context they mean it metaphorically… “life begins at conception” is best understood as something like, as you suggest, “individual (in this case human) life begins at conception.”

    So, if “individual human life” is what we actually care about, we can ask when a living thing first becomes human.

    One answer might be when it first possesses human DNA, in which case human life began once a long time ago and has been propagated forward generation to generation ever since. It grows and splits and reforms, it currently exists in seven billion individual bodies, but they all trace their heritage back to a single organism. As it happens, both studying the physical world and interpreting the book of Genesis lead us to that conclusion.

    So when someone says “life begins at conception” they don’t literally mean that life begins at conception, and they don’t mean that human begins at conception, the mean that individual begins at conception.

    In other words, the actual claim, metaphor aside, is that a 2-day-old fertilized egg is not only human life, in the same sense that my pancreas is, but it is also individual human life, which my pancreas uncontroversially isn’t.

    Would you agree?

  • Michael Pullmann

    “But these aren’t different kinds of life.”
    No, but they are different definitions of it. And those definitions are important. When Marvin the Paranoid Android says “Don’t talk to me about life,” he doesn’t mean biological processes. And neither do pro-lifers. So if you’re going to argue with them, it’s good to know what they’re saying.

  • dpolicar

    Yup. As I said later in the comment you’re replying to, they seem to be using it metaphorically to refer to individuality.

  • Panda Rosa

    That’s basically it. It’s the nomenclature that’s confusing, as “life” can refer to either.

  • dpolicar

    It needn’t be confusing. Metaphors are fine, as long as we can unpack them when we need to. If we can agree that what “life” is metaphorically referring to in phrases like “pro-life” and “life begins at conception” is individuality, we can then ask: what are the markers of individuality? How do we recognize it when we encounter it?

    A 2-day-old fertilized egg doesn’t have its own mind, brain, thoughts, emotions, feelings, personality, or viable body. So if the metaphorical “life” we care about here is already present at 2 days old, it clearly isn’t any of that stuff.

    It does have its own genome, which is different from the mother’s. And some people believe it has its own soul. So it might be that stuff.

    Any other candidates?

  • arcseconds

    It’s not metaphorical at all to use the word ‘life’ to refer to the course of an organism’s individual existence.

    Everyone’s familiar with phrases like “by the end of his life, Mozart was heavily in debt” or “it started life as an egg, hatched into a tadpole, then grew into a frog”.

    No-one says “at the beginning of its individuality”

  • dpolicar

    Yup, I agree that everyone is familiar with those phrases, and that nobody says “at the beginning of its individuality”.

    If you conclude from that that the phrases aren’t metaphorical, then it seems we have very different understandings of what metaphor is, and how often natural language uses it.

    I’m willing to explore that difference further, if you like. Or not.

    Leaving that aside… how would you go about testing a system for the possession of whatever it is you think the word “life” usually refers to in the phrase “life begins at conception”? What markers would you look for?

  • arcseconds

    Well, what makes you think that ‘life’ meaning a collection of properties that distinguishes something from inanimate matter is the primary meaning, and ‘life’ meaning the course of existence of an individual is a derivative meaning?

    I don’t think the fact that it’s a very common usage that everyone understands necessarily shows that it’s not metaphorical, but in the face of two or more commonly used and universally understood usages, you need some kind of criteria for working out which, if any, is a derivative use.

  • dpolicar

    Ah, OK. If we agree that common usages can be metaphorical in general, then our understandings of the role of metaphor aren’t as different as I’d thought. Cool

    With respect to what the meaning of “life” is, I have no interest in that question. If it means something to you which is nonmetaphorically referred to in the sentence “life begins at conception,” that’s fine; we simply have different referents for the word and I’m happy to use yours when talking to you.

    How would you go about testing a system for the possession of whatever the word “life” refers to in the phrase “life
    begins at conception”? What markers would you look for?

  • arcseconds

    I’m not being pedantic here for the sake of mere pedantry.

    J_Enigma32 said it’s a ‘flat out lie’ that life begins at conception, and asserts that it actually began billions of years ago.

    This would be justified only if they really are completely ignorant of any use of ‘life’ apart from the category sense, although I find that difficult to believe, as J_Enigma32 appears to be a competent English speaker. Even then, it’s so obvious that everyone, including creationists, knows that life(category) predates any conception event, and saying that it doesn’t would be not just flat out wrong but incredibly bizarre, so one should be led to wonder whether they really are using ‘life’ in this sense.

    While you’re not quite going that far, you’re basically supporting this view by acting as though they’re using ‘life’ in some kind of strange, derivative sense that you don’t quite know what to make of.

    To put it bluntly, ‘life begins at conception’ uses ‘life’ in a sense that any competent English speaker is familiar with. But you and J_Engima32 are treating them as though they’re not — which amounts to attempting to make them look more foolish than they actually are by playing a silly semantic game. I doubt either of you are exactly doing this deliberately, but you’ve somehow been seduced into a cheap trick, or maybe some bias towards interpreting words in scientific terms has led you into confusion, or something. Either your’e confused or being uncharitable, maybe both, and it’s worth sorting this out.

    For what it’s worth, the OED dates

    “The animate existence of an individual living person, animal, etc., viewed with regard to its duration; the period from birth to death, from birth to a particular time, or from a particular time to death”

    to the second century, which makes it about the oldest recorded usage, whereas

    *) “The condition that distinguishes animals, plants, and other organisms from inorganic or inanimate matter, characterized by continuous metabolic activity and the capacity for functions such as growth, development, reproduction, adaptation to the environment, and response to stimulation; (also) the activities and phenomena by which this is manifested.”

    is dated to the 16th century, and ‘living things collectively’ even later.

    Actually, to be fair, it really looks as if ‘life’ has always been used in both abstract and particular senses, but as one would expect, something resembling a scientific use emerges fairly late. At any rate, there’s no sense in which ‘my life’ is a derivative use. Looking at these entries, one is struck my how many different usages refer to life as an individual quantity in some way: “100 lives were lost”, “life imprisonment”, “a happy life”, etc.

  • arcseconds

    To answer your question, ‘life begins at conception’ is in itself not actually a strange or unusual position to take, even for non-fundamentalists. Most everyone is comfortable enough with “you were concieved in the back seat of our car on a warm summer’s night”.

    Well, OK, no-one’s comfortable with that, but the source of discomfort isn’t confusion about how the word ‘you’ refers!

    So I’m a bit confused as to why you’re asking this in a way that suggests that it would be a scientific discovery, of sorts, to find out when an individual life begins ­— as though we need to build an individualometer or something. This is simply a feature of how we refer to individual organisms — while often we do treat them as coming into being at birth, we’ve also got a universally understood practice of referring to them prior to birth, too.

    Conception is the earliest point at which we refer to an organism’s individual existence. We’re happy enough with ‘you’ referring in the back-seat story, but while we’re familiar enough with “back when you were a glint in your father’s eye”, we don’t literally identify you with that glint (that really is a metaphorical use), and “back when your mother was born, along with you as one of the ova in her ovaries” seems extremely strange.

    As to why we do this, well, there are two closely related points that occur. One is that if you take an existing organism, you can trace it’s development back fairly unproblematically to the point of conception. So a process began then that resulted an individual organism. The second is that prior to conception, there’s no unique candidate for reference, whereas afterwards, there is.

  • dpolicar

    So, all of the stuff about language use I don’t disagree with at all. Yes, we often use “life” in such a way that life is said to begin at a point X even though the system before X is just as alive as the system after X. I agree completely.

    All of that is rather beside the point of what I was trying to ask. You come closer to answering it when you say:

    if you take an existing organism, you can trace it’s development back fairly unproblematically to the point of conception. So a process began then that resulted an individual organism. The second is that prior to conception, there’s no unique candidate for reference, whereas afterwards, there is.

    Great, awesome, wonderful.

    Whether we call the process that begins at this point “life” or “individuality” or “X” I’m actually largely indifferent to. For my own part, I find that calling it “life” is unnecessarily imprecise, since we also use that word to describe an important property of the same system before that process gets started. But that’s OK, sometimes we use language in confusing ways. As you say, it’s a traditional usage. And as I said earlier, I’m happy to adopt your usage when talking to you; as long as we don’t confuse the two usages, that’s fine.

    Leaving labeling questions aside, though: it sounds like you’re saying that the important property is that there’s a state-change back to which we can unproblematically trace the development of an individual, but before which such tracing is not possible.

    For example, if we discover an alien form of life that demonstrates nothing resembling human conception, but which nevertheless demonstrates a state-change X that differentially marks unique individual development, we could say with equal confidence that just as human life begins at conception, alien life begins at X, and for the same reasons.

    Yes? Is that a fair summary of your position?

  • arcseconds

    I’m not really advancing a position here at all. I’m reminding you that we already have a well-established and very widespread practice of referring to conception as the beginning of an individual animal’s existence, and also that the usual way of referring to an individual’s existence in English is to call it ‘their life’.

    So “life begins at conception” could almost be a statement about how most everyone in Western society thinks of an individual human’s (or animal’s) existence. (*)

    You and J_Enigma32 seem intent on forgetting this in order to problematize a pro-lifer’s statement that “life begins at conception”, as though it were somehow extraordinary or baffling (or, in J_Enigma32’s case, totally and obviously false).

    You say you accept the linguistic facts, but you’re still calling this “my position”, and “my usage”, whereas actually it’s completely standard. Of course, I’m not denying the value of technical definitions, but I am very much against pretending that they aren’t technical definitions but rather the standard of proper English that everyone almost always somehow fails to live up to.

    I appreciate that you want to have a philosophy 101 talk about identity. But I’m more interested in how an educated adult with excellent English can read ‘life begins at conception’ and say things like ‘they appear to be using ‘life’ in some odd metaphorical sense to mean individual existence’ .

    I’d talk about your alien example nevertheless, but I don’t really know what to make of it. You say it “differentially marks unique individual development”, and then ask me if I’d agree that “alien life begins at X”. Aren’t you just asking me again whether or not I think ‘life’ is a synonym for individual existence?

    (*) a pro-lifer, though, deploys it as a political slogan, so it’s being used to mean more than just that, of course. They are trying to play some kind of tautology game, similar in some respects to the ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’ tactic.

  • dpolicar

    And I in turn am bewildered by your bewilderment.

    I’ve already said a few times why I consider the unnecessarily confusing common usage problematic, and why I’m inclined to discard that usage in favor of something more precise when trying to have a conversation that gets beyond casual statements about “when life begins” that don’t clearly specify what measurable events they’re referring to, and which might not even be referring to any measurable events at all rather than just using words in plausible-sounding ways established by tradition and convention.

    And I’ve already said a few times that despite that inclination, I’m willing to continue using the unnecessarily confusing and imprecise common usage when talking to you if you prefer to do that.

    And I’ve already said that I’m not all that interested in arguing about the proper use of language. People use language in different ways, and it’s important to understand the differences in order to understand what claims they are actually making, but ultimately I’m interested in the claims and not the words. I discarded the word “metaphor” when it seemed to be creating more confusion than clarity between us. I genuinely don’t care what words we use, as long as we can use them consistently… I care about what claims we are making about the system. (What you dismiss here as “Philosophy 101” questions. If you really meant that and weren’t just gratuitously insulting me, then I should probably just drop this now; I don’t want to irritate you with discussions that are too far below your level of expertise.)

    But you seem to remain confused… though I’m unsure whether you’re confused as to why I consider the common usage problematic, or why I want to talk about well-defined conditions that can be tested for in different kinds of systems in the first place, or perhaps about what my hidden tribal/political motivations are, or something else.

    You say you’re interested in how I can say the things I say, and I’m willing to take that at face value, but I’m really not sure what further explanation I can provide.

    That said, If what you mean to do is not so much ask for information as assert in the form of a rhetorical question that I’m wrong, then I suppose explanation is beside the point.

  • arcseconds

    I wasn’t intending to be insulting with the ‘philosophy 101’.

    Identity is almost literally a philosophy 101 topic, in the sense that it’s quite common to have a unit on it in 1st-year courses. That’s not to say it’s not interesting — there’s some good stuff in 1st year philosophy courses!

    But I’m not so interested in the question of when an organism’s existence begins at the moment. I realise you are, but I’m not sure that you’ve entirely understood that the topic I’m interested in is a different one.

    I want to know why two educated adults are pretending (or somehow have becoming momentarily confused so that) they’re completely unfamiliar with ‘life’ being used to mean an individual organism’s existence, and the notion that this existence begins at conception.

    I understand that you don’t really want to talk about this, and that you’ll use whatever words I want to have the conversation about the beginning of existence of an organism, and that you’re frustrated because I’m staying focused on the linguistics and the rhetoric in use here.

    But the conversation I want to have is precisely why you were treating language the way you were in the first place.(*) So by dropping terminology and adopting what you take to be my preferred terminology, you’re actually refusing to talk about what I want to talk about, and that’s starting to frustrate me!

    Or, rather, I’m frustrated because you don’t seem to have quite understood that we’re interested in different things, and you appear to think I’m doing a bad job of your topic, whereas really I’m still trying to talk about my topic.

    OK, so I’ll admit that I was being a bit dismissive by ‘philosophy 101’, but hopefully you can see that I was also tempted by the aptness of the description and motivated by a degree of frustration. It’s not that I think your questions are silly, they’re just not on the topic I’m most interested in discussing.

    By the way, I’m aware that when I interact with you, I’m normally being a bit contrary. For what it’s worth, that isn’t reflective of my actual opinion of you. Very often when I read your remarks I agree with them and have nothing more to add — there’s been more than one occasion when I’ve started reading a conversation, considered putting in my 2¢, but found you had already done it.

  • dpolicar

    I don’t think you’re doing a bad job of talking about my topic, merely that you’re refusing to. I think we agree on that much.

    And I do recognize that you want to talk instead about my language choices. And, as you say, I don’t. But, OK, I’ll defer to your preferences here. Let’s talk about my language choices.

    Part of my frustration I feel like I’ve already explained a couple of times why I choose to use words the way I do, and you keep coming back with statements about your curiosity about why I do so, without ever engaging with my explanations as far as I can tell.

    One possibility is that you don’t engage with my explanations because you don’t recognize them as such, either because you genuinely haven’t understood them, or because you’re curious about something more subtle or insightful than the thing I explained and I just missed it. If that’s the case, it might be productive for you to echo back to me what
    you’ve understood about my reasons, and we can take it from there.

    Another possibility is that you understand perfectly well what I’ve said about my reasons, but you don’t think those statements are correct… that is, that you either think I’m unaware of my real reasons, or lying about them… and rather than outright accuse me of being deceptive or lacking insight, you prefer to let them go by unaddressed. If that’s the case, it might be more productive if you actually say so and we can take it from there. (FWIW I’m not lying; though I might of course lack self-awareness.)

    There may be other reasons.

    Independent of the above, I’ll also add that I’m annoyed that you insist on framing it as “why educated adults pretend they are unfamiliar with” the usage you prefer. If you can point out where I’ve claimed lack of familiarity with that usage, or what evidence you have that I’m pretending to anything at all, I’ll apologize for doing both; I am not in fact unfamiliar with that usage nor did I intend to claim otherwise. I simply don’t prefer it.

    Conversely, if you can’t point out where I’ve done those things, I would appreciate your apology for repeatedly accusing me of doing them. I don’t make a habit of playing dumb, and I find being accused of it frankly insulting.

    I’ll admit that I was being a bit dismissive by ‘philosophy 101’,

    Thank you for admitting that.

    For what it’s worth, [being contrary] isn’t reflective of my actual opinion of you.

    Thank you.

  • arcseconds

    You’re feeling insulted and demanding apologies, and it’s clear to me now that you don’t really understand what I’m talking about (my fault as much as anyone’s, I suppose).

    The only thing to do now is to do a line by line (well, post-by-post) breakdown with commentary, and I don’t think it’s worth it.

    As a last ditch, on-the-cheap effort to make myself understood, maybe you could go back and see how my remarks about overlooking one definition of ‘life’ would apply to J_Enigma32’s original comment in this thread?

    (It occurs to me, rather late in the piece, that that post might be a joke, but even there, the joke would work by reading the pro-lifer’s statement with a meaning of ‘life’ that they clearly didn’t intend)

  • dpolicar

    You’re feeling insulted…

    I’m sorry if my labeling my feelings upset you; that wasn’t my intent. If you’d rather I stop talking about them, I can do that; let me know.

    …and demanding apologies

    No, I’m not demanding anything at all.

    But (as I said) I think your framing of me has been consistently and unfairly dismissive in the ways I’ve mentioned, and (as I said) I would appreciate you either pointing out why that framing is justified, or an apology if in retrospect you feel it was unjustified.

    If you do either of those I will thank you for it.
    If you choose not to, that’s your choice.

    it’s clear to me now that you don’t really understand what I’m talking about

    That may well be true.

    The only thing to do now is to do a line by line (well, post-by-post) breakdown with commentary, and I don’t think it’s worth it.

    I agree that doing that isn’t worth it.

    As for whether that’s the only thing to do… I don’t know.

    You said above you were interested in a particular question (why it is that, despite being an educated adult, I am either pretending to be completely unfamiliar with a particular usage of “life”, or have become so confused that I genuinely am unfamiliar with it), and I’ve suggested a couple of ways to move forward on that question and what I see as the fundamental confusions that underlie your asking of it.

    I infer from your lack of engagement with either of those suggestions that you don’t see any value in them, which is fine.

    If that’s still the question you’re interested in, and if you can provide me some feedback about why my suggestions were valueless, I might be able to come up with other possible ways forward. That said, I wasn’t really all that interested in discussing my language choices in the first place; I agreed to do so because you insisted. So there’s a limit to how much work I’m willing to do to facilitate that discussion if you decide that actually, the only posible way to have that discussion isn’t worth it.

    maybe you could go back and see how my remarks about overlooking one definition of ‘life’ would apply to J_Enigma32’s original comment in this thread?

    OK, if you like.

    I think J_Enigma32 was unfair in describing “Life begins at conception!” as a lie, and in describing the 3.5 billion years of life on Earth as utterly defying the internal categorization of “those people.” That said, to describe J_Enigma32 as pretending to be completely unfamiliar with the usage of “life” that supports that statement/categorization is, I think, also unfair; rather, I would say they were unjustifiably dismissing that usage.

    That is, I don’t think they were being disengenuous, I think they were insisting on their preferred usage (much as you, in the subsequent discussion with me, insisted on your preferred usage), and in the process ended up insisting that all other usages were simply incorrect (which is unjustified).

    Does that help?

  • dpolicar

    I infer from your silence that no, that didn’t help.
    Shall we drop this here, then?

  • arcseconds

    Sorry… I spent an hour or more writing a reply last weekend, and then I decided it was crap so I deleted it. I was meaning to have another go at it, but I haven’t really had an opportunity to do so. (So it’s not that I don’t care…)

    It was somewhat helpful, it looks like we might be in the same suburb, if not in the same ballpark.

    I would vastly prefer to drop it. I’ve already spent too much time on what was not a particularly important issue for me in the first place, and while I’m not upset that you’re talking about your feelings, it does further highlight to me that you’ve a stake in this I simply don’t have.

    I don’t really see what either of us have to gain by continuing. It looks to me as though you’re putting too much weight on the way I’m describing the situation. I had tried to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to force a particular interpretation on what I was seeing. My initial description (a long list of options) was probably better, as it looks more handwavy and less sure, but several sentences is a bit long to be repeating all the time, so I opted for ‘pretending or maybe confused’, to try to capture ‘possibly deliberate, possibly not deliberate, I’m not really sure’.

    What I really wanted was something more like “behaving in a way which would look like they weren’t aware of the ‘life as an organism’s continued existence’ meaning except that can’t be right because I’m sure they are aware of it (so what is going on here?)”, but that’s too long to refer to the situation I was interested in, too.

    So I’ll apologise for my wording, which makes it sound more like an accusation or an insult than I intended.

    I’d go a bit further in my criticism of J_Enigma32, and we could spend another round or two of back-and-forth determining how much we agree or disagree on how much of this applies to you, but these are distinctions I’m not particularly interested in pursuing.

    I still think you’re misunderstanding where I’m coming from. I don’t have a preferred usage, and if I had been interested in the discussion about an organism’s identity over time, I would be doing exactly what you did: seeking a clear way of distinguishing the phenomenon of life from an organism’s existence so we know what we’re talking about, and failing that if my interlocutor insists on a particular usage, adopt that.

    (also, you referring to my ‘preferred usage’ was one factor that led me to believe you thought I was trying to have the identity conversation)

    But given that I was more interested in the fact the conversation was proceeding as though the ‘continued existence of an organism’ usage didn’t exist, or was unusual in some way, obviously it didn’t serve my purpose to ignore that usage.

    I’m afraid I now feel that I’ve about expended as much effort clarifying my position as I’m really prepared to, at least on this particular matter. There are some more general issues at stake here, and we could talk about them, if you like.

    (I’m not saying I won’t respond any further, and if you say something really interesting or something that can be responded to quickly, I probably will respond, but I’m disinclined to type more screeds to explain myself on something that’s not a huge issue to me.)

  • dpolicar

    I’m happy to drop it here.
    If you want to discuss the more general issues you mention, I’m willing. If not, that’s cool too.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Try the qualifier “organic life” to make it clear you mean in-the-context-of-all-beings :)

  • dpolicar


  • skyblue

    The hilarious consequence of this is when creationists can’t even agree with each other on which fossils are fully human and which are fully ape. This is a rather nice demonstration of the idea of transitional forms, albeit completely unintended by the creationists themselves!

    (Talk Origins has a nice discussion of this phenomenon with a chart with the creationists classifications here.)

  • Turcano

    Although it’s commonly argued that Basque is a Neolithic language, calling it a Neanderthal language is a bit of a stretch no matter how you look at it.

  • J_Enigma32

    Oh, c’mon now. If I just admitted it was a Cro-Magnon language, my theory wouldn’t be crackpot ;-)

    If you’re gonna go crackpot, go big or go home, right?

  • Panda Rosa

    Neanderthals are all very fine and good, but would you want your sister to marry one? Maybe if he played for the Chicago Bears…
    Besides, no need to resurrect them, no doubt someone’s daughter is dating one riight now, “Daddy, I want you to meet Spike, he’s got this killer motorcycle, he’s in this band called Dead Poodles, and he’s just the sweetest thing!”

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Congratulations; you’ve rediscovered the premise of the blessedly short-lived NBC Geico Cavemen TV series.

  • Turcano

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with this and want to know more for some insane reason, you can watch a review of it here.

  • Jenny Islander

    The one bit of good writing in it–ineptly filmed IIRC–was the time that one of the cavemen accidentally knocked down a hornet’s nest, as one does when power washing the eaves, and because he was very hairy he couldn’t just swat them away, but instead of running in to help, the neighbors were all “Oooh, crazy caveman doing crazy caveman thing, call the cops!”

  • redsixwing

    I’m enjoying both your crackpot linguistics and your non-crackpot hominid history. Thanks. :)

  • Guest

    Couldn’t they be the nephilim or the sons of the nephilim? It says in the bible ‘there were giants on earth in those days’. Not a yec myself, but that seems like the obvious way out.

  • J_Enigma32


    Give that 198 centimeters/1.9 meters (around 6 foot, give or take; my conversion is entirely haphazard) is as all as they get, you’d have to argue pretty strenuously they were giants, and then explain why there are modern humans alive today who are taller than “the giants” of old.

    I mean, for them it’s probably a way out. But that’s because they have no problem making stuff up even in the face of what might as well be iron clad evidence.

  • Randall

    Give that 198 centimeters/1.9 meters (around 6 foot, give or take;

    Take considerable; 198 cm is 6’5″. Which is still not unreasonably tall; both my boss and one of my former employees are that height.

  • J_Enigma32

    Huh. Apparently there’s a rather large difference between 1.90 meters and 1.98 meters.

    My bad.

  • Gregory Peterson

    I remember a Christianity Today feature of Adam and Eve. The cover portrait of Adam was distinctly Neanderthalish.

    Oh, here’s a high quality scan of the cover. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2011/08/imitation-flattery-or-journalistic-ripoff/

  • Panda Rosa

    You sure it was not Adam’s brother-in-law?
    A man will go pretty far to keep his wife and/or his family happy.

  • dr ngo

    Got to put in a plug for Philippine archaeology – oldest human inhabitants now dated to 67,000 BP, surpassing previous “best” of 47,000 BP. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/philippines/7924538/Archaeologists-unearth-67000-year-old-human-bone-in-Philippines.html

  • Sherry McCameron Peyton

    God told one white lie: on the sabbath, he didn’t quite rest. He was busy making up all these fake “old things” to confuse those who aren’t true believers. Shame on you all, and you are all going to hell, cuz God doesn’t like his creatures to think…didn’t he prove that in the garden of eden? Don’t eat of the tree of knowledge! Ken Ham is a first rate grifter.