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

7 more things that are older than (Ken Ham’s) Adam September 4, 2013

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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  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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!”

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.)

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

  • 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.

  • dpolicar