Thursday, December 30, 2010

African Genesis

Back when cosmologists first hypothesized that the universe began in an explosion essentially out of nothing, many scientists scoffed and some squirmed. The idea sounded a bit too much like what theologians had been saying for centuries, and the implications of a sudden ex nihilo beginning of the universe was repugnant to those who ridiculed its theological echoes. Consequently, there was a lot of hostility to the theory (Fred Hoyle, for example, referred to it as the Big Bang. He intended this to be a term of derision, but the name stuck) until the discovery by Penzias and Wilson in 1963 of the predicted vestigial energy from this explosion made further resistance to it futile.

I wonder if there won't be a similar reaction to the recent discovery in Israel of human teeth that are twice as old as fossil humans found in Africa. Up till now it has been paleontological dogma that, contrary to the tradition of the world's monotheistic religions, mankind's genesis was not in the Middle East but in Africa and from there he subsequently dispersed around the globe.

Now there appears to be reason to think that the out-of-Africa theory is incorrect. Unless the evidence is misleading it appears that human beings were in the Middle East 200,000 years before they appeared in Africa.

Here's an excerpt from the report on this discovery in the Daily Mail:
Archeologists from Tel Aviv University say eight human-like teeth found in the Qesem cave near Rosh Ha’Ayin - 10 miles from Israel’s international airport - are 400,000 years old, from the Middle Pleistocene Age, making them the earliest remains of homo sapiens yet discovered anywhere in the world.

The size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man. Until now, the earliest examples found were in Africa, dating back only 200,000 years.

Other scientists have argued that human beings originated in Africa before moving to other regions 150,000 to 200,000 years ago.

Homo sapiens discovered in Middle Awash, Ethiopia, from 160,000 years ago were believed to be the oldest 'modern' human beings.
I'm reminded of the closing lines of astronomer Robert Jastrow's book God and the Astronomers. Jastrow had no religious predilections, but as he concluded his account of how modern discoveries in cosmology, particularly the Big Bang, were pretty much what would be expected if the Judeo-Christian cosmology were true, he writes: “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Next thing you know a team of archeologists will discover Noah's ark and atheistic naturalists all across the land will have to be kept away from bridges and high buildings.

The Year's Movies

Continuing our look back at the year just ending I offer here a list of the films I viewed in 2010 with a few comments or descriptions. I didn't see as many movies as I would have liked, but each of the ones I did see I feel I could recommend, albeit for different reasons, of course, and not to the same people. Each of them, in their own way, was worth the time spent to watch:
  • Book of Eli - A post apocalyptic story that blends Christian faithfulness with Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Has Denzel Washington ever made a bad movie?
  • The Blind Side - A touching film based upon the true story of Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Michael Oher, it's about a family's compassion and willingness to help a young man surmount awful circumstances. Unfortunately, the film's writers, producers and directors understand neither Christian evangelicals nor high school football programs.
  • Into Great Silence - A documentary about life in a monastery in which the monks rarely speak. It may not sound like it would fascinating, but it is.
  • Synecdoche, New York - A well-crafted glimpse of the existential emptiness of modern life without God. I don't know if that was what the filmmaker had in mind, but that's certainly what he communicates.
  • The Insider - Based on a true story, the film depicts the pressures faced by whistle-blowers in corporate America. Very well-acted.
  • The Constant Gardener - An outstanding tale of courage of a man's determination to get to the bottom of his wife's apparent infidelity and murder in Africa. Lots of plot twists and turns that keep the viewer guessing throughout whether the wife really had been unfaithful to her husband.
  • The Chosen - A cinematic rendition of the Chaim Potok novel of the same name.
  • Angels & Demons - An enjoyable romp with Tom Hanks through the streets of Rome in pursuit of power-mad villains. Based on Dan Brown's novel.
  • The Stoning of Soraya M. - The true story of a an Iranian woman falsely accused of adultery by her husband so that he could escape his marriage in order to philander. The penalty in Iran for adultery is death by stoning.
  • Sin Nombre - A powerful account of the ordeal millions of illegal immigrants have been willing to endure in order to get into this country.
  • A Serious Man - Another film on the existential absurdity of life. This one by the Coen brothers, portrays the travails of a modern day Job-like character. At once funny and tragic.
  • The Class - A good film for anyone who would like to know why kids go through school without learning anything. It's filmed in France, but the school it depicts doubtless has numerous counterparts in the U.S.
  • John Adams - An excellent three part series on the life of America's second president.
  • The Hurt Locker - Perhaps the best movie with a contemporary war theme yet made.
  • Journey from the Fall - A tale of a South Vietnamese family's struggle to escape from South Vietnam after its fall to the North Vietnamese in the mid-seventies, and the difficulties they face once they arrive in the U.S.