Superstitious From the Beginning

To return, at last, to the DpSU for Thursday, last week – Oldest Temple Topples Evolutionists’ History of Religion. To give you some background, the relevant Wikipedia article begins:

Göbekli Tepe is a Neolithic (stone-age) hilltop sanctuary erected at the top of a mountain ridge in southeastern Anatolia, some 15km northeast of the town of Şanlıurfa. It is the oldest known human-made religious structure. The site was most likely erected by hunter-gatherers in the 10th millennium BCE (c. 12,000 years ago) and has been under excavation since 1994 by German and Turkish archaeologists. Together with Nevalı Çori, it has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic.

It seems that it’s taken all this time for Mr Thomas to notice. Here’s the picture of the site that everyone’s using, for some visual context: (you can find a gallery of images here)

Göbekli Tepe, specifically the picture from wikimedia commons that everyone's usingTo begin Mr Thomas’ article:

“Anthropologists have assumed that organized religion began as a way of salving the tensions that inevitably arose when hunter-gatherers settled down, became farmers, and developed large societies,” according to a National Geographic feature in June 2011. But the exquisitely carved pillars of the world’s oldest known temple, Gobekli Tepe, contradict that evolutionary version of ancient human history.

The quote comes from this National Geographicarticle. The paragraph also cites a CMI article, How does Göbekli Tepe fit with biblical history?

If you can’t tell already, the problem with Mr Thomas’ take on this is that it’s perfectly ok for our ideas on the origins of religion to have to be changed by new evidence. That’s how science works. But Mr Thomas, as always, wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Standard evolutionary anthropology—the study of ancient man—insists that humans invented religious worship as they emerged from an ape-like ancestry. Religion supposedly emerged after the development of agriculture provided people with enough free time and close proximity to bicker, thus also providing them with an incentive to invent God and religion.

The way he does that is by using phrases like “Standard evolutionary anthropology insists”, making it sound like it requires that to be true. Instead, that was the hypothesis built on the evidence – and now it is no longer.

Evolutionary storytellers such as H. G. Wells provided possible reasons why early humans developed religion. In 1939, Wells speculated about Neolithic peoples:

Tabu, that is to say primitive moral control, and magic, which is primitive science, are now grouped about the directive priesthood, and an elaborate astronomy fraught with worship, links the plough and the labouring beast and the sacrifice upon the altar with then constellations.

Yes – he speculated, and seventy years ago at that. But now we have evidence.

Similarly speculative, the National Geographic‘s report on Gobekli Tepe asserted that “those who rose to power were seen as having a special connection with the gods.”

I would suspect that we have a little bit of evidence in favour of that, with similar things in more ‘modern’ societies. *cough*

But the idea that agricultural amenities spawned religion is making an about-face in light of the fully constructed temple complexes discovered at Gobekli Tepe (pronounced Guh-behk-lee Teh-peh and roughly translated “potbelly hill”) in southern Turkey. The remarkable findings there show that mankind was able to worship from the beginning of the human race.

The first sentence is accurate, or at least you could put it that way. But 12,000 years ago is not the beginning of the human race. And while we’re here, the agricultural revolution didn’t spawn out of nothing – the hunter-gatherer societies that were around at this time were getting more and more organised. It may be this organisation that was needed to invent religion and build temples, and also caused agriculture to come about thus explaining the pecieved correlation between agriculture and religion.

Many mysteries surround the temple site. Nobody knows why the pillars at the complex were buried on purpose, perhaps centuries after their careful construction, or why they depict stylized ornamental patterns, as well as images of birds, snakes, a scorpion, bulls, foxes, reptiles, a man, and even possibly dinosaurs. And no one knows why the pillars were arranged in the four stone circles that excavators have uncovered so far, or why they were built at all. “In fact, nobody really knows how Neolithic man managed to hew these pillars,” according to Elif Batuman, who described his visit to Gobekli Tepe in the December 2011 issue of The New Yorker.

This new article (which you will need a subscription to read and verify Thomas’ quotes) seems to be the only reason why we are hearing about this find now, rather than back in July like the CMI article. An article on the website for the temple suggests that researchers have some idea how it would have been done and why.

Archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, lead researcher of the excavations, has suggested that perhaps religious worship evolved first, and this development triggered the need for agriculture. But this reversal of the standard evolutionary story only shows that man-made histories are subjective, plastic, and unreliable.

Or rather, that they work on the evidence, rather than trying to explain it away.

Biblical history places the cradle of civilization geographically close to where Noah’s Ark landed, near the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent that includes parts of Turkey. So, it makes sense that Gobekli Tepe was one of the first building sites of post-Flood peoples.

Well, it can’t have been Noah’s altar in Genesis 8:20, nor his vineyard in 9:10. Babel was apparently founded by a grandson of Ham, one of Noah’s sons on the Ark, so if this was “one of the first building sites of post-Flood peoples” it would have to be before that. But the religion practised by the people who constructed the temple clearly was not anything recognisably like Judaism, or any other kind of monotheism. Of course, the Jews weren’t monotheistic until much later, but even then they had recognisable Gods. This temple includes an awful lot of depictions of (male, oddly) animals, but not a lot of the whole YHWH stuff. It was more spiritualism than religion, from what I can tell. So, it doesn’t “make sense” that it was “one of the first building sites of post-Flood peoples” – not unless they had gone native a lot sooner than the bible says.

The article finishes:

This amazing find vindicates what the Bible has said about mankind all along. The earliest humans were every bit as smart and able as modern ones—perhaps even more so. And according to Scripture, people were made on one day by God and in His image—with all the faculties necessary to imagine, build, farm, and worship.

There are many problems with this. We only consider this find to be as old as it is due to dating methods like Carbon dating. In the YEC fantasy world where these techniques don’t work, we don’t know how old this find is and it means nothing. Alternatively, in the real world, while this is a very important find it hardly disproves evolution or anything.

It’s also worth noting that they’ve only uncovered about 5% of the site, so drawing conclusions this early is a pretty bad idea.

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