Beneath The Roman Roads

Roman Britain - campaigns 43 to 84Many young Earth creationists contend that humans are getting dumber, and have been doing so since the Fall. They also believe that non-creationists believe that humans were dumber in the past. This is not completely untrue: our ancestors a million or so years ago had relatively smaller brain sizes to their bodies, a quality which seems to predict intelligence reasonably well. But when talking about the more recent past – the last few tens of thousands of years, say – this does not hold. Nobody is saying that a hunter gatherer 15,000 years ago, or a peasant farmer from late antiquity/the “dark ages,” was inherently less intelligent than somebody today.

Technology has improved, yes: but that is because technology, as science, builds upon itself, and it seems to take major calamity to backtrack even for a short period. As an aside, technology often long predates its widespread adoption: primitive steam engines have been around 2000 years or more, and while the world wide web is less than 25 years old the network upon which it and other systems run – the capital-I Internet – has of course been around several decades longer. Discoveries of this nature may challenge the popular narrative about the development of the relevant technology, and may also provide important information about historical people and times, but they tend not to be what you might consider a “problem” for anyone. For example, the fact that the Greeks knew about steam engines in the 1st century AD cannot be shaken by the possibility that they also knew about them in the 1st century BC as well.

But for reasons that are not abundantly clear the creationists seem to think otherwise. In articles past the ICR’s Brian Thomas has talked in this way about the development of hunting implements, the origin of art, and even the dawn of organised religion itself. On Wednesday hew published an article called British Pre-Roman Roads Lead to Genesis. Excavating ancient roads often reveals a series, created each time it gets redone, and digging underneath a cobbled Roman road in Britain another cobbled road was unearthed that carbon dating revealed to be a hundred years older than the Roman’s 1st-century invasion of the area. And, as the 2011 Daily Mail article Thomas is taking his information from says (even if he doesn’t), beneath that are less advanced roads:

‘There are what look like fire pits dating from the Bronze Age, and upright timbers from the middle Bronze Age, which suggests that it was already being used as a droveway at this time.’

He [Tim Malim] added that the road would have been built for either economic reasons, for moving farm produce or minerals, for linking hillforts or for the prestige of local tribal leaders.

This gives credence to the notion that the pre-Roman Celts were not as primitive as the popular narrative would have you believe, and that in many cases the Romans simply plonked their famous roads atop a network that already existed. But from the point of view of issues like the age of the Earth, the evolution of humanity or the existence of the gods, this road leads not “to Genesis,” but instead merely to Old Oswestry hillfort. This is an interesting and potentially important discovery, but not one that should be relevant here of all places. And yet Thomas says:

Archaeologists uncovered the remains of a well-maintained and well-built British road beneath an ancient Roman road in 2011. This evidence contrasts what modern texts teach about primitive-pagan peoples inhabiting the land before Caesar conquered it and even draws into question the long ages of human development suggested by evolution.

How this is so is not explained. (Also, for the pedants, Julius Caesar didn’t get so far in direct-occupation terms in Britain, though the man more commonly credited with the invasion, Claudius, was of his dynasty. Thomas isn’t talking about that Caesar though.) Bringing up this subject is strange in more ways than would be usual: not only is this discovery two years old, but it’s also far from the oldest road we know of. Those would be Egyptian, and a good 2000 years older than this Celtic one. It would not be a great surprise that there are some older even than that.

Thomas does have a slightly more recent news story to talk about too, albeit in just two paragraphs:

A new book by former Exeter College Fellow Graham Robb examined in more detail the concept of pre-Roman roads and other civil structures in Britain. In The Ancient Paths, Robb showed how hundreds of ancient towns were aligned and connected with a certain order. He told the Telegraph, “I thought it can’t be true, I have to disprove it. But they were a very advanced civilisation.”

“Very advanced” does not fit the standard conception of Stone Age or Iron Age peoples. But it does match ancient records.

That would be because the “standard conception” is rarely accurate on such matters. Many of the various peoples colonised by Europeans over the last 500 years could be shoehorned into these categories, yet they were advanced civilisations in their own right.

Thomas actually spends most of his article talking about related claims made by creationist Bill Cooper in his book After the Flood. This alleged history book is most famous for it’s fanciful interpretation of the monsters fought by Beowulf as dinosaurs, and I will have to leave it to others to determine whether his claims of an extensive network of “roads of stone and mortar, according to law” and kings who traced their lineage to one of the sons of Noah hold any water at all.

Thomas sums up his article by saying:

So, artifacts like well-maintained stone roads built prior to Julius Caesar’s 55 BC invasion of Britain and ancient chronicles that plainly state that is exactly what took place (not to mention the name of modern-day “Billingsgate” matches king Belinus’ chronicled name) do not at all support secular historians’ assertions of an opaque history featuring vague iron, bronze, stone, primitive, and even ape-man ages.

This article… makes very little sense, I’ll say, having deleted and replaced several versions of this sentence. “Ape-man ages”? Thomas was smoking something strong back in mid-October when he wrote this.

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3 thoughts on “Beneath The Roman Roads

  1. Yeah, whatever Thomas meant by “ape man ages”, YECs attempts to deal with all the hominid fossils are lame. Many of the specimens obviously show intermediate features between modern humans and earlier primates, but their “model” forces them to pigeon hole every one as fully hunan or fully ape. The futility of this is shown by the fact that even amongst themselves they can’t make up their minds about which are which. At any rate, I had a similar reaction to the article about finding old roads. Basically, a big yawn. If this is among the best evidence they can find for YECism, it says a lot.

  2. Many young Earth creationists contend that humans are getting dumber, and have been doing so since the Fall.

    That must be the best explanation ever of the Flynn Effect — best, as in most laughable.

    In any case, I think I get it. You must be on your long summer break. And that’s why your blogging rate has picked up. I hope your first year at uni went well for you.

    • You’re not quite right: it’s still exam season (one more to go, had two this week). In part this is just productive procrastination, so it may drop off after I finish, but not having to get up at 5:30 in the morning to get to an early lecture is also helping, yes.

      The year has been fun, but also kind of exhausting.

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