A Creationist Rejects Intelligent Design, Appeals to “Natural Processes” to Explain Stone Artifacts

Are billions and billions of pieces of stone found strewn across the African continent the product of intelligent design (purposeful actions) or random processes? Last year I presented a Stone-Age artifact challenge to the young-earth creationist’ chronology.   Dr. Mortenson, from Answers in Genesis, responded to the evidence that I presented of vast stone-tool production in Africa by first insinuating my Christian witness of the facts can’t be trusted and then suggesting my estimates of stone age artifacts were vastly overestimated and questioned how so many artifacts could be produced even in the space of a million or more years.   I have addressed the later claims in a series of articles which explored the physical evidence of the existence of immense numbers of stone artifacts and therefore beg for an explanation (see links below).


Stone Age Artifacts – A Challenge to Young Earth Chronology

Here are my responses thus far to Dr. Mortenson’s attempt to defend a young earth perspective on the existence of extensive stone-age artifacts.

Part I: Answers in Genesis Struggles to Make Sense of Vast Numbers of Stone Age Artifacts

Part II: Trillions of Stone Artifacts Redux: A South African Test Case of YEC Chronology

Part III: Billions of Stone Artifacts: Witness to the Ancient Occupation of the Saharan Desert

Part IV:  Stone Artifacts From the Deep Sahara: Creating Problems for Young Earth Creationists

Part V (this article):  Mortenson Rejects Intelligent Design, Appeals to “Natural Processes” as a Better Explanation for Stone Artifacts

Possible future installments in this series:

Part VI:  Where are all the pre-flood artifacts?  A human artifact problem

Part VII:  Putting it all Together:  Dr. Mortenson’s Real Problem

My articles which prompted Dr. Mortenson to respond are here:

Trillions of Stone Age Artifacts: A Young Earth Anthropology Paradox
How Rare are Stone Age Artifacts? A Visit to a Stone Tool-Making Center at Kathu, South Africa
Thousands of Stone Age Artifacts and Fossil Bones: A Story of an Ancient Butcher Shop


If you can’t explain billions stone artifacts then deny they exist

As I continue to look at Dr. Mortenson’s response we see that he continues his kitchen sink approach to the problem of too many artifacts tossing out multiple possible answers to the stone artifact problem.  In the end he tosses out one last-gasp possibility: the artifacts aren’t really artifacts.

Rather than products of human stone tool production he proposes that the vast majority of artifacts known as lithics, pieces of rock presumed to be the result of stone tool production, are nothing more than random pieces of stone that have been misinterpreted as evidence of human technology.  Just what is the origin of these random pieces of stone?  He proposes that most of these artifacts are nothing more than random chips of rock resulting from rocks bumping into one another.

Here is the pertinent quote from his article:

“These stones are not a huge problem for young-earth creationists.  …. in the couple of centuries of the post-Flood, Ice-Age period there would still be residual catastrophism on local or region scale greater than we generally see today. The extremely heavy rainfall in lower latitudes would have resulted in massive sheet runoff and erosion from hills so that large sheets of loose sediments spread out onto lower-lying flat areas. This is very evident in the western USA. In now desert areas the intense winds then remove much of the smaller sand particles from these outwash deposits, leaving behind the larger pebbles and cobbles scattered across the desert floor like litter. Some of the pebbles and cobbles would have been rounded while others would have been chipped and flaked by the agitation in those debris flows. Thus these extensive deposits of pebbles and cobbles of various sizes and shapes are not the work of “stone-age” people over millions of years of tool-making but are better explained by the work of catastrophic natural processes in a very short time.”

Dr. Mortenson uses exactly the type of argument that I predicted YECs would make (see:  Reflections on a Young Earth Creationist’ Approach to Scientific Apologetics).    He doesn’t seek to provide a sound argument but rather only seeks to provide an explanation that sounds plausible to his audience so that the conventional explanation of the data can be ignored.

I have already written several articles detailing the evidence that vast numbers of artifacts are indeed present on and just below the surface of the African continent.   Dismissing these artifacts as “catastrophic natural processes” is absurd.   Aside from the absurdity of this speculation,  I am fascinated by the irony in Dr. Mortenson’s appeal to natural processes.

Dr. Mortenson rejects design and promotes chance events as a causal explanation for stone artifacts

The original article that prompted me to investigate the young-earth reactions to stone artifacts included a fascinating discussion about the influence that Stone Age technology hand on shaping the geography of central Libya.   The authors of this article propose that archaic humans transported so much rock from other locations that it literally changed the erosion patterns in this region.  Here is how this region of central Libya is described:

“The Messak Settafet, a sandstone massif in the Central Sahara (Libya), is littered with Pleistocene stone tools on an unprecedented scale and is, in effect, a man-made landscape. Surveys showed that parts of the Messak Settafet have as much as 75 lithics per square metre and that this fractured debris is a dominant element of the environment. The type of stone tools—Acheulean and Middle Stone Age—indicates that extensive stone tool manufacture occurred over the last half million years or more. The lithic-strewn pavement created by this ancient stone tool manufacture possibly represents the earliest human environmental impact at a landscape scale and is an example of anthropogenic change. “  Foley RA, Lahr MM (2015) Lithic Landscapes: Early Human Impact from Stone Tool Production on the Central Saharan Environment.

How ironic is it that we have secular scientists seeing evidence of human-produced stone-tool debris  and its influence on landscape patterns, while creationists deny human agency  or as they might call it “design.” Rather, the latter propose that these stone found scattered across the landscape in central Libya are nothing other than a product of natural processes.  Put another way, Dr. Mortenson is suggesting that chance events alone are responsible for the size, shape and pattern of rocks observed in the Libyan Desert.

Dr. Mortenson and Dr. Snelling, who is also referenced in the article, have ample opportunity to see design in these shards of stone and the way they are distributed on the landscape but rather than accept the evidence of  purposeful manipulations via human hands they propose the shards of stone are a result of “chance” events and thus involve no “designer.”   However, dozens of experts on stone-tool production have studied artifacts in this region and concluded that these stones are the product of purposeful actions. How ironic that their conclusions are being questioned by a group that is usually first in line to claim design whenever it has the opportunity.

Do Drs. Mortenson and Snelling really believe that we can’t determine human design through the study of physical evidence?  This really is an insult to the intelligence of those that study these stones.  Drs. Mortenson and Snelling have no expertise in this area and I have found no evidence that anyone at Answers in Genesis has ever personally studied stone tool technology.  Given their lack of familiarity with the stone tools you would hope they at least spend a good amount of time reading the research literature before offering up an alternative interpretation but it is clear they did not.

I am not claiming to be an expert but I have talked with experts on arrowheads and have sat in on sessions of arrowhead and spearhead reproductions and attempted to make my own.  North American arrowheads are considered much more complex tools than those in Africa but nonetheless many of the same principles of percussive flaking are involved.  More importantly I have personally read more than 40 articles from the primary literature on stone tool production in Africa in addition to obtaining several book-length treatments in preparation to write several blog posts on the topic including these responses.

From Mortenson’s description it appears he showed Dr. Snelling a picture from one of my blog posts and from that Snelling offered up a competing interpretation for Stone Age tools and artifacts that have been studied by hundreds of scientists that have devoted their lives to understand the origin and significance of these items.   They dismiss all that research with a piece of speculation about how post-Flood local catastrophic events may have “produced” many of these artifacts.   Do they really believe that individuals that have devoted their entire lives to studying stone tools really have no idea how to tell the difference between a piece of rock that was produced by random bumping against another rock versus a deliberate strike of a rock with another rock guided by an intelligent being?

Is Mortenson’s appeal to natural processes a hypothesis worth considering?  It might be if it hadn’t already been considered, tested and rejected.   If Mortenson were more familiar with research on Stone Age artifacts he would know that anthropologists and geologists certainly have considered  and tested the possibility that rocks could bump into each other and the chips resulting from those interactions might be misidentified as the products from human processing of rocks to make tools.  Many of the papers in the bibliography below include discussions about natural processes that could produce stone flakes and how real artifacts produced by intent can be identified.

I have said before, it is evident that Mortenson’s goal is not to convince anyone other than the devoted follower of AiG that they need not worry about stone artifacts.   He will say that all these other scientists, even those that are Christians that work in the field of anthropology, don’t have on the right worldview glasses when they do their research. The non-experts at Answers in Genesis are apparently the only people with the right glasses and thus ability to accurately interpret these stones. These glasses are so powerful that they can determine, even without ever having looked as any of these stones, that they can give us an interpretation that trumps all others not matter how well-researched and supported those conclusions may be.

I believe it would be disrespectful for me to respond to an article without having done any research myself. If I am going to spend time to understand my topic, and even then I will admit I have much to learn, I expect a critic to also have spent some time evaluating the material they intend to discuss.   With this in mind, I will end with a short list of important pieces of primary literature that I have examined and that I suggest Dr. Mortenson become familiar with before attempting to construct a defense of young-earth interpretation of Stone Age artifacts.


Anderson-Gerfaud, P. (1990). 14: Aspects of Behaviour in the Middle Palaeolithic: Functional Analysis of Stone Tools from Southwest France. The emergence of modern humans: an archaeological perspective, 389.

Andrefsky Jr, W. (2009). The analysis of stone tool procurement, production, and maintenance. Journal of archaeological research17(1), 65-103.

Chazan, M., Wilkins, J., Morris, D., & Berna, F. (2012). Bestwood 1: a newly discovered Earlier Stone Age living surface near Kathu, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Antiquity86(331).

Chiotti, L., Olszewski, D. I., Dibble, H. L., McPherron, S. R., Schurmans, U., & Smith, J. R. (2007). Paleolithic Abydos: reconstructing individual behaviors across the high desert landscape. The Archaeology and Art of Ancient Egypt: Essays in Honor of David B O’Connor. Cairo: Supreme Council of Antiquities Press Cairo, 169-183.

Close, A. E. (1996). Carry that weight: The use and transportation of stone tools. Current Anthropology, 545-553.

Close, A. E. (1990). Living on the edge: Neolithic herders in the eastern Sahara. Antiquity 64: 79-96.

Close, A. E. (1992). “Holocene occupation in the eastern Sahara,” in New Light on the Northeast African past.  Edited by F. Clees and R. Kuper, pp. 155-183.  Koln: Heinrich-Rarth-Institut.

Foley RA, Lahr MM (2015) Lithic Landscapes: Early Human Impact from Stone Tool Production on the Central Saharan Environment  PLoS ONE 10(3):e0116482. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116482

Henshilwood, C. S., d’Errico, F., & Watts, I. (2009). Engraved ochres from the middle stone age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution57(1), 27-47.

Lombard, M., Parsons, I., & Van der Ryst, M. M. (2004). Middle Stone Age lithic point experimentation for macro-fracture and residue analyses: the process and preliminary results with reference to Sibudu Cave points: Sibudu Cave. South African Journal of Science100(3 & 4), p-159.

Mussi, M., & Peresani, M. (2011). Human settlement of Italy during the Younger Dryas. Quaternary International242(2), 360-370.

Olszewski, D. I., Dibble, H. L., McPherron, S. P., Schurmans, U. A., Chiotti, L., & Smith, J. R. (2010). Nubian Complex strategies in the Egyptian high desert. Journal of human evolution59(2), 188-201.

Porat, N., Chazan, M., Grün, R., Aubert, M., Eisenmann, V., & Horwitz, L. K. (2010). New radiometric ages for the Fauresmith industry from Kathu Pan, southern Africa: Implications for the Earlier to Middle Stone Age transition.Journal of Archaeological Science37(2), 269-283.

Scerri, E. M., Drake, N. A., Jennings, R., & Groucutt, H. S. (2014). Earliest evidence for the structure of Homo sapiens populations in Africa. Quaternary Science Reviews101, 207-216.

Schoville, B. J. (2010). Frequency and distribution of edge damage on Middle Stone Age lithic points, Pinnacle Point 13B, South Africa. Journal of human evolution59(3), 378-391.

Stanford, D., Lowery, D., Jodry, M., Bradley, B. A., Kay, M., Stafford Jr, T. W., & Speakman, R. J. (2014). New evidence for a possible Paleolithic occupation of the Eastern North American continental shelf at the Last Glacial Maximum. In Prehistoric Archaeology on the Continental Shelf (pp. 73-93). Springer New York.

Tryon, C. A., McBrearty, S., & Texier, P. J. (2005). Levallois lithic technology from the Kapthurin formation, Kenya: Acheulian origin and Middle Stone Age diversity. African Archaeological Review22(4), 199-229.

Wadley, L. (2005). A typological study of the final Middle Stone Age stone tools from Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal. The South African Archaeological Bulletin, 51-63.

Velichko, A. A., Pisareva, V. V., Sedov, S. N., Sinitsyn, A. A., & Timireva, S. N. (2009). Paleogeography of Kostenki-14 (Markina Gora). Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia37(4), 35-50.

Walker, S. J., Lukich, V., & Chazan, M. (2014). Kathu Townlands: a high density Earlier Stone Age locality in the interior of South Africa.

Wilkins, J., & Chazan, M. (2012). Blade production∼ 500 thousand years ago at Kathu Pan 1, South Africa: support for a multiple origins hypothesis for early Middle Pleistocene blade technologies. Journal of Archaeological Science,39(6), 1883-1900.

Wurz, S. (2002). Variability in the middle stone age lithic sequence, 115,000–60,000 years ago at Klasies river, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science29(9), 1001-1015.

Evidence of human design at upheaval dome in Canyonland National Park in Utah. This small pile of stones didn't happen by random natural forces. However, in this case the shape of each stone was shaped by natural processes. It is only the organization of the stones that is intelligently designed. I few minutes after took this picture I saw a child knock this pile of rocks down. A park ranger will probably stock them up again to mark the trail. Image: Joel Duff 2013
Evidence of intelligent design at upheaval dome in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. I am reasonably certain this small pile of stones didn’t happen by random natural forces. However, the shape of each stone was produced by natural processes. It is only the organization of the stones that is intelligently designed. I few minutes after took this picture I saw a child knock this pile of rocks down. A park ranger will probably stack them up again to mark the trail. Image: Joel Duff 2013

Th featured image is of a small stone “core” found in South Africa at a location which is described as having a “carpet” of lithics as far as the eye can see.  The image is from this blog: https://simonhoyte.wordpress.com/2015/07/15/carpets-of-artefacts-mountains-of-baboons/

35 thoughts on “A Creationist Rejects Intelligent Design, Appeals to “Natural Processes” to Explain Stone Artifacts

  1. This is a powerful piece. I will paraphrase one of your best statements and say that only the AIG scientists have the “right” glasses which are powerful enough to determine the “truth” without even looking at the evidence. Keep up the great work!


  2. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! Thank you for this thoughtful and–despite the provocation, considerate–response.

    Question, however–and this just totally boggle my mind: WHY would anyone take the time to make even ONE more tool (much less billions) when they can find a dozen more nearly identical tools within just a couple of feet? This whole scenario seems beyond imagination to me.


    1. I think that is a very obvious question and one that I’ve been asked several times. The simplest answer is that where these “carpets” of stone tools and other debitage of production are found today it looks like there are thousands of tools right next to each other but imagine when they were produced these regions were grassy savannas. Stone tools were easily lost as hunters traveled the region. Over time as the soil built up more and more stone tools and shards of rocks from production were trapped in the soil. Later, when the region became more arid, the top soil was blown away and all those stones were left on the surface. So the tools on the surface are really an agregation of thousands of generations of tools dropped here and there and originally found in many layers of sediment.


  3. Fantastic article, this is a subject I never thought might present a problem for a Young-Earth view, despite taking a course in biological anthropology where we studied stone tools. It seems like everywhere one looks there are problems for the YEC view, and their blanket response is to literally fabricate a catastrophic explanation based on no data whatsoever.
    I would love to see that proposed Part VI, as that’s a question I’ve always had but never found creationists dealing with. Cain built a city, his pre-flood descendants made metal tools, and humans were clearly spread out and had many settlements by the time of the flood. Where are they in the fossil record? Why are there no metal tools in the Cambrian or Jurassic? Where are these pre-flood cities? If the fossil record was actually created by Noah’s flood, there don’t appear to have been any humans around to execute judgment on.


    1. I don’t think Creationists read very much past Genesis chapter 2.

      Genesis 4 is obviously quite contradictory with the Eden story before it and the events that follow afterward. Jabal cannot be the ancestor of tent-dwelling nomads, nor Jubal the ancestor of all lyre and pipe players, if their lines were wiped out by the flood. The story of Cain comes from an entirely different folktale setting that presupposes no flood wiping out mankind. Bible scholars know this stuff, which is why they’re generally not creationists.


      1. And here is where all the additional kinds of issues related to biblical exegesis come into play. As I wrote several days ago:

        if you jettison a kind of naive/literalistic (concordist) interpretation of Genesis 1-3, then, if you are going to be consistent and diligent in your hermeneutical principles, you are pretty much going to be forced to jettison that same kind of interpretive structure at many other points throughout the Bible. Many evangelical Christians will deny the necessity, but, from what I can see, they can only do so by kind of willfully refusing to buckle down to face the details they are overlooking.

        I have yet to find an evangelical biblical scholar who has produced a “biblical theology” that follows a consistent, understandable non-concordist line from Genesis to Revelation (or even Genesis to the Gospels).

        Is it impossible to do? I have no idea. (Frankly, I am hopeful it can be done, because I have “bought” a non-concordist view of Genesis 1-3, at least, if not 1-11 . . . and [many] other sections of the Bible. But, as I have said to a number of PhD/ThD biblical scholars: having adopted such views, it leaves my [evangelical] theology with a whole lot of holes in it!)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Allow me an old-earth creationist response. It is not necessary that these technologies were only invented once and spread continuously. It is entirely possible for a technology to be invented and lost.

        As for the “inventors” listed in Genesis 4, many translations take it in a different way, and the hebrew does not suggest that all modern users of those technologies are descendants of their Genesis 4 counterparts. Examples:

        ESV: His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.
        New Living: His brother’s name was Jubal, the first of all who play the harp and flute.

        It is entirely possible that the New Living has it right. And the terms used refer to this being the first use of the technologies, not indicating an unbroken genetic/cultural line from these individuals to modern individuals.

        To define my position (in case you are unaware). I take the position that Genesis 1-11 describes real, factually accurate events. But that Noah’s flood is best interpreted as a geographically local event that wiped out all humans living on earth at the time (so close to Adam & Eve temporally that humans had not spread far from eden, so a literally global flood was unnecessary)


      3. Wowfunny251, these are just a few of many indicators that the Cain story, like several others in Genesis, is from another folktale tradition that assumes a populated world and continuity (i.e. no deluge) with the author’s day. Others include Cain finding a wife, Cain founding a city (populated by whom?) and the fact that Cain fears revenge by others for Abel’s death.

        Even if “father” means “progenitor” rather than literal ancestor, it still implies cultural and technological continuity with the author’s day, and it provides a very understandable etiology for the way things were in the author’s corner of the Ancient Near East. (There is little other reason to furnish such details about people like Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain.) Furthermore, there is general agreement among Old Testament scholars that these figures function as eponymous ancestors — not historical individuals, but symbolic shorthand for tribes the writer is familiar with. In reality, the lands of Israel, Canaan, Egypt, Cush, and so on were not actually founded by individuals by those names. Any historian will know that.

        But that Noah’s flood is best interpreted as a geographically local event that wiped out all humans living on earth at the time…

        I’m not sure how you solve the chronological problems of interpreting the Bible so literally. Do you really think all humanity descends from one family that survived a flood in the 25th century BC, to the contrary of all archaeological and historical evidence?


      4. When you say “scholars” you mean liberal scholars, not conservative scholars. Just as conservative scholars are biased in favor of the truth of the biblical text, liberal scholars are biased against it.

        1. Cains city was likely initially populated by cain, his wife (sister) and their children. But over time the city expanded. The word for city can refer to a small village/settlement. It doesn’t have to have skyscrapers and thousands of people.

        2. Genesis 10 is likely referring to the ancestor of the peoples of a location by the “modern” name of those locations. Not what the person was really called at that time.

        3. Yes, I do think all humanity descends from a single family that survived on a real ark from a great megaflood (but not a truly global one) but I don;t think the flood happened in the 25th century BC. Based on archaeological grounds, I think the flood probably took place ~60,000 years ago, not 4,000. The genealogies are not timekeeping devices. Like many ancient genealogies, they are theological and skip names between generations. Many scholars (even liberal ones) recognize this.

        4. The individuals in Genesis 4 are not said to be the progenitors of any modern group. Just that they invented technologies. This does not imply continuity. There are many theories on why these mentions are included, I suggest you read more commentaries on Genesis. They typically answer your questions.


        1. I mean mainstream scholars. (I am unfamiliar with your definition of “liberal scholars” as those who are “biased against the truth of the biblical text”.) Have you ever read something like, say, the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament or Vetus Testamentum? Catholic Biblical Quarterly?

          1. So a single, small family is now a “city”? That’s not taking the Bible very literally.

          2. So you think countries were really founded by single patriarchs, but the Bible doesn’t give their correct names? Do you have any scholarly citation for this?

          3. So when a biblical genealogy says, for example, “When Shem was one hundred years old, he became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; and Shem lived after the birth of Arpachshad five hundred years, and had other sons and daughters,” Shem did not actually have a son named Arpachshad at the age of 100? In fact, there were hundreds (thousands?) of unnamed generations between them, and his age is a fiction? Then you don’t believe the Bible is literally true; if the genealogies *are* true, then the flood must have occurred roughly at the date Ussher estimated.

          4. Surely Jabal was not the first to keep livestock, since Abel already did. It is not without good reason that most translations follow the literal meaning of the Hebrew, that he was the “father” (ancestor) of all shepherds. As far as academic commentaries go, I have read many, and they all concur that these characters are meant to be the inventors of various arts the author is familiar with in his day. The venerable Gunkel wrote: “The first inventors are simultaneously considered progenitors of the circle in which the invention currently exists. […] This is a most ancient perspective: trade, craft, and profession are passed on in the family. The three classes known by this tradition are nomads, musicians, and
          smiths. These are the three classes of the desert.” (Gunkel, Genesis, p. 52) The text only makes sense if the author is trying to explain conditions of his day by connecting it with the primeval past.

          Liked by 1 person

      5. Re: wowfunny251…

        “Just as conservative scholars are biased in favor of the truth of the biblical text, liberal scholars are biased against it.”

        I don’t think the biases you’re assuming exist, at least not in the way you’re describing them. There isn’t one group of scholars who believes the Bible is “true” and one group who believes the Bible is “false”. Rather, the continuum of approaches to the Bible have to do with its presumed function. A small group of conservative fundamentalist scholars presume axiomatically that all passages of the Bible are deterministically authoritative; virtually all other scholars don’t think this is necessarily the case.

        A deterministically authoritative text is a text which functions to provide the reader with unambiguously and materially accurate propositions. In this view, the Bible is a source of absolute premises to be used with an almost mathematical rigor in constructing dogmas and dictating practice. Believers in deterministically authoritative inspiration argue that because the propositions they CAN test are true, the propositions they CAN’T test must also be true. Of course, this isn’t really faith; it’s just gambling when you think you’ve got a sure thing.

        Scholars and theologians outside of the conservative fundamentalist community recognize that it doesn’t make any sense to treat the Bible like this. The Bible is a complex, many-genred, multifaceted text which serves quite a few different functions. The parables told by Jesus were not intended to couch propositions (“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl!” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed!” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a sower who went to sow!”), but to cause people to change the way they think. Similarly, the Psalms aren’t just a way of organizing propositional statements about God; they cause us to truly feel what the authors felt and wonder what the authors wondered. A scholar can believe that the Bible is inspired and true without needing to insist on a single propositional, unambiguous deterministically authoritative function.

        Is there a difference between how conservative fundamentalist writers view the Bible and how all other scholars and theologians view the Bible? Absolutely. The former ones limit the function of the Bible to the provision of axiomatic material propositions, while the latter accept that some passages could have different functions.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Wow, David MacMillan (January 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm)! I so appreciate the clarity and precision of your comments. And I appreciate the phrase you use (that I have never heard before), “deterministically authoritative text.” You have helped clarify a number of things for me.


          Liked by 1 person

      6. Conservative scholars = christians who take the bible as the divinely inspired word of God.

        1. You assume the modern perspective on what a “city” is. As I said, it can just as easily refer to a settlement. Similarly, it could be said that it grew into a larger settlement later, as cains descendants propagated.

        2. Names are not “real”. Names are words we make up to describe things. In this case, the names used are place names at the time the text was written that were applied to the founders.

        3. You present a false dichotomy. Either the bible is wrong, or the english translation is true to a wooden reading through our modern culture. “Father” can mean “Ancestor” in the hebrew. Essentially, the writer cut certain names and replaced the “child” with the later descendant. This does not mean the text is wrong (though it could be said that the english is wrong or at best, misleading). It means you are viewing it through a broken modern lense.

        4. I mean commentaries by Christians who understand theology (atheists don’t tend to grasp christian theology well) and believe the bible IS the word of God. You can find definitions for hebrew words used and excellent commentaries at Biblehub.com


      7. Responding to wowfunny251

        I don’t want to beat a dead horse or just repeat myself, but a few things jumped out from your post:

        “Conservative scholars = christians who take the bible as the divinely inspired word of God.”
        “You present a false dichotomy[:] either the bible is wrong, or the english translation is true to a wooden reading through our modern culture.”
        “I mean commentaries by Christians who understand theology…and believe the bible IS the word of God.”

        The curious thing here is that although you’re characterizing Paul’s position as a false dichotomy, you’re actually advancing a false dichotomy without realizing it. You’ve grouped all possible approaches to the Bible into two buckets: “The Bible is divine plenary inspiration consisting of deterministically authoritative material propositions” vs “The Bible is false”. As I tried to explain in my last comment, this isn’t really a legitimate division.

        A scholar is fully capable of taking the Bible as the divinely inspired word of God without needing to believe that its sole function is the provision of unambiguously accurate material propositions. When a group of scholars suggests that a particular passage of Genesis is not historical, they are not denying the truth of Scripture. Rather, they are exploring the purpose and function of that particular passage. Advancing a function other than the recording of history is not a denial of inspiration or truth.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Presumably these tools would have been made by homo erectus (maybe homo habilis). Calling them “human” seems a huge stretch to me. Young-earth creationists choose to call them human (probably to keep an extra species off the ark) but looking at their fossils I don’t see how you can look at these creatures and call them human beings.

    You said that the tools are more complex than those made by bonobos before, but in terms of the thought that goes into making them, i’m not so sure about that. Simple stone tools are made by smashing a rock on another rock until it’s shaped into a desired form. Bonobos do this as well. Homo erectus may have done it more often, and spent longer on each individual tool. But I don’t know that such behavior indicates higher intelligence or simply higher patience.

    For instance, look at this article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151130084918.htm


    1. Those are definitely some very clever bonobos.

      But the tools being manufactured here are a little bit more complex. I’m not saying bonobos couldn’t learn to create tools like this — I don’t really know where their reasoning limits are — but it’s not something we’ve seen so far. These are the kinds of tools that you or I would have to create if we were suddenly stranded on the savanna with nothing but the clothes on our backs.

      These sorts of tools require a knowledge of what rock types will flake and chip in an acceptable fashion, as well as the ability to figure out what angle and force is required to chip off flakes. You have to know what type of rock to chip with, and you need to be able to progressively work toward an end shape using more and more precise strikes. It’s a lengthy process, but the end result is a tool which shows unmistakable evidence of intentional design. There are very clear and reliable metrics for distinguishing between objects which are intentionally designed and objects which are the chance result of two rocks bumping into each other.

      As far as the fossils of homo erectus and others are concerned…sure, there is a continuum between human apes and nonhuman apes, and homo erectus lies somewhere on that line (closer to the human side, I think, but that’s neither here nor there). In any case, these rocks DEFINITELY aren’t the result of random chance processes. Intelligent design FTW!


      1. I agree they are intentionally designed, but almost certainly not by a human being. I have made stone tools before (much like those homo erectus made) as an experiment. I don’t see how it requires any more intelligence to do that than to take a long stick, strip bark off it, bite the tip into a point and remove extra branches (as those bonobos do).

        As for finding the right rocks, chimps have been shown to look for certain types of leaves to build their “nests” out of. (I don’t have a link for this one, but you could probably still find it)

        I have to disagree with the claim “there is a continuum between human apes and nonhuman apes”. There is a reason the human evolutionary tree is such a mess and there is so much conflict (even among atheistic evolutionists).

        We have many fossils of different species with different mosaics of human, ape, and novel characteristics. And some have more “human” characteristics than others. But the order in which they appear, and the specific traits they possess make building a coherent tree for all hominids somewhat difficult. Homo Naledi made this even worse in my opinion.

        Behaviorally, Though there are a few claims of “advanced” behavior in somewhat earlier hominids like neanderthals and homosapiens idaltu, their sites typically display only slightly more advanced toolmaking techniques than those produced by earlier hominids and modern apes. Evidence for jewelry, art, music, and spirituality are sorely lacking prior to ~50k years ago .As anthropologist Richard G. Klein points out.

        We have dozens of sites (especially in europe) of modern human behavior existing in fully anatomically modern humans in australia, south asia, africa, and europe 50k – 30k BP. These sites tend to show jewelery, art (like cave paintings), musical instruments, projectile weaponry (like bows), and evidence of religious behavior.

        Prior to 50k BP we have almost nothing in the way of modern behavior evidences. We have a few claimed sites one in Israel (Skhul I believe?), one in south africa (blombos), and a couple such sites in europe for neanderthals. Many of these sites are highly disputed (both with respect to dating and the interpretation of the artifacts found) and usually only claim one or two of said criteria i’ve mentioned before.

        So there is certainly a massive discontinuity in behavior between modern humans and earlier hominids. From a christian perspective I would say the creatures prior to 50k years ago are non-human animals (not made in the image of god) and the people that lived after are descendants of a historical Adam & Eve.


      2. Like I said, I’m not necessarily saying bonobos couldn’t make stone tools, though I find it highly unlikely. There is a pretty significant difference between chewing a stick into a point and using methodical, systematic chipping at precise angles to fracture a rock into a continuous cutting edge. There’s also a massive qualitative difference between choosing a particular kind of leaf to make into a nest (for example, perhaps the chimps simply like the way those leaves smell?) and identifying a specific mineral composition suitable for the production of stone tools.

        As far as your insistence on a gulf between different groups of hominids…meh. Not to be rude, but it seems like you’re grasping at any straws you can find. Neanderthals produced complex tools (cleavers, picks, axes, and fine-edged blades using multistep stone knapping techniques), had a hyoid bone structure identical to modern humans, which is useful only for articulated speech, possessed the same language gene as modern humans, intentionally and ritually buried their dead, constructed canoes and other watercraft, built architecturally-advanced dwellings using carefully-sorted mammoth bones for weightbearing studs, used fire for both heat and cooking, decorated their dwellings, and interbred with Homo sapiens sapiens. Heck, the earliest known structure was built by H. erectus a half-million years ago, using stone-carved wooden stakes planted into the ground.

        Perhaps some confusion arises from an inaccurate assumption that evolution requires some neat, monotonic ordering of hominid species. That’s really not expected at all. Just like the numerous breeds of dog display a wide range of attributes that would defy any misguided attempt to arrange them in a neat linear progression, so the numerous species of hominid that arose since our LCA with the other great apes also display a wide range of attributes. This makes the tree challenging to reconstruct, but it doesn’t in any way invalidate our common ancestry with the rest of life on Earth.

        More likely the confusion arises from a presuppositionally-demanded denial of the possibility of common ancestry, which is unfortunate.

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      3. Lot of problems here. Again, I have made stone tools before. The picking of rocks is not that complicated, you need on rock harder than a second rock. The tools they made are not that complex.

        “Neanderthals made complex tools” the tools they made were more complex than some earlier hominids for sure. I never said “all” hominids made tools on-par with those modern apes make, but earlier hominids (like homo habilis, and homo erectus) certainly did. Neanderthal tools still don’t hold a candle to early human tools ~50k years ago. Which included expressions of creativity & spirituality, along with projectile weapons and mixed adhesives.

        Regarding the language argument, this is a strong debate. It is simply misleading to say “neanderthals had language, debate over”. Because it isn’t. There are other features of neanderthal anatomy that are involved in human speech that differ greatly (chin, tongue, larynx) and most genes serve multiple functions. (See: encode project) and there are certainly more than one gene involved in language. Personally, I think neanderthals probably had simple pseudo-language, like certain birds or dolphins.

        They buried their dead. But lots of animals have the capacity to grieve. There is no compelling evidence they buried their dead in a religious way. Chimps have been observed to grieve for the dead, and both elephants and corvids have been observed to “bury” their dead in sticks and leaves.

        We have not found ANY fossilized watercraft (let alone canoes)). This is mere speculation on how neanderthals may have reached certain islands (like crete) their remains and tools have been found on. Even than, at most they would have made dugout boats which are relatively simple and crude. But there are other ways for animals to reach islands. I think the watercraft idea was only proposed because of anthropomorphism. We don’t go around claiming other island animals (like pygmy elephants on Flores) made boats to get there.

        Interbreeding I would chalk up to human depravity/bestiality. Similar to how other sins (like parent-child incest) cause lasting effects to future generations.

        As for dwellings, the only study I know of that claimed this was a finding in the ukraine where mammoth-bone dwelling were uncovered. But they were only dated to 43,000 years ago. Humans were ALREADY IN EUROPE at that time. The behavior cannot obviously be linked to neanderthals. They were around for 200k+ years before humans got to Europe, if you want to prove such an outlandish claim, find older evidence.

        Also, the Homo-Erectus dwelling is also a singular site which the interpretation of is highly disputed. Don’t get your anthropology information solely from popular news, they make things seem more cut-and-dry than they really are.

        Dog breeds are not a valid comparison to natural process. Dog breeds are selectively designed by humans and purposely interbreed with other dog breeds. This cannot be attributed to hominids, which had distinct ranges and morphological features. I don’t see how you can argue evolution from the fossil record if you can’t even use the record to build a coherent tree. If you want to argue evolution from other grounds (genetics, homology) fine. But you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If evolution can be verified by the fossil record, it can also be falsified. You are essentially saying:

        “If the fossil record shows progression between two species (one living, and one ancient) it is evidence for evolution, if it doesn’t, ignore it”


  5. Sorry, my comment should read:

    Natural HIstorian,

    A clarification question: “However, dozens of experts on stone-tool production have studied artifacts in this region and concluded that these stones are the product of purposeful actions….
    Stone Age tools and artifacts that have been studied by hundreds of scientists that have devoted their lives to understand the origin and significance of these items. ”

    So does that mean it is true that there is a full consensus here, and that there are literally *no* experts in the field who have questioned this conclusion?



    1. Hi Nathan, good question about the confidence in these results. The simplest answer is that there isnt’ any doubt about the origins of these artifacts but that answer is too simple. Those that work in this field are very interested in knowing if you pick up a stone laying on the surface of the ground how can one know if that stone was manipulated by human hands at some point in the past. Could random bumps of one stone into another break a piece off that might be mistaken by someone as having been the result of a purposeful action? I think ever expert would say that yes, there will be some stones that form via completely natural processes that could be – and have been – interpreted incorrectly. But this is the reason studies are done to see how often natural processes will produce similar stone flakes. As David MacMillan wrote in another comment there is a lot more precision in the strike patterns to form a stone tool than most people realize. The stone has to be struck at just the right angle to produce the desired edge and shape. The result of that precise strike with a specific form of striking stone leads to tell-tale signs in the chips (debatage) that it was the result of proposeful action. Of course if millions of rocks are rolling down a hill there will be a few that by chance happen to strike each other in the very same fashion and may produce a similar product but these will be very rare. So there is a certain amount of error in this work but if 999 of every 1000 pieces are real then a small amount of error doesn’t detract from the main message. With respect to the stone tools themselves, most tools require hundreds of strikes to forma the error rate of determining a stone tool produced by human hands vs a stone with a similar appearance are so low that a hand axe can be labeled as a hand axe with very high confidence. For my article, it might not even matter much what the error rate is for identifying production chips/artifacts. If there are hundreds of millions and possibly billions of fully formed hand axes in Africa then there must be 10 times as many pieces of stone that resulted from the production of those. That alone is reason not to doubt that there are huge numbers of artifacts.
      Another way of looking at the question might be to look at North America. If the stones in Africa are mostly being misidentified as resulting from human activity then why aren’t there millions of hand axes and artifacts of the same type found in North America. Surely the same types of rocks when shattered here should produce similar numbers of stone that would be misidentified. Now there are a lot of stone tools in America but most demonstrate much greater advancement in production.


      1. Natural Historian,

        Thanks much. Well, I’m struggling with this stuff. Part of me thinks: “Well, if a global flood did happen and it was surely a unique event (being on such a large scale), who is to say that there could have been processes at work here that we can’t begin to imagine or replicate – even if those results, for this or that reason, were not uniformly distributed”. In any case, your post is important and I thank you for doing it. My concerns really are not about the age of the earth per se, but physical death before the fall, and undermining a worldwide flood that the Bible seems to clearly attest to. That said, I don’t want to ever turn a blind eye to evidence that is difficult to deal with from my perspective. Thanks again!



  6. Responding to all above — I see Cain’s “city” as being Gobekli Tepe, a forested, central late-summer meeting place for the clans of his nomad descendants cooking their meals with the easily-gathered wood of old trees (for nesting creatures) dead already at Creation up to 10,000 years ago. “Wandering” (and transhumance) really beats trying to scratch a living from a few acres. What if animals early on didn’t know the fear of man? Best validation of C-14 is at Lake Suigetsu in Japan – obvious conclusion that God saw fit for a worldwide Flood (6000 B.C.) to leave no “walk by sight” evidence whatsoever. A tin mine 60 miles north of ancient Tarsus (and a one-time supply of meteoric iron) could have helped Noah’s project in the forests south of the Black Sea, doing business with Cain’s descendants in the Near East. Young women to marry his sons shortly before the Flood could have come from Doggerland down the Danube, from west of the Indus, and the Green Sahara, for Japheth, Shem & Ham, respectively (see Acts 17:26). I also have no use for AiG. Having made my own lithics in the past, I agree that only ID accounts for worldwide discoveries – my “take” on this, of course, being that of a created Virtual History, as Dr. Aardsma (once of ICR) also came to that bottom line. I spent 20 years preaching for WELS (Wisconsin Synod), but they are still OK with basic Flood Geology (see Lutheran Science Institute). You should consider that, if Eden’s river couldn’t split into four, Moses really had in mind that people used their valleys to guide travel from Persian Gulf to the Black Sea, for instance. Translate or “interpret” accordingly. We all want a “meeting of minds” where secular and religious people can agree that 1) Yes, everything looks old, or older, and 2) Yes, we can trust the Bible for everything, including Jesus’ reference to a worldwide Flood. GLL


    1. I can’t quite tell if you’re serious or not. I’m sorry, that just all seems a little ad-hoc and contrived.


    2. Gerhold,

      “my “take” on this, of course, being that of a created Virtual History, as Dr. Aardsma (once of ICR) also came to that bottom line.”

      Could you unpack that a bit more?



    3. One thing I don’t understand about this sort of view, is why posit a worldwide flood based on a literal reading of Genesis, and then give it an early dating that completely contradicts the biblical genealogies, patriarchs’ ages, etc.? Why is the flood a literal historical event while the other stuff can be discarded?


      1. Paul writes:

        why posit a worldwide flood based on a literal reading of Genesis, and then give it an early dating that completely contradicts the biblical genealogies, patriarchs’ ages, etc.? Why is the flood a literal historical event while the other stuff can be discarded?

        Paul: As wowfunny251 noted last night, shortly after you wrote your question, “The genealogies are not timekeeping devices. Like many ancient genealogies, they are theological[,] and skip names between generations. Many scholars (even liberal ones) recognize this.”

        I would want to suggest that the reason for skips may be quite different from being merely “theological”! As I noted years ago,

        In 2002, I came across a book by Jacob A. Loewen, a missionary and Bible translator. Loewen tells a story that touches on the same issue we’re discussing here. He isn’t talking about the age of the Earth. He’s talking about translations and culture.When we look at the Bible “through the eyes of our own culture” only, he says, we miss a goodly portion of the Bible’s message. [Loewen quotes from Jacob A. Loewen, The Bible in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2000), 3-5.]

        Africans, for example, have great interest in the genealogies of the Bible, and find them significant. I first noticed this when I observed committees of African translators working on the Gospel According to Matthew, with its genealogy of Jesus’ ancestry. Matthew lists fourteen generations from Abraham to David, another fourteen from David to the exile in Babylon, and a final fourteen to the birth of Jesus (Mt 1:1-17).When one group of African translators read the three sets of fourteen generations listed there, they held a long discussion, speculating about why the people in the Bible remembered only fourteen generations, when African people like themselves remembered sixteen. Did that imply inferior memories, or what?

        [Comment by johnscorner:Notice how the Africans’ cultural assumptions affected their interpretation! Notice how they placed great emphasis on a feature of the text that we will barely notice. Moreover, they interpreted this feature in a “scientific” (or medical/biological) manner. They assumed the number implied something about the mental capacities of Jews! . . . But back to the story.]

        I was intrigued because for me biblical genealogies were totally uninteresting and of no significance. “What do you do when you reach the seventeenth generation?” I asked.”Oh,” they said, “we consider sixteen to be the maximum that a non-literate person can remember, so when the seventeenth king dies, the elders of the tribe review the sixteen. If one of them is not considered important, but the king who has just died accomplished a great deal, they eliminate the unimportant one from the genealogy and add the deceased king. If the recent king is not very important, they don’t count him.”

        [Comment by johnscorner: Notice how the Africans’ culture is at work! They are asking completely different questions about the genealogies than we do! Moreover, the fact that each set of names includes “only” fourteen generations causes them no difficulties at all. They don’t ask “why” each set includes that many names–a question that we in the West are prone to ask. They assume the answer. They “know” it: “Fourteen is all the names that people in that culture can memorize.” And rather than asking whether these lists are “accurate” or not, or “complete” or not, they innately recognize that certain names have been left off: “No big deal!” . . . But to us in the West it is a big deal! Everyone is important. Completeness and accuracy is important. We may be bored to tears when we have to read the genealogies of the Bible; we may avoid them as much as possible; but we are pleased to know that they exist and that Biblical scholars can puzzle their way through and use such lists to calculate (what we hope is) an accurate age of the Earth. . . . ].

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      2. You are right johnscorner, this is a valid theory as to what is going on with the genealogies. My point is that most scholars recognize that they aren’t time-keeping devices (that was never the issue with the genealogies).

        To be clear, when I said they were theological, I did not intend to mean that the people and ages listed are not accurate. I do think the figures recorded are real people, not fictional. And I think they really did live as long as it says, but they skip generations.

        In theory, there could be an indefinite number of skipped generations. The names listed could constitute a tiny fraction of a percent of the number of generations from Adam to Jesus.

        I take the view that Adam & Eve lived ~75,000 – 55,000 BP based on archaeological grounds, not on biblical ones, the bible is silent on dates.


      3. You’re on the right track, Johnscorner. The genealogies are not historical records or time-keeping devices. They are not literally true. They are folktales and literary creations intended to express what mattered to the people that wrote them, and that is what we have to suss out if we want to understand the Bible. To read any of this as literal history is to miss the point.


  7. For Daniel & Nathan — Yes, I am dead serious. Nor do I consider it Ad Hoc if I’m faced with a 1000-piece puzzle (300 Bible, 700 natural history) and want every piece to fit. By 1964, Scientific American gave me plate tectonics. Seminary 66-70 gave me Genesis Hebrew and Morris YEC, and “Test everything” (1 Thes. 5:21) – which I did through 74-89 preaching in Sturgis/Spearfish. So my experience was that of Glenn Morton and Dr. Gerald Aardsma (nuclear physics). Find him at Search: gerald aardsma virtual history. Correcting the Gosse Gambit, a loving God could only have created worldwide big bones with big teeth before human sin, with intent to tell a sinless humanity filling Earth far from Eden why. They weren’t on their own. They’d be reminded: This is what death could be for you, so be faithful and happy. For angels the same, seeing an exploding star: So your glory can end.

    How can YEC Christians jump from a rotten boat (ICR & AiG “science” apologetic) when even the excellent science of Joel’s NH boat is out of sight for them, supposing far more than 10,000 years of Earth history? I spent 1993 to 2013 writing for them a 99-scene Flood story at 6000 BC (with -0- evidence for Flood-fossil geology). With 45 characters over 150 years, I made it 100% feasible, true to Genesis.. I knocked the secular “Impossible!” down to “I just don’t believe it.” But when I finally started asking laypeople to help me explain the manifest impossibilities of the Morris/Ham scenario, they agreed that I had been “warned” often enough, and voted me out in 2012 for being “divisive.” If I couldn’t prove – “only from the Bible” – that there could be no dinosaurs on the Ark – too bad. The end of this story remains to be told. It is only error that divides – as YEC argument does in America & worldwide to this day.

    Thanking everyone for putting up with my inherited “Aspie” disposition, let me tell you that those triple snowflakes hanging from store ceilings were once, at least, a work of God. I saw them in Sturgis SD on a calm, overcast January morning, the winter that you waited 15 or 20 minutes to put gas in your car. Perfect quarter-inch flakes hit my cold windshield flat, but maybe a third rolled right on down. I kick myself to this day for not looking close enough to see if the common axis of the triple flakes were on-point, or between the points. No, these weren’t the flake-feathers that jumble up. If someone else would like a Bible-related Aspie “haiku” to share, here’s one for free: Two blind beggars, walking together, say, “Thank God for this nice, safe ditch.” Good writing, whether country western or the parables of Jesus, has to tell a true story, a picture-in-your-mind to remember. YEC apologetic totally fails.

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