Friday, July 29, 2016

Science and Technology in the Ancient World

Alice C. Linsley

In a conversation with self-proclaimed atheists, I was told that theology and religion emerged because people who lived before the time of science needed to explain natural phenomena. The implication is that we no longer need religion now that we have science. I attempted to explain that the earliest developments in science were motivated by religious concerns, but they were not interested. Their minds were closed and reasoning with them proved a waste of time.

As the Romanian sociologist Mircea Eliade has shown, people of antiquity believed that things on earth are patterned after things in the heavens. Eliade called these “celestial archetypes.” The notion “as in the heavens, so on earth” is common among tribal peoples. Their rituals and ceremonies mirror the celestial patterns which they observe in the clock-like motion of the fixed stars and constellations. Among archaic peoples, these observations were done by a caste of ruler-priests who served at advisers to the high king.

It was a risky business because there were serious consequences if their calculations were wrong. If the ceremony was not performed on exactly the right day, the advisers could be blamed for violating a celestial pattern. If war broke out, or the crops failed, or there was a flood, the ruler’s advisers were blamed. This happened to Chinese astronomers who failed to predict the solar eclipse of 2134 BC. The emperor ordered that they all be executed.

The threat of punishment, even death, motivated the king’s advisers to be as accurate as possible in their calculations. This led to the development of sidereal astronomy. The sidereal day (four minutes longer than the solar day) is the time required for the earth’s rotation to be synchronized with fixed stars. Solar time is the measurement of time according to the earth’s rotation around the sun, but sidereal time is the measurement relative to a distant star. It is used in astronomy to predict when a star will be overhead.

When making ethical decisions, especially decisions that pertained to the timing of important events such as royal weddings and the signing of treaties, ancient peoples relied on observations of the stars and constellations which move in a fixed pattern. Sidereal astronomy is based on the actual location of stars and constellations, unlike popular astrology which is based on culturally-relative symbolism associated with stars and constellations. Sidereal astronomy developed out of an ethical concern to uphold the celestial pattern believed to have been established by the Creator in the beginning.

This worldview is alien to modern Americans and regarded as superstition by atheists. Yet the acute observation of ancient peoples gave birth to technologies such as metal and stone work and to the development of sciences such as horticulture, animal husbandry, sidereal astronomy, and medicine.

Let us consider a few examples.

Metal Work

Timna in the Arabah Valley is the site of 6,000 years old mines and a temple. The oldest mines were worked almost continuously until the Roman Period. There are ancient rock carvings showing warriors in chariots, holding axes and shields. A temple dedicated to Hathor was discovered at the southwestern edge of Mt. Timna by Professor Beno Rothenberg of Hebrew University.

The Chalcolithic metal works at Timna were found at the Wadi Nehushtan in the foothills along the western fringe of the southern Arabah Valley. The smelting works, slag and flints at this site were found to be identical to those discovered near Beersheba where Abraham spent much of his time. The metal workers of Timna and the metal workers of Beersheba were kin and the patroness of their mining operations was Hathor, the mother of Horus, who the Horite venerated. Hathor's temple there dates to 1318-1304 BC. In the temple courtyard there was a workshop for casting copper figurines as votive offerings.

In his book Timna, Rothenberg concluded that the peoples living in the area were "partners not only in the work but in the worship of Hathor." (Timna, p. 183)

Stone Work

One of the earliest occupations of Man was stone work. Sharp-edged flakes, flake fragments, and cobbles have been dated to between 2.5 and 2.6 million years. These were discovered at three sites along the Gona River in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Similar stone tools, known as Oldowan, have been found at Omo in southern Ethiopia, Lokalalei in northern Kenya, and Hadar, five miles east of the Gona River study area.

At Kathu in South Africa, archaeologists collected many thousands of stone tools and products of tool making in a few sample pits over a several acres.

On the Arabian Peninsula, the Qafzeh population created stone tools 125,000 years ago at Jebel Faya. These suggest that humans reached the Arabian Peninsula not from the Lower Nile Valley 119,000 to 81,000 years ago or from the Mediterranean shores 65,000 to 40,000 years ago, but much earlier from the Horn of Africa. The oldest tools were dated to approximately 120,000 years ago, and included denticulates, end-scrapers, foliates, hand axes, and side-scrapers.

Some prehistoric stone artifacts were not used as tools. The Blombos Cave Plaque, dating to 80,000 years PB, may have served as a calendar or a counting device. Stone was ground to make dyes. Red ochre was extracted from mining operations in the Lebombo Mountains. This red powder was used almost universally in the burial of nobles between 45,000 and 2000 BC.

The oldest known stone temple is at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. Göbekli Tepe is classified as a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site (PPN). It is designated PPNA (ca 10,500 to 9,500 BC) which puts it in the same class as Jericho, Netiv Hagdud, Nahul Oren, Gesher, Dhar', Jerf al Ahmar, Chogha Golan and Abu Hureyra. Göbekli Tepe is one of the sacred "high places" of the ancient world.

Stone workers of the ancient world build stone tombs for their chief priests and kings. Egyptian archaeologists discovered a 4400-year-old tomb, south of the cemetery of the pyramid builders at Giza, Egypt. The ancient tomb was unearthed near the pyramid builder's necropolis. The tomb belongs to a priest named Rudj-Ka (or Rwd-Ka), and is dated to between 2465 and 2323 BC. Rudj-Ka was a priest who performed purification rituals for those who bore blood guilt and who had become contaminated through contact with blood or a corpse.


The ancestors of the Nes craftsmen of Anatolian sites like Gobleki Tepe cultivated both einkorn and emmer wheats about 12,000 years ago, according to genetics and archaeological studies. African rice was domesticated from the wild ancestor Oryza barthii (Oryza brevilugata) by peoples living in the Benue-Niger floodplain about 3,000 years ago. Rice grain formed the basis of weight measurement from East Africa to Sulawesi. On Madagascar, the the weight of one grain of rice is called vary, and corresponds to the Swahili wari and to the Dravidian verasu. The common stem of these words indicates that these people kept written records of commercial weights.

The ancients observed that the seeds of plants that fall the to ground produce other plants. It was therefore logical and accurate to assume that the seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of plants, which spring forth from the earth. Likewise, the seed of man should fall on his own type (the womb), from which man comes forth. This was regarded as the divine-established pattern. Therefore, the ancients regarded both onanism (spilling of human semen) and homosex to be acts in violation of the order of creation. This is the ancient wisdom that based moral law on observed patterns in nature.

Animal Husbandry
Red and black Nubian cattle herders

Cattle were domesticated in what is today Kenya 15,000 years ago. The common term for cattle or cow in the many African languages is nag (Wolog, Fulani), nagge (Hausa), ning (Angas, Ankwe) and ninge (Susu). This corresponds to the Egyptian word ng or nag.

Cattle bones were found in graves of the elite classes at Hierakonpolis (Nekhen in Sudan) and cow skulls were used to mark the pan graves of the ancient Saharans. The oldest evidence of domestication of wild pigs is found at Nekhen, Maadi, Abydos, and Armant. Here graves belonging to the commoners, indicate that the diet of the lower classes included pork. Cows were also domesticated by the Nilo-Saharans, who even took them on their boats (see second image below).

Boats and cows of the ancient Nilo-Saharans

Sidereal Astronomy

Sidereal astronomy is real science based on observation of the arrangement and movement of the fixed stars and planets. This science originated among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors who had recorded information about the fixed stars and clock-like motion of the planets and constellations for thousands of years. By 4245 BC, the priests of the Upper Nile had established a calendar based on the appearance of the star Sirius that becomes visible to the naked eye once every 1,461 years. Apparently, they had been tracking this star and connecting it to seasonal changes and agriculture for thousands of years. The priest Manetho reported in his history (241 BC) that Nilotic Africans had been “star-gazing” as early as 40,000 years ago. They shared this knowledge with the kings of Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians shared the knowledge with the ancient Greeks. Plato claimed that the Africans had been tracking the heavens for 10,000 years. Plato studied with an Egyptian priest for 13 years and knew about Earth's Great Year, also called the "Platonic Year." This is the time of between 25,000 and 28,000 years that it takes for Earth to complete the cycle of axial precession. This precession was known to Plato who defined the "perfect year" as the return of the celestial bodies (planets) and the diurnal rotation of the fixed stars to their original positions.

The ancients were motivated to understand the celestial pattern because they believed that the order in creation was fixed by the Creator and they were concerned about trespassing boundaries or violating the order in creation. They believed "As in the heavens, so on earth."


The Edwin Smith papyrus is the world's oldest known surgical document (c. 1600 BC). It is written in the hieratic script of ancient Egypt and Kush and reveals a high level of sophistication in medical care. It gives detailed descriptions of anatomy, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of forty-eight types of medical problems. It describes closing wounds with sutures, preventing and curing infection with honey and moldy bread (both known to contain antibiotics), application of raw meat to stop bleeding, and treatment of head and spinal cord injuries. The Nubians also used antibiotics. Between 350 and 550 AD Nubians laced their beer with tetracycline.

Related reading: Ethics and Archaic Communities; Ancient Seats of Wisdom; Who Were the Wise Men?; The Wisdom of Yeshua Ben Sira; Plato's Debt to Ancient Egypt; Early Metaphysics: Primal substance and cause; The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y; Medical Care in Ancient Egypt; The Antiquity of the Edomite Rulers

Monday, July 11, 2016

Weather Stations for Christian Schools

The Weather Station sweepstakes is running to give away personal weather stations to winners. STEM teachers should enter the sweepstakes! Your STEM education program would benefit from having such a station and your students would love to learn more about meteorology.

Meteorology is the branch of science concerned with the processes and phenomena of the atmosphere, especially as a means of forecasting the weather. A weather station at your Christian school would be a great asset to the STEM program.

Go here to enter the sweepstakes. Listen each evening to Weather Underground to hear the secret word.

Related reading:  Christian Schools and STEM Education; Technology and STEM Education Curriculum for Christian Schools

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Christians in Science and Math

Erasmus 1466-1536
Nicholas Copernicus 1473-1543
Francis Bacon 1561-1627
Galileo Galilei 1564-1642
Johannes Kepler 1571-1630
Michael Farraday 1791-1867
James Clerk Maxwell 1831-1879
George Washington Carver 1864-1943
Oliver R. Barclay 1919-2013
V. Elving Anderson 1921-2014
Austin L. Hughes 1949-2015
Ian H. Hutchinson 1951-Present
Roger John Williams (1893–1988) was Christian and a biochemist who named folic acid and discovered pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and President of the American Chemical Society. He founded and directed the Clayton Foundation Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas (now called the Biochemical Institute). In 1972, he served as a member of President Nixon's Advisory Panel on Heart Disease.

Roger's older brother, Robert Runnels Williams (1886–1965), also was a Christian and a chemist who discovered the cure for Beriberi. In 1936 Williams made the correct structural determination of vitamin B1 and designed a synthesis for it. Williams named vitamin B1 “thiamin” and submitted it for addition to the American Medical Association’s publication New and Non-Official Remedies. The American Chemical Society added an e to the end of the name to reflect the amine nature of the vitamin. Thiamine is found in whole-grain cereals, meats, yeast, and nuts and acts as a cofactor in the enzymatic reaction that breaks down carbohydrates, alcohol, and some proteins.

Robert and Roger were the sons of pioneer missionaries to India. Their only sister, Alice Williams Linsley, was a Professor of Philosophy at Redlands University in California.

Women should be portrayed equally in images such as the one above. Women scientists of the Christian Faith include:

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799)
Mary Anning (1799-1847)
Agnes Giberne (1845-1939)
Sister Mary Celine Fasenmyer (1906-1996)
Rhoda Hawkins (living)
Katharine Hayhoe (living)
Anne Marie Thro (living)
Leslie Wickman (living)
Jennifer Wiseman (living)
Robin Pals-Rylaarsdam (living)
Chris Done (living)
Katherine Blundell (living)
Ruth Hogg (living)

Today there are more opportunities for women to receive the education and training necessary to advance in the many fields of science. It has been claimed, however, that in the past women played a minimal role in Science and the contribution of Christian women is even more minimal due to male dominance in the Church. While science has certainly been dominated by men, there is no doctrine or tradition in Christianity that inhibits women from being involved in science. If men have dominated, it is because in centuries past they were the ones who received the more advanced education.

It is also likely that the contributions of women in science and technology have been overlooked rather consistently by both secular historians and Christian historians. If the historian is looking for inventions and discoveries that bring about paradigm shifts, they will miss the contributions of many women. For centuries, women were discovering the healing properties of plants (phytomedicine), experimenting in chemistry to create dyes (remember Biblical Lydia?), and exploring methods for creating fibers and developing textile technologies. They invented things like buttons and butter churns, but these do not lead to paradigm shifts, only to an improved quality of life.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Rhoda Hawkins on Faith and Science

Rhoda Hawkins, a theoretical physicist from the University of Sheffield, spoke on ‘Should we mind, and does it matter?’ at the Christians in Science student conference. She asks how much Christians should be involved in discussing questions of science and faith.

Why should we engage our minds in science and religion issues? Why should we engage with the big questions of mind and matter? Firstly Christians who are scientists are whole, integrated people – body, mind and spirit – so to be true to ourselves and to God we should hold together the different aspects of who we are. Engaging our minds in such deep issues is both fascinating and enriching.

In my experience, questioning and doubting strengthens my faith. Contemplating the mysteries of creation increases my wonder and worship of the Creator. A greater awareness of the philosophical foundations of science, its limitations and its possibilities is important, and grappling with its ethical consequences is our responsibility.

In my research I study living matter. I want to understand how it behaves and moves. What are its material properties, how does it self-assemble and what makes it alive? Sometimes studying a bacterium, a eukaryotic cell, or even a single protein molecule, it can seem as if it has a mind of its own. There’s an intriguing mystery here. How does it work?

Striving to describe, explain and understand this complex behaviour that emerges from the properties of matter is exciting. When understanding is achieved, I am amazed. Far from taking away the mystery, this process of enquiry opens our minds to glimpse something of the mind of God.

At the level of the brain, how the material properties of neurones can lead to emergence of behaviours as complex as our own minds is an exciting scientific question that merges with philosophy. Is there more to the conscious mind than just matter?

A merging of science and philosophy also happens in quantum mechanics. Is the world really indeterminate at the smallest scales? Are there hidden variables that control subatomic particles, communicating instantaneously across non-local distances.

Are there many universes? Is there life on other planets? What is the origin of life? How did life first emerge & evolve? Scientific research may find partial answers to some of these big questions within our lifetimes but I expect many mysteries will remain.

The Bible talks of us as matter, mind and spirit, and says that we should use all these aspects of ourselves to worship our creator God in spirit and truth. For me such holistic worship includes using my mind to seek truth by investigating created matter using science as well as searching for spiritual truth about God.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.

More by Rhoda Hawkins: WonderingQuestioning.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Christian Schools and STEM Education

Girls from Wheaton Christian Grammar School in Winfield, Illinois have been attending STEM events at Argonne National Laboratory. This was organized in cooperation with the DuPage Regional Office of Education STEM Team. The girls and their mothers listened to presentations by women involved in STEM professions, participated in an interactive design activity, and observed a science demonstration.

A successful STEM education provides students with science, math, and engineering/technology in sequences that build upon each other and can be used with real-world applications. STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science literacy, and enables the next generation of innovators to create new products and processes that sustain our economy.

Most jobs of the future will require math and science and the fastest growing occupations require significant mathematics or science preparation.

Wheaton Christian Grammar School is committed to providing learning experiences that integrate science, technology, engineering, and math so that the students can serve the world for God’s glory. WCGS in Illinois and King's Ridge in Georgia are among a growing number of Christian schools committed to STEM education.