Good Intentions

Variations on “dead men tell no tales” go back at least to 1560 or thereabouts in my language. The idea is much older.1

As advice goes, it’s arguably flawed. Folks who are dead aren’t chatty, but their bodies occasionally pop up at inopportune times.

I’ll be talking about unmarked and unremembered graves, insane asylums, and similarly-uncheerful things. It’s not all bad news, though.


Medicine Before Hippocrates

Someone wrote the Ebers Papyrus, a medical text, around the time Ahmose I was running Egypt. Give or take a few decades.

It was probably copied from older texts. Some of the cures probably weren’t effective, except as placebos.

We still haven’t improved on its treatment for Dracunculiasis: wrapping the worm around a stick.

Incantations like those in the Papyrus, meant to turn away disease-causing demons, aren’t taught in today’s medical schools. That’s just as well, since the magical end of ‘traditional cures’ is a bad idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2117)

On the other hand, caring for the sick and dying is a good idea. That includes prayer, sacraments of healing, and scientific research. (Catechism, 14991525, 22922295)

The Ebers Papyrus discusses ailments we recognize as depression and dementia, which brings me to ancient Greece.

We don’t know much about Greek medicine before Hippocrates, apart from what’s in Homer’s Iliad. Dealing with a plague by dedicating a sacrifice to Apollo may show that Greeks thought disease was caused by angry gods.2 That tale is in Iliad, Book I.

Hippocrates and the Huangdi Neijing

Hippocrates of Kos gets credit for starting the idea that diseases come from natural causes, not gods. He thought diseases, including conditions like melancholia, happened when the four humors were out of balance.

The Hippocratic theory of disease, humorism, dominated Western medicine for more than two millennia. Bloodletting, practiced well into the 19th century, was an occasionally-lethal application of humorist theory. (August 21, 2016)

He was on the right track. We’ve found chemical glitches connected with several mental illnesses, including depression.3 (March 19, 2017; September 9, 2016; August 21, 2016)

Folks in ancient Greece and Egypt weren’t the only ones dealing with disease, of course.

The earliest record of the Huangdi Neijing is in the Book of Han’s bibliographic section. That was about 21 centuries back now, but scholars figure Huangdi Neijing was written somewhere between Hippocrates’ time and Gaozu’s.

Like post-Hippocratic Western medicine, Huangdi Neijing assumes that disease has natural causes. What’s different are the forces and principles they say should be in balance, and how to achieve that balance.

Coping With Change

Skipping from Hippocrates to the Roman Empire’s collapse, folks in my ancestral homelands weren’t directly affected. We were on the other side of the Imperial borders.

But we lost a major trade partner. Grain was a major export. So was amber, although that resource came mostly from places east and north of my homelands.

A farmer living between what we call the Cnoc na Teamhrach and Carraig Phádraig might not deal directly with a Roman merchant. But he might trade with someone near the coast who did.

Another of my homelands were apparently ‘off the radar’ for Romans. Half my recent ancestors are the dark-haired folks who lived west of the Gotlanders and north of Jutland. Roman tech in Danish graves makes it likely that Danes served in Rome’s army.

That wouldn’t have mattered much to my forebears living uphill from what would be the site of Clemenskirken and Mariakirken i Oslo. I’d be surprised, though, if some Roman wealth in Scandinavia’s southern march didn’t cross the water. Trade happens.

When the Empire collapsed, we coped; developing new economic systems and new tech.4

The first few centuries were rough. But someone, probably in Hallertau, Bavaria, had developed hops by 736. Hildegard of Bingen discussed them, and I’ll get back to her work.

Maybe hops aren’t as “civilized” as bronze statues, but what can I say? Beer is a very important part of our culture.

Small wine presses had existed for millennia. Monasteries in what’s now France and Germany upgraded Roman designs to deal with the larger quantities of wine they produced. We’d lost the Empire, not the knowledge.

I’ve heard that Gutenberg’s printing press was based on wine press designs, but that’ll wait for another post.

I’d like to say that we developed the first horse collar, but that was an import.

Folks had been making horses pull loads by a strap wrapped around their necks at least since Babylon absorbed Chaldea. The horse’s neck, that is.

Neck straps work, but not very well. Someone in east Asia improved on that design during China’s Warring States period.

Europeans might have started using the new tech sooner, but most east-west trade and communications ended along with Roman authority. We had our hands full, dealing with local and regional issues.

Chinese tech caught on in Scandinavia around 920 AD. Vikings and their knerrir were traders centuries before the Hanseatic League, and that’s another topic.

Disibodenberg


(From Saharadesertfox, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission)
(Disibodenberg in July 2005.)

Saint Hildegard of Bingen wrote “Physica” and “Causae et Curae,” combining practical knowledge from her work with Disibodenberg’s garden and infirmary with theoretical knowledge gained by studying the monastery’s library.

Folks used Disibodenberg as a quarry after the Reformation hit, re-excavating the ruins in the 1980s. We kept St. Hildegard’s research, though, and kept learning.

Monasteries like Disibodenberg served as education and medical centers in the centuries between Imperial Rome and Bedlam. They still do.

Bedlam


(From William Hogarth, via McCormick Library, Northwestern University/Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Hogarth’s 1735/1763 engraving of Bedlam, from A Rake’s Progress.)

I’d prefer not needing institutional care. But given a choice, I’d rather be sent to the Brothers of Mercy than a place like Bedlam in Hogarth’s day.

“…Many of the poor come into this house of God because the city of Granada is large and very cold, especially now in winter. There are now more than one hundred and ten people living in this house, including the sick, the healthy, the servants and pilgrims. Because the house is open to everyone, it takes in all manner of sick people. There are people with useless limbs, the maimed, the lepers, the dumb, the insane, paralytics, and some who are suffering from cancer….”
(From a letter of St John of God, (Cartas y Escritos 18-19; 48-50) via Pontifical University Saint Thomas Aquinas)

Bethlem(!) Royal Hospital didn’t start as insane asylum. That came after 1300, with good intentions.

“A Church of Our Lady that is named Bedlam. And in that place be found many men that be fallen out of their wit. And full honestly they be kept in that place; and some be restored onto their wit and health again. And some be abiding therein for ever, for they be fallen so much out of themselves that it is incurable unto man”
(William Gregory, Lord Mayor of London, c. 1450; via Wikipedia)

Lunatic asylums started being called psychiatric hospitals after Hogarth’s day, again with good intentions.

Folks don’t visit lunatic asylums for entertainment these days. I don’t know if reality television is an improvement, and that’s yet another topic.

I also don’t know if abuses of comparatively helpless folks are more or less likely when outsiders might pop in for a look.


1. Bodies From the Asylum


(From University of Mississippi, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Officials discovered the first coffins while building a road in 2013”
(BBC News))

‘7,000 bodies buried’ beneath Mississippi university
(May 8, 2017)

The remains of at least 7,000 people may be buried beneath the University of Mississippi, officials estimate.

“The bodies of the state’s first mental institution – called the Insane Asylum – stretch across 20 acres of campus where administrators want to build.

“Officials predict that it may cost up to $21m (£16m) to exhume and rebury each body – more than $3,000 for each.

The campus medical centre, where the bodies have been discovered, is looking at cheaper alternatives….”

The good news is that at least some of seven-thousand-plus bodies are buried at the U. of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) were in coffins. That wasn’t clear in the first several headlines I saw.

I didn’t know what to expect. The number of corpses argued against this being the work of a mass murderer.

The connection with a medical center, and the size of the sample, suggested that the folks might have used in an experiment. Medical ethics isn’t an oxymoron, and many doctors value their patients’ lives. But I realize that alternative attitudes exist. (October 7, 2016)

Since the university could spend more than $3,000 to exhume and rebury each body using outside facilities, I can understand why they want to keep the job in-house. That would have an added benefit for them:

“…They also hope to create a memorial and laboratory where students can study the patients’ remains, as well as remnants of clothes and wood unearthed in the process….”
(BBC News)

“Respectful Management”

Many folks are understandably uneasy about death and autopsies. The same applies to science and newfangled ideas, which may help explain the lasting popularity of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” tale. (March 31, 2017; August 5, 2016)

Mad scientists have happily-rare counterparts in real life. And death. (October 16, 2016; July 31, 2016)

It looks UMMC wants to do what’s right. UMMC’s director, Ralph Didlake, told a newspaper that “‘We want to show them care and respectful management.’…”

Respect for the dignity of persons is important, and doesn’t stop when we’re dead. Scientific research is a good idea. Autopsies for legal inquests or scientific research are okay. (Catechism, 22922295, 22992301)

I’ve talked about faith and medical science before. Also Lovecraft, autopsies, and ignorance. Since I’m a Catholic, I don’t worry that science will ‘offend the spirits.’ (December 16, 2016; November 11, 2016; July 15, 2016)


2. Digging Up Dozier’s Past


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Canine recovery teams search the woods on the Dozier campus”
(BBC News))

Who are the 55 bodies buried at the Dozier school?
Kate Dailey, BBC News (April 16, 2014)

Forensic anthropologists are disinterring the remains of children at a Florida reform school. Former students hope the dig will provide answers about alleged child abuse within the school’s walls.

“Within the past year, anthropologists working for the University of South Florida (USF) have exhumed the remains of 55 children on the grounds of the now-shuttered Arthur G Dozier School for Boys.

“The boys were buried in simple coffins in the Boot Hill cemetery section of the school. The remains were recovered along with items like belt buckles, buttons, and in one case, a marble….”

The oldest part of this institution was renamed “Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys” in 1967, to honor a former superintendent. That is not the sort of honor I’d want.

Florida’s authorities sent boys to this processing center from January 1, 1900, to June 30, 2011. On paper, it was supposed to “reform” them. In practice, some were raped, some killed, some abused in other ways. Allegedly. Some survived.

It’s possible that survivors who talked are lying, but bodies being found say otherwise.

USF’s forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle said her team’s investigation found that some boys died when a fire reached the rooms they’d been locked up in.

Others died when a flu epidemic left them with no food, medicine, or staff. The adults, perhaps understandably, stayed away until it was safe. I think that was a bad idea. (Catechism, 1861, 2258, 22782279)

Some parents got their sons’ bodies back, others didn’t. They were told that their children had been buried, but Dozier staff wouldn’t tell them where.

Old Questions, New Tech

Eventually the parents died, too, leaving relatives with unfinished business.

“…’It’s their desire to have the remains back to bury them next to their parents,’ says Kimmerle of the surviving relatives. ‘It wasn’t something that was an option in the past when the deaths occurred. We feel it’s very important to support them in that effort.’…”
(Kate Dailey, BBC News)

Now that the “school” is closed, folks other than school staff are looking over the grounds. The property is being sold, which gives USF’s forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle until August to find and recover bodies.

That wouldn’t have been possible until recently. Ground-penetrating radar dates back to the early 20th century, but wasn’t practical until the 1970s. The first affordable civilian equipment came in 1985.

Maybe kids killed while the place was in operation will all be found and identified. It’s a step in the right direction.

Leg Irons and Worse

Looking back, it’s easy enough to see what went wrong.

Staff at the “school” weren’t trained adequately. They didn’t get around to telling folks at the state level about assorted beatings, rapes, deaths, and leg irons.

Maybe state bureaucrats felt that ‘no news is good news.’ Maybe they didn’t see a point in telling Dozier staff how to deal with “incorrigible” boys.

I could blame families of kids who disappeared there for not hiring the best lawyers in Florida, but many were at the low end of the economic scale.

I could blame everyone in Florida, but I gather that not many knew about the mess. Besides, Florida isn’t the only place with problems.5

Applying one set of biases, the boys at Dozier and their families are victims. Another set makes them guilty of being ‘of low type.’ I figure they couldn’t afford lawyers, and may not have realized that questioning authorities was an option.

I remember the ‘good old days’ before 1964, when some Americans were still getting over the shock of women voting. Unqualified respect for authority wasn’t nearly as universal, or well-deserved, as some apparently believe. And that’s yet again another topic.


3. Dead and Buried: But Not Quite Forgotten


(Brookdale Cemetery, as it was August 18, 2013. Folks with the local Knights of Columbus had a fence up by then, marking the boundary.)

Abandoned souls?
“Questions linger about history of Brookdale Cemetery”
Bryan Zollman, Sauk Centre Herald (June 19, 2013)

“John Olson was 10 years old when he stood on the grounds of Brookdale Cemetery and watched his father dig a grave for an infant.

“After the grave was dug and the baby’s remains secured in its box and placed in the hole, John’s father refilled the grave. Another man, Bill Johnson, held a bible in his hands and said a short prayer for the baby as John and his father stood nearby. It was just the three of them….”

At least 14 folks are buried here. Most are babies who died at an old “reform school” on Sauk Centre’s north side.

The State Industrial School for Girls (SISG) opened in 1911. The idea was giving “care, training, and education of girls who had been declared delinquent and committed by the courts.” I don’t know how effectively that good intention was carried out.

I’m pretty sure that having a separate facility for girls was an improvement over housing all kids convicted of a crime at the Red Wing Training School for Boys & Girls.

Some kids entered Red Wing when they were eight, and left when they reached 21.6

Severely retarded kids lived at the Sauk Centre Home for Children, a subdivision of the SISG, starting in 1951. SISG had been renamed Home School for Girls by then.

Starting in 1959, Minnesota had a Corrections Department. The Sauk Centre Home School was in its Youth Conservation Division.

In 1967, we were back to putting adolescent boys and girls in the same facility. The place got yet another new name in 1979: Minnesota Home School. From then until it closed in 1999, the place was coed.

I doubt that many folks living on Sauk Centre’s north side, particularly those within easy walking distance of the Home School, miss the place.

It Could Have Been Worse: Or Better

I haven’t looked up the statistics, but every few weeks I’d hear of another “runner” who stole a car.

Local speculation was that the kids knew a good thing when they saw it. They had free room and board, and recreational facilities that occasionally included a stable.

Aside from a comparative lack of privacy and freedom, their standard of living was on a par or better than many Sauk Centre residents. Leaving without permission and stealing a car made an extended stay a near-certainty.

I don’t think conditions at the Home School should have been worse, or that the kids were being pampered. I do think that the system was as imperfect as any other we’ve used, for dealing with youngsters who misbehave.

“Property of the State”

Like I said, most of the folks buried at Brookdale Cemetery are babies.

Some may be young mothers from the old reform school.

“…Pregnant girls were often brought in by train so they could give birth at the reformatory with the agreement that the baby would become property of the state and then put up for adoption….”
(Bryan Zollman, Sauk Centre Herald (June 19, 2013))

Childbirth is far from easy, and some young women were likely enough not in the best health when they arrived in Sauk Centre.

Records of who was buried were lost, somehow.

Grave markers would have helped identify the bodies, but there aren’t any.

Someone, presumably a state employee, took the markers. I don’t know why. Maybe the markers were made of metal, and recyclable.

Ideally, folks like the Ritters would have realized that the government wasn’t reliable, and kept their own records.

That didn’t happen, so now some members of the local Knights of Columbus built a fence, have started mowing the grass, and are trying to reconstruct burial records.

Some records did survive. Many are not available to the general public. Privacy rules say that some personal data must be sealed for 75 years from the date of the last entry.

On the ‘up’ side, Minnesota’s Historical Society has online resources that should help researchers get started.7


Doom, Gloom, and an Upcoming Documentary

I don’t know why so many folks act as if they think gloominess is next to godliness.

Fashionable melancholy isn’t limited to spiritual wannabes.

Pessimism above and beyond the call of reason has been a required attitude for centuries, off and on, for folks with pretensions of high culture.

They’re not the only ones.

The ‘gloominess is next to Godliness’ attitude may account for my culture’s perennial End Times Bible Prophecies and their secular equivalents.

We haven’t had a high-profile one of those for a few years, which doesn’t bother me a bit. (April 9, 2017; February 10, 2017; August 12, 2016; August 7, 2016)

The Reverend T. Robert Malthus offered an alternative to the usual Four Horsemen thing in 1798, with his “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” It’s been as influential, I think, as Johnathan Edward’s 1741 ‘Angry God’ bestseller. (March 5, 2017; February 10, 2017)

I don’t know why so many folks use fear as a motivator.

Maybe scaring folks into supporting an idea is easier than showing that it makes sense. Maybe folks just enjoy feeling insecure.

Malthusian assumptions and angst from Ehrlich’s 1968 “The Population Bomb” bestseller were dusted off again recently:

The headlines are right. That’s a reasonable summary of what Hawing has been saying. What’s new is how much time he says we have left.

I think he may be sincere. He’s also got a new documentary coming on BBC: “Stephen Hawking: Expedition New Earth.” His proclamations of doom are likely to boost the show’s ratings.

I think he has a point: to an extent.

We’re Learning

Epidemics and famines still happen. Thanks to post-Gutenberg information tech, we can be much more aware of them.

We can also deal with them.

Starting in the mid-17th century, rapidly-changing technology and economic systems streamlined growing and distributing food.

Food still isn’t getting to all the folks who need it. But I think it’s a distribution issue.

The new technology isn’t idiot-proof safe.

No technology is safe. Even fire is dangerous if we don’t use our brains.

Living in a dangerous world is nothing new. What’s changing is how much we know about assorted threats, and what we can do.

We’ve been learning that asteroids and comets hit Earth at irregular intervals.

We don’t want a repeat of the last big one.

We couldn’t prevent Chicxulub-level impact with off-the-shelf hardware, but asteroid impact avoidance is a very international effort. I think we have a very good chance of being ready when the next 10-kilometer-wide rock heads our way. (November 4, 2016)

We learned that neonicotinoids, radium, and PCBs aren’t nearly as risk-free as we’d thought. We’ve learned to be careful with radium, started cleaning Flint’s water, and most of us stopped making PCBs. (April 7, 2017; February 17, 2017)

I’ve mentioned Bailey Radium Laboratories’ “Perpetual Sunshine,” patent medicines, and a lead-lined coffin, before. (October 14, 2016)

The point is that we’re learning.

We’ve even seen the last of smallpox, most likely. We’re still discussing whether to keep the few remaining laboratory samples.

I think we should. It looks like smallpox started in African rodents more than a dozen millennia back. Infected critters could still be around, and viruses have a habit of moving from one species to another.

We do not want to go through something like the 1870-1875 pandemic again.

Getting back to Hawking’s warning and documentary, I don’t think that we must begin living on other planets in the next century.

But I’m pretty sure we will. We’ve already taken the first steps on the next leg of a journey we began at least 1,900,000 years ago.8

Remembering the Past, Working for the Future

One of these days I may take a longer look at folks like Nietzsche and Santayana.

Today I’ll repeat two of their one-liners, with a brief — for me — look at why I think they have a point.

“…history treats almost exclusively of these bad men who subsequently became good men!”
(“Daybreak — Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality,” Friedrich Nietzsche (1881) via Wikiquote)

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
(“Reason in Common Sense,” George Santayana (1905))

I was one of ‘those crazy kids,’ a half-century back, who thought that much of what passed for “morality” in America made little or no sense.

From some Pharisee’s viewpoint, Jesus was a “bad man.” He’s more than just a “good man,” and that’s another topic. (April 30, 2017; February 12, 2017; December 4, 2016)

Some of the reforms we’ve seen since then didn’t work out as well as I hoped. But I remember the ‘good old days,’ and thank God that they won’t return. (February 5, 2017; October 30, 2016; August 14, 2016)

That’s why I think Santayana’s ‘remember the past’ quote makes so much sense.

‘The good old days’ weren’t. Societies in some parts of our long story have respected the transcendent dignity of humanity more adequately than others. But there has been no “golden age.”

Our job, part of it, is looking ahead: and building a better world for future generations. (April 30, 2017; April 16, 2017; September 25, 2016)

Life, Death, and Hope

Our actions will lead to a better world: or not. Generations who will live in the centuries, millennia, and more, ahead depend on our decisions. That’s nothing new. What’s changing is how much knowledge we have accumulated: and how much wisdom we use.

If we remember that people matter, all people, I think the future looks — not perfect, but good. Better than today, for the most part.

“…You have not only a glorious history to remember and to recount, but also a great history still to be accomplished! Look to the future, where the Spirit is sending you in order to do even greater things….”
(“Vita Consecrata,” Pope St. John Paul II (March 25, 1996))

“…In this sense the future belongs to you young people, just as it once belonged to the generation of those who are now adults…. …To you belongs responsibility for what will one day become reality together with yourselves, but which still lies in the future….”
(“Dilecti Amici,” Pope St. John Paul II (March 21, 1985))

“‘Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom….

“…I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live”
(Deuteronomy 30:1519)

More of how I see life and the long view:


1 Expressing an old idea:

  • “Dead men tell no tales.
    But their bodies sometimes do.”
    (“Night Watch: A Long Lost Adventure In Which Sherlock Holmes Meets Father Brown,” page 108, Stephen Kendrick (2006) via Google Books)
  • Dead men tell no tales
    Oxford Reference
  • More at “The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs,” page 69; Google Books
  • “A dead man does not bite.”
    The Life of Pompey,” Plutarch, chapter 77, Loeb Classical Library edition, via The University of Chicago

2 Some folks had pretty much the same belief about smallpox in the 18th century. Other Christians thought using our brains was a good idea. They were right:

3 Depression:

4 It took post-Roman Europe more than a thousand years to build heated baths on the scale of Imperial architecture. At first we concentrated our efforts on what possible in a world with little or no security beyond the village border, and very limited trade beyond our immediate neighbors:

Comparing Roman and Medieval Technology

 

    Unam Sanctam Catholicam, reposted from January 17, 2010

5 It could be worse, or better:

6 Dealing with youthful wrongdoing:

7 Reconstructing and recovering our past:

8 Being human, using our brains:

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Truth and Love

I take God very seriously. I also think people matter. I care deeply about truth and love.

By some standards this isn’t a particularly “religious” blog.

For one thing, I keep saying that loving my neighbor and seeing everybody as my neighbor is a good idea. I’ll get back to that.

For another, I write about science each Friday; real science. And I don’t see it as a threat.

I don’t ‘believe in’ science, in the sense that I expect it to replace God. That would be as silly as trying to find life’s meaning in the second law of thermodynamics. It would also be a very bad idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 21122114)

But I also do not fear truth and knowledge. For a Catholic, that would be illogical.

“The Whole Truth,” Faith AND Reason

Like I said Friday, faith means willingly and consciously embracing “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142150)

That includes truth we find in the natural world’s order and beauty. Appreciating the wonders surrounding us is a good idea. (Catechism. 32, 41, 74, 283, 341, 2500)

Faith isn’t reason: but it’s reasonable, and certainly not against an honest search for truth. (Catechism, 3135, 159; “Fides et Ratio;” “Gaudium et Spes,” 36)

It’s faith and reason, science and religion. (Catechism, 159, 2293)

This is not a new idea.

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:89; 63:23; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2)….”
(“Fides et Ratio,” Pope Saint John Paul II (September 14, 1998) [emphasis mine])

“…if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. … we cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science and which, from the arguments and controversies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed….”
(“Gaudium et Spes,” Pope Bl. Paul VI (December 7, 1965) [emphasis mine])

“…God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures – and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. … Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth….”
(“Providentissimus Deus,” Pope Leo XIII (November 18, 1893) [emphasis mine])

“Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air…. They all answer you, ‘Here we are, look; we’re beautiful.’…
“…So in this way they arrived at a knowledge of the god who made things, through the things which he made.”
(Sermon 241, St. Augustine of Hippo (ca. 411))

Loving My Neighbors: All My Neighbors

Again, I think loving my neighbor is a good idea.

It’s not easy, particularly when a neighbor isn’t acting neighborly. But nobody said this was going to be easy.

Nobody who know much about people, anyway, and that’s another topic.

“He said to him, 22 ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
“This is the greatest and the first commandment.
“The second is like it: 23 You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
24 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.'”
(Matthew 22:3740)

If what Jesus said sounds familiar, it should. The same ideas are in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

1 Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
(Leviticus 19:18)

1 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
“Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
(Deuteronomy 6:45)

My neighbor isn’t just the chap with a wheelbarrow across the street, or the folks who moved in on the corner north of me. The parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:3037 makes that pretty clear. (February 1, 2017)

Working Toward a Civilization of Love

Jubilee of Mercy, Rome, from the Vatican, used w/o permission. Philippians 3:20 says “…our citizenship is in heaven….” But sitting around and thinking lovely thoughts about heaven won’t cut it.

I must act as if what I believe matters:

“Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?
“You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.”
(James 2:2022)

I’m supposed to be a good citizen here in America: contributing “…to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom….” That makes social justice a priority. (Catechism, 19281942, 2239)

Social justice starts with respecting the transcendent dignity of everyone. And that starts inside me, with an ongoing “inner conversion.” (Catechism, 1888, 1929)

Our goal is, or should be, building a better world: a civilization of love.

“…The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,”1 Pope St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))

What’s “Love?”

I can “love” hamburgers, my wife, and God. But those aren’t all the same sort of “love.” They’d better not be.

1 Corinthians 13:46 talks about what one sort of love does, and what it doesn’t do.

You know how it goes: love is patient and kind. Love isn’t jealous, pompous, inflated, rude, self-serving, or quick-tempered. Love doesn’t brood over injury, either; and celebrates truth, not wrongdoing.

I checked the Catechism’s glossary for a definition of “love,” and got this:

LOVE: See Charity.”
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church)

That’s informative, but not very. The “charity” entry says that charity is a virtue:

CHARITY: The theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God (1822).”
(Glossary, Catechism)

Love and charity, in the Catholic sense, aren’t just feelings. Doing what’s right is easier when emotions are in sync with our reason — but we’re supposed to do what’s right, no matter how we’re feeling.

Feeling angry, for example, happens. Emotions are part of being human. They’re not good or bad by themselves. (Catechism, 1501, 17631767)

Thinking is part of being human, too; or should be. Having a good, or bad, feeling about something may mean that it’s good or evil — or not. Either way, I should think before responding. (Catechism, 17651770)

And I certainly shouldn’t hang on to anger until it becomes hate. That’s a really bad idea. (Catechism, 17621775, 23022303)

I can’t love someone and hate the same person. Not at the same time.

I must not hate folks whose actions make my faith look like a psychiatric disorder.

But loving someone doesn’t mean ignoring daft behavior. Imitating their bad attitudes makes even less sense.

God, Love, and the Best News Ever

I don’t know how many “Catholic” blogs are in the “cesspool of hatred” that Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica talked about last year.2

“…’Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that we ‘Catholics’ have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!’ he said….

“…’Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners!’ Rosica said….”
(Catholic News Service, via Crux (May 17, 2016))

I have noticed that venom-spitting religious rants, Catholic and otherwise, are fairly easy to find. That’s one reason I started a blogroll of non-ranting Catholics.

Since I think loving my neighbor matters, and that everyone is my neighbor, hating someone isn’t an option. When I notice myself starting to hate someone, my job is removing that hate: not expressing it.

On the other hand, loving my neighbors doesn’t mean pretending that we’re all perfect people. (Catechism, 1778, 24012449)

I get angry more often than I like, but don’t see much point in ranting. That’s partly because I take love and God seriously.

It’s also because I would much rather share what scientists are learning about this wonder-filled universe we live in, and pass along the best news humanity’s ever had —

God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

Besides, ranting is — illogical.

“… If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.” (John C. Wright, johncwright.livejournal.com (March 21 2008))

More, mostly about love and truth:


1 A civilization of love, background:

2 Venom, vitriol, and online social media:

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First Americans?

Scientists used new DNA screening tech to study caves in Belgium, Croatia, France, Russia, and Spain. What they found wasn’t a big surprise. What’s exciting about the news is that we now have another tool for unraveling our family history.

We’ve been pretty sure that nobody lived in North America until about two dozen millennia back. That may change, if scientists who say they found 130,000-year-old tools in San Diego County, California, are right. Quite a few other scientists are dubious, understandably.

I took a longer look at what we’ve been learning about Homo naledi. They’re folks who don’t look like humanity’s current model. We found their remains in a cave they probably used as a crypt.

Since you may be reading my stuff for the first time, I’ll review why I think truth is important. All truth, not just the bits I grew up knowing about. Also why I take the Bible seriously, but not ‘creation science.’ (March 31, 2017)


Embracing Truth: ALL Truth

If some states had banned lessons about post-Copernican astronomy in schools, or grudgingly allowed its mention as an alternative belief in the required ‘flat Earth’ curriculum, I’d most likely be writing about that.

Interestingly, even the most fervent ‘Bible believers’ I’ve known drew the line at rejecting Earth’s shape. (March 24, 2017)

About Sacred Scripture, I take the Bible very seriously: all of the Bible, not just the parts I like. That’s ‘Catholicism 101.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101133)

Wondering about God’s creation, including how we got started, is part of being human. It’s what we’re supposed to do. (Catechism, 279289)

Scientific discoveries are opportunities for greater admiration of God’s work. (Catechism, 283, 341)

Deciding that God’s work must conform to assumptions made a few centuries back makes no sense at all. Not to me.

Particularly since those assumptions were largely based on lockstep-literal reading of poetry written by and for folks familiar with Sumerian and Babylonian cosmology.

I might as well reject what our Lord said, or decide that Minnesota doesn’t exist, because my home state isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Not once. (April 21, 2017)

God gave us brains and curiosity. I’m quite convinced that the Almighty isn’t offended if we use them. (Genesis 1:2627, 2:7; Catechism, 16, 341, 373, 1704, 17301731)

This should be obvious, but truth cannot contradict truth. (Catechism, 159)

What we learn cannot interfere with an informed faith.

Using our brains does, however, sometimes mean learning something our great-great-grandparents didn’t know. That’s been happening pretty often lately.

Charles Dawson and the Piltdown Legacy


(From John Cooke, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Charles Dawson is second from the right in back, next to a picture of Charles Darwin.)

Credit where credit is due. Charles Dawson successfully scammed many, but not all, scientists; and apparently did it solo. (August 26, 2016)

That’s not how I’d want folks to remember me.

He wasn’t the first fellow with a fake fossil. I’ll get back to that.

I don’t know why Charles Dawson faked the Piltdown Man skull. He apparently could have made significant contributions to archaeology and paleontology: assuming that parts of his Hastings Castle research was honest.

Dawson said he found parts of a skull, skull, assorted teeth, and “primitive tools” in Pleistocene gravel beds near Piltdown, East Sussex. That was in 1912.

Four and half decades later, scientists using newly-developed tech like fluorine absorption dating confirmed what Marcellin Boule, F. H. Edmonds, and other scientists, had been saying. Piltdown Man is a hoax.

Adding patina to a 500-year-old orangutan jaw and medieval human skull, and filing fossilized chimpanzee teeth to fit expectations, Dawson had shown English-speaking scientists in 1912 what they wanted to see: a British “missing link.”

I don’t know how much we’d have learned by now, if attention hadn’t been diverted from real evidence like the Taung Child and Peking Man, to Dawson’s fake.

Lost time and wasted effort wasn’t the only problem. Folks who desperately want God to follow the cosmology of ancient Mesopotamia and Ussher’s timeline probably still use Piltdown Man as “proof” that science is a Satanic plot.

Never mind that that scientists exposed the Piltdown Man fraud.

An Honest Mistake, Hoaxes, and the Regrettable Bone Wars


(from Amédée Forestier, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Forestier’s imaginative 1922 illustration of H. haroldcookii, modeled on the Java Man.)

In 1917, rancher and geologist Harold Cook found a tooth in Nebraska. In 1922, Henry Fairfield Osborn said that the tooth was from an anthropoid ape. Osborn called his North American ape Hesperopithecus haroldcookii, after the tooth’s discoverer.

Amédée Forestier made a picture of “Nebraska Man” for Illustrated London News. Osborn apparently called the illustration “a figment of the imagination of no scientific value, and undoubtedly inaccurate.”

Most scientists were dubious, at best, about the tooth being from an ape.

Field work in 1925 and 1926 uncovered other parts of the critter. The tooth came from a now-extinct North American peccary.1 Then W. K. Gregory announced that Hesperopithecus was most likely not an ape or a man.

I’m guessing W. K. was William King Gregory.

I’m pretty sure Osborn’s 1922 announcement was an honest mistake. Peccary teeth aren’t all that different from human teeth, for one thing.

Not-so-honest claims didn’t waste as much time as the Piltdown Man, happily.

The 1866 Calaveras Skull started as a shopkeeper’s and miner’s practical joke.

They convinced a geologist, a professor, and some theosophists that a thousand-year-old skull was about a million years old. The Smithsonian’s William Henry Holmes examined the skull around 1900. He pointed out that the skull was shaped like today’s version.

Scientists had realized that change happens by then, so a million-year old skill with contemporary features was as out of place as a cell phone in Lincoln’s White House. Fluorine absorption dating eventually pegged the skulls age at about a thousand years.

The Cardiff Giant, “discovered” by William C. “Stub” Newell in 1869, was declared genuine by some theologians.

Yale palaeontologist Othniel C. Marsh called it “a most decided humbug.”

He was right.

A New York tobacconist and atheist, George Hull, had paid to have the Cardiff Giant carved from a block of gypsum. The idea was to win a “Biblical” argument about “giants” and Genesis 6:4.

I don’t think that proves that all tobacconists are atheists, or that atheists aren’t honest. I do think the Cardiff Giant’s fame shows that folks like novelties.

P. T. Barnum tried to buy the Cardiff Giant, but had to settle for hiring someone to make a copy. The Giant was a curiosity at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, where it drew almost as big a crowd as it did while stored in a Fitchburg, Massachusetts, barn.

It was a coffee table in an Iowa publisher’s basement rumpus room for several years, and is currently one of a museum’s exhibits in New York state.

About Genesis 6:4, I’m not sure why some English translations of the Bible used “giants” instead of transliterating Nephilim, נְפִילִים‎. Nephilim may be related to “descendants of the Anakim” mentioned in Numbers 13:22.

Nephilim and Anakim show up elsewhere, too. I talked about the Bible and why I don’t expect Sacred Scripture to discuss science that we’ve learned recently earlier.

One more fake fossil, and a 19th-century rivalry, and I’ll get to DNA and real fossils.

National Geographic should have known better when they published a piece about Archaeoraptor in 1999. That critter was correctly identified in 2002.

I’m not sure which part of the 1877-1892 Bone Wars did more damage: Marsh and Cope’s mutual and very public squabbling, or reports of dynamite and sabotage.2


1. DNA in Cave Sediment


(From Science, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The researchers also found the DNA of many animals – some of them extinct”
(BBC News))

DNA of extinct humans found in caves
BBC News (April 28, 2017))

The DNA of extinct humans can be retrieved from sediments in caves – even in the absence of skeletal remains.

“Researchers found the genetic material in sediment samples collected from seven archaeological sites.

“The remains of ancient humans are often scarce, so the new findings could help scientists learn the identity of inhabitants at sites where only artefacts have been found….”

The researchers found Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA, which wasn’t a big surprise. One of the sites was the Denisova Cave. What’s important is that now we can tell which part of humanity’s family lived in places where all we’ve found so far are the stuff they left behind.

Scienitsts knew that DNA binds with parts of cave floor sediment, so they checked seven caves we knew had been used by Hominins.

That’s the taxonomic tribe that includes Siamangs, Bornean gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimps, and us.

Scientists started rethinking primate taxonomy, again, around the 1960s. (September 23, 2016)

The scientists analyzed sediment from sites in Belgium, Croatia, France, Russia, and Spain, ranging from 14,000 to 550,000 years old.

Even samples that had been stored at room temperature for years held enough mitochondrial DNA for analysis.

Besides hominin DNA, the scientists found genetic material from woolly mammoths and rhinoceroses, cave bears and hyenas.

We’ve learned quite a bit since Friedrich Miescher’s and Nikolai Koltsov’s research. We’ve also uncovered new questions, like what most of our noncoding DNA does; if anything. (March 31, 2017; March 10, 2017; January 13, 2017)

Fossils, Swamps, and Us


(From MPI For Evo Anthro / J. Krause, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The remains of Neanderthals had previously been found at Vindija Cave in Croatia”
(BBC News))

Fossil evidence of our origins, and our tools, have often been in caves. Learning to isolate DNA from cave sediment should be a big help to scientists studying our past.

We’ve found fossilized insects in amber and critter-shaped hollows in volcanic ash, but most fossils form when a critter dies and gets covered in mud and silt. That’s why we’ve found so many fossils of critters with shells of critters that lived in water.3

We need water, so we generally camp or settle near fresh water.

We can even live on or near places with muddy water. But marsh and swampland isn’t our idea of prime real estate. Aside from that, our habitat seems to depend on where our most recent ancestors settled.

We’ve moved around a lot since the first of us headed for the horizon.

By now we’re living year-round on every continent except Antarctica, and have semi-permanent settlements there.

Since 1998 we’ve had about a half-dozen folks living and working in the ISS.

My guess is that our travels have barely started, and that’s another topic. (February 17, 2017; September 30, 2016)

Caves and Being Human


(From Steward Finlayson, via BBC News; used w/o permission.)
(“Our cave,” “turn right,” or something else.)

We’ve used caves for shelter and storage for at least a million years. We still do, although what we’re storing has changed.

These days we have ‘wine caves‘ and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Places like the Atchison Storage Facility, Marengo warehouse, and SubTropolis are good for storing food, equipment, and documents — traditional or digital.

Since we’re human, we also create reflections of the truth and beauty that surrounds us. (July 17, 2016)

We’ve been doing that for quite a while now.

Someone created paintings in the Cave of El Castillo and Pettakere cave, 35,400 or more years ago. We don’t know who, or why.

We also don’t know why someone carved what looks like a tic-tac-toe grid on the wall of Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar more than 39,0000 years ago; or a wave or chevron pattern onto a shell, about a half-million years back. And that’s yet another topic.4


(From Wim Lustenhouwer/VU University Amsterdam, via Nature, used w/o permission.)
(“A shell found on Java in the late 1800s was recently found to bear markings that seem to have been carved intentionally half a million years ago. The photograph is about 15 millimetres wide.”
(Nature))

2. Cerutti Mastodon Site, San Diego County: Early Americans?


(From Kate Johnson, San Diego NHM, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Experimental breakage was able to re-produce the same patterns seen at the ancient site”
(BBC News))

First Americans claim sparks controversy
Paul Rincon, BBC News (April 26, 2017)

A study that claims humans reached the Americas 130,000 years ago – much earlier than previously suggested – has run into controversy.

“Humans are thought to have arrived in the New World no earlier than 25,000 years ago, so the find would push back the first evidence of settlement by more than 100,000 years.

The conclusions rest on analysis of animal bones and tools from California.

“But many experts contacted by the BBC said they doubted the claims….”

One of the puzzles, aside from whether this is an archaeological or a palenotological site, is why someone would have been breaking mammoth bones.

The scientists didn’t find evidence that the purpose was getting meat. They suggested that maybe the folks were extracting marrow, or maybe getting material for non-stone tools. Those were big bones.

This may be another ‘Nebraska Man’ situation, where scientists make an honest mistake.

It could be a hoax, but that seems unlikely. A whole lot of folks are involved in the research, and they’d all have to agree to sabotaging their careers. Besides, the paper appears in Nature, one of the most well-respected peer-review journals around.5

About folks arriving in the Americas “no earlier than 25,000 years ago,” that’s about right; although there’s already evidence of slightly earlier arrivals.

Folks living near the west coast 130,000 years back is quite a jump: and will take a lot of work to verify. Or disprove. I don’t see that it’s impossible, though.

Folks who look about like us have been around for something like 200,000 years, and humanity started moving out of our homeland much earlier.

By Land; or, Maybe, by Sea

The obvious way of reaching the Americas from Asia is by walking. The connection between Asia and North America has been above water intermittently ever since the current ice age started, some two and a half million years back.

Hunting on that land bridge wouldn’t be very good, so how folks would support themselves on the trip is a reasonable question.

Another possibility is that folks arrived in the Americas by sea. Folks who look like us were living at Pinnacle Point between 170,000 and 40,000 years ago. We still do, for that matter. The caves are near Mossel Bay, a harbor town that about 130,000 folks call home.

Some scientists say folks moved to the Pinnacle Point caves because the site gives access to shellfish, whale, and seal. If they’re right, it will mean rewriting assumptions about when “modern” behavior started, but we should be used to that by now.

I think it’s likely enough that folks who had developed seaworthy vessels for hunting whales would eventually wonder what’s over the horizon.

It’s what we’ve been doing for at least the last 1,900,000 years, and explains why European explorers nearly always found that someone else had gotten there first.6

Stone Tools, or Maybe Just Rocks


(From MPK-WTAP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Tools found at the Lomekwi site near Lake Turkana, Kenya, a few years back.)

A Vanderbilt professor of anthropology, religion, and culture, says that the stone tools found at the California site aren’t tools.

Tom Dillehay told BBC News he thinks they’re rocks that just happen to look like tools, and that the mastodon bones just happen to look like they’d been broken by the rocks. He may be right.

Natural processes could, in principle, have shaped rocks to look like stone tools, and deposited them with bones that look like they’d been shaped by someone using the rocks.

Tools made by outfits like Black & Decker and Weber are obviously artificial. Even tech that’s been around for a few million years, like the mezzaluna, often has a manufacturer’s mark on it these days. We’ve tweaked the design, of course.

Early technology, like the tools in that photo, doesn’t always have that obvious ‘made by people’ look. Those tools are about 3,300,000 years old, most likely made by the folks we call Kenyanthropus, whose remains we found nearby.

They’d most likely have had a terrible time trying to fit into today’s world. But I’m inclined to think of them as “folks,” since they’d already started acting like people.

I don’t assume that looking just like me is what defines being “human.” (January 13, 2017; October 28, 2016; August 26, 2016)


3. Updating Humanity’s Geneology: Homo Naledi


(From John Hawks, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Homo naledi has much in common with early forms of the genus Homo”
(BBC News))

Primitive human ‘lived much more recently’
Paul Rincon, BBC News (April 25, 2017)

A primitive type of human, once thought to be up to three million years old, actually lived much more recently, a study suggests.

“The remains of 15 partial skeletons belonging to the species Homo naledi were described in 2015.

“They were found deep in a cave system in South Africa by a team led by Lee Berger from Wits University.

“In an interview, he now says the remains are probably just 200,000 to 300,000 years old….”

We weren’t all that sure about how old the Homo naledi remains were after when Lee Berger’s team reported results of their in 2013 and 2014 field work. The new numbers for their age come from very recently done lab work. That research hasn’t been published yet.

What we can be sure about is that the folks don’t look quite like anyone else. Based on different parts of their bodies and heads, they have lived anywhere from three million to a few hundred thousand years ago.

Berger’s team found parts of 15 individuals in the Rising Star Cave. That’s in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cradle of Humankind.

I’m not sure why UNESCO picked a place in southern Africa for its Cradle of Humankind site.

Maybe it’s because the Olduvai Gorge site in the Great Rift Valley has been thoroughly studied as our “cradle,” starting with Mary and Louis Leakey’s research in the 1960s.

Maybe UNESCO figured folks in South Africa needed more of an economic and political boost than Tanzania. There was more than one reason, likely enough.

Folks have been living in eastern and southern Africa for well upwards of 2,000,000 years. Someone had worked the bugs out of using fire in southern Africa about 1,000,000 years back, and that’s yet again another topic.

The Taung Child’s skull was uncovered in a South African quarry in 1924, studied, and largely ignored until scientists confirmed that Piltdown Man was a hoax. That was in 1953. (August 26, 2016)

These days we realize that Australopithecus africanus, our name for the Taung Child’s people, the recently-discovered Homo naledi, and other folks who don’t look at all British, or even European, are part of humanity’s family tree.7

Those of us who prefer taking reality ‘as is,’ that is: even if, particularly if, it means learning something new. (April 28, 2017; September 30, 2016; August 28, 2016)

Homo Naledi, 2015

Lee Rogers Berger is more flamboyant than many paleoanthropologists.

I don’t see a problem with a scientists having ‘style,’ or making results of research open access projects. But then, I’m not quite the button-down type myself; and don’t see a point in keeping ‘riff-raff’ from gaining knowledge.

That’s Dr. Berger in the photo, with a reconstruction of Australopithecus sediba. Dr. Berger’s son, Matthew, discovered the first A. sediba fossil. Those folks lived in southern Africa somewhere between 1,780,000 and 1,950,000 years back.

Dr. Berger’s team announced their discovery of Homo naledi, along with what they’d been learning, in 2014 and 2015.8

They figured the H. naledi fossils might have been as much as 3,000,000 years old — or — be comparatively recent. They lacked our our pointed chins, had less room for a brain and a lot of bone over their eyes.

On the other hand, H. naledi teeth and feet look a lot like the current human model’s.

Maybe H. naledi picked up the custom of interment from Homo sapiens. Maybe.

If the H. naledi remains were interred, that’d give them what’s still thought of as as a very ‘modern’ behavior. We’re the only folks many scientists are sure bury our dead.

Most of us, anyway. Not all do. I’ve discussed end-of-life customs, Neanderthals, and bias, before. (January 13, 2017; November 11, 2016; September 23, 2016)

Dinaledi Chamber, 2015: (Second) Discovery


(From Paul H. G. M. Dirks et al; via Wikimedia Commons; used w/o permission.)
(Cross-section sketch of Dinaledi chamber.)

Rising Star Cave is one of many limestone caves in that part of Africa. Besides the area’s interest to scientists, it’s a good place to go caving.

That’s how the “Dinaledi Chamber” fossils were found, back in 2013. Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker, recreational cavers, found a shaft about 12 meters, 39 feet, deep by about 20 centimeters, not quite eight inches, wide on average.

The shaft was nearly vertical, and led to an underground chamber. Fossil bones, lots of them, littered the chamber’s floor. Hunter and Tucker apparently figured the bones were what was left of another caver who had gotten into the chamber, but not out.

That was a reasonable guess, particularly since they also noticed some survey pegs. Dr. Berger’s team later found records of cavers who had been there in the early 1990s: and made it back out again.

The chamber is about 80 meters horizontally and 30-odd meters down from the cave’s current entrance. The last leg of the trek to the chamber’s shaft entrance involves a 15 meter climb — after climbing down another slope and through a narrow passage.

The Dinaledi Chamber isn’t the sort of place 15 folks, from kids to adults, would ‘just happen’ to wander into.

Even if they lived three million years back, I doubt that folks like us would be all that comfortable in dark, enclosed spaces. Apart from adolescent and young-adult males.

We get a bit crazy around that age, if we’re anywhere near humanity’s 50th percentile. Crazier than at other parts of our lives, at any rate.

Hands, Feet, and Humanity’s Story



(From Peter Schmid, via Thinkstock/BBC News, used w/o permission.

The 15 individuals whose bones were in the Dinaedi Chamber were men, women, boys, girls; infants and elderly, and a fair spread of ages between, when they died. That’s enough to get a pretty good idea of what their sort of folks were like.

Their hands were a bit more curved than ours, for one thing; but closer to the current human model than, say, a gibbon’s.

Apart from their teeth and feet, they were a bit like Australopithecus, our name for hominins who lived between 4,000,000 and 2,000,000 years ago.

The most famous Australopithecus these days is probably “Lucy.” Since SRGAP2, a uniquely-human gene, had been around for about 200,000 years when she lived, I’m guessing that she’s a “who:” not a “what.” (September 23, 2016)

Besides H. neladi bones, scientists found fossilized remains of “micro-mammals” in the Dinaledi Chamber. Those were critters a whole lot smaller than we are. They didn’t find any bones from mid-sized critters.

The Homo naledi bones got there somehow. It’s very unlikely that all those folks wandered in accidentally.

Predators sometimes bury or leave bones in more-or-less one location, but these didn’t have claw or tooth marks. Besides, no known predator selectively buries human or human-like bones.

There’s no sign of flooding that would deposit remains there.

The least-unlikely explanation for how the bones got there is that someone dropped them down the shaft.

I suppose it’s remotely possible that all 15 might have been fleeing something. I’m not sure what would be so scary that 14 of them would keep going after the first one fell down the shaft, but it’s remotely possible.

I’ll close with a look at reactions to Homo neladi’s discovery, back in in 2015; and another look at faith and science.

“Wonderful Things,” and Rethinking What “Human” Means


(From National Geographic, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Homo naledi may have looked something like this”
(BBC News))

“…Marina Elliott … described how she felt when she first saw the chamber.

“‘The first time I went to the excavation site I likened it to the feeling that Howard Carter must have had when he opened Tutankhamen’s tomb – that you are in a very confined space and then it opens up and all of a sudden all you can see are all these wonderful things – it was incredible,’ she said.

“Ms Elliott and her colleagues believe that they have found a burial chamber. The Homo naledi people appear to have carried individuals deep into the cave system and deposited them in the chamber – possibly over generations.

“If that is correct, it suggests naledi was capable of ritual behaviour and possibly symbolic thought – something that until now had only been associated with much later humans within the last 200,000 years.

“Prof Berger said: ‘We are going to have to contemplate some very deep things about what it is to be human. Have we been wrong all along about this kind of behaviour that we thought was unique to modern humans?

“‘Did we inherit that behaviour from deep time and is it something that (the earliest humans) have always been able to do?’

“Prof Berger believes that the discovery of a creature that has such a mix of modern and primitive features should make scientists rethink the definition of what it is to be human – so much so that he himself is reluctant to describe naledi as human.

“Other researchers working in the field, such as Prof Stringer, believe that naledi should be described as a primitive human. But he agrees that current theories need to be re-evaluated and that we have only just scratched the surface of the rich and complex story of human evolution.”
(Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (2015))

There’s a lot going on here.

I liked the reference to Howard Carter. That echoes my perception of this universe: filled with “wonderful things,” for those who take time to notice. (September 30, 2016; December 16, 2016)

I think that Professors Berger and Stringer are right — we need to reconsider what we mean by “human.”

Unlike Berger, however, I see Homo neledi as ‘human’ — most likely.

Those folks weren’t as big as the average person today, around five feet tall. Their brains were around 500 cubic centimeters, compared to 1,200 cubic centimeters for today’s model. Our fingers are straighter, and we’re probably smarter than Homo neledi.

But it looks like they interred their dead, a very ‘human’ action. I don’t think I’m ‘more human’ than someone with a lower IQ — and my family history strongly disinclines me to reject folks based on appearance.

About the artist’s representation of Homo neledi, I think the nose may be a best-estimate. That piece of the skull apparently hadn’t been found yet.


“Dragon Pterodactyles … with Vampire Wing”


(From Thomas Hawkins; via The Online Books Page, University of Pennsylvania; used w/o permission.)
(Front piece of “The Book of the Great Sea-Dragons, Ichthyosauri and Plesiosauri…,” Thomas Hawkins (1840))

Hawkins’ prose was colorful, grandiose, flamboyant, and rhapsodically replete with sesquipedalian loquaciousness: by today’s standards. Here’s part of his assertion that “grim Monsters” and “Dragon Pterodactyles … with Vampire Wing” were Satan’s work:

“…’Adam,’ the Lucifer and Protagonist of Antiquity, doing mis-prision against Sovereignty, turns the weapons of Loyalty upon his Liege, and plunges them into the Bowels of his Mother Earth. Forsaken of Angels, groaning, she bringeth forth grim Monsters, which ravage her Garden, the Locusts that consume it away….

“…Then a Vision of Abysmal Waters, swarming with all wondrous creatures of Life, and gelid Swamps with amphibious things , and Dragon Pterodactyles flitting in the hot air with Vampire Wing….”
(“The Book of the Great Sea-Dragons, Ichthyosauri and Plesiosauri,” Thomas Hawkins, Thomas; pp. 4, 5 (1840))

Thomas Hawkins was an English fossil collector and dealer. His “brute Savages haunting Eldritch Caves” probably influenced attitudes toward “cavemen” in the early 20th century.

Calling Hawkins “eccentric” may be accurate. However, today’s ‘science’ documentaries might seem just as crazy if they’re viewed in the last decade of the 22nd century.

Thomas Hawkins and geological spectacle
Ralph O’Connor; Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, Volume 114, Issue 3 (2003) via ScienceDirect

“The lurid geological writings of the Glastonbury collector Thomas Hawkins (1810–1889) are often dismissed as the outpourings of a lunatic. When analysed within their literary context, however, they reveal conscious strategies for awakening the public’s visual imagination….”

“Lurid geological writings” are one thing. Selling artistically-restored fossils as the real thing was a bad idea in the mid-1800s, and still is. The problem isn’t fossils, it’s fraud. (Catechism, 24082409)

Much of an ichthyosaur fossil collection Thomas Hawkins sold to the British Museum in the mid-1800s was real, but the tail wasn’t.

Folks at the British Museum, realizing that they’d been sold a not-entirely-real fossil, sued. When the dust settled, the Hawkins ichthyosaurs stayed on display, with the reconstructed parts marked by a lighter color.

I like to think this wasn’t quite fraud; maybe more like an enhancement or reconstruction. These days, museums routinely make filled-in parts of their fossil displays a different color, so folks can tell what’s original and what’s not.

That wasn’t the first fake fossil. The earliest I know of were described in Johann Beringer’s 1726 “Lithographiae Wirceburgensis.”

The fraudsters were two of his colleagues who had planted carved stones — with writing on them, yet — that exactly matched what Beringer expected to find.

I don’t think that makes science wrong. It does show that scientists are human, and that being rationally dubious can be a good thing. I’ve talked about hubris, asking questions, and phlogiston, before. (March 24, 2017; December 9, 2016; July 31, 2016)

Assumptions, Knowable Physical Laws, and Tennessee v. Scopes

The Scopes Monkey Trial didn’t help settle a long-standing difference of opinion.

Folks with one set of assumptions still believe that Christianity demands ignorance. I don’t think so, but William Jennings Bryan’s ‘Scopes’ testimony arguably reinforces that belief.

Folks with another viewpoint still cling to belief in a long-dead Calvinist’s timetable,

I’m a Catholic, so I think God is large and in charge, creating a universe which follows knowable physical laws. (Catechism, 268, 279, 299, 301)

The Catholic version of faith is a willing and conscious “assent to the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142150)

That’s the whole truth.

Truth can be expressed many ways; including words, “the rational expression of the knowledge of created and uncreated reality;” and “the order and harmony of the cosmos.” (Catechism, 2500)

We can learn a bit about God by noticing “the world’s order and beauty,” which reflects God’s infinite beauty. (Catechism, 3132, 341)

A thirst for truth and happiness is written into each of us, which should lead us to God. (Catechism, 27)

We’re told that the universe is “in a state of journeying,” “in statu viae,” toward an ultimate perfection; but isn’t there yet. (Catechism, 302305)

I’m okay with that. Even if I wasn’t, my opinion or preference wouldn’t matter much; except maybe to me.

“Our God is in heaven; whatever God wills is done.”
(Psalms 115:3)

I’m also okay with that.

Living in a Changing World, and Loving It

What we know about this universe has changed quite a bit over the last few centuries. That’s not even close to thinking that reality has changed since, say, Aristotle’s day.

Aristotle was quite sure that Earth was in the center — more like ‘at the bottom’ — of the universe, and unique. Aristarchus of Samos suggested that Earth goes around the sun, and suspected that stars were other suns. That’s a bit shy of two dozen centuries back now. (March 24, 2017)

About 740 years ago, some European academics said Aristotle’s ideas must be right: because Aristotle said so.

They were really big fans of Aristotle.

The Church reminded them that God’s God, Aristotle’s not. I’ve talked about Proposition 27/219 of 1277 before.

Meanwhile, folks like St. Albertus Magnus and St. Hildegard of Bingen were helping lay foundations for today’s sciences. (April 28, 2017; December 9, 2016; November 6, 2016)

Since I think God is the source of all truth, and created everything, studying this universe and using what we learn is okay. (Genesis 1:131; Catechism, 156159, 2465)

Science and technology are part of being human. Learning about this wonder-filled creation is what we’re supposed to do. (Catechism, 22932295)

These days, that means living in a world where much of what I learned in high school science classes is seriously outdated.

I like living in a world where we’re finding the answers to some questions, often raising more questions in the process.

Folks who don’t like living in a changing world, not so much.

More about humanity’s long story:


1 Nebraska Man, peccaries, and artistic license:

2 Science, silliness, and the Bone Wars of Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh:

3 Branches of the family tree, the recent DNA research, and a little background:

4 Art and being human:

5 Settling the Americas, what we’re learning:

6 Caves and the sea:

7 Homo naledi and related topics:

8 News and papers from 2015:

  • New human-like species discovered in S Africa
    Pallab Ghosh, BBC News (September 10, 2015)
  • Geological and taphonomic context for the new hominin species Homo naledi from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa
    Paul H. G. M. Dirks, Lee R Berger, Eric M Roberts, Jan D Kramers, John Hawks, Patrick S Randolph-Quinney, Marina Elliott, Charles M Musiba, Steven E Churchill, Darryl J de Ruiter, Peter Schmid, Lucinda R Backwell, Georgy A Belyanin, Pedro Boshoff, K Lindsay Hunter, Elen M Feuerriegel, Alia Gurtov, James du G Harrison, Rick Hunter, Ashley Kruger, Hannah Morris, Tebogo V Makhubela, Becca Peixotto, Steven Tucker; eLIFE (September 10, 2015)
  • Homo naledi, a new species of the genus Homo from the Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa
    Lee R Berger, John Hawks, Darryl J de Ruiter, Steven E Churchill, Peter Schmid, Lucas K Delezene, Tracy L Kivell, Heather M Garvin, Scott A Williams, Jeremy M DeSilva, Matthew M Skinner, Charles M Musiba, Noel Cameron, Trenton W Holliday, William Harcourt-Smith, Rebecca R Ackermann, Markus Bastir, Barry Bogin, Debra Bolter, Juliet Brophy, Zachary D Cofran, Kimberly A Congdon, Andrew S Deane, Mana Dembo, Michelle Drapeau, Marina C Elliott, Elen M Feuerriegel, Daniel Garcia-Martinez, David J Green, Alia Gurtov, Joel D Irish, Ashley Kruger, Myra F Laird, Damiano Marchi, Marc R Meyer, Shahed Nalla, Enquye W Negash, Caley M Orr, Davorka Radovcic, Lauren Schroeder, Jill E Scott, Zachary Throckmorton, Matthew W Tocheri, Caroline VanSickle, Christopher S Walker, Pianpian Wei, Bernhard Zipfel; eLIFE (September 10, 2015)
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Emmaus: Looking Back and Ahead

We hear about the ‘road to Emmaus’ event in today’s Gospel, Luke 24:1335.

There’s been speculation about why folks didn’t recognized Jesus at first, after Golgotha.

It wasn’t just the ‘road to Emmaus’ thing. Paul lists some of our Lord’s meetings in 1 Corinthians 15:38.

Paul’s list doesn’t mention any of the times Jesus talked with women, I’m not sure why. Maybe Paul had a mental blind spot that way, or he figured he was giving the folks in Corinth enough to think about as it was, or maybe there’s something else going on.

Mary of Magdala, we read about her meeting in John 20:1417, was a bit quicker on the uptake than some, and that’s probably another topic.

About why folks didn’t recognize Jesus, I figure there’s a reason, maybe more than one, but I’m also pretty sure I can’t be sure. Not at this point. That won’t stop me from sharing — not so much my guess, as something I think seems reasonable.

“…Dead as a Door-Nail….”

I think Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a good way to start.

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

“Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did….

“…There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate….”
(“A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens (1843) via Project Gutenberg)

“Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail” — that’s why Scrooge didn’t believe what he saw when Marley came calling after business hours one Christmas Eve. He even tried telling Marley’s ghost that he was a hallucination:

“…You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato….”
(“A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens (1843) via Project Gutenberg)

You know how the rest of the novella goes: Scrooge and Marley’s ghost talk about chains and opportunity, Marley backs out of an open window, and we don’t see him again.

The point of this excerpt is that Marley was dead, and Scrooge knew it.

About today’s Gospel, there wouldn’t be anything wonderful about the Emmaus encounter if the two disciples had been talking with a ghost. They were talking with someone who was very much alive.

In principle, I suppose they could have realized that Jesus wasn’t dead any more.

They knew that two women had a wild story about an empty tomb and angels.

They knew that the story had verifiable details which, on investigation, checked out.

On the other hand, I might not have done any better in their position. Experience tells us that folks who are dead, particularly if tortured and executed as our Lord was, stay dead.

Our Lord: That’s another matter. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

“Before Abraham …”


(From John Martin, via WikiMedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(‘Now that I have your attention ….’)

About one and a half or maybe two millennia before the Golgotha incident, someone named Abram moved out of Ur, changed his name to Abraham, and settled near the east end of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Late Bronze Age Collapse happened a few centuries later. We survived and rebuilt, but lost quite a few records. Since then we’ve seen empires rise and fall, the last pharaoh, and that’s yet another topic. (April 14, 2017; March 12, 2017; July 24, 2016)

A descendant of Abraham was sold as a slave. He wound up running Egypt, saving many lives during a famine. That account starts in Genesis 41:40.

Fast-forward a few centuries to a refugee named Moses having a face-to-burning bush talk with God:

“‘But,’ said Moses to God, ‘when I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” if they ask me, “What is his name?” what am I to tell them?’

6 God replied, ‘I am who am.’ Then he added, ‘This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.'”
(Exodus 3:1314)

Egypt’s ruler learned — the hard way — that ignoring what God says is not prudent, and descendants of Abraham moved back to the east end of the Mediterranean.

More centuries passed, and descendants of Abraham finally got it through their heads that God, the great I AM, is ONE.

Then a Nazarene miracle-worker said, as plainly as possible, “I am God:”

“So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?’ 23

24 Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.’ ”
(John 8:5758)

In a way, it’s a bit surprising that folks didn’t kill him on the spot. They knew what happened when they worshiped anyone or anything besides the God of Abraham, and didn’t realize that Jesus really is I AM.

Our Lord’s own disciples didn’t catch on much faster:

“Philip said to him, ‘Master, show us the Father, 7 and that will be enough for us.’

“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?”
(John 14:89)

Jesus Died — — —


(From “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” used w/o permission.)

Now, back to events we review before every Easter.

Our Lord was railroaded through a trial by the Sanhedrin and taken to Pilate, who sent the case and Jesus to Herod. Herod wanted to see Jesus “perform some sign.” That didn’t work out, Herod mocked our Lord, and it was back to Pilate.

Pilate said that Jesus wasn’t guilty of a capital offense, and tried to get our Lord released after a flogging.

That ended with “the chief priests, the rulers, and the people” telling Pilate to release Barabas instead of Jesus. (Matthew 26:5766; Mark 14:5515:5; Luke 22:6623:18)

I sympathize, a little, with movie critics who said “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) was ‘too violent:’ and that all the blood obscured the film’s message.

Americans have gotten used to nice, clean, ‘decently’ sanitized versions of our Lord’s crucifixion. The typical Hollywood version is arguably less unpleasant than reality: but it’s not real.

Jesus was dead.1 Roman soldiers had been running the execution, and knew the difference between a dead body and someone who had fainted, or was pretending to be dead.

Folks have been bothered by the idea that Jesus could be the Son of God and really die for a very long time. (John 1:15; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 430451, 456478, 595618, 638655)

For anyone else, death and burial would have been the end.

Our Lord’s disciples might have tried returning to normal lives, hoping that the authorities would let them.

— — — and Stopped Being Dead

But Jesus isn’t anyone else.

Two millennia later, we celebrate Good Friday and Easter — because Jesus didn’t stay dead. If that seems unbelievable, it should.

It took a series of meetings and working lunches to convince the surviving 11 that our Lord was really, no kidding, break-bread, eat-a-fish, put-your-hand-in-my-side, ALIVE.

“And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.”

“With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”
(Luke 24:3031)

“While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’

“They gave him a piece of baked fish;

“he took it and ate it in front of them.”
(Luke 24:4143)

“Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.’ ”
(John 20:2627)

After they’d been convinced that Jesus had stopped being dead, small wonder that all but John chose a painful death, rather than deny that our Lord lives.

They’d gotten a glimpse of the big picture, the reality that our Lord has opened a way into God’s presence.

“Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?…

“…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, 9 nor future things, nor powers,

“nor height, nor depth, 10 nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ”
(Romans 8:3435, 3839)

John might have made the same decision, but didn’t have the opportunity. Instead, he lived to a ripe old age, in exile on Patmos, and that’s yet again another topic.

The Last Hour — Two Millennia and Counting

Before leaving, our Lord gave standing orders:

11 Then Jesus approached and said to them, ‘All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

“Go, therefore, 12 and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 13 And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.'”
(Matthew 28:1920)

Two millennia later, those orders haven’t changed.

“Making disciples” isn’t the sort of ‘convert or die’ thing Charlemagne did at Verden, by the way. We’re still cleaning up the mess from that atrocity. (November 6, 2016)

I’m expected to act as if ‘Love God, love my neighbor, everybody’s my neighbor’ is true — and matters. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831, Luke 10:2530; Catechism, 1825)

Loving my neighbor means working for justice and bearing “witness to the truth.” (John 18:37; Catechism, 24712474)

Transcendent Dignity and the Long View

Respect for the “transcendent dignity” of humanity demands that I work for justice — “as far as possible.” (Catechism, 1915, 19291933, 2820)

That involves an inner conversion within each of us: starting with me. (Catechism, 976980, 1888)

I can’t reasonably expect to end hunger, establish a lasting peace, or abolish some great social injustice.

But I can keep passing along the best news we’ve ever had. God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:1214, 3:17; Romans 8:1417; Peter 1:34; Catechism, 1, 2730, 52)

Part of our job is working with all people of good will, building a better world for future generations. (Catechism, 1917, 19281942, 1825, 1996, 2415; “Laudato si’; “Gaudium et spes“)

We’ve made a little progress. (October 30, 2016; September 25, 2016)

We have a great deal left do do. Humanity has a huge backlog of social issues.

My guess is that we’ll still be working when the 8.2 kiloyear event, Y2K, and Y10K seem roughly contemporary.

But — I’ve said this before,2 and almost certainly will again — the war is over. We won. We’re already in “the last hour,” and have been for two thousand years. This world’s renewal is in progress, and nothing can stop it. (Matthew 16:18; Mark 16:6; Catechism, 638, 670)

More; mostly about Jesus, and acting like God matters:


1 This analysis of our Lord’s torture and execution isn’t an easy read, but worth the effort. My opinion:

2 Humanity, love, and the long view, my take:

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