Does Evolution make sense in light of biology?

A few years ago I had the privilege to have a public discussion about evolution at McMaster University with Dr. Jonathan Stone who is a computational biologist, the professor at Mac who teaches biological evolution, and who is also the associate director of the Origins Institute at McMaster. We had the discussion recorded and I just got around to uploading it.

We had chosen beforehand to frame our discussion from a well-known quote coined by one of the leading evolutionary biologists of the 20th century – Dr. Theodosius Dobzhanksy. His pithy statement was:

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”

This declaration has made its way into almost every university textbook on evolution. So Jonathan and I thought that this statement would be an ideal one to frame our discussion around. He defended the proposition while I refuted it. We had 30 minutes each for our opening arguments and then shorter intervals where we could rebut the others’ points.

It was a pleasure to share the platform that night with Dr. Stone in a public venue on campus. Though we had opposite convictions on this issue I found him to be a gracious speaker who stuck to the issues.

For some time I have been wanting to put this up so that others interested in this topic can view our discussion. You can view the entire 97 minute event as one video here, or you can view it in chunks below since I broke the evening down into three main sections: Jonathan’s opening argument, my opening argument, and then our rebuttals. Unfortunately the last minute or so was cut off in the last video. I hope you find it that it stimulates your thinking on this topic.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Ancient Rg Veda Account … but Parallel Promise

The Rg Vedas are the oldest of the sacred writings in Hinduism.  Being composed around 1700-1100 BC, they are roughly contemporaneous with Moses’ recording of the Pentateuch (Torah) in the Old Testament.

Purusa – The Sacrificial Man in Rg Veda

A prominent character in the Rg Veda is one called Purusa.  He is a Perfect Man.  In a well-known poem known as the Purusasukta (within the Rg Veda) God decided to offer him in sacrifice at the beginning of time.  The concept of sacrifice is very prominent in Hinduism (as we saw regarding the Kumbh Mela Festival).  What is fascinating to me is that this earliest poem, Purusasukta, is not about people making a sacrifice to God, but about God presenting the Perfect Man to be sacrificed so that humans can gain eternal life.

Conspiracy Explanation for Bible parallels

This sounds very similar to the Genesis Promise recorded in the Bible at the dawn of human history.  Why this parallel?  Two possible explanations come to mind.  The first is that there was one ancient myth from which other mythologies borrowed.  In this vein of thinking perhaps the ancient Hebrews heard these mythological promises of a future sacrifice and simply incorporated them into their early scriptures as the Genesis Promise.  This viewpoint continues the argument that the Biblical record ‘borrowed’ other accounts.  Thus, for example, the account of Noah and the Flood in Genesis is simply a re-hashing of the old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.

This thinking is then extrapolated to the New Testament Gospel.  The sacrificial death of Jesus on mankind’s behalf is thus seen simply as a borrowing from Greek and Egyptian mythologies of Isis and others.  This kind of explanation of the parallels between ancient accounts is advanced by skeptics of the Biblical accounts, and by those drawn to conspiratorial explanations of the Gospel (e.g. The Da Vinci Code and Zeitgeist etc. draw heavily on the idea that the meaning of the death of Jesus was simply borrowed from pagan mythology).  In fact, many people I talk to believe in some pagan-mythology explanation for the New Testament view of Jesus.  They only go back to New Testament and classical Greek times to look for parallels, many not knowing that these parallels go further back to ancient history into the earliest chapters of Genesis.

Historical Explanation for Bible parallels

Alternatively, parallels between ancient accounts exist because these events really did happen.  The Bible records these events and we can read about them in its pages.  However, other non-Hebrew cultures and civilizations also remembered and recorded aspects of these events and recorded them for us in different ways.  They did so because their origins are from Babel (like the Hebrews) and thus they remember pre-Babel events in perhaps some dim way as part of their history and mythology.  My previous posts (Part 1 & Part 2) about Chinese calligraphy having an ‘echo’ to early Genesis can thus be understood in this way.   Similarly, the most ancient of the Vedic texts show a remarkable parallel to the ancient Genesis Promise because that Promise was really given and kept in the social memory of the pre-Babel society.   The Promise was recorded and transmitted to us in the Bible through Moses.  It was also remembered and recorded in slightly different form in the Purusasukta of the Vedas.

Web of Parallels

So we have two broad explanations for these parallels.  What is intriguing to me are the parallels between the non-biblical ancient traditions.  So take the ancient Chinese association of ‘righteousness’ with sacrifice of substitution.  I have reproduced the ideogram from that post here so you can see it.

Chinese: 'dagger' + 'hand' + 'sheep' = 'righteousness'

Chinese: ‘dagger’ + ‘hand’ + ‘sheep’ = ‘righteousness’

When I compare that with the ancient mythology of Purusa (Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3-4, Conclusion) I see parallels between them in that righteousness is conveyed by sacrificial death for both the ancient Chinese and Vedas and detail them here.  It is not just that there are parallels between the Bible and some other myth – that would be an overly simplistic two-dimensional view.  There is more like a web of inter-parallel themes that can be discerned across many cultures.  To me this argues for the view that these events really did happen.  The Bible recorded these events and Promises in one way, while other cultures retaining some memory of them, recorded them in other ways.

One cannot definitively prove or refute either view.  I believe the second, but I find it interesting to hold both views explicitly in front of me and as I come across new data I see how it fits (or not) in each view.  This can be done with genetic anthropological data such as the BBC genetic results showing that all Europeans trace their origins to a very recent dispersal (from Babel?) as well as historical parallels.  I hope to look at a few more in the future.

The Heart that Changed History – Did it Beat Again?

Last Easter weekend I had the privilege to share some brief overview thoughts on the question of the Resurrection of Jesus at a community brunch in Hamilton.  Entitled “The Heart that Changed History – Did it Beat Again?”, it was recorded on video by a friend.  This 17 minute video summarizes the case for the resurrection of Jesus using non-biblical historical sources and highlights the relevance of this event for everybody by showcasing lives of some famous people.


How were details of Christ’s death prophesied?

Christ’s “cut off” Predicted in detail by the Old Testament Prophets

In our last post we saw that Daniel had predicted that the ‘Christ’ would be ‘cut off’ after a specified cycle of years. This prediction of Daniel’s was fulfilled in the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – there presented as Israel’s Christ – exactly 173 880 days after the Persian Decree to restore Jerusalem was issued. The phrase ‘cut off’ alluded to Isaiah’s imagery of the Branch shooting up from the seemingly dead stump. But what did he mean by it?

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Isaiah had also written other prophecies in his book, using other themes apart from that of the Branch. One such theme was that of the coming Servant. Who was this ‘Servant’? What was he going to do? We look at one long passage in detail. I reproduce it exactly and in full here below, only inserting some comments of my own.

The Coming Servant. The complete passage from Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

We know that this Servant will be a human man because Isaiah refers to the Servant as a ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’, and that this is specifically looking forward in time, (from the phrases ‘will act..’, ‘will be raised up…’ and so on) so that this is an explicit prophecy. But what was it a prophecy about?

When the Jewish priests offered sacrifices for the Israelites they would sprinkle them with blood from the sacrifice – symbolizing that their sins were covered and would not be held against them. But here it says that the Servant will sprinkle ‘many nations’, so Isaiah is saying that in a similar way this Servant will also provide non-Jews for their sins like the Old Testament priests did for the Jewish worshipers. This parallels the prediction of Zechariah that the Branch would be a priest, uniting the roles of King and Priest, since only the priests could sprinkle blood. This global scope of ‘many nations’ follows those historical and verifiable promises made centuries beforehand to Abraham of ‘all nations’ being blessed through his offspring.

But in sprinkling the many nations the very ‘appearance’ and ‘form’ of the Servant is predicted to be ‘disfigured’ and ‘marred’. And though it is not readily clear what the Servant will do, one day the nations ‘will understand’.

53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He [The Servant] grew up before him [The LORD] like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Though the Servant would sprinkle many nations, he would also be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected’, full of ‘suffering’ and ‘familiar with pain’.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

The Servant will take ‘our’ pain. This Servant will also be ‘pierced’ and ‘crushed’ in ‘punishment’. This punishment will bring us (those in the many nations) ‘peace’ and heal us.

I write this on Good Friday. Secular as well as biblical sources tell us that on this day about 2000 years ago (but still 700+ years after Isaiah wrote this prediction) that Jesus was crucified. In doing that he was literally pierced, as Isaiah predicted the Servant would be pierced, with the nails of the crucifixion.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

We saw in Corrupted … missing the target, that a biblical definition of sin is missing the intended target. Like a bent arrow we go our ‘own way’.  This Servant will carry that same sin (iniquity) that we have brought forth.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth

The Servant will be like a lamb going to the ‘slaughter’. But he will not protest or even ‘open his mouth’. We saw in the Sign of Abraham that a ram that substituted for Abraham’s son. That ram – a sheep – was slaughtered. And Jesus was slaughtered on the same spot (Mount Moriah = Jerusalem). We saw in the Passover that a lamb was slaughtered on Passover – as Jesus was also slaughtered on Passover.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

This Servant is ‘cut off’ from the ‘land of the living’. This is exactly the term Daniel used when he predicted what would happen to the Christ after he was presented to Israel as their Messiah. Isaiah predicts in more detail that ‘cut off’ means ‘cut off from the land of the living’ – i.e. death!  So, on that fateful Good Friday Jesus died, being literally ‘cut off from the land of the living’, just a few days after being presented as the Messiah in his Triumphant entry.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Though Jesus was executed and died as a criminal (‘assigned a grave with the wicked’), the gospel writers tell us that a rich man of the ruling Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, took the body of Jesus and buried him in his own tomb (Matthew 19:60). Jesus literally fulfilled both sides of the paradoxical prediction that though he would be ‘assigned a grace with the wicked’, he would also be ‘with the rich in his death’.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand

This whole cruel death was not some terrible accident or misfortune. It was explicitly “the LORD’s will” to crush him. But why? Just as lambs in the Mosaic sacrificial system were offerings for sin so that the person giving the sacrifice could be held blameless, here the ‘life’ of this Servant is also an ‘offering for sin’. For whose sin? Well considering that ‘many nations’ would be ‘sprinkled’ (above) it is the sin of the peoples in the ‘many nations’. Those ‘all’ who have ‘turned away’ and ‘gone astray’. Isaiah is talking about you and me.

11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Though the passage of the Servant is gruesome here it changes tone and becomes very optimistic and even triumphant. After this terrible suffering (of being ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and assigned ‘a grave’), this Servant will see ‘the light of life’. He will come back to life?! I have looked at the issue of the resurrection. But here it is predicted. It is a vanishingly diminishing probability that the same man whose resurrection one can make a case for is the same person for whom it is predicted – along with these other predictions we have reviewed.

And in so ‘seeing the light of life’ this Servant will ‘justify’ many. To ‘justify’ is the same as giving ‘righteousness’. Remember that Abraham was ‘credited’ or given ‘righteousness’. In a similar way this Servant will justify, or credit, righteousness to ‘many’.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The passage of the Servant points so uncannily to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that some critics argue that the gospel narratives were essentially made up to ‘fit’ this Servant passage. But in his conclusion Isaiah defies these critics. The conclusion is not a prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection per se, but of the impact of this death many years after it. And what does Isaiah predict? This Servant, though he will die as a criminal, will one day be among the ‘great’. The gospel writers could not make this part ‘fit’ the gospel narratives since the gospels were only written a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion – when the impact of Jesus’ death was still in doubt.  Jesus was still the executed leader of a ‘pernicious superstition’ in the esteem of the world when the gospels were penned.  We sit now 2000 years later and see the impact of his death and realize how through the course of history this has made him ‘great’. The gospel writers could not have foreseen that. But Isaiah did. The Servant, also known as the Branch, through his voluntary sacrifice would begin to draw people to him – to worship him even – just as Jesus decreed would happen when he called unabashedly himself the ‘Son of Man’ at his trial before the Sanhedrin, and in so doing they would also find salvation.

The Branch: Sprouting Exactly in time to be … ‘cut off’

We have been exploring the Branch theme that extends through the writings of several of the Old Testament prophets. We saw that Jeremiah in 600 BC had picked up the theme begun by Isaiah 150 years earlier in declaring that this Branch would be a King. In our previous post we saw that Zechariah, following from Jeremiah predicted that this Branch would be named Jesus and that he would combine the roles of King and Priest into one – something that had never occurred previously in Israelite history.

Daniel’s riddle of the scheduled arrival of the Anointed One

But it did not end there. Daniel, sandwiched in time between Jeremiah and Zechariah, directly picked up the title of ‘Anointed One’ (which we saw here = ‘Christ’ or ‘Messiah), at the same time alluding to the Branch theme in a fascinating riddle that predicted when the Messiah would be revealed. Around 538 BC he wrote the following:

“From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler comes, there will be seven ‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’. … After the sixty-two ‘sevens’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing…” (Daniel 9:25-26)

Since Anointed One = Christ = Messiah, as we saw here, we know that Daniel was writing about the coming Christ. Daniel specifies a start time (“issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”) and a specific time interval (“seven ‘sevens’ and sixty-two ‘sevens’”) which will culminate in the revealing of the Christ (= Anointed One) who will then mysteriously be ‘cut off’. The overall structure of this prediction seems clear enough. But can we understand the specifics so that we can actually track this revealing of the Christ? Let’s begin by looking at what triggered the ticking of this prophetic clock.

The Issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem

About 100 years after Daniel, Nehemiah was cupbearer to the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes. As such he was a man who had access to the very highest power in the Persian Empire. In that context he asks for and receives a royal decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. Here is how he states it.

In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes… I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.’…

7 I also said to him, ‘If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors …”. [And] the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors … and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. (Nehemiah 2:1-9)

So here we see a royal decree, backed with letters and the military of the Persian Empire to rebuild and restore Jerusalem. Since the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes is known in secular history, and since this decree specifies the start of this period in terms of Artaxerxes’ reign (20th year of reign in the month of Nisan), we can determine when this was. Artaxerxes ascended to the Persian throne immediately after the death of his father Xerxes in December 465 BC. (1) and since this decree was issued in Nisan 1 (March/April) of his 20th year this would put the issuing of the decree at March 5, 444 BC (1).

Seven ‘Sevens’ and Sixty-two ‘Sevens’

But what are these ‘sevens’ that Daniel was using to track the passing of time? In the Law of Moses there was a cycle of seven years whereby the land was to be rested from agricultural cultivation every seventh year. It was stated in the following way

When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. (Leviticus 25:2-3)

The context of Daniel’s statement is ‘years’, and using this line of reasoning, by ‘sevens’ he is writing along these cycles of seven years. In that case the Seven ‘Sevens’ and Sixty-two ‘Sevens’ can be stated arithmetically as (7+62) * 7 = 483 years.

A 360-Day year

Complicating things somewhat is the length of year used. Today we use the solar year (=365.24219879 days per year) because we can precisely measure the revolution of the earth around the sun. In those days it was common to base the year from revolutions of the moon (as the Islamic calendar does still today) giving 354 days/year or by using 12 30-day months giving 360 days per year. In all cases there is some adjusting done to ‘fix up’ the differences in revolutions. (In our Western calendar we use the leap year – 366 days – to adjust for the fractional day, with some leap years being skipped.) In ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek civilizations a 360 day calendar was common. This seems to be the basis for these years in Daniel. Further reasons for using a 360 day year are given here.

The Scheduled Arrival of the Christ

With this background information it is now fairly simple to calculate when the Christ was to arrive as per Daniel’s riddle. 483 years with 360 days/year will give us:

483 years * 360 days/year = 173 880 days

In terms of our Western calendar this would give us 476 solar years with 25 days left over. (173 880/365.24219879 = 476 with 25 as remainder)

The start point for this calculation was Artaxerxes’ decree which was issued on March 5, 444 BC. Adding 476 solar years to this date brings us to March 5, 33 AD. (There is no year 0, the calendar going from 1BC to 1 AD in one year so arithmetically it is -444 + 476 +1= 33).

If we now take the 25 remaining days and add them to March 5, 33 AD we come to March 30, 33 AD, illustrated in the timeline below. Or as Hoehner (whose calculations I have been following) states

“By adding 25 days to March 5 (444 BC) one comes to March 30 (33 AD), which was Nisan 10. This was the day of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem…

Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ Part VI, pg. 16 1977

The Timeline of Daniel's prophecy of 'sevens' culminating in Jesus Triumphant entry

The Timeline of Daniel’s prophecy of ‘sevens’ culminating in Jesus Triumphant entry


Triumphant Entry of Jesus – That Day

Today as I write this post, it is Palm Sunday, the very day we remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Making the assumptions that we have done above and using some basic arithmetic we find that this is the day that Daniel’s riddle of the ‘sevens’ lands us on. This is the day that Jesus was presented as the King or Christ to the Jewish nation. We know this because Zechariah (who had predicted the name of the Christ) had also written that:

Rejoice greatly! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

The long awaited King would be revealed riding into Jerusalem on a colt with an attending crowed of shouting and rejoicing people. On the day of the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – that very same day predicted by Daniel in his riddle of the ‘sevens’ – Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a colt. Luke records the account.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’…

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:37-42)

In this account Jesus weeps because the people did not recognize the very day predicted in tandem by Zechariah and Daniel. But because they did not recognize this day that the Christ was revealed something totally unexpected would happen. Daniel, in the very same passage where he laid out the riddle of the ‘sevens’, predicted that:

… After the sixty-two ‘sevens’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing…” (Daniel 9:26)

Instead of taking the throne to rule, the Christ would be ‘cut off’ and would have ‘nothing’. In using this phrase ‘cut off’ (some Bibles just translate it ‘will die’) Daniel alludes to that theme of the Branch, that shoot from the stump of Jesse, begun long before by Isaiah, elaborated by Jeremiah, the name predicted by Zechariah and now the time and signature foreseen by Daniel and Zechariah in tandem. This Branch would be ‘cut off’. But how would this Branch be ‘cut off’? We return to Isaiah in our next post to see a vivid description.

1) Reference used throughout is Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ
Part VI: Harold W. Hoehner