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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 02 2021

How did life begin?

In spite of centuries of research and hundreds of theories, the origin of life remains one of the greatest challenges with many scientists acknowledging the mechanics of transition from no life to life is “perhaps the fundamental question of biology” (Mind from Matter?, 1986, p. 31).

by Doug Horchak

According to Darwin’s theory of evolution undirected natural causes, based solely on random genetic mutation, are responsible for the origin and development of life. This precludes the possibility of a supernatural Creator, and does not provide a credible explanation for the spontaneous generation of life from nonliving matter.

In more recent decades the growing body of evidence has pointed to a “first cause,” as the most likely explanation for the origin of life. This has given rise to the “intelligent design” movement, which has become over time more focused in their criticisms of Darwinist evolution.

Albert Einstein was also intrigued by the question of human origins and the existence of the universe. He recognized the evidence for an intelligence behind the functioning of the cosmos and the existence of life: “...the harmony of natural law...reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection” (The Quotable Einstein, Alice Calaprice, editor, 1996, p. 151).

In 1999 theoretical physicist Paul Davies, of Australia’s University of Adelaide, wrote The Fifth Miracle to address the origins of life. Professor Davies recounts how the work of Louis Pasteur in the 1860s led to the scientific realization that only living organisms could beget other living organisms. Pasteur’s findings essentially debunked the concept of spontaneous generation, that life could arise spontaneously from nonliving matter.

Davies states: “...Pasteur’s conclusion came into direct conflict with Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin’s celebrated tome On the Origin of Species, which had been published just three years before Pasteur’s experiments, sought to discredit the need for God to create the species by showing how one species can transmute into another. But Darwin’s account left open the problem of how the first living thing came to exist” (1999, p. 83).

In spite of the lack of answers for the origin of life, humanity seems bent on considering only answers from science, which do not allow for a Creator. When one assumes all living things are the product of mindless material forces such as chemical laws, natural selection and random variation, God is excluded from the picture and humans (along with all life) are the accidental product of a purposeless universe.

Some 2,000 years ago the Apostle Paul addressed the world’s alleged wisdom about such fundamental questions: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse...and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind...” (Romans 1:20 and 28).

He later prophesied modern man would depart from acknowledging and accepting the role of the Creator God: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, ...having a form of godliness but denying its power….” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

While the most fundamental questions of science—what is life, and where did it come from—continue to perplex the best minds of secular science, God reveals He not only has the answers to the question of life’s origin, but the solution to the profound question of life’s purpose. We are ultimately promised that “the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5).

Herod the Great

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.