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FIRST-PERSON: Dragon-slaying Hobbits and biblical truth

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a village of warrior hobbits. No more than three feet tall or so, they dwelled in caves and hunted down dragons and pygmy elephants with stone weaponry.

I was forced to rub my eyes, shake my head, and check once again that I was reading the Associated Press, and not a supermarket tabloid. But there it was, originally announced in Nature magazine and soon likewise plastered across the pages of newspapers and magazines around the world.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of these little people on the Indonesian island of Flores. They named them Homo floresiensis, but they were quickly nicknamed “Hobbits.” Scientists found remains of Komodo dragons and large rodents that had been cooked in cave fires. Scientists assure us that these little “hominids” died out about 13,000 years ago, and that they were descendents of Homo erectus, the alleged evolutionary ancestor of modern humans.

So how do Christians explain these bones in light of the Book of Genesis? Are not these remains one more blow to a biblical revelation that tells us all humanity descended from one man who was created from the dust, probably less than 10,000 years ago?

Well, no. As a matter of fact, these remains should remind Christians of just how incoherent much of contemporary science is when it comes to questions of human origins.

Scientists right now are debating how to fit the Flores Lilliputians into existing Darwinian schemes of an “out of Africa” evolution of Homo erectus into Homo sapiens. Given these findings, scientists must rewrite their version of the human story, again. This should remind us of how senseless it is to be intimidated by the “facts” of scientific “proof” against a biblical cosmology. Scientific investigations into origins, from abstract theories to dating mechanisms, are based on numerous naturalistic presuppositions and are constantly being revised and updated.

This should cause Christians to assert without embarrassment that the little people of Flores were human beings, descendants of Adam, bearing the image of God. They were smaller than us, but we have encountered pygmy groups before. We can also argue on the basis of biblical revelation that they probably lived much more recently than the archeologists tell us.

The overwhelming proof of weaponry and mastery of fire is also a bit embarrassing to some contemporary scientific theories. This just doesn’t match up with what scientists believe is possible, given the brain size of the Hobbits. You can be sure, that if the incontrovertible remains of cooked Komodo dragons and weapons had not been found, scientists would have portrayed Homo floresiensis as a wandering savage. And now there is the question of how these little people actually got to this isolated island, leading some scientists to speculate that they may have even had watercraft.

This should bring back memories of contemporary science “debunking” the existence of biblical people groups and cities, only to find later archaeological proof of them. It should also cause us to rethink the reigning human story given to us by the scientific establishment. Many of us, including Christians, tend to think of primeval human history in terms of primitive savagery. And yet, Scripture presents us with a counter-story of a technologically advanced early human civilization — able to develop agricultural innovations (Gen 4:2), great cities (Gen 4:17), and towering architectural achievements (Gen 11:4-6). Indeed, as we survey the remnants of earlier civilizations — from Egyptian pyramids to Mayan temples — perhaps we should ask ourselves if early human history was not far more advanced than the naturalists tell us is possible.

There are other factors at work. For hundreds of years local Indonesian legends have told of cave-dwelling little people on the islands, legends scientists ignored as ignorant superstition. Now they know that there is some basis in fact, even thought the scientists still want to date the Flores Hobbits in the too-distant past. Could it be that this demonstrates once again the chronological and technological snobbery of Western science? We assume reflexively that people in the distant past were senseless and that their memories and stories are all just so much nonsense.

But what if we’re wrong? After all, people groups all over the world have “legends” of a global flood, legends scientists dismiss as superstition. Psychologists have joined the fray, arguing that flood “sagas” are part of a collective unconscious mythology or, in one theory, have their roots in the human childhood experience of bedwetting. But what if these stories are so universal precisely because the Flood actually happened? Moreover, what if other ancient “legends” have more veracity than scientists would have us believe?

This pile of little bones serves to remind us that all of us view the cosmos through a grid. Much of the scientific establishment views the evidence through the grid of a worldview that excludes from the beginning the possibility of the supernatural.

Christians, however, must view the cosmos through the grid of a biblical storyline that makes sense of both human dignity and cosmic tragedy. This means that Christians are able to account for phenomena that the grid of naturalism can never see. This means that Christians should never be embarrassed by what contemporary culture ridicules as remnants of an ancient superstitious “saga” of a primeval garden, a talking Serpent, a flaming sword.

But it also means that Christians should survey the world with awe and wonder at the mysterious creativity of a God who designed for us supernovas, waterfalls, electrons, dinosaurs, diamonds, and, yes, perhaps even a Hobbit or two.
Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of the book, “The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective” (Crossway).

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  • Russell D. Moore