Young earth creationists claim, with no thought whatsoever, that the entire world was flooded approximately 4000 years ago, and that our present society arose since that time. This idea is based upon two very mistaken ideas. The first is that humans are infinitely inventive, and the second is that a small number of people can bring a world of technology with them. This essay will dispute that notion.
For a small while, I was essentially the research department for a company. I was told, in effect, go in that room and think deep thoughts. The idea was that I was not to be bothered by day to day activities so I could think. I got no phone calls, was asked to no meetings and consequently, I thought of no new ideas. There was no stimulus. It was boring. I quickly begged my way out of that job. The lesson here is that technology and invention requires intellectual stimulations.
You can see this same phenomenon with the Tasmanians. The Tasmanians were Australian aborigines at the time that the seas rose and cut them off form Australia 8,000 years ago. The small island could really support only about 4000 hunter-gatherers. So these 4000 people were isolated for 8,000 years. Josephine Flood said:
“No other surviving human society has ever been isolated so long or so completely as were Tasmanian Aborigines over the last 8000 years. (The land bridge was gradually inundated between 12000 and 8000 BP?….)” (Flood, 1989, p. 173)
What was the effect of this isolation? A decline in technology. There is an infamous article by William McGrew, an anthropologist, who compared Tasmanian technology with that of the chimpanzee. Mithen writes:
“Bill McGrew, author of the most comprehensive study of chimpanzee material culture, firmly believes that chimpanzee tool use is of considerable complexity. Indeed, in an (in)famous article written in 1987, he directly compared the toolkits of chimpanzees to those of Tasmanian Aborigines and concluded that they were at an equivalent level of complexity. For this comparison McGrew chose to measure complexity by counting ‘technounits’, which is simply an individual component of a tool, whatever material that component is made from and however it is used. So a hoe used by, say, a peasant farmer, comprising a shaft, a blade and a binding, has three technounits, while the suite of computerized robots operated by a modern car worker has perhaps three million technounits.
“When McGrew measured the technounits in the tools of the Tasmanian Aborigines and those of the Tanzanian chimpanzees he found that the mean number of technounits per tool was not substantially different. All chimpanzee tools and most of the Aboriginal tools were made from a single component. The most complex Aboriginal tool, a baited hide, had only four technounits.”(Mithens, 1996, p. 75)
Did the Tasmanians start out this way when the waters rose? No.
“Bone tools were also present at Rocky cape. Seven thousand years ago people here were using a considerable number and variety of bone artefacts: large, rounded tipped points or awls made from macropod shin bones, small, sharp needle-like points (without an eye), broad spatulae, and an assortment of split slivers of bone fashioned ot a point at one end. The people were using one bone tool to every two or three stone ones.
“A remarkable change took place over the next four thousand years: bone tools dropped out of use. By 4000 years ago only one bone tool was being used for every fifteen stone ones, and by 3500 years ago they had disappeared from the Tasmanian toolkit altogether. This disappearance of bone tools in Tasmania about 3000 years ago has been confirmed by the evidence of several other sites in both the north-west and east of the island.” (Flood, 1989, p. 176-177)
after eating fish for many thousands of years the Tasmanians dropped fish from the diet about 3500 years ago. Early explorers were amazed that the Tasmanians did not eat scale fish and did not even seem to regard it as human food. Those who could bring themselves to believe this astonishing fact ascribed it to the extreme primitiveness of Tasmanian culture. Certainly the Tasmanians had no nets or fish-hooks, so it seemed logical to some scholars, steeped in Darwinian evolutionary theory, that these
most primitive representatives of the human race should be unable even to catch fish, one of the basic foods of mankind.
“This concept of a people too far down on the evolutionary ladder to have learnt how to catch fish was not seriously challenged until fish bones were found in the middens of Rocky Cape. Yet fish bones were not at the top, but at the base, of the middens. The Tasmanians had once eaten fish but later gave up this excellent source of food.
“In rocky Cape South Cave there were 3196 fish bones in the lower half of the midden, dated to between 3800 and 8000 years ago, and only one fish bone in the younger, upper half.” (Flood, 1989, p. 179) It seems that even 4000 people was not enough to even maintain the higher level of mainland aboriginal technoculture. Here is why:
“That the simplest material culture should be found among the people who experienced the longest isolation in the world is significant. Rhys Jones sees analogies with the reduction in the number of faunal species on islands that become separated from their parent continents. He considers the 4000 people isolated on Tasmania and divided into several different language groups were too few to maintain indefinitely their Pleistocene culture, and that they were therefore, doomed–‘doomed to a slow strangulation of the mind.’”(Flood, 1989, p. 185)
Ok, now we have seen two examples of what isolation does to technology. Let us consider the situation 8 people, you and seven of your dearest and smartest friends, would face if you were the sole survivors of the global flood. I will show that you couldn’t even reproduce 19th century technology, much less the technology of the 7th millennium BC.
You have landed somewhere, you aren’t sure where. You see land around you. You need the things of daily life, like food, clothing, and shelter. The food you had on that steekin ark for the past year is now molded and rotten. The moisture exhaled by innumerable animals has caused the grain to grow white and fuzzy. Your clothes are wearing out and you need to replace the nice woven cotton and flax linens. So, you need to plant cotton and flax. You figure that it will take about 3 weeks hard work plowing a field to plant the cotton and then it will mature in about 3 months. That is a lot of work, given that you can’t eat cotton. You’re hungry, very hungry.
Quickly you decide that you need to plant food—wheat, barely, corn etc. So you need a plow. Let’s shoot for an iron plow because it is so much more efficient at turning the sod. So, how do I make iron? Well, the seven of us know that we need to get iron ore, and coal. We look around. What does iron ore look like? Which direction do I travel to get coal? And even if I know the answers to those two questions, with what do I haul the coal and iron ore back to this place with? Oh, yeah, I need to build a fire, a kiln to process the ore. How do I do that? Is a mud baked brick kiln enough to make the iron? We are all getting really hungry now. Even if I landed next to a pile of iron ore and coal, with a ready made kiln, will I get iron out if I put all that into the kiln and light the coal? No. There is one item missing which is requisite before you can make iron ore. I won’t tell you what it is, but if you don’t have it, you ain’t making iron.
Ok, lets make a wooden plow. Fine, I need to carve some wood. How do I do that? Oh, I gotta make a stone tool first. Mankind has been working wood with stone tools for two million years, so this should be really easy. If those stupid erectines that lived 2 million years ago could do it so can I. I pick up two stones and smash them together. Nothing. I hit them again. This time they break but there are no sharp edges. One stone broke in two perpendicular to its axis. Do you even know what kind of rocks you need? Some rocks don’t make very good stone tools most don’t. If you don’t know about this issue, you will starve to death.
We are really really hungry now. We decide we can’t wait 3 months for any crop. We have to eat TODAY.
We go searching for food among the few plants that are out there. I eat something everyone else eats something different. George, your best friend, eats something and then dies several hours later. We mentally note that we shouldn’t eat what he ate. We decide to eat only those things which have been eaten with no ill effect. But all of us are feeling a bit queasy. None of the plants we ate seem to agree with us. We don’t know why. But one thing we know: No more experimentation. It might kill us. We get very afraid of novelty and novel cuisine.
We were unaware that plants have toxins and cooking destroys most of the toxins, making the food more nourishing. But we hadn’t tried to make a fire. I guess now is the time. For a year we have been throwing dried dung on to the fire. Without the animals, we have no more of that. We need to make a fire. Do you know how to make a fire from scratch? Do you know how to make a hearth with a flue? Oh, you saw a movie where a guy took a bow with a string and twirled a stick in a hole in a log and things caught fire? What do you mean you don’t have any string? And doing what you saw won’t work to make a fire. You need other things. Do you know what they are? The Tasmanians were reported to have lost the ability to make fire. If fire went out in one village, they had to borrow coals from another in order to restart their fire. Are you going to be like the Tasmanians?
We know that we need to make tools to kill animals and get meat, so back to the stone tools bit. We finally manage to make some kind of something that sorta looks like a stone tool. The only problem was that one of the people did what John Whitaker, a flint tool expert did early in his learning. Our stone tool maker cut two tendons with a flake that shot out of the breaking stone. He won’t be making tools again for a while. Also sharp tiny flakes also got in his eyes. He was unaware of an antler technique to sharpen the stone tool so we are forced to work with this pathetic piece of stone work. Now we need to attach it to a stick to make a spear. We find a dead sapling, strip the leaves and now we have nothing with which to tie the lopsided stone onto the stick. We haven’t learned that one should use tendons from dead animals for this yet. We rip off some of our tattered clothing to tie the stone to the stick. It is loose but it is the best we can do. We can cut a notch in the stick with this miserable stone tool we made.
You want to make a bow and arrow. Do you know where to find the sinew of a dead animal? Could you identify this anatomical part? Do you know how to straighten an arrow after you make it? Do you know how to make a glue to glue feathers on to the tail end (assuming you can get an appropriate feather). If you don’t, you won’t shoot straight. Do you know how to age the wood for the bow? Do you know what type of wood is best for making a bow? If you don’t know all this, you will not be a successful archer or hunter. Even experienced Bushmen can’t fire their arrows more than 25 yards. Can you get that close to prey? Poison tipped arrows would help increase the kill rate but do you know how to make a poison from the plants around you? Can you even identify the plants around you? Primitive peoples take a life time to learn the plants in their area.
We go hunting. We spot some game, but it always runs away before it is within spear throwing distance. We are getting hungry again. One of us hides and when an unsuspecting animal walks nearby, he throws the ‘spear’ which is unbalanced and rotates striking the animal broadside. Obviously we didn’t get the kill with that effort. We don’t know how to balance a spear so it will stay aimed at the target. Do you know how to do this?
We are hungry again. We find a two-day-old dead carcass, with no meat. The lions we released a few days ago ate all the meat. We are disappointed and move on, not knowing that we had just left behind a tasty snack. Do you know what it is that we left behind? Starts with an ‘m’.
Do you like insects? I mean to eat insects? Yuck, you say? Well, you won’t survive. Grasshoppers are one of the most important sources of protein for the Native Americans in the western US.
We are now nearly naked. Its getting a bit embarrassing. You have given up on growing cotton, making a spindle, a loom and weaving your own clothing. You decide that you will tan hides for clothing. You find a dead animal but your stone tool isn’t very sharp and it is tough to cut the skin away. Lets assume you did that ok, Now what do you do with that smelly rotting skin? Wearing such a stinky thing will draw all the scavengers to take a bite out of you. Do you know how to tan hides? Do you know what you must do? Do you know that you must scrape all the fat away? Then what? How do you tan it. I won’t tell you, if you don’t know, you become a naked savage. And if it is cold where you landed, that is just too bad. In a cold winter in Oklahoma you would freeze off some mightily important personal parts.
You had some wheat you took a chance and planted the grains in a sandy soil leaving them to grow while you went hunting. While you are out hunting, the birds, the mice and other critters eat most of your crop and the weeds crowd them out. And even if you get a few grains, do you know how to husk them? Do you know how to grind them? Do you know how to make bread? You still haven’t mastered that fire thing.
Ok, you decide that you will go fishing in the local stream. How are you going to make a hook? Do you know that hooks were one of the later inventions of mankind? What are you going to use for bait? Do you know how to make a net(ya gotta get string first and you haven’t shown that you know where to obtain that first). Do you know what a weir is? Do you know under what conditions they work? If you didn’t have your dictionary to go look up the word weir, you would never have thought of doing that. Do you know how to take spider web and turn it into fishing line? Some primitive peoples do that. But you don’t. You will starve.
In the end, you are reduced to a naked, hungry savage who can barely feed your child. Your diet will not be good or calorically rich. You will not have a balanced diet and may lack certain vitamins. If you and your spouse have too many children you will all die. She from exhaustion from nursing, you from lack of food from the hunt. Hunter gatherers try to have one child every 4 years or so. Even a really good hunter may go days without a kill. Most technologically primitive societies live off the food gathered by the women. Didn’t know that did you. You and your seven friends will most likely die. Seven of you will get appropriate burials. The last of you won’t.
Technology requires specialists, to have specialists one must have a population large enough to create surplus food. That is not the kind of society a post flood society will be like.
If you can’t produce the technology quickly, you probably will never be able to pass on the technology of your previous society to your children. After a couple of generations your grand kids will only have heard rumors of a golden age when men farmed. A few more generations and it won’t matter. No one will believe those stories anyway. The technology of your ancestors will be no more than rumor. The society generated by such a catastrophe will be static, non-experimental (experiments may cost you and the whole tribe, your life).
And you YECs seem to think that it will all go just tickety-boo as they say in the UK. You all think that all you have to do is add water and you have instant pyramids. You have no earthly idea how long it would take for technology to re-appear. It would be millions of years. It would only appear after the population had grown to a sufficiently large number so that there are enough people to have a few inventors. How many people have invented something? Very few. Inventors are a very small group of people and have always been so. Their inventions are then copied throughout the world. That is how technology spreads. But when you have only 8 people (7 after George so thoughtlessly died on us) it is unlikely that anyone would invent something of use. There would be, as Rhys Jones said, the slow strangulation of the mind in a society starting from only 8 people.
Note, added 12-11-04: A friend pointed out a possible YEC response to the above argument. He said that some might think that Noah was able to live long enough to learn all the technological skills. The problem, as my friend points out, is that Noah and company would probably starve while making their first load of iron ore, since they wouldn’t be hunting.
Flood, Josephine “The Archeology of the Dreamtime, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989)
Mithen, Steven, The Prehistory of the Mind, (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996)
Original blogpost here Copyright 2004 G.R. Morton This can be freely distributed so long as no changes are made and no charges are made.