Does Evangelical Christianity Need Fear as a Motivator?

In my 25year life I have encountered numerous instances of Heaven and Hell being spoken of as either a direct punishment or reward for someone depending on how they lived their life.  Let us ignore for a moment that to be considered for "heaven" many views would require that person in question adhere to one specific brand of Jewish carpenter worship or another and assume that is the case.  If that person lives their life with selfish and greedy motives, does not care for their fellow man, covets thy neighbors wii, doesn't honor their founding fathers, rolls on Shabbat, adulterates a murderer, etc, than that person goes to HELL.  On the other hand, perhaps this person avoided the punishment of his/her children for the iniquity of parents to the third and the fourth generation, made only rightful use of the name of god, and only bore TRUTHFUL witness against their friends, then its HEAVEN-time, baby!

 In my case, leave the harp in its case and don’t take the tags off the halo, its going back to that big Wal-Mart in the sky.  Until Google Heaven exists I shall remain spectacle of the existence of a fluffy ethereal realm in which I could one day look down on all those born of my loins and scowl when they sneak a bite of dinner before someone has said grace.  I personally suspect that the concept of eternity experiencing either fire and brimstone or massages and caviar was drummed up as a way for the church to scare people into doing what they wanted, it certainly seem to work that way today.  It’s Santa Clause for adults… don’t be bad and get on the naughty list or santa will bring you coal, but if you do what we tell you all year then you’ll get a &^$*&load; of chocolate in your stocking, never mind that there may have been a good motive for treating your fellow man in a civil fashion BEYOND chocolate.  In the immortal words of Mitch Hedberg, "A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer."

Ok if you’ve read this far you are probably wondering what Im getting at.  Picture this, a crotchety old guy dying painfully and slowly in some shit-hole hospital bed.  He has lived his life for himself striving to achieve the highest standards of Scrooge himself.  He has alienated his family and friends by treating them horridly and essentially violated all the basic humanitarian social values set forth in the 10 commandments and the other general Judeo-Christian beliefs.  I cannot fathom that degree of loneliness and frustration and consider that prospect far more worrisome than some bullshit lava-tube where Satan, Hitler, and most of my 7th grade teachers hang out.  Ok now picture the same old man, surrounded by his family and friends while showing off the scar from a failed surgery to his grandson.  He knows the people he loved will continue to thrive due in no small part to the support and love he gave to them with his whole heart.  This man feels no pain, he has no regrets, and he certainly never needed to be scared of Hell to motivate him to be a good person, his mind is instead focused on a bright future he helped create.  I want to be that man one day.

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.