The mystery of the Mummy
Not all science is equally ‘scientific’
Published: 26 April 2011(GMT+10)
(This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 35(2):12–14.)
Scientists have argued a great deal about the cause of death of the famous Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamun.1 For many years, people believed that the boy-king had died from a haemorrhage, following a blow to the head. Some even speculated that he had been murdered.
However, following extensive CT scanning in 2005, a number of experts, including Frank Rhüli of the University of Zurich, concluded that there had been no blow to the head. Instead, it was suggested that the young pharaoh had suffered a break to the left thigh bone, possibly leading to fatal bleeding or infection. Some were more dogmatic, such as experts featured in the National Geographic documentary, King Tut’s Final Secrets. The evidence was unequivocal, they claimed; Tutankhamun clearly died from complications following a broken leg.
Another team of experts, featured in the Discovery Channel documentary, King Tut Unwrapped, came to a different conclusion. The young pharaoh was a deformed, sickly youth who died of malaria they said. The CT scans, they argued, showed that he had diseased bones, a club foot and a cleft palate. Moreover, samples of DNA were said to have tested positive for malaria and blemishes were found on the skin which could have been mosquito bites.
However, in another twist, James Gamble, an orthopaedic surgeon from Stanford University, poured cold water on the deformities theory, claiming that these could have resulted from the mummification process. Two experts from the Bernhard Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg were also sceptical of the malaria theory, arguing that an Egyptian of Tutankhamun’s age would probably have been immune to malaria. Other experts weighed in regarding the DNA tests, claiming that, in the warm environment of the tomb, the DNA would have degraded within a few centuries and that the data collected may have been the result of contamination.
Bob Connolly, a senior lecturer in physical anthropology at Liverpool University, is also sceptical of the weakling/malaria theory. A more likely explanation, he believes, is that he died from a fall from his chariot. According to Connolly, his chest cavity was caved in and he had broken ribs consistent with his having suffered such an accident. Raymond Johnson of the University of Chicago also sees Tutankhamun as a very active youth. Carvings from the Luxor temple, he says, clearly show him engaged in military campaigns and the weapons, chariots and armour found in his tomb show clear signs of use. Frank Rhüli, however, points out that a fatal accident would have damaged other parts of the skeleton such as the backbone and arms.5
All these ‘experts’ cannot be right
All these experts had access to the same data—but came to very different conclusions. This is because the data did not speak for themselves, but had to be interpreted.
All these experts had access to the same data—but came to very different conclusions. This is because the data did not speak for themselves, but had to be interpreted. Although the procedures for analysing the data were objective (CT scans, DNA tests etc.), the conclusions drawn were clearly subjective. The same, of course, is true for our attempts to reconstruct the history of the earth and its plant and animal life. Evolutionists and biblical creationists have the same data but view it very differently. For the evolutionist, the sequence found in the fossil record tells the story of the evolution of life, from microbes to man; but for the creationist it tells the story of the progressive burial of marine and land organisms during the Genesis Flood. For the evolutionist, the DNA code is identical in virtually all organisms because they are descended from a common ancestor, but for the creationist, this is because the Creator wanted to show that life had only one designer. Radioactive dating of the same samples can give wildly different ‘ages’ ranging, for example, from between 1.5 billion and around 6,000 years. For the evolutionist, the 1.5-billion-year result is probably right, because the evolutionary process requires many millions of years to turn microbes into man; for the creationist, the 6,000-year result is probably right, because the Bible teaches that the Earth is young. In each case, the conclusion has much more to do with the spectacles (or world view) through which the data are viewed than the data themselves.
Science and science: Not all science is equally ‘scientific’
The difficulties explaining what happened to Tutankhamun can help us understand the difference between operational (or experimental) science and historical (or forensic) science. Operational science, essentially, relates to knowledge of how the world works, and is gained by observation in the present. Hypotheses are proposed to explain data and then tested, often in a laboratory. Only those hypotheses that are shown to fit the data when rigorously tested, again and again, are deemed to be scientific. A hypothesis is not considered to be part of science because it is proposed by a scientist, or because is it discussed by professors in a TV documentary, or because it relates to observations made using hi-tech equipment. A hypothesis becomes part of mainstream scientific knowledge because repeated attempts to falsify it have failed and it has therefore been demonstrated to be true, beyond reasonable doubt.
Scientists have great difficulty making reliable statements about the remains of an Egyptian pharaoh who lived a few thousand years ago … How, then, can they make dogmatic statements about events they claim occurred millions of years ago?
Historical (or forensic) science is very different. Beliefs about how Earth formed or how life began cannot be tested in a laboratory. This kind of ‘science’ is much more like that practised by a detective who collects clues in order to solve a crime—although it is much more difficult than this. The detective is dealing with events that occurred recently and often receives help from eye-witnesses; there are no human eye-witnesses to testify to the events surrounding the origin of the earth and its plants and animals. Scientists have great difficulty making reliable statements about the remains of an Egyptian pharaoh who lived a few thousand years ago—even though considerable efforts were made to preserve the body. How, then, can they make dogmatic statements about events they claim occurred millions of years ago?
Pythagoras’ equation for calculating the lengths of right-angled triangles has been taught in schools now for many years. Similarly, Boyle’s law describing the behaviour of gases is the same today as when he first stated it, as are Newton’s laws of motion. They have not changed because they were right or required only qualification when they were originally formulated.2 This is one of the characteristics of operational science, the sort of science which employs a rigorous scientific methodology, and is based, not on the subjective opinions of experts, but on repeatable experiments. This kind of science is very powerful, and has led to great advances in knowledge and technology—computers, space shuttles, advanced medical treatments and much more. When theories change significantly from one decade to another, this indicates that they were never based upon that sort of science or that type of scientific methodology in the first place.
The geologist Professor Derek Ager remarked,
“It must be significant that nearly all the evolutionary stories I learned as a student … have now been ‘debunked’.”3
Similarly, the biologist Professor William Provine wrote,
“Most of what I learned of the field [of evolutionary biology] in graduate (1964 – 68) school is either wrong or significantly changed.”4
When the general public hear a scientist saying what ‘science says’ about evolution, they tend to assign the prestige and certainty that are rightly associated with operational science to what are really subjective speculations. All too often they fail to realise that the evolutionary accounts of life are based on a different type of science —which is why they, like theories about Tutankhamun’s death, are constantly changing.
Tut killed by a hippo?
After our main article [Creation 35(2):12–14] had almost gone to press, an item appeared in the magazine Ancient Egypt which raised one further possibility for how Tut died.1 It was written by W. Benson Harer Jr., a retired medical professor who has also published extensively in the Egyptological literature.
He argues that various threads of evidence indicate that the boy king’s thorax was damaged by a hippo bite, while the Pharaoh was fowling in the marshes. Although vegetarian, hippos are fiercely territorial and are known to attack and capsize boats and maul the occupants. Even today, more people are killed in hippo attacks than by any other animal.
- W. Benson Harer Jr., Was Tutankhamun killed by a hippo? Ancient Egypt, June/July 2012, pp. 51–54. Return to text.
- See, for example, Jo Marchant, Death on the Nile, New Scientist 15 January 2011, pp. 42–45. Return to text.
- Newton’s laws, for example, work well at the scales and speeds of everyday life. Return to text.
- Derek V. Ager, The Nature of the Fossil Record, Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 87(2):131–160, 1976. Return to text.
- William B. Provine, A Review of Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science, National Academy of Sciences, 18 Feb 1999, <http://web.archive.org/web/20040709130607/fp.bio.utk.edu/darwin/NAS_guidebook/provine_1.html>, last accessed 26 February, 2011. Return to text.
- Moreover, as pointed out by Egyptologist Patrick Clarke, although a few carvings show a fragment of a battle scene, there is no text to indicate the all-important ‘who, what, when and where?’ that are needed to attach any provenance to these blocks. (Personal communication with author.) Return to text.
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Well done! A very well-presented refutation of the (oft-repeated, but clearly wrong) statement that “the facts speak for themselves”. Keep up the good work.
A great article. The author’s statement: “A hypothesis becomes part of mainstream scientific knowledge because repeated attempts to falsify it have failed and it has therefore been demonstrated to be true, beyond reasonable doubt.” has finally helped me to clarify in my mind what is meant by ‘falsifiability’. I have been searching for clarity on this for ages. Thanks so much.
An excellent article. Describing the differences between operational and forensic science is key to understanding why neither evolution nor creation are provable in the same way the laws and principles of operational science are. This is key to better understanding the entire creation-evolution controversy. From a scientific standpoint, the question then becomes which theory, evolution or creation, makes the most sense in light of the findings of operational science?
I have read the book The Exodus Case which gives much evidence for the boy-king Tut being the first-born son of the Pharoah killed in the Red Sea after the Hebrews has crossed and God made the waters come back and drown the entire Egptian army. In Egyptian history, after the death of this pharoah and son, Pharoah’s wife was desperate because not only was she a widow, but there was no longer any Egyptian army, Hebrew slaves, or heirs to the throne. She writes a letter to the neighboring king and begs him to send her one of his sons to marry and become the Egyptian pharoah which is what happened. Moses’s adopted mother was barren that is why she adopted him. She named him Moses after the God of water which she pulled him out of. There are statues of him and her. Until he mysteriously disappears from Egypitan history. Read the book. It is very fascinating connecting Biblical history with Eyptian history and other histories of the time. Very fascinating and well-documented.
Thank you for your feedback comments on this article. I have a copy of The Exodus Case, as it happens, which I was given a few years ago. Certainly, it’s a well-produced book. However, as I started dipping into it I was concerned to discover that the author had based a lot of his conclusions on the work of the late Ron Wyatt. I regret to say that his work is of dubious credibility as documented by CMI and others.
For instance, the following are listed in an article (Arguments we think creationists should NOT use) under a section on arguments we believe creationists should definitely not use:
• ‘Ron Wyatt has found Noah s Ark’ This claimed Ark shape is a natural geological formation caused by a mud flow.
• ‘Ron Wyatt has found much archaeological proof of the Bible’ There is not the slightest substantiation for Wyatt’s claims, just excuses to explain away why the evidence is missing.
The following is also pertinent, referring as it does to the unreliability of several of Ron Wyatt’s more infamous claims: Has the Ark of the Covenant been found? And Noah s Ark? Pharaoh s drowned army? What about the Garden of Eden?
In relation to your specific points about the boy-Pharaoh Tutankhamun, we sought the advice of Patrick Clarke, someone with expert knowledge of Egyptology and a good friend of CMI. He responded as follows: As a matter of interest, neither Ron Wyatt (a former nurse anaesthetist-turned adventurer) nor Dr. Lennart Möller (a medical research scientist), the author of The Exodus Case, was/is actually qualified in this specific archaeological field. Your original comments are in red and his responses follow, interspersed:
I have read the book The Exodus Case which gives much evidence for the boy-king Tut being the first-born son of the Pharoah killed in the Red Sea after the Hebrews has crossed and God made the waters come back and drown the entire Egptian army.
Möller clearly works from the Egyptian conventional chronology (CC), employing advisors such as Kenneth Kitchen and Manfred Bietek. This will explain why Tutankhamun appears in this book at the time claimed. In the CC, he is dated to c. 1340, but there is a great deal of flexibility in conventional dating (and revised chronologies at present) and it is easy to see how Möller can shoe-horn Tutankhamun into his required timeframe.
If Tutankhamun was the Pharaoh’s first-born, logically his father would have been Akhenaten (aka Amenhotep IV). Möller’s thesis goes against the evidence. The majority of the Amarna Letters are of correspondence between Egypt and its vassals or neighbours and cover the reigns of Amenhotep III, Akhenaton and the early years of Tutankhamun. No mention has been found in these diplomatic exchanges of the grievous loss of a crown prince; such an event would have triggered diplomatic responses of sympathy and grief.
Tutankhamun is known to have led campaigns against Nubia, penetrating as far south as Nubia and Amurru in the north. Talatat with a clear provenance to Tutankhamun were discovered in the Karnak Temple’s second pylon, and that these blocks, both small and large, came from a temple of Tutankhamun, called “The Mansion of Nebkheperure, Beloved of Amun, Founder of Waset”. The scenes from these blocks indicate that this was Tutankhamun’s mortuary temple, completed after his death as a memorial by his successor Ay. This temple was later dismantled in the reign of Horemheb, Tutankhamun’s former senior military commander, for reuse as infill in his ceremonial pylon.
To date, two sets of battle reliefs from Tutankhamun’s mortuary temple are known, one set depicts a Nubian campaign, and a larger group depicting several scenes of Tutankhamun in a chariot leading the Egyptian forces against a Syrian city. Other scenes depict the king receiving prisoners, plunder, and the severed hands of the enemy dead. Another set of blocks detail a royal flotilla returning to Egypt, with a bound Syrian prisoner suspended in a cage from the mast spar of Tutankhamun’s ship. Sections of a concluding scene show the king offering prisoners and plunder to Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. Prior to this discovery, it was assumed that Seti I from the 19th Dynasty invented this style of battle narrative, but it is now clear that this tradition goes back at least to Tutankhamun in the late 18th Dynasty, and possibly much earlier.
The historical implications of these blocks are profound. Reliefs in the private tomb of Horemheb at Saqqara show scenes of Syrian and Nubian prisoners being offered to Tutankhamun, including a scene of a military camp. The details from the Tutankhamun mortuary temple battle narrative imply that these were accurate renderings of real campaigns. Egyptian art during this period are renowned for their accuracy. That Tutankhamun appears in these scenes indicates that the he led these campaigns and was far from being the sickly wimp as so often portrayed.
The recent body scan showed that Tutankhamun’s death was the result of a serious injury his leg which led to a fatal infection. It is clear from the recently discovered blocks that the young king was considerably more active than previously believed with the possibility that his military expeditions may ultimately led to the loss of his life.
In Egyptian history, after the death of this pharoah and son, Pharoah’s wife was desperate because not only was she a widow, but there was no longer any Egyptian army, Hebrew slaves, or heirs to the throne. She writes a letter to the neighboring king and begs him to send her one of his sons to marry and become the Egyptian pharoah which is what happened.
The above comments cut this argument down. Besides, the Pharaoh referred to here must be Akhenaten, and his wife was the famous beauty, Nefertiti. I know of no record that shows Nefertiti writing to non-Egyptian rulers begging for a husband. However, Tutankhamun’s wife, Ankhesenamun, did write to a foreign ruler pleading for a husband; the ruler was the famous Hittite king, Suppiluliuma. The possible synchronisms between the Hittites, the immediate pre-Monarchy period, the Israelite Monarchy and late 18th and the 19th Dynasties are hard to ignore. The research is ongoing.
Moses’s adopted mother was barren that is why she adopted him. She named him Moses after the God of water which she pulled him out of. There are statues of him and her. Until he mysteriously disappears from Egypitan history.
Supporters of the revisionist Velikovskian Inspired Chronology (VIC) frequently point to their preferred adoptive Egyptian mother of Moses as being Sobekneferure, daughter of Amenemhet III, who reigned some 450 years before Tutankhamun in the CC. In Down’s revision the gap between Moses/Sobekneferure and Tutankhamun is c. 700 years (even within my research the gap is c. 500 years)! There are no statues of Moses, with or without Sobekneferure that have been positively identified. According to Scripture, Moses very publicly disappears from Egyptian history at the Exodus — no mystery there!
Read the book. It is very fascinating connecting Biblical history with Eyptian history and other histories of the time. Very fascinating and well-documented.
The book may well be fascinating, but that doesn’t make it correct. There are still many questions left unanswered regarding this fascinating historical period; less hastily written and more scholarly investigated works will, in the long term, be found to be far more productive.
I trust you have found this information helpful. You will find much more of interest by visiting the Archaeology Questions and Answers section of our website’s Topics page.
“This is because the data did not speak for themselves, but had to be interpreted.”
Shouldn´t this be applied to the Scrptures? They are data too.
The point the author was making is that scientific data are understood in the light of theory. In the case of the origins debate, one’s beliefs about ultimate origins represent a comprehensive worldview so that the data (be they fossils, sequences of DNA etc.) are interpreted in a manner that is consistent with that framework.
All of us require an ultimate reference. For the Christian, this is the Bible. It is entirely logical, given the premise that the Bible is an accurate revelation of the Creator God (our fundamental presupposition or axiom), to treat its historical statements as factually true. Furthermore, this biblical worldview logically entails that our scientific investigations are worth pursuing because the Creator’s universe is intelligible and its laws are consistent; thus scientific investigation is possible because we can assume, from a biblical perspective that things to not behave arbitrarily.
For the Christian to treat the Bible as merely data would be to assume that there is some higher standard than the Bible; i.e. it is no longer ultimate or an absolute reference after all. For this reason, I cannot treat the Bible merely as data. Is this circular reasoning? Well, the truth is that all people must argue with reference to some immovable, unquestioned standard. Once we try to justify/verify this standard it is no longer an absolute in our eyes.
The Bible should be the Christian’s final authority (our ultimate reference), including its teaching on Creation in the book of Genesis (compare Proverbs 1:7; 2 Corinthians 2:5). For many people, however, the ‘fact’ of evolution/millions of years is axiomatic. Thus, a degree of circularity is unavoidable for all of us. The real question, then, is whether the viewpoint that each person has is fallacious or not. You’ll notice that, in the last paragraph, I was arguing that the Biblical worldview is the only one that really gives the foundation for logic, laws and science. In other words, far from this presupposition (that the Bible is not merely data but ultimate truth) being arbitrary, there are good supporting reasons why it is a valid starting point. However, non-biblical (and especially atheistic) worldviews end up being self-refuting; e.g. materialism (including the belief that matters is all there is) cannot be proved logically because laws of logic are, by definition, immaterial. In order to prove materialism, one would need to borrow/steal laws of logic from the Biblical worldview (which alone provides the basis for such laws)–refuting the very thing one set out to prove.
I trust that this engages with the point you were making.
I love this article, and plan to use it in my discussions with evolutionists. However, I do have a problem with the frequently repeated creationist claim that “the DNA code is identical in virtually all organisms because … the Creator wanted to show that life had only one designer.” This seems highly unlikely to me. God, who sees the end from the beginning, already knew, when he created life, hat the DNA code would be discovered by man during a period of time when most scientists were either atheists or deists who believed in a single creator God. God would not have chosen one method of creation (similar DNA) over another (dissimilar DNA or a variety of non-DNA molecules) just to keep scientists from drawing the incorrect conclusion that there were multiple creators.
I sincerely doubt that any modern scientist who was Christian, Jewish, or Islamic would begin to question his faith just because animals turned out to be more different on the inside than they are on the outside. If that was His motivation, he made a serious error, because it is a fact that many believers are indeed questioning their faith because of the similarities. No. The similarities are due (in part) to the fact that God is efficient. He would have chosen to repeat similar patterns in different creatures even if He knew man would never discover those similarities. All engineers know it is better to take an existing design and modify it than to design each new product from scratch. Why have hundreds of different letters when you can create an almost infinite variety of words with only 26 or less? Also, we share the same world, breathe the same air, eat the same foods, and therefore have to share the kinds of similarities we see in order to survive. I know you know all this, but I felt it needed pointing out because I imagine most evolutionists feel the same way about the “same DNA means same creator” argument as I do. We need to emphasize all the other reasons why we have to be so similar on the inside even when we look completely different on the outside. Thanks for letting me voice my objection. God bless you, and keep up the great work you are doing for the Lord.
Thanks for your feedback.
Creationists need to respond to the evolutionists’ argument that ‘homologies’, such as common anatomy and biological universals (e.g. DNA, left-handed amino acids, ATP), provide strong evidence for evolution. One of the most helpful contributions to this discussion has come from Walter ReMine, author of The Biotic Message. ReMine argues that life has been purposely designed (1) to make clear that it is the product of a single designer and (2) to resist naturalistic (evolutionary) explanations. In order to achieve (1), the designer unified the natural world by incorporating identical features across all organisms and similar features across many organisms. Even man is seen to be the product of this same designer, being so close in many respects to the apes. However, despite the vacuous claims of the secularists, scientists cannot point to natural processes which appear to be remotely capable of giving rise to the complexity seen in the natural world; sequences of fossil transitional forms are conspicuous by their absence; and the so called ‘homologous structures’ often develop through totally different embryonic processes. This fulfils (2) above.
Recently, I heard Jonathan Sacks (UK’s Chief Rabbi) argue that the ubiquitous nature of DNA in all life was irrefutable evidence for evolution. He is, however, quite wrong. The use of DNA as the carrier of genetic information unifies life and fulfils (1) above. The fact that there are some organisms that utilise a different DNA code (some of their codons coding for different amino acids) fulfils (2) above. If one organism evolved into another with a different code, all the messages already encoded would be scrambled, just as written messages would be jumbled if typewriter keys were switched.
The fact that the DNA code, utilising four letters and three letter words, is an optimal design in terms of information storage, translation and accuracy of information transfer, also fulfils (2) above –see Werner Gitt, In the Beginning was Information, pp. 94, 95. This is because, to evolve into the optimal form, different variations of the code would have to be tried (and favoured or rejected by natural selection). As explained above, this is totally unrealistic—unless there were numerous simultaneous changes in the writing and reading processes which is so improbable as to be absurd.
I hope this helps.