In many respects, this question can’t be adequately addressed unless we examine a more fundamental question, “Where do humans come from?”
In the West, influenced by a Judeo-Christian worldview, the response to this question was largely based on the first two chapters of Genesis. Namely, human beings were created as a primordial pair, made in God’s image. And all humanity ultimately descended from a literal, historical Adam and Eve.
This view of humanity prevailed in the Judeo-Christian world until the early 1870s with the publication of Charles Darwin’s detailed work on human origins, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.
Darwin proposed that humanity evolved through a process of descent with modification from an ancestor shared with apes. As he put it, “In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some apelike creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term ‘man’ ought to be used.”1
Darwin saw evidence that human beings are nothing more than animals—certainly not the direct product of divine activity. He believed humankind differs only in degree and not in kind from apes.
For many Christians, Charles Darwin did the unthinkable: he interpreted humanity in a fully mechanistic and materialistic fashion. According to this view, all of human nature, not just humanity’s physical makeup, emerged under the auspices of natural selection. Darwin regarded humanity’s mental powers and intellectual capacity, as well as moral sense and religious beliefs, as evolution’s invention.
The scientific community claims support for human evolution from the fossil record. Paleontologists have unearthed many hominid fossils (and accompanying archeological remains) throughout East, Central, and South Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. These specimens encompass a wide-range of species. According to evolutionary biologists, these hominids fill in the evolutionary tree and clarify the pathway human evolution took over the last 6 million years.
Molecular geneticists claim another type of fossil evidence in support of human evolution: namely, the molecular fossils recently found in the genomes of humans, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and the great apes. These “fossils” take on the form of structural features of genomes and DNA sequences shared among related organisms. Similarities and differences in genomic architecture and DNA sequences presumably reveal the evolutionary relatedness of humans and apes (in fact, all life) and provide details about their evolutionary history. Particularly compelling are the shared DNA sequences that appear to be nonfunctional now, but possess features that indicate that they at one time had utility. Presumably, random physical, chemical, and/or biochemical events rendered these functional components of the genome into useless artifacts. These features were then retained as the various lineages diverged from a common ancestor.
On the weight of these two lines of evidence, some Christians feel that overwhelming proof for human evolution exists and that it is now necessary to abandon the historic Christian view of human origins. Instead, they propose the Church adopt the view that God used evolutionary mechanisms to create (theistic evolution or evolutionary creation).
However, many evangelicals and conservative believers remain reluctant to embrace this proposal. First, they feel that abandoning the historic Christian view of human origins in favor of evolutionary creationism undermines key Christian ideas and doctrines and yields a narrative that doesn’t square with the biblical creation accounts.
Also a significant amount of skepticism exists within these circles about the capacity of evolutionary mechanisms to account exclusively for life’s origin and the entirety of life’s history (including the origin of humanity).
Does Another Option Exist?
Is it possible to develop a human origins model that incorporates the latest scientific advances while retaining the historic Christian view of humanity’s creation? Over the past decade or so, I have been working on this very question and proposed (along with astronomer Hugh Ross) a creation model for human origins that seeks to integrate both the scientific data and the biblical creation texts into a single framework.2
This approach gives biblical information equivalent weight to the results of scientific studies and aims to include both sources of information in a single coherent model that accounts for all the available data.
Our approach also departs from the strict methodological naturalism that undergirds the modern scientific enterprise, but does not abandon the scientific method that is central to science. This approach is also willing to depart from the strict adherence to the evolutionary paradigm that, too, is a common stalwart of modern science.
The process of building our model begins with identification of all relevant Bible passages that describe God’s creative work in bringing humans into existence, as well as those passages that recount early human history. Once all relevant Scripture is collated, application of sound exegetical techniques helps form the most plausible interpretations (admittedly for some passages several plausible interpretations exist). Using the historical-grammatical method, the origins passages are examined side by side with other relevant texts. All Scriptures that deal with humanity’s creation can then be integrated to form a comprehensive picture.
The biblical scenario for humanity’s origin and spread is then recast in scientific terms. As a result, it is possible to develop a set of predictions that logically flow from the model, rendering the model testable. It is also dynamic. Considerable freedom exists within the creation model’s framework for adjustments and fine-tuning as scientists and theologians make new discoveries and gain fresh insight.
Key Human Origins Passages
The key biblical passages that establish the historic Christian view of humanity’s origin and also provide the framework for our creation model include:
|Genesis 1:26–27, 2:7, 2:21–22||These passages teach that God directly intervened to create de novo the first humans—as an original pair—uniquely made in His image.|
|Genesis 3:20; Acts 17:24–26||According to these passages all humanity descended from a single primordial pair.|
|Genesis 5:13; Luke 3:23–38; Mark 10:6; Romans 5:12–19; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22||These passages treat Adam (and, consequently, Eve) as a real, historical person. Not only is Adam mentioned in the genealogy of Genesis 5, but also in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus Christ. Mark 10:6 indicates that Jesus thought of Adam and Eve as real people. Likewise, Paul viewed Adam as a real person as well.|
An Old-Earth Creationist Model for the Origin of Humanity
The key tenets of our model are derived from the above passages and include the following ideas:
- Humanity is traceable back to one woman and one man.
- Humanity’s early population size was relatively small.
- Humanity originated in a single location in or near the Middle East (the Garden of Eden).
- Humanity’s origin occurred recently.
- Humanity spread around the world from in or near the Middle East.
- Human culture (which reflects the image of God) appears and expands explosively in the archeological record from the time of humanity’s origin.
- Humans share anatomical, physical, biochemical, and genetic similarities with the extinct hominids, also with great apes and other animals.
- Humans are behaviorally distinct (in ways that reflect God’s image) from the earlier hominids, the great apes, and other animals.
The central question for our project: Is it possible to square these ideas with the latest scientific insight into the origin of humanity?
Scientific Insights in Human Origins: Molecular Anthropology
One of the most exciting advances in human origins research has been the use of DNA sequence data to gain insight into the origin and early history of humanity.3 A number of genetic markers have been employed toward this end including: genetic heterogeneity; Mt DNA; Y-chromosomal DNA; pseudogenes; HERVs; SINE DNA; microsatellite DNA; and minisatellite DNA. Linkage disequilibrium has also been used to develop an understanding of human origins. Another rather inventive approach has been the use of the genetic variability of human parasites (such as the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, the JC virus, and the bacterium Helicobacter pylori) as a proxy for human genetic diversity. Each parasite studied represents an opportunity to corroborate independently the studies based on human genetic markers.
Collectively these studies indicate that humanity originated recently (around 150,000 years ago, though there is significant uncertainty in the date), from a relatively small population (perhaps as small as a few hundred) from a single location (East Africa).
Of particular interest are the results of Mt DNA and Y-chromosomal studies that trace humanity’s origin (through the maternal and paternal lineages, respectively) to single ancestral sequences referred to as “Mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosomal Adam.”
These results have helped establish the Out-of-Africa model as the most prevalent explanation for the origin of humanity, largely supplanting Multiregionalism.
Evolutionary biologists interpret these results to indicate that a relatively large population of humans suffered a catastrophic collapse. When this occurred, genetic diversity was lost and the first humans went through a genetic bottleneck. After suffering the population collapse, the humans who survived are thought to have experienced rapid population growth and expansion as they migrated around the planet. Accordingly, the genetic markers of the population collapse remain imprinted on today’s human population groups in the form of limited genetic variation. They theorize that the passage of humanity through the genetic bottleneck, perhaps as recently as 150,000 years ago, creates the appearance that humanity arose from a small original population.
Along the same lines, evolutionary biologists are quick to assert that Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam were not the first humans. Rather, according to them, many ‘Eves’ and ‘Adams’ existed." Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam consisted of a number of individuals who shared a common haplotype. These two haplotypes were the lucky ones that just happened to survive. The genetic lines of the other first humans were lost over time.
Still, as an old-earth creationist, I find the concept of Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam intriguing. Is it possible to reconcile the data interpreted in the context of the Out-of-Africa model to the view of humanity’s origin espoused by the historic Christian faith?
Some might conclude that reconciliation isn’t possible. But when the scientific and biblical data are carefully considered there is a close congruence between the biblical and scientific account of human origins.
As I discuss in Who Was Adam?, a date for humanity’s origin around 150,000 years ago is not necessarily incompatible with the biblical account of human origins. Some Bible interpreters treat the genealogies in Genesis 5 (Adam to Noah) and Genesis 11 (Noah to Abraham) as exhaustively complete chronologies and have attempted to determine the date for Adam and Eve’s creation from them. This approach, however, is questionable for several reasons. The Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 genealogies were not intended as chronometers, but, like all genealogies found in Scripture, were meant to communicate theological truths.4
The range of meaning for the Hebrew words translated as “father” (’āb) and “son” (bēn) can include “ancestor” and “descendant,” respectively.5 Similarly, the Hebrew word translated as “begot” or “become the father of” can mean to father an individual, or to bring forth a lineage.6 In Hebrew thought, a father is not only the parent of his child, but also the parent of all his child’s descendants. According to K. A. Kitchen, the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 could be read as, “A fathered [P, who fathered Q, who fathered R, who fathered S, who fathered T, who fathered . . .] B.” Genesis 5 and 11 could then be read as “A fathered the lineage culminating in B, and after fathering the line, lived X years.”7
It is also important to keep in mind that dates for humanity’s origin derived from coalescence analysis and molecular clocks are notoriously imprecise. Calibration of molecular clocks is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.8 Researchers simply cannot determine with any real accuracy mutation rates and changes in these rates over time. Scientists typically must estimate the likely high and low values for mutation rates. The dates for humanity’s origin extracted from genetic data of human population groups must be regarded as crude estimates, not ironclad conclusions. One researcher noted that molecular clocks are best thought of as “sun dials” not “stopwatches.”9
The bottom line: There is no reason to regard the scientific dates for the origin of humanity to be in conflict with the biblical account.
What about the location of humanity’s origin? Does an African origin of humanity conflict with the biblical account? Not necessarily.
The Garden of Eden’s location has been the subject of endless debate throughout church history. While the debate still is not fully resolved, most theologians agree the garden was located in one of two adjacent regions. With the land later called Israel as the frame of reference, Genesis 2:8 describes the garden’s location as “east, in Eden.” This implies that the garden was contained within a larger region called Eden.10
The mention of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers indicates the garden’s location within Mesopotamia (Genesis 2:4). However, the Pishon and Gihon rivers (also noted) are unknown. They may have been smaller river channels, part of the Tigris and Euphrates systems,11 or they may have disappeared becoming dry river beds.12 Along these lines, K. A. Kitchen argues that these four rivers came together in Mesopotamia to form a single stream that ran into the Garden of Eden. Based on Kitchen’s analysis the rivers are listed, starting with the Pishon (a dried-up river) located in a southwesterly direction, proceed in a counter-clockwise fashion across the east to the Gihon (also dried-up) north to the Tigris, and finally northwest to the Euphrates. Kitchen proposes that the Garden of Eden locates to the north end of the Persian Gulf and is now submerged under water.13
Alternatively, the Pishon and Gihon may be references to the Blue and White Nile. Part of the support for this view comes from Genesis 2:13, which states that the Gihon “winds through the entire land of Cush.” In the Old Testament, Cush (the land) equates to Ethiopia, but it can also refer to Kassites, descendants of the patriarch Cush. The Kassites lived in Mesopotamia.14
Some biblical scholars hold that the Garden of Eden was most probably somewhere within Mesopotamia, but its boundaries may have extended into north and east Africa. Considering this interpretation, Cush may well have been Ethiopia. If this identification is accurate then the scientific and biblical data harmonize.
What if the Garden of Eden is confined exclusively to Mesopotamia? The data that locates humanity’s origin to Africa still need not be seen as problematic for a biblical model. Without question, African populations are humanity’s oldest (not only because of genetic diversity, but also because African DNA sequences encompass DNA sequences from all other human population groups). This inclusion, however, does not mean these groups originated in Africa. When molecular anthropologists use genetic data to locate humanity’s origin (and spread), they assume that the contemporary location of population groups represents their location throughout human history. This supposition remains open to question, particularly because many human population groups have migrated as much as thousands of miles throughout their history.
Did humanity originate from two individuals, a primordial pair? From my perspective, I think that the data from molecular anthropology squares with the traditional Christian view of human origins on this point. As already discussed, from an evolutionary perspective, it looks as if humanity passed through a genetic bottleneck. As I argue in Who Was Adam?, however, the genetic bottleneck is a concept embedded within the evolutionary paradigm. From a creation model standpoint, the limited genetic diversity of humanity doesn’t reflect population collapse, but is viewed as a signature for a creation event.
I also argue in Who Was Adam? the fact that all humans can trace their ancestry to a single mitochondrial DNA sequence indicates that humanity originated from a single woman. That is Mitochondrial Eve was the biblical Eve. (The corresponding reasoning would also apply to Y-chromosomal Adam.)
Others have challenged this interpretation, however, arguing that the genetic data indicates that humanity arose from thousands of individuals, not two." The chief basis for this claim comes from estimates of the ancestral population size of humans based on genetic diversity.
It is possible to estimate the effective population size of any ancestral group from genetic diversity of present-day populations if the mutation rate is known. As discussed in Who Was Adam?, a number of these types of studies do indeed indicate that humans stem from a small population, on the order of a few hundred to a few thousand.
Skeptics of the traditional reading of the biblical account of human origins accept these results uncritically. Again, they argue that the data indicate that humanity experienced a genetic bottleneck. Consequently, humanity arose from the thousands of survivors, not a primeval pair.
Skeptics also point to other methods for modeling the ancestral population size that do not depend on mutations, but on other processes to generate genetic diversity.15 Studies employing these techniques, too, seem to indicate that humanity arose from population sizes that were on the order of a few thousand individuals.
A number of recent studies, however, show that these methods are not good predictors of population size.16 In fact, in two instances—one involving Mouflon sheep and the other Przewalski’s horses—when the original population size was known, the genetic diversity measured generations later was much greater than expected based on the models.17
In the face of this challenge, it is important to recognize that the population sizes generated by these methods are merely estimates, not hard and fast values. The reason: the mathematical models are highly idealized, generating differing estimates based on a number of factors. As a case in point consider two studies discussed in Who Was Adam? One, reported in 2003 by a Russian and U.S. research team, examined DNA sequence elements called short tandem repeats at 377 locations in the human genome for 1,056 individuals that represented 52 population groups. On the basis of this analysis, they concluded that humanity originated from a single point of origin (apparently Africa), from a small population (~2,000 or less) between 71,000 and 142,000 years ago." Although this conclusion was in line with that of an earlier study of short tandem repeats, the population size estimate from the earlier study was around 500 individuals." The reason for the difference was in part the differing sample sizes and number of locations in the human genome that were studied.
Did humanity originate from a single pair? Even though population estimates indicate that humanity originated from several hundred to several thousand individuals based on mathematical models, it could well be that these numbers overestimate the original numbers for the first humans.
Given how poorly these population size models perform, and noting that humanity can trace its origin to a single ancestral mitochondrial DNA sequence (which, again, I interpret as a single individual), it is hard to argue that science has falsified the notion that humanity descended from a primordial pair.
And it is important to note that human origination from a small population is consistent with the existence of a historical Adam and Eve who gave rise to all of humanity. After their creation, the biblical text teaches that they produced many sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4). Given the limitations of the methods, could it be that the population estimates are reporting on the population structure of humans some time after their creation, when the population would have been small, on the order of a few thousand?
Scientific Insights in Human Origins: Comparative Genomics
One of the biggest challenges to the historic Christian faith are the shared molecular fossils found in corresponding locations within the genomes of humans and the great apes. For many people, the only way to make sense of these molecular fossils is in the context of the evolutionary paradigm. Accordingly, these shared features were found in the genomes of common ancestors and were retained after the evolutionary lineages diverged.
But humans’ and great apes’ shared molecular fossils point to common descent only if certain assumptions are true: first, the shared structures and sequences of genomes are not functional, and, second, the events that created these features are rare, random, and non-repeatable. Another assumption in play is that no mechanisms other than common descent (vertical gene transfer) exist that can generate shared features in genomes.
As it turns out, a number of recent studies raise questions about the validity of these assumptions. For example, evolutionary biologists claim that synteny (the ordering of genes along a chromosome) reflects the degree of evolutionary relatedness.18 But there are examples where this relationship doesn’t hold.19 Other studies have shown that the location of genes along the length of the chromosome has functional significance, and therefore could be understood as intentionally designed.20
Over the course of the last decade or so, molecular biologists and molecular geneticists have come to discover that most classes of “junk DNA” have function.21 It is beyond the scope of this paper to describe these discoveries. I refer interested readers to my books Who Was Adam? and The Cell’s Design.
It turns out that many of the events that alter genomes’ structures and DNA sequences are not rare and random necessarily. For example, biochemists have known for quite some time that mutations occur in hotspots and that transitions happen at a higher frequency than transversions. Recent work also indicates that transposon insertion and intron insertion occur at hotspots, and gene loss is repeatable.22
New studies also reveal that horizontal gene transfer can mimic common descent. As it turns out, this phenomenon is not confined to bacteria and archaea, but has been observed in higher plants and animals as well, via a vector mediated pathway or organelle capture.23
In light of these discoveries, is it possible to make sense of the shared genomic architecture and DNA sequences within the framework of a creation model? I think it is with both the biblical text and the views of the eminent biologist Sir Richard Owen as a guide.
Genesis 2:7 describes the creation of Adam and states that God “formed the man from the dust of the ground.” The verb “formed” is translated from the original Hebrew verb yāṣar, which means “to form,” “to fashion,” or “to produce.” Genesis 2:19 uses yāṣar to describe God’s work to form “out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.” Together, these verses indicate that both man and animals were fashioned by the Creator from the same substance and design template.
It follows, then, that anatomical, physiological, biochemical, and genetic similarities should exist between humans and other animals, including the “99% genetic similarity” between humans and chimpanzees. In other words, shared features reflect common design, not common descent.
And yet, according to Genesis 2:7, only Adam was animated with the divine breath, implying that there is something distinct about humans. Genesis 1:26–27 (and 5:12) teaches that human beings alone were made in God’s image. As a result, humans display unique nonphysical characteristics that reflect that image.
It stands to reason that significant physical differences will also exist between humans and other animals—variations that provide the biological support for humanity’s likeness to God.
In light of this discussion, it is interesting to note that prior to Darwin, eminent biologist Sir Richard Owen interpreted homologous structures (and, consequently, related organisms) as manifestations of an archetype, not the products of descent with modification.24 Darwin later replaced Owen’s hypothetical archetype with a common ancestor. But the key point is that it is possible to conceive of an alternative interpretation of shared biological features, if one is willing to allow for the operation of a Creator within the history of life.
I see the notion of a Creator producing life-forms that adhere to a common blueprint—an archetype—to be consistent with the creation of humanity and the animals described in Genesis 2.
That is, it is possible to propose a model that accounts for the shared features of genomes from a creation perspective. What follows is the framework for such a model. The assumption that undergirds this model is that a Creator is responsible for life’s origin and history. As such, the genomes of organisms have been created via God’s direct intervention. But once created, genomes are subjected to physical, chemical, and biochemical events that can induce changes in their structure.
This model explains the similarities among organisms’ genomes in one of two ways:
- Reflecting the work of a Creator who deliberately designed similar features in genomes according to: (1) a common function; or (2) a common blueprint.
- Reflecting the outworking of physical, chemical, or biochemical processes that (1) occur frequently; (2) are nonrandom; and (3) are reproducible. These processes cause the independent origin of the same features in the genomes of different organisms. (Along these lines, it is also interesting to note that researchers have discovered that horizontal gene transfer mimics the genomics signature for common ancestry.)
Our model also explains genomes’ differences in one of two ways:
- Reflecting the work of a Creator who deliberately designed differences in genomes with distinct functions.
- Reflecting the outworking of physical, chemical, or biochemical processes.
In other words, our model can account for similarities and differences in the genomes of organisms as either the deliberate work of a Creator or via natural-process mechanisms that alter the genomes after creation.
Scientific Insights in Human Origins: Archeological Studies
One of the key ideas of the historic Christian faith and a key aspect of our model is the notion that human beings are made in God’s image. Scripture doesn’t explicitly state what the image of God is. Over the centuries, theologians have discussed and debated this concept. Some take the image of God to describe humanity’s resemblance to God. Others take it to refer to humanity’s relational capacity, while some theologians think that the image of God allows humans to function as God’s representatives or viceroys on Earth.25 A consensus of these three approaches identifies four characteristics 26
- Human beings possess a moral component. They inherently understand right and wrong and have a strong, innate sense of justice.
- Humans are spiritual beings who recognize a reality beyond this universe and physical life. Mankind intuitively acknowledges the existence of God and has a propensity towards worship and prayer.
- Human beings relate to God, to themselves, to other people, and to other creatures. There is a relational aspect to God’s image.
- Humanity’s mental capacity reflects God’s image. Human beings possess the ability to reason and think logically. They can engage in symbolic thought. People express themselves with complex, abstract language. They are aware of the past, present, and future. Human beings display intense creativity through art, music, literature, science, and technical inventions.
According to the historic Christian faith, much of human behavior ultimately stems from the image of God. Because the archeological record is the product of behavior and activity, it supplies the means to probe for the image of God. Artifacts that result from reason, symbolic thought, technical inventiveness, and artistic, musical, and religious expression will reflect the image of God. Because our model views the hominids as animals (see below), it predicts that such image-of-God artifacts will make their first and only appearance in the archeological record alongside human remains.
While artifacts are found with hominids that precede human beings in the fossil record, our model maintains that they will differ fundamentally from those associated with the first true humans. The archeological remains that coincide with hominids should indicate the absence of image-of-God behavior.
Without question, hominids living as long ago as 2 million years employed tools and possessed a “culture” of sorts. Still, their crude technology and simple lifestyle remained static for hundreds of thousands of years at a time. When new modes of technology and culture appear in the archeological record, the advances generally represent relatively small steps upward, followed by long periods of stasis. Even as recently as 100,000 years ago, the hominids used remarkably unsophisticated technology. But at 40,000 years ago (based on the archeological record in Europe), something quite amazing happened. According to paleoanthropologist Christopher Stringer:
For millennia upon millennia, we [hominids] had been churning out the same forms of stone utensils, for example. But about 40,000 years ago, a perceptible shift in our handiwork took place. Throughout the Old World, tool kits leapt in sophistication with the appearance of Upper Paleolithic style implements. Signs of use of ropes, bone spear points, fishhooks and harpoons emerge, along with sudden manifestations of sculptures, paintings, and musical instruments. . . . We also find evidence of the first long-distance exchange of stones and beads. Objects made of mammal bones and ivory, antlers, marine and freshwater shells, fossil coral, limestone, schist, steatite, jet, lignite, hematite and pyrite were manufactured. Materials were chosen with extraordinary care: some originated hundreds of miles from their point of manufacture . . . It is an extraordinary catalogue of achievements that seem to have come about virtually from nowhere—though obviously they did have a source. The question is: What was it?27
Though Stringer sees an evolutionary connection between modern humans and the hominids that predate them in the fossil record, the archeological record displays something other than a gradual evolutionary emergence of human culture. Rather, the record’s defining characteristic is a veritable explosion of civilization. This eruption is considered anthropology’s “big bang.”
I see the sociocultural big bang as a signature for God’s intervention, denoting the creation of the first humans, creatures that uniquely bear God’s image. Our model predicts that evidence for behavior reflecting God’s image should appear abruptly in the archeological record and should correlate exclusively with the appearance of humankind. The archeological and fossil records reveal this exact pattern.
While the case for the sociocultural big bang is based primarily on the archeological record in Europe, it is gratifying to see that other archeological sites around the world also reveal sophisticated behavior associated with modern humans with dates closer to the time when modern humans are thought to have first appeared on the scene.28
Who Were the Hominids?
Since I am skeptical of aspects of the evolutionary paradigm, and human evolution specifically, how then do I account for the hominids that precede modern humans (and in some instance co-existed with them)? The biblical creation model that Hugh Ross and I proposed considers the hominids found in the fossil record to be animals created for God’s purposes, by His direct intervention. They existed for a time and then went extinct. These were remarkable creatures that walked erect and possessed some level of limited intelligence and emotional capacity. Such characteristics allowed hominids to employ crude tools and even adopt a low level of “culture,” much like baboons, gorillas, and chimpanzees. While the creation model asserts that the hominids were created by God’s divine command, they were not spiritual beings made in His image. This status was reserved exclusively for human beings.
Our model treats hominids as analogous to, yet distinct from, the great apes. For this reason, the model predicts that anatomical, physiological, biochemical, and genetic similarities existed among hominids and human beings to varying degrees. But because the hominids were not made in God’s image, they are expected to be noticeably different from humans, as reflected by their cognitive and communicative capacities, behavior, “technology,” and “culture.”
Our model maintains that while human beings reflect God’s image in their activities, hominids did not. The model asserts that humans are uniquely spiritual and hominids were not. The archeological record associated with hominid fossils supplies key data to evaluate this prediction. In Who Was Adam?, I provide an extensive discussion of the archeological record associated with the hominids and how the features of the record comport with the predictions of our model.
How do I justify my skepticism of human evolution from a scientific perspective? A sufficient response to this question is beyond the scope of this paper. I refer the interested reader to Who Was Adam? for an extensive critique of human evolution.
Still, a few points are worth consideration. When most people think of hominid fossils, they picture nearly complete skeletal remains. Popular presentations almost always feature the greater-than-90-percent complete “Turkana Boy” specimen—or “Lucy,” which consists of a nearly 40 percent complete postcranial skeleton. Yet, these specimens are unique. Most hominid fossil discoveries consist of partial crania, partial jaws, isolated teeth, and, occasionally, isolated limb fragments.29 Paleoanthropologists rarely find a complete cranium, let alone an entire skeleton. Moreover, very few hominid species have extensive representation in the fossil record. In most cases, a limited number of fragmentary fossil finds and a handful of specimens define a species.
Without a large number of specimens, paleoanthropologists can’t accurately decipher the range of morphological variation that occurs within a population or across geography and time. And without this knowledge, it’s uncertain if hominids with morphological differences from two time periods in the geological column represent two distinct species with an evolutionary connection or the range of variation within a particular species.
Often the hominid remains are crushed or shattered prior to fossilization and further deformed by geological processes. These limitations make proper analysis of the hominid fossil record very difficult. Distortions and deformations of hominid fossils obscure paleoanthropologists’ ability to construct accurate evolutionary trees. The implications are enormous for human evolutionary scenarios. Given all the difficulties associated with the hominid fossil record, it’s not surprising that paleoanthropologists disagree on the evolutionary relationships among the hominids, specifically on the progression pathway that led to modern humans. Examination of any textbook or treatise on human evolution attests to this conflict.30
In the midst of these controversies, work published by Mark Collard and Bernard Wood raises serious and fundamental questions about the capability of paleoanthropologists to ever establish evolutionary relationships among hominids.31 In their view, any evolutionary tree paleoanthropologists construct for hominids will always be hopelessly uncertain.
Paleoanthropologists typically use comparisons of hominid cranial and dental (anatomical) features to build evolutionary trees, since these fossils supply the chief data available. However, as Collard and Wood point out, the use of hominid craniodental features to discern evolutionary relationships has never been validated. To make their point, these two paleoanthropologists compared evolutionary trees constructed from craniodental data with those built from DNA and protein sequences for two currently existing groups of primates. One group included humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. The other consisted of baboons, macaques, and mangabys. For both sets of primates, the evolutionary trees built from DNA and protein sequences differed significantly from those constructed from craniodental data.
Evolutionary biologists now consider evolutionary trees produced with molecular data inherently more robust than those derived from anatomical features. This development has forced paleoanthropologists to conclude that “little confidence can be placed in phylogenies [evolutionary trees] generated solely from higher primate craniodental evidence. The corollary of this is that existing phylogenetic hypotheses about human evolution are unlikely to be reliable.”32
In light of these results, “that human evolution occurred” becomes a scientifically untenable statement. In order to demonstrate that humanity originated through biological evolution, robust evolutionary trees must be established. Collard and Wood have shown that such determinations may never be possible for hominids as long as craniodental data is all they have to work with. In fact, more recent work indicates that this problem extends beyond the hominid fossil record. Evolution biologists from the University of Helenski (Finland) question the reliability of any evolutionary tree generated from dental data.33
These scientists are not the only paleoanthropologists to demonstrate problems with hominid evolutionary trees. Others have rigorously detailed additional difficulties with the methods and data used to build the trees.34 Any evolutionary relationships set forth are highly tentative, little more than sheer speculation. It’s no wonder each new hominid discovery throws the field of paleoanthropology into chaos and forces researchers to redraw the trees.
Many key doctrines of the historic Christian faith rest on the historicity of Adam and Eve. While I understand the draw of theistic evolution (evolutionary creationism), this position also wrecks havoc on the traditional Christian view of human origins by casting doubt on the historicity of Adam and Eve. I think it is important for the Christian community to look for alternative paradigms that accommodate the advances coming from science (without necessarily embracing an evolutionary interpretation of those advances) while retaining the traditional interpretations of human origins from the first chapters of Genesis.
The model that Hugh Ross and I proposed in Who Was Adam? seeks to accomplish that very goal. I believe that the model performs quite well, and has successfully accounted for a number of discoveries that have been made since the book’s publication.
Admittedly, there is much more work to be done to develop our human origins model. And there are a number of outstanding questions and challenges for the model as well. New advances such as those in comparative genomics propel our project forward, prompting us to propose an accompanying genomics model.
I am hopeful that our approach represents a viable alternative to theistic evolution and will hopefully attract more participants to the project.