Science in Christian Perspective


Planning Ahead: Requirement for
Moral Accountability

Glenn R. Morton*

70 Harvest Wind Place

The Woodlands, TX 77382

From: PSCF 51 (September 1999): 176-180.

One of the most fascinating apologetical issues concerns the place of fossil hominids in Christian theology. The command given to Adam by God, not to eat the fruit, presupposes a certain ability to understand and prepare for the future. The prohibition required an ability to see the connection between future consequences and current actions. Adam needed to be able to plan not to eat the fruit as a step in obtaining Godís gift of life and in avoiding the alternative, death. This ability is a prerequisite for accountability before God. Adam also had to possess an ability to keep the prohibition in mind for a long period of time, remembering it before, during, and after his more mundane tasks. Keeping a long-term goal in mind while other activities are carried out requires that Adam be able to engage in a long sequence of steps leading to a particular outcome. If, like a child, he was unable to remember or maintain this long sequence of steps, then it would be difficult to hold him accountable.

Humans can remember very long sequences of steps toward a given goal; chimpanzees cannot. The longest sequence of steps engaged in by chimpanzees in the wild may be that seen in termite fishing. The sequence consists of only five steps: (1) pick a twig, (2) remove the leaves, (3) stick the twig in the termite nest, (4) remove the stick, and (5) lick the termites off the stick.

Anthropological evidence can shed light on the ability of hominids to engage in multi-step actions and actions requiring long memory. Thus, by implication, it can illuminate the time at which humankind was theoretically capable of moral accountability. Whether hominids were accountable is another question.

Given the generally accepted understanding that Adam and Eve must be the progenitors of the entire human race and the general understanding that they had to live relatively recently (less than 100,000 years), there is a strong pressure on Christian apologists to seek solutions which disconnect anatomically modern humans from the preceding hominids. This is accomplished either via a separate creation for anatomically modern humans1, or the insertion of the spiritual element into a pre-existing hominid, either anatomically modern2 ,or an animal-like hominid. However, anthropological data clearly indicate that ancient hominids were mentally capable of planning for the future and holding important tasks in long-term memory for the past two million years. Thus, if one of the above theological positions is true, it means that the ability to understand and plan for the future are not unique to theologically-defined humankind. This communication will not discuss the archeological evidence for spirituality in fossil humans as that was covered elsewhere.3

Rather, it will examine the mental capabilities of foresight and planning, which are prerequisites for obeying Godís commands.


One of the hallmarks of humans is their use of fire. No other animal uses or controls fire. The maintenance of fire requires an ability to plan ahead and an ability to remember a complex sequence of actions. Fire may even require language.4 Animals simply do not possess these abilities.

Fire has two uses within primitive human cultures: to cook foods and to deter predators. Many of the plants eaten by technologically-primitive humans are toxic in the uncooked state. Yams, a food staple for many peoples, contain toxins used to immobilize monkeys, poison fish and birds, and kill head lice. Macrozamia, a cycad, must be carefully prepared to remove both a nerve toxin and an extremely powerful cancer-causing agent.5 Yet, if cooked, the toxins are destroyed and a hearty meal can be eaten. If the fire is for the purpose of deterring predators, it must be placed at the proper location and continually stoked.

To use fire for cooking, fire users must know the sequence of steps involved in food preparation, which may be many, e.g., finding the plant and processing the material (pounding, soaking, kneading, etc.). Before the food can be cooked, however, a fire must be built. To do this, a fire builder must perform a unique sequence of steps. Prior to the invention of ceramics, there were two likely means of cooking. Vegetables could be impaled on a stick and roasted marshmallow-style. Alternatively rocks could be heated, placed in a previously prepared pit after which, the food would be placed on the rocks and covered with soil. All of these procedures must be maintained in memory while the fire users mentally calculate how long the previously collected wood will last before it is burned up, remember where the excellent sources of wood are and which woods burn best (green or dry), depart at the proper time for gathering the wood, and return before the fire goes out. They also must understand that the wood must be put on the fire and that correct distances between large logs must be maintained for optimal burning.

If fire users did not know how to make fire, they had to know and remember another sequence of steps for the maintenance of the fire. This often involved careful treatment of embers, such as wrapping them in green leaves and carrying them in special containers.

The number of sequential steps above is more than a chimpanzee can accomplish; and among animals, he is one of the best at remembering sequential steps.6 Clearly, the use and maintenance of fire require essentially modern planning abilities. These planning abilities would also suffice for enabling the fire users to understand moral commands.

Twenty years ago, it was believed that humankindís use and control of fire began around 500,000 years ago. But starting in the 1980s, discoveries at Chesowanja, Kenya, at Swartkrans, South Africa, and other sites revealed the use of fire much earlier. Gowlett lists several of these ancient sites.7





Vertesszollos, Hungary



Terra Amata, France



Olorgesailie, Kenya



líEscale, France



Zhoukoudian, China



Gadeb, Ethiopia



Yuanmou, China



Karari Escarpment, Kenya



Chesowanja, Kenya



Swartkrans, South Africa



At Chesowanja, Kenya, there is evidence, though controversial, of the control of fire in the form of a hearth, an arrangement of stones surrounding the fire which resembles those found at much later sites.8

The clay was burnt and the mineralogical changes in the clay indicate a normal campfire temperature of 400-600ƒ C.9

While it is not out of the range of possibilities that the burnt material was due to a wild fire, such fires are of short duration and are unlikely to have baked the clay in the fashion seen at Chesowanja.10

The Swartkransís site, however, is widely accepted as evidence of fire use. Why is this important? Because as Gowlett says:

If the use of fire goes back to the Lower Pleistocene (over 1 million years), as seems likely, it can be argued that our ancestors had already achieved a basically human character: but this view will be hotly debated for some time to come.11

Why then is there hostility to the idea of early fire among some archaeologists? One view is that fire use represents a considerable mental advance over stone tool manufacture, and that it must therefore be expected at a later stage. Holders of this opinion are unwilling to postulate the use of fire at any time earlier than is actually proven. But it seems likely that early human beings who were skilled in stone tool manufacture and use would have a similar familiarity with wood (although it is never preserved).12

While the wood itself is never preserved, evidence of woodworking goes back at least as far as the earliest evidence of fire. Lawrence Keeley studied the microscopic wear on stone tools from the 1.5 MYR site of Koobi Fora and concluded that the tools were used to cut wood.13 What exactly was being done with the wood is unknown, but fire certainly cannot be out of the question.


Another typically human use for the wood cut by hominids one and a half million years ago illustrates their greater ability to plan than animals. They seem to have been making huts similar in form to those made by many modern hunter-gatherers. The activity of hut making requires a long sequence of steps which animals could not mimic. Hut builders must go through the multitudinous steps of making the hand-ax, whose simplest form requires at least twenty-five carefully placed blows.14

With a mental set of plans, hut builders chop down the appropriate saplings with the previously made stone tool. Then they must gather the appropriate material for covering the frame of the hut. This type of activity is different from nest construction seen in animals in two ways: (1) humankind is not running on instinct and (2) animals do not use modified tools in their nest construction.15

While the earliest dated evidence of huts is controversial and most likely will remain so, the evidence is accumulating that hut-making was a common activity at this time. The earliest one was discovered by Mary Leakey at the DK site in Olduvai Gorge, dated 1.8 MYR ago.16 She found a circular pattern of stones, twelve feet in diameter resembling what is left from modern nomadic huts. At Melka Konture, Ethiopia, the living level was strewn with tools except for a cleared area eight feet in diameter. In this region, the surface was slightly raised above the rest of the area. Once again a few stone piles remained to suggest the presence of poles.Gowlett,17

Gowlett states:

Ethiopia has a major share of early sites for, in addition to Hadar, there are other important sequences at Melka Konture, and Gadeb. Melka Konture has a number of different levels ranging from Developed Oldowan through to Late Acheulean. On one site, aged about 1.5 million years, there are indications of a cleared area, probably lying within a wind-break, and the excavator, Jean Chavaillon, suspects that fire was in use.Gowlett, 18

At other, younger sites, there is proof of the construction of habitations. At Bilzingsleben, Germany, the remains of three huts were found along with paved social areas.19 At the Neanderthal site of Grotte-du-Lazaret, a line of post holes marked the boundaries of a tent or habitation and Homo erectus and/or Homo heidelbergensis20 were also making post holes for their habitations.21An abbreviated list of hut sites is shown below.


      Age BP


   La Baume Peyrards


H. Erectus/H.Heidelbergensis    

   Terra Amata
   Bilzingsleben, German 3 huts  

350-400,00025                300-400,00026    

H. erectus

   Melka Konture
   Olduvai, DK1



Transport of Stone Tools

Probably the best evidence for future planning by hominids in the time period between one and two million years is that evidenced by the distance certain tools were carried. The distance that an object is carried for use elsewhere is a measure of the temporal planning range. Today humans transport oil for weeks on end across the oceans for use elsewhere. We plan projects that take decades to complete, like the aqueduct being tunneled under New York City or the construction of a cathedral. Primitive societies do not engage in planning on this scale. Most of their planning is of a more limited temporal range, yet this is not due to an innate difference in planning abilities. It is due to the lack of opportunity to display their already existing talent.

Animals, like chimpanzees, do not plan activities more than 20-30 minutes in advance. Chimpanzees use stone pounders to open up coula and panda nuts. The maximum distance a chimpanzee has been observed carrying a stone for this purpose is about half a kilometer. Given that it takes no more than twenty minutes to walk this distance, this represents the proven length of time that chimpanzees are capable of advanced planning. Humans on the other hand can plan days ahead. Dean Falk writes:

Of course, humans are the supreme planners. A chimpanzee can hold on-line the location of previously stored food and go for it when permitted to do so. However, Savage-Rumbaugh tells us that unlike humans, chimpanzees have difficulty attending to more than one task at a time, do not plan much ahead, and seem to have no concept of death (perhaps the ultimate in planning ahead).29

Over the past 1.5 million years, humankind appears to have been able to plan actions days in advance. Two hundred thousand years ago, someone in England manufactured a stone hand ax in such a way that the finished product displayed a beautifully preserved fossil on the center of the hand-ax as if it were a blazon. We know one other thing about this hand ax. The nearest source for rocks with that particular fossil was 193 km away.30 The owner carefully managed the carrying of this object over that distance which, assuming a straight-line and a rapid walking rate of thirty km per day, gives evidence of advanced planning for at least six days. Each morning the owner had to remember to pick the object up and carry it. This is a much greater planning ability than that possessed by chimps; and these six days represent the minimum planning time of which the owner was capable.

Other evidence of the foresight abilities of ancient hominids comes from the 1.2 MYR old archeological site of Gadeb, Ethiopia.31 Homo erectus carried a rare obsidian hand-ax at least 100 km from its nearest source to the plains of Gadeb. Once again, assuming a forced march, this implies a temporal planning range of at least four days. Why would they carry heavy rocks 100 kilometers?32 Obsidian can be fashioned into a very sharp tool whereas the local Gadeb stones create poorer cutting edges. Given this, one can reasonably postulate a reason for erectus to engage in this hard work.

One final evidence of planning ahead among ancient hominids comes from the Neanderthal site at Shanidar Cave, Iraq. Some modern cultures tie the heads of infants to boards in order to shape the skull to some preconceived vision of beauty. The fashioning of the skull by head-binding is a process that takes several years of effort. Native American societies flattened the heads of free people but not their slaves. Both boards and sandbags were used to shape the crania.33 One cannot immediately see the benefits (in perceived beauty). Neanderthals at Shanidar (50,000 years ago) engaged in head-binding and thus proved that they could plan several years ahead.34

Tattersall notes:

Thereís also other possible evidence of ěmodernî behavior from Shanidar. A couple of crania from the site may have been artificially deformed by binding the head when the individuals were young, a practice otherwise unknown except among modern people.35


The demonstrable planning depth of the fossil hominids is clearly within the range of modern humans and not within the range of the chimpanzee or other nonsentient beings. Clearly hominids, as long ago as 1.5 million years ago, had the capability to have understood Godís command not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. To consider the members of the genus Homo as little more than bipedal animals, as some apologists have suggested, seriously underestimates their observed capabilities.36



1John Wiester, The Genesis Connection (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 188; David Wilcox, ěAdam, Where Are You? Changing Paradigms in Paleoanthropologyî Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith 48:2 (1996): 88-95, 94; E. K. V. Pearce, Who was Adam (Walkerville, SA: S.A.L.T. Project, 1987), 4; Evan Shute, Flaws in the Theory of Evolution (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1961), 227.

2Dick Fischer, The Origin Solution (Lima: Fairway Press, 1996), 193.

3Glenn R. Morton, ěDating Adam,î Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith 51 (June 1999): 87-97; Morton, Adam, Apes and Anthropology (Dallas: DMD Press, 1997).

4Terrence Deacon The Symbolic Species (New York: W. W. Norton, 1997), 368-9; Derek Bickerton, Language & Species (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 140-1; Victor Barnouw, An Introduction to Anthropology: Physical Anthropology and Archaeology Vol. 1 (Homewood, IL: The Dorsey Press, 1982), 147.

5Jonathan Kingdon, Self-made Man (New York: John Wiley, 1993), 156-7; Josephine Flood, The Archaeology of Dreamtime (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 211. The toxins prepared from yams are not always from domesticated species. There are over six hundred species of yam, only a few have been domesticated.

6Monkeys and apes appear to be able to remember only six items at once. See Audrey E. Cramer and C. R. Gallistel, ěVervet Monkeys as Traveling Salesmen,î Nature 387 (May 29, 1997): 464; Dean Falk, Braindance (New York: Henry Holt, 1992), 64-5; Steven Mithen, The Prehistory of the Mind (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996), 78-9; A porpoise appears to be unable to remember a five-word command. See Michael C. Corballis, The Lopsided Ape (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 148.

7John A. J. Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization (New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1993), 56. A recent work has cast doubt on fire at Zhoukoudian. They were unable to examine the originally excavated material since it has been lost and depended upon peripheral parts of the cave. See Steve Weiner, et al., ěEvidence for the Use of Fire at Zhoukoudian, China,î Science 281 (1998): 251-3.

8Glynn Isaac, ěEarly Hominids and Fire at Chesowanja, Kenya,î Nature 296 (1982): 870.

9Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization, 47. See also, John Scarry, Revised: February 28, 1998.

10J. A. J. Gowlett, et al., ěEarly Archaeological Sites, Hominid Remains and Traces of Fire from Chesowanja, Kenya,î Nature 294 (1981): 125-9.

11Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization, 57.


13Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), 160.

14Bernard G. Campbell and James D. Loy, Humankind Emerging (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 432.

15Schick and Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak, 53-4.

16Richard Leakey, ěRecent Fossil finds From East Africa,î in J. R. Durant, ed., Human Origins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 60-1.

17 Ascent to Civilization, 58; see also, C. R. Gibbs writes in ěBlack Inventors: from Africa to America Two Million Years of Invention and Innovation,î

18Ascent to Civilization, 58.

19D. Mania, U. Mania, and E. Vlcek, ěLatest Finds of Skull Remains of Homo erectus from Bilzingsleben (Thruingia),î Naturwissenschaften 81 (1994): 123-7.

20Some have criticized my use of Homo heidelbergensis as being outdated. This taxonomical nomenclature is making a comeback among some anthropologists. See Ian Tattersall, Becoming Human (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1998), 145-50.

21Brian Hayden, ěThe Cultural Capacities of Neandertals,î Journal of Human Evolution 24 (1993): 113-46, 132; Bernard Campbell, Human Evolution (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co., 1974), 385.

22Andre Leroi Gourhan, The Hunters of Prehistory, transl. Claire Jacobson (New York: Atheneum, 1989), 33.

23Leslie Freeman, ěThe Development of Human Culture,î in Andrew Sherratt, ed., Cambridge Encyclopedia of Archaeology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 84-5.

24Leslie Freeman, ěThe Development of Human Culture,î in Andrew Sherratt, ed., Cambridge Encyclopedia of Archaeology (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 84-5.

25Richard E. Leakey, The Making of Mankind (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1981), 124.

26Mania, et al., ěLatest Finds of Skull Remains,î 124.

27Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization, 58.

28Leakey, ěRecent Fossil finds From East Africa,î 60-1.

29Dean Falk, Braindance (New York: Henry Holt, 1992), 64-5.

30K. P. Oakley, ěEmergence of Higher Thought 3.0-0.2 Ma B.P,î Phil Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond B 292: 205-11.

31Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization, 56.

32J. Desmond Clark and Hiro Kurashina, ěAn Analysis of Earlier Stone Age Bifaces from Gadeb (Locality 8E), Northern Bale Highlands, Ethiopia,î South African Archaeology Bulletin 34 (1979): 93-109, 94-5.

33Encyclopedia Britannica Vol. IV (1982): 971.

34Ian Tattersall, The Human Odyssey (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1993), 130.


36Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing, 1991), 160; David L. Wilcox, ěAdam, Where are You? Changing Paradigms in Paleoanthropology,î Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48 (June 1996): 88-96.