On Human Origins:  A Survey

John A. Bloom, Ph.D., Ph.D.          Biola University

It is the theory which decides what we can observe.  --  Albert Einstein1


Until about 150 years ago, the subject of human origins was almost exclusively the domain of religion.  Revelation from the gods passed down through cultural tradition told man how he came to be and about his place in the Universe.  Since the time of Darwin, however, material from the natural world itself has been discovered that allows the sciences to address the topic as well.  Over the past thirty years, intensive field work in Africa as well as striking advances in biochemistry have fostered a virtual explosion of new data which now must be incorporated into our models about origins.

        Integrating a multidisciplinary database into a coherent, unified model is a difficult task.  This becomes especially challenging when the issue involves our own origin, since here we cannot be neutral observers.  The meaning and value which we assign to life are linked to the origins model we espouse.  Since our significance depends on our pedigree, those who desire there to be no supreme authority over their lives will favor a different origins model than those who seek to glorify their divine Creator with their lives.

        Unfortunately, most of the contact which nonspecialists have with human origins comes through the mass media, where a secular-humanistic bias seems to pervade the scientific content.2  For the person who seeks to integrate this data with conservative Christian theology, it is difficult to judge from these sources which new discoveries are important and need to be incorporated into the synthesis, and which are but the artifacts of an overly zealous grant proposal or hidden personal agenda.

        The goal of this article is to provide a neutral overview of some of the current data and issues in the human origins debate.  Without getting buried by details, we will attempt to give the nonspecialist some feeling for the background to key scientific findings that bear on a conservative Christian reading of Genesis.  After providing some historical background and outlining the relevant fossil and artifact evidence, we will consider some criticisms of this data.  We will then review recent biochemical research and its contributions to this issue.  Since space does not permit us to construct a fully integrated biblical-scientific model from the data, we will focus the discussion on only one apparent clash between the biblical and scientific models, that regarding the special creation of the first man.  Our proposed resolution will serve as an example of the integrative tension and challenges that are present in this field today.

I. Historical Perspective

        The first major treatises to argue for human origins from a solely naturalistic outlook were T. H. Huxley's Man's Place in Nature (1863) and Charles Darwin's The Descent of Man (1871).  Although Neandertal3 fossils had been recovered on the Continent starting in 1856, they were considered to be irrelevant to the discussion because at that time their unique features were viewed as racial variation, not as non- or pre-human differences of evolutionary import4.  Thus Huxley’s and Darwin's arguments hinged on man's anatomical homology with modern apes and lower primates, not on any fossil data.

        The quest for fossil evidence of a common ancestor for apes and man (popularly known as the “missing link”) was taken up by Eugène Dubois, a French anatomist who was inspired by the works of Ernst Haeckel.  Haeckel, a leading German zoologist in the 1880's and a strong proponent of macroevolution,5 proposed that the remains of "Ape-like Men" (to which he assigned the name Pithecanthropus) might be found on the continent of Lemuria [an ancient land mass proposed by nineteenth-century geologists that was believed to have sunk beneath the Indian Ocean].  Dubois took a medical position with the Dutch East India Army stationed in Java (then a colony of Holland) in order to be as close to the hypothetical homeland of the missing link as possible and proceeded to excavate in the fossil beds there.

        After several years of work, Dubois had collected a primitive skull cap, tooth, femur (thigh bone), and several other bone fragments.  The small brain size evidenced by the skull cap coupled with the modern appearance of the femur led him to the conclusion that he had found a transitional ape-like man that could walk upright; hence in 1893 he named his find Pithecanthropus erectus.6  Because the evidence was fragmentary and it was not certain that all of the bones came from a single individual, Dubois' conclusion was not well received by most of the scientific community for many years.7

        Unfortunately, Charles Dawson's discovery of the Piltdown Man in 1913 did not meet with the same skepticism because the find's combination of large brain size and ape-like jaw fit better with the preconceptions of the day.8  Meanwhile, interest in Asia picked up as other researchers found hominid fossils and tools in Zhoukoudian, China, and were proposing a missing link in the form of the "Peking Man."9

        In 1925 the search for early man turned to Africa (the homeland posited by Darwin because it was the habitat of the modern ape and chimpanzee) when Raymond Dart from South Africa reported the discovery of a fossilized skull of a very primitive young hominid, whom he named Australopithecus africanus ("southern ape from Africa").10  Informally called the "Taung baby," its relation to mankind was rejected11 for over two decades, until Robert Broom12 and others recovered many more australopithecine fossils.  Early twentieth-century scientific models and preconceptions about human evolution then shifted to accommodate this mounting African evidence.

        Louis Leakey faced the same pro-Asian bias when he began work in East Africa in 1931.  Years of effort at the now famous Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania as well as sites in Kenya yielded the Zinjanthropus boisei or "Nutcracker Man" in 195913 and the first Homo habilis ("Handy Man") fossil in 1961,14  thus confirming the African-homeland hypothesis in many people's minds. 

        Over the past thirty years, the research efforts of paleoanthropologists have increased in both quantity and quality.  It was estimated recently that we now have recovered the remains of at least 275 Neandertal individuals from more than 70 sites,15 and the total number of known hominid fossil individuals exceeds six thousand.16  Consequently, rather than continuing to present these results in the order of their discovery, it is much more logical to summarize the material by the age of the fossil and its features.



II. Generally Accepted Hominid Categories

Australopithecus afarensis

        The most famous example of the species Australopithecus afarensis (“southern ape from Afar”) is called "Lucy," discovered in 1974 by Donald Johanson at the Hadar Formation in Ethiopia.17  Although similar specimens were found later at other east African sites,18 Lucy is unique because about 40% of her skeleton was recovered.  Finding such a large fraction of bones from a single individual is striking, given the great age of the fossils (dated to about 3.2 million years ago [mya]).19 20  Standing between 3.5 to 5 feet tall, A. afarensis was thick-boned with proportionally shorter legs and longer arms than modern humans.  From skeletal remains it was postulated that this species was fully bipedal, and the later discovery at Laetoli of a 3.7 million-year-old extensive track of hominid footprints made by three bipedal individuals21 appears to bear out this hypothesis dramatically.  Despite her advanced pelvis and mode of walking, Lucy's skull is very similar to a chimp's, with a small brain (400 cc average), and large teeth.22


Other Australopithecine species.

        In the fall of 1994, the discovery of bone fragments from a more primitive australopithecine than A. afarensis was announced.23  Called A. ramidus, these fossils are dated at 4.4 mya (over a million years older than Lucy), and should help show how the transition was made from early arboreal monkey-like primates to walking hominids.

        Australopithecine hominids that appear in the record after Lucy are generally classed into at least three groups, A. africanus, A. boisei and A. robustus, based on their body size and cranial features.  They have larger stature than afarensis, are also bipedal, and differ markedly from each other in their skull structure, probably due to the influence of diet.24  Since only africanus has dentition that is comparable with that found the later homo series, it is the only late australopithecine that some consider to be a direct ancestor to modern man.


Homo habilis

        Homo habilis is the name given to a group of African fossils that are believed to have used the first primitive stone tools, called the Oldowan tradition.25  Spanning a time range from 2.3 to 1.5 mya, H. habilis was clearly bipedal, thin boned, and had a larger brain size (670 cc) than A. afarensis.  One of the best H. habilis specimens is the nearly complete skull (KNM-ER-1470) found by Richard Leakey.26  However, recent new finds by Johanson (OH 62) suggest that H. habilis was not significantly taller than A. afarensis and had a similar short leg / long arm structure.27  This apparent mix of change and stability in H. habilis (a more human-like skull with a larger brain and smaller teeth than afarensis is still combined with an ape-like limb structure) makes it difficult to use in gradualist evolutionary schemes as a transitional species between A. afarensis and H. erectus.  To remedy this problem, some suggest that this species should not be regarded as a human ancestor (i.e., a member of the genus Homo) but rather as a distinct evolutionary branch.28  Because there is considerable diversity in features among the specimens initially included in the H. habilis taxon, the current trend is to reassign the specimens into other better-known groups or divide them more finely-specified taxa.29  Thus Leakey’s KNM-ER-1470 specimen is reclassified as Homo rudolfensis.

        H. habilis is the presumed occupant of the earliest known (dated to 1.8 mya) living area:  This 2,400-square-foot site discovered by Mary Leakey at Olduvai Bed I contained over 4,000 artifacts and fossils. It provides direct evidence of simple windbreaks or shelters and suggests that early hominids had a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle.30


Homo erectus

        Homo erectus remains cover a period from 1.8 million to 300,000 years ago and are the first hominids to have a global (Old World) distribution.  The most striking H. erectus find so far is undoubtedly Richard Leakey’s “Turkana Boy,” the nickname given to most of the skeleton of a large adolescent that dates to 1.6 mya (KNM-WT-15000).31  As with habilus, the current trend with erectus specimens is to split them up rather than lump them into one taxon, so the Turkana Boy now is listed as an “early African h. erectus” or h. ergaster.   H. erectus manufactured the more advanced flaked stone tools of the Acheulian tradition, were involved in big-game hunting, and had the controlled use of fire.  In many skeletal features they appear essentially modern.32  The largest differences occur in the skull, which is markedly flatter and thicker boned than modern humans.  Moreover, the brow ridge above the eyes is very pronounced, the jawbone lacks a protruding chin, and the teeth are larger than moderns.  The brain size of H. erectus appears to increase over time from 750 to 1,200 cc.  Since a brain size of greater than about 800cc in a light-boned hominid places this species within the brain size range of modern man, some argue that H. erectus is the first true modern man.33  Others are hesitant to lump H. erectus with modern man solely on this criteria, noting that the Acheulian toolkit is comparatively simple and remained stable for over a million years, and thus does not reflect the innovation and creativity that characterize modern human artifacts.34

        The global (old World) variation and migration patterns of the h erectus family have been the focus of study in recent years.  The distinctions between Asian erectus (old popular names being the “Peking” and “Java” man) and African erectus, combined with the very early date of some of the Asian fossils,35 gave raise to speculations that these regional groups may have arisen from a much earlier migration than previously considered (i.e., a h habilus migration instead of a h erectus one), or that h erectus actually evolved in Asia and migrated into Africa, a reversal of the dominant “out-of-Africa” theory.  However, a new erectus find in Africa is of comparable date to the Asian fossils and shows a marked similarity to them, strengthening the single-species theory.36


Archaic Homo sapiens

        Early (or archaic) Homo sapiens applies to a group of fossils that share a mixture of H. erectus and modern features [A recent trend in naming this group is to avoid the term “archaic” and to list them as Homo heidelbergensis (with variation)].  Most of these date from 300,000 to 100,000 years ago.  In general the skeletal bones are less robust than H. erectus while the cranial capacity is larger, but the features are blurred enough that considerable debate surrounds their classification.  Many scholars feel that there is essentially a continuum between late H. erectus and early Homo sapiens both in features and culture.  For example, early Homo sapiens tools are basically of the Acheulian tradition, although some items (such as handaxes) apparently become less popular and we begin to see some refinements in toolmaking technique.37

        Archaic Homo sapiens sites attest to a lifestyle of seasonal migration.  A shore site at Terra Amata in France dated to about 300,000 years ago yielded large oval huts with a hearth at the center, large numbers of stone tools, and possible evidence for body decoration.38



        Neandertals are noted separately from archaic Homo sapiens because of their historical fame and the ongoing debate regarding their classification.  Their bodies, teeth and jaws are very robust by modern standards, and they share many of the cranial features found in H. erectus (above).

        All of the Neandertal remains that have been recovered to date are restricted geographically to Western Europe and the Middle East.  Their tools (called the Mousterian culture) are more sophisticated than H. erectus and the evidence that they buried their dead is now generally accepted.  Evidence of animal trapping as an alternative to hunting or scavenging is also found.  Their first remains date back 80,000 years ago, and it appears that they were rapidly replaced by modern humans in Europe around 30,000 years ago.

        The debate surrounding Neandertals involves their relationship to modern man, because the data are ambiguous even for secular minds:  Is their culture sophisticated enough and anatomy compatible enough that they should be considered an intermediate step between H. erectus and modern man, or do they form a separate branch that has no recent ancestral relationship?  Did Neandertals and modern humans occupy the same geographic areas at the same time or interbreed?  The answer which secular scholars give to these questions depends heavily on the model for recent human prehistory which they assume (see below).


Anatomically modern humans

        Anatomically modern humans (AMH), as the name implies, refers to hominid remains that are indistinguishable from modern man (allowing for some racial variation).  They first appear in the fossil record at several sites in Africa that are dated between 125,000 to 100,000 years ago.  The earliest remains have modern cranial features (high forehead, smaller teeth) but use the same tools as their archaic H. sapiens contemporaries.39  Although there are some new tantalizing clues from Blombos cave in South Africa that AMH culture had elements of art and advanced tool-making skills over 70,000 years ago,40 a distinct change occurs globally in the AMH record about 40,000 years ago, when culture that all researchers are comfortable in assigning to modern man suddenly appears around the world.41  We find ingenious weapons like boomerangs, an increased use of bone for tools, evidence of higher population densities than at previous times, of long distance migration to Australia and the New World, of trade or the transport of exotic materials over considerable distances, and -- most strikingly -- of artistic expression (sculpture, jewelry, painting, and music).  In artistic expression, some see the first preserved clues to the religious interests of early man.  David Lewis-Williams and Thomas Dowson propose that shamanistic experiences explain the unusual geometric shapes seen in wall paintings that date back as far as 27,000 BC.42

        The origin of language, certainly an essential hallmark of modern man, is frustrating to evaluate since language leaves no clear trace in the archaeological record until the advent of writing (around 3,000 BC).  Seeking secondary clues, researchers have investigated the physiology of fossil skulls for evidence of Broca's and Wernicke's areas (the two principal speech centers in the brain) and for evidence of the modern human larynx structure that allows a full variety of speech sounds to be produced.  No consensus has been reached in these studies; some argue that H. habilis had Broca's area43 and thus could speak, and others argue that even the late Neandertal did not have our modern larynx and thus had a less efficient vocal repertoire.44  Still other scholars note that just because an ancient hominid had the physical capacity for speech does not prove that any sophisticated language was in fact used.  Working from the other direction, linguists have attempted to evaluate the rate at which modern languages develop and diverge over time so that some estimate back to a single original tongue can be made.  Depending on the assumptions made, the evolution time for our present language diversity appears to be between 50,000 to 100,000 years, an age that seems linked to anatomically modern humans.45



III. Fossils: Summary and Appraisal

        If one imagines the above fossil and artifact data (cranial capacity, complexity of tools, date found in the fossil record, etc.) to form a series of points on a graph, the model of human origins which one espouses will affect how one draws the line connecting the points.  Someone who believes that God intervened in the special creation of man will place at least one discontinuity somewhere on the graph,  while someone who assumes that man shares a common ancestry with apes will arrange the data and connect the points so as to show a smooth transition from early primitive forms to late modern ones.  The later scheme is the approach of secular naturalists and is shown in the figure below.

        Prior to 1979, it was generally assumed that competition for limited resources permitted only one species to be the dominant hominid population in a region at a given time.  However, fossil discoveries46 since then showed that A. boisei existed in Africa as a contemporary with A. africanus, greatly weakening the argument that africanus was ancestral to robustus.  In fact it appears that four or five distinct hominid species coexisted in Africa around two mya, making the evolutionary “tree” appear more like a bush during this period.  The new discovery of ramidus as the earliest known hominid replaces afarensis at the trunk of the tree, and reopens the debate whether afarensis is really the last common ancestor to the australopithecine and homo lines, as Johanson proposed but Richard Leakey doubts.47  The recent discovery of K platyops, a contemporary hominid with afarensis, raises the possibility that the “bushiness” seen at two mya extends all the way down, with the result that we cannot discern a single, unambiguous ancestral lineage nor an obvious “last common ancestor” with the primates.

        A significant difficulty in evaluating the recent fossil data is that we are too close to the personalities and biases of the discoverers.  Paleoanthropologists, being human, can be myopic about the overall significance of their own work:  After all, everyone prefers to discover something new rather than find the seventeenth specimen of an already well-known species.  Consequently it is often the next generation of scholars who are more objective at integrating data into a coherent scheme than the pioneers who made the original discoveries.  Bearing this in mind, it is not unreasonable to find that scholars questioned the validity of a given species, such as H. habilis, and asked for a review of the specimens assigned to this taxon.48  It is even possible this taxon may disappear because its fossils can be better assigned (on the basis of brain size, limb-length ratios, and possible tool usage) to the better-characterized A. africanus and H. erectus classes.  However, such a careful assessment is best done by those who have direct access to the fossils.

        As noted above, once H. erectus appears, the rest of human prehistory appears to be a continuum (if one accepts evolutionary presuppositions).  There is some gradual change in erectus cranial features from early to late periods, but then a blend of modern and erectus features appear in early H. sapiens and Neandertals just prior to and contemporaneous with fully modern forms.49  Some specimens exhibit such a mosaic of features that a precise label assignment cannot be made.  This makes it difficult to deduce when, where, and how modern man appeared.

        Lubenow, a young-earth creationist who feels the earth is only a few thousand years old, reviews the above fossil data and concludes that the diversity in the entire Homo taxon reflects only racial differences, not an evolutionary or species development.50  Other researchers (both secular and Christian) consider the dating information to be generally reliable, and have proposed other models that take into account the time intervals and diversity observed.  The key differences between these models depend on their assumptions about the level and type of interaction among the global H. erectus population.

        Following the early intercontinental distribution of H. erectus around 1.5 mya, the multi-regional model proposes that this species globally evolved into modern H. sapiens because a sufficient level of interbreeding throughout the dispersed population was maintained over this long time period.  Proponents for this view argue that the similarity of ancient and modern skulls found in a given location (particularly China, Australia and the Far East) implies that the hominid population in that geographic area has been stable for hundreds of thousands of years.51  However, many doubt that H. erectus populations intermingled over thousands of miles at a sufficient level to keep the advance to H. sapiens globally synchronized.  On the other hand, the replacement model proposes that all modern populations result from a recent global migration of mankind from a single locale that replaced any earlier hominids (such as Neandertals) whenever they came in contact.52  Total replacement proponents are quick to point out that "Rambo-like invasion" characterizations of their model are inaccurate; a simple subsistence advantage that reduces mortality by two percent in the new population will enable it to replace the older group without violence in less than one thousand years.53  Moreover, in some geographical areas there may have been nothing to replace: Earlier hominid populations may have died out or been reduced to minimal levels by climate change or disease before the immigrants arrived.  Of course, some hybrid of these two models is possible, that combines one or more late, major waves of migration with some intermixing with older native populations.

        These two models view the origin of advanced culture and language quite differently:  In the multi-regional model, culture and language foster isolated pockets of hominids that intermix gradually over time.  The replacement model typically sees culture and language as the competitive edges aiding the global expansion of one advanced hominid from out of Africa (at least this is where the oldest known fossils are found) sometime within the past 100,000 years.

        We should note in passing that either of these secular models is compatible with a special creation of mankind, either by placing a Homo erectus Adam at the root of the multi-regional model, or by placing an anatomically modern human Adam as the source of the replacing population.  There are advantages and drawbacks to either approach, but space does not permit a full analysis of both models.  Consequently, we will limit our discussion to the hypothesis the author favors, that of a recent modern Adam.



IV. Biochemistry: The New Database

        Besides offering new tools for fossil analysis, other scientific disciplines are finding new data sources that contribute to the origins question.  The most significant of these involves the realization that DNA, the chemical in the nucleus of every cell which stores the information necessary to manufacture the proteins, cells, organs, and structure of the entire human body, also contains clues about the biological history of man.  Biochemists are now able to compare the DNA and protein sequences of modern animals, and on the basis of the small differences found, they can estimate the chemical similarity of man and the lower primates.  The similarity appears to be very high:  DNA differs by about 2%, and proteins by about 0.3% between human and chimpanzee, the closest lower primate.  Based on this small difference and on estimated rates of sequence variation over time, it has been deduced that a hypothetical last common ancestor to man and African apes existed as recently as five to seven million years ago.54

        Another valuable biochemical insight involves the analysis of mitochondrial DNA from a world-wide sample of people.  This form of non-nuclear DNA, which is only inherited from the mother, appears to show that all living humans are more closely related to one another than the multi-regional model of human evolution suggested.  In fact, the mitochondrial DNA similarity is so high that the initial researchers inferred that the female ancestor common to all modern humans lived as recently as 90,000 to 180,000 years ago.55  However, this recent-date assignment and its interpretation as a single individual has come under strong attack and may need revision in light of statistical limitations inherent in the analysis.56  Nevertheless the data clearly show that all humans are very closely related to each other.  Studies of chimpanzees and apes show that much more genetic diversity exists within each of these primate species than exists within the human family.  To many this implies that a “pinch” or “bottleneck” occurred in the human population in the recent past.57

        Technological improvements in the study of nuclear DNA now permit researchers to progress beyond bulk comparisons of similarity (such as the 2% figure noted above) and undertake a detailed comparative study of specific sequences.  In some DNA regions, especially those that carry the information for allowing the human immune system to distinguish friend from foe (called the major histocompatability [MHC] genes), considerable patterns of variation are observed between individuals.  These patterns are used to form the equivalent of molecular fingerprints on the cell surface, and their variability is so high that it is very unlikely that any two people will have identical cellular fingerprints.  While this variability made organ transplants very difficult before the advent of immunosuppressant drugs, the benefit of this personalized cellular ID system is that it is extremely difficult for bacteria and parasites to invade the body. 

        Research has been undertaken to compare the MHC-gene patterns in humans with those of other primates.  These transspecies polymorphism studies found that some patterns are more similar between species than within species.  The researchers deduce from this that the number of similar patterns between species must be proportional to the number of common ancestors that both species shared.  For the sake of illustration, let us say that there are ten patterns whose sequence is much more similar between humans and chimpanzees than it is between any other human-human or chimp-chimp combination.  We also know from our genetic studies that each individual can carry only one of these patterns.  The fact that these ten human-chimp patterns exist in common today implies that at least ten different individuals, each carrying one of the unique patterns, comprised the group that formed the last common ancestors to both the human and chimpanzee.  In other words, the number of sequence patterns which two species have in common is proportional to the genetic diversity (i.e., group size) of the last common ancestors to both species.58  Using this reasoning with the currently known number of similar patterns between humans and chimps allows the secular researchers to assert boldly that "MHC polymorphism categorically rules out the possibility that modern human populations are derived from a single individual -- an Eve."59

        As with any conclusion, the assumptions and data which lead to it need to be carefully examined.  For example, the forces that give rise to the diversity seen in the MHC genes are poorly understood.  Similar patterns between humans and chimpanzees may result because both need this specific pattern to ward off a common parasite.  Consequently the MHC genes show a common “history” because both populations (or population subgroups) have successfully -- but independently -- fought off the same enemy.  A common history of exposure to pathogens is a far cry from common ancestry.  It remains to be shown that the common chimpanzee-human patterns arose without any external selection pressure.  Otherwise, the data do not distinguish a common pathogen or other convergent pressure from a common ancestor.

        Furthermore, continued transspecies polymorphism studies using larger population samples may find too many similar human-chimp patterns.  Using the above logic, this would make the required number of founding individuals impossibly large and create a conflict with a fundamental assumption in evolutionary population genetics: evolutionary change requires small populations.  If the group is too large, genetic novelties will not statistically dominate.  As the human genome is better understood, the total number of common patterns found between species may require an unreasonably large founding population, implying that this transspecies similarity has other than ancestral origin. 

        Lastly, as the attacks on early mitochondrial-DNA conclusions have shown, the computer programs used to deduce genetic similarity between variant sequences are not as unbiased as previously thought.  They are affected by the order in which the data are entered and often do not converge to a single obvious solution.60  Given the infancy of genetic research and analysis tools, categorical conclusions are best avoided.

        Just as the mitochondrial DNA in a woman’s egg is passed on to all of her descendants and does not mix with any genetic material from the man, the male Y chromosome is passed on to all male descendants and does not mix with any genetic information from the woman.  Consequently there is intense interest in studying the Y chromosome to see if it shows the same very low variation that the mitochondrial DNA does.  The first results from one section of a gene on the Y chromosome found no variation in it.  Based on the rate that this same section appears to vary in other primates, the researchers estimated that the male ancestor common to all modern humans existed around 270,000 years ago.  An extremely low diversity in other sections of the male Y chromosome has also been reported by other researchers.61 These results agree well with the mitochondrial dates and provide independent confirmations of the recent pinch, bottleneck or replacement model.62 63

        After twenty years of research, Svante Pääbo and others isolated mtDNA from poorly-fossilized Neandertal remains and reported that there are sufficient differences between the recovered Neandertal and modern human sequences to conclude that no Neandertal genetic information survives in modern populations.64  This result lends strong support to a replacement model, for if extensive intermixing of the established Neandertal and incoming modern human population had taken place, some genetic evidence of this should persist in modern mtDNA.



        Up to this point we have only reviewed data from the natural sciences that may bear on the origin of man.  Many Christians, of course, recognize that special revelation is another source of knowledge that bears on this issue.  We will now turn our attention briefly to the biblical material and highlight the tension that sometimes occurs when scientific data and revelation both speak to the same question.

        Within the conservative Christian community there is a wide range of opinion on how to interpret the biblical material which relates to Creation.  Some treat the Creation narrative as if it stopped after Genesis 1:1 and distance themselves from the host of other details provided in the next two chapters.  This group views the order of creation, special creation of Adam, Garden of Eden, and Fall as God's allegorical attempts to explain to the ancient, primitive Hebrews their place in the universe and the origin of sin.65  Others propose a literal interpretation, taking a simple reading of the English text as historical and scientifically accurate.66

        To the author it appears that the truth lies somewhere between these positions.  One treads dangerous territory if one ignores the linguistic and cultural difficulties of attempting to decipher an ancient text, or if one dismisses any attempt to understand the passage as historical by inferring that God was so bound by his early audience that he could convey nothing in Genesis of future relevance to modern man.  It seems wisest to propose that this simple yet sophisticated narrative contains a highly abbreviated summary of the origin of the Earth and mankind.67  Like other passages, early Genesis does not address a host of items of interest to contemporary specialists in a particular field:  The Bible focuses on salvation history and only fills in cultural and background details as they are relevant to the immediate context, not for the curiosity of readers thousands of years later.68  Nevertheless, the events that are described should be understood as real and historical, especially in light of their implications for mankind.  For example, the institution of monogamous marriage, the origin of sin and the resultant corruption and mortality of mankind, are all grounded in God’s interaction with a single male-female pair of human beings, from whom all mankind are descended.  If anthropology forces us to replace Adam and Eve with a global homo erectus population that collectively evolved into modern man, then the theological foundation for the nuclear family, sin and death appears to be eroded.  The credibility of the Bible when it speaks on these issues seems to be damaged:  If it does not correctly explain the origin of a problem, why should one trust its solutions?69

        As an example of this integrative tension, let us focus on one specific question, Was Adam created directly from non-living matter or did he have hominid parents?

Genesis 2:7 reads, “Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” [NASB]  In contrast to previous creative acts where God said, “Let the earth bring forth....”, the picture here is that God is actively involved in giving life to a substance that was not previously living.70

        It is striking that most of the specific features in this verse clash with the anthropological and biochemical models which we have reviewed.  Modern scientific theories propose that man and apes share a common ancestor in the past, that the transition to modern man took place gradually over thousands of years, and that small groups or clans of hominids (not one individual) were involved in the process.  Some claim that a sudden jump from non-life to modern man, or even from an individual primitive ancestor to a modern man, is absolutely ruled out by the diversity seen in the biochemical and fossil data.

        Some Christian scholars dismiss or excuse these apparently erroneous statements by asserting that the Bible here is limited by its primitive cultural setting:  The ancient writers and readers of Genesis were restricted by ancient near eastern cosmology in the way they viewed themselves and the world.  This mind set so permeates biblical passages like this that no modern scientific conclusions can be or should be drawn from it.  However, conservative scholars hasten to add that these limitations do not hamper our ability to deduce theological truths from the text.

        This argument overlooks the fact that ancient cosmologies exhibit considerable variety.  In fact, some creation stories from neighboring cultures agree better with the modern scientific one because they lack the “embarrassing” features that a single man was created and that he was formed from purely non-living matter.  The Atra-hasis epic describes the gods making men from the flesh and blood of a god mixed with clay;71  thus man in this scheme is partially made from already-living material.  Moreover, the text notes that seven male/female couples were created at the same time, rather than a single man.72

        Neither can we assume that apes or similar primates were unknown to the primitive Hebrews.  An alabaster statue of an ape found in Susa [Persia] dates back to the Proto-Urban period (c. 3300 BC).73  Apes (or possibly monkeys) are mentioned as curiosities in Solomon’s court (1 Kings 10:22) but were common in Egypt.

        Perhaps the notion of common ancestry between man and other animals was too difficult or repulsive for the primitive mind (although it is hard to imagine how this would be more negative than being called “dirt” by God in Gen. 3:19).  If the writer of Genesis had wanted to avoid unpopular concepts, he would not have stressed that all mankind have a common ancestor!  A multi-Adam model would find easier acceptance because it can justify the intercultural and interracial hatred that characterizes so much of human history.

        In light of the comparative literature and cultural knowledge available to us, we cannot presume that it was impossible for the writer of Genesis to explain to his ancient audience that God empowered a small group of already-living beings that shared some common features with apes to develop into mankind.  God could have told the story of a hominid-origin for mankind in a manner the early Hebrews could have grasped.  The fact that he did not must have some significance.

        Returning to the natural sciences, we find that the available data used to support the theory of hominid evolution do not show a smooth, gradual transition from earliest australopithecines to university professor.  Two recent, abrupt changes occur in the data: A cultural one at around 40,000 BC, when art appears and the complexity and variety of artifacts greatly increases; and an anatomical one at around 130,000 BC when anatomically modern human remains first appear.74 75  At present either of these transitions seems sharp enough that we can propose that the special creation of man occurred in one of these gaps and that it was not bridged by purely natural means.

        One challenge that the scientific data pose for this recent special creation model is the clear evidence that a variety of fairly advanced hominids existed on the earth either immediately before, or contemporary with, modern man.  The Bible does not mention any hominids in the animal population, so if we place Adam at a late gap in the hominid record (as we have done with either date above) then we must assume that Adam had non-human contemporaries who made stone tools and used fire.  However, as already noted above, DNA and mtDNA studies strongly imply that these preadamic hominids were replaced by modern human populations and that little or no interbreeding took place.76   We could speculate that this preadamic hominid population formed a cultural “safety net” for Adam and Eve, so that after they were expelled from the Garden they could survive in the wild by adapting the skills of the hominids around them.  These hominids might be the reason for Cain’s fear that “whoever finds me will kill me” when he is cursed by God after killing Abel (Genesis 4:14).

        The above consideration of the special creation of man is often ridiculed as an ad hoc “god of the gaps” special pleading by secular naturalists and some Christians.77  However, all parties agree that several gaps and apparently rapid transitions exist in our present-day knowledge of human prehistory.  The problem is how to deal with them.  The special creationist presumes that at least one gap is real – corresponding to God’s direct intervention in a world that he normally controls through what we call natural processes.  The naturalist (either theist or atheist) presumes that all gaps are only apparent ones because the appropriate fossils have not been found or did not survive.  Consequently he bridges all gaps with natural processes and sees no need for God to tinker with his creation (or he sees no need for God at all).  This approach requires a strong faith in “naturalism of the gaps,” but the naturalist argues that this is justified by the theory of common ancestry.

        The theory of common ancestry is the cornerstone of modern evolutionary theory.  In its simplest form, it merely states that everything that lived had parents.  Once the first living cell formed, all other life on earth descended from it.  Evidence typically given as proof for this theory is the uniformity of the genetic code and the high degree of similarity in the biochemical composition, structure and function of proteins, cells, organs, and higher animals.  This similarity can be explained simply and elegantly by the purely naturalistic mechanism of common ancestry.  Everything looks similar because they share common parents sometime in the past.

        Many scientists view the theory of common ancestry as so obviously true (“the fact of evolution”) that details about the exact mechanism of macroevolution (gradual change, punctuated equilibrium, or some yet unknown process) do not disturb them.78  Such a deep faith in this solely naturalistic model blinds many to any other possible explanations for this similarity, such as the theory of a common designer or engineer.

        In the matter of human origins, creationist theories (whether young- or old-earth) propose that at least one of the observed gaps in the fossil and/or cultural record is real and is not an artifact of our limited knowledge of the past.  At some point in natural history God made man by a direct means.  Of course, we can still ask why God made man so similar to modern apes -- or more importantly --  to the other hominids that were contemporary with early man.

        Perhaps if we reword this question we can see better how to answer it.  Let us instead ask, Does man have to be different to be proof that God made him directly?  (For the sake of argument we will ignore the clear differences in language ability and culture that do distinguish man from animals and other hominids, since a skeptic would dismiss these as secondary traits).  The answer to this is simple: No.  We know that many of Jesus’ miracles produced results that looked like they had a history and were completely natural (e.g., the wine at the wedding in Cana, the bread used for feeding the 5,000), so some of God’s miraculous actions can be difficult to distinguish from his providential ones unless we were there at the time the miracle took place or have additional knowledge about the circumstances surrounding it.  The author views the special creation of man to be such a case.  The Bible tells us something about the history of man that we may not be able to deduce from the surviving evidence: Man was a special creation.  Why did God choose not to modify an existing hominid, but make something very similar from scratch?  Perhaps to indicate man’s relative importance before God or to signify that man is the capstone of his creation.  Certainly from reading Genesis we do not get the sense that there is anything “bad” in what is created up to this point that God would have an aversion to using as a template for his final work.

        A rough analogy might be a business letter, dictated to and typed up by a secretary, but signed personally by the president of the firm.  All of the content of the letter comes from the president, but the signature involves his own personal action and serves as a stamp of approval, authenticating the contents.  Man is God’s personal “signature” – his own handiwork – on the rest of creation.

        Another analogy, this time from the ancient near east, involves the building or refurbishing of a temple.  A key element in this massive undertaking involved the making of the first brick for the new construction.  In an elaborate ceremony, the king personally mixed the water and mud and molded it.79  Once this first brick was made, then the manufacture of the rest of the bricks by ordinary workmen could begin.  It was not considered demeaning for the king to stoop to make a brick himself, but was a great honor.  The king’s brick did not have a composition any different than the others; yet because it was made first by the king personally, it was clearly the most important one.  In a similar way, God’s creation of man is significant not because of man’s unique physical composition, but due to God’s direct involvement in the process.

        While the theory of a common designer is assumed when studying artwork in order to determine the style that is characteristic of a given painter, with self-replicating systems it may be hard to distinguish self-modification from external adjustment.  In cases where a substantial increase in complexity occurs, external adjustments can only be ruled out if the mechanism of self-modification is well understood and if sufficient intermediate forms existed to demonstrate that no discontinuities occurred.  Otherwise it is unwise to presume that a natural mechanism is the only possible means to bridge the gap.

        If the goal of science is to determine what actually happened rather than to construct the most plausible naturalistic rationalization of what could have happened, then we must apply our presumptions cautiously.  As Einstein noted in another context (quoted in our foreword), the presuppositions in a theory can mask data so that people no longer see other possibilities.  If “science” is defined so that the actions of a supernatural agent are considered out-of-bounds or even irrational, we should not be surprised if it cannot see God’s handiwork through its self-imposed blindness.

        Is there an objective means to resolve the clash between naturalistic and interventionist presuppositions?80   More data will certainly fill in the existing gaps in our knowledge and help us determine which apparent transition is real.  Research on several fronts will doubtless be helpful:  More intermediate hominid fossils will help trace where gradual change in skeletal features did or did not occur;  Continued comparative studies between human and primate DNA will give us a more detailed picture of our similarity and provide more clues as to its significance;  Archaeological discoveries in biblical studies may find new material that will help us better understand early Genesis.

        For the present the author feels no compulsion to bridge all of the gaps in hominid evolution with naturalism instead of theism.  The clear break from hominid to  human culture, the high similarity of modern human DNA that implies even to secular minds a recent “pinch” in population, and the overall fragmentary nature of our present knowledge, should make us hesitant to ascribe the works of a common designer to common parents.

        In conclusion, it is worth noting that both science and theology benefit from the tensions that arise when the interpretations of the data from each field conflict.  Neither field can claim to be an absolute guide to truth apart from the other: Theology learned from its geocentric/heliocentric debates with the natural sciences to be cautious in its interpretations, because some biblical language is phenomenological, just as many idioms of regular speech are.81  Likewise science learned to be cautious in its metaphysical presuppositions when it became clear that the universe is not eternal but appears to be created, something Christian theologians have argued for hundreds of years.82  In the case of human origins, no obvious resolution of the tension between the models seems possible at present.  By watching for blind spots in our presuppositions, double-checking the validity of our data and seeking more of it, perhaps we can arrive at a consensus that is more charitable to all.




[2]   Because it touches closest to home, the controversy surrounding the creation / evolution debate becomes noisiest when the question of human origins is broached.  Certainly if macroevolution only concerned itself with bacteria, fish and rodents, its discussion would take place in the footnotes of biology journals; but since it ventures to offer a scientific opinion about who we are and what was involved in the process of getting us here, it commands the attention of society at large.

      This occurs because the meaning and value that we assign to life are linked to our models for its origin:  For example, some argue that we evolved by a meaningless collision of molecules and have no more significance than insects who hatch, eat, copulate and die; while others hold that we are a unique special creation formed to glorify God.  Because we connect our significance with our pedigree, the following review of the physical data on human origins will include some consideration of its metaphysical fallout.


[3]   This author concludes that one should use extreme caution when judging someone's spirituality based solely on his understanding of early Genesis and the hominid remains.  The biases particular to one's professional training often control, guide, and hinder the discussion more than the data itself. 

        Thus this survey is offered in the hopes that it will not (further) divide the conservative Christian community, but that it will illuminate the common ground where all can agree and respond to the far more dangerous naturalistic assumptions inherent in most secular models.  Of course, the most profound of these is the bald assertion that the created order lacks meaning or purpose.  When we look at the complexity of the final products, no matter how we model the mechanism of their initial formation, how can we  permit anyone to deny there is design to the universe?  Arguing for the existence of a Designer, and hence for a purpose to his work no matter what mechanism he uses to carry out his will, should be our priority.   [Tie back into the introduction.....]

End notes:


1 Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (New York:  Harper and Row, 1971), 69. 

2 Note the video series Ape Man, directed by Rod Caird and narrated by Walter Cronkite (A&E Home Video, 1994), and the PBS series Evolution, produced by WGBH and Clear Blue Sky Productions, 2001.  Time Magazine periodically runs strongly evolutionary feature articles:  Michael D. Lemonick and Leon Jaroff, “How Man Began,” March 14, 1994, 80-87;  J. Madeleine Nash, “How Did Life Begin?” October 11, 1993, 68-74, Michael D. Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, “Up from the Apes,” August 23, 1999, 50-58; Michael D. Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman, “One Giant Step for Mankind,” July 23, 2001, 54-61.  The author has noticed a striking correlation between Time cover stories assuring the public about the fact of evolution and news-worthy creationist events (i.e., the Kansas school board ruling on evolution in 1991).

3 This spelling of "Neanderthal" better renders the silent "h" in the Old German word "thal" (valley) and reflects a formal attempt by anthropologists to correct the common mispronunciation of this word.

4 Because the Neandertal has a larger average cranial capacity than modern man, Darwin could not cite it as an example of evolutionary brain development.  Instead he mentioned it as a savage of "very high antiquity" which proved that brain degradation had occurred in modern man because civilization tolerated the weak and infirm in its gene pool.  Descent of Man,  437.

5 Carelessness in the use of the term "evolution" by all sides of the debate is never fruitful.  Here we will distinguish microevolution, the small changes observed over time in coloration, beak size, drug resistance and other minor genetic variation, from macroevolution, the large changes necessary to bridge major functional and structural differences among animals (bacteria to yeast, fish to mammals, algae to oak trees, etc.).  Methodological (or atheistic) naturalists argue that macroevolution is a simple, logical extrapolation from microevolutionary change, while creationists see God introducing diversity in a direct fashion.  Progressive creationists and theistic evolutionists see both mechanisms at work, and note that “natural” causes are also under God’s sovereign control.

6 Popularly known as the "Java man," Dubois' find is now classed as Homo erectus ("upright man").

7 Considerable legend has grown up around Dubois, such as the suggestion that he later recanted his Ape-man claim and felt that his finds were merely the bones of a giant gibbon.  For the full details of his life, see Bert Thuenissen, Eugene Dubois and the Ape-Men from Java (Amsterdam:  Kluwer Academic Publications, 1989); and Stephen J. Gould, “Men of the thirty-third division,” Natural History, April 1990, 12-27.

8  It is striking that Piltdown was later discovered to be a hoax [see F. Spencer, Piltdown:  A Scientific Forgery (London: Oxford University Press, 1990)] while Dubois' finds were confirmed.  Starting work at Java in 1937, Von Koenigswald eventually found fossil fragments there from about forty Homo erectus individuals (Origins Reconsidered, 54).

9 H. Shapiro, Peking Man (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1974).  Like the Java finds, these fossils are now classed as Homo erectus.

10 Raymond A. Dart, “Australopithecus africanus:  The Man-Ape of South Africa,”  Nature 115 (1925): 195-199.

11 A. Keith, New Discoveries Relating to the Antiquity of Man (New York:  Norton, 1931).

12 Robert Broom, Finding the Missing Link (London:  Watts, 1950).  Broom found at least two varieties of Australopithecine, the small jawed africanus and the much heavier jawed robustus species.

13 This fossil is now classed as Australopithecus boisei  and is recognized as a more robust specimen, in terms of its tooth and jaw structure, than the Australopithecus robustus family  (In the Age of Mankind, 83).  Specimen names reflect the creativity of the discoverer and sometimes are unsystematic and confusing:  "Zinj" derives from an Arabic word for East Africa, while boisei  honors Charles Boise, an early financial supporter of Leakey's work (Johanson, Lucy, 93).

14 L. Leakey, P. Tobias, and J. Napier, “A new species of the genus Homo from Olduvai Gorge,”  Nature 202 (1964): 5-7.

15 Poirier, Understanding Human Evolution, 258.

16 Lubenow, Bones of Contention, 32.

17 Johanson, Lucy.

18 D. Johanson, “Ethiopia yields first ‘family’ of early man,” National Geographic 150 (1976): 790-811.

19 A detailed discussion of dating technology would take us too far afield.  For the purposes of this paper we will presume that the dates published in the literature are reasonably accurate.  Recent advances in nuclear physics and geology provide anthropologists with more accurate date estimates than previously.  Some methods allow direct age assessments of fossil bone itself [K. Oakley, “Analytical methods for dating bones,”  in Science in Archaeology, ed. D. Brothwell and E. Higgs (New York:  Praeger Publishers, 1970)], while others deduce dates from the rocks or artifacts associated with the find.  Of these, potassium-argon dating is considered one of the most accurate, while magnetic field reversals of the earth and the remains of extinct animal species offer independent means to collaborate radiometric dates.  A chapter in Johanson’s Lucy, 187-207, provides an excellent nontechnical introduction to radiometric dating and touches on some of the difficulties involved with the method.  The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution (Chapter 5.3, 179-186) provides a readable summary of these dating methods.

20 The most reliable date for Lucy now appears to be 3.18 million years, which is a little more recent than previously thought.  See Robert C. Walter, “Age of Lucy and the first family: Single-crystal (40)Ar/(39)Ar dating of the Denen Dora and lower Kada Hadar members of the Hadar Formation, Ethiopia,” Geology 22 (1994): 6-10.

21 Mary Leakey, “Footprints frozen in time,”  National Geographic 155 (1979): 446-458.  T. White, and G. Suwa, “Hominid footprints at Laetoli:  Facts and interpretations,”  American Journal of Physical Anthropology 72 (1987): 485-514.  Neville Agnew and Martha Demas, “Preserving the Laetoli Footprints,” Scientific American, September 1998.  However, it is possible that another contemporary hominid is responsible for these prints:  Meave Leakey’s discovery of a new hominid species (Kenyanthropus platyops) from this period shows that other hominids co-existed with afarensis.  See National Geographic 200 (October, 2001): 84-89.

22 William H. Kimbel, Donald C. Johanson, and Yoel Rak, “The first skull and other new discoveries of Australopithecus afarensis at Hadar, Ethiopia,” Nature 368 (1994): 449-451.  See also Donald C. Johanson, “The Dawn of Humans: Face-to-Face with Lucy’s Family,” National Geographic 189 (1996): 96-117.

23 Joshua Fischman, “Putting our oldest ancestors in their proper place,” Science 265 (1994): 2011-2012.  Angela M. H. Schuster, “Earliest known ancestor,”  Archaeology 48 (1995): 13.

24 The later Australopithecines are generally regarded as either evolutionary dead ends or as ancestors to the modern apes.  See John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas, The Monkey Puzzle:  Reshaping the Evolutionary Tree (New York: Pantheon, 1982).

25 J. Harris and others, “Late Pliocene hominid occupation in Central Africa: The setting, context and character of the Senga 5A site, Zaire,” Journal of Human Evolution 21 (1991): 439-449.  Note that these primitive stone tools have not been found in direct association with hominid remains, so the exact species which made them is still open to question.  The discussion of stone tools can give the false impression that stone implements were the only material used by hominids and early man.  This bias is due to preservation: Only stone artifacts, and to a lesser extent glass and baked clay objects, typically survive the ravages of time.  The difficulty that archaeologists have in assessing culture is that any organic materials (cloth, hair, leather, wood) decompose on a very short time scale, baring unusual conditions for preservation.

26 Richard Leakey, “Skull 1470 -- new clue to earliest man?” National Geographic 143 (1973): 819-829.  The initials KNM-ER are the museum identification, Kenya National Museum -- East Rudolf expedition.

27 Donald C. Johanson and others, “New partial skeleton of Homo habilis from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania,” Nature 327 (1987): 205-209.  The initials OH stand for “Olduvai Hominid.”

28 S. Hartwig-Scherer and R. Martin, “Was ‘Lucy’ more human than her ‘child’?  Observations on early hominid postcranial skeletons,” Journal of Human Evolution 21 (1991): 439-449.

29 Richard G. Klein, The Human Career:  Human Biological and Cultural Origins (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1989), 155-158.  Ian Tattersall and Jeffery Schwartz, Extinct Humans.

30 M. Leakey, Olduvai Gorge, Vol. 3, Excavations in Beds I and II, 1960-1963  (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1971).

31 F. Brown, J. Harris, R. Leakey, and A. Walker, “Early Homo erectus skeleton from west Lake Turkana, Kenya,” Nature 316 (1985): 788-792.  [The WT in the museum identification stands for West Turkana.]

32 The major post-cranial difference is that H. erectus has a smaller spinal cord than modern man.  The significance of this is not clear; see Ancestors, 196-202.

33  Brain size is proportional to overall body weight as well as intelligence, and modern human cranial capacities range from about 700 to 2,200 cc.  See Stephen Molnar, Races, Types, and Ethnic Groups (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall, 1975),  57.  A minimum threshold size is difficult to establish due to the rare occurrence of apparently normal modern humans with very small brains; see “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?” Science 210 (1980): 1232.

34 Gowlett, Ascent to Civilization, 80.  Lewin, In the Age of Mankind, 122.

35 A recent analysis of H. erectus specimens from Java shows them to be much older than expected, pushing the date of migration, still presumably from Africa, back to around 1.6-1.8 mya.  See Brian M. Fagan, “Elusive Homo erectus,” Archaeology 47 (1994): 14-15.

36 Berhane Asfar and others, “Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia,” Nature 416, 317_320 (2002).

37 H. de Lumley and A. Sonakia, “Pre-Neanderthal human remains from Arago cave in southeastern France,” Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 17 (1973): 162-168.  The Levallois tool-making technique is often associated with early H. sapiens, but to many it is very similar to the earlier Acheulian methods and forms a bridge to the later Mousterian tool types.

38 H. de Lumley, “A Paleolithic camp at Nice,” Scientific American 220 (1969): 42-50.

39 J. D. Clark, “African origins of man the toolmaker,” in Human Origins, eds. G. Isaac and E. McCown (Menlo Park, CA:  W. A. Benjamin, 1976).  It is important to note that there does not appear to be a link between the appearance of modern anatomical forms and advanced culture.  Of course, we need to be cautious with our “advanced culture” criteria, as some people in the world today live in stone-age cultures very similar to the archaic H. sapiens level.

40 National Science Foundation Press Release PR0202, January, 2002, available at: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/02/pr0202.htm

41 Leakey, Origins Reconsidered, 269.  Some exclusive photos of newly discovered cave art from near Avignon, France appear in Robert Hughes, “Scenes from the Stone Age,” Time, February 13, 1995, 52-62.  These paintings at first were considered to be 20,000 years old, but were carbon-dated at 40,000 years old.  Note the companion article by Michael D. Lemonick, “Ancient Odysseys,” ibid., 64-67, which gives some background on early human migrations and artifacts.

42 Roger Lewin, The Origin of Modern Humans (New York:  Scientific American Library, 1993), 150-156.  Hugh Ross calls attention to the fact that when modern man appears we should expect to discern a religious interest in his artifacts.  Mere burial of the dead does not indicate a belief in a supreme being or afterlife.  See Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God,  2d ed. (Orange, CA: Promise Publishing, 1991), 160.

43 Dean Falk, “The petrified brain,” Natural History, September 1984, 36-39.

44 J. Laitman, J. Reidenberg, P. Gannon, and B. Johansson, “The Kebara hyoid:  What it tells us about the evolution of the hominid vocal tract,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 81 (1990): 254.  Philip Lieberman, Uniquely Human:  the evolution of speech, thought, and selfless behavior (Cambridge, MS:  Harvard University Press, 1991), 53ff.

45 Bruce Bower, “Talking Back in Time:  Prehistoric origins of language attract new data and debate,” Science News 145 (1994): 376-377.  See also the integrative approach of L. L. Cavalli-Sforza and others, “Reconstruction of human evolution: Bringing together genetic, archaeological, and linguistic data,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 85 (1988): 6002ff.

46 Particularly the "black skull" (KNM-WT-17000) found by Richard Leakey in 1985.  See Donald C. Johanson, “A skull to chew on,” Natural History 102 (1993): 52-53.

47 Richard E. Leakey, Human Origins (New York:  E. P. Dutton, 1982), 50.

48 Lubenow, Bones of Contention, 157-166.

49 Johanson, Ancestors, 212-220, discussing the work of Alan Thorne in Australia, who finds H. erectus cranial features persisting in very recent remains.  This is also noted by Lubenow, Bones of Contention, 120-143.

50 Lubenow, Bones of Contention, especially chapter 13.  See also Lubenow’s recent discussion at http://christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c029.html

51 Recent major articles on this model are M. H. Wolpoff, “Multiregional Evolution:  The Fossil Alternative to Eden,” in The Human Revolution:  Behavioural and Biological Perspectives on the Origins of Modern Humans, ed. P. Mellars and C. B. Stringer (Edinburgh:  Edinburgh University Press, 1989), 62-108.  A. G. Thorne and M. H. Wolpoff, “The Multiregional Evolution of Humans,” Scientific American 266 (1992): 76-83.

52 The mitochondrial "Eve" hypothesis is the most notable recent example of such a replacement scheme.  One of the major proponents of this view on the basis of fossil evidence is C. B. Stringer.  See his chapter “Documenting the Origins of Modern Humans,” in The Emergence of Modern Humans, ed. E. Trinkaus (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1989), 67-96.

53 Lewin, The Origin of Modern Humans, 132.

54 V. M. Sarich, “A Molecular Approach to the Study of Human Origins,” in Background for Man, ed. P. Dolhinow and V. M. Sarich (Boston:  Little, Brown, 1971), 60-81.  C. G. Sibley and J. E. Alquist, “The Phylogeny of the Hominid Primates as Indicated by DNA-DNA Hybridization,” Journal of Molecular Evolution 20 (1984): 2-15.  J. Marks, E. W. Schmid, and V. M. Sarich, “DNA Hybridization as a Guide to Phylogeny Relations of the Hominoidea,” Journal of Molecular Evolution 17 (1988): 769-786.

55 R. Cann, M. Stoneking, and A. Wilson, “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution,”  Nature 325 (1987): 32-36.

56 Alan R. Templeton, “The ‘Eve’ Hypotheses:  A Genetic Critique and Reanalysis,”  American Anthropologist 95 (1993): 51-72.

57 Ann Gibbons, “The mystery of humanity’s missing mutations,” Science 267 (1995): 35-6.  Stoshi Horai and others, “Recent African origin of modern humans revealed by complete sequences of hominoid mitochondrial DNAs,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 92 (1995): 532-536.

58 The degree of variability also shows if any severe population bottlenecks occurred in the history of the species.  A famine or other disaster that left only a few surviving individuals would also reduce the amount of transspecies overlap seen at later times.

59 Jan Klein, Naoyuki Takahata, and Francisco J. Ayala, “MHC Polymorphism and Human Origins,” Scientific American 269 (1993): 78-83.  Quotation from page 82.

60 Templeton, “The ‘Eve’ Hypothesis,” American Anthropologist 95.

61 Michael F. Hammer, “A recent common ancestry for human Y chromosomes,” Nature 378 (1995): 376-378.  L. Simon Whitfield, John E. Sulston, and Peter N. Goodfellow, “Sequence variation of the human Y chromosome,” ibid.: 379-380.

62 Robert L. Dorit, Hiroshi Akashi, and Walter Gilbert, “Absence of Polymorphism at the ZFY Locus on the Human Y Chromosome,” Science 268 (1995): 1183-1185.  Commentary by Svante Pääbo, “The Y Chromosome and the Origin of All of Us (Men),” ibid., 1141-42.

63 The mitochondrial and Y-chromosome data do not prove that the “common female and male ancestor to all modern humans” was a single male and female pair; it only shows that one female’s and one male’s (both may not have lived at the same time) genetic information at the specific DNA sites tested (compare the MHC data) was passed to all mankind.  In secular models, this difference is significant:  In a small group of hominids evolving to modern man, we expect statistically that only one pair’s genetic information will eventually appear in all ancestors (see Templeton, American Anthropologist 95).  Thus secular models interpret these findings as showing a pinch or bottleneck in population.

64 M. Krings and others, “Neandertal DNA sequence and the origin of modern humans,” Cell 90, 19_30 (1997).  Max Ingman and others, “Mitochondrial genome variation and the origin of modern humans,” Nature 408, 708_713 (2000); Igor V. Ovchinnikov and others, “Molecular analysis of Neanderthal DNA from the northern Caucasus,” Nature 404, 490_493 (2000).

65 Howard J. Van Till, The Fourth Day (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), chapter 5.  James L. Crenshaw, Old Testament Story and Faith: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 1986).

66 Henry M. Morris, Scientific Creationism (San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, 1974).

67 John L. Wiester, The Genesis Connection (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, 1983).  Reprinted and available from the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute [IBRI], P.O. Box 423, Hatfield, PA  19440.  Two works which show the positive apologetic value of taking this approach are:  Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann, Genesis One and The Origin of the Earth (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1977),  also reprinted by IBRI and Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discovery of the Century Reveals the Existence of God (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1993).

68 We must remember that the biblical texts were copied by hand until recent times, and that CD-ROM and DVD technology, search engines, and similar database techniques were not available for handling large quantities of information cheaply and easily.

69 The sociological solutions derived from evolutionary presuppositions have had little benefit for civilization: e.g., the “survival of the fittest” theme was used to justify Communism and Nazism.  The evolutionary model of sexual behavior is embraced by some for its liberating value:  See Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for their Realization (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1937), 316.  It even permits the construction of sociobiological models that justify infidelity (Robert Wright, “Devotion and Betrayal, Marriage and Divorce: How Evolution Shaped Human Love,”  Time, August 15, 1994, 44-52).

70 Some translations render  %*% :51 (“living being”) as “living soul,” but there is nothing in this passage that explicitly distinguishes man’s eternal nature from that of animals.  In Genesis 1:30 the other breathing animals on earth are collectively called “living beings”.

71 W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 58-59.  Tablet I, lines 208-230.

72 Lambert, Atra-Hasis, 60-63.  Tablet I, lines 255-260 and Tablet S obverse iii, lines 3-14.

73 Pierre Amiet, Art of the Ancient Near East (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980). Photograph #247 on page 358; description on page 445.  The artifact is at the Louvre.

74 There are other possible demarcation points beyond the two mentioned in the text that are favored by this author:  Some young-earth creationists feel that all Homo classes are fully human and consider the Australopithecine series to be ancestral to modern apes and chimpanzees (Lubenow, Bones of Contention).  This view dismisses old dates and fossil-sequencing attempts as misleading because the earth is a few thousand years old.  Some old-earth or progressive creationists also associate the special creation man with the first Homo finds because this provides the largest break in anatomy.  However, the two-million year date for the earliest Homo implies that he existed for an extremely long period of time without any significant culture (especially the metal working, musical talents, farming and shepherding noted in the antediluvian population) or cultural change (as evidenced by the stable stone tool kit).  A third option places Adam in the ancient Near East during the late prehistorical period (around 5,000 BC).  See Dick Fischer, “In Search of the Historical Adam:  Part 1,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (formerly Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation) 45 (1993): 241-251.  Part 2 in vol. 46 (1994): 47-57.  While special creation is still a possibility in Fischer’s model, clearly the world has already been populated for some time with other human beings.  In his scheme Adam and Eve are the ancestors of the Semitic race and thus serve God as the redemptive covenant representatives, but not the genetic parents, of all mankind.  In general, any old-earth model which maintains that Adam and Eve are the ancestors to all mankind must place their existence before about 40,000 BC, which is the date that anatomically modern humans migrated into Australia.

75 Urbanization and the systematic domestication of modern plant and animal stocks (horses, sheep, wheat, barley, etc.) are first widely observed in archaeological strata from the Near East around 10-8,000 BC.  Although initially interpreted as a rapid Neolithic Revolution [see V. Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself (London:  Watts & Co., 1936)], contemporary scholars recognize that the process was more complicated and gradual, having roots extending back into the paleolithic era.  See Hans J. Nissen, The Early History of the Ancient Near East, 9000-2000 B.C., trans. Elizabeth Lutzeier, with Kenneth J. Northcott (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1988), 15-38.

76 The remarkable similarity between all modern female mitochondrial DNA implies a recent common mother (or bottleneck) to the modern population.  This is strengthened by the latest male Y-chromosome studies, which again implies a recent common father (or bottleneck) to the modern population.  Significant interbreeding between an incoming anatomically modern human and native hominid populations would put a much larger variation into these genes than is observed.

77 “God of the gaps” arguments invoke a miracle or other direct intervention to explain something which we do not understand (lightning, for example).  The problem with this method is that when a natural mechanism for the process is found (i.e., lightning is a discharge of static electricity), the need for God appears to evaporate.  Because this methodology was carelessly applied in medieval times, it fell easy prey to the advances in our understanding of natural laws during the Enlightenment.  However, some fields of science, like astrophysics, are discovering real gaps in the natural continuity of the universe (e.g., the Big Bang creation event), so the need for a god to fill the gap is being revived in some quarters.

78 This is the viewpoint of the prolific Stephen Jay Gould, who admits to unbridged gaps in the fossil record but maintains that macroevolution is an uncontestable fact; and of Steve Jones, principal editor of the Encyclopedia of Human Evolution (see quotation in bibliography).

79 This process is described in H. W. F. Saggs, The Greatness that was Babylon, 2d ed. (London:  Sidgwick & Jackson, 1988), 313-319.

80 Christians must be careful to affirm that God also uses natural means to accomplish his ends, so strictly the clash here is between atheistic naturalism and interventionist theism.

81 References in the Psalms to the “pillars of the earth being firm” (Psalm 75:3, etc.) allude to the stability of mountains, and do not imply a geocentric solar system (where the sun revolves around the earth).  In modern times we refer to “sun rise” because this is how it appears to the observer, and are not implying by this that the sun is actually moving.

82 Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1978).


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Human Origins: Theology and Science