List of Figures and Tables
Introduction: Who Am I?
Part I: What Is Man?
1. The Differences Between David and Darwin
2. Fossil Record Facts
3. A Scientific Creation Model
Part II: The Song of Science
4. It’s All in the Genes
5. Bones and Stones
6. The Best Possible Time
7. How the Fountain of Youth Ran Dry
8. People on the Move
9. Is Human Evolution a Fact?
10. Bipedalism and Brain Size
11. Who Was Turkana Boy?
12. Who Were the Neanderthals?
13. What About Chimpanzees?
14. What About “Junk” DNA?
15. Mankind’s Identity Materializes
About the Authors
About Reasons To Believe
What does it mean to be human? Over the centuries, a significant amount of scholarship, art, and literature has been dedicated to making sense of the human experience and illuminating the human condition.
My first real appreciation of this quest came during my senior year in high school. Kathryn Hodges, my English teacher, was a true patron of the arts. She sought to foster a love for good literature in her students. Unfortunately, I worked hard to resist Mrs. Hodges’s best efforts. She and I frequently clashed in and out of the classroom. Even though I was one of the valedictorians, Mrs. Hodges threatened to keep me from graduating because of an off-color answer I wrote on my final exam.
I still remember the phone call my father received from Mrs. Hodges a few days later. I also remember my father’s pleas on my behalf. And, as much as I’d like to forget it, I remember the conversation I had with my father after he hung up the phone.
Somehow, in the midst of our battles that year, Mrs. Hodges ignited in me a love of Shakespeare. Her enthusiasm helped me to recognize and appreciate Shakespeare’s genius. I spent hours memorizing (for fun) passages from his plays and sonnets. Even though I studied chemistry and biology as an undergraduate, I crossed over and took advanced courses in Shakespeare—much to the bewilderment of my fellow science students and science professors.
The thing that fascinates me most about this master playwright is the insight he offers into the complexities of human nature—a depth of insight rarely presented since his time. One question Shakespeare never addressed, however, was “Why are humans the way they are?” Another passion of my teenaged years—music—stirred me to wonder: Are human beings just “dust in the wind”? Where does the desire to write poetry and songs come from? As a biochemist, I’m now convinced that science, in particular the study of humanity’s origin, is a good place to start the search for answers.
Most people take one of two positions on the topic of human origins. The predominant early view was voiced by a songwriter several thousand years ago. David regarded humanity as God’s ultimate creation. His thoughts are recorded in the Bible.
Charles Darwin wrote a book about the other position. He reasoned that man evolved.
Though you likely agree with one of these two men, or wonder if they could somehow both be right, the mainstream scientific community accepts only Darwin’s view. Scientists tend to believe biological evolution offers the best explanation for humanity’s origin, and within their circles the idea of creation is widely rejected and ridiculed.
However, many people (including some credible scientists) agree with the biblical perspective on human origins. Yet this view rarely receives attention in a classroom or at the high table of scientific debate. Rarely ever a serious examination. Why?
The problem doesn’t lie with the scientific evidence, but largely with the approach taken by creationists. People who accept creation often attack human evolutionary models. They quickly point out deficiencies but seldom offer a viable theory of their own—one open to critique by evolutionary biologists and anthropologists. Even worse, the integrity of these scientists is often called into question with accusations of deception and conspiracy theories.
Personal attacks destroy the possibility for dialogue. They erect barriers. Such methods will never gain creationist ideas a fair hearing. (In this book “creationist” refers to anyone who believes in the existence of a supernatural Creator.) And these efforts repeatedly fail to convince the scientific community of the Bible’s scientific merits. So do grassroots political efforts designed to force the opposition to acquiesce to creationist demands, while condemning the scientific community for dogmatic materialism.
Although materialism is the reigning worldview in science, Christians must realize that the scientific community’s resistance to creation stems largely from the view that the biblical perspective represents a religion, not science. Biologists Brian Alters and Sandra Alters, in their book Defending Evolution in the Classroom, make this point in arguing against the teaching of biblical creation alongside evolutionary theory.
The fairness question is still faulty because it mixes apples and oranges. A federal judge has ruled creation science [young-earth creationism] to be “not science” but a religious concept. Therefore, presenting both sides does not mean including various scientific theories but rather including religious ideas or at least nonscientific ideas, alongside scientific theories in science instruction.
When creation is presented strictly as a religious idea, scientists are left to conclude that the theory’s sole basis is blind faith. By contrast, scientific ideas gain acceptance only when they withstand the rigors of ongoing experimental and observational evaluation. For scientists, faith has no place in science. Testing does.
Whenever scientists make statements about the physical and biological world, these statements must be tested. In addition, logical consequences follow from these statements—consequences that lead to predictions. If past and future experimental and observational work matches these predictions, then the scientific statements gain credibility. For scientists, no idea escapes challenge, whereas religious ideas are often considered sacred and beyond the reaches of testing. Because of this perception, biblical ideas seldom influence classroom instruction or debates that take place at the cutting edge of science. Researchers typically don’t see religious ideas, including creation, as testable and therefore meaningful to the scientific enterprise.
Alters and Alters also make the important point that the classroom isn’t where crucial debate about scientific ideas should take place. Rather, they argue, these discussions belong at the highest levels: “Creationists must first change the construct of the scientific community; then science instructors will teach intelligent design because it’s part of the construct. Until that day, instructors cannot honestly teach it as science.”
Many Christians trained in the sciences, including my colleagues at Reasons To Believe (RTB), agree with Alters and Alters on these points. We observe the harmony between God’s revelation in the words of the Bible and the facts of nature. Establishment of this relationship in a testable framework is the core of our research, and it can change the construct of the scientific community.
Development of RTB’s testable creation model has already made important strides toward this end. Drawing from biblical texts, we have advanced detailed scientific models for the universe’s beginning, age, and characteristics as well as life’s origin. Each model (while still open to refinement) has successfully withstood significant testing, with more rounds to come. The scientific creation model for human origins presented in this book continues in this vein.
This book focuses on human origins. Traditional evolutionary thinking expresses Darwin’s view and an approach to science based on naturalism (or materialism). The RTB human origins model represents David’s view and reflects the science of nature (creation) based on a biblical description. (This book describes one biblical creation model. Alternate interpretations of biblical creation texts may produce slight variants.) Both views are put to the test for scientific viability. By using a testable framework, this book places creation in the realm of science.
For the sake of simplicity, this work follows a precedent established in the Bible. Genesis 5:1-2 says, “When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man’ ” (emphasis added). Rather than denoting gender, the words “Adam,” “he,” and “man” in this book at times signify all humanity—women and men equally. In this usage, no offense is intended to anyone.
The material in this book unfolds in what we hope is an intriguing manner. Chapter 1 contrasts David’s and Darwin’s views on man’s significance. Chapter 2 takes a look at the hominid fossil record and at the current evolutionary models to explain humanity’s origin.
Chapter 3 presents the RTB model for human origins using testable methodology and delineating key predictions.
Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the latest advances in genetics, archeology, and paleontology and show how discoveries in these areas impact both models. Chapter 6 analyzes the timing of humanity from an astronomical perspective. Chapter 7 explores how the long life spans recorded in Genesis can be accounted for scientifically. Chapter 8 examines recent genetic evidence from human populations that maps the surprising pattern of humanity’s spread from the Middle East. A look at the geological research and archeological record helps identify the timing of humanity’s migration throughout the world.
Chapter 9 addresses the question “Can human evolution be declared a fact?” Questions about the origin of bipedalism and humanity’s large brain size are examined in chapter 10, while chapters 11 and 12 discuss Homo erectus and Neanderthals. Chapter 13 takes a look at the genetic similarities and differences between humans and chimpanzees and shows how this comparison (often cited as evidence for evolution) fits within the biblical framework and RTB’s model. Chapter 14 provides a response to what many consider the greatest challenge to biblical creation: junk DNA. The final chapter reflects on the significance of the latest advances in human origins research.
Scripture references have been placed in the endnotes so readers can easily examine what the Bible says. Scientific references and additional reading material can also be found in the notes.
While I have written most of its contents, this book equally represents the work of Hugh Ross. Over the last decade or so, the two of us have contemplated and probed the question of humanity’s origin. For the last five years, we have vigorously pursued answers to this question as a multidisciplinary quest. Though each of us has made original and unique contributions to this book, it is difficult, in many instances, to know where one’s contribution begins and the other’s ends.
Understanding the differences between David’s and Darwin’s perspectives on human origins impacts every important decision an individual can make. Do I have value and purpose, or am I an accident of nature? The answer to this question carries life-changing implications.
What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure He that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike reason
To fust in us unus’d.
—Hamlet Act IV, scene iv
Human cloning. Stem cell research. The Human Genome Project. Genetic engineering. These scientific advances prompt many questions. Is man merely a physical being, the sum of his parts? Can those parts be dissected and used at society’s discretion? Or is there more to human beings than their physical makeup? Does human life possess innate worth and significance that establish inviolable boundaries? These questions lead to the most crucial one of all—what is man?
A picture of Earth recorded by Voyager 1 from 3.7 billion miles away emphasizes the profound nature of these questions. In the middle of this grainy photograph, produced by the spacecraft’s instruments on Valentine’s Day 1990, arth appears as just a small, pale-blue dot—one tiny planet in the midst of the universe’s great expanse (see figure 1.1). For astronomer Carl Sagan, the stunning imagery magnified the reality that
every part of human history that had ever been known occurred on this small dot.As you look at it you can think of every poor person and every rich person that has ever lived. Every ancestor you ever had came from this tiny world. Every terrible crime and extraordinary invention, from the discovery of fire to the invention of spaceflight, has all occurred on this tiny little speck.
Humanity’s home is located in the Milky Way Galaxy. This spiral galaxy measures about 120,000 light-years across and consists of about 200 billion stars. Yet the Milky Way Galaxy is only one small galaxy in a collection of 27 galaxies spanning 3 million light-years. Together they comprise but a small fraction of the universe, which contains roughly 200 billion galaxies. Each galaxy includes an average of about 100 billion stars, making a total of about 20 billion trillion stars. As an infinitesimal part of the universe, Earth’s smallness seems incomprehensible. But there in its midst, stands man.
Most people don’t need current astronomy facts to be spurred to consider humanity’s insignificance. A contemplative gaze into a clear night sky is enough. In light of the vast cosmic expanse, humans just don’t seem to matter at all.
About 3,000 years ago a man named David wrote a song expressing his sense of human triviality as he looked up into the dark, jeweled expanse of about 6,500 visible stars.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
David saw evidence for God’s existence. He believed the beauty and vastness of the heavens resulted from God’s handiwork. In light of the universe’s grandeur, David, a human being with a heart full of desires, struggled to think that God might take notice of any particular individual.
However, in the depths of his incredulity, David recalled the Genesis 1 creation account.
You made him [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Based on ancient scrolls, David believed that God had created man and woman in His image and appointed them to take charge of Earth and all its other creatures. Even though humanity appeared to be a tiny part of the cosmos, God made people the pinnacle of His creation.
David’s view of humanity largely prevailed in the Judeo-Christian world until the early 1870s. Then publication of Charles Darwin’s detailed work on human origins, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, stopped the music.
For evolutionists, the idea of man’s inherent value and purpose no longer made sense. Darwin proposed that, like all species, humanity evolved through a process of descent with modification from an ancestor shared with apes. As Darwin put it, “In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some apelike creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term ‘man’ ought to be used.”
Darwin saw evidence that human beings are nothing more than animals—certainly not the direct product of divine activity. He believed man differs only in degree and not in kind from apes.
Charles Darwin did the unthinkable: He interpreted humanity in a fully mechanistic and materialistic fashion. According to this view, all of human nature, not just humanity’s physical makeup, emerged under the auspices of natural selection. Darwin regarded humanity’s mental powers and intellectual capacity, as well as moral sense and religious beliefs, as evolution’s invention.
The late Stephen Jay Gould, in his work Wonderful Life (written nearly 120 years after Darwin’s The Descent of Man), drove home naturalism’s claim: Man’s appearance, self-awareness, intellect, and moral sensibility are not the inevitable product of an evolutionary process that marched inexorably toward increasingly sophisticated organisms with advanced mental capacity. Rather, humanity is nothing more than “a thing so small in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event,” that it must be a quirk of fate.
Gould based his conclusion of “historical contingency” on the nature of the evolutionary process. Because chance governs biological evolution at its most fundamental level, repeated evolutionary events must result in dramatically different outcomes. According to Gould, “No finale can be specified at the start, none would occur a second time in the same way, because any pathway proceeds through thousands of improbable stages. Alter any early event ever so slightly, and without apparent importance at the time, and evolution cascades into a radically different channel.”
With a metaphor of “replaying life’s tape,” Gould asserts that if a person were to push the Rewind button, erase life’s history, and let the tape run again, the results would be completely different. The nature of the evolutionary process renders outcomes nonreproducible. Evolution has no tendencies. From this perspective, humanity might never have been.
Until recently, Gould’s (and others’) case for historical contingency was qualitative, based on the logical outworkings of evolution’s observed mechanisms. New work by scientists from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) and Michigan State University provides quantitative support for historical contingency. These researchers modeled the evolutionary process with computer simulations monitoring the behavior of autonomously replicating computer programs. These studies showed that biological evolution must take place along a unique pathway each time, if and when it occurs. In other words, evolution cannot repeat.
Historical contingency drives away any hope one might derive from thinking evolution “had humanity in mind” as it began its work 4 billion years ago. Evolution has no “mind,” no direction, no tendency toward progressive advance. The evolutionary process, rightly understood, might not have produced human beings at all.
Accordingly, primates emerged through a lucky happenstance. Lucky happenstance caused bipedal primates to appear. Lucky happenstance brought primates with large brains into being. And, once lucky happenstance gave modern humans their start, only lucky happenstance kept them from suffering the fate of Neanderthals and Homo erectus.
Historical contingency dramatically amplifies man’s insignificance in the cosmos.
When Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, he lacked direct evidence for human evolution. He surmised that man must have evolved from an apelike animal based on anatomical comparisons among humans and other mammals, embryological similarities, and the existence of what he called “rudimentary,” or vestigial, organs—biological structures found in humans that seemingly served little or no function but that appeared to be derived from fully functional ancestral forms.
Darwin reasoned that natural selection and variation were at work in humans, just as in lower animals. He believed that after humans arose, several subspecies (races) evolved. Darwin also provided an explanation as to why distinctly human features evolved and how these characteristics provided man’s progenitors with an evolutionary advantage.
At the time Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, paleontologists had just discovered Cro-Magnon Man fossils (1868), dated at 35,000 years of age, in the caves of France. However, these human remains did little to support the notion of human evolution.
Paleontologists had also discovered the first Neanderthal specimen (1856) in the Neander Valley of western Germany. These fossil remains, which dated anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 years in age, bore many similarities to modern humans, yet they also possessed distinct features. For example, the skull displayed prominent bony ridges above the eyes, unusually large teeth, a chin that receded, and a forehead that sloped backward. Debate centered on Neanderthal’s “human” status. Was he a primitive prehuman or simply a deformed human?
Because of their similarity to human beings, Neanderthals provided little fossil evidence for humanity’s shared ancestry with the great apes. Paleontologists had yet to discover fossils for intermediate forms that could demonstrate the gradual transition of apelike creatures into humans—fossils that could powerfully corroborate Darwin’s idea.
However, the Neanderthal fossils convinced many people that humanity’s age far exceeded 6,000 years, the age espoused by many self-described biblical literalists, who viewed the Genesis 1 creation days as 24-hour time periods. For many people, this finding greatly diminished the credibility of the biblical account of Adam and Eve.
Though human evolution gained little direct support from Neanderthals, it indirectly gained favor. The scientific community seemed to have demonstrated biblical error regarding human origins.
The first ape-human “intermediate” interpreted from the fossil record was discovered in 1890 on the Indonesian island of Java by Dutch paleontologist Marie Eugene François Thomas Dubois. This species, dubbed Pithecanthropus erectus (and later Homo erectus), walked upright but had a brain size about 60 percent that of modern humans. While some anthropologists regarded “Java Man” as one of humanity’s ancestors, controversy surrounded this conclusion. Still, this evidence seemed to substantiate human evolution.
In 1924 anthropologist Raymond Dart uncovered a small skull in South Africa with a blend of ape and human features that represented (to the scientific community) humanity’s most primitive predecessor. This fossil, nicknamed the Taung Child, was formally classified as Australopithecus africanus. Dart reasoned that the Taung Child must have walked erect based on the location of its foramen magnum (the opening in the skull’s base that receives the spinal cord). As with Pithecanthropus, however, controversy swirled around the status of the Taung Child in relation to modern humans.
But then Louis Leakey uncovered stone tools in the early 1930s. This discovery drew him and his wife, Mary, back to Olduvai Gorge in Kenya again and again in an attempt to find and identify the toolmaker. The turning point for human evolution finally came in the late 1950s. After nearly three decades of labor, Mary Leakey discovered the Zinj fossil in East Africa. Almost immediately after this discovery (eventually classified as a robust Australopithecus), Louis Leakey unearthed the first Homo habilis specimen. Paleontologists considered this species as the connection between the more primitive apelike australopithecines and Homo erectus. These scientists also regarded Homo habilis as the species responsible for the tools recovered in Olduvai Gorge and the first toolmaker in the human evolutionary pathway.
These two discoveries opened the floodgates. In the decades since, paleontologists have uncovered a treasure trove of hominid fossils that encompass a wide range of species and their accompanying archeological remains. The discoveries occurred throughout eastern, central, and southern Africa; Asia; the Middle East; and Europe—and the riches continue to pour in. Each new hominid unearthed appears (to the general public) to fill in the evolutionary tree and clarify the course of human evolution over the last 6 million years.
For many people, genetic comparisons between humans and the great apes further fill in the fossil evidence for human evolution. Such studies indicate a high degree of genetic similarity (98 percent) between humans and chimpanzees, for example. To evolutionary biologists, this resemblance means humans and chimps must have shared a common ancestor roughly 5 to 6 million years ago. Darwin’s circumstantial case has apparently been substantiated by such compelling evidence that H. James Birx (a visiting professor at Harvard University) wrote in the introduction to a new edition of The Descent of Man, “The myth of Creation as espoused by religious creationists and biblical fundamentalists has been replaced by the fact of evolution. . . . Despite the wishes of some to the contrary, the fact of evolution will not disappear.”
These discoveries and their implications about humanity’s origin and place in the universe continue to captivate the general public’s interest. To satisfy this curiosity, reports about hominid finds and the latest ideas in human evolutionary theory permeate the popular media. Topics related to human origins are a programming staple for PBS and the Discovery Channel. The most recent fossil discoveries and their importance to human evolution are frequent topics in science periodicals such as Scientific American, National Geographic, and Discover.
In the last few years, Time magazine has published at least two cover stories about hominid fossil finds, and the recovery of a hominid fossil (dubbed the “Toumai Man”) even made the front page of USA Today. Given the widespread media attention to these discoveries, it’s no wonder that most people believe there is overwhelming evidence for human evolution.
For Darwin, evidence of humanity’s “lowly origin” came from the “indelible stamp” of evolution on “his bodily frame.” But was he right? And what about David? Does his view, expressed in the Bible, have any merit at all?
Is humanity a quirk of nature—a mere accident with no significance whatsoever? Or is man the crown of creation, made in the Creator’s image?
Given the magnitude of the question, one must give careful consideration to the data. Does the fossil record really support Darwin’s view of the “indelible stamp”? Or does the record reveal the need for an alternative theory, one based on David’s explanation—the biblical view of humanity’s origin? Facts from the fossil record, as described in the next chapter, point toward some intriguing answers.