Perhaps one of the most heated questions in the origins debate is that of the existence of Adam, and his “relationship”—whatever that may mean—to other fossil forms which have been found and interpreted according to the conventional paradigm.
Those who spend much time studying this subject will find little value in this article; however, one who has not studied this issue at length may find this to be a valuable summation of the “state of the debate” on this question, and some evidence in support of a young age creationist understanding.
Introduction: The State of the Question
Taken at face value, the Bible seems to suggest that human beings were created de novo (from the new) in the beginning—somewhere around 6,000 years ago. This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the conventional theory of evolution held by about 97% of the world’s scientists—including Christian scientists.1
The Bible makes clear that human beings are different in that they are made in the image of God—what theologians call “the Imago Dei.” Much ink has been spilled in an attempt to hash out what exactly is meant by the image of God. That is not the purpose of this discussion, but I’d invite you to check out this podcast episode where we dealt extensively with that very question.
The logical implication, of course, is that if the naturalistic story of common ancestry is true, there is no room for the image of God to be upon a specially created original pair of human beings. To further complicate things, most evolutionary biologists are convinced that in order to have the biological diversity we see today, we must be dealing with an original “population” of humans—around 10,000 people—rather than an original ancestral pair.
There have been proposed a number of solutions to make sense of this problem. I’m sure I will leave out a suggestion or two, but generally speaking, the following solutions have been proposed:
Young age creation science. Young age creation science understands the Bible to convey a meaningful chronology of history from Genesis to Revelation. The vast majority of the time, young age creationists are “concordists,” which simply means that they believe the Bible speaks accurately and literally about history and even science. This is the persuasion I hold and teach.
On this view, there is no time for the evolutionary process to take place. Therefore, there is no room for evolution from an ape-like-ancestor. Human Baraminology is a division of creation science studies aimed at identifying the proper relationship (genetically & paleontologically) between modern humans and the fossils which allegedly belong to the story of human ancestry.
To convey what this means in understandable terms, this process aims to identify and classify deceased and even extinct organisms such that there would be no question, if they were standing in front of us today, that we could clearly distinguish the human from the animal.
Old age creation science. Old age creationists hold the view that conventional dating—an earth of 4.5 billion years old and a universe of about 13.8 billion years old—is probably accurate. Most old age creationists are also concordists and feel that the Bible speaks accurately on matters of history and science.
On this view, the time exists for evolution to take place, but this view does not suggest or promote the theory of evolution. In fact, adherents are wildly opposed to it. This group holds to a sort of “fixity of species” idea which teaches, for example, that many species as we see them today are likely very close to what they may have been like millions of years ago.
For this group, the question of human-relatedness to other hominids has been a moving target over the years and the subject of much study (even today). Its foremost proponents generally accept the idea that humans and Neanderthals interbred (this is virtually undeniable based on empirical science), but are unwilling to concede that they are humans—made in the image of God—as we are. (For a brief discussion of their view and its implications, see here.)
Intelligent Design. Those in the Intelligent Design (ID) movement hold views quite similar to the old age creationist, except with almost no particular theological committment (though many are certainly evangelical Christians). Some ID scientists are not even “religious,” in fact, in the sense we would understand the term. They simply are not willing to believe that the world we live in could be a result of naturalistic processes, and instead believe it is the result of careful, calculated design.
This means the ID movement makes no attempt at interpreting Genesis according to a particular scientific paradigm. It is an exclusively scientific enterprise, which, of course, accepts the standard dating chronology (billions of years).
On the point of human ancestry, it’s not clear to me that the ID movement takes a particular stand, though I suspect many of its scientists hold a similar stance as the old age creationist.
Theistic evolution. The theistic evolutionist maintains that the theory of evolution is true, and was guided by God. For what should be obvious reasons, many theistic evolutionists are non-concordists. This means they believe the Bible is accurate in terms of theological truth, but does not speak in a literal sense to matters of science and early history.
On this view, Neanderthals are understood to be exactly what conventional evolutionary theory maintains—they are merely one branch in the evolutionary lineage between modern humans and their original common ancestor with an ape-like creature.2
Further, Adam and Eve are claimed to be a selected pair out of the original population of humans which were endowed with the Image of God, and specifically designated to begin the modern human race as we know it to accomplish God’s purposes.
Genealogical Adam vs. Genetic Adam. This is a very new proposition, and for that reason, there is much more research which needs to be done. However, this research is purported to be of a theological nature. Proponents of this view maintain that science cannot answer the question of “Adam” because it does not speak to it at all.
Because they believe the Bible is speaking only of a genealogical Adam, and not of a genetic one, they claim it is possible to believe in the special (de novo) creation of Adam in the Garden of Eden as seen in the Bible, and still maintain that the normal process of evolution had been going on outside of the garden all along.
On this view, then, there is simply no relationship between Adam and other hominids. Certainly, I think there are myriad theological issues with this suggestion. But it is claimed to be scientifically “neutral,” as it were.
We do not have the space to give a detailed analysis of each position. Above, I indicated the position that I hold, and now aim to give rationale in support of my claim that Neanderthals were simply humans.
Before I can give such rationale, however, we must address the issue of DNA. If Neanderthals are just humans, why are they considered something different at all?
The Question of DNA
As creationists, there are some undeniable facts of biology that we ought not fear, but rather embrace, in an effort to form a holistic model of human origins. By definition, any such model must be able to account for all of the data we have presently available.
Therefore, if new data is discovered which happens to falsify a previously held model, it must be reworked. This is not a problem, per se—it’s simply how science is done! Critics of Christianity often point out that creation science is pseudoscientific because it fits data to a predetermined conclusion.
But this indictment is a category error.
The Bible is a book that makes claims about history. We don’t have to perform historical science to understand history. It doesn’t take a forensic scientist, for example, to uncover details about the existence of George Washington. It is our historical documentation which has given us that.
Similarly, the Bible has recorded for us an accurate history of the world.
Creation scientists are simply using that information to process the scientific data. By the way—lest one think this is not what happens in evolutionary biology, consider the simple fact that Darwin published Origin around 100 years before the entire field of science—genetics—that could begin to answer the questions posed by Darwin even existed.
Ideas about the age of the earth and the evolutionary history of humanity predated Darwin by centuries, and it is no secret among experts in the field that two overarching paradigms—uniformitarianism and philosophical naturalism—undergird all aspects of forensic science. In this respect, creation scientists and mainstream scientists do the same thing in principle—just with different assumptions.
So, how does neanderthal DNA fit into all of this? Well, in multiple ways. In fact, so many ways that we do not have the space to explore them in this article. I simply want to make a general point about this that may seem basic at first, but will fundamentally affect how we incorporate this data into the creation model.
Neanderthal DNA is not the same thing as human DNA, yet humans have Neanderthal DNA in their genomes.
One creationist biologist—Dr. Todd Wood—has had himself genotyped and was found to have Neanderthal DNA. Specifically, DNA that was associated with having less back hair! (Lucky for him!)
What does this mean? Does it mean that Neanderthals are not human, because their DNA is recognizable and unique? Well, again, this is a question that depends on your assumptions. And, the answer will depend on what kind of “evidence” you accept in your evaluation.
There is more to you than your DNA. DNA is important—of that there’s no question. But it cannot answer every question by itself. There are more factors to be considered. Neanderthals can’t simply be some distant relative of humans, because we already know when they lived. If my understanding of the Bible is correct (and I strongly believe it is), then it must have been within the last 6,000 years or so.
In light of that, here’s the question we should ask: Is there any evidence that Neanderthals were simply humans?
This is a fair question to ask, and certainly one we can answer. If there is evidence of this, then it strongly supports the notion that humans and Neanderthals lived alongside one another, which further supports the notion that Neanderthals have a perfectly comfortable home within any reasonable and holistic young age creation model.
One such helpful form of evidence is of a behavioral nature. Humans are, no doubt, unique in many ways. If evidence exists that shows neanderthals to be behaviorally similar to humans, a reasonable inference is that they simply are humans.
With all of that said, here are just five (of many) lines of evidence which suggests that Neanderthals are simply human beings:
1. Evidence of Burial Practices
The first uniquely human trait possessed by Neanderthals is that of burial rituals. Many of these examples are cave burials. It’s interesting that, when first learning about human evolution, students are often taught that “ancient” men were simply primitive brutes—cavemen, as it were.
In reality, the Bible informed us of this long ago! Of course, the Bible does not picture man as an ancient brute, but rather, as technologically advanced (for their day). This is very consistent with the evidence3 and almost laughably inconsistent with the story of human evolution.
Nevertheless, the Bible mentions cave dwellers very soon after the Flood and Tower of Babel events. This makes sense since, after the dispersal of people and the confusion of languages, it would be a long time before the skills and communication developed to begin rebuilding cities. These post-Babel people groups would need somewhere to find shelter, and the Bible tells us they sought shelter in caves.
We even find Lot and his two daughters living in a cave (Genesis 19:30). Abraham buried his beloved wife, Sarah, in a cave (Genesis 23:19). Fleeing from Joshua and the Israelite army, “five kings” hid in a cave (Joseph 10:16). Even King David hid in caves (1 Samuel 22:1, 24:3, etc). The point being, in Old Testament days, this was common.
An obvious conclusion we can draw from this is that one does not need to be technologically bereft in order to be found “dwelling in caves.” Each of these mentions, for example, is after Noah and his sons built the Ark! And, as alluded to above, we have many examples of marvelous engineering taking place during the time when these people were living in caves. There is no connection between non-human “brute” behavior and cave-dwelling.
It is an imaginary conception—the product of museum artistry.
On the burial practices of Neanderthals, Lubenow writes:
Approximately 500 Neanderthal fossil individuals have been discovered so far at about 124 sites in Europe, the Near East, and western Asia. This number includes those European archaic Homo sapiens fossils that are now called Neanderthal or pre-Neanderthal. Of these 500 Neanderthal individuals, at least 258 of them represent burials — all of them burials in caves or rock shelters. Further, it is obvious that caves were used as family burial grounds or cemeteries, as numerous sites show. The reason we have so many Neanderthal fossils is because they did bury their dead. The bodies were thus protected from carnivore activity. Most anthropologists recognize burial as a very human and a very religious act.
In further support of this notion, there is overwhelming evidence that “modern” humans and Neanderthals are buried together—part of the same family!
Lubenow is helpful in his assessment of this as well:
Skhul Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel, is considered to be a burial site of anatomically modern Homo sapiens individuals. Yet, Skhul IV and Skhul IX fossil skulls are closer to the Neanderthal configuration than they are to modern humans. Qafzeh, Galilee, Israel, is also considered to be an anatomically modern burial site. However, Qafzeh skull 6 is clearly Neanderthal in its morphology. Tabun Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel, is one of the classic Neanderthal burial sites. But the Tabun C2 mandible is more closely aligned with modern mandibles found elsewhere. The Krapina Rock Shelter, Croatia, is one of the most studied Neanderthal burial sites. At least 75 individuals are buried there. The remains are fragmentary, making diagnosis difficult. However, the addition of several newly identified fragments to the Krapina A skull (now known as Krapina 1) reveals it to be much more modern than was previously thought, indicating that it is intermediate in morphology between Neanderthals and modern humans.
All of this evidence works together to suggest that Neanderthals and modern humans lived together, worked together, and were even part of the same family.
We’ve already mentioned the biblical cave-burial practices. The symmetry between this and what we observe in neanderthal behavior is astounding! In fact, it is pretty much identical.
Of course, none of this is surprising on the young age creationist view. This is because biblical categories are much different than the taxonomical categories used by evolutionists. The Bible uses the term “kind” (min, in the Hebrew) when it speaks to the categorization of humans, animals, etc.
Therefore, we submit that Neanderthals were a part of the human kind. While there may be genetic and anatomical differences, there is no contradiction here whatsoever. There is much room for variation based on myriad factors (ecological, food consumption, family lineage, etc), and so the contemporaneous existence (and even burial!) of Neanderthals and modern humans is perfectly welcome.
2. Evidence of Religious Activity
This point is very similar to the above and won’t require much expansion, but there is almost no question that Neanderthals practiced, in some measure, religion. In fact, Klein has argued that “Neanderthal graves present the best case for Neanderthal spirituality or religion.”
Ruth Schuster, writing for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, points out in a 2016 article:
The latest discovery suggesting that Neanderthals were not beetle-browed brutes is the seemingly intentional burial of a child about 40,000 years ago, in a cave some 100 kilometers from Madrid. The burial site of the so-called Loyoza Child was surrounded by hearths, in each of which the archaeologists found bones, antlers and nearby, one rhino skull. The child itself had been two to three years old and seems to have had its body burned. The team feels the fires could have been ceremonial rather than functional.4
Barbara King, a former anthology professor for the College of William and Mary (and an evolutionist) writes:
Religion is best understood across cultures and time periods as practice rather than only belief. Some religions, of course, feature sacred texts in which a set of beliefs is set forth. In these cases, what you believe about a god or other sacred forces may really matter. In many human societies past and present, though, no text exists, just everyday life — appeasing gods or spirits, honoring the ancestors — that is shot through with a sense of the sacred or the supernatural. It’s within this context that the case for Neanderthal religion — for ritual practices steeped in connecting to the sacred world — is most convincingly made.
While many are (rightly) skeptical of drawing such inferences from the available data, this one is certainly probable and reasonable according to the vast majority of evolutionary and creationist anthropologists.
3. Evidence of Tool-Making
We have here another example of data that evolutionists have capitalized on, while unsuspecting Christians (who have not carefully studied their Bible) have taken for granted information God has already given. Such is the error of those who approach the Bible as if it has only spiritual things to tell us, sadly neglecting the careful historical recording that has taken place.
On conventional dating, we first begin to see evidence of stone tool-making around 2.6 million years ago. These include hammerstones, stone cores, and sharp stone flakes. By all evolutionary accounts, these tools predate the arrival of humans.
This presents a problem for understanding the Neanderthal relationship to modern humans on old age views of the Bible. If tools are showing up in the fossil record long before there were humans to make them, there is an obvious problem with the paradigm. The only hope of reconcile is to relegate the Neanderthal to the level of “soul-less hominid,” but this must be done to the neglect of the vast evidence that shows them to be mere humans.
Of course, many think that this discovery poses a problem for young age creationists. However, nothing could be further from the truth! Remember—on the young age view, we’re only a little over 6,000 years removed from Creation Week. Since we don’t accept conventional dating, it’s reasonable that we consult the source of our historical data—the Bible—to see where these stone tools fit in.
Earlier we referenced the Flood of Noah’s day (and the widespread devastation) and the Tower of Babel, which followed. The dispersion at babel not only would result in cave-dwelling, but also tool-making as these bereft and delinquent people groups came into their own, learned how to build more sophisticated structures, craft more useful tools, etc.
We would expect for the first tools to be very basic and primitive, improving with time as skills were developed. This is exactly what we find. We would also expect to find similar tools in different locales since members of different people groups would need to accomplish similar tasks in their respective location.
Wise is helpful in differentiating how these tools are understood between evolutionary and young age creation models:
The most ancient cultural evidences of these activities are interpreted very differently in young-age creationism than any alternative model of earth history. A particular quality of stone tool, for example, is traditionally interpreted as indicating a particular period of earth history, as if that specific tool was made only at one time in earth history. In young-age creationism, however, the same potential for cultural evolution was possessed by numerous, closely related families at many different places across the earth. It is very likely that the same type of stone tool was developed independently by many different Babel families at many different locations on earth. At each location it was probably developed at a different time and was produced for a much briefer period than is thought in other theories.
Once again, we find that there is no necessary inference from this evidence. One might want to assume an evolutionary timeline and infer that evidence of tool-making supports it, but this evidence has a happy home on the young age creationist view. Ironically, the most difficult views to cope with this evidence are those which aim to cohere conventional dating with biblical data.
Such a view cannot appeal to the global flood (nor the devastation that resulted),5 and as already mentioned, it necessitates that Neanderthals were not actually humans made in the image of God, but soul-less hominids, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
4. Evidence of Interbreeding
Here again, we turn to evidence of a biological nature–and yet we can understand this from a behavioral perspective as well. To summarize and simplify the brief discussion above (see Introduction: The State of the Question), we have the following three options for understanding Neanderthals:
- They were humans, made in the image of God.
- They were soul-less hominids—strikingly similarly to humans, but mere animals nonetheless.
- They are the distant cousins of humans in a widespread evolutionary lineage.
If #1 is true, we have information consistent with a young age understanding of earth history. If #2 is true, we must attribute the vast evidence of interbreeding to beasteality.6 If #3 is true, we either have a very incorrect understanding of the Bible (as did most of its writers, apparently, on this view) or the biblical worldview is false.
Hardly any rationale is necessary to make this point. This is a virtually uncontested fact amongst evolutionary biologists. In fact, if any resistance to this idea exists, it’s likely within fringe creationist groups. They are wrong. Neanderthals have interbred with humans, and we have plenty of genomic information to prove it.
Thanks to the efforts of Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo and his team of researchers, we now have what Lubenow calls “one of the most significant papers ever to be published in the history of anthropology…the genome sequenced from an extinct form of humans — a Neanderthal.” This has given us amazing insight into the nature of this DNA.
Lubenow continues, “It was through the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome that Pääbo discovered that humans and Neanderthals had interbred. Pääbo has had a lifelong interest in ancient DNA, but museums were hesitant to let him use specimens from their collections. Only in 1996 did he receive his first Neanderthal specimen, and in 2005 he began to sequence the Neanderthal genome, publishing it in 2010. In 2014 he published his most refined version, finding that Neanderthal DNA makes up 1% to 2% of the genome of many modern humans.”
Pääbo himself wrote the following:
The finding most likely to create controversy was that Neanderthals had contributed parts of their genome to present-day people of Eurasia. But since we had come to this conclusion three times using three different approaches, I felt that we had definitively laid this question to rest. Future work would surely clarify the details of when, where, and how it happened, but we had definitively shown that it had happened.
This uncontested fact, along with other important biological data only serves to strengthen the young age creationists’ case that Neanderthals are simply human beings. Yes—there are anatomical and genetic differences, but the reality is, as Sarfati points out, “the evolutionary anthropologist Wolpoff concurs with the fact that the mtDNA attributed to Neandertal man falls within the range of variation seen within the current human race…the range of variation in the mtDNA in modern humans is very low compared with that of other primates to begin with, and hence the inclusion of the Neandertal mtDNA only brings the variation in the human race up to normal levels.”
When we look at all of the data together, we find that we have much more in common with Neanderthals than your average museum display would have you to believe.
5. Evidence of Occupational Hunting
Finally, we see much evidence of sophisticated hunting practice in Neanderthal communities. In fact, this pretty much sums up their existence.
Lubenow helpfully summarizes the evidence:
1. The largest kinds of animals found at Neanderthal sites are the very same types of animals used by humans for food today. These animals are usually very large grazers, unlikely to be carried to the sites by carnivores.
2. Many show cut marks made by stone tools indicating that they were butchered.
3. The Neanderthals had the thrusting spears, hand axes, and other weapons to effectively hunt these animals.
4. The Neanderthal fossils show the injuries typical of those who handle large animals such as ranchers and cowboys.
In fact, he points out that “about half of the Neanderthal sites that have fossil animal remains have fossils of elephants and woolly mammoths.”
Of course, this is also consistent with biblical assumptions about this time period. Since creationists generally regard Neanderthals as a particular group of post-Flood/post-Babel humans, we again expect many primitive exercises.
While more advanced systems of agriculture were being developed, no doubt, the vast majority of food would come from the animals that Neanderthals and other humans had hunted down.
In fact, new research strikes another blow to what Smithsonian Magazine has dubbed “The Dumb Brute Myth,” pointing out that:
This new research is only the latest in a recent string of studies that indicate Neanderthals were our genetic and perhaps cultural cousins: complex, empathetic hominins. Neanderthals have now been credited with creating symbolic art, producing geometric structures of broken stalagmites in underground caves and controlling fire to use on tools and food. Moreover, they successfully exploited whatever environment they happened to live in, be it the snowy tundra of Ice Age Europe, or heavily forested lakeshores during the interglacial periods. [Links preserved from original article.]
Lorraine Boissoneault, the writer of the Smithsonian article, references an email exchange between the magazine and one of the researchers.
“This has a lot of implications, as groups of hunters had to closely cooperate, to rely on each other,” said Johannes Gutenberg University archaeologist Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, one of the study’s authors, by email. “Our findings must be understood as one of the best evidence known so far that provides insight into the social set up of Neanderthals.”
What should become abundantly clear is that, as new evidence surfaces, it only further supports the claim that Neanderthals are much, much smarter than they have historically been given credit for.
As has been shown, the paleontological data we find about Neanderthals is quite consistent with a holistic biblical understanding of earth history.
There is much still to be learned, and I’m excited to see what comes of young age creationist baraminological research in this category.
Until then, it appears, based on the best available data, that Neanderthals were quite simply humans. There is almost zero evidence to the contrary (that doesn’t depend on evolutionary assumptions about the past), and biblically speaking, a young age creationist understanding makes the best sense of the data.
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- An important factor is that a much, much smaller number of those scientists are evolutionary biologists who spend time actively researching the subject of human origins. It is accurate to say that the vast majority of scientists “go with the flow” on this because there is no reason to doubt “what the experts say.” Physicists deal with physics—not evolutionary biology, for example.
- To be specific, they are considered to be distant cousins in an evolutionary context.
- See here for a thorough discussion.
- Of course, this quote utilzes conventional dating, but the burial information is accurate.
- The reason for this is that most old age advocates are also advocates for a local flood in Genesis. This is necessary because of the geological data. While I think the global flood makes better sense of the evidence, one thing is certain–you cannot have a global flood and millions of years. It’s one or the other.
- As far as I am aware, this is the current position of the RTB organization led by Dr. Hugh Ross.