Neanderthals and the Image of God

It is an interesting read about the Reasons to Believe model of human origins. (@AJRoberts)

28:19 RTB 101: Did Neanderthals Bury Their Dead? - YouTube

If I was to summarize, it seems that RTB holds:

  1. Homo sapiens = “human”
  2. Image of God = capacity for religious practice, art, music, and a spirit, awareness of an afterlife, and a spirit.
  3. Everything without the Image of God = Beast
  4. Neanderthals do not have Image of God, but Homo sapiens do.
  5. Any notion of the Image of God is seriously threatened if there is not a sharp divide between Neandertals and Humans.
  6. Adam, Eve, and their descendents exclusively have the image of God.

RTB does not at all make clear on their website, whether or not they think there was Neandertal-Human interbreeding. I’ll plan on asking them this week what their real position is. Though the YEC Todd Woods, says,

“the RTB model” persists in classifying these obvious humans [Neandertals] as animals. In direct contradiction to Rana’s previous claim to the contrary, they now say that human/Neandertal interbreeding does not falsify their model.
Neandertals in bizarro world

What I do not precisely understand is how they are certain that humans must be Homo sapiens. Why not just say that there is a sharp line somewhere, but we can’t say for sure where. After all (vis a vis Woods), the genetic data is unclear where the line is:


It certainly is not clear how to draw the line for species there, and Neandertal are much more like humans than chimpanzees (despite’ Rana’s analogy).

Uncertainty about the precise definition of human, at the very least, would give them flexibility to adjust with scientific findings. Seems like that could have some real value in preserving the theology that is important to them. Then @vjtorley (human = Homo antecessor) or @Agauger’s (human = Homo genus) models might even work for them.

Any ways, aside from RTB’s model, what do you all think. Do Neandertals have the Image of God?

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RTB’s biblical creation model identifies “hominids,” Neanderthals, Homo erectus and others, as animals created by God. These extra-ordinary creatures walked erect and possessed enough intelligence to assemble crude tools and even adopt some level of “culture.” The RTB model maintains that the hominids were not spiritual beings made in God’s image. RTB’s model reserves this status exclusively for Adam and Eve and their descendants (modern humans).

The model predicts many biological similarities will exist between the hominids and modern humans but also significant differences. The greatest distinctions between modern humans and the hominids can be seen in their cognitive capacity, behavior patterns, technological development, and culture, especially artistic and religious expression.

I have often wondered over the years as to why so many origins ministries appear prone to taking dogmatic positions on scientific issues which are unclear and seeing a lot of new data accumulating. Strong stances certainly appeal to many people. But it would seem that those dogmatic positions can soon backfire and discredit as new evidence comes in.


Yes - in this particular case, for example, even before the recent stuff about hybridization, Neanderthal art and culture, it meant taking a stance with the “splitters” against the “lumpers” who regarded Neanderthals as Homo sapiens sapiens.

Of course, if you present some evidence that Adam must have lived after the extinction of Neanderthals, it’s more reasonable to class the latter as “non-human”. But they don’t, making the origin of Adam co-terminous with the advent of H sapiens sapiens, despite the murkiness of hominin chronology.


I was at a conference in which I asked Rana/Ross about Neanderthal-Homo sapiens interbreeding. At the time the interbreeding claims were not as established as they are today and so I got the primary response that we can’t trust these genetic models but then the caveat was added (from Ross if I remember right), and I paraphrase: interbreeding is not impossible, after all we know that bestiality is prohibited but man sinned and so could have bred with Neanderthals. Given their strong stance about Neanderthals not having the image of God this is the most logical accommodation to interbreeding evidence. I wonder what the implications of such a proposal would be with respect to why our genomes would be compatible to allow interbreeding?


I see a discernible difference emerging in Hugh Ross’ view vis a vis Fuz Rana’s. Here’s some snippets of an online exchange with him.
Ross: "I agree, Based on Genesis 2, I believe God created Adam and Eve much earlier than the neolithic. The four rivers mentioned in Genesis 2 only come together on dry land when the sea level is at least 250 feet lower than at present. This lower sea level implies that God created Adam and Eve during the last ice age (20–130 kyr ago).
Me: “Thank you; have you considered, in broad outline, the model ramifications for Walton’s (poorly developed, but still cogent) interpretive view? It’s NOT the “two creations” view you might think it is; I know mine is not. Cheers!”
Ross: "I am surprised at how many theologians are either abandoning or altering the two creation views. I have met and dialogued with John Walton on several occasions. John even had me teach his class at Wheaton College. I did a lengthy review of Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One, which he told me was fair and in context. The review is here: "
Me: “Great review, and well-nuanced. I more had in mind his “Lost World of Adam and Eve,” which suffers from too much insistence on categoricalism, and, as you say, ends up minimizing too much of the very real concordances that really are there, in plain sight. What I’ve been exploring is the literary possibility that the events of Genesis 2:4b and ff. well POSTDATE those of Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a.
That is, affirming a sequential reading of these chapters, rather than a recapitulatory approach.
If God “created humankind in His image, male and female,” LONG BEFORE the Adam and Eve story even began, then we are NOT forced to posit them as coming from at least 500 kya, and they can be from a much more recent timeframe, while still remaining genealogically ancestral to all of humanity living at time of the New Testament writings of Paul. Subsequently, given their newfound capacity for “knowing good AND evil,” through outcompetition, interbreeding, warfare, and even the benefits which a more gracile body type would have conferred, given the changing climates, and dwindling hunter-gatherer resources, they were favored for survival over any earlier types.
Sort of like an “adjusted monogenism,” by God, of course, although illegitimately gained.
Combine that with the strategic advantage of greater moral capability (and thus culpability), along with a greater capacity for doing evil, and you have pretty much what current paleoanthropological evidence verifies and biblical account laments as “the wrong path taken.”
All brought back into a harmony of details because we have simply interpretated the relationship between the two chapters differently. It is an entirely textual interpretive option, not an ad-hoc mishmash. Walton goes a short way down this path, but wanders off of it too easily. That’s an overview of a sequential reading few have ever considered, making all of ancient humanity, despite their physical and ontological differences, monergistically related and accountable to God for affirming. This is not the territory for building racist conceptions from; we are all “created in His image,” whether male or female. Hope that clarifies my perspective.”
Ross: “Thanks.”
(Without further comment, I can’t be sure he “gets” my model yet, but at least we’ve interacted positively.)
Thought you’d enjoy. Cheers!


Hi everyone,

I guess it depends on what you see as essential human traits. Think of it this way. Can you imagine a group of Neanderthals sitting around their campfire at night-time, having a deep and meaningful discussion of where we came from and why we’re here? If you can, then it’s fine with me if you choose to think of them as creatures made in God’s image. But if you can’t, then I have to ask: why would you want to describe them in that way?

Of course, there are certain human individuals who are unable to take part in discussions about the important things of life, whether because of their lack of maturity or some disability. But if a species of hominins had a natural inability to engage in such discourse, then obviously the attribute of being in God’s image is not something they possess by nature. I would add that being in God’s image is not something that can be “tacked onto” a being’s nature: rather, it’s the sort of trait that defines a being’s nature. My two cents.

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Great observation, and well-presented. Personally, I do see this as possible, although not with the kind of sophistication which humanity will eventually be capable of, post-Fall.
What I see with much more certainty is there’s nothing in Scriptures which requires this proposal as the de minimus standard, and we are free to imagine lesser tests, like singing around a campfire, or laughing, as other possible “tests.”
We are speaking of a gradient here, of something which distinguishes us from the animals.
And, did you mean “hominids” rather than “hominins?”

If language goes back to Homo Erectus, and it has been shown that genus Homo 1) made stone tools, 2) hunted animals in groups with strategy and tactics in mind, 3) cooked meat with fire that going back 1.8 million years, why can’t we say that human behavior began millions of years ago.

So while I don’t think Neanderthals talk around the campfire about the Big Bang, I would venture to say that they talked about the exploits of themselves in previous hunts and made up stories of how great their deceased grandfather was at killing large animals.

So I say the cognitive ability of genus homo evolved more and more abstraction and complexity over millions of years. So comparing cognitively a Homo Sapian of 10,000 years ago with a Neanderthal of 120,000 years old is incorrect. Compare a Homo Sapian with a Neanderthal in the same location 40,000 years ago shows physical and genomic differences but no differences to say one was human and one wasn’t.

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This is far from established. There are different views among anthropologists on this question. We do not know for sure who is right.

Yes, but you have to admit that human history shows an exponential raise in speed of human innovation. Slow evolution of stone tools and fire use over tens of thousands of years, then agriculture and metallurgy for thousands of years, then hundreds of years for industrial revolution, then tens of years for information based global societies. The speed of human innovation is going faster and faster. At what point are we a different species than Cro-magum Man 40,000 years ago?

Cave painting from 32,000 years ago…

Sculpture from 36,000 years ago by an artist who liked his gals on the ample side…

And I think you posted an article about a Red Deer kill indicating Neanderthals used thrusting spears, not thrown spears like Homo Sapiens.

The same kinds of studies which showed some hybrid events happened shows that they were rare and nature is purging our kind of many of those genes, while others were likely just reintroduced back to us after being lost in the African human population.

I just can’t see why the push to make them “like us”. Not from you per se, but from all kinds of people. No one of the ancient sages figured that Satyrs were human just because they were interested in human women.

Well our species is the only surviving member of the genus homo so we must have done something right along the way. It did take us 40,000 years to go to the moon while Neanderthals died out and never figured out that the moon was more than an orb in the night sky. But I still have a hard time labeling us human and them non-humans. What if we are still evolving into Homo Deus? with the first split being the invention of agriculture. Your GA and GE were the first of what would become the new species of Homo Deus beginning 6000 years ago and progressing until now and into the future. Not quite fully Homo Deus yet but making enormous progress toward becoming it.

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I think we are. It was His intent from the beginning that we do so. And some of us wouldn’t mind you making the leap. Darwin called it “the survival of the fittest” but the Bible just calls it a “remnant”.

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Do they insist on this? Genesis 1 would make the Pre-Adam group possessors of the image of God… it is a later Genesis chapter that acknowledges that Noah’s extended family is also in possession of it all (including the lineages of any wives).

Only on a sequential reading. If Genesis 1 is talking about Adam & Eve, there’s no conflict.

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