RTB's unnecessary high stakes with neanderthals

A long time ago, RTB saved my youthful YEC self from falling into the abyss, and I’m forever grateful to Hugh Ross for that. I’m sure, overall, Creator and the Cosmos is still a great book.

But I can’t wonder if they might push others INTO the abyss with their dogmatic stand against Neanderthals having the image of God.

This is Fuz Rana in his latest article:

“If Neanderthals possessed symbolic capabilities, such a quality would undermine human exceptionalism (and with it the biblical view of human nature), rendering human beings nothing more than another hominin. At this juncture, every claim for Neanderthal symbolism has failed to withstand scientific scrutiny.”

Why couldn’t you just push the image of God back to Neanderthals? Instead, according to Fuz, if neanderthals made art, it means, we are just lucky robots dancing in Dawkins’s DNA.

Isn’t that a pretty drastic conclusion?

For the record, I think the image of God probably DID appear abruptly through a punctiliar act of God (within the evolutionary process) around the time Fuz thinks it happened. But for goodness sake, if it didn’t, and Neanderthals made art, I’m not going to conclude that we’re all equal in worth to earthworms.




@AJRoberts and @SueD, do you have thoughts on this?

I do not speak for RTB, but I can guess. It seems:

  1. They genuinely are unconvinced by the archaeological evidence that Neanderthals had equal capabilities as Sapiens.

  2. They are concerned with the notion of saying that, even in the distant past, there were different species of humans, and Neanderthals qualify as a different species to them.

If I am right (and I don’t know if I am for sure), they probably will never be willing to move to @Agauger’s model that places Adam and Eve back as far as Homo erectus or with Homo antecessor (common ancestor of Neanderthal, Denisovans, and Sapiens).

There is a fair amount of research to indicate that Neanderthals and modern humans were indeed distinct species. A few of these areas are highlighted in this article (which has links to papers published on the subject): https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2014/02/04/were-neanderthals-a-different-species/

Homo erectus, Neanderthals and other hominins are well outside of the morphological and genetic variability of modern humans. Over and above genetic “percentage differences”, there are specific stretches of the genome which are extremely dissimilar. The Y-chromosome is one of these - when the Neanderthal Y-chromosome was finally published, it was found that a modern human mother would not have been able to carry a male hybrid to term due to the severe incompatibilities on the Y-chromosome. “Neanderthal deserts” (stretches of the genome unique to modern humans and never yet found in any Neanderthal genome) are another area of difference, and these have mainly to do with brain and bone function, which is important. Areas of extreme similarity, on the other hand, are typically in ‘adaptive genes’. Mitochondrial DNA is another area which would suggest that Neanderthals and modern humans are separate species._

Other issues that I have known RTB scholars to examine (carefully - and by reading the original papers, not the popular press interpretations of these, or just the abstracts) are as follows:

  • differences in developmental milestones: modern humans are quite unique in having extended childhoods; Neanderthal dental eruption patterns follow the same pattern as other hominins and great apes. Brain development, similarly, continues long into childhood in modern humans but is quicker in Neanderthals. Brain arrangement is very different in key areas between Neanderthals and modern humans.
  • evidence of symbolism. Everyone seems to “know” that Neanderthals buried their dead, often with grave goods. What everyone doesn’t seem to know is that the evidence from actual sites don’t ratify that claim - interpretation is always key. Shanidar, probably the “poster child” of Neanderthal burials, has been confirmed as being wrongly interpreted. Pollens around the skeletal remains do not represent flowers buried tens of thousands of years ago with the corpse - instead, these are today’s pollens, taken into the soil by insects and burrowing animals. Similarly with Teshik-Tash (where a skeleton was found with so-called “grave goods”. The same applies to other sites, each and every one. IA good start would be to watch “Did Neanderthals bury their dead?” by renowned palaeontologist, Harold Dibble (available on YouTube). Other researchers who have systematically studied “burial” sites include Rob Gargett. The sad point is that a claim is made by one team and then another, and after three or four such claims (most will openly admit that their interpretation may be speculative or inconclusive), it seems that the narrative is fixed, and woe betide anyone who challenges it. RTB’s position, from what I understand it to be, is not to “challenge”, per se, and certainly not to be dogmatic. It just seeks to make sure that what is reported in the press is indeed what the evidence indicates. The same applies to claims of Neanderthals making fire (the evidence seems to suggest that Neanderthals were used to harnessing naturally-caused fire, but could not make fire); jewellery; and now, in the news, art. The key to this latest claim is a controversial study using U-Th dating on “plaques”. The dates from one single piece of cave art in the study range from a couple of thousand of years ago to 80-odd thousand years ago. only the most ancient date makes the headlines. Here it is the dating method which is invalid: you simply shouldn’t be dating thin deposits of calcites and other flowstone substances using U-Th, if your deposit is in an open system, because Th can be (and easily is) leached out of your deposit due to the water flow down the walls or along the cave floor, or on top of artefacts, providing extremely variable dates and in most cases, artefactually early dates. This is a well-established problem - see, for instance: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1040618215002530 The assumptions of this methodology are not easily satisfied at all, in cave situations, except right at the heart of massive speleothems.

There is ample evidence of undisputed, clear evidence of symbolic behaviour (art, music, even evidence of an understanding of spiritual realms and the afterlife) that can be securely associated with the arrival of modern humans around the world as they migrated globally. There is clear evidence of an immediate innovation in the stone “toolkits” associated (without dispute) with modern humans, and a continued advance/acceleration in the technology of such, which is unique to modern humans.

On balance, there is clear evidence of developmental, morphological, genetic, behavioral and cognitive differences between Neanderthals and modern humans. This is according to our current knowledge. For the moment, then, it is unnecessary to “push back” the Image of God into Neanderthals and Homo erectus. If securely interpreted data comes to light that changes that, I’m sure that RTB will investigate the data, as usual, carefully, and if necessary, change its model. There would be no danger of “pushing people into an abyss”.


Eh. Homo heidelbergensis

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Most antecessor specimens are juveniles. So it’s hard to draw any conclusions about their position on the human tree.

@SueD your comments triggered the Spam filter somehow. I brought them back, but now you have two copies. I’ll let you figure out which one to keep. :slight_smile:

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I’m pretty convinced RTB is right about this. You make a powerful clase for Homo Sapien Sapien uniqueness. But my concern is that Fuz seems to be implying that if Neanderthals DID make art, this would take away from human uniqueness rather than simply indicate that humanity started much earlier. Why make such a claim? I don’t see evidence from what he writes that RTB would be willing to do a 180 on this if evidence required them to do so.

At the same time, I am very skeptical that a literal Adam and Eve can comfortably fit with EITHER a 200,000 yr old Adam and definitely not an Adam that existed as long ago as Homo Erectus. The idea that an oral tradition suddenly shows up preserved in one culture over 10,000 years later seems very implausible to me. And stretching the genealogies that far back also seems highly unlikely. But here is not the place to talk about my own symbolic Adam model.


@SueD What about Denosivans?

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Homo Sapien Sapiens ARE unique and exceptional. They (we) are the only surviving species of genus Homo that goes back to Homo Erectus who at the time 1.6 million years ago was the most exceptional species on the planet for cognitive abilities. By 60,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens spread across the world and replaced several earlier species. By 35,000 years ago, there were millions of Sapiens living across the world with language, advanced tool making, art, hunter/gather cultures. Sapiens were unique and exceptional 35,000 years ago. Then the rise of agriculture 12,000 years ago and then we went to the moon and invented the internet. Around 3500 years ago we wrote down our stories about the Gods we invented to tighten control of our cultures.

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I can’t speak for Fuz, of course, but from my own understanding of the position of RTB, I’d say a couple of concerns would be at the root of this issue.

  1. The primordial pair, which RTB would argue would have been real individuals, were the first human beings (created de novo) and were the first people to have been created with the Imago Dei. Current research on the origins of modern Homo sapiens would put our species at a fairly recent date - perhaps converging now (depending on model assumptions) on a date between 200ka and 150ka. Neanderthals arguably came onto the scene about 300ka (earlier if H. heidelbergensis is the equivalent of “early Neanderthals”) and are not considered by most researchers to be ancestral to modern humans (an evolutionary framework would put this species as a sister/cousin species). If we take the view that we are a separate species, and that everyone is descended from a primordial pair that perhaps existed more recently than 200ka, and that only our species was created in the image of God, only modern humans would therefore inherit this condition (as well as the fallen state). Since mankind (modern humans) was the last species to be created (according to Genesis), species existing prior to Adam and Eve’s creation would not have the Image of God. This is relevant if you would expect/predict that a manifestation of possessing the Image of God would be that mankind, like its Creator, would be creative and innovative, as well as spiritually-minded. The only way you’d find evidence of this in the Neolithic would be in the way that symbolic behaviour is left behind in the form of artefacts. At the moment, the only undisputed evidence of advanced symbolic thought (art, music, evidence of spiritual awareness, etc.) is in artefactual evidence that coincides with the migration of modern humans around the globe, and this leads to a reasonable conclusion that the Image of God could be manifested by creativity expressed by the created being (mankind). If Neanderthals are indeed a separate species, and are not descended from Adam and Eve, then they would not possess the Image of God, and we’d expect their level of symbolic behaviour to be different to that of modern humans. A difference in kind as well as in degree. Not to say they weren’t sophisticated tool-makers, hunters, users of fire, etc., just not involved in ritual/spiritual / advanced symbolic behaviour and creative innovation that might be a manifestation of the Image of God.

  2. “The Cognitive Explosion”. This sudden manifestation of a different quality of symbolic behaviour wherever (and whenever) modern humans stepped foot has always puzzled researchers. There has been a great endeavour of late to seek evidence of symbolic thought from sites associated with hominin species prior to modern H. sapiens. If, despite the evidence, this kind of behaviour was not sudden, but emerged “gently” and smoothly, this would support an evolutionary paradigm rather than a creationist world view, because emergence should be a gradual process, not a sudden one. There is an effort to “smooth over” the bump. This, I think, is what Fuz is talking about. Currently, this explosive appearance of symbolic behaviour is exactly what you’d expect if mankind, a creative, spiritually-minded brand-new species, started migrating around the world and leaving evidence of himself. The team that authored the “Neanderthal Art” claim is at the forefront of “Neanderthal Crusading” (there are articles written about them, in fact…), and they are highly motivated to associate symbolism with Neanderthals rather than with modern humans. As a result, this current endeavour to elevate Neanderthals’ cognitive abilities above what the evidence really suggests, seeks to make different species “equal”, which is why Fuz is concerned whether the evidence does indeed support human uniqueness. The claims are quickly taking on the form of a “narrative”, a consensus, even, yet each and every one needs examining on merit. It goes to the very heart of what makes us “human”.

  3. Dates, oral tradition, preservation of artefacts, genealogies. I have my own thoughts on this, mainly involving concerns about assumptions made in genetic modelling, particularly if a neutral model is used, without taking into account the unique, rapid migration of modern humans into divergent environments, entailing rapid accelerations in mutations and stark divergences in alleles due to extremely different pathogen/environmental adaptation requirements in different areas. But I’m not able to get into a discussion on that right now, indeed, much research needs to be done still on inheritance mechanisms, and how viruses/pathogens and other environmental challenges are at the root of mutations to the human proteome/genome (some researchers suggest 30% of mutations are caused by viruses, for instance, which would mean that these mutations would be rapid AND specified - not neutral/random). We need to await further research. Suffice it to say that I believe that most molecular clocks overestimate the number of generations back in time to the origin of our species.


There is evidence of farming and human settlement at around 32000 years ago. It is generally difficult to detect this in the landscape, which is why farming only appears to be relatively “recent”. Presumably, modern humans may always have had some form of nomadic herding and hunter-gathering as well as pastoralism (Cain and Abel are examples) - it’s just that until the Neolithic period, it was on a much smaller scale. I live in Africa. If nomadic herders pass through an area, traces of their having been there do not last long. Similarly, small -scale horticulturalism leaves little trace if these tiny plantations are abandoned for a long time. Over tens of thousands of years, with ice ages and climate changes in between, it would be hard to trace the remains of Cain and Abel’s farming efforts.

Denisovans: Svante Paabo is probably the leader in his field (or was, certainly, when he sequenced the Denisovan finger bone) and he determined that this was indeed a separate species, both from Neanderthals and from modern humans.


Fascinating discussion. I’ll simply make the same point that I’ve made on other threads: theologians can’t even agree on exactly what the Imago Dei entails. Therefore, even though key developments like use of symbols, building fires, funerary practices, and perhaps complex language are certainly important to what it means to be human in a general sense, I don’t assume that any of those advancements necessarily represent a definitive and conclusive “This creature was surely human in the Bible’s theological sense.” Perhaps even “the Great Leap Forward” was only a necessary precursor to the endowment of the Imago Dei and not any sort of aftereffect or proof of it.

Accordingly, even if we should eventually discover that Homo neanderthalis had abilities very similar to Homo sapiens sapiens, that still doesn’t tell us much about whether or not they met any sort of theological definition of one made in the Image of God—not when we don’t have a completely unambiguous theological description of the Imago Dei.

For those reasons, I would advise RTB and everybody else (including me) to be very cautious about dogmatic stands on this topic.


I’ll take this one step further and suggest that it may be a fool’s errand to insist that it must be some “punctiliar act of God” to endow us with His image in the first place, given the imprecision of the Hebrew in this regard.
The Hebrew verb 'bara, which we translate “create” does not include any specific information as to the duration of action involved in reaching its result. It is an equivocation of disparate ideas to insist otherwise.
To illustrate, we need look no further than the English, by analogy.
If I were to answer your question, “how did the Sistine Chapel come to have this magnificent ceiling?” with, “Oh, that’s easy. Michelangelo created it” would I thereby be affirming a punctiliar miracle?
Instead, we ought to look at the phrase as a description of the completion of a creative process that took however long it took, because unless we do so, we shift the focus towards “how” instead of “why” --a very strange emphasis indeed, in light of the magnificence of the finished product.
It is, at best, a far inferior emphasis to appreciating, first and foremost, the “why” it was done at all, and then maybe gradually moving on from there to the “how”.
Dissecting the frog before marvelling at its magnificence is THE science-stopper. Let’s not garble the true message with a poor “translation” of the author’s intention.
My two cents.
@deuteroKJ , @AllenWitmerMiller, @jack.collins, or other Hebrew linguists, your comments?


I would welcome you getting into this eventually, since none of what you’re saying fits with what I know of human genetics.


I’m not current on all of the scholarship but I can certainly agree that the word BARA is not as decisive and specific as some origins-ministry speakers wish it were. (I’ve even heard some claim that it demands ex nihilo understanding.) Indeed, the fact that Hebrew exegesis doesn’t address all of our scientific questions in the modern era should serve as a reminder that the authors of the TANAKH had theological agendas, not scientific ones.

I’ve had some YECs argue with me on that because they reasoned that “Because the Bible is timeless, it is meant to speak to every generation, both modern and ancient.” I would agree that the Bible speaks to every generation----but not necessarily in addressing every question and every agenda of every reader in every way that they might wish.


I’m not basing my view off of a gramitcal- historical reading of Genesis 1. All this talk of what the author meant when he wrote “image of God” is important, but I don’t think that settles what “image of God” actually means. I’ve explained what I mean by this in other posts.

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correct. the only thing special abaout bara’ is that God is always its subject in the OT references.

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Over 300ka is the current consensus.

Earliest Neanderthals at 450ka and surviving until 30ka.

So, Sapiens evolved in Africa while Neanderthals evolved in Europe. They were in contact in Eurasia from about 180kya to 30kya and intermixed for about 150ky. So Sapiens were God’s chosen Homo species, and Neanderthals, Denosivans, Naledi, Florescencus, Erectus, weren’t?

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One potential problem with this view of the image of God I’m putting forth is what it would mean as far as what the child of a Neanderthal and a modern human would be considered. Surely it couldn’t be half imaged.

@Patrick and @T.j_Runyon and @SueD

Neanderthals were around 30,000 yrs ago? So interbreding went on until then?