Which Scenarios of Adam Will be Helpful?

Hi everyone,

I’ve been reading this exchange and I’d just like to offer my thoughts, very briefly.

  1. The scenario @swamidass puts forward is perfectly compatible with scientific findings. No problem there.

  2. However, to put it bluntly, it’s never going to appeal to YECs or for that matter, OECs who believe in a young Adam, because it involves beings who are capable of knowing and loving God interbreeding with beings who are not. For the vast majority of people in this camp, that’s theologically unacceptable. Todd Wood is a case in point: he cites the “yuck” factor on this point. See here for instance: http://toddcwood.blogspot.jp/2010/12/denisova-again.html
    And he’s one of the more liberal YECs.

  3. Some Catholics, such as Kenneth Kemp, might find this scenario interesting. Kemp himself thinks Adam and Eve lived hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years ago. (The antiquity of man is something Catholics don’t have a problem with.) He’ll be intrigued to learn that Adam and Eve could have lived only a few thousand years ago, and that they could have been created de novo.

  4. To be honest, however, Joshua, I think your best bet lies in reaching out to the Hugh Ross OEC camp, with your recent finding that a two-human bottleneck 400,000 years ago is still scientifically possible. I think it would fit well with recent discoveries suggesting a cultural breakthrough occurring between 320,000 and 500,000 years ago, in the fossil record. See here:

So the scenario I’d push is a 400,000-year-old Adam and Eve, with no interbreeding. Of course, this Adam and Eve are still related to the chimpanzee, but an OEC could choose to argue that the genetic changes required to give them a cognitive edge over other hominins living at that time were engineered by God. Some might call that creation. And of course the human soul is divinely created. I think the OEC camp might be interested in this scenario, as a compromise.



Thanks for raising this question. I’ll respond in the coming days, I hope.

That, to be clear @vjtorley, is not true. We do not need to claim that “beings who are capable of knowing and loving God interbreeding with beings who are not.”

See a more complete response here: Which Scenarios of Adam Will be Helpful? - #7.

Since you open it up for “everyone” I will throw in my $0.02.

I think it is important to define what we mean by “helpful” scenarios. To me the scenarios should be evaluated in terms of how well they can reconcile our understanding of evidence from the natural universe with our understanding of evidence from scripture. An integral part of this process is that to some degree our understanding of both should be amenable to change. Neither side wants to, they both want the other side to surrender, but frankly, if its not amenable to change it is not science- and theology should return to being a science as well.

So by this standard, the scenarios which are not ruled out by evidence from either source are the helpful scenarios, and the one which explains and reconciles both the best is the “most helpful”.

This is different from a definition of “most helpful” than one which emphasizes which will best allow the temporary approval of this group or that. What is true is ultimately most helpful, though it may not be in the short run. I can tell you that most Americans are belligerently resentful at the suggestion that they have anything to learn about the Bible, whatever their view on it. There really is no solution that is “helpful” with a group of any size on that criteria.

I interact with a lot of Hugh Ross campers and they are already beginning to wonder about his scenarios which push Adam and Eve 70K to 100K back. And they should. A date like that makes a complete hash of the text. Adam’s immediate descendants were agriculturalists and pastoralists and engaged in metal-working. And you still have the flood to worry about which in his view reduced the human race to a single Y-Chromosome. It has all been discredited by the work of @swamidass et al but this has not filtered out enough to penetrate the psychological defense mechanisms we flawed humans have that prevents us from admitting that our view of the world is incorrect.

No, the only scenarios which are “helpful” as I have defined it here are those which feature 1) Adam as a relatively recent arrival into a planet where other humans lived outside the garden and they are also a part of present humanity’s genetic make-up and 2) have a flood which is regional in scope which does not extinct all of humanity except those in the ark.

Is there a way to view the scriptures which fits these parameters? Yes there is. It is the Christ Centered Model.It is very “literal” and yet at the same time sees the narrative very differently than both YEC and Hugh Ross style OEC. Not because it glosses over apparent contradictions between the text and the natural universe but rather it looks at the text very precisely, with more precision than most “fundamentalist” scholarship.

Regarding the “yuck factor” bear in mind that there is significant evidence that the ancestors of Eurasians bred with Neanderthals. Nature didn’t “like” it, and the truly alien genes are mostly slowly being removed from circulation, but it seemed to have happened way back in time.

There is room for debate as to how God created the initial human population (focus of Genesis 1) even if Adam and Eve (Genesis 2) were formed “de novo”. Dr. Swamidass thinks the evidence points to them evolving from a common ancestor with apes. I think it just looks like that because of the way the creating was done. This realm was a prone-to-error copy of a realm above where things very much did look like evolution, until we get to man. And there is room for stuff inbetween that I have pointed to elsewhere.

The “image of God” stuff is asking the completely wrong question IMHO, but I will not repeat that here. There is still the issue of “likeness”.

So what does it mean to be “according to the likeness” of God? What makes man like God in a way which does not apply to anything else He created or made? I mean what makes us different in kind, not just in degree. For example, you might say that we are more intelligent than animals. OK, but animals can still be intelligent and we are dim bulbs indeed compared to God. If our degree of intelligence makes us different from beasts, it still does not make us “like God.” Our differences in intelligence with the animals are differences in degree, not in kind. The same is true with our use of language, and our use of tools.

No, what separates us from the beasts of the earth in kind is our ability to unite in Spirit with the Divine. The doorway to this unity is embedded in another feature which we possess- an ability to make moral judgements. We have a spiritual aspect or dimension which other living things lack. We can cooperate with one another based not on mere instinct or just mutual advantage for some material need, but because we judge some common cause to be in the right.

Where we are different in kind from the beasts is that humans have the potential to be of one nature with God. Sinful man can only access this potential through membership in the body of Christ, and we sense only the barest glimmer of it in this world, but when we finally become one with Him we will understand how He is one with the Father- one in nature. It is a capacity which beasts completely lack.

I know there has been a debate over to what degree higher animals possess “self-awareness.” Mankind though, goes beyond self-awareness and seeks out true connectedness. We are self-aware, but at our best we are also aware that there is something beyond ourselves, and bigger than ourselves. We can make a choice to connect and serve not out of mere instinct, but by our conscious choice.

We are “religious” by nature. Properly connected, we are capable of accessing a reference point for right and wrong which is beyond ourselves and our interests. This is what truly sets us apart from the higher animals in that here our differences are of kind, not just degree. That man rarely uses this potential does not mean that it is absent.
This is why I am unthreatened by the idea that there may have been hominids, two legged beings, with relatively large brains walking around making some sort of tools back in the dawn of time. I never considered that being “according to the likeness of God” (much less being “in the image of God”) meant having two legs, or a large brain, or even being able to make a flint scraper. That is not what makes us human. If we give up our humanity, I suppose that is what we can degenerate to- apes wearing trousers as C.S. Lewis once put it, but that is not how we were made.

We have a spiritual dimension which permits us to relate to one another and to God in a deeper way than that available to the beasts. If these other creatures did not have that, then they were not made in His image or after His likeness. In Genesis 1:26 God proposed creating something new. That was Man. How He did that, what method He used, we can debate within the framework.

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Hi @anon46279830,

Thank you for your reply. You raised an important point regarding the interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Neandertals, which undeniably happened. (Ditto for Denisovans.) As I see it, two responses are possible:

(i) as the article I cited above shows, there appears to have been a cognitive breakthrough in Kenya some time between 320,000 and 500,000 years ago. It’s possible that Homo sapiens, Neandertals and Denisovans diverged less than 500,000 years ago. In that case, evidence of interbreeding between these populations would still be perfectly compatible with monogenesis;

(ii) even if we suppose that the Neandertals and Denisovans diverged from Homo sapiens more than 500,000 years ago, the interbreeding that occurred was not extensive, and it would not have taken place until Homo sapiens reached Europe and Asia, around 200,000 years ago at most. Thus for the first 200,000-300,000 years of human history, there would have been little or no interbreeding. As regards the interbreeding that did occur, it seems to have taken place at a relatively late date in Europe (certainly less than 100,000 years ago). Neandertals seem to have used a considerably smaller proportion of their brains for social interactions than modern humans do. There is some cultural evidence for cognitive sophistication on the part of the Neandertals (e.g. fishing, cave art and burying their dead), but most of it dates back no further than 65,000 years. Could modern humans have humanized the Neandertals simply by interbreeding with them? Maybe the more recent ones had souls made in the image of God, but the earlier ones didn’t. I don’t know.

The reason why I personally oppose the scenario of humans made in the likeness of God (Adam & Eve) interbreeding with smart but godless humans from the get-go is that it makes no theological sense for God to have made (whether through creation or evolution is irrelevant here) a new kind of creature, in His own image and likeness, without setting up any barriers (chromosomal, cultural or aesthetic) to interbreeding between these creatures and other hominins around at that time. That’s quite different from saying that a small population of hardy human explorers reaching Europe and Asia 200,000 years ago, and encountering hominins which looked a lot like them, may have said to themselves, “Close enough,” and opted to interbreed.

Re the Flood: I fully agree with you that the Hugh Ross crowd will have to bite the bullet and acknowledge that there never was a global (or even anthropologically universal) Flood which wiped out all but eight members of the human race. 1 Peter 3:20 states that “only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,” but it does not say that the rest of humanity perished. If Ross can accept a local Flood, then I think there is hope of a rapprochement.

Lastly, re the Scriptural implication that Adam’s sons were pastoralists and metalworkers: I don’t know what to say, except to suggest that Genesis may be telescoping the gap between Adam and Cain. Alternatively, maybe agriculture was a practice that was discovered during interglacials and forgotten again during the Ice Ages, as low CO2 levels made it impossible to rely on farming for sustenance. And I might add that Neanderthals were constructing stone spear heads as early as 300,000 years ago. Could early Homo sapiens have experimented with metal? Who knows?

Here is an article I ran across which, while I would nuance some things a bit differently, goes into a theoretical interpretation close to what I hold.

I offer it for consideration. Cheers!

They didn’t diverge less than 500,000 years ago, if indeed they diverged at all (I speak from the perspective of one who holds to special creation for humans, with reasons that the genes look like a continuation of a line). They were not us. They were like the Satyrs of myth, interested in us but not us. I guess I could find the pic I posted on another thread with the skull comparisons, but my larger point is being able to make a flint scrapper is not what makes us human, and I addressed that at length above.

That is true. I seem to remember somewhere that all such genes in living humans could best be explained as coming from a dozen or so couplings. Of course there may have been more coupling, but those groups did not survive.

Way less, more like 50K ago for the human groups that survived, and it was probably in the Near East and those groups later moved to Europe and east Asia.

It is a shame that the church does not teach the bible anymore. If they would do so we would not be so confused by these concepts. Neither the humans of that day nor the Neanderthals had souls in the image of God. Not even Adam claimed that for himself after fellowship was broken. The key to us being in the image of God is fellowship with God. Without it, we are like a light bulb trying to make light unconnected to the Power Source.

The New Testament resolves the mystery about what is meant in scripture by “the image of God.” Colossians 1:15 says that Christ is the image of God, and further that as far as we are concerned God has no other image than Christ. It says of Him, “Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”

That Christ is God’s image is confirmed in 2nd Corinthians 4:4 which says of Christ “Who is the image of God.” Hebrews 1:3 says that Christ is the “exact representation” of God’s being or nature- in other words, an image.

Christ is the image of God, and God has no other image that is accessible to anyone but Himself. That is why when Thomas asked to see the Father, Jesus said “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” That is why 1st Timothy 6:16 describes Christ in the full glory of God with these words: “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see". It is why the first chapter of the Gospel of John says “18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Some translations say “He has explained Him” for that last phrase. Further, in chapter six that gospel declares “46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.”

When God says “let us make Man in our own image” He is saying that the goal is to make man to be in Christ. The ultimate goal of God is not to have a bunch of independent little figures of God-like beings running around creation separate and unconnected to Him. Man can do that, it is what we are born into, but that is the path of disobedience. It is the choice that the Devil wants for Man. It is a choice which promises freedom but ends in the slavery of delusion. God wants His children to choose Him as He has chosen them. He made us as little god figures, in the likeness of God. But what sort of god-figures shall we be? His plan was for us to become the Christ kind. Christ is His image.

God created the first Man in His image, and He made Adam in His image. It was always God’s intent to both create Man in His own image in the eternal realm and to make man in His own image through a process in the temporal realm. The fall of Adam interrupted that process, but the death and resurrection of Christ re-established in the temporal realm what God declared done in the eternal realm.

One must take the scripture (Genesis 9:6) which says that “God made man in His own image” in light of this larger picture. He did, but that does not mean that men currently born into the world are in the image of God. It is what is in heaven where His will is done and what can happen on earth when God’s intent is fulfilled in our lives.

When we are born in this world, we are not born in the “image” of God. All men are born in the likeness of God, but not the image. We have an earthly image. This is why it is written (John 3:7) “you must be born again.” If you were born in the image of God the first time, you would not need to be born again a second time. When we are born again, we have a heavenly image, and through faith and the renewal of our minds by the Holy Spirit we become conformed to that new image which we have. Here are some scriptures which support this declaration, starting in Romans chapter eight:

29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

And also in 2nd Corinthians the third chapter:
“18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

Though we may have individual genes from Neanderthals, neither Y-Chromosome nor MTDNA indicates direct descent from them. The Y-chromosomes are depleted of such genes. This is a sign that male hybrids of humans and neanderthals were either not viable or sterile. The lack of neanderthal genes on the MtDNA side could be explained by all such hybrids coming by means of male neanderthals mating with human women. Their sons (if any) would be infertile and their daughters would mate with male humans, meaning for their descendants that both their “male” and “female” DNA markers would be human. In my view, the problem fixes itself.

The likeness (not the image) of God is what humans start with. I suppose we can lose even that, for us and in this case perhaps for our descendants, with our choices, even as Adam lost the image.

Well I agree with that. I don’t think that happened either. Caveat: It is not the “smartness” but the capacity for connection and a nature which longs for deep fellowship which makes us in His likeness. I think you see from what I wrote above that there were barriers to inbreeding with non-human hominids. Not 100% genetic effective but 100% genealogically effective for both male and female lines (oops have I stumbled upon a small point in favor of genealogical Adam?) The other humans (besides Adam and Eve) were not different in kind from Adam and Eve, Adam was just an ideal example of what they all were, minus the damage caused by living in a fallen world for many generations.

It is and that is more like what I think happened on a small number- like less than 20 - occasions early one. Perhaps through rape of human females. Except it occurred more like 50K ago.

I hope so. That passage in Peter has other caveats and is talking about a comparison with baptism, but my post here is too long already. Suffice to say that this scripture is not a true problem for the Christ-centered model (that the flood extincted the line of the man Adam save for those in the ark, not the race Adam which had existed long before hand).

Its not telescoping 100K + years worth. Nor does it need to. The framework which both Geneological Adam and the Christ-Centered model share gives a perfectly reasonable explanation which aligns well with known historical fact. Adam was specially created recently into a world which already had a human race but part of his mission was to help “kick-start” us from hunter-gatherers to civilization and that was one part of the mission he pulled off- if what we have now can indeed still be described as “civilized”.

@swamidass , see above paragraph please. I think we should coin a term for the framework which the Christ-centered model and Genealogical Adam share. You see what I am getting at? We don’t have quite the same model but both of our models are in the same framework. So we need a catchy name for that framework. You done good with “Genealogical Adam”, any ideas for the name of the framework?

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@vjtorley do not have time to respond in detail to everyone yet, but want to add some additional information into the mix.

First, I want to strongly endorse this statement by @anon46279830:

I would emphasize the goal of establishing a large range of possible scenarios, as this serves the Common Good. Quoting Andrew Toker (Andrew Ter Ern Loke | Hong Kong Baptist University - Academia.edu):

Concerning the relationship between the Bible’s account of Adam and Eve and human evolution, Alexander points out that “We really don’t know the precise answer. There are simply too many unknowns in both the evolutionary account, and in our own interpretation of Scripture, to be dogmatic on this issue.”58 Is it possible that the possible scenario I suggested might be falsified by future scientific discoveries? Of course. But there is currently no adequate reason for thinking that there could not be other scenarios which would be consistent with such discoveries and with plausible interpretations of the Bible, and hence no adequate reason for thinking that such discoveries would be inconsistent with the Bible.

Reconciling Evolution and Biblical Literalism: A Proposed Research Program http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14746700.2016.1156328

That means, there are two general classes of models we should consider:

  1. Recent genealogical Adam models (as put forward by @swamidass, @jongarvey, @anon46279830, @Guy_Coe, David Opderbeck and Andrew Loke), which may or may not include de novo creation of Adam.

  2. Ancient sole-genetic progenitorship Adam models (as put forward by @vjtorley, @Agauger, and Richard Buggs). @agauger suggests origin of Homo genus as “human” about 2 mya, and @vjtorley suggests common ancestors of Humans, Neanderthals and Denisovans, which would be about 700 kya. In my view 400 kya (as suggested by @vjtorley) is very unlikely to work out, and is at best on the fringe of plausibility.

As for the particular groups we should consider. I will list out several groups I know first hand have responded very positively to this effort. They all have potential to gain, and might be drawn to different solutions.

  1. Old Earth Creationists, like Reasons to Believe (and @anon46279830 and @Agauger ), who are unsure of evolution, but are drawn to a more Biblically and scientifically consistent approach than Fuz Rana can offer.

  2. Young Earth Creationists, most of whom I cannot precisely identify at this time for obvious reasons. A key point is that Wayne Grudem’s theological values can be accommodated in an evolutionary scenario (see for example Loke’s work http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14746700.2016.1156328

  3. Christians who affirm evolutionary science, but are not comfortable with the BioLogos approach (e.g. @jongarvey). I’m getting emails from people like this (both inside and outside BioLogos) all the time. See for example: A Flawed Mirror: A Response to the Book “Theistic Evolution” - #6 by John_Rood - Faith & Science Conversation - The BioLogos Forum. Among their values (not always applying to all of them): (1) de novo creation of Adam, (2) traditional theology, (3) a desire to seek peace, (4) literalism, etc. etc. etc.

  4. Catholics. The three groups above generally presume an evangelical orientation, but this has also been very helpful to Catholics (e.g. @Agauger and @vjtorley). It will also, as you said, this would help Kenneth Kemp too (https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/kemp-monogenism.pdf), and is also favored by Antoine Suarez too (A.Suarez's Treatment on a Pope's Formulation for Original Sin's Transmission! - #430 by AntoineSuarez - Faith & Science Conversation - The BioLogos Forum).

  5. Those that feel compelled to affirm God’s direct action in creating Adam and Eve, such as Tim Keller, @Agauger, and just about everyone in the ID movement.

  6. Literalists and traditionalists of all stripes, especially the peacemakers that are arising everywhere right now.

With that all in mind, we should affirm as much diversity as we can. We have the opportunity to create a new approach forward that dignifies those with whom we disagree. For this reason, it is important that we get better at representing each others positions…

To be clear @vjtorley that is not at all what, for example, @anon46279830 and myself (@swamidass) has put forward. You are describing a Kenneth Kemp scenario (not even precisely @jongarvey’s) . We, however, are putting forward a different scenario, where the people alongside Adam and outside the garden had God’s image too. They were made with capacity to be in relationship with God (and in his Image), but not yet had opportunity (so therefore without opportunity to Fall from relationship with God).

This is a very different model than what you have inferred. It is important too, because there is very good textual reasons to believe that the Image of God pre-exists Adam and Eve. You do not have to accept our scenario as correct, but it is important not to misrepresent it.

Just to encourage everyone down this path further, here is a note (which I have to leave anonymous) from a leading evolutionary creationist.

I have lived with such uncertainly about what to do about Adam and Eve and I’ve never read anything that I couldn’t find many reasons for me to be skeptical. Most schemes just don’t provide an explanatory framework that can find a place for good science and a high view of scripture at the same time. Reading your material is the closest I have every come to feeling comforted rather than agitated. I’m not all the way there but you have hit upon several strands of thought that I have been mulling in my own mind in recent years. You have brought those thoughts, some of which were not well-formulated yet for me, and made them far clearer than I could ever express.

Continue the work here. It has been good to engage all of this deeper with you. Let’s continue on, and I’ll respond more when I can.


That, to be clear @vjtorley, is not true. We do not need to claim that “beings who are capable of knowing and loving God interbreeding with beings who are not.”

Well, I’ll just go ahead and re-invite any comments on this article, so it doesn’t get lost out of neglect, @anon46279830 , @swamidass , @vjtorley , and all the other readers here. Hard to comment on everything, I know. Cheers!

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@vjtorley I can show you my math if you’d like but it comes out to about one interbreeding episode every 50 years to account for the amount of Neabderthal DNA we see in Homo sapiens today. Every 50 years over a span of about 5000 years. Not much interbreeding at all

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Does the math account for the fact that once you get a fertile hybrid then whoever they mate with could also be considered an “interbreeding” episode? That is, of those roughly 100 mixes, were some of them second or third hand?

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Hi Joshua. I stand corrected, and apologize for misunderstanding your views. Just a question’ are you then saying that these pre-Adamic humans, never having known God personally, never sinned, or are you saying that they sinned against Someone Whom they knew not?

I’d also like to hear more about why you think a date of 700,000 years ago is possible, while 400,000 years ago is very unlikely. I was under the impression that you had recently established that the latest possible time for an original couple who were the sole progenitors of the human race was a little over 400,000 years ago, which would fit nicely with the cognitive breakthrough that took place in Africa between 320,000 and 500,000 years ago, as I described above. Or is there something I’ve overlooked?

@anon46279830: re the divergence time between Homo sapiens, Neandertals and Denisovans, I got the figure of 465,000 years ago from a recent article by John Hawks, who was in turn referring to a much earlier article by Krings et al. (1997). See here. I notice that the article you link to dates from 2002 estimates a split at between 631,000 and 789,000 years ago. I’m afraid don’t know what the latest estimate is: figures available on the Net are all over the place. Perhaps @swamidass can enlighten us.

@T.j_Runyon: Thanks very much for your estimate of the frequency of interbreeding between Neandertals and Homo sapiens. Interesting stuff.


No worries. Equating Adam with the Image of God (human uniqueness, language, etc.) is a common move. It just important to remember it is not the only move we have. You are not alone in this, and it is particularly common in Catholic thought. We need to keep in mind that there are other options. It is not, as I understand it, much Church dogma about the precise origins and meaning of the “Image of God.”

I would say that there are many ways to think of them, because Scripture is essentially silent about them except to say, in my reading, (1) they no longer are with us, and (2) they are in God’s Image.

Though there are other ways to see this (look at @jongarvey), I am inclined to rely on Romans 5:12-14, which says that sin (hamartia) enters the world because of Adam (he is the first to sin), but also clarifies that sin (hamartia) was in the world before the [adamic] law, but no one was held accountable to it. This is clear in the Genesis story, because we see the Serpent and Eve both sinning before Adam falls. The flatly contradictory use of “hamartia” is resolved with a distinction between ignorant wrongdoing and knowledgeable transgression (one of the key themes of Romans), with are theologically distinct ways of “missing the mark” (hamartia).

Okay, with that in mind, I would say that (1) a community of beings of the same biological type as Adam are created in God’s Image, but they are not perfect, still missing the mark with wrongdoing, though ignorant of divine law, they are not transgressors. Then (2) Adam arises (de novo or otherwise) and becomes of the first to transgress a divine decree, because he was the first to receive a divine decree in a sinless state.

Not posted on Peaceful Science, but posted with Buggs, yes. Introgression data seems to push back the date from 400 kya to about 700 kya, or even 1 mya (but that is less certain). It seems that both Denisovans and Neanderthals interbred with Sapiens, and perhaps even other hominids.

Not, however, that the “error bars” on these dates are very large. Perhaps plus or minus 100 to 200 kya. So it is possible you could squeak by at 500 kya, but 400 starts to stretch the limits too far. I would, if I were you, try to find a scenario less critically dependant on dates. Though, we will do what is honest with the data to accommodate you where possible.

At this point, I think the estimate is back to at least 700 kya. Estimates from 1997 are not really plausible.

The problem with looking for markers of cognitive breakthroughs is that they are really all over the place, with low resolution. Some people see a bigger jump at about 50 kya, and I see the biggest leap at 10 kya. It is just not clear what behavior (or artifacts) cross the threshold.

In my view, it is better to look at the Genesis narrative on its own terms, and posit that the the Image of God gradually develops (certainly with God’s providential work, and perhaps direct action) over thousands of years. That seems to be the safest and easiest position to justify. Then, when I read Genesis 2-11, it reads more like the rise of civilization (which seems caused by the Fall), which defaces the Image of God on all people, and that pre-existed the fall too.

Separating the Image and the Fall in this way seems to be the most coherent reading to me. Though, I do certainly hope that other models are developed and taken forward.

Think I missed where you guys discussed introgression. How exactly does this push it back to 700k give or take 100k years. If you don’t mind briefly repeating yourself. Just want to make sure I’m understanding correctly.

That 700K figure was the projected depth of time to the assumed (though not by me via natural descent) “common ancestor” of humans and neanderthals. The introgression is much more recent, like 50 K ago and rare and likely suffered from the various barriers to hybrid fertility which we discussed. I think one of us just mixed up the former date with the latter event for a brief time.

Now, quoting @vjtorley to @vjtorley, you write about Kemp:

Next, I shall critique scientific evidence which has recently been put forward, suggesting that human rationality is not a single capacity, but a cluster of related capacities which appeared at different times in human history, and that our ancestors did not become mentally human overnight.

So I am confused…why would you look for a sharp moment when human rationality arises? I’m a bit unsure your reasoning…

Hi Joshua,

Thank you for your very kind and thoughtful reply. I’d like to respond to a few points you raised.

So I am confused…why would you look for a sharp moment when human rationality arises? I’m a bit unsure [about] your reasoning…

First of all, I should state that my opinions on human origins have evolved over time, and that a position which I may have argued for a few years ago may no longer represent my views today. The following article, which you cite, was written in 2012:

Adam, Eve and Monogenism: A Reply to Professor Kemp

As readers can see, it’s rather scrappy and incomplete in places. But even in that article, I wrote:

However, Professor Kemp and I would both maintain that our hominid ancestors did become rational literally overnight, when the first human soul was infused into a human body.

In my 2012 article, I defended the view that Homo ergaster/erectus was the first true human being with a rational soul, made in the image and likeness of God. (Coming from a Catholic background, I should explain for the benefit of my readers that Catholic theologians overwhelmingly tend to equate the image of God with rationality, as Aquinas did. The reason is that on the Aristotelian-Thomistic view, rationality is an open-ended capacity for grasping universal concepts, including the concepts of God and of right and wrong. Rationality, on this view, is not something that comes in halves: either you have it in full or you’re a brute beast, capable of only grasping particulars. Thus rationality literally has to appear overnight, in human prehistory. In order to convincingly discredit this view, an alternative model of rationality would need to be put forward, and it would also need to rebut the formidable philosophical arguments for the immateriality of rationality of rational thought. That’s not going to be an easy task, let me tell you.)

Anyway, back in 2012, I believed that there was enough evidence to conclude that Homo ergaster/erectus was capable of taking a carefully controlled sequence of steps in order to achieve a long-range goal (as shown by the Acheulean hand-axes he made), using fire to cook meat, fishing, creating aesthetic objects and caring for sick individuals over long periods of time. These facts suggested to me that he was a rational agent - a view which Ann Gauger continues to uphold. However, facts that have come to light since then have forced me to reconsider my views. For instance, the view that Acheulean hand-axes are cultural artifacts has been questioned: in 2016, Corbey et al., in a provocative article, argued that the production of these handaxes was probably not acquired by social learning, but was at least partly under genetic control. Handaxes, they contended, were “more like a bird’s song than a beatles’ tune.” Other scientists strongly disagree with this analysis, mounting a strong case that these artifacts are cultural, after all. For my part, I think the critical question is whether language would have been required in order to teach individuals how to make these tools, and on that particular point, the evidence is still doubtful.

Regarding cooking and fishing, it seems that the oldest good evidence of fire use goes back only 1 million years (not 1.9 million years, which is when Homo ergaster/erectus arose), and even then, it’s unclear whether the hominins who used fire (in the Wonderwerk cave in South Africa) knew how to start a fire from scratch. It seems that the earliest firm evidence for the controlled use of fire goes back only 400,000 years. The evidence that fishing may go back 750,000 years turned out to be fairly tendentious, too, and in actual fact, the earliest firm evidence for fishing dates back no more than 164,000 years. So I now think my original case for a cognitive “great leap forward” occurring at the advent of Homo ergaster/erectus was greatly overstated.

In 2013, I wrote a much more carefully-argued article for Uncommon Descent, titled:

Who was Adam and when did he live? Twelve theses and a caveat

In this article, I defended the view that the origin of human beings occurred around 1 million years ago, with the advent of Homo heidelbergensis. I found this view very attractive, as Heidelberg man was supposed to be the common ancestor of Homo sapiens, Neandertals and Denisovans. Since then, however, the validity of the taxon Homo heidelbergensis has been questioned, forcing another rethink on my part. I also noted in that article that according to Dubreuil (2010), the globularization of Homo sapiens’ cranium, which occurred gradually, between 300,000 and 100,000 years ago, was what enabled human beings’ production of art, symbolism, theory of mind, complex categorization and semantic processing. This was a significant concession, as Dubreuil himself had argued that Heidelberg man, who preceded Homo sapiens, was nonetheless capable of capable of long-term planning and moral decision-making (including self-sacrifice for the benefit of the group) - traits that we tend to associate with true human beings.

Since then, more evidence has come to light, causing me to question my earlier belief that Neandertal man was capable of using language (see here for instance), and I am now inclined to think that only the later specimens of Neandertal man, who interbred with our species, may have been truly human. Still, I may be wrong. Additionally, there is now good evidence of a cognitive breakthrough occurring in Africa between 320,000 and 500,000 years ago, which roughly coincides with the emergence of Homo sapiens. I might add that the earliest evidence for spears dates from no more than 500,000 years ago, and even that date is contested: the earliest firm evidence goes back 400,000 years. Prior to that time, humans didn’t use tools for hunting: they caught game animals by running them to death, which we were able to do thanks to our ability to sweat while running, and thereby lose body heat. What, no tools for game hunting? That doesn’t sound very clever to me.

So the upshot of all this is that it’s difficult to argue for the existence of beings with a mental life like our own, prior to 500,000 years ago. Perhaps the best piece of evidence to the contrary are the handaxes found at Kathu Pan, which do look elegant, I must admit. These go back to between 700,000 and 1 million years ago.

Notwithstanding the evidence for a cognitive breakthrough around 320,000 years ago, at the dawn of Homo sapiens, it remains uncertain whether such a breakthrough would have required the use of language, and whether human beings living then would have been capable of symbolism, art and religion, and for that matter, a theory of mind. All we can say at present is that these humans had mental maps of their surroundings over a radius of 30 miles in five different directions, and that they may have used ochre as well. If we look at modern human behavior as an ensemble, it seems to have arisen around 100,000 years ago.

So the way I read the evidence, it seems we became truly human between 500,000 and 100,000 years ago.

Joshua, you wrote:

The problem with looking for markers of cognitive breakthroughs is that they are really all over the place, with low resolution. Some people see a bigger jump at about 50 kya, and I see the biggest leap at 10 kya.

I’m curious. What archaeological evidence do you have for a cognitive breakthrough 10,000 years ago? I’d like to hear more about this. Perhaps I’ve been looking at the wrong data. For instance, how far back do you think religion goes?

You also write:

Not posted on Peaceful Science, but posted with Buggs, yes. Introgression data seems to push back the date from 400 kya to about 700 kya, or even 1 mya (but that is less certain). It seems that both Denisovans and Neanderthals interbred with Sapiens, and perhaps even other hominids. Not, however, that the “error bars” on these dates are very large. Perhaps plus or minus 100 to 200 kya. So it is possible you could squeak by at 500 kya, but 400 starts to stretch the limits too far. I would, if I were you, try to find a scenario less critically dependant on dates.

I accept the findings you cite, which would imply that the breakthrough that made us human post-dates the split between Homo sapiens and Neandertal man and Denisovan man. However, I understand that a scenario in which a single human pair, living 410,000 years ago, gave rise to all humans living today (barring limited interbreeding with Neandertals, which took place at a later date) is still scientifically possible. Is that right?


In my view, it is better to look at the Genesis narrative on its own terms, and posit that the the Image of God gradually develops (certainly with God’s providential work, and perhaps direct action) over thousands of years.

You could certainly make a strong case for gradual development on the basis of the archaeological evidence, but it faces some formidable theoretical difficulties, especially from a Judeo-Christian standpoint. For instance, take the God-given rights listed in the Declaration of Independence: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It seems to me that either a creature has these rights or it doesn’t. Ditto immortality (although one could argue that there are degrees of happiness in Heaven). So the first question I’d want to answer is: when did our ancestors acquire an immortal soul, and when did they acquire a right to life?

Before I sign off, I’d like to thank you once again, Joshua, for clarifying the meaning of the Fall, on the model you are defending. I have to say I find it far less theologically objectionable than I had expected it to be, and I shall think it over carefully. And now, over to you.

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Here is much more recent paper on the evolution of human brain shape if you’re interested @vjtorley

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@vjtorley will respond in a couple days. Fruitful exchange. Thanks.

I’d love see your math. Give it a shot?

I am not feeling well so I’m probably going to be off the forums for a while. I don’t want to leave you hanging so I’ll link the paper that kind of guided me to that estimate