One of the oldest controversies among anthropologists is over whether a “splitter” view or a “lumper” view is the most accurate description of human history. As scientists study ancient fossils, they have to determine whether they should be split into different species of hominids or lumped into races of one human species. One of the famous splitters was Louis Leakey who attached a new name to every find he made. Because of his long and productive life in studying the fossils of Africa his names have stayed around for a long time.
Other anthropologists have suggested that many of the specimens with unique names were actually just racial variations. Races can look very different and yet still be one species. There is just one human species. Looking at the skeletal remains of a Pygmy and a Swede, one might conclude that they are two different species, but they are fertile with one another, and they are one species. Racial characteristics are usually related to climate. Skin color is related to how close to or how far from the equator ones’ ancestors have lived. Lighter skin color can absorb more vitamin D from limited sunlight, and dark skin gives greater protection from the harmful rays of the Sun.
All of this has been getting attention recently as scientists study the DNA of the remains of various humans. The London Natural History Museum has just released a study of the DNA of the so-called “Cheddar Man”–a human skeleton discovered in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England, in 1903. The study suggests that this person had dark skin, blue eyes, and curly hair. The theory is that the British landmass was connected to continental Europe and that humans migrated into the area with some of them coming all the way from Africa.
The Bible makes it clear that there is one human species. The apostle Paul said in Acts 17:26 God “has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the Earth.” What distinguishes humans as a species is that God created us in His image which gives us the ability to worship and have creativity and a concept of self. Our physical characteristics which identify us racially are simply functions of genetic heritage and the environment in which we live. Racial prejudice comes from ignorance, and Christians should be leaders in demanding equality for all people.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
One question that keeps coming up is how ancient people recorded in the Bible lived so many years. How old was Methuselah? Genesis 5:27 tells us that Methuselah lived 969 years. How can that be?
As I hit my eightieth birthday with all the aches and pains that go with old age, I have to ask why anyone would WANT to live that long. The ancient Hebrew texts tell us that people in those days had aches and pains too. You might say that their bodies were different from ours, but that isn’t what the evidence shows. You can date a human bone by a careful study of the bone material itself and studies have shown that people in ancient times had very short lifespans by our standards.
We have discussed this issue in the past, and one possible explanation we have mentioned is that they weren’t using our method of measuring time. Julius Caesar gave us the calendar in 45 B.C., and Pope Gregory adjusted it long after the time of Christ, but ancient people used celestial objects to measure time. Some scholars have given another possible answer to the time issue. Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith (Volume 55 #4, pages 239-251) and Brevard S. Child’s book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture pages 152-3 suggest a cultural answer to this question.
In Mesopotamia, great people were honored by assigning them an age that was symbolic of their character or accomplishments rather than reporting their chronological age. The ancient Sumerian king list records, “In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years.” The picture shows one surviving copy of the Sumerian king list. The list also tells of other kings with even longer reigns. It should be pretty obvious that this is not referring to chronological age. Other cultures of that time did the same thing. The Chinese recorded their rulers as having very long lifespans comparable to Methuselah’s.
So how old was Methuselah? Remember what it means to take the Bible literally. It means you look at who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how people of the time would have understood it. The age of Methuselah is not an error, but rather it may be an accurate recording of what the author had in mind when he gave credit to this great man of faith.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Child, Brevard S., Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Fortress Press, © 1979, ISBN 0-8006-0532-2
In the 1970s there was a lot of attention paid to a community of ascetics known as the Essenes. This group lived in the Qumran area near the Dead Sea and were probably the producers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the past, skeptics of Christianity have suggested that they were the originators of Christian teachings and of Jesus himself. The Essenes expected a “Teacher of Righteousness” who would rise from the dead.
As scholars probed more deeply, it became obvious that there were huge differences that invalidated attempts to discredit Christianity by ascribing its teachings to the Essenes. The Essenes were ultraconservative Jews, many of whom rejected marriage and attempted to hide from the Romans.
On November 16, 2017, anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem presented a study of 33 newly discovered skeletons found at Qumran. Carbon-14 dating puts the bones at 2200 years ago, close to the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The bones are mostly, if not all, from adult males and have no signs of having been in combat, so they were not soldiers.
In February of 2017, researchers found another cave that seems to have held more scrolls or pieces of leather or papyrus that were ready to be used for writing. The significance of the finds is that they may lead to more scrolls in the area. Questions about who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls do need to be answered to establish the validity of the documents.
The content of the writings of the Essenes validates the accuracy of the Bible. So far the Dead Sea Scrolls contain all the books of the Old Testament except the book of Esther. The scrolls predate the birth of Christ, and they show that the text of the Old Testament has been faithfully preserved. Research continues and will have great value in answering biblical questions.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Science News December 23,2017.
Recently someone asked whether Christianity was just a European creation and never had worldwide distribution. What many people don’t realize is that Christianity came to China in A.D. 635. A limestone block called the Nestorian Stele was created in A.D. 781, and it records 150 years of early Chinese Christianity. The stele gives the story of the Christian mission work in both Chinese and Aramaic.
The missionaries established Christian congregations in China and Mongolia. They did not try to westernize the people they were teaching. They dressed and lived simply, learned Chinese, and respected the Confucian culture.
There was no state church in most of Asia, so unlike Europe, the early Christians in the East did not have protection by the state. However, when Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road to China in 1254-1324, he found that the gospel message had proceeded him.
Chinese Christianity continues to function today in the homes of people and in quiet, steady teaching by Christians. The state continues to try to suppress the Church, but it is alive and well. We have our “Does God Exist?” DVD series overdubbed in Mandarin Chinese and copies of the DVDs have been made in China. Benny Mullins has been a part of doing that work, and we continue to get emails, written questions, and requests from all over China.
Hostile governments cannot contain the good news about Jesus Christ and the freedom that Christians enjoy no matter the culture or geographic setting. Christianity is not an American or European or Middle Eastern phenomenon. It is an outreach by God to bring all people into a loving relationship with their Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
One of the things I love about science is that because of the nature of the discipline, errors eventually get corrected. Data on ancient animal butchering by humans just received a correction.
“In a field where researchers reap big rewards for publishing media-grabbing results in high-profile journals … there’s a push to publish extraordinary findings, but evolutionary researchers always have to weigh what is interesting versus what’s correct.” That statement was made by David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University in Washington D.C. He was responding to an announcement that what scientists thought was human butchering work with stone tools was apparently crocodile bites.
The date of tool use by early humans has been pushed back again and again as microscopic investigations looked at the shape of marks on the bones of horses and other animals. Carnivores like hyenas leave U-shaped marks on bones. Scientists had assumed that V-shaped incisions with internal ridges were caused by ancient animal butchering by humans using stone-age tools. The new finds show that crocodile bites can leave the same pattern on bones as stone butchering tools.
The traditional and biblical views of early humans show that they were gatherers and that butchering animals came along sometime later. The picture of the real human history is based on the evidence, and it is a constantly changing picture. The picture gets modified as scientists discover new evidence. The model indicated by Scripture and the scientifically-accepted picture will get closer to agreement as new evidence comes to light, and old evidence is re-examined.
Data from Science News December 9, 2017, and the November 6 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Egyptians constructed the Great Pyramid of Giza around 4500 years ago. Ever since then people have admired it, and in recent generations, they have speculated about its construction. Some have maintained that aliens built it because of the complexities of its structure and its relationship to the Sun, Moon, and other planets.
The main interior section of the pyramid is called the “grand gallery.” It is a sloping corridor in the heart of the pyramid linking the burial chambers of the king and queen. Egyptologists have established many facts about the ruler who built the pyramid, and there is now very little question about how they constructed it and how it fits into the religious views of the ancient Egyptian culture.
As scientific tools become more refined, we discover new information about the pyramid. Recently muon radiography has allowed scientists to investigate areas within the pyramid that they were not able to explore. What they found was a room above the grand gallery that is 98 feet (29.3 m) long and 26 feet (7.9 m) high. Scientists don’t know why the room is there and what, if anything, might be stored in it. Unfortunately, they cannot get access to the room without damaging the structure of the pyramid. What it does show is that the engineering and architecture of the Great Pyramid of Giza are even more amazing than we had understood in the past.
We tend to think that our technology and engineering skills are solely a product of our recent evolution. We overlook the fact that ancient people had the same intellectual capacity that we have today. We stand on their shoulders and have the blessing of the foundations they gave us to advance our technology. That does not mean that we are superior in any way.
We must remember God’s comment in Genesis 11:6 that humans have “nothing that will be restrained from them.” God stopped the construction of the “Tower of Babel” by problems in communication when He confounded their language. Language is still a limitation today, but one that we can largely overcome. What we need is unity in purpose and a guide as to how to treat one another. That is the missing part that the teachings of Christ can provide.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
When I was in high school in the 1950s, a human was defined in terms of making tools and cultivating food. The idea that tool use is unique to humans has been disproven many times. Birds, apes, and some fish have all been shown to use tools. We even have examples of animals farming.
In 1967 studies were released showing that Attine ants were gathering fungi into groupings, and then using the fungi as their sole food source. Recent studies have verified that Attine ants get the amino acid arginine from the fungus that they grow in plots. The ants provide the moisture the fungus must have, and the fungus provides the arginine the ants need. This symbiotic relationship is one of many in the natural world that show a critical balance in the processes and workers that allows complex life to exist on Earth.
The definition of what is “human” from a scientific standpoint is very difficult, because complex chemical relationships exist in both the plant and animal kingdoms. These processes can duplicate what is considered to be unique to humans. Things like brain size also cannot be used because of the huge variations that exist among all living things.
Since we have observed animals farming, we know that even that is not a human peculiarity. In recent months scientists have found human remains with brain sizes smaller than what is usually ascribed to humans. So how do we define humans? Humans were created in the image of God, and that definition is the only one that really works. You can see it by observing a human’s ability to create art and music, to worship God, to feel guilt and sympathy, and to be able to learn to think and reason.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: Science News, November 11, 2017 page 4.
There has been a lot of confusion about the Neanderthals in both religious publications and scientific writings. Scientists have reported that there are Neanderthal genes in modern humans.
Many have treated the Neanderthals as ape-men, and there have been multiple theories about how they originated.
Religious publications have speculated about Neanderthal influence on biblical characters. Those who wish to find “giants” in biblical accounts have claimed that the Neanderthals were giants, and at least one set of fake pictures of huge skulls has circulated on the internet attempting to back that up.
Researchers in Germany have just reported on DNA studies of the Neanderthal genes in modern humans. They found 15 Neanderthal DNA traits in modern humans. What is interesting is that these 15 traits show up in people of British ancestry, but people of pure African descent have no Neanderthal DNA. This will certainly complicate some of the “out of Africa” theories about the origin of humans.
We suggest that most of the claims of prehistoric humans involve racial variations. No claim of different species of humans is supported by the evidence. The biblical claim that Eve is the mother of all humans (Genesis 3:20) continues to be strongly supported as we study our past.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Is there an evolutionary connection between apes and humans? Many years ago in a youth rally, a young lady asked me, “If we didn’t come from apes, how come my brother looks so much like an ape?”
It is true that we share many physical characteristics with the apes. Apes and humans both have stereoscopic vision, necessary for depth perception. We both have opposable thumbs, necessary to hold a tool or a club. Apes and humans have noses immediately above our mouth to detect and analyze flavor. Naturalists who want to explain everything on a chance basis suggest that apes and humans share a common ancestor.
Those naturalists frequently ignore the fact that there are many things humans do not share with apes. These are not physical characteristics, but they are what separate us from all other forms of animal life. They include our capacity for worship and our ability to create music and art. Only humans have the ability to think and reason in abstract terms. Apes do not share our capacity for guilt and sympathy, including our ability to have an “agape” kind of love that isn’t survival based.
We would think that with our genome being so similar to the apes some of these characteristics should show up to some degree in the apes. In spite of attempts to show such connections, it is increasingly obvious that such attempts are complex exercises in anthropomorphism.
The question then is, “Why do we see such an enormous collection of fossils of primates which is expanded daily by paleoanthropologists?” In The September 2, 2017, issue of Science News Bruce Bower reviewed some of the evidence and current theories about ape evolution.
The bottom line is that there are connections between specimens like oreopithecus, modern day gibbons and recent finds like Nyanzapithecus alesi. The capacity of life-forms to change is a fact that no one can deny. The various races of human beings indicate that humans have changed enormously since the beginning. The Bible tells us about our human spiritual nature, and that nature has not changed throughout our history. Our physical makeup has changed a great deal during that time, and apes have changed even more.
We see humans as a special creation of God–created in His image with characteristics that are not a product of physical changes. As scientists find more fossils of apes, they will study the changes that have taken place leading to the wide variety of monkeys and apes in the world today. They will create more theories about the physical evolution of apes. In spite of that, the special place of humans in relationship to God will remain unchanged. How we should treat other humans with love and compassion will also not change.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
For many years the papers have reported on anthropologists finding the remains of human ancestors in Ethiopia, eastern Africa. In the past several weeks there have been headlines saying that “the oldest fossil of Homo sapiens” has been found in Morocco which is in northeast Africa. It seems that each new find makes human evolution theories more confounded.
Anthropologists working in Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, found fossils they claim are much older than those found in east Africa. The specimens have a lower jaw which matches Homo sapiens but the brain cases are long and low which is more indicative of apes or monkeys. They also found 14 stone artifacts which they associated with those fossils. The original report said that the tools were found with the fossils. Later reports indicate the tools were found in the strata above the fossils indicating they might not have been produced by those individuals.
Scientific theories about how humans came into existence are always changing as new data becomes available. The classic theoretical model of human evolution in recent years has maintained that humans arose in east Africa and migrated elsewhere. That is apparently not the case, but this new find will be debated and discussed by the experts for many years.
The Bible does not address the evolution of apes or monkeys. We are simply told that animals reproduced after their kind. There is no indication of how many kinds there were, or how much their genetic makeup varied as the years went by. The Bible says that God created man and woman in His own image. That spiritual quality of humans is the thrust of the biblical account. Modern human’s origin in the Fertile Crescent area of what is now Iraq is not questioned by very many people. That is also what the Bible tells us. Human migration throughout the world and the racial variations that developed to help people adapt to different climates is without a doubt.
The fact that apes and monkeys evolved and adapted to the varied climate of Africa is interesting and not surprising. The assumption that their evolution jumped to produce modern humans with all of all of the human characteristics and spiritual capabilities is a leap of faith. New data will keep developing new ideas and theories, but humans as a special creation of God will not be changed. The discovery of the changes in creatures that in some cases looked physically like us makes human evolution theories more confounded.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
Reference: Science News, July 8, 22, 2017, page 6 and Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2017, page A18.