Around 1970, Time-Life Books published a mural of human evolution, “The Road to Homo Sapiens.” It became a monstrous success. It was a foldout in a book titled Early Man. It was also laminated and sent to teachers in public schools. This mural became the basis of several movies and even cartoons. What most people don’t realize is that it was quite inaccurate. The artists who made the drawing created the impression that it was a chronological sequence of human history. Actually, the dates were misrepresented, and the illustrations were pretty much fictional. In spite of that fact, much of the American public accepted “pliopithecus-to-modern-man” as a proven fact.
Half-a-century later, the picture is much more complicated and highly contested. Recently in Europe, scientists found older fossils of what were considered to be the earliest ancestors of modern humans. Others found fossils of a group of small-brained individuals apparently ritualistically buried in a cave complex in southern Africa. This find violated the theory that there is a relationship between brain size and human-like activities. Discovered in Indonesia is a very small hominid that supports the view that there is no relationship between brain size and humanism. Names like Homo floresiensis or Hobbits, and Homo naledi or Naledi, and Graecopithecus fill the literature today.
Debates rage among the leading anthropologists about whether brains became larger as Homo species evolved, or whether brain size came first and increased physical size came later, or whether brain size has nothing to do with evolution at all. Interestingly, some of the great geniuses of the past 100 years had very small brains.
The primary source of problems here is the failure to have a good definition of, “What is a human?” The biblical account defines humans as those beings created in the image of God. That does not refer to brain size or any physical characteristic. In reality, we have no idea what Adam looked like, how big his brain was, or any other physical characteristic.
The Bible tells us that “God formed the man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word yatsar is translated “formed.” It is a term used to refer to someone shaping pottery from clay. It’s different from the Hebrew word bara, which is used in Genesis 1:27 to indicate how humans were created in God’s image. Bara is a word used only in reference to what God can do, and that is what makes us unique. You can form a man out of plastic and put clothes on him and put him in a department store window. The body may resemble a man, but it does not have the breath of life, and it does not have a soul.
The fossil record shows us that many creatures in the past may have had some resemblance to humans. The same could be said today. You can visit a zoo and see gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, baboons, spider monkeys, Japanese snow monkeys, and others. The fact that there are some common features does not mean we are related.
The anthropological definition of humans deals only with physical characteristics. From the standpoint of human evolution, the road to homo sapiens is very bumpy indeed. The biblical definition of beings created in the image of God gives humans a special identification and a unique role in the world. It’s a role that has eternal significance and should also help us function in a constructive way in the affairs of this life. Humans can act like animals, but no animal can be human. Only humans are uniquely created in God’s image, now and for eternity.
–John N. Clayton © 2017
References: Science News June 10, 2017, page 6, The Week, June 23, 2017, page 20, Science News June 24, 2017, page 9.