ne of the debates in anthropology, archaeology and sociology is over the emergence of modern human behaviour. The human behaviours identified as modern include symbolic thought and cultural creativity. There are two major views:
|‘Venus of Laussel’ – an Upper Paleolithic carving
a. Great Leap Forward
b. Contintuity Hypothesis
Those of this school do not believe there was a great revolution. They claim that modern human behaviour is the result of gradual accumulation of skills, knowledge and culture over hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution.
I have six points about this debate, from a Bible believer’s perspective. The first three consider the question: What is human? The second three points apply more directly to the debate about modern human behaviour.
1. Both the Bible and our God-given moral compass point to a sharp distinction between human identity and animal identity. Unless we have personally suppressed the moral compass God has placed in us, we all understand that the killing of a human is fundamentally different and more serious than the killing any animal. Cruelty to humans is always morally more culpable than cruelty to animals. This is the case because there is and always was a clear distinction in reality between human and animal. This distinction is not subjective, but is grounded in God’s assignment of those identities.
2. Humans are more than the sum of our anatomy and behaviour. Our identity as a human is more than our biology plus our behaviour. If we lose our legs, or arms, we are still human. If we can not think or function properly because of (say) a coma, we are still human. We have an indentity as human which rests on more than our molecular structure and its working. So the question ‘when did the first humans live’ is not fully or centrally answered by considering only our historic anatomy and behaviour.
3. The ‘image of God’ is the Christian contribution to the question, ‘What is human’. The term ‘image of God’ isn’t primarily referring to our behaviour or our anatomy. ‘The image of God’ refers to our appointment by God as those ordained to rule the world, under God’s own rule. So it captures the essence of what it is to be human much more than mere anatomical and behavioural definitions of humanity. ‘Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; A)”> for in the image of God has God made mankind.’ Genesis 9:6. Ignore if you can implications about capital punishment in this verse. Note instead the point that the immorality of shedding human blood is grounded in mankind being made in God’s image. This is a safer grounding for protecting the weak and damaged than an anatomical or behavioural grounding of what it is to be ‘human’. Even if your anatomy or behaviour is deeply faulty, you are still human, because you are in God’s image.
4. The Great Leap Forward Hypothesis excludes some of humanity from its Great Leap. To theorize a time gap of around 100 000 years between the arrival of the first anatomically and first behaviourally modern humans is problematic. For Great Leap theorists with secular assumptions, it is unavoidable that there coexisted some AMHs who were BMHs, and some AMHs who weren’t BMHs. So then, if we imagine that the BMHs of the time were indeed human, trying to live a holy, moral life, how would they do it? In identifying those they should treat as humans, and those they should treat as animals, what should their thought process be? After all, some of the AMHs who weren’t BMHs might become so later in their life. They might give birth to those who would become BMHs. So who should be given the dignity of being treated as human, morally speaking, and who not? It’s hard to imagine that a just God would have subjected people to such moral challenges and difficulties. I don’t see this as a valid option for Bible believing Christians, nor for those who want to take the moral conclusions of the Bible regarding the dignity and value of all human life. For it presents God as having made life’s moral choices unbearably hard for our earliest ancestors.
5. The Continuity Hypothesis leaves no sharp distinction between human and animal
If there was no revolution at some point in evolutionary history, and no sharp break between animals and humans, it becomes untenable to hold that there is a sharp distinction today. To hold to a concept that humans are those who have the image of God, and animals are those who don’t, one must hold that there always was such a sharp distinction. This means that there must have been a sharp change between the last AMH who was not in God’s image and the first AMH who was. One would expect that sharp change to be seen in sharp behavioural difference. The Continuity Hypothesis leaves no room for such an historical sharp change in behaviour. So I don’t see this as a valid option for Bible believing Christians, nor for those who want to take the moral conclusions of the Bible regarding the dignity and value of all human life.
6. The Biblical View of Humanity implies a striking intervention in all AMHs simultaneously, if evolutionary assumptions are accepted.
For those who accept that we do, at least partially, descend from non-humans, via evolution, a striking intervention of God must be posited at some point. It can’t really be an intervention in just one man and one woman, since even our matrilineal or patrilineal most recent common ancestors had many others like them coexisting near them – including their parents, brothers, sisters, etc. It won’t do to have them living in the midst of those who looked just like them, and were related to them. but weren’t human. So the only conclusion I can see that works is to have God changing all AMHs simultaneously, endowing them all with his image simultaneously, and bringing about the changes in behaviour in all of them simultaneously. By simultaneous, I mean in an instant of time: a big divine ‘zap’ all across the globe, all at once, endowing us with his image. This simultaneous ‘zap’ in turn means being open to a very different sort of thing in anthropology and archaeology – a thing which won’t be contemplated under secular assumptions: It means expecting there to be a point in time in pre-history, where vast changes occurred in AMH behaviour, across the globe simultaneously, without any physical explanation existing for the simultaneous nature of the change.
I think we see such an event around 4000 BC, after which time we see the rise of many civilizations (Sumerian/Egyptian cf. Harappan) independently across the globe. Others might see such a change at a different point in time. But whenever it is, Christians who believe in evolution should be looking for a globe-wide stark change in AMH behaviour which will be unexplainable on secular assumptions.