Rethinking Neanderthals

Clayton Carlson

Clayton Carlson
February 13, 2017

Should new discoveries about Neanderthals fill Christians with fear, or wonder?

Eric Van Dyken
February 13, 2017

“Science is far from the objective and impartial search for incontrovertible truths that nonscientists [and scientists, I would add] might imagine".

I can certainly agree with that statement.

I can also agree wholeheartedly with this statement: "God’s revelation in creation is more wonderful and mysterious than we can ever imagine".

Doug Vande Griend
February 14, 2017

I would second Eric's thoughts, and emphasize the critical importance of receiving all "new found scientific truths" with an appropriate degree of skeptism. No, I'm not suggesting that "science isn't real" but pointing out that if the history of scientific progression teaches us anything, it is that often, today's science certainty is tomorrow's error that tommorrow's science will claim as certainty.

The science of climate change is illustrative. Once, we thought the ice cores told us definitively that atmospheric CO2 increases raised global temperatures. But then when ice core examination techniques advanced a bit, we found that the historical record showed the opposite: that when global temperatures increased, atmospheric CO2 increased.

Which illustrates a second point: when a science question becomes politicized, science suffers. (Just that has happened in "climate change" science).

To a significant extent, the various disciplines that study history (of the universe, the planet, and humans, etc) is a bit politicized, which means a bit of an extra dose of skepticism might be appropriately applied when considering any new scientific finding. Any scientific conclusion might be right, or wrong, or a bit of both -- but when politics are an involved motivator, the chances of the scientific conclusion being spot on are somewhat less.

Paul Ernst
February 14, 2017

I have given this some thought over the years and have come to a conclusion that may be both discomforting and helpful to those with a high view of Scripture. Just to be clear, I believe the Bible is true in what it intends to teach. That gives me some room to question. I am not a Darwinist, as the science doesn't work (information theory, irreducible complexity etc.) However I do take the discoveries seriously and I know that a traditional Adam is a difficult fit as the first biological human. A close read of the Genesis account suggests an answer. Clearly the story takes place in Mesopotamia sometime before Abram. This is clearly after any biological conception of early man. So the story cant be about that and be true. However Adam seems to be the first man that God makes a covenant with, a proto Israelite and that's how Moses got the story. It also satisfies Rom 5 which demands Adam be a real person, one through whom sin entered the "Land" which can also be understood covenantally. He can have headship over the "race" just as Christ does. So the story works, no science is violated and I will continue to fight Darwinism as bad science and in support of natural theology.

February 14, 2017

In my opinion, I see the Neanderthals as the possible link between humans and the angels that found the daughters of men to their liking. plain and simple.

February 14, 2017

"as another type of human that once walked this planet" Another "type"? How about simply another variation in the human species as manifested currently in the various races that inhabit our planet. All are human and all descended from Adam and Eve.

Eric Van Dyken
February 14, 2017

I agree with Doug's comments RE: politicization of science. I also view all science (particularly that of evolutionary science and the inquiry of origins) with several truths in mind:

1) I believe in a supernatural God who supernaturally communicated to mankind the account of his supernatural creation of the universe, which has been sustained by his supernatural sovereign power, which has been at times altered by his supernatural power and will, into which he sent his Son through supernatural means, who has performed many supernatural signs and who was supernaturally raised from the dead, and who supernaturally quickens the hearts of believers so that they can accept by faith that which is considered foolish by those who don't believe.

2) Against that backdrop, science is by it's nature an entirely naturalistic enterprise with wholly naturalistic and constant assumptions.

3) Given 1&2, it is unsurprising to me that at times God says "A" while science says "Not A". Whenever that is the case, I am prone to believe God.

4) The natural condition of man (including scientists claiming neutrality) is not to just be indifferent to God, but to hate God. To believe that this natural condition of man does not impinge upon the work and conclusions of science is naïve. In this light, I find it unremarkable that science strives so hard to make theories about origins that seek to dethrone God.

5) I am quite comfortable with the fact that many things in this life and world I will not and cannot know with any degree of certainty.

6) Innumerable scientific theories are equated with facts by the general public. Such a phenomenon is understandable, inasmuch as the average citizen does not follow closely the process of theorizing, testing, and attempting to prove and disprove theories. Many theories that were previously considered "proven" have later been "disproven", which says something about the nature of what we consider "proven" to be. The fact that the "scientific community" (inasmuch as there is such a thing) regularly presents theories as facts is not to their credit.

Clay Carlson
February 14, 2017

In Reply to Eric Van Dyken (comment #30012)
Hi Eric,

Thanks for reading and responding. As for your six guiding points:

1) Amen.

2) Of course. Science aims to discover how God has established that the world should work. While God is always at liberty to intervene into (and to disrupt) how the world typically works, in His wisdom, our Maker has created a world that has discernible patterns. The role of science is to discover these patterns and to see how God decrees that the world should normally work. The job of believers is to praise God for the beautiful truths revealed to scientists through general revelation.

3) A good idea. But be careful not to distort the authority of scripture with the authority of a particular interpretation of scripture. Particularly considering...

4) your views here would indicate all interpretations of scripture (each determined by sinful man - and woman) would also be imperfect. "To believe that this natural condition of man does not impinge upon the work and conclusions of [biblical interpretation] is naïve".

The last sentence in chapter four seems to reveal a natural bias against science. I hope you recognize that science has done a great deal of redemptive work bringing life and flourishing where otherwise there would be death and suffering. God is working in the lives and through the results of scientists every day. Praise be to God.

5) This kind of humility is wise for all of us. The job of scientists is to propose explanations for the results they find. Do not fault them for living into their calling.

6) a - Theology does the same. Does scripture condone slavery? Polygamy? God rules all of culture. Every culture. Any assumption that the interpretations of scripture are unchanged from Moses to today is demonstrably false. Change is not a sin. Growth, understanding, revelation, and relevance are critical for our theology, churches, and individual Christians.
6) b - Science does not typically swing wildly from one view to another. Science auto-corrects, refines. Striving toward a better understanding of truth is not a sin. Growth, understanding, revelation, and relevance are critical for health, technology, and medicine.

Thanks again for reading. I think that if we are willing to engage science as an ally in the quest to know our creator more, it will allow us to shape science, it will help us understand scripture, and it will certainly bring us to more reverential praise. Please Lord, let it be so.

February 14, 2017

I would expect early man to be better equipped mentally, intellectually than most in our days' world and that Adam, as the first, was the highest equipped to do as God commanded: "Have dominion over the world and subdue it" in fellowship with God. However, along with the introduction of sin and the consequence of death and a world subject to "frustration" and decay, the Neanderthal is find along the path that has become more of a distraction that keeps many going round and round in a circle of man's wisdom. But for the regenerate the sciences continue to advance for the good of mankind when serving one another becomes the evidence of a redeemed life in Christ.

Eric Van Dyken
February 15, 2017

In Reply to Clay Carlson (comment #30015)
Hi Clay,

Thanks for the response. Following the same pattern:

1) Our agreement in this area gives us great joy as brothers in Christ and makes the areas where we don't see things the same much less consequential, even as it is good that we talk about these less consequential matters.

2) I don't disagree, but I would more generally say that they job of believers is to praise God for his revelation in creation (not necessarily as "revealed to scientists").

3) Of course there is the question of interpretation of Scripture, but that is true of all of life. Equally true is that not all interpretations of Scripture are equally valid. Just because there are different interpretations does not mean that some are not right, wrong, plausible, implausible, consistent or inconsistent with the rest of Scripture. If you ask me my name, and I interpret that to mean that you want to know what I had for dinner last night, I may have an incorrect interpretation. If God's Word is to have any *actual* authority, it must be understood in a certain way. To say that the authority only lies in the interpretation is to remove authority from God and his actual real words of revelation and place them with man. In the end, God's word has to mean something if it is to carry authority, and the reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture tells us that we can know the truth of God's word.

4) Yes, agreed, with caveats. God promises to illumine the hearts of believers with the truth of His word by the work of Holy Spirit in ways that are never promised to us regarding how we read and understand creation. Our confessions make clear that general revelation is much more non-specific in its revelation that special revelation. And, it can also be noted that the development of Christian understanding and doctrine is a work that occurs almost exclusively amongst the regenerate, whose hearts have been made able to love God, while still having the ever present temptation to hate God. The same can not be said for scientific inquiry.

I have no natural bias against science, particularly to the extent that science is my chosen field of work. My degree is in the sciences and I work every day explaining and applying science to the general public. This also gives me a window into the use and abuse of science, some of which I interpret to be indicative of the inclination in man's heart to "kick against the goads" as it were.

5) I will not and do not fault scientists for seeking to provide explanations. However, scientists and their efforts are certainly open to critique, and one area where I see a downfall is in scientists claiming more certainty or authority than is commensurate with their work.

6) My point has more to do with certainty, than change, per se. A scientific theory is not a fact, though they are often equated in our popular culture with encouragement from the scientific community. I will also put the continuity of understanding of Christian doctrine and teaching over the last 2000 or more years up against the record of science over that time. As for continuity and uniformity in core understanding, the two are even remotely comparable. Sometimes change is sin, when change to Christian doctrine is made to appease a world that scoffs at our notion of truth derived from God's word.

I appreciate your thoughtful response.

Doug Vande Griend
February 16, 2017

All in all, the combination of this article and the exchange in response to it, is delightful, constructive, informative and perhaps instructive as to how Christians might interact as to subject matters that can sometimes result in "less constructive exchange."

This is a moment of TC at its best I think. :-)

Clay Carlson
February 16, 2017

In Reply to Doug Vande Griend (comment #30029)
Thanks Doug. I agree.

February 19, 2017

This is an excellent insight into connecting science and faith. Quite often the problem with insight or speculation is that it leaves more questions and less resolution. Many will connect or compare this thought of neanderthals with Gen 6:4.... We must remember that humans were created in His image, now what was that image 7000 years ago? Scientists studying our DNA makeup will also comfirm, along with the neanderthal gene, that our genetic make up is deteriorating. One interesting analogy is that of a photocopied picture. If you were to photocopy a picture ten thousand times and lost the original, what would you compare 10001 to? Another interesting thought, one that had been proven in birds, fish, mammals is adaptation. Have humans adapted to different environments? Did adam, who also lived very long, have a larger skull? Different teeth? Larger eyebrow bone? Whatever the answer is( if we every agree on one)we
must remember that God is the creator, nothing has been left to chance and Jesus became human to erase the twisted deformities of our hearts and bodies. One day it will all be perfect again. Whay will that look like?

Roberta Parsons
March 2, 2017

If we humans all carry "Neanderthal" DNA in our gemomes, is it the name Neanderthal that is scaring us? Adam and Eve are still our first parents, aren't they? Let God be true and every man a liar, folks. God is saving many wonderful revelations in His Heaven for us reborn sinners and nothing good is in store for secularists unless they change their minds (which we dearly hope they will) about Christ who alone is our Great God and Savior, soon to appear. I seem to remember that Australia owns a group of precious people called the Aborigines. I suppose they too carry this Neanderthal DNA? What has happened to our country? Will our beloved God and Savior Jesus Christ, also referred to in the OT as Yahweh our Righteousness and Yahweh our Redeemer, find faith on the earth when He returns? Well, He will in me and I'm glad He will in you as well. The fact that we have DNA in every cell in our bodies is enuff for me - this God-written program is absolutely required for each and every one of our trillions of cells to know their assigned by God purpose. Hmmm? Isn't that quite "similar" to the Holy Scriptures aka The WORD of GOD? And Christ is the Word of God! He will teach us wise as serpents and harmless as doves ways to combat the enemy of souls who has deluded our precious brothers & sisters still without Christ. After all the Lord Jesus Christ is the Saviour of ALL men especially of those that believe. God still believes that He alone created all of us - and that there is NO OTHER! Love & Blessings in Christ, Berta

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