A recent discovery in the Rising Star cave system in South Africa appears to support the idea that there were many versions of early humans once walking the earth. At least, that’s the claim that has been made here by Professor Chris Stringer, curator of a new exhibit at London’s Natural History Museum.
The discovery of the bones of at least fifteen individuals was made in 2013 by Rick Hunter of the South African Speleological Exploration Club, and it has been called “one of the most exciting finds in the last one hundred years.” The fossils are believed to be a new species of human – Homo Naledi by name – described as being human, but also having many “primitive” characteristics: small brains, mixtures of “primitive” and “derived” features, including hands that appear to be specially adapted to life lived in the trees.
Dr. Stringer admits that the age of the fossils has not been determined. “We’ve put it in our evolutionary diagram at the beginning,” he states. “But,” he adds, “we don’t know how old it is.” However, it is believed that these bones are from “a very primitive kind of human,” who “probably lies close to the origins of the human genus.”
Researchers have drawn a number of conclusions on the basis of this find. Stringer himself states that “we have to get away from this idea that there is a simple march of progress from an ‘ape-person’ to what we are today.” Homo naledi may be part of one of a number of “streams” in the evolutionary process, and one of Dr. Stringer’s stated goals is to debunk the notion that the evolution of the human species is “the pinnacle of a predestined evolutionary sequence.” He adds, “We want to show that diversity, and the fact that there was nothing pre-ordained about our own evolution and our eventual success.”
There are two interesting points to ponder when it comes to both this find, and the way it is being presented to the public. First of all, the agenda of those who have created this display has been made clear; Dr. Stringer himself declares that he is motivated, at least in part, by a desire to change people’s thinking about the manner in which humans have evolved.
His choice of language in describing the viewpoint he is seeking to challenge is revealing, to say the least. He doesn’t like the idea that we humans are “the pinnacle of a predestined evolutionary sequence,” and he argues that “there was nothing pre-ordained about our own evolution and eventual success.” It appears that, for Dr. Stringer, it is not just the idea of an evolutionary process that must be defended. It is also the belief that there is a design or purpose to that process, or an end-goal to that process, that must be abandoned.
The second point we must consider is the impact that discoveries like this, and particularly the conclusions drawn from them, must have on the thinking of those who hold to evolutionary creation and theistic evolution. We’ve noted in previous articles that there are a number of scholars who consider the Biblical Adam and Eve to be the representatives of an early population of hominids, not literally the first humans, directly created by God. Rather, the representative “first couple” of Scripture were the product of a long process of biological development. They were the first hominids endowed with a “human soul,” so to speak.
Should recent finds lead to the conclusion that there are indeed multiple lines in the human family tree? And does this mean that there are some human beings who are not descended from “Adam and Eve”? Or are the theistic evolutionary conclusions in need of correction and revision once again? Were Adam and Eve the representatives of one particular line, or all of them? And if Adam was the covenantal head of only one branch of the human family tree, what does that say about the Lord Jesus Christ?
The foundational issue here is methodological in nature. In the end, your answers to these questions will flow from your starting point. Our starting point is the Triune God, and his perfect word. His word tells us:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us…” (Acts 17:24-27).
This word must be our starting point, and it must shape our thinking – about how to interpret the evidence of “Homo Naledi,” and every other fossil discovery – and everything else in the world. Dr. Stringer’s own words prove that there is no such thing as neutrality, even within the sciences that like to claim the neutral ground as their own. Contradictory presuppositions inevitably lead to contradictory conclusions.
But when we start with the unchanging Word of God, our conclusions are firm, and trustworthy. God doesn’t change, and his word doesn’t change. In the end, when we begin to base our conclusions on interpretations of the evidence made by people with a decidedly un- and even anti-Christian agenda, we are building our house on shifting sands.