Biological Definition of "Mankind"

Continuing the discussion from Adam, Eve and Population Genetics: A Reply to Dr. Richard Buggs (Part 1):

Entertaining position offered on another thread raises an important question.

Is there, however, a biological definition of “Mankind”?

Turns out there is not. Or at least, there is no agreed upon definition. So how could one be committed to the biological definition of mankind when one does not exist?


We can actually define a first couple genetically (by which I mean with a specific sequence). The only caveat, then, however is that that genetics will not transmit reliably to all their offspring. Genetics does not transmit reliably.

Also, H. sapiens is not defined genetically. It is defined by a cluster of anatomical and behavioral traits, and the precise definition is disputed. For this reason, especially if behavior is a critical part of the definition, it is plausible it starts with a single couple. And if behavior is a critical trait, then its possible it is reliably transmitted to all offspring too.

Regardless, is Homo sapien’s “Mankind” in a biological sense? Nope.

“Human” and “mankind” are unscientific terms with no precision or clarity. There is no “biological” definitino of mankind.

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, is apparently insisting on “peoplekind” for the sake of inclusivity. Apparently nobody told him there was a word called “humankind.”

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And yet, we are clear what we mean by a human being, and humanity, and from this we discuss Christ as the Son of Man, and the saviour of mankind. Seems to me the discussions on Adam and the Genome may be either irrelevant, on woefully inadequate on the matters pertaining to the Christian faith.

By all means pursue science using its various tools, but we ought to be circumspect when extending such activities beyond scientific curiosity - imo this applies equally to EC/TE and YEC.


Ok but… if you’ll permit a little pushback here, what sort of behavior do you have in mind? I can’t think of any behavior that is discrete.

For example, what does it look like to “speak” for the first time, meaningfully? What degree of conventionalization of speech would suffice to say, “Ah, now that was no longer crudely significant vocalizations but bona fide human speech!” And would it arise suddenly as a pervasive characteristic of their communication, or would it show up specifically in a certain formulaic context first and then broaden from there? (This last process, we call “grammaticalization” and it is famously non-discrete.) I’m not read up on the evolution of language, but I’d imagine it gets only thornier from here.

This is just one example that I bring up because often people cite language as a quintessentially human thing. But I think just about any other behavior runs into similar problems of gradation. I could spend time writing up other examples, but I’d be more interested to hear other people’s thoughts here, if perhaps they would think of a behavior that is clear-cut with a singular, definable origin.

I realize that your goal is not to get specific with this, but at some point, if one is trying to say “there is such a thing as a first behaviorally modern human,” then one has to wade into a few details to see if this is really plausible.


This is a sidetrack because there is no agreed upon definition from which we can work. Not can we foresee a time when there will be an agreed upon definition. Therefore to appeal to a nonexistent definition as canonical begs the question.

Without consensus in science, either now or the forseable futuee, why wouldn’t we grant autonomy to theology to define mankind how it pleases?

To your question…

Let’s say we articulate some set of objective criteria. Is it not true there is one person who will be the first ever to satisfy this criteria? I do not need to specify such objective criteria to know that this will be true in many cases.

There is always the first person to:

  1. wear clothes
  2. bury the dead
  3. have religious belief
  4. wear jewelry and bury the dead with jewelry and cloths
  5. speak a sentence of a specified degree of complexity

There is always a first that will satisfy the full cluster of criteria. The fact we cannot agree on criteria does not mean there is no first person to satisfy a plausible criteria. If that last piece is behavioral it might very well spread from that one person to the rest.

I would assume that the human ability to speak began as the ability to imitate the sound of other animals. This would be a survival advantage for a hunting species, and would lead to the ability to signal other humans which way to go to capture game without tipping off the herd of the human presence. This in turn could lead to full-blown speech and the ability to sing. Different early hominids might have sung for generations before they started to speak, and others might have developed speech right away. That would make it hard to pin down just when speaking or singing began, or who was first.

The concept of species has been determined to be very difficult to define, especially when looking at the fossil record. Still, we can point to individual specimens that have all the qualities we might think of as being one species or another. Even today, there are individuals we might consider so despicable that we would hate to think of them as fellow humans.

The main idea is that the early hominids eventually became modern humans. The details of how that happened are very interesting, but ultimately not very important.

No, that would be entirely implausible. Behavior is learned just as language is learned, which is through mimesis and enculturation. Two people “inventing” modern human behavior is as impossible as two people “inventing” a language or a single breeding pair “inventing” a species.

They are perfectly clear and useful words that everyone seems to understand. The Supreme Court couldn’t put a precise definition on pornography, either, but that doesn’t stop us from using the word or clearly understanding the concept. All your quibbles about words just make your point opaque, not clear. If there was a point to any of it, I certainly can’t make heads or tails of it.

So, H. sapiens is not “mankind,” either. Good luck with that!

As for me, I think I’ll just continue using “human” and “mankind” in their normally understood senses, and I’m pretty confident everyone except a few scientists in the room will not have a bit of trouble understanding me.


:slight_smile: I like Justin Trudeau. Warren G. Harding promoted a “return to normalcy” even though “normality” was a perfectly good word. You get to use your position of power to see if you can get people to use new words; it’s a perk no one thinks of when they consider going into politics.

Many species communicate vocally. Why would pre-humans be imitating other animals and not just using their own species semiotic system?

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What qualifies as “clothes”? A blanket regularly used as a “cloak”?

What qualifies as “burial”? Is there a depth that the hole has to reach? Is it that artifacts are placed with the body? Is it a “funeral”?

I’d like to agree with you on this, but isn’t that impossible to measure? Are you looking at things like artwork or burial? Is it any belief in the supernatural or something more structured? Is there a line between superstitious animism and something more structured?

What is that degree of complexity? Something conceptual, like self-reflection or metaphor?

I appreciate the attempt to “draw this line” but it’s hard to see that these lines wouldn’t necessarily still be fuzzy to some extent…

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I liked him more immediately after he was elected (I didn’t vote for him; I held my nose and voted for Harper, whom I used to “like” earlier), but I like him less now than I did earlier in his term…(and the “peoplekind” conversation was one of the symptoms why–indicative of a desperate and misguided attempt to keep up with and appeal to a fundamentally flawed and outright destructive worldview).

But this probably isn’t the right place for a discussion on current Canadian politics… :slight_smile:

You know, I was thinking about this this morning, and to be fair, I do think with clothing it’s fairly cut and dry. Sure, there’s at least two motives for clothing (modesty and warmth), so you’d have to figure out what kind of tool use this was, but even if it’s just a pelt and string for a loin cloth, somebody had to be the first one to do it.

Even if one grants a clearly identifiable start to some of these practices, I think it’s unlikely that one person was the origin of the whole kit-n-kaboodle. Unlikely — but it’s probably not possible to rule it out, scientifically. Even if you found Site X that had burial evidence without hunting tools and Site Y that had hunting tools without burial evidence, the surviving evidence is so fragmentary that that proves nothing.

At any rate, this doesn’t seem to be a productive line of inquiry, because Joshua isn’t interested in pursuing this line of discussion. But I do think that the way some of these cultural practices would have to have arisen gradually illustrates the challenges inherent to trying to identify a singular Adam through anything but a relational / theological definition.


Right. Since what we’re describing isn’t the invention of a single technology, but the origin of a whole suite of behaviors (cognitive modernity), it’s like asking who invented American culture.


Right, but a loin cloth is a huge step up from a “regularly draped blanket.” Is the “regularly draped blanket” enough?


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Well that was George Washington, obvs.


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Some people don’t wear clothes today. Maybe “self-adornment” is better. But then, don’t some other species show evidence of self-adornment?

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Same song, different verse. Just as “believe” and faith" have vastly different connotations in church and the laboratory, so it seems does "mankind."
Mankind in the Christian context means those creatures in a special relationship with God, regardless of intelligence or ability. In the scientific context, it is quite different, and actually quite fluid as definitions vary. There is overlap, of course, but they are not the same.
Regarding the “peoplekind” remark, I understand that it was one of those attempts at ironic humor which which was taken out of context. One of the many reasons I could never be in public office.

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“Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words — ‘mank’ and ‘ind.’ What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.” - Jack Handey


The ability to imitate the sound of other animals is a great benefit for hunters. Hunters still use calls to attract game, even if we now often use mechanical means to produce the sound. Many hunters use their own voices, which saves an extra piece of equipment to carry around.

Sure, but whatever semiotic system pre-humans had that evolved into full-blown language, it wasn’t an imitation of other animal’s communication, it was their own. Effective hunting has nothing to do with communicating with other members of your own species.

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