God's relationship to early humans

(Angelo Collazo) #1

Hello. Perhaps this question has already been addressed. (If so, I apologize. Feel free to provide a link to where this has been already addressed.) But one question I have is: When did God’s relationship with early humans start? Did God interact with neanderthal, homo habilis, etc? This leads to the idea of how worship and law started, but I’ll be happy with an answer to my first question :smile:

Evolutionary Creationism and Atonement Theology, Part 1: Why We Need A Historical Fall | The BioLogos Forum
(Brad Kramer) #2

Hey @angelodcollazo—welcome to the Forum!! :smile: Glad you’re here.

Generally speaking, all evolutionary creationists think that human beings are categorically different in their relationship to God than all other creatures (even if we are not categorically different than all other creatures biologically).

I think there’s basically three answers that evolutionary creationists have given to this question of how God began to interact with humans in a special way:

  1. God entered into a special relationship with a pair of early humans close to the beginning of the human species and gave them special knowledge of himself and a special role.
  2. Same as above, but happening much more recently. (This one’s sometimes called homo divinus)
  3. Humans gradually became aware of their need for God without a specific historical moment when one or more humans crossed over from un-spiritual to spiritual.

Genesis 1-4 doesn’t provide a huge amount of guidance on this topic because it’s not written to do so (ancient Israelites were not aware of evolutionary science, even though they understood God’s character in a very special and revealed way). The bottom line is that it’s a difficult question without a clear answer, given what we know at this point. But I’m not personally shook up about this, because it mirrors the question of when any of us become fully human and in relationship with God. Does a fertilized embryo have a soul? Does a sac of cells bear God’s image? Does a one-year-old bear sin and guilt? When do we first understand God’s reality and presence? When are responsible for our sin? Look through church history, and you will find a stunning variety of answers to (at least some of) these questions. If we’re ok with the mystery of human development from conception to adulthood, then the mystery of human development from homo habilis to homo sapiens shouldn’t cause us to lose faith.

Hope this helps. I know @aleo has thought quite a bit about this topic, and might be able to share more.

(Angelo Collazo) #3

Thanks, @BradKramer, for your fast reply! I greatly appreciate your candidness when you wrote: “The bottom line is that it’s a difficult question without a clear answer, given what we know at this point.” I’m looking forward to the day we learn more about homo divinus.

(Paul Lucas) #4

The answer is: we don’t know and cannot find out through science. God speaking to individuals is not something science can “see”. It’s something people have to tell each other about (such as Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus) and we don’t have any records about that.

Personally, I agree with Brad Kramer in that I don’t find the question very interesting. Who cares? Judeo-Christianity is based upon God’s intervention in human history. Specifically, the Exodus is the critical intervention. When in our evolutionary history that God first communicated with hominids is not relevant to that. BTW, Darwin dealt with a similar question when someone asked where in the course of human evolution hominids got “souls”. His reply was that we don’t know where in our personal life history God provides souls. Conception? Sometime in fetal development? Birth? Don’t know and doesn’t matter.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned is hominids having an ability to hear God. Humans have evolved what evolutionary psychologists call “modules”. For instance, there is a genetic module to detect cheating. There may be a “God detecting module”. Individuals having that module would have a selection advantage. Not only would they have access to God’s knowledge – such as “There’s a sabretooth in that high grass waiting to eat you.” – but also to the emotional support God provides us. That latter would help those individuals cope with the inevitable grief and depression following the large number of deaths of loved ones to disease, accidents, predation, etc. So natural selection would spread the module through the population (just as natural selection spread the cheating detection module).

One way to account for atheism is that there is incomplete penetrance (evolution term) of the module in the population. Atheists don’t have the module and therefore can’t communicate with God.

As I think about this, Niles Eldredge in his book The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism devotes a good portion of his last chapter looking at the various ideas about deity among groups of humans and notes the changing views in relation to the technological development of the group. That might help you get a handle on the beginnings of worship.

The beginning of law came about as we evolved as social creatures and needed to evolve 1) methods of working cooperatively and 2) dealing with people within the group that were not cooperative but took advantage of others.

(Christy Hemphill) #5

Here is a link to a blog series Peter Enns did that I think provides interesting food for thought related to this issue, though it doesn’t answer the question directly: http://biologos.org/blog/series/what-does-image-of-god-mean

Scot McKnight has also written some interesting things about the themes of image bearing throughout Scripture.

Taken with the idea John Walton has proposed that has gotten a lot of attention, the idea that Genesis speaks of functional, not material origins, I think it is interesting to think of the “image of God” as a function assigned to humanity through a covenantal relationship at a point in history. The way “image of God” is often presented, it is more like some sort of ontological reality that humans either arrived at by developing to a certain level of consciousness, intelligence, or moral awareness or the image of God is an eternal soul that God bestowed upon humans because they were capable of morality. If the image of God is more a function or role that God assigned, independent of human development or capability, then it makes the question different in a way.

I personally think that God interacted with early humans the way he interacts with the rest of nature. He cared for them and provided for them and they were recipients of common grace. But it wasn’t until God called out Adam and Eve (which foreshadows the calling out of Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, Jesus Christ, and the Church) and gave them the mission of bearing his image that humanity became responsible for submission to God as the ruler of creation.

(GJDS) #6

I wonder if we are asking the right question in these type of discussions. I think Christians agree with the following:

(1) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis expounds on this to show God created everything that we may find on the cosmos, and also things we may not be able to know (spiritual)
(2) God directly created Adam and Eve and placed them in a world made perfect for them. We than understand that these and subsequent human beings disobeyed God, but eventually God entered into a covenant with Abraham.

I suggest that evolutionary creationists, theistic evolutionists, and similar groups, may seek a narrative that may not be necessary regarding the revelation of God’s dealing with humanity. I cannot understand why they would need this. Perhaps someone may enlighten me on the need for an additional narrative than that provided in the Bible.

(Angelo Collazo) #7

Thank you to everyone who answered! :slight_smile:

Maybe this is a better way to rephrase my question: When did early humans start PRAYING to Almighty God, and when did He start answering prayer?

Perhaps @GJDS is on to something when he wrote wondering why we need an “additional narrative”. In other words, perhaps the Adam and Eve story answers my question: That Adam and Eve (whether literal or figurative or archetypal) represent the first two humans whom God “called out” (as @Christy puts it) and interacted with. If so, then did Adam and Eve (as @Paul_Lucas puts it) both evolve the first “God detection module”? That’s quite a mystery!

To answer @Paul_Lucas 's honest question “Who cares?” … Well, I guess I care, lol, because I’ve never seen my pet dog or cat praying, lol, and so I cling to the idea that God interacts with us humans in a special way. Therefore, I strongly desire to learn (as you put it) “when in our evolutionary history God communicated with hominids.”

If there was an exact moment when the Almighty Creator of the universe began to communicate with his creation (humans) on a higher intellectual level, then indeed that is a moment to be celebrated :slight_smile: So perhaps the Adam and Eve story celebrates that first moment (whether literal or archetypal) when God and humans began communicating (aka prayer)?

(Christy Hemphill) #8

I think some of how you approach this depends on your theological perspective. There are lots of ways to take the “predestination” themed verses in the Bible. I guess my way of dealing with them is to see God as the agent and protagonist, not humans. God does the choosing to relate, not humans, as unfair as that may seem sometimes. So it’s really irrelevant when early humans could have “detected God” or when they had an inclination to worship or pray to something larger than themselves. The moment to be celebrated is when God chose to engage with that capability and desire.

Plenty of current humans on the planet are capable of worshiping God but don’t have access to the special revelation that reveals who he is or how to worship him. What gets celebrated in those cultures when people learn of God and Christ is not their own capabilities of recognizing truth, but the fact that God sent someone with his truth and made himself known.

I also agree with GJDS in that we have a sufficient narrative to understand God’s mission on earth, even if it doesn’t detail all his interactions with humans. Who the heck is the high priest Melchizedek mentioned in Genesis and Hebrews, and how did he operate before and outside of God’s covenant with Abraham/Israel? There’s probably an interesting history there of God relating to a group of humans we just don’t know about because it only gets a brief mention in our narrative. It may be fun to speculate about, but it isn’t essential to know.

(Angelo Collazo) #9

Hi @Christy!
I just read Part 1 and Part 2 of Peter Enns’ “Image of God” article series. You’re right, it doesn’t answer my question directly, but it’s still good because Peter wrote that he is “fairly skeptical” concerning the idea of equating “souls” with “God’s image”. Very interesting read, so thanks!

(Angelo Collazo) #10

That’s interesting. Did God choose to “engage” with humans long after we had the “capability and desire” to do so?

(Christy Hemphill) #11

I think so. At least “engage” in the way we understand engagement from the Bible where God has expectations of humans that are different from his expectations of the rest of nature and relate specifically to a mission of redemption and restoration of creation. I think God is connected to all of creation, so who am I to say that dolphins don’t worship God in their own way and God doesn’t relate to them as intelligent beings somehow as their Creator. I don’t think God ignored early humans or even fairly modern humans and then one day decided to pay attention to them because it fit his purposes. But I think when we are talking about the full self-revelation of Yahweh and the accompanying themes of image bearing, law, and sin and rebellion, it has a lot more to do with God’s initiative than human capabilities.

(GJDS) #12

While I agree with this, I think we need to also add the freedom that is intrinsic to the response human beings make to the revelation - God does not force people to accept or rebel, and in this context, human beings need a unique capacity which is explained by Paul as the spirit of mankind. Genesis gives us part of the answer in that God imparted His image to mankind, and breathed into him the breath of life, but Paul continues to show that spiritual knowledge and understanding is a capability shown by spiritual people - yet the Holy Spirit enables those God grants His grace, to understand matters pertaining to God. It is this that makes the discussion universal, and enables us to fully understand how sin is found in all of humanity, why Christ lived, died and was resurrected, and why God is just in His dealing with us. God sustains the creation, but in addition to this, He offers us salvation through and because of His only begotten Son (I think the discussions on atonement and various associated theories put forward on this miss the point). It is here that we see the futility of seeking understanding from science (and esp evolution); instead we should seek a deeper understanding from scripture.

(Christy Hemphill) #13

Yes. It is one thing to try to harmonize scientific knowledge/general revelation with special revelation. But the goal shouldn’t be to try to gain new theological insights from science. Theological insights come from fellowship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, as we are transformed and instructed by Scripture.

(George Brooks) #14


We understand that the early Hebrew understanding of the Universe and Nature is flawed.
When they describe “stars falling to earth” - - they were certainly wrong: either because they thought meteors
and stars were the same thing … or that stars were small enough that they could come to earth without destroying all humanity.

In the same way, we need comprehend that the Hebrew depiction of creation in Genesis was flawed. There was no special fall;
humanity was created in a flawed state. Humans were already imperfect, in the same way that no cat is perfect or no butterfly,

Humans were created being vulnerable to sin; otherwise, would the illicit fruit have been ever touched?

Humans in the Hebrew world view, just like humans in the Sumerian world view, must atone to God - - if only because
we were created to be NOT Gods.

George Brooks

(Jon Garvey) #15

George - a couple of things.

First, a different reference frame is not an error: when a star was defined as a point of light in the sky, a meteor was a falling star. Bearing in mind that “meteor” is an Old French word meaning an atmospheric phenomenon, we’re just as “flawed” to use the word about clouds of dust in interplanetary space.

And as for Perry Como, clearly he had an entirely archaic view of astronomy to believe he could put a falling star in his pocket… or maybe there’s more than one kind of truth to be told.

But secondly, I’m not aware (though willing to be corrected) of any use of “falling star” in Scripture outside of apocalyptic, in which visionary symbols are used to describe earthly, often political, events. Apocalypic is a highly sophisticated and specific genre, and it’s the uninformed and shallow modern, literally blinded by science to mythic, symbolic and spiritual truth, who insists on taking it in a primitive literal way.

Now, all that is intended to show that a different take on material science didn’t make the Hebrews ignorant and certainly didn’t make them less in touch with revealed spiritual truth than us. If it did, then forget not just the Fall, but the whole narrative of salvation history, for it all came through prophetic revelation to Israel. That includes discarding the narrative Jesus told about salvation, which was all about the restoration of God’s kingdom to his people that was lost in Genesis 3, and the renewal of the world they desecrated, including the restoration of the eternal life we only know about from Genesis 2.

So I say there was a Fall of man, and take that from the teaching of Scripture. Neither, having been in scientific disciplines for 50 years or so, do I find anything in science that can contradict that. Science, in fact, works on evidence - so what evidence can you present that demonstrates that the Hebrew conception of the fall is wrong, and that man was created (meaning, outside the biblical narrative, what exactly?) in a flawed state (by whose standards?).

(George Brooks) #16


I’m not clear on your implication that the New Testament can be allowed to accept “Falling Star” imagery.
Why should that be tolerated any more just because it is in Greek? If anything, it provides valuable
cross referencing:

Matt 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25-26

Rev 6:12-13

But in the meantime, here are the Hebrew references:

Daniel 8:10
And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped on them.

Isa 34:4
And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a falling [fig] from the fig tree.

But Jon, take a moment to consider what you wrote:
" it’s the uninformed and shallow modern, literally blinded by science to mythic, symbolic and spiritual truth,"


WOW! So you ARE open to “symbolic” and “mythic” truths!!!


I would strongly suggest that the story of Paradise is JUST that “symbolic” and “mythic” element!

George Brooks

(GJDS) #17


Our understanding regarding God, Christ and salvation is not derived from Nature nor dependent on how well we think we understand the physical world.

The depiction of God dealing with Adam and Eve is there to show us how it all began.

Your comments imo are unreasonable - to suggest that the Sumerian (or for that matter Egyptian, or Greco-Roman) views are the same, or in some way comparable with what is taught in the Bible, is to ignore all of recorded human history. I cannot fathom such an outlook.

(George Brooks) #18


When Jesus says he is a Vine … is he a Vine?
When Jesus heals a blind man by spitting into a handful of mud …
is that really divine inspiration for how healings should be done? Or is it because that’s
what healers of the time did?
When the bible talks about stars that fall to earth … are they literally stars?
When the scribes talk about a firmament like a sheet of metal … is the firmament really there?
Why would you think God performed day long acts of creation over the course of 3 days …
… when the sun didn’t even exist until the 4th day?

And why would you think God would put the entire earth in the hands of someone who doesn’t know good from evil?
If you were devoted to God and you wanted to write a history of his creation … and you didn’t have ANY idea how
the earth was created … why wouldn’t you borrow from even older texts? … maybe the ancients of Sumeria
knew something you didn’t…

George Brooks

(GJDS) #19


I am finding it difficult to see a point to your comments, but in the spirit of useful communication, I will do my best to make a reply.

On how things may be written: I have written a great deal of poetry (not that it has set the poetry world on fire), and I have used lines such as “…her eyes reflect the brightest stars…” or “… her smile outshone the sun at noonday…” and so on. I am fully aware of what the stars and sun are, and as a scientist, I would not use such lines in my publications. However that does not diminish the truth content of my poetic lines.

It may be that some of my poetry may be thought to have been influenced by, for example, Keats, or some other, modern poet. I would find it difficult to find the same lines in works by other poets, but that does not mean some type of influence could not be alleged by someone.

On divine inspiration, I would say that your remarks miss the mark - someone who is inspired would use the language he normally uses to convey the truth of the inspiration by God - saying God created the heavens and earth is clear to me, and does not look like Sumerian (or any other test). Giving a detail that shows God imposes order and reason to His creation is the antithesis of pagan texts.

So I trust you will appreciate my puzzlement regarding your comments,

(George Brooks) #20


I like your reference to the liberties you take with poetry. And why do you think this does not equally apply to the story of Eden … and a tree of good and evil?

Does it make LITERAL sense to you that God would test Adam and Eve’s morality by exposing them to a moral dilemma BEFORE they know the difference of good and evil? Would you give a machine gun to a 4 year old and tell him not to touch the trigger?

The Earth’s creation is poetry. Eden is poetry. Adam and Eve is poetry. These things must be poetry, because the story does not hold its plot structure:

  1. God performs creations in day-long intervals… but how can this be done if the sun (the measure of the day) doesn’t exist until the 4th day?
  2. Cain founds a city … but there is no mention of whom he marries.
  3. The 12 tribes of Israel include Simeon … whose territory eventually falls within or in the south of Judah. So how exactly does Simeon belong to the Northern Kingdom of the Ten Tribes … if Simeon is obviously within the orbit of Judah?

These are all evidences of Genesis being figurative and symbolic … rather than literally true. If it were LITERALLY true, there wouldn’t be so many holes in the plot.

George Brooks