Venema says Human = Homo Sapien. Really?

(Peaceful Science) #1

@DennisVenema has argued that “human” in theology must = anatomically modern Human (or Homo Sapien)

In response to…

Notice, I did not say “non-theological”, but let’s let that slide for now. So, now I have several questions.

  1. When do “anatomically modern human skeletons” and therefore theological “humans” arise in the fossil record? The recently discovered Homo sapiens from 300 kya are not fully anatomically modern. Are they not fully human? Are they fully human? How do we adjudicate this?

  2. Homo sapiens are now widely thought to be known as a chronospecies continuous with their ancestors till before Homo erectus. Is there a non-arbitrary way to define new species in a chronospecies? How has this been applied to Homo sapiens and what has it determined?

  3. One what basis does @DennisVenema dispute the Natural History Museum’s definition of “human”? Here, all hominids are called “human”.

  4. Regarding @DennisVenema’s model, why Neanderthals not human? Why are Denisovans not human? Why are Homo erectus not human? How do we know one way or another? If any of them are not human, must they be sub-human? Why shouldn’t we find the notion of fully human Homo sapiens alongside hominid beasts distasteful? Does this not just amount to anatomy based racism in the past?

  5. There is strong evidence for interbreeding between Homo sapiens and other hominids. Most famously, there is the interbreeding between Homo sapien “humans” and Neanderthal “non-humans.” Surely, as @DennisVenema would say, the Scriptural commands against beastiality should forbid this. Right? Should we not find this distasteful and horrific?

  6. We appear to have identified “human” and “non-human” hybrids (Homo sapien and Neandertal). These individuals, are they “human” or not “fully human” or not? What is their theological status? Should we not find this reality distasteful?

Let’s take a look at a very simplified image of interbreeding among hominids.

In @DennisVenema model, the only humans in this diagram are on the PURPLE line. All the other lines are non-human. @DennisVenema has clarified that all non-humans are sub-humans in his mind. William Lane Craig responds:

Craig: But apparently modern human beings interbred with Neanderthals as you say. I remember being taken aback when one of these population geneticists said to me when I was in Canada earlier this year that you, yourself, carry Neanderthal DNA. In my own genetic profile, I carry the DNA of these Neanderthals who interbred with human beings. Now, if they weren’t humans that meant that the descendants of Adam were literally committing bestiality, right? They were interbreeding with animals. Well, maybe that is possible. Maybe that is part of the fall of man into sin – that they engaged in behavior like that…

My goodness, I am sure this is not what @DennisVenema intends, but it seems like proposals that insist Human = Homo sapien inevitably lead here.

Though, we can be encouraged, there are solutions to this problem. Thinking more carefully about “what it means to be human” gives us a better way forward.

Recognizing ambiguity in “human” raises premature concerns about naming others as “sub-humans.” Here, John Walton’s model, based on a textual analysis5 of Genesis 1 – 3, is helpful. Without reliance on extra-Scriptural sources, he argues that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are sequential. God first makes “mankind” in His Image, and then later identifies, or perhaps specially creates, a single man Adam and a woman Eve, who together become important because of his Fall. Walton calls Adam and Eve the first “true” humans, who are both God Imaged and Fallen. In contrast, those “outside the garden” are God Imaged, but not yet Fallen. They are not sub-human, to be clear, but they are also different than humans as we understand them today; C.S. Lewis might say they were better than us. A related two-creation interpretation of Genesis, also, is found in The Book of Enoch (from before 200 BC) and elsewhere, so this solution may carry both traditional and textual support. The two-creation model of mankind is just one theological approach; many more are possible. Nonetheless, I personally refrain from endorsing any specific solution at this time, and offer this primarily to abet premature concerns.

(Dennis Venema) #2

Josh: I said that I consider all individuals with an anatomically modern human skeleton to be fully human. It simply does not follow from that statement that I consider only those with an anatomically modern skeleton to be human.

(Peaceful Science) #3

Sounds very similar to my clarifications…

I have said I believe that Adam and Eve bear the Image of God, it simply does not follow that those outside the garden did not bear the Image of God too. As I have explained…

That sounds just like the distinction you make between Homo sapien and neanderthal.


Let us get your story straight as long as we are here.

So then where do you define the cut point for who is “human” and not?

When do “humans” arise then? What do you mean when you say “human”?

What do you mean when you say “anatomically modern human”? When do they arise?

Are homo sapiens and neanderthals entirely equivalent types of “humans”? If not, why did one type of human become extinct? Should we not be concerned about the theological distastefulness raised by this proposal?

On what basis do you make any of these distinctions?

(Peaceful Science) #5

What Just Happened Here?

As I am sure observers can tell, this is a parody of @DennisVenema’s argument against genealogical science used against his own position, and this parody makes a key point.

The Term “Human” is Ambiguous in the Distant Past. This is true in both theology and science; moreover, “human” is used differently in both theology and science. For this reason, references to “human,” “mankind,” and “humanity” in theology and science, when applied to the distant past, are hotly debated, unsettled, ambiguous, and ultimately misleading. When in dialogue with theology, ambiguity and theological weight of the term “human” creates avoidable confusion about what science does and does not say. Most importantly, in light of recent universal ancestry, there is nearly total freedom in mapping between theological “humans,” as we understand them today, and the findings of science.

@BradKramer notes:

I responded with examples where others had made these caveats.

It is well known, but it is not well appreciated. In this @BradKramer is correct. I may be the first person to insist…

When in dialogue with theology, ambiguity and theological weight of the term “human” creates avoidable confusion about what science does and does not say.

Why this Matters

In this good-natured parody of @DennisVenema’s argument against genealogical science, one can see that indiscriminate use of “human” can be easily used to create needless conflicts that do not necessarily exist. @DennisVenema is fond taking advantage of this to oppose genealogical science, and William Lane Craig falls into this trap more accidently. Wither by intention or error, it is just unhelpful to think “human” is a neutral term in these contexts.

Instead of manufactured objections, we should focus on actual objections that empty chair have presented.


Reading Dennis’ one post in this thread, this doesn’t appear to be an accurate portrayal of his position. To use another example, I would classify the North American Bison as a mammal. Does this mean that no other species can be a mammal?

It doesn’t appear to me that Dennis is excluding any other species from the human group. He is only saying that he accepts anatomically modern humans (i.e. H. sapiens) as humans. Reading between the lines, Dennis doesn’t know how Neanderthals or Denisovans viewed God so I can see why he would be reluctant to include them in the human group as it relates to theology. However, reluctance to include those other two groups is not an indication that they are excluded.

(George Brooks) #7

Who were the first humans?

Anatomically speaking, even to the anatomy of the brain, the logical conclusion is that the humans into which Adam and Eve integrated themselves were and are all human.

But this is human from the view point of science.

What does God mean by the term human? Presumably, he means people just like the wider population plus a moral awakening!

We can chase the rabbit and say that Moral Awakening can be acquired like a contact high. After all, every generation does sin … and will sin. There will be no shortage of sinning in the human population.

The only thing that makes it different is if they know they are sinning against God. So many of us here think this is an easy enough awareness to obtain from going on a nice Black Sea cruise with Adam and Eve.

And they are so kind … saying things like, this ship is meant to last. Nothing can sink her. And besides, it’s going to be a few centuries before Noah is ready for his big show!

When asked what Adam is talking about … he just smiles and nods his heads. Nothing for you to worry about, he says!

(Steve Schaffner) #8

That is not a straightforward conclusion from the text you quoted, nor is there any guarantee that those words accurately reflect @DennisVenema’s thought on the question at hand. Why not ask him rather than telling him what he thinks?

(George Brooks) #9


I don’t get it. What percentage is there for any of us to promote the idea that anything other than Homo sapiens sapiens is “Human”?.. or the “foundation stock for what God will treat as humanity”?

Does anyone really want to argue that Adam and Eve are Neandertalensis?.. it sort of puts us in the difficulty of explaining the sapiens branch.

The idea that there is Sapiens Before Adam and Sapens After Adam seems to be the most versatile of the conceptions…

(Steve Schaffner) #10

I’m making no claims (or even suggestions) about what should count as human or about Adam and Eve. I’m just encouraging participants to listen to one another.

(Albert Leo) #11

I have rather enjoyed this lively conversation among intellectually competent participants on how we should define “Human”. But at age 92 my world view is not likely to change radically, and I can take a more distant viewpoint. What about the young folks of high school and college age who are subjected to the arguments that Christian Faith is now out dated and no longer relevant. I hope that many of these will have learned that BioLogos is a good site to look for answers. If they are attracted to this Forum, might they conclude that there is so much bickering amongst the Christian intellectuals about details that any Faith must rest on shaky ground? I try to convince my grandkids and great grandkids that they should consider this preamble to the Nicene Creed:

  1. As a member of the human race, you are unique in the entire Universe in that you consist of both an evolved physical body plus a spirit that longs to know its Creator.
  2. That human spirit arises from a Mind that seeks to fulfill a purpose set out rom the beginning of time: to become an image of Him.
  3. As a human, you are especially valued by your Creator, but the evolutionary process that formed you over time leaves you with selfish instincts that must be overcome if you truly desire Image Bearer status; i.e., you are Good, but can become Better.

IMHO such a preamble would make sure that these young folks, who are BioLogos targets, are not distracted by all the nuances expressed in forum threads such as this one; i.e. that they are not distracted by the details of each tree such that they fail to appreciate the beauty of the forest.
Al Leo