When do you think we had the necessary capacities for a relationship with God?

I’ve been doing some thinking on this topic because any origins model that places Adam and Eve in Africa anywhere between 130,000-200,000 years ago (as per RTB and some evolutionary models) has them living at what seems to be a very early time in the cultural and behavioural development of homo sapiens. I suppose this depends on whether one thinks that modern anatomy and behaviour emerged together (as I believe RTB does) or whether modern anatomy existed for a long period before modern behaviour gradually appeared (around 50,000 years ago I think is where proponents of this view might agree. Denis Alexander has a pretty good discussion in his book).

For Adam and Eve to have had a relationship with God they would have had to possess the capacity for language, symbolism, and understanding things such as the concept of God, moral responsibility, sin, evil etc. It seems unlikely to me (in the reading I have done) that at 130,000-180,000 years ago they would have had this ability.

Anyway, has anyone got any thoughts on this? Particularly which view of the emergence of modern behaviour is favoured by the scientific evidence, and also when the best date for the emergence of religious behaviour is?


Some of this is not going to leave any direct evidence so it is going to be hard to date. From what I have read modern behavior gradually appeared anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 years ago. Also, could it be possible that the simple awareness that there is something “out there” be the beginning of the relationship? As in human relationships the other parts would come into play as the relationship grew.

And what about the Neanderthals and other early homins? They appeared to have some of the traits of modern humans. H. naledi may have buried their dead. How does this fit in?

Interesting stuff this.

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Another question is, just because humans had the capacity to relate to God, does that mean God was obligated to initiate relationship with them? Kind of goes against the often repeated theme of the Bible that God chooses whom he chooses regardless of their abilities.

I think the whole “Adam and Eve lived in Africa 200,000 years ago” is an example of scientific concordism that is bad biblical exegesis. Why would the Genesis narrative, produced for Israel and probably written down in the form we have now just before the 6th century B.C., be describing prehistoric events? That makes no sense to me.


But given the context is Jerusalem as you say, why speak of a “first man” at all? The Bible can’t be about paleontology so what is the idea of the Adam narrative? Is it a “first contact” story?

Some people think it is about Israel’s ancestors and is symbolic of the choosing of Israel. Whatever the interpretation, if it doesn’t relate to Israel’s history and covenant relationship with God, I’m skeptical. It’s Israel’s origin story.

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Yes, I agree @Christy. Any model that places A&E in Africa over 100,000 years ago does seem out of sync with the agrarian setting of Genesis. How would Cain and Abel have kept flocks and worked the ground if humans were tens of thousands of years away from agriculture…!

Thanks for the reply @Bill_II. What have been your sources for the gradual evolution view?

Thoughts? I have a whole book on the subject waiting to be written. Wish I could spill all the beans, but I’ll be unveiling more and of the concept in the coming months. If you’re anywhere near Rochester, NY, I will be presenting this paper at the science-faith conference co-sponsored by BioLogos Oct. 25-26.

Language, Empathy, and Morality: Adam’s Evolutionary Journey to Maturity and Guilt

In the last decade, science effectively ruled out an original “first pair” as the origin of our species, and 8 million Millennials transferred their allegiance from Jesus to “none of the above.” Those two facts are related. When asked, many young people say the literalist interpretation of Genesis 1-3 forced them into a dilemma – either evolution, or the Bible.

In reply, this paper reads the biblical and scientific narratives of human origins in concert to reveal some surprising resonances. It begins by sketching the story of human evolution from the start of the Homo genus through the “Out of Africa” migration and the “Great Leap Forward” of the cognitive revolution. How are these events related to ha’adam and imago Dei ? The evolution of symbolic language allowed for the possibility of true morality. Only after acts became symbolized could they represent abstract classes of action such as “good” or “evil.” Multiple lines of evidence point to the period just before the “Out of Africa” migration as the time when humanity developed a lexicon of abstract words – the sine qua non for mature moral knowledge. Simultaneously, this was the birth of conscience. At that point, the “fall” was not only inevitable, it was historical.

This paper attempts to resolve two key questions in the evolution/Genesis dilemma:

  • Can ha’adam and the “fall” be located in history?
  • Can the origin and transmission of sin be explained in an evolutionary context?



Sounds fascinating! Unfortunately I’m across the ocean in London - I’ll look out for the book though!

If you rowed a boat across the Atlantic and walked the rest of the way to Rochester, you would arrive just in time for the book’s publication. Haha.

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The topic has come up several times here. I haven’t read any books on the subject just consulted the all knowing Google. I did read several papers that I found on Google Scholar but am by no means an expert.

Let’s see if I can give a few straight answers in the meantime. There was a gradual on-ramp to the Great Leap, or cognitive modernity. As soon as you see grave goods, you can infer at least a nascent spirituality. These are shell beads placed in graves around the 100-130 kya date you mentioned. What we would call “religious” symbolism and behavior did not appear until cognitive modernity fully flowered around 50 kya.

The reason for that is early humans possessed a “modular” mind, as described by Steven Mithen in The Prehistory of the Mind. Mithen proposed that early Homo had a modular mind, like primates, with domain-specific cognitive skills devoted to tool-making, the natural environment, and the social environment, all overlaid by a “domain-general” intelligence for problem-solving. The closest analogy for us is having a “single-minded” focus on a task, which partially blocks input from other areas of the brain.

For early humans, the absence of beads, pendants, and tools with social markings is evidence of an inability to integrate their technical and social intelligences. Prior to the Great Leap Forward, humans created no specialized hunting weapons or traps because their technical and natural history intelligences were not integrated. The Acheulean and Mousterian tools that persisted for hundreds of millennia were relentless in their monotony. In contrast, the social intelligence of modern humans recognizes no boundaries. Amazonian foragers think of the forest as parent; the Inuit consider the polar bear an ancestor. Totemism and anthropomorphism indicate that the social and natural worlds are no longer discrete domains of thought. Thus, sometime before 50,000 years ago, the various domains of intelligence were integrated, with language as the likely glue.

Mithen attributes the religious impulse to this “mixing up” of domains. Or, as Morna Hooker observed in commenting on Romans 1, it’s from “this confusion between God and the things which he has made that idolatry springs.”


For me the crucial question was how significant was this communication with God in the human development of civilization? The farther back you push it the less significant it would be for human civilization, which looks to have appeared between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. So if the communication with God was more like 100,000 years or more ago then we would have to look for something else as the cause and source for human civilization.

Now it may be that religion dates from such an early time (100,000 years or more ago) and God needed some development in that regard before the species was ready for communication more like 10,000 years ago. Otherwise you would have to think that it is human civilization itself which is of little significance, and I find that a little hard to swallow.

@Jay313 thanks for this my friend, it’s really helpful!

Out of interest, given your knowledge of the topic, where do you place Adam and Eve (if at all!) and do you think humans would have been able to have had the type of relationship with God envisioned in Genesis 1-3 as far back as 100,000+ yrs ago?

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That’s an interesting point. If humans had a relationship with God as far back as, say, 100,000 years ago, that leaves maybe 90,000 years before we get to what we recognise as human civilization which means meeting God doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact on human civ (as far as time goes)…v interesting.

Tough questions. I view “the man” and “the woman” in Gen. 2-3 as archetypal symbols in a figurative text. An archetype represents both humanity as a whole and every individual, so “the man’s” journey from naked and unashamed toddler to morally guilty adult applies equally to humanity and to each of us as individuals. All of us have taken the journey from innocent child to guilty adult. So did the human race.

I mentioned Mithen and the modular mind of early humans. He drew that idea from developmental psychology. Between the ages of 2-5, children seem to rely on specialized learning modules, but once they acquire the basics of syntax around the age of 5, the modules begin to be integrated. (This goes by various names, depending on the “school” of psychology.) Integration is noticeably dependent on language development. By the age of 8 or 10, children begin to understand metaphoric thought, which is the basis for higher-order thinking.

Now, if evolution followed roughly the same path, which it apparently did, the answer to your question becomes a little clearer. What sort of relationship with God does a 3-yr-old have? That’s a question we can kick around.


Interesting and relevant question for me since I am currently a stay-at-home Dad to a 2 and 4 year old!I

Whatever the answer to it, though, I am not sure whether the relationship between God and a three year old would be adequate for Adam and Eve given the significance of what God was calling them to. Who knows…!


It is pretty one way I suspect, as I have a couple of 3-4 year old grandkids, and they are pretty much amoral psychopaths at this point, but have a good prognosis. (Actually, both are sweet kids, but definitely most interested in how whatever happens affects them.)


The recent thread on the Tower of Babel had some interesting discussions about how God “viewed” human civilizations that had established themselves in Babylonian times. The evolutionary advantages of a close knit human society was already evidenced by the total success of Homo sapiens over Neanderthals, but many Christians today strongly agree with the authors of Genesis that societal morality most often ‘corrupts’ the morality humans can achieve on an individual basis. Personally, I think this view is mostly in error, but there is some basis for holding it.
Al Leo

That quote is badly taken out of context changing the logical meaning. If someone says “if A then B,” then when you quote only B you distort what they have said considerably.

Not really. That is like saying that drug abuse means there is some basis for holding the view that medicine is bad. On the contrary, what these bad uses of a thing means is there is a right way and a wrong way. Yes, a civilization dominated by evil is worse than no civilization at all, just as diverting medicines into a use for recreation makes drugs into something evil and destructive.