William Lane Craig, Neanderthals, and Census Size

Neanderthals are a headache for apologetic attempts to argue for all humans descending from Adam and Eve
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/william-lane-craig-neanderthals-and-census-size
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i think that most of the “homo” genus are fully humans. with veriation here and there (like in cats and dogs but even smaller). so even the homo erectus (“date” about 2.8 my) was a human.

As always, I’m willing to answer questions. Thanks for reading.


dcscccc - have you read anything by (young-earth creationist) Todd Wood? You might find his work informative.

Excellent report. I have been patiently waiting for this one. It is great. Thank you. Have you been keeping up with the latest results? The pace of discovery with whole genome sequencing is astonishing. Thanks again.

Question: Do you think that the worldwide (Africa, Asia, Europe) population of all the genus homo was in the millions not tens of thousands? Based on the trillions of stone tool production?

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I’m absolutely fascinated with this paragraph!

“A concrete example of this was recently reported in the scientific literature, and I have discussed it previously. The study reported the sequenced genome of an ancient human male (named Oase 1, for the location where his remains were discovered) who lived about 40,000 years ago in Europe. His genome sequence is noteworthy because it contains very long stretches of DNA that are Neanderthal in origin – stretches that had not yet been broken up through crossing-over events, exactly like what we discussed recently. As such, this individual had a very recent Neanderthal ancestor – likely within 200 years of his birth.”

At first I thought the sentence ended with "likely within 200 generations of his birth; but within 200 years?!?!? That’s stunning data!!!

As an amateur family genealogist, I try to take sections of the family genealogy and make them more relatable to aunts, uncles and cousins without a science background. So sometimes I point out that there are some 11 generations between the current generation (me and my first cousins who married in the 1990’s) and one of our ancestors who married before the mid-1600s (let’s say 380 years); this is about 35 years a generation. And if I were to go back to the time of Charlemagne (2010’s to 800’s AD), that would be 35 generations in about 1,210 years.

So having genetic input within a mere 200 years … WOW! A drop in the bucket - - sometime about 18 generations back (200 years) out of a time span of 40,000 years, or about 3,630 generations… that’s a LOT of Christmas gifts!


I’ve discussed this issue in a post on my blog, “Did Neanderthals have a soul?” (department of shameless self-promotion). I’m expounding on a very fine article by Kenneth Kemp, Science, Theology and Monogenesis. Kemp makes a distinction between biological monogenesis and theological monogenesis, and using a framework of Aristotlean/Thomistic philosophy, proposes that evidence of rational behavior, such as tool-making, burial of the dead, are appropriate for indicating ensoulment. He suggests that such ensoulment–to an original Adam and Eve–would on this basis go back to Homo Erectus. Thus Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens, being descendants from Homo Erectus, are common soul-mates, so to speak. :wink:
As a believing Catholic (even though I’m also a hard-headed physicist), I am sympathetic to this view. It seems to resolve contradictions between paleo-archeology and theology very nicely. It also is in accord with Pope St. John Paul II’s comment that we can view evolution as leading to the body of humans, but it is God who endows the soul, both in the original Adam and Eve and for each of their descendants.

As always, while trying to be cute and statistical about a minimum population size to account for present day variation, this discussion misses the primary biological and mathematical point that whatever number you have, you can divide by two. Thus if there was once ten thousand individuals, at some point there must have been half as many. If there was always ten thousand, then that would prove that evolution never occurred, and that there were always ten thousand, from day one. So the fact that it would take ten thousand people to account for present day variation and diversity, does not prove that the minimum population was actually ten thousand. Rather, it proves that variation increased and diversified after the original population began.

Neanderthals may be a headache, but perhaps just as great a headache to evolutionists. If they were human, which appears to be the case, as breeding and mixing of genes was possible, then obviously evolutionists cannot postulate validly that humans only began to exist 200,000 yrs ago in evolutionary time. They must have existed earlier according to the human neanderthal fossils.

As such, this individual had a very recent Neanderthal ancestor – likely within 200 years of his birth. - See more at: Adam, Eve, and Human Population Genetics: Responses to Popular Arguments - Series - BioLogos

So neanderthal humans according to this would stilll have been around 40,200 yrs ago, according to evolutionary time. So they are barely if at all separated by time, and barely separated by genetics, and by the possibility of valid generative interbreeding would be thought to be the same species. Interesting.

Maybe Adam and Eve existed after the interbreeding. Maybe they are allegorical.

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Trying to classify Neanderthals as something other than human in order to accommodate a particular reading about Adam and Eve appears indefensible to me.

As a layperson (non-scientist) the distinction between Neanderthals, H Erectus, and H Sapiens as always seemed artificial. Up until genetic material was available for study we seemed to be making calls about who fit where based on variation in skulls and body types. This is a bit like comparing a malamute and a boxer and labeling them as separate species based on the shape of their noses and chests.

We (and I use this in the broadest sense) have been been doing symbolic communication (stone art) roughly a quarter million years (that we know of). We have also had complete control of fire (stone rings) as well as the ability to create symmetrical hand axes for three-quarters of a million.

That’s at least how long we’ve been human. It is our context for whatever and whomever Adam and Eve must be.

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New results on Neanderthal’s facial growth.

“We (and I use this in the broadest sense) have been been doing symbolic communication (stone art) roughly a quarter million years (that we know of). We have also had complete control of fire (stone rings) as well as the ability to create symmetrical hand axes for three-quarters of a million.”

I don’t see any reason to regard any of these abilities as sufficient for what it it to be fully human. The humanity that occupies the author of Genesis is a creature that is capable of faith (or a refusal to have it) in God. That’s what is relevant to a theology-science discussion. I could make a lot of off topic comments here, but suffice it to say that just because archeologists have inferred some activity by some particular sub-species of hominins (making stone tools, controlling fire, burying their dead, etc.) that apes and other animals don’t do, that doesn’t demonstrate that the hominins in question were fully human.

It seems pretty clear, to me anyway, that there was a long succession of hominins who were smarter and more “accomplished” in many ways than any ape, who nonetheless were not yet fully human. It is a non-trivial question what we should look for as a marker of what we recognize as fully human, and of course it is complicated by the fact that the most obvious candidates are idols, which generally imply some, shall we say, non-Biblical religion. Maybe Biologos should have someone post on that question sometime.

Laying aside for a moment the issue of interbreeding (which is what sparked my questioning of the distinction when that was discovered) the abilities cited are markers for full humanity. Not proof but indicators.

What they demonstrate is the capacity for conceptual thought. Modern H Sapiens might be smarter but the difference is one of degree. Hominins with the ability to think conceptually at the level indicated by fire, sophisticated tools, and representational art are radically different from any creature lacking those abilities.

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Are you convinced that Neanderthal’s didn’t have this cognitive ability?

PG Garrison, when you deny that burying their dead is an indicator of rationality, which is according to Catholic teaching a correlate of ensoulment, how would you classify entities burying their dead with accessories, a practice which would suggest belief in an afterlife?

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