One of the oldest debates among scientists is what it takes for an individual to be called “human.” The problem is that each discipline has its own criteria for being human.
A physical anthropologist would likely base his definition on the size of the brain, the shape of the mandible, or the position of the foramen magnum–the opening into the brain through which the spinal column passes. A cultural anthropologist might use community structure or communication techniques. In each discipline, the criteria correspond to the tools that discipline uses in its study. All of them are useful, but none present the full picture.
The biblical definition of being human is that being uniquely created in the image of God–that being possessing a soul. Physical appearance and physical characteristics are not part of the biblical definition. The indicator of being created in the image of God is how those spiritual characteristics are expressed. Worship, artistic creation, the use of symbolism, musical creation, and the ability to feel guilt and sympathy are leading indicators.
The media has portrayed the Neandertals as prehumans. Because they were bulky and jut-jawed they seem to fit the picture of prehuman cavemen. Movies have portrayed them as brutes lacking human characteristics. We have maintained for many years that the Neandertals were a race of humans. Recent genetic studies have shown Neandertal genes in the modern human population.
Recently researchers found artwork in three Spanish caves that are attributed to the Neandertals because they predate the time when other races of humans, such as Cromagnons, came to the area. Dr. Francesco d’Errico who has been studying the evidence for Neandertal artwork in the caves says, “Neandertals took modern humans into caves and showed them how to paint.”
The Bible tells us that God created humans in His image. We don’t know when that took place, or how far and how quickly the descendants of Adam and Eve moved out across the Earth. God designed humans to adapt to all kinds of environments, and climatic stresses led to racial variations. The Bible’s statement that “God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the Earth” is supported by every evidence we have available. However, while being human, our capacity to act like animals and not express our likeness to God’s image cannot be denied.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Science News, March 17, 2018 page 6.