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Chosen by God, Part 3: Election, Evolution and Imago Dei

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June 27, 2012 Tags: Image of God

Today's entry was written by Joshua M. Moritz. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: In yesterday's post Dr. Joshua Moritz concluded, "Elected to be both king and priest, the human being bears God’s image, sacredness, and authority to the non-human creation. Acting as vice-regents or kings on God’s behalf, human beings are the brethren of the animals that are under their dominion. As the elected high priests of creation Homo sapiens are called to intercede before God for the sake of the cosmos with the ultimate aim that all creatures should live in God’s presence."

In this third and final post examining what the imago Dei is and is not, Moritz describes how the fundamental distinction between humans and other animals rests on God’s choosing and blessing us for a special vocation and mission. Our unique status is primarily theological and relational, rather than biological.

Left: "Abrahamic Covenant" by Christoph Weigel, 1695.
Courtesy Pitts Theological Seminary, Emory University.

The only parsons and scientists who argue are those who understand neither the God of Genesis nor the science of the universe. The parsons make God too small to make use of science, the scientists make science so big they think it can function without God’s having given it life.

Both are wrong, for they do not grasp how big God truly is. The true debate is not over evolution, but over the simple question: How big is God? Is he big enough to use any means he chooses? —George MacDonald, 18881

In my previous posts I pointed out that there is no biblical basis for asserting a definition of the imago Dei that relies on a concept of human biological exclusivity owing to certain special human capacities or characteristics. Rather, we saw that the phrase “image and likeness of God” finds its scriptural meaning in the fact that Homo sapiens are chosen by God in a concrete historical act to be a species taken from among the animals and set apart as God’s own possession for God’s special purposes. In the same way that God formed (yatsar) Israel to be a people or nation unto himself (Isa 43:21), so God formed (yatsar) the first human beings (Gen 2:7) to be the partner of God in his formation and administration of creation. There was no ontological or biological necessity for God to historically choose humans as his image. Such elective choosing was purely an act of divine grace.2

How, then, does understanding the imago Dei as election relate to the scientific question of human origins and the age-old controversy surrounding biological evolution? For many contemporary Christians the most offensive and theologically problematic aspect of Charles Darwin’s understanding of human origins is his contention that human beings are not biologically special or empirically distinct from animals. As is well known, Darwin argued that even in the areas of mental behavior and mind, “the difference…between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” In this way “Darwin’s dangerous idea” has been perceived as an affront to the natural dignity and majesty of mankind; the uniqueness of the human species is thought to be threatened if we are reduced to the status of “brute beasts.”

Though a powerful force in our current culture, this reaction to Darwin’s theory has more to do with secular French Enlightenment notions of the “dignity of man” and Italian Renaissance ideas of “man as the measure of all things” than with anything that is taught in the Christian Bible (as we saw in the first post). Nevertheless, endeavors to define human nature in stark contrast to the natures of non-human animals continue unabated. In reaction to the perceived perils to human uniqueness posed by the idea of continuity with animals, many have blatantly denied the reality of human kinship with animals—assaulting evolution and asserting the superiority and exemplarity of human beings in the name of theological tradition. Others have endeavored to establish the reality of human uniqueness through an unswerving faith in an anthropocentrism of the gaps—presupposing human exceptionality where empirical evidence is wanting, contested, or—at the very least—ambiguous. For many Christians today, this type of theological endeavor to establish human material uniqueness seems the obvious way forward, and this path is taken for granted even in the face of its being completely unsupportable from Scripture.

Yet taking seriously what the Bible has to say about the imago Dei-as-election instantly relaxes this perceived tension between theological anthropology and the natural sciences. As we saw in our previous posts, the Bible never teaches that the imago Dei is founded upon the natural dignity or majesty of man. Indeed, the Scriptural situation is quite the reverse—any dignity or majesty that we might have as human beings is solely a gift of God’s grace and not our biological entitlement; God’s regard for humanity is a source of wonderment for the Psalmist (Ps.8:4). Darwin’s view of human origins thus has the ironic effect of bringing us back to the core of the Scriptural meaning of mankind, and to the fact that we, as human beings, were chosen from among the animals as Abraham and his family was chosen from among the nations. Apart from God’s choosing and blessing there was no fundamental difference between Abraham’s lineage and the other families of the Earth; likewise, there was no fundamental distinction between humans and other animals apart from God’s choosing and blessing. In both cases, it is God’s choosing that makes the difference—a primarily theological and relational difference, at that, though not without real, material, historical consequences, as well.

Much recent scientific research supports this deeply biblical view of humanity’s place in created reality and has shown that many capacities classically upheld to be distinctive of humans alone (such as self-consciousness, rationality, empathy, and even culture) have also been found among non-human animals.3 Several decades of scientific investigation and thousands of comparative studies between human and animal behaviors and minds have effectively blurred the qualitative dividing line between “man and beast,” at least in terms of the biological underpinnings for many of our higher functions. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to name a single distinctive characteristic of humankind that does not also suggest our continuity with other animals.

For those who trust their Bible and read it carefully and consistently, empirical findings that assert our commonality with other “lower” creatures should come as no great shock or surprise. But perhaps even more instructive than considering the complexity of human biological “uniqueness” in light of the present state of biological life on earth is consideration of the early history of the human species before 50,000 years ago, when recent research suggests Homo sapiens was one of at least several advanced hominoid species on earth,4 and that culture was not unique to them alone.5

Though today it may be difficult for us to imagine sharing the Earth with other culture-bearing hominoids, the fact is that “our species’ current monopoly of hominid life on Earth is an unusual state of affairs”6 and was not always the case: hominids currently classified as distinct species who lived contemporaneously with anatomically modern human beings (Homo sapiens) include Hominid “X” or Homo denisova, Homo neanderthalensis, and Homo floresiensis (though the latter seems to have been geographically isolated from other Homo species). Furthermore, there is now genetic evidence that our species interbred with at least one of our cousin species—as recent revelation of the Neanderthal origin of some of our modern DNA implies.7

Editor’s note: Precisely how modern humans are unique is an extremely complex, interdisciplinary question, requiring contributions from the fields of primatology, cognitive ethology and social ecology, as well as theology and anthropology. While we know little about the daily lives of individuals from these distinct related species, the respective cranial volumes of these extinct members of our own genus (Homo) place all but one of them within the cranial volume range of ninety percent of modern humans. But more important here is the apparent cultural similarity between early H.sapiens and the other hominids, whose material remains and artifacts suggest they were also accomplished bearers of culture

Again, this is not to assert that the unprecedented achievements of humanity since it emerged from that complex period of deep history were either trivial or somehow “biologically inevitable,” We have only to look around us to see the obvious and de facto uniqueness of our place among God’s creatures and transformative role on earth (for both good and ill). It is also not to argue against the idea that God intended and prepared our species for image bearing long before the time of our historical election. Instead, the point here is to emphasize that it is the ongoing special relationship God established with humankind that put the basic capacities or potential we share with other creatures to use in natural and, eventually, in salvation history.

In some way, the personal interaction of the sovereign God with both the emerging human species (and, in parallel, the people of Israel) may have magnified, focused and directed the effect of those shared traits in order to create a creature and nation set apart. In both cases it was God’s elective employment or use of our capacities for his plans—and not the physical traits themselves—that allow us to image God. However investigations of the material distinctiveness of the human species develop, our theologically-significant uniqueness rests in God’s action and not in our physical bodies or cultural capacities alone. Critically in an age when we seem intent on asserting our sovereignty over even our own biology, this means that even those ‘non-normative’ persons who lack certain physical and/or behavioral capacities (such as small children or the mentally disabled who may not possess rationality or language) are still fully in the image of God.

In closing, then, the evidence from paleoanthropology reveals that Homo sapiens at the time of their initial emergence as a species were confronted with a scenario akin to Abraham as he separated from his ancient Chaldean ancestors. As one people chosen by God from among many, Abraham and his lineage were called out for the purpose of blessing the nations, though they continued to interact and even intermingle with those outside the chosen line. Upon Abraham’s calling and divine election, God brought him out from among his ancestral people and home of Ur of the Chaldees to travel with his family to an unknown land which God would show him (Gen 12:1-20). Abraham and his family thus became the founders of a new population in a new land that was chosen by God. God’s chosen people, Israel, was likewise called out from among the nations and was taken by God from Egypt to a new land of his choosing. In the same manner, the first human beings were taken by God and put in the land that God had chosen for them—the garden located “in the East” in a place called Eden (Gen 2:8). See note at right.

It is theologically important to realize that when Scripture describes the idyllic and peaceable atmosphere of this garden within Eden it is not referring to the entire Earth (as Saint Augustine would later interpret it). The land of Eden where the garden—a type of sanctuary for safety and rest—is located is clearly given a specific geographical location and is described as stretching from the Tigris and Euphrates in the Fertile Crescent through the entire land of Cush or Ethiopia (Genesis 2:8-14).

From the line of Abraham the nation of Israel was created or formed (yatsar) through the sovereign choosing or election of God (Isa 43:21) in order to be “a light unto the nations” (Isa 42:6, 49:6). Israel’s election was simultaneously the event of Israel’s creation. The early chapters of Genesis, when considered within their exegetical and ancient Near Eastern cultural context, describe a similar state of affairs for human beings as a whole. God’s choosing or election of Adam and Eve—the primeval ancestors and corporate representatives of the entire human race—from among the hominids is the very event through which humans are created or formed (yatsar) “as the image of God”. The election of humankind is the creation of humankind as the imago Dei. This election and creation of human beings as the divine image simultaneously entails a vocation, mission, and calling for humans to exist for the sake of and for the redemption of God’s created cosmos.


1. George MacDonald, The Landlady’s Master, ed. Michael R. Phillips (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1989), 123-124.
2. For a discussion of the imago Dei as election see Joshua M. Moritz, “Evolution, the End of Human Uniqueness, and the Election of the Imago Dei,” Theology and Science 9:3 (Aug 2011).
3. Krützen, M., Willems, E. P., & van Schaik, C. P. (2011). Culture and Geographic Variation in Orangutan Behavior. Current Biology, 21(21), 1808-1812.
4. For a review article that details the range of the current discussion on paleoanthropology and cultural development see Francesco d’Errico and Chris B. Stringer, "Evolution, revolution or saltation scenario for the emergence of modern cultures?" Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 366 (2011):1060-1069.
5. For a discussion of this research focused on human uniqueness, see Joshua M. Moritz, “Human Uniqueness, the Other Hominids, and ‘Anthropocentrism of the Gaps’ in the Religion and Science Dialogue,” Zygon 47 (1):65-96.
6. Ian Tattersall and Jeffery Schwartz, Extinct Humans (Boulder: Westview Press, 2000), 227.
7. Green, R. E., Krause, J., Briggs, A. W., Maricic, T., Stenzel, U., Kircher, M., et al. (2010). A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome. Science, 328(5979), 710-722.

Joshua M. Moritz, PhD, is Lecturer of Philosophical Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Francisco, and Managing Editor of the journal Theology and Science. He has studied at the Graduate Theological Union, Moravian Seminary in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, and Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan. Dr. Moritz holds degrees in theology, philosophy, history, the classical languages, and evolutionary biology.

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George Bernard Murphy - #70681

June 27th 2012

This debate always angers me.


God tries to assure the idiots that humans are made from “THE DUST OF THE EARTH”,... the common ordinary material found in topsoil,... the same genes and DNA that you find all around you,.. the same stuff all living things are made from.


 A tremendous amount of DNA is found in ocean water and every spoonful of dust. These genes evolved via the process Darwinians describe [endlessly],.. mutation and natural selection.





 And Darwin had no clue as to what our software is made from.

Think about computers.

You have hardware and software.

 Darwin intuitively ascertained a lot about how our hardware was manufactured.[He actually never heard of DNA].

 He had no clue about operating systems and software upgrades.

When God “breathed the breath of life” into clay IT WAS NOT A CHANGE IN OUR DNA.

And to this day we have no real undertanding as to what it was,

George Bernard Murphy - #70682

June 27th 2012

Well actually you nailed the important point right here in this paragraph.

“In my previous posts I pointed out that there is no biblical basis for asserting a definition of the imago Dei that relies on a concept of human biological exclusivity owing to certain special human capacities or characteristics. “

There is no conflict between Darwin and the Bible.

Gregory - #70683

June 27th 2012

“There was no ontological or biological necessity for God to historically choose humans as his image. Such elective choosing was purely an act of divine grace.” ... “The election of humankind is the creation of humankind as the imago Dei.”

I find much to agree with in this thread. This may be just a semantic question, but does it make sense to call the election of humankind by God as an ‘evolutionary event’ (in history) or is this one example of a time when ‘evolution’ is the wrong term to use? 

Here it would seem is an example when creation takes precedence over evolution, like in the preferred choice of ‘evolutionary creation’ over ‘theistic (or creative) evolution.’ Thus, it appears to be significant distinction in Moritz’ work that he does not write: “The evolution of humankind is the creation of humankind as the imago Dei.” Iow, ‘election’ is distinguished/distinguishable from ‘evolution’.

Another way to say it, unless one switches from background to foreground or general to particular, I don’t read Moritz as suggesting ‘evolutionary election’ or ‘imago Dei-as-evolution.’ Have I interpreted him correctly?

Joshua Moritz - #70703

June 27th 2012

Dear Gregory,

Thank you for your comments and question.

Yes, I believe you have interpreted my thought correctly.

Or to put it in yet another way: God’s election of human beings has important ramifications for the subsequent dynamics of selection (in evolutionary terms).

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70684

June 27th 2012

Moritz is making a good point, but making it obscurely.

God elected or chose bees to make honey.  When God did so God gave them the ability to make honey.

God elected or chose humans to be God’s vice regents on earth.  When God did so God gave them the ability to understand and represent God’s will.  However soon humans failed to live up to this responsibility and became alienated from God and others by sin.  We did not completely lose our ability to represent God, but it became perverted and distorted.

Israel was chosen by God to restore this relational Image, to restore the relationship between humanity and God.  This was done by establishing a covenantal relationship between YHWH and Abraham and his descendants.

At the proper time God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus the Messiah, to establish God’s full and complete covenantal relationship with all of humanity through the Holy Spirit.  Thus the Image of God is based on humanity’s ability to freely relate to God and to others.   

Humans are different from other creatures, but that does not make them innately better.  They have the potential to be better and also to be much worse.    

Norman - #70687

June 27th 2012

The problem I pointed out in the first article is that the Bible is not really comparing real animals to humans in most of this type of OT literature.  So his premise although well thought out and logically presented is based upon a literal reading of the animals when that wasn’t the actual biblical approach.  He makes a great point when he also points out that it symbolizes Israel being pulled from the Gentiles which is indeed correct but the Adam story is about him being taken from the Gentile peoples.  A good examination of this can be seen in the 2T Book of Jubilees which illustrates that the animals were actually representing the Gentiles in the Garden with Adam.

Notice below these two sections that use the classical poetic rendition of the animals and both of them are pointing toward the messianic fulfillment.  Hose speaking about Israel and Judah says that the animals will join in covenant with them on that eschatological Day of messiah.  Likewise in Ezekiel we see the living creatures from Genesis 1 & 2 brought to spiritual life through the fresh water of the One River of life flowing from the Temple.  Again this is messianic literature employing the well understood medium of symbolic allegory that the Hebrew employed in their writing. Notice also that large numbers of fish will be available and guess who became fishers of men in the NT stories.  Also remember that the Jews understood Peter’s vision of the animals in Acts 10 & 11 concerning bringing in the Gentiles to the fold. That was a picture of Hosea 2’s prophetic fulfillment.  This animal imagery is seen extensively also in 2T literature and especially in Enoch’s vision of the animals. When we pay attention to their methodology these symbols allow us to understand how the Jews developed their Midrash interpretations consistently through scriptures.

Hose 2: 16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish[f] the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever.

Eze 47: 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.

The Jews obviously crafted these stories with symbolism extensively and we need to be cognizant of that mindset and be careful of over applying our determinations built upon  taking them literaly.  The NT then defines for us what is meant by the Image of God  which parallels Ezekiel’s coming “Spirit”  that brings a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone.   This simply means that the heart that approaches God by human strength through the Law is going to be superceeded by the circumcised heart of flesh.

2 Cor 3:3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

The author does a nice Job except his premise is somewhat marred when it is realized that he is building his thesis upon biblical symbolism that he doesn’t fully recognize yet or acknowledge. However having pointed that issue out he still draws some very good positions that should help this investigation.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70689

June 27th 2012

I think that the message of the NT is that God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is able to transform hearts (or spirits) and renew the right relationship or image of God between God and humans and others.

Even so humans are unique in that they have a mind (nous in Greek, not psyche) and a spirit (pneuma), which other creatures do not have, but are necessary to carry out their calling as viceroys of God.    

GJDS - #70692

June 27th 2012

I agree with these comments; the Jewish tradition is long and extraodinary and needs to be better understood to gain further insights in the meaning, especially of Genesis. We are also shown that the knowledge of the Gentiles is vane (this is of religion and philosophy), but above all, the OT shows what and how we human beings constantly seek to turn away from God. On the Jewish tradition and how it was regarded in ancient times, I am reminded of the accounts by Josephus regarding the Macedonian ruler of Egypt and how he approached the translation of the OT by 70 prominant Jewsh scholars.  The care and thought that has been placed in the OT should be acknlowledged by us and we ought to be instructed accordingly.

Norman - #70693

June 27th 2012


I agree that the Spirit lead life is a life focused upon Jesus Christ.

You won’t get an argument from me that humans aren’t unique even though the author of this post rightly pointed out that as recently as 30 to 50,000 years ago there were other hominoids that were similar enough that we interbred with them to a limited extent. Effectively Homo sapiens biologically were mentally similar to us possibly more than 200,000 years ago. Part of the interesting ideas though is that humans build collectively exponentially their mental capacity by passing on what we learn but even some animals are able to pass on some acquired attributes. Biologically then one might be able to take a homo sapiens from birth 200 -300,000 years ago and we might not be able to distinguish him/her from some of our older native African groups today if they were raised in our modern world. Their capacity for God and Religious expression were more than likely already in place but the cultural support was not there yet as that is a civilized acquirement that takes time. Just as biological evolution prepared humans also cultural evolution played a huge part as well.

We can see this easily when we study the ancient peoples that were cut off from the rest of humanity for 15-50,000 years in Australia and the Americas. There obviously was the religious capacity for God already present in both groups even though they were quarantined away from the God experience of Asiatic, African, Middle East and European peoples for eons.  IMO the God capacity has been there for a long time in our evolutionary journey.  

Now getting back to the theological aspects of a spirit led life.

How God imbues His spirit upon the faithful opens up a good discussion. We know from OT scripture that it was what was promised to God’s faithful ones to lift them out of their legalist works of the flesh mentality that Paul harps upon them about.

Eze 11:19-20  And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,   that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

However Paul points out that the spirit led life contrasted to the legalistic mode of a Godly walk requires an overt decision to set one’s mind on living in the Spirit by controlling what a person sets as their purpose.  It’s a free will decision to follow the provided path or to continue down a path that does not bring about Spiritual living.

Rom 8: 5  Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;

Christ and the Apostles then set about teaching the principles that Christ emphasized that leads to a “Spirit” filled existence. Christ sets the stage when he says that loving God and our neighbors as ourselves are the two foundational principles for which the Law and the Prophets were built upon. Christ says that he came to fulfill the law and the prophets and Paul says the greatest of these fulfillments is “love”.  The converse approach that Christ and the Apostle were seeking to change was to discard the old ways of the “works of the flesh” which is described as an invented methodology by faith seeking humans to push God aside ever so subtlety (that is why the priest were classified by Christ as sons of the devil) until you couldn’t recognize God involved in the process at all.  If we read the OT carefully we see that the prophets were subversives toward the religious system and its leaders because it had developed into a form of idolatry.  That is also essentially the intent of the Adam and Eve story which describes in a microcosm the journey of Israel. Which makes sense because in all likelihood Genesis was written by the same subversive prophets and scribes who penned Ezekiel and other contemporary OT and 2T literature that arose during and after the Babylonian Exile.


Norman - #70694

June 27th 2012

Getting back to the Spirit filled life again.  I believe a careful study of the OT and NT along with other 2T literature presents the idea that humans have the capacity to fully embrace the Image of God but they struggle to do so.  I don’t believe the Bible deals with where our capacity came from as they had no clue or idea about such matters except to attribute it to God. They basically dealt with humanity as we are today and as we were 2-2500 years ago and assumed that we are simply the way we are. They took us as they found us and didn’t really delve into the biological and evolutionary constructs as at this time in history they did not have the collective understanding to do so. 

We just now are getting to the point where we can make fairly educated suppositions about our physical and mental development through the eons. But like the Jews we essentially have to also deal with the nature of humans as we find ourselves today. Those who seek a higher plane or standard of living have a model set before us for eternity or however long the earth bears us. That collective wisdom can help humanity continue to build upon and improve our human culture. That was the intention from the very beginning as illustrated by the Adam and Eve story where they were to be priest to the Nations to help humans experience a higher plane of Spiritual existence. We really weren’t promised a physical rose garden but we were promised a spiritual Garden while here in the flesh where God comes down and dwells with His creation through our Faith in Christ.  That was the plan and is the plan still but humanity by embracing this higher Spirit life can continue to evolve culturally but we also have the dark side that doesn’t always go forward but lurches backwards. That is why it is important for us to continue teaching the Good News of Christ the Spirit of God.

So IMHO the image of God as projected in Gen 1:26 is not what humans were physically enabled with but with what was the plan to make humans into through Gods works.  That is the story of the Bible in effect and there is a first century piece of literature called the Barnabas Epistle that flat out states that those living in their day were whom the prophets were speaking toward when writing about the Image of God in Gen 1. Augustine also bought into this idea even although he alters it somewhat but not as bad as the historical church has. It has become a Greek manifestation that is so deeply ingrained that almost all people think the Image of God comes naturally to man. No, it is available to humans through the works of God and Jesus Christ who have the native capacity to receive it; however it is not a birth right except through being born again into Christ.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70709

June 28th 2012


Thank you for your comments. 

While I commend Dr. Moritz for bringing out the continuity aspect of this issue by pointing out the importance of the role of humanity in being chosen to be viceroys of God, I think that this is only one side of the issue. 

It is an important aspect which has been often overlooked, which is why it is good he talks about it, however God does give humans unique abilities to carry out this role.  The problem seems to be that some people think that just because they are able to understand some aspects of the Creator’s world, that makes them equal to God and don’t need God any more. 

We think that some how we deserve the gifts God has given us and do not need to be responsible to anyone but ourselves for how we use these gifts.

We believe that all humans are created equal and given specific rights, because humans are spiritual creatures.  However with rights come responsibilities.  With gifts comes responsibilites.  “To whom much is given, much is expected.”  Please note when talking about tax policy.  

Unless we take responsibility for our stewardship of God’s green earth we will use it.

Francis - #70695

June 27th 2012

Dr. Moritz,

You wrote: “Darwin argued that even in the areas of mental behavior and mind, “the difference…between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.”

I’m struggling with differences of degree vs differences of kind.

To what in the animal kingdom would you compare

-       Man conceiving, designing, building and using a Boeing 747?   Are these just some degrees of separation from a Remora catching a ride on a Great White?

-       Man conceiving, writing and debating works of literature, history, philosophy and theology?   Like an ape “doodling” in the dirt? Just give him some more time?

Are my “man-made” examples, as you say, “solely a gift of God’s grace and not our biological entitlement”?

While all that exists is courtesy of God’s grace, not everything that is done on earth is a result of God’s grace. The machinations or delusions a murderer acts upon are not God’s grace in action. And I think neither are the imaginings or designs the Boeing 747 builder acts upon. I think they are the free will exercising of the “biological entitlement” given by God.  

You criticize “presupposing human exceptionality where empirical evidence is wanting” and that “human material uniqueness … is taken for granted even in the face of its being completely unsupportable from Scripture.”  

Whether it’s unsupportable from Scripture is arguable but, more importantly, seems irrelevant to me. Not everything that is, and that is true, is found in Scripture. Some truth is simply obvious, universally perceived, empirically evident. Such as man’s superiority to the animals and plants in kind, not degree (examples above).

Joshua Moritz - #70700

June 27th 2012

Dear Francis,

Thank you for engaging my brief essays on this Forum.

I would agree with you that the empirical question of “man’s superiority to the animals” is irrelevant to the question of what Scripture means when it describes humans as “the image and likeness of God”. I believe that was indeed one of the central points that I was endeavoring to make here in this series.

Since you are raising an empirical question regarding human uniqueness, I will attempt to give you an empirical answer.

The examples which you cite of human technological ingenuity and human creativity in using written and spoken language are certainly and unarguably grounded in key aspects of our biology.

The question remains however, whether such capacities can be considered as traits that are uniquely human.

The specific examples you give for the superiority of the human species could not be consistently used as defining characteristics of the whole human species without the effect of excluding the vast majority of humans in the recent past and even many of those in the present.

If we set the boundary of belonging to the human species as “the capacity to conceive and build a 747” or “the ability to write a great work of literature”, many people who we rightly consider human will not pass the bar.

One could modify this to say that the part of “human nature” (whether given by God’s grace or not) that really counts is the biological/behavioral capacity to develop forms of technology that have a cumulative quality.  Or that the really significant part of the essential nature of humans is the ability (or perhaps the potential) to write and/or imagine amazing works of poetry or song.

Again, if these are one’s essential criteria for inclusion within the category “humanity”, then many people normally thought of as being human will not qualify as truly being human.

For example, if one were to judge recently vanished or even some contemporary human cultures by such cultural standards we would be forced to exclude from humanity many people groups and cultures from New Guinea, the Pacific Islands, North and South America, Southeast Asia, and Australia (See Adam Brumm and Mark Moore, “Symbolic Revolutions and the Australian Archaeological Record,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 15:2 (2005): 157-175). The stone tools made in some regions of New Guinea until recently are similar to the earliest known from Africa. The recent Tasmanian record likewise has all the hallmarks of what in Eurasia would be identified as a record of archaic behavior.  And the same can be said of the North American Paleoindian archaeological record, where most of the sites are “just ‘patches’ or ‘scatters’ of artifacts and bones, with few if any formal hearths” having “little or nothing in the way of ornaments or grave accompaniments.” Though these remains were all deposited within the last few thousand years, in the majority of North American Indian sites “art of any nonperishable sort is virtually non-existent” and archaeologists “are hard-put in most cases to find anything that even remotely smacks of symbolism.” (See Wil Roebroeks and Alexander Verpoorte, “A ‘language-free’ explanation for differences between the European Middle and Upper Paleolithic Record,” in The Cradle of Language ed. Rudolf Botha and Chris Knight).

Among contemporary people groups consider the Pirahã of Brazil. The Pirahã language is characterized by “the absence of numbers of any kind or a concept of counting and of any terms for quantification, the absence of color terms.” This language has “the simplest pronoun inventory known,” no relative tenses, “the simplest kinship system yet documented,” and “the absence of creation myths and fiction.” Having “one of the simplest material cultures documented” the Pirahã also lack “any individual or collective memory of more than two generations past” and “drawing or other art.” (See Daniel L. Everett, “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã: Another Look at the Design Features of Human Language” Current Anthropology 46:4 (August-October 2005): 621).


Joshua Moritz - #70701

June 27th 2012

All this is to say that the supposedly definingly human characteristics which you cite are not universally distributed among all current human beings. Beyond this, some human beings (due to a variety of genetic and/or developmental circumstances) neither speak nor understand anything that might be termed a language—and thus these humans could not even learn to write. Among these persons, some may be incapable of acquiring language because they lack the necessary neural equipment, and in some cases the state of affairs is straightforwardly genetic. They are potentially language users in the sense that if they had a different genetic make-up and were exposed to the appropriate sequences of environments, then they would have been able to acquire language skills similar to those possessed by the rest of us. But this same contrary-to-fact conditional can be applied to other species as well. In this same sense, chimpanzees possess the POTENTIAL to acquire language.

It thus does not help to say that these various classes of human beings without the biological capacity for sophisticated writing, counting, historical consciousness or advanced technology still have (in some illusive or ill-defined way) the POTENTIAL to develop such capacities.

Consequently, it is an extremely difficult project to define humanity in such a way that one can point to key capacities that all humans posses and that exclude the abilities of other species without resulting in a large percentage of the human race being denied their obvious humanity. In such essentialist interpretations of the human species even more serious problems arise when attempts are made to include all of the non-normative groups mentioned above. The pathway to defining human nature via exceptional capacities which only “humans” share may presumably leave other non-human animals behind, but its wayside will likewise be unavoidably riddled with countless discarded “sub-standard” persons who deviate from the “essential human norm.” The act of choosing certain characteristics that are essentially, exclusively, and normally human, by sheer force of definition, works simultaneously to exclude in essence those “abnormal” humans who lack such characteristics.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that all humans did possess the capacity to develop some sort of cumulative technology. In light of what we know currently of other animals (not to mention the non-human hominids), could such a behavior be considered uniquely human?

Consider some recent research carried out on New Caledonian crows. The manufacture of tools in crows has been shown to demonstrate “cumulative technological evolution”—a phenomenon that has long been argued to be unique to humans. The “pandanus tools” which the crows manufacture to extract prey from rainforest vegetation have three distinct designs: narrow tools, wide tools, and stepped tools. Researchers have found that the various designs of the “pandanus tools have gone through a process of cumulative change from a common historical origin.” In their manufacture of tools New Caledonian crows thus exhibit all three widely accepted essential characteristics of cumulative technological evolution: (1) the diversification of tool design; (2) cumulative change; and (3) high-fidelity social transmission.” (See Gavin R. Hunt and Russell D. Gray, “Diversification and cumulative evolution in New Caledonian crow tool manufacture,” Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 270 (2003): 867).


Joshua Moritz - #70702

June 27th 2012

As an analog to the human capacity to compose poetry or music, consider research that has clearly documented vocal culture among humpback whales. Investigators have observed that all humpback whales in any one location at a given time will sing an identical song. The song which a group of whales sings changes gradually over time until eventually it differs significantly from the original. The way in which humpbacks progressively modify their songs over time suggests that “individuals are copying song elements that they hear being used by other singers.” (Eduardo Mercado III, Louis M. Herman, and Adam A. Pack, “Song copying by humpback whales: themes and variations,” Animal Cognition 8 (2005): 93–102). The songs of humpbacks evolve in such a way that “there is remarkable conformity in the song on different breeding grounds within an ocean basin at any given time.” The songs within the different oceans, however, are distinct and each evolves independently (Hal Whitehead, “Society and Culture in the Deep and Open Ocean: The Sperm Whale and Other Cetaceans” in Animal Social Complexity: Intelligence, Culture and Individualized Societies, ed. F.B.M. de Waal and P.L. Tyack (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2003), 455.) While the humpback vocal cultures of the different ocean basins are distinct, researchers have recently discovered that on rare occasions a small group of travelers moving between different oceans may introduce a novel song into a foreign basin. In such cases the new song of immigrant whales may even rapidly and completely replace the old song of the native whales (M. J. Noad, et al., “Cultural Revolution in Whale Songs,” Nature 408 (30 Nov 2000).

My main point in all this is simply to point out that the empirical question of human uniqueness is far from settled. Thankfully for Christians, our understanding of the imago Dei need not rest upon the ever-changing foundations of human biological uniqueness or any other such graspings at scientific straws in the wind.

Blessings in Christ,


GJDS - #70705

June 28th 2012

Reply to comment 70701

I suggest (with respect) that it may be useful to discuss different as opposed to unique. It should be relatively straightforward to show human species differ from other species, while also showing biological and behavioural similarities. The examples quoted show that human species are also subject to their environment, but their developmental status may often be analysed within the matrix of western civilisation, and conclude that they are backward or poorly developed. The Australian aboriginals are often quoted as examples of poor development, but when understood within the land they occupied, they show advances that we Westerners may envy. I understand there are civilisations which had rudimentary understanding of numbers, yet they built extraordinary buildings and cities.

The unique aspect of humans is, in my view, the ability to ‘break out’ of the ecological constraints that all other species appear to be subjected to. It may seem ironic, but this suggests that humans may not be subjected to some form of natural selection (or as I prefer, subjected to an ecological imperative), in so far as an ecological view of the planet may infer. However, even this is unique in an odd manner, as the various anthropological examples show, human beings are ALSO able to adopt in an ecological sensible way and live in harmony with the environment. This makes them similar to other species, in behaviour and other ecological aspects. I am not pretending to suggest a better outlook to evolution, and to this interesting discussion; I do want to make the point there is a unique aspect to the human species. While this point may not rest or determine the image discussion, it suggests that our self-awareness is central to discussions of unique aspects of humanity.

Francis - #70714

June 28th 2012

Dr. Moritz,

Thank you for your response.

I’m not saying you have to build a Boeing 747 or write Macbeth to be considered to be made in the Imago Dei.

A human being is no less human, no less in the Imago Dei, if he is less capable on these or other fronts. (Consequently, I’m no fan of the utilitarian worldviews of totalitarian regimes, eugenicists or abortionists.)

These were only examples of “traits that are uniquely human.” Just a whiff of the far-flung flavors of the mysterious feast of being made in the image and likeness of God. Earlier, I tried to identify other, more generic God-like traits unique to humans (exercise of authority, eternal character (i.e. eternal soul), ability to be holy). This was not meant to be a comprehensive list. How could I or anyone else fully define God or God-likeness?

Ultimately, man is the Imago Dei … because God said so. Looking through a glass darkly, we humans can at least discern (empirically and Scripturally) hints of what this means.

Lastly, I don’t see our being in the image and likeness of God as a type of divine afterthought or a post-creation election by God. I think Scripture indicates that the Imago Dei was not icing on the cake. It was baked into the cake to begin with: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image”. (Not ‘Let’s make man now, and sometime later bless him with our image!’)  


sy - #70731

June 29th 2012

I am very troubled by this post, as well as by the answers provided by Dr. Moritz to the questions raised by Francis. What troubles me, is the general tendency, quite popular these days among the new atheists, to downgrade the exceptionalism of humanity. Aside from the points made by other commenters, one thing is quite clear, and can rise to the level of scientific certainty. All animals, with the exception of man, are slaves to their biological (genetic) characteristics. Chimpanzees, dophins, bees and ants, live today exactly as they did millions or hundreds of millions of years ago. Humans live quite differently than they did 40,000 years ago, or even 4 years ago.

This ability to change, does not rely on a rapid increase in mutation rate, but on our brains. We, unlike any other creature, have the ability to decide, or in other words, we  have free will. We can exercise this will as individuals or as groups. We can do harm or good with it. No other creatures can.

There are also some errors in the article, and in some of the commentary. While H. Sapiens and Neanderthals (and other hominids) had a great deal in common culturally from 200,000 to 50,000 years ago, that changed about 50,000 years ago. At that time H. Sapiens, living in Africa, underwent a major cultural revolution (the Upper Paleolithic Revolution) which led to a dramatic and sudden alteration in tool making, language, art, ceremonial object use, and the beginning of major new technologies and abilities, including fishing, traveling, and new ways of hunting. The result was an explosion of population, a move out of Africa, into Europe and Asia, where the far advanced Sapiens displaced the more backward hominids.

We don’t know what happened to cause this cultural revolution (not evolution).  Biblically, it could be the point at which real humans, equivalent to us, were endowed with the imago Dei, or consciousness, or a soul. Whatever it was, it led to what we now call humanity. Creatures, animals, yes, but like no other, not just in degree, but in kind. To deny this is to deny  a great deal of what made secular humanism such a vital philosophical force, before it was taken over and distorted by the anti humanism of the new atheists, and to deny the beauty and majesty of God’s special creation of his special and exceptional creature – man.

Gregory - #70735

June 29th 2012

“We don’t know what happened to cause this cultural revolution (not evolution).”

What makes you conclude there was a ‘cultural revolution’ that was not an ‘evolution’? Why not an ‘evolution,’ a term practically universalised in biology? From previous posts, I gather you are not a ‘cultural scientist,’ but rather a biological scientist, sy, no disrespect meant. Iow, let me ask what gives you confidence to speak worthy of trust of a ‘cultural revolution’ in a field in which you are not trained nor (possibly) that knowledgeable to adjudicate?

If I could ask you to please tell us: who are the top three names you would cite that (have influenced you to) claim there ‘actually was’ a ‘cultural revolution’ who are studied experts in the relevant fields, which you are not, i.e secular cultural anthropology or philosophical anthropology or public realtions, scientific management or culturology? Names shared here are as important as global scientific authorities or representatives of ‘schools’ of thought. This is meant to potentially support legitimate recognition of scientific and scholarly sovereignties, respected sy. Does that make sense to you?

sy - #70741

June 29th 2012


I first read about this in “The Third Champanzee” by Jared Diamond, who I believe would more than fit the bill for  an expert in the relevant field (which I concur, I am not). I have since read a number of other papers in cultural anthropology, I will list two of the better ones here (since you asked me for 3 names)

Klein, Richard G. Archeology and the Evolution of Human Behavior. Evolutionary Anthropology 9:7-36, 2000

Bar Josef, Ofer The Upper Paleolithic Revolution Ann Rev. Anthropology 31:363-393, 2002

In response to your first question, I am aware that there has been some debate on this question. But most scholars seem to favor a rapid, rather than a gradual shift in technology and cultural habits, based on the evidence. The only paper I read that insists on a gradual evolving process, I found very unconvincing and frankiy, biased.

You are right that I am a biological scientist, and I have specialized in a number of areas, the most recent being population genetics, which led into the entire issue of racial definition in terms of genetics, which then led me to questions related to self identification, and related topics and some collaborations with anthropologists. So I am not totally ignorant on cultural anthropology, even though I am certainly not an expert. But then, I am even less of an expert on theology, yet here I am, (along with many of us commenters) speaking about the Bible, armed only with the confidence that comes with a deep and reverential respect for the word of God, and an unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ. I guess that will have to do.


Joshua Moritz - #70753

June 30th 2012

Besides the empirical data from DNA, strong evidence from physical anthropology and archeology also casts serious doubt on the hypothesis of sudden revolution in linguistic and symbolic culture about 50,000 years ago. A series of discoveries which would “ultimately upset received wisdom about the evolution of human behavior,” and work to overturn the idea of an Upper Paleolithic Revolution started in 1988 when archaeologist John Yellen uncovered “a finely crafted” barbed bone harpoon point and other evidence for a well-developed bone tool industry from the Katanda site in Zaire dating to 90,000 years ago or possibly older (John Yellen, et al., “A Middle Stone Age Worked Bone Industry from Katanda, Upper Semliki Valley, Zaire,” Science 268 (April 28, 1995): 553). The findings, which include many tools, ornaments, and implements carefully crafted for a variety of purposes, are similar in appearance to artifacts from the Holocene (which began only 12,000 years ago). The high level of technical skill involved in crafting the implements and the purposes for which they are created “indicates that the toolmakers were engaging in sophisticated behavior” and had “the capacity to plan ahead and to conceptualize complicated technologies.” Furthermore, the presence of ocher pigments and grindstones made of non-local materials reveals additional evidence of planning as well as a level of sophistication in several other domains of behavior such as the social, aesthetic, and economical aspects.

Other archaeological discoveries that imply language and symbolic culture, such as engraved geometrical designs, ornamental shell beads, fine bifacial points crafted well beyond mere utilitarian needs, bone tools showing formal production techniques, and evidence of sophisticated subsistence strategies, have been unearthed at the 77,000 year old Blombos Cave site in South Africa. At the other end of Africa, in Morocco, the situation is analogous, as similar ornamental shell beads from human occupation sites have been shown to date from 82,000 years ago. Such beads, “considered by many authors as tangible signs of symbolic material cultures,” clearly show that symbolic culture was widespread among human populations in Africa by at least 80,000 years ago. Many of the other components of the presumed Upper Paleolithic Revolution in Europe have been found to have been present at various locations across Africa tens of thousands of years earlier. Such findings include “blade and microlithic technology, bone tools, increased geographic range, specialized hunting, the use of aquatic resources, long distance trade, systematic processing and use of pigment, and art and decoration.” The geographically widespread nature of such innovations that “signify modern human behavior, including art, ornamentation, symbolism, ritual burial, sophisticated architecture, land use planning, resource exploitation, and strategic local alliances,” have further undermined the notion of that a human cultural big bang occurred 50,000 years ago. Indeed, these findings clearly demonstrate an unprecedented level of societal and technological sophistication and aesthetic awareness even back to the very dawn of anatomically modern Homo sapiens.


Joshua Moritz - #70754

June 30th 2012

For references for the findings above see:

Francesco d’Errico, Curtis W. Marean, Richard G. Milo, and Royden Yates, “An early bone tool industry from the Middle Stone Age at Blombos Cave, South Africa: implications for the origins of modern human behaviour, symbolism and language,” Journal of Human Evolution 41 (2001): 631-678.

Abdeljalil Bouzouggara, et al. “82,000-year-old shell beads from North Africa and implications for the origins of modern human behavior” PNAS  104:24 (June 12, 2007), 9964.

S. McBrearty and A. S. Brooks, “The revolution that wasn’t: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior,” Journal of Human Evolution 39 (2000): 453.

Stanley H. Ambrose, “Paleolithic Technology and Human Evolution,” Science 291 (March 2, 2001): 1748. For evidence that ritual burial extended back to the first humans see Ann Gibbons, “Oldest Members of Homo sapiens Discovered in Africa,” Science 300:5626 (June 2003): 1641.

See Christopher S. Henshilwood and Curtis W. Marean, “The Origin of Modern Human Behavior: Critique of the Models and Their Test Implications,” Current Anthropology 44:5 (Dec 2003): 627-646.

Francesco d’Errico, C. Henshilwood, M.Vanhaeren, and K. van Niekerk, “Nassarius kraussianus Shell Beads from Blombos Cave: Evidence for Symbolic Behaviour in the Middle Stone Age,” Journal of Human Evolution 48 (2005): 3–24.

Christopher S. Henshilwood, et al., “Emergence of Modern Human Behavior: Middle Stone Age Engravings from South Africa,” Science 295 (February 15, 2002): 1278-1280. 

If you care to take a look at a recent case for symbolic art among Neanderthals see: João Zilhão, et al. “Symbolic use of marine shells and mineral pigments by Iberian Neandertals,” PNAS  107:3 (January 19, 2010): 1023.

If you want to read a more philosophical discussion on this matter take a look at my article: Human Uniqueness, the Other Hominids, and “Anthropocentrism of the Gaps” in the Religion and Science Dialogue. Zygon 47: 1 (2012):65-96.

In Christ’s Peace,


Joshua Moritz - #70752

June 30th 2012

Dear Sy,

Thank you for your comments. I’m sorry that my posts have troubled you.

You are certainly not alone in your belief that there was an Upper Paleolithic Revolution. It is quite a stretch, however, to say that “most scholars seem to favor a rapid, rather than a gradual shift in technology and cultural habits.” If you want to read a scientifically authoritative recent review of the various positions on this topic I strongly recommend that you take a look at the article cited in my post: Francesco d’Errico and Chris B. Stringer, “Evolution, revolution or saltation scenario for the emergence of modern cultures?” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 366 (2011):1060-1069.

There are a number of reasons (many of them discussed in the article cited above) why I think the sudden Upper Paleolithic cultural revolution hypothesis is no longer tenable. Here I will just mention a few. If you want much longer discussion I suggest that you first read the article cited above and if you are still interested in reading more I recommend that you steer clear of the secondary literature and pick up the more technical volume:  Rethinking the Human Revolution, Edited by Paul Mellars, Katie Boyle, Ofer Bar-Yosef and Christopher Stringer.

As one of your key sources you cite Richard Klein. Klein has argued that human beings’ “fully modern capacity for culture… stemmed from a genetic change that promoted the fully modern brain in Africa around 50,000 years ago.” (Richard Klein and Blake Edgar, The Dawn of Human Culture (New York: Wiley, 2002), 8).  Klein had argued that this genetic change triggered a profound “neurological shift” which in turn marked the development of fully modern language (Klein and Edgar, 146). In 2002 it was discovered that the FOXP2 gene is essential for acquisition of normal spoken language and that this gene had mutated recently in the course of human evolution (W. Enard, M. Przeworski, S.E. Fisher, C.S. Lai, V. Wiebe, T. Kitano, A. P. Monaco and S. Paäbo, “Molecular evolution of FOXP2, a gene involved in speech and language,” Nature 418 (22 August 2002): 869-872). Many saw these genetic findings concerning the origin of spoken language as a confirmation of Klein’s theory.

More recent genetic evidence, however, has pointed in another direction. While it is still clear that FOXP2 is a key gene involved in acquiring and producing language, it has turned out that its roots are more ancient than previously thought. It is now believed that the essential “mutations in FOXP2…may actually have occurred some 1.8 million years ago, when Homo habilis and Homo ergaster were appearing in the fossil record, and as the human brain began gradually to triple in size from the 450 cc of chimpanzee and australopithecine brains to the 1,350 cc of modern human brains.” (Karl C. Diller and Rebecca L. Cann, “Evidence against a genetic-based revolution in language 50,000 years ago,” in The Cradle of Language, ed. Rudolf Botha and Chris Knight (New York: Oxford UP, 2009), 136). Another study, which has independently confirmed the ancient roots of the FOX2P mutations, has likewise clearly shown that Neanderthals share with modern humans the key language-related changes or genetic mutations in FOX2P—results which indicate that such changes “predate the common ancestor (which existed about 300,000–400,000 years ago) of modern human and Neandertal populations.” J. Krause, et al.,  “The derived FOXP2 variant of modern humans was shared with Neanderthals” Current Biology 17: (2007): 1908–1912). From a genetic standpoint, then, in so far as FOX2P is an indicator of speech, it is evident that language was never the exclusive possession of human beings, but rather a capacity which was shared among a variety of our fellow hominids. In light of the genetic evidence, Diller and Cann comment that “nobody supports a recent date for the human mutations in FOXP2 any more.” (See Diller and Cann, “Evidence against a genetic-based revolution,” 141).


sy - #70758

June 30th 2012

Professor Moritz

Thank you for your reply to my comment, and for the extensive literature review on the topic of revolution vs., evolution of modern human behavior. As I stated in answer to Gregory, I do not claim authoritative knowledge in this field, and I must yield to your expertise. I am indebted to you for the extensive list of high quality publications you have provided, many of which I was not previously aware of,  and will certainly read them. I think all of the commenters and contributors to this blog would join me in thanking you for your time and effort spent here.


However, I am not at all convinced that the revolution hypothesis has been finally refuted. As an example, there was a paper last year in Nature, (Benazzi et al.  Early dispersal of modern humans in Europe and implications for Neanderthal behaviour Nature479, 525–528 2011.) which found that the technologically advanced Uluzzian culture at a 47,000 year old site in Italy, which had been thought to have been of Neanderthal origin (based on the finding of 2 Neanderthal teeth at the site) was actually a modern human site. The authors reanalyzed the teeth, and showed them to be of modern human origin. This finding by itself, of course proves nothing other than the fact that the science of anthropology may require more time to achieve consensus then other fields where definitive experimentation is possible.


As you stated, in the review by Klein, a genetic mutation is postulated to have resulted in a sudden shift in language ability that caused the UPR. He did not explicitly suggest that this was the FOXP2 mutation. Personally, I have never subscribed to the single mutation theory for the origin of the UPR, due to reasons which are somewhat off topic here. Therefore I am not at all surprised to read that this has been discounted, at least with respect to FOXP2. If the UPR happened, its cause is still unknown.

If the UPR, didn’t happen, if the change in behavior of H. Sapiens was gradual and evolved slowly (I will not yet admit to your claim that this is the current consensus. I have some homework to do first), then the implication is that rather than a sudden, perhaps mutational event, there was a “gradual” dawning of human ability to become creative, conscious, thoughtful, and religious, over 50,000 years, rather than the 2 or 3000 years postulated in the UPR hypothesis. If so, what does that mean? Evolutionary change of that sort in that time frame is very rare. The Cambrian explosion, took over 10 million years to “explode”. A change in behavior from a pre conscious to a fully conscious human that took only 50,000 years, is still pretty revolutionary. I do not believe (please correct me if I am wrong) that there is any evidence of fishing, advanced tool making, cave painting, or ceremonial burial objects earlier than 100,000 ya in Africa, and certainly not in Europe.

The idea that Neanderthals had an equivalent technological culture to Sapiens, is of course very old, and was refuted quite some time ago. At one point, the origin of that idea was ideological and political, in that some anthropologists found it hard to believe that an African species could have been more advanced than a European one. That racist notion has been long dispelled, but I am not certain that the current tendency to downplay Sapiens superiority is not also somewhat driven by other than purely scientific motivations. On another topic, I have recently read statements by an anti theistic geneticist claiming that DNA is not really an informational molecule, which clearly stems from a misguided attempt to discredit some claims of the ID movement. Are we sure that the current fervor to prove that human beings are just another ordinary animal are free of such non scientific motivations? Of course I am aware that my position could also be accused of being influenced by a particular  religious, philosophical and world view bias.


sy - #70759

June 30th 2012

Perhaps the best approach is for all of us to admit our biases, but to agree to allow the scientific data to tell us the truth. Almost everyone thought that humans were likely to have upwards of 100,000 genes. When the data showed the number was only about 20,000, pretty much the same as a fruit fly, and less than some worms, it was a shock. But that piece of truth led to a wide ranging, much deeper understanding of the brilliant complexity of genetic networks and control systems, and opened entirely new fields of research. God’s truth, as revealed in the Book of Nature, is always more astounding and beautiful than we can dream of, and we should never be worried that this truth will destroy our faith. It cannot. If I am proven wrong about the UPR, and you are proven right, which is certainly entirely likely, I will rejoice in the revelation of another part of the great puzzle about how God works to create this world of majesty and goodness. It would also do nothing to change my basic faith in the exceptionalism of man.

I noticed that you focused your comments on my mention of the UPR, but did not address the idea that only humans can change the way they live through will and choice. Darwin based his great theory on the evidence of change in domestic animals and plants caused by human selection and breeding for optimization. Natural selection is slow, based on a very low mutation rate, and gradual changes in environmental conditions. Artificial selection is extremely fast in comparison. If we wanted to (I sincerely hope we don’t) we could even make permanent changes to our own genomes, to “improve” our own biological characteristics. We are now doing this with other species.

But aside from what humans have done recently, an examination of human history shows an exponential rate of technological and cultural progress (with some notable exceptions) from the beginning, and this is true whether we count the beginning as 50,000 ya or 100,000 ya. This alone sets us far apart from any other creature, including the other hominids, whose history goes back hundreds of thousands of years before ours. I don’t see how this manifest fact of human exceptionalism can be denied.  

We are engaged in a wonderful project here. We know that God has a plan for us, as individuals and as a species. Part of that plan is to learn about the world, and the world includes us. God gave us a Book to help guide us, and He gave us brains, souls, and the sense to understand His laws, both physical and moral. He did not give these gifts to any other creatures, in my view, and that is why we were made in His image.

sy - #70732

June 29th 2012

I wanted to add one small point. The degree if interbreeding between Humans and Neanderthals was quite minor. Intial results found no markers of Neanderthal DNA among modern humans. This seemed somewhat strange, considering the 20,000 years, when both groups inhabited the same regions, and considering their biological closeness. Later analyses found a evidence for a very low degree of inter breeding, which makes more sense, but says nothing about cultural or intellectual similarities between the two groups. On the other hand, human beings of different geographical regions (so called races, or populations) interbreed at high enough rates to make genetic differentiation of such populations almost impossible, once they occupy the same regions.  

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70738

June 29th 2012


One quick comment.  You attributed the explosion of Homo sapiens to a change in their brains, not a change in their genes.

I would prefer the use of “mind” here instead of brain.  The mind is in the brain, but it refers to the ideational structure of the brain or the software as opposed to the brain as hardware.  This is what I think that you mean and goes along with cultural development, the idea of consciousness, and the Image of God which is more than a brain or even a complex brain, but the ability to understand our world.

I think that this an important distinction between the mind abd brain that Scientism wants to deny.

Please correct me if you think I am wrong

sy - #70740

June 29th 2012



I think you are right. I used brain instead of mind to try to give a more “biological” feel to the comment, but in fact I agree with your comment entirely.



Francis - #70737

June 29th 2012


“…the exceptionalism of humanity…  All animals, with the exception of man, are slaves to their biological (genetic) characteristics. Chimpanzees, dophins, bees and ants, live today exactly as they did millions or hundreds of millions of years ago. Humans live quite differently than they did 40,000 years ago, or even 4 years ago.”

A fresh, true perspective nicely put!


wesseldawn - #70744

June 29th 2012

Actually you do have to be created in the image Dei in order to write Macbeth! Afterall, you don’t see monkeys composing concerto’s!

We have something our cousins don’t have that’s why we create but they do not but remain in their animal state and can go no further.

soul =  mortal/animal principle only

spirit = immortal/God’s image

Man/soul (ruddy/animal/mammal) was created of the dust (a product of the dust itself) of the ground (dust, mortar, rubbish, clay, mud). It wondered into a garden and there got God’s image (spirit) and became more than an animal. 

Ruddy must have been an asexual creature as evolution would have favoured such a state rather than male and female just popped out of nowhere! Therefore, ruddy ‘gave birth’ to Eve (flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone) and we, their descendants.

What’s the difference between saying “man was of the dust” or “life began in the primordial soup (mud)”!

It’s simply a mattter of how one looks at the story!






Francis - #70764

June 30th 2012

I thought I had heard that the case was becoming increasingly weakened that humans and Neanderthals were actually different. That is, some were saying the two were really the same thing.

I googled tonight and found that human and Neanderthal DNA was 99.5% identical.



Some may say 0.5% can make a world of difference. But even more interesting for me was that apparently DNA within humanity can vary 10% (i.e. 10% un-identical). http://www.naturalnews.com/021175.html

sy - #70765

June 30th 2012

With all due respect, I would suggest that “naturalnews.com” is not the best source for information about the human genome. You might want to look at the NHGRI web site for a more up to date and reality based discussion of human genetic variability.

Gregory - #70829

July 5th 2012

Hello sy,

Thanks for addressing my question and providing references. Please excuse that you’ve caught me during a busy time with various duties. Another week and more time will be available for dialogue at BioLogos.

I’ve downloaded the two papers you recommended and read them quickly. I must admit that I agree with Joshua on this one, given how easy it is to confuse a ‘revolution’ with an ‘evolution’ (or maybe he is doing it or I am, instead of you!). As Doug Shaver said about Richard G. Klein’s ‘human revolution’ thesis, “the human revolution was just evolution doing its usual thing.” (http://www.dougshaver.net/science/human-revolution.html)

Please remember that Klein says in his article: “Human evolution as I have outlined it comprised a mix of gradualism and of the kind of pulsed or punctuational events postulated by Eldredge and Gould.” It makes one wonder what is the difference between ‘punctuated’ and ‘revolutionary’ from a linguistic perspective according to anthropologists who are post-behaviourists. If BioLogos would invite a Christian cultural anthropologist to weigh-in here, this could likely help us advance the conversation.

Let me add, sy, that I’m very sensitive to your argument and support the terms ‘unique,’ ‘special’ and ‘exceptional’ when it comes to ‘us,’ i.e. to human beings. I am a ‘kind’ rather than a ‘degree’ advocate; this distinction crosses various faith and non-faith positions and there is no ‘scientific consensus’ on it. BioLogos appears to support the term ‘exceptional,’ for example, when Darrel Falk agreed with William Dembski recently on this topic. The Introduction to this thread says “Our unique status is primarily theological and relational, rather than biological.” Thus one might wonder if the ‘relational’ aspect could also be faced or studied with a (natural or social) ‘scientific attitude.’

In my view, this was a significant recent statement by BioLogos President Falk: “I agree with Dembksi that Darwin’s views were not theologically neutral. Darwin’s views on teleology, human exceptionalism, and miracles were not compatible with Christianity.”

You wrote: “human history shows an exponential rate of technological and cultural progress (with some notable exceptions) from the beginning” – sy

Yes. And the influence of human history also shows up on the geological map, for example, with geologists defining the ‘anthropocene’ as a specific geologic stage in Earth’s history. Looking forward, it may become more common to identify ‘human uniqueness’ (i.e. from [other] animals) based on our impact on the biosphere, ecosphere, etc. Indeed, the term homo divinus does not seem to (currently) apply to any ‘non-human’ creatures, does it?

Gregory - #70830

July 5th 2012


Let me plant a provocative seed, sy, by saying that in my estimation Jared Diamond is more dangerous to religious belief than is Richard Dawkins. Diamond lulls people into spiritual sleep rather than hitting them over the head with nihilism, naturalism, empiricism or materialism. Neither of the two is religious and both attack religion in their own way; Diamond does it ‘evolutionarily’, while Dawkins does it ‘revolutionarily’.

As for me, I don’t consider Diamond a competent ‘cultural anthropologist,’ but rather a ‘physical anthropologist,’ (at least, that is his 3rd or 4th title). He started as a physiologist and biophysicist, with an interest in ornithology and ecology. He happened to travel for his work and thus lived in different ethnic/cultural communities. He has been sued by New Guineans for his “Vengeance is Ours” work in the realm of ‘culture,’ which should show that when it comes to people, Diamond is likely not the best source. Nevertheless, it is interesting the pride of place you alot to him and The Third Chimpanzee.

Since Joshua is writing of ‘anthropocentrism’ (of the gaps), we should be clear to acknowledged that anthropos/humanity is the main topic of contention.

I’m encouraged by a couple of things: 1) Moritz believes the ‘divine election’ of human beings (aka homo sapiens sapiens or Adam) was a real, historical event, iow, it happened in time and is not an atemporal, abstract or fictitious event, 2) Moritz accepts that ‘evolution’ is not a suitable term of substitute for ‘election.’ Iow, from Moritz’s answer to my question, ‘God’s election’ cannot properly be spoken about in ‘evolutionary terms’ and is thus a non-evolutionary event. This establishes much-needed limits to evolution in the created realm.

Wrt not being an expert on theology and whether or not that allows a person to participate here, sy, I admit I am not an expert in theology either. Nevertheless, if the site aims at ‘evangelical Christians,’ afaik, in this tradition ‘everyone’ is a ‘theologian’ in so far as they think/believe/act theologically or theocentrically. The key seems to be in exercising ourselves cooperatively in science, philosophy and religion dialogue as if each major realm has something to learn and to respect in the other. I’ve quietly applauded your expressed doubts that ‘social science’ should be excluded from the conversation based on biology-chemistry-physics priority.

On the topic that Moritz raises regarding “cumulative technological evolution,” I’d suggest he’s barking up the wrong tree and doesn’t yet know it. George Basalla wrote about “The Evolution of Technology” in 1989. Even so, he had in mind particularly human beings, not (other) animals. Crows do not ‘evolve technology’ (on a scale) similar to how human beings invent (or innovate) technology because we are talking about difference ‘souls,’ different consciousnesses. These creatures and their creations require very different conversations, which a distinction between zoology (or ethology) and anthropology can help to clarify.

“My main point in all this is simply to point out that the empirical question of human uniqueness is far from settled.” – J. Moritz

If that’s the case, then this seems to offer a strong case for circumscribing empiricism, iow, for limiting the import of empirical knowledge on topics that properly exceed the empirical realm, both historically and personally. I’m tentatively assuming Joshua will accept this claim. Even if “the empirical question of human uniqueness” is not settled, the non-empirical question of human uniqueness seems both to be more important and likewise to be ultimately settled (reflexively) for most people on Earth, certainly for religious believers. If Moritz is not in agreement with this settled conclusion, I’d be curious to hear his ‘orthodox’ position to the contrary, not just in the words of ‘secular’ palaeontologists.



“The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy the heavens. There is no doubt of that, but it proves nothing against the heavens, for heaven simply means: the impossibility of crows.” – Franz Kafka

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