The Rise of the Neandertals, Part 2

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October 1, 2013 Tags: Human Origins

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

The Rise of the Neandertals, Part 2

Note: In his series on human origins for the BioLogos Forum, biological anthropologist James Kidder has explored topics from the advent of bipedality to the rise of human precursors australopithecines and early Homo sapiens. In posts yesterday and today, Kidder focuses on the discovery of Neandertals and the behavioral and morphological changes that gave rise to what might be our closest evolutionary relatives.

Changes From Early Archaic Homo sapiens:

Several distinct evolutionary adaptations are present in Neandertals compared to their precursors. There is an increase in the size of the head, such that, by the time of the classic Neandertals of Western Europe, brain size averages 1550 cubic centimeters, up from the early archaic Homo sapiens average of 1225 ccs. What is also notable about this is that it is approximately 100 ccs larger than that of modern humans. This particular trait is still poorly understood but may be a by-product of the systemic adaptations to the cold weather. 

Another change is evident in the cranial expansion and reorganization that is exemplified by a view from the rear of the vault. In Homo erectus and early archaic Homo sapiens, the maximum breadth of the cranium was roughly at the level of the ears, but by the time of the Neandertals, it had moved up toward the middle of the vault. This gave the cranium a round shape, described by the French anthropologists of the early 20th century as “en bombe.”   Thus, while the maximum width of the vault did not change, the overall size of the brain did.  The angular torus, the ridge of bone extending from the ear to the back of the head, characteristic of Homo erectus, is now gone and the overall rear of the vault is more rounded with a pronounced “bun.”  

In the front of the head, the brow ridges above the eyes, while being as large as those in Homo erectus, are now bifurcated, with a distinct depression above the nose. Further, from the early to the late Neandertals, there is a thinning of this ridge, suggesting a relaxation of selection pressures for its presence over time. The back teeth continue to get smaller, while the front teeth remain unchanged from the early archaics. Below the eyes, the infraorbital plates swing out, appearing as if someone had simply grabbed the nose and pulled. This is known as “midfacial prognathism.” Hypotheses have been proposed to explain this morphology, the most promising of which is that it is an adaptation to cold air. Given that the average daily temperature during much of the Early Würm was considerably lower than that of today, it has been suggested that, in order to bring the cold air up to blood-temperature levels, more space between the entrance to the nose and the brain would have been necessary. As the late Pleistocene wore on, Neandertal noses continued to increase in size.

As much as these cranial characteristics help to define Neandertals, however, there are striking changes in the post-cranium, as well. It is widely thought that these changes can at least partly be explained by two prevailing “rules” that govern body form in organisms. The first of these is Bergmann’s Rule, which posits that animal species will, over time, adapt, evolutionarily, to changes in temperature by either getting larger (cold weather) or smaller (warm weather). Just as a large piece of meat on a plate will take longer to cool down than a smaller piece, the purpose of increasing or decreasing size is to maximize or minimize heat retention. 

The second rule is Allen’s Rule. This states that animals will maximize or minimize their surface area in response to heat or cold. For example, individuals of population groups in very cold areas tend to be shorter and stockier than those found in tropical locales. The less surface area that is exposed, the greater the ability to retain heat. The warmer the area, the longer the limbs tend to be. This allows more radiation of heat from the body.  

The overall morphology of Neandertals conforms to these two rules, reflecting their adaptation to the extreme cold of Europe. In contrast to the early archaic Homo sapiens, the Neandertal trunk becomes shorter and the chest develops a “barrel” appearance. Additionally, the ends of the long bones (the humerus, radius, ulna, femur, and tibia) become shortened, as if someone had simply taken a chunk out of them toward the end. Neandertal height is also shorter than modern humans (males average 5 feet 4 inches and females 5 feet) and even late-surviving Homo erectus from Africa and Asia, and the long bones also have a characteristic bowing to them with very strong muscle markings. The overall appearance is one of compactness. 

Important Neandertal Discoveries:

Beginning with the advent of Neandertal discoveries in the early 1800s, there has been a steady stream of finds to the present day. These can be broken down into three generally accepted periods: early, classic, and late.

Early Period Neandertals

The early Neandertals, which appear around 120,000 years ago, are represented by the fossils finds from Ehringsdorf in Germany, Saccopastore in Italy, and Krapina, in the Pannonian Basin of Central Europe ̶three sites that are widely spread geographically. This suggests a selective advantage for this morphology and that there was major population radiation of it throughout Europe. 

Figure 4: Saccopastore 1

The best representative of this period is from the site of Saccopastore. Two crania from this site, near Rome, were discovered between 1929 and 1935. The date for these finds is uncertain but they are thought to be either from the Riss/Würm interglacial period or the early Würm, which would put them at between 120-125 thousand years B.P. (Spencer, 1997)

The Saccopastore 1 cranium (Figure 4) is mostly complete and displays very large brow ridges, a low, sloping forehead and a rounded back of the vault. This cranium shows the beginnings of the expanded midface, with large front teeth and nose that becomes prevalent in later Neandertals. 

Classic Neandertals

Aside from the previously mentioned La Chapelle Neandertal, others of this time period come from the sites of Le Moustier, La Ferrassie, Gibraltar (Forbes Quarry), Monte Circeo (Guattari Cave), Spy and the hypodigm specimen from the site of Neandertal. All of the specimens from these site levels are thought to date from between 70 and 50 thousand years B.P. 

Figure 5: The La Ferrassie 1 Neandertal

Along with the La Chapelle Neandertal, perhaps the best example of this period is the complete adult cranium of La Ferrassie 1 (Figure 5). This was discovered in 1909 and is thought to be approximately 70 thousand years old. It has the characteristic occipital bun, flattening of the rear of the vault, sloping forehead, large brow ridges, and very large face. While these features are variable in other classic Neandertals, in La Ferrassie 1, they are all there to a significant degree. 

Late Period Neandertals

The late period Neandertals date from between 50 thousand down to around 27 thousand years ago and much emphasis has been placed on them in drawing inferences as to the relationship between Neandertals and modern humans.  This group is represented principally by the Neandertal finds from the French sites of St. Cesaire, Arcy Sur-Cure, the Czech site of Vindija, and the Spanish site of Zafarraya. These Neandertals are characterized by a general reduction of traits that typify the classic Neandertals.

Figure 6: The Saint Cesaire

The best example of this group is from the site of St. Cesaire (Figure 6) in southwestern France, in the Charente-Maritimes district. Found in 1979, the find is thought to be between 40 and 41 thousand years old (Hublin et al., 2012). This Neandertal, while having some mid-facial prognathism has a generally flatter face and has a tooth-row that is reduced in size over the classic Neandertals. Additionally, while not prominent, there is a small chin, a characteristic that is present only in modern humans as a group. On the other hand, the brow ridges are very distinct, the forehead slopes back from glabella and the eye orbits and nose are quite large. 

Of additional importance is the Zafarraya Neandertal, discovered in Northern Spain. The main find from this site is a mandible that exhibits classic Neandertal characteristics, having no chin, large front teeth in relation to back teeth, and a long dental arcade. The mandible is dated by Uranium/Thorium to slightly younger than 30,000 years B.P. 

This is of critical importance because the earliest demonstrably modern humans in Europe are from the Moravian karst region of the Pannonian basin in central Europe, from the site of Mladeč and date to the Early Würm/Late Würm interglacial—between 34 and 37 thousand years B.P. Other modern human finds from France and Germany have also been dated to between 30 and 32 thousand years B.P. This puts the Zafarraya Neandertal (and possibly St. Cesaire as well) in the overlap period with the earliest moderns. It has, consequently, been thought that these Neandertals represent very late-surviving refugia populations and they have figured into replacement models of modern human origins. These will be addressed in the next post.

Neandertal Tool Technology

Figure 7: Levallois Tool-Making Technique

As time wore on, the stone tool technologies of archaic Homo sapiens began to expand and they began to innovate from the basic hand axe template. While the hand axe was the hallmark of Homo erectus, archaic Homo sapiens began to experiment with scrapers. The critical cognitive shift was the move away from “core” tools to “flake” tools—using the core as a basis for the stone tool, not the tool itself. To this end, they invented, and perfected a stone tool creation method known as the Levallois technique (Figure 7). This was truly ingenious. First, a large, relatively flat core was found [1]. Then the sides were punched out [2]. Once this was done, the modified core was turned on its side and flakes were knocked off [3]. Then large flakes were removed in a sideways fashion [5 and 6]. This could be done in assembly-line fashion and produced two kinds of tools, the larger tools shown in [6] and the smaller, blade-like tools that were punched out. It is not entirely clear where or from what this stone tool technology evolved, although most view it as a radical re-envisioning of the blank used to make hand axes.

Figure 8: Neandertal-Made Bone Lissoirs

Recently, it has been discovered that Neandertals also created bone tools.  Working at the site of Pech-de-l’aze, research teams from the Max Planck Institute have discovered what they interpret to be lissoirs, or leather-working tools (Figure 8). The making of bone tools has been, up to now, associated with only anatomically modern Homo sapiens and this discovery suggests that Neandertals were capable of a wide range of tool-making behavior, despite the inhospitable conditions. Further, these researchers suggest that these tools may have originated with Neandertals. Marie Soressi, of Leiden University is quoted as saying:

“If Neandertals developed this type of bone tool on their own, it is possible that modern humans then acquired this technology from Neandertals. Modern humans seem to have entered Europe with pointed bone tools only, and soon after started to make lissoirs. This is the first possible evidence for transmission from Neandertals to our direct ancestors.”

Neandertal Burials and Social Behavior:

Another aspect of Neandertal existence that sheds some light on their situation is the considerable evidence that they buried their dead in ways that suggested an understanding, not just of death, but perhaps the significance of what death meant and how important life was. These burials have been found, principally, at La Chapelle, and La Ferrassie in Europe, Kebara, in the Levant, and Shanidar Cave, in Iraq, of which the discoverer, Ralph Solecki remarked “…although the body was archaic, the spirit was modern” (Solecki, 1971). They consist primarily of capstones, bodies placed in flexed positions, and bodies placed with flower arrangements (Leroi-Gourhan, 1975; Smirnov, 1989). Further, as is evident from the site of Dederiyeh Cave, in Syria and Teshik-Tash in Russia, infants were treated with extreme care and given their own burials (Dodo, Kondo, Muhesen, & Akazawa, 2002).

Another example of behavior that we typically only associate with modern humans is care for the infirm. At the Neandertal site of Shanidar Cave, in Iraq, several individuals suffered what were clearly injuries that would have led to that person having limited motor and mobility capabilities. Trinkaus and Zimmerman write:

However, these considerations also imply that the Neandertals had achieved a level of societal development in which disabled individuals were well cared for by other members of the social group. All of these individuals show extensive healing of their injuries, usually with little or no evidence of infection. Several of them, particularly Shanidar 1 and 3, lived for many years with severe disabling conditions, which would have prevented them from actively contributing to the subsistence of the local group. (Trinkaus & Zimmerman, 1982)

What comes next is the most contentious section in all of palaeoanthropology—the origins of modern humans. As we saw from Boule’s example, this is a study that is fraught with high emotion and strong opinions. As Christians, however, we have an added stake in the matter. Before us is the thorny question of whether or not these Neandertals, in any way, gave rise to us. If they did to any significant degree, then it perhaps forces us to consider how closely our genetic history is tied to questions about human uniqueness and the image of God.

Furthermore, as we inch toward our own species, it is becoming increasingly clear that these Neandertal precursors acted, in many ways, like us, and were it not for the crushing weight of the glacial conditions, might have excelled in more ways than what we see. This perhaps forces us to consider whether aspects of human culture are all that unique as well.

Literature Cited

Boule, Marcellin. (1911). L’homme fossile de La Chapelle-aux-Saints. AdP (1911-13).

Dodo, Yukio, Kondo, Osamu, Muhesen, Sultan, & Akazawa, Takeru. (2002). Anatomy of the Neandertal infant skeleton from Dederiyeh Cave, Syria Neandertals and Modern Humans in Western Asia (pp. 323-338): Springer.

Frayer, David W. (2013). Who’re You Calling a Neanderthal?, New York Times.

Hammond, Michael. (1982). The Expulsion of the Neanderthals from Human Ancestry: Marcellin Boule and the Social Context of Scientific Research. Social Studies of Science, 12(1), 1-36. doi: 10.2307/284883

Hublin, Jean-Jacques, Talamo, Sahra, Julien, Michèle, David, Francine, Connet, Nelly, Bodu, Pierre, . . . Richards, Michael P. (2012). Radiocarbon dates from the Grotte du Renne and Saint-Césaire support a Neandertal origin for the Châtelperronian. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(46), 18743-18748. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1212924109

King, William. (1864). The reputed fossil man of the Neanderthal. Quarterly Journal of Science, 1, 88-97.

Leroi-Gourhan, Arlette. (1975). The Flowers Found with Shanidar IV, a Neanderthal Burial in Iraq. Science, 190(4214), 562-564. doi: 10.2307/1740438

Smirnov, Yuri. (1989). Intentional human burial: Middle Paleolithic (last glaciation) beginnings. Journal of World Prehistory, 3(2), 199-233.

Solecki, Ralph S. (1971). Shanidar: The first flower people: Knopf New York.

Spencer, Frank. (1997). History of physical anthropology. 2: M-Z (Vol. 2): Taylor & Francis.

Trinkaus, Erik, & Zimmerman, M. R. (1982). Trauma among the Shanidar Neandertals. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 57(1), 61-76. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.1330570108


James Kidder holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Tennessee (UT). He currently employed as an instructor at UT, and as a science research librarian at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He has been involved in the Veritas Forum at UT and runs the blog "Science and Religion: A View from an Evolutionary Creationist/Theistic Evolutionist."

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #82750

October 1st 2013


I never read where Dawkins & Co. discussed the Bergmann’s or the Allen’s Rules.

What do they have to do with genetics and random variation? 

Could Natural Selection really be governed by ecology using laws like these?

Jimpithecus - #82762

October 2nd 2013

Roger, it is one of the central tenets of evolutionary biology that the environment influences selection.  Further, I don’t understand why you are dragging in Dawkins.  As an evolutionary response to the cold, the Neandertals became larger and bulkier.

Andy Rutkowski - #82753

October 1st 2013

Dr Kidder,

Interesting article.  With respect to your comments on Neandertal burials and social behavior:

1) Do you think the evidence that Neandertals had an understanding of death/importance of life as well as a desire to care for the infirm show that they had achieved a consiousness comparable to ours?  If so, from a theological perspective, do you think the early Genesis reference to man could refer to species other than exclusively homo sapiens?

2) Do you think the Neandertals social behavior could be used as evidence to support a strictly materialistic view that our consciousness developed solely by natural selection?

Lou Jost - #82755

October 1st 2013

I know you didn’t ask me, but I can’t help but point out that the other great apes today also display clear signs of consciousness. Even dogs and cats show many signs of this. Biologists would almost universally answer a resounding “Yes” to your second question. The only dissenters would be people denying the obvious evidence due to religious beliefs.

Jimpithecus - #82763

October 2nd 2013

I do think that Neandertals had an understanding of death and importance of life.  Given that they seem to have behaved in much the same way that early modern humans did, it is logical to assume (but we could be wrong) that they had much the same thought structure.  As far as the second question is concerned, I don’t think any social behavior could be used as evidence to support a strictly materialistic view.

Andy Rutkowski - #82757

October 2nd 2013


Certainly other animals like apes display signs of a level of consciousness.  But, in my mind behavior like burying the dead (to include infants) and caring for the infirmed until old age is a big leap from what we see with other animals today.

While it’s clear natural selection is critical to life surving and adapting to their environment.  Burying the dead with flowers shows a clear understanding of death and a belief that there may be something more to life than just mating and hunting/gathering.  It’s unclear to me how this trait would have developed exclusively by natural selection.  How is that trait useful to them from an evolutionary standpoint?  I’m very curious for the evidence you cite to the contrary.

Lou Jost - #82769

October 2nd 2013

Certainly it is a big step to make burials. Chimps do apparently pay a lot of attention to their recently-dead comrades, though.

I think most biologists would say that natural selection favored strong social bonds in chimps and apes, but not anything as specific as decorating graves with flowers. That kind of behavior would be a side-effect of the strong social bonds.

I think elephants and dogs, at least, have been known to care for their sick.

I’m on my way to the jungle for a week, will answer in more detail then,


Andy Rutkowski - #82776

October 3rd 2013


I think I follow your logic.  Strong social bonds, combined with increased intelligence, and an ability to communicate via speech (all courtesy of natural selection) gave Neandertals the tools to begin processing deeper concepts.  What I find intriguing is what really compelled them to bury their dead with flowers.

Hope you enjoy your time in the jungle.  I’ve got 3 boys 5 and under so, at this stage in my life, I’ve got plenty of wildlife at home.

Lou Jost - #82779

October 3rd 2013

Thanks Andy, I will enjoy it. I’ll get to interact with wild primates too… Capuchins especially remind me of little impish children. They shake branches at me, even throw poop at me. (You are lucky human kids don’t do that!)

Andy Rutkowski - #82782

October 3rd 2013

My kids do things pretty close to that that sometimes   They are a handful.

Seriously, hope you have a rewarding time.

Andy Rutkowski - #82758

October 2nd 2013

Another question.  From a theistic evolutionary perspective, if it could be demonstrated that these traits developed exclusively from natural selection, is that a problem theologically?  Obviously there would be a cut line from other life form for when human consciousness (image of God) began, but as TEs believe God created using evolutionary means, is there an issue with God taking steps to develop human consciousness?

Jimpithecus - #82764

October 2nd 2013

How would you ever determine that these traits develop exclusively from natural selection?  Even if God is involved in the development of consciousness, the rubber has to meet the road somewhere.  There doesn’t seem to be any evidence for massive intelligence increase by divine fiat.  For those of us who believe in God, he seems to have done things incrementally. 

Andy Rutkowski - #82777

October 3rd 2013

Understood.  Clearly this raises all sorts of theological questions.  If Neandertals had the same thought structure that early moderns humans, did they have an understanding of/contact with God?  Could the reference to creation of man in Genesis have included them? Where was the line drawn with the dawn of man?  Tough questions…

Roger A. Sawtelle - #82761

October 2nd 2013


This is an important question. 

The first thing is that the Image of God is not “human consciousness” in my opinion and I think for most Christians.  The Image of God is not only that humans can think, but also that humans can create and love.  Thus the Image of God for humans is triune just as the Trinity is triune.

If natural selection is purely physical, which is the general assumption, this would be a problem, because Monod and Scientism say that the universe is irrational.  There is no way that an irrational process can create a rational mind.   

On the other hand if the universe were not rational then it is would controlled by rational natural laws, which is not true.  If human beings are rational, but nature is not, then humans must be supernatural, which they are not. 

Thus nature and natural selection must be rational as well as physical.  It is also spiritual because it has purpose and meaning. 

If there is no absolute bright line between humans and other creatures, that is because there is no absolute bright line between the physical and the rational and the spiritual.            

Roger A. Sawtelle - #82768

October 2nd 2013


I brought up Dawkins because for most people he speaks for NeoDarwinism which seems to be the dominant view in evolutionary biology today.

If that is wrong, please clarify. 

Also his evolutionary views seem to dominate New Atheism, so have important philosophical consequences.

You seem to be in a distinct minority on this forum to say flatly that the environment influences natural selection.  Again please clarify. 

If there is a direct relationship as your statement suggests then it would seem that ecology governs natural selection which I have not read anyone claim.



Merv - #82770

October 2nd 2013

You seem to be in a distinct minority on this forum to say flatly that the environment influences natural selection.

Roger, not only is this not a minority, but can you even name one person on this forum who has denied the influence of ecology?

As far as ecology “governing” natural selection, it is probably the major driving factor just as a roadways influence, if not govern the ways of an automobile driver.  I.e.  roads alone don’t determine all a driving decisions and outcomes, but they certainly are one dominant factor.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #82772

October 3rd 2013


My point is some people give lip service to the ecology but when you try to pin them down on specifics, they fall back to the old Darwinian views of Dawkins & Co.   

Show me one instance where ecology does not determine natural selection.

Did not ecology not doom the dinosaurs to extinction?  Did not the ecology determine the form of the Neandertals?   

Ecology is much more than a roadway.  It is the GPS that guides the auto.  That is my position, and I regret you don’t understand it.

Merv - #82773

October 3rd 2013

There may be a difference in strength of claim between ecology “influencing” natural selection and ecology “determining” it (the latter perhaps implying that everything is subsumed under ecology, so mechanistically it is the only game in town.)    I wasn’t nitpicking even over the stronger claim, though theists would need to examine such an assumption critically.

But the weaker claim is, I suggest, beyond dispute and I can’t think of anybody here or elsewhere in either camp that would take issue with it.

Lou Jost - #82778

October 3rd 2013

Yup, absolutely no one (least of all Dawkins) denies that ecological variables are among the strongest influences on natural selection. This has been pointed out to Roger repeatedly, with no visible effect. While we are on the subject of straw men, Roger’s claim that symbioses and cooperation among species also somehow contradicts Darwinian evolution is another one of his mantras that is just not true. Natural selection will favor cooperation when it increases the fitness of individuals of both species. Roger, you have misunderstood Dawkin’s metaphor of the selfish gene.

PNG - #82790

October 4th 2013

You mean it’s not an accident that every major university has a Department of Ecology and Evolution?  :)

GJDS - #82791

October 5th 2013


Just a fact check (not seeking controversy or argument) I searched all of my national Universities for such departments, and the best I could come up with was one University (not a major one) which had a research group called practical ecology in the department of Zoology. A far cry from your ‘not an accident that….’ don’t you think. This country’s major universities are rated amongst the top 30, and easily the top 100 in the world - thus I think it is useful to get these matters right.

PNG - #82794

October 5th 2013

The rather obvious point is that the coupling of studies of ecology and evolution is not an accident, and didn’t result from any profound new insight by Roger. What are organisms going to adapt to over time if not their physical environment and the species in it? Let’s just say that it’s no accident that there is an Annual Review of Ecology and Evolution and similar journals, and evolution is not going to go away because one chemist with an eccentric prejudice on the matter thinks that it should.

GJDS - #82795

October 5th 2013

“Coupling of studies of ecology and evolution?” ..... it seems that any vague nonsense can be read as proving some outdated and inadequate view in the bio-sciences. And if wishing for this tiresome field to progress, forget its pseudo-faith in Darwin, and begin acting as a science is eccentric, then I will gladly accept such a silly lable. Look at the controversies in your own field first, and perhaps find some humility.

I note that you did not acknowledge your overstatement regarding the Universities - why is that?

Jimpithecus - #82954

October 17th 2013

The University of Tennessee has the Department of Biology, Ecology And Evolutionary Biology.  It is not unique in universities.

GJDS - #82966

October 17th 2013

The original and erroneous claim was “every major University…” This is clearly not the case. By the way, what do you make of the latest controversy questioning the claim that there are many many forms of humans (or are these pre-humans?) ... your own profession seems to have a few questioners. Are they also eccentrics (or non scienstists) also? (I am going to borrow from Jon and Chip here ... this proves how open minded neo-Darwinians are ,,, chuckle chuckle..)

Jimpithecus - #82904

October 14th 2013

Easy.  Anagenetic speciation, where an environmental event splits two sub populations that eventually become separate species.  This has been documented for quite a few species.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #82775

October 3rd 2013


The issue not is not theism.  The issue is Darwinian thought in particular that voiced by Dawkins.  In the past you and others defended Dawkins when I said he was anti-ecology, which is the truth.  The basic fact is that if you agree with his view of evolution, there is no place for ecology.

Later when Jon refered us to the ideas of Dennis Noble most people seemed to agree with Noble even though his critique of Dawkins was very sharp and much the same as mine. 

BioLogos, if I understand it correctly, thinks Christians can accept the science of Dawkins with a few caveats.  I do not think so, because his science is wrong because it is anti-ecology.  It make all of this clear in my book.

If you and BioLogos do not want to listen to me, please listen to Dennis Noble.       

Roger A. Sawtelle - #82786

October 4th 2013

Bus Accident

At the end of the chapter he [Dawkins] uses another anecdote to illustrate the callousness of nature, a bus accident in England where many Catholic school children lost their lives. An article in the Sunday Telegraph quoted a priest who did not try to explain the accident, but said, “But the horror of the crash, to a Christian, confirms the fact that we live in a world of real values: positive and negative. If the universe were electrons, there would be no problems of evil and suffering.’”8 [Dawkins, River Out of Eden p. 132]


Dawkins response is clear. “On the contrary, if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies like the crashing of this bus are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune.”9 [Ibid. p. 132]  If we expect accidents to happen, they will surely happen more often than not.


The meaning of the accident is not directly based on the existence of God, it is on the meaning and value of human life.  If life has no meaning, it has no value.


I do not think that Dawkins is suggesting that humanity go that way, but this is exactly the meaning of his words. Presumably it might be possible for humans to take the easy way out by forfeiting their value of human life in order to assuage their pain over evil and suffering, but I would sincerely hope that we do not do this. People do not eliminate evil by claiming that there is no good.


Some cultures reduce the pain of grief by declaring that God wills whatever happens. Christianity does not do this. We have to contend with the ambiguity of life, while still understanding that God cares for us, helps us to overcome our problems, and will make all things right in the end.


Accidents don’t just happen. They have causes. I have no idea why this one happened, whether it was equipment failure, a driver had a heart attack, someone was drunk, whatever. Accidents happen because we are finite physical beings living in a finite, physical universe. Accidents cannot be eliminated all together, but can be reduced. Are we to give up our efforts to reduce the number and severity of accidents because life has no value or purpose? Accidents do not mean that the universe is callous or indifferent, but mean that humans are subject to nature laws like everything else.


Humans are finite beings, which means that they have a beginning and an end, they are born and they die. Does the existence of death negate the value of life? Does the tragic death of English Catholic school children negate the meaning of their lives? Does the death of a caterpillar caused by the larvae of the digger wasp negate the value of its life? Does the shortness of life negate the value of a life? Does the manner of death, its pain and suffering, negate the value of a life? No way does death, regardless of how one looks at it, make life meaningless and without value. This does not mean that all pregnancies must be carried to term. The value of life is real, but not absolute, contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.


For Dawkins based on Darwinism the meaning of life is DNA. He ends the chapter thusly: “DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”10  [p.133]


If DNA just is, then it replaces Being as the Absolute, because the Absolute is defined as just that, that which Just Is and is independent of all limits and relationships, that is, it does not care. Of course if DNA is Absolute it would violate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Noether’s Theorem, so it would stand outside the realm of the natural and enter the realm of the supernatural.



Roger A. Sawtelle - #82793

October 5th 2013


GJDS is correct.

Harvard U. does not have such a department.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #82796

October 5th 2013


You and others totally misconstrue my point. 

You say that the role of evolution is adapt to the changing ecology.  I agree 100%. 

The problem is that Darwinism does say this.  It says that the role of evolution is the development of the species by the changing of genomes with no indicated relationship to ecology.

The primary reason behind this is the reaction of Darwinism against Lamarkism.  As you know Lamarkism said that there was a direct relationship between evolution and adaption to the environment.  Instead of talking about adaptation Darwinists speak of different rates of reproduction caused by unspecified evolutionary advantages. 

College textbooks on evolution that I have seen are all about Variation and genetics, with nothing about Natural Selection defined as “reproductive differentiation,” and how it relates the ecology 

The reaction is based on Malthusian natural selection says that there is no relationship.  I would say that there is a strong indirect relationship which is the kind of intermediate position rejected by Western dualism.

Darwinism ruled the scientific roost until ecology burst into prominence in the 1970’s with new concerfn about the environment.  Darwinists like Dawkins cannot ignore it, but neither did they modify their theory to take it into account. 

The Selfish Gene should be seen as a reaction against ecology and an assertion of traditional Darwinism.  The forthcoming book on James Lovelock should be very enlightening. 

As an outsider looking in I now see the discipline of evolutionary biology going mathematical, which means that the whole question of the mechanism of how natural selection works is not addressed.  This allows Darwinians to hold on to their beliefs in this area unchallenged, even though most of us can see that it is faulty as you have said. 

The problem is we need good science, which Darwinism no longer is.  We need to understand properly how our world works.  I am glad you do.  Now we have to convince the Darwinists.  



Jimpithecus - #82905

October 14th 2013

“College textbooks on evolution that I have seen are all about Variation and genetics, with nothing about Natural Selection defined as “reproductive differentiation,” and how it relates the ecology.” 

Then you are not reading the same textbooks I am reading.  While evolution is the change in gene frequencies from one generation to the next, the whole point of the synthetic theory was to link population genetics to natural selection which was, as one researcher put it, obviously observable to every naturalist working in the wild.  The synthetic theory was an extension of Darwin’s theory.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #82906

October 14th 2013


Thank you for your response.

The sun circling the earth is also obviously observable to anyone who observes the sky.

The scientific question is “How does natural selection work?” which Darwinism does not answer, so it is invalid. 

Jimpithecus - #82955

October 17th 2013

It absolutely does explain how natural selection works.  The whole point is that changes in the environment affect how animals react to it.  How those animals react differentially affects their ability to have offspring and pass on their genetic material.  That differentiation drives change from one generation to the next.  Go back and read some of the great thinkers like Ernst Mayr, George Gaylod Simpson, Sewall Wright and J. B. S. Haldane.  Their work is critical to understanding the role of the environment as it relates to natural selection, drift, flow, and all of the other processes for which evolutionary theory can account. 

P.S. When you use the term “Darwinism,” you do realize that it is equivalent to using the term “Newtonism” to explain gravitation and that very few biologists use it. The people that do use it regularly use it in a pejorative sense, like the reliably inaccurate Discovery Institute. 

P.P.S.  Please go back and read the reviews of “The God delusion.”  The vast majority of biologists thought that it was a travesty of science and not a very good book, to boot.  Dawkins is a terrible theologian.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #82958

October 17th 2013


Thank you for your responses.

Starting with the last first.  My reading of Dawkins is that he is a good theologian in the sense he consistent in the interpretation of his assumptions. 

In other words starting with his assumptions which are based on the thought of Darwin he develops his conclusions in a rational and logical manner.  I disagree with his conclusions and assumptions, but that does not mean that he is a bad thinker. 

What concerns me is that few people do not challenge his science were it is wrong, and thus others might assume that this theology is basically right also. 

In terms of Darwinism my problem is that Dawkins & Dennett are proud to be disciples of Darwin and I find the problem that I have with their science and ideology relates to Darwin’s view of natural selection. 

Also maybe you are familiar with the book by Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which primarily about moving from Newtonian absolutes to Einsteinian relativism.  While science to some extent has moved in this direction, Dawkins denies that there has been a revolution of this sort and most people do not understand the difference between the Newtonian view of nature and the Einsteinian.

In my opinion there needs to be a revolution from the Darwinian view to the Ecological view.  If you have made that revolutionary jump, I am glad and I ask you to help me bring about the revolution.  If those other thinkers agree, please tell where to find the info which will help dispell the Darwinist myth.

You wrote: The whole point is that changes in the environment affect how animals react to it.

This is the opposite of the Darwinist position, which says a genetic change takes place.  Then natural selection kicks in and the changed life form either thrives or does not according to some unexplained fitness quotient.  NOTHING is said about the environment.   

I say that the environment changes in one way or another.  If the life forms in this environmental niche successfully adapt to this change, they will thrive.  If not, they will not.  This is clear and simple and true and it goes against Darwin’s and Dawkins’ understanding of natural selection.



Jon Garvey - #83048

October 20th 2013


I don’t know if this post will feed back to you, but the new announcements about H erectus skulls seem to confim your preference for being a “lumper” ratherthan a “splitter”. In effect it seems that we have just two distinct species in the genus Homo in the fossils, ie erectus and sapiens/neanderthalis.

That seems to be yet another blow against gradualism - the transition, once more, seems too be happening somwehere we’re not looking over a small window of time. Do you have any opinions on that story?

By the way, given the increasing distance of the australopithecines from the hominins, isn’t it time to change your online monicker from “Jimpithecus” to “Jimo”?

Jimpithecus - #83211

October 25th 2013

Interesting.  Yes, i was intrigued by that announcement.  Milford Wolpoff once upon a time wrote a paper on the hundredth anniversary discovery of the original Pithecanthropus skull, called “Homo erectus: 100 Years is Enough!”

Jimpithecus - #83212

October 25th 2013

And I am sticking with “Jimpithecus.”

Jon Garvey - #83225

October 25th 2013

Thanks, Jimpithecus!

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