The ‘Christian’ response to our new family members?

Imagine a child growing up in a home thinking for years that she was an only-child. Her parents never spoke of there having been any other children in her family, and there was no evidence anywhere to indicate the possibility. She grew up for years with this idea that there had only ever been her with her two parents.

Then one day in her early teen years, while exploring through the attic, she comes across a box with a photo album, and in it pictures of her parents looking much younger and holding two babies, and sitting beside them on the couch is a beaming little boy wearing a fireman’s helmet and holding a “Welcome” sign with her own name, scrawled in very child-like font and signed with a boy’s name. Also in the box is that same fireman’s helmet and a few other toys for a young boy, as well as some baby clothing, all for a little baby boy.

Imagine the questions that now flood the young girl’s mind!

Up until the time that Darwin proposed his theory of gradual evolution of one species into others, there was no evidence that the human species had brothers or sisters of any kind. No bones. No abandoned cities or villages which clearly indicated anything non-human. No art-work on cave walls, and certainly no literature. Nothing on which to base the idea that there had been other conscious, volitional beings like us, and yet different from us, around at some time in the past. In fact, the Western world had the Biblical texts which told us explicitly for millennia that we were ‘only-children’, created by God.

But then we started exploring in the attic …

Well, actually, subterranean caverns in Germany. Other ones in South Africa. River gulleys in Tanzania and Ethiopia. And many other such places.

And we found the metaphorical family photo album. Snapshots of our brother Neanderthal. Our sister Lucy (Australopithecus). Our cousin Homo erectus. There was also that weird uncle Piltdown, who, it turned out, was actually a scam artist trying to wriggle his way into the family tree.

And now we’ve found another picture. This time it’s cousin Homo naledi. Actually, it’s a picture of the whole naledi family … 1500 bones from individuals ranging from children to senior citizens. There’s nothing else in the picture to help us understand who they were … no stone tools … no hand-smeared paintings on the wall behind them … no evidence of what they ate. But the bones alone tell us quite a bit about them.

Newspapers around the world are carrying the headline: “We’ve found another cousin we didn’t know we had”: my usual sources include the BBC, the Guardian and the CBC, but I’m sure you’ll find this story in any major newspaper. As if we hadn’t heard something like this before. In one sense, this is very old news. We’ve heard this kind of announcement many times before.

Everything old is new again?

But for some, this is indeed new. Because they’ve denied the existence of the previously found evidence. Or they were sheltered from it by their parents, teachers and religious leaders.

Much of Christendom has been in denial about these other family members. We much prefer the story our church fathers gave us about our being only children. We hold to that story because the Bible says differently, and there can be no higher authority on scientific matters.

That denial is perfectly captured in the opening page of a biology textbook published as a substitute for other texts (which in turn had been written by world experts in the field): “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.” (Biology for Christian Schools, 1991, Bob Jones University Press)

But facts are facts. We have the hard evidence. Literally. Many thousands of bones and stone artefacts. Radionuclide dating that places them back in time many thousands or even millions of years ago. Co-localization with the bones of other animal species which have long, long ago gone extinct. The compelling evidence within the genetic code of a long, gradual change over time (once again measured in millions of years). Undeniable evidence.

And yet, some may still try to deny it.

Perhaps claim that these were actually fully modern humans, but ones which were embarrassingly in-bred … that hill-billy family with all kinds of strange mutations and physical defects which bear testimony to their inconvenient sexual habits.

Or that these are in fact some kind of animal … chimpanzees or gorillas … which were also badly in-bred, or perhaps diseased.

Some might draw comparisons to Nephilim … the bizarre love-children of depraved humans and supernatural beings.

Others will conclude these to be false clues planted either by God to test our faith, or by the Devil to mislead us.

Or perhaps some other even more irrational explanation.

To me, these are all equally indefensible. Scholars refer to these as ‘ad hoc’ explanations: arguments put together simply to provide something … anything … as an alternative to what the facts themselves point to. There is no evidence for these alternative explanations. Only an interpretation of the Genesis account which some feel compelled must be defended at all costs.

To the proponents of that interpretation, this is about the Bible itself, and the Christian belief as a whole: draw a line in the sand, and if even a single criticism can be leveled against it, then the whole thing needs to be discarded as trash. And we can’t have that, so we must circle the wagons or pull up the draw-bridges and start looking for anything that we can throw at the enemy. Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

For me, this is about an interpretation of certain Biblical passages. I’ve learned that it’s fully possible to interpret the texts differently and still maintain a solid faith. Still see a tremendous value in Biblical texts. Still follow the teachings of Christ (or try to). I’ve blogged here often in the past about that ‘awakening’. A lengthy experience that I’ve likened to an escape from a cave. I’ve captured much of that journey in a book, the primary goal of which was to equip other fellow believers out of their theological caves. I’m now putting the finishing touches on another book which summarizes the evidence for our origin — particularly the extensive genetic evidence — and how this is going to challenge much of our theological thinking about Adam and Eve … the Fall and Original Sin … the Atonement … the Bible … other world religions …

More on that later.

For now, I’m looking for any comments from you about this new finding from the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave in South Africa.

Does it excite you, or threaten you?

How will you interpret it, and incorporate it into your world-view?

Does it make you re-think any of your beliefs?

Do you feel you have to place the Genesis account over and above the explanation provided by the theory of evolution?

If so, how would you explain the evidence to the contrary?

The ball is now in your court …

 

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3 thoughts on “The ‘Christian’ response to our new family members?

  1. Just a small correction, you can delete this response once you see it. You should replace the word “radiocarbon” with “radionuclide” in the sentence Radiocarbon dating that places them back in time many thousands or even millions of years ago. Radiocarbon only is good for less than 50,000 years whereas most hominid bones are dated by radionuclides like Uranioum or thorium etc in the material around the bones.

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  2. Adjustments to historical facts? Absolutely yes! Our faith is in good shape. The real evidence is the transformed life which only Jesus Christ can accomplish. My father and I at the age of 17 both made the same decision to become a follower of Christ. What he abandoned I prized with a lifetime of fulfilment. Our lives could not have been more different. I may not be wealthy in terms of this world’s definition like my father was for a while, but I am rich beyond compare because of Jesus Christ my Saviour.

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  3. Personally, I am excited about the discovery of new family members. (Not as intrigued as I would be if I were the girl in the story you start with, who finds evidence of other siblings who have been deliberately erased from history. I want to hear the rest of that story, by the way! It would make a good novel.) In the case of newly found cousins to humanity, I have a lot of questions about what caused them to go extinct. What did our genes possess that caused us to thrive when they could not. And what must it have been like to be the last of a species? What a lonely feeling that must be. Their existence, however, in no way threatens my belief system. Any incongruity with the Bible needs to be chalked up to either a lack of encompassing interpretation of the Bible’s teaching, or a mistaken belief that the Bible contains no errors. Clearly it does. There are things within the Bible that indicate it is a very human book indeed. It is not inerrant. Far from it.

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