The emergence of man
When Adam first saw his Eve, he said: “This one is finally bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh.” This story, written in symbolic language, confronts us with a very explicit problem of Adam: before God intervened, he had not found a suitable woman. If we now look at Adam’s personal history in the context of the general history of life, we discover that behind this seemingly fortuitous anecdote lies an important biological principle, which we have not yet discussed, namely “sexual selection”.
We can consider sexuality as one of life’s strategies. Diversification carries the risk of a possible degeneration of genetic information. Sexual selection steers this in the right direction by ensuring that the quality of the genetic heritage within a population or species is maintained. This is done in two ways: on the one hand due to the premature death of fruits with too great abnormalities and, on the other hand, by the introduction of selection mechanisms before mating. Sexuality not only has a controlling influence on speciation in general, but it also has a stimulating effect on the upward evolution, as meant here.
Although diversification and sexual selection are two life strategies of a different order, both can lead to transformations in the genetic structure. Both the phylum to a new specialized species and the leap to a higher or more complex life form require, in sexual reproduction, the simultaneous existence of at least two individuals whose genes contain a broadly similar renewal. It can therefore be said that sexuality stabilizes speciation (or that it makes changes through diversification more difficult). On the other hand, through sexual selection, it steers the evolutionary changes that do occur in the right direction.
Applied to the history of our ancestors, we see this selection mechanism at work at the last “evolutionary leap” in our direction. Such a leap is rare, given the low probability of creation within the same generation and in the same environment of two individuals of different sex, who are carriers of a mutually compatible genetic innovation, leading in this case to a “superior” species. Or in other words: if Adam had not met Eve or if he had not wanted her (“selected”), then he would have either remained childless, or his genetic renewal would have been lost, or absorbed into the total genetic stock of our ancestors. The emergence of the present man would then have been postponed indefinitely or would never have occurred.
According to biblical history, the final leap in evolution toward present-day humanity is the result of internal selection or acceptance, just as all previous leaps were determined by internal creative forces and not by blind Darwinian chance. Although in Adam’s exclamation only biological (and therefore genetically determined) kinship is reflected, it is not necessary to be a psychologist to realize that the lonely Adam was mostly happy because he had finally found someone with whom he could communicate at his level. The deepened passage from Genesis beautifully illustrates an aspect of the aforementioned chain of the will to survive, communication and evolution. In addition, through the direct intervention of God, this biological event acquired an exceptional spiritual dimension. In this way, both the internal choices of the first human couple and their unification were lifted and sanctified above the purely biological.
With the advent of modern man, a whole new situation appeared. The roles have been reversed: instead of largely undergoing the forces of nature and adapting as best or worst as possible, man systematically built an environment adapted to him. What has happened since then to its closest less evolved biological relatives remains uncertain. There could, of course, have been some form of “artificial selection”, that is, the eradication of more primitive related species, but there is no solid evidence for this. We can only conclude that they have gradually disappeared from the more recent fossil record and that in today’s humanity there are only races, but no subspecies. Although complex ancestry constructions have also been elaborated on this subject, I believe in my view, both the logic and the latest findings lead to the conclusion that all present-day humans directly have the same origin. Recent DNA studies also show that there has been a very slight mix with what we call here “more primitive” human species, such as the well-known Neanderthals. It seems to me that there is no problem with considering this from a Christian point of view as a consequence of the “fall”.
Here, however, other crucial questions arise: when did our first ancestors live? Where should we locate them? What status should we assign to their relatives and forerunners based on our faith? On a purely scientific basis, no conclusive answer can be given to this. Our archaeological knowledge of the distant past is still too limited and, in addition, the phenomenon “human” can be defined in various ways, ranging from very broad to very narrow. Before we delve deeper into this, let’s make it clear that we’re mainly interested in the aspects of faith here. We will therefore mainly be guided by this in the further discussion, in accordance with the scientifically sound context that is being pursued here.
In the chapter of Genesis that leads to the story of the Flood, there is a short intriguing passage (Genesis 6,4): “In those days, giants lived on the earth and afterward, when divine beings and human daughters had sexual relations and gave birth to children. These were the ancient heroes, famous men.“ Perhaps this formulation is the expression of a strong patriarchal attitude of the Israelites, who assumed that it is only man who descends from God through Adam. But it could also be a vague reminiscence of an ancient past, in which, in addition to the descendants of Adam, also descendants of his original species relatives lived. The forceful people who sprang from the mixture of the two would in that case be a typical example of “heterosis”: the well-known phenomenon in which the offspring of a pair with greater genetic differences exhibit exceptionally vigorous traits. Perhaps the author wanted to clarify that at the beginning of humanity, two different levels of spiritual consciousness were mixed. In any case, the entire passage seems to refer to a generalized deviation of sexual behavior, which had become unbridled, unfaithful, perverted and less selective.
Either way, going further becomes too speculative. From the standpoint of our faith, nothing is known with certainty about the spiritual aspect of this special giant race, nor about our non-Adamic biological relatives. So, in my opinion there is little point in breaking our heads about this. The spirit of God permeates the living world and the non-living world. Christ spoke to the storm and punished a fig tree for its sterility, John the Baptist taught that God had the power to raise up sons of Abraham from stones… God alone knows the spiritual significance of all that He created and to Adam and his descendants, only a small part of His creation plan was revealed, as an attentive help for the perpetuation of the life they carried within them.
But back to the story of our protagonists. We find some facts that characterize them: they were the first “humans”; they gave names to all living beings; they adapted their environment; they had been ordered to populate the earth; their spirits had contact with God and they knew His will; but their own will remained not obedient to God’s. If we accept these data as certain based on our faith, then we can deduce a very rudimentary anthropological reconstruction.
Our ancestors named plants and animals. This is an anthropological fact of prime importance. Just as we forgot to marvel at the fact that water flows from the tap or that energy comes from the socket, we usually no longer realize the fundamental role the ability to form and use language plays in the experience of our humanity. This ability is so important that we can say that it is probably the most important biological property that distinguishes us from animals. Without that ability, our brains simply continue to function on a purely animal level.
Adam and Eve were the first to systematically capture the living (and we may assume the non-living) world around them in the symbolism of the spoken word. To do this, they needed to have a sophisticated vocal apparatus and a specialized brain lobe, which was able to store and meaningfully manipulate the created language symbols. The new man thus had the ability to communicate consciously, to learn, to educate, to conclude agreements, in short to create a “cultural world” with his brain. He had taken a giant step up the evolutionary ladder of communication and self-awareness. Most likely, his predecessors had already made clumsy attempts to do so, but paleoanthropological studies show that even Neanderthals, despite their large brain volume, most likely possessed more limited speech capabilities.
But it didn’t stop there. The intelligence obtained by the first modern men, through the gift of speech, finally enabled them to become intellectually aware of the higher and deeper that lurks behind the directly observable reality. They finally managed to name even the supreme reality, God. Then both the general and the individual process of biological human evolution were completed. The Creator then brought His human creatures to spiritual completion by making them His children. The “law of the strongest” that previously dominated life has been replaced by spiritual laws, including that of “obedience”, first to the Supreme Being, and then to the elders of the tribe. Mutual competition has been replaced by solidarity, respect for the weak and love for each other, supported by high-level and sensitive communication. Our ancestors attained the highest possible earthly sense of God. In them, the flesh had become “words” with which they could communicate even with the Supreme… Long after their fall, the Divine Word will become flesh, like us, to restore lost communication.
About the period during which our ancestors laid the foundation for the human “cultural conquest of the world,” we can only make very rough estimates, based on currently available data (A.D. 2020). The biological subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens (to which we belong) is probably 200,000 years old, while the age of the subspecies Homo sapiens neanderthalensis is estimated at about 300,000 years. The abrupt, difficult to explain in a Darwinian way, but for humanity crucial transition from a lifestyle mainly determined by biological needs to a lifestyle mainly determined by intangible cultural, social, ethical, spiritual, and religious priorities, occurred only between ± 75 and 45 000 BP (1), by the ancestors of all present humanity. They most likely lived somewhere in the fertile crescent moon of the N.E. (2). From then on and from there began the very rapid spread of present man over the entire habitable surface of the earth, accompanied by the slow extinction of other hominids and related human species. Soon enough, transport was done not only on foot, but also with ships, as evidenced by the migration to Australia from about 40,000 BP. As mentioned, this was accompanied by a small genetic mix, especially with Neanderthals (1 – 4% in Europeans, and little or nothing in populations south of the Sahara).
With the first God-conscious human couple human history” began, in the sense that experiences and knowledge were no longer simply transmitted as best they could, generation by generation, with oral gestures and signals. Since then, they have been gradually preserved in durable symbolic characters, such as wall paintings, carvings and finally writings. The fulfillment of God’s command to populate the earth has proceeded with remarkable speed, which contrasts sharply with the scarcity of fossil remains of the earlier and other hominin populations. Organized manipulation of the environment brought about major changes across large parts of the Earth, but often happened without respect for the survival of the other life forms and even for the future of one’s own life form. Linguistic separations have taken place; a very important one could have been the result of the worldwide deluge, which gave rise to small, isolated communities of widely differing levels of civilization.
In an increasingly artificial world, man became more and more alienated from his origin and mission. He eventually “specialized” in making money, gaining power, and growing addictions. He did and still does the opposite of what Christ, the prototype of the “unspecialized” universal man, taught us: to become like open children and first and foremost to seek “the Kingdom of God”, the final evolutionary summit: the collectivity of God’s beloved children.
As warned at the beginning of this series of articles, it was a complicated matter. For those less familiar with it, it may not be easy to assimilate. The intention is to offer both objective information and solid guidance on this to our readers, first to Christians, but also to people with a different philosophy of life. I hope it was a successful attempt. In any case, we look forward to your questions and reactions!
(1) Editor’s addition: the latest estimates on a genetic basis (2021) place the period of the “cultural explosion” initiated by our common ancestors between 90 and 60,0000 BP.
(2) Ibid.: the original cradle of humanity (the birthplace of Adam and Eve) is more likely to be in a region of the Horn of Africa, and the subsequent exodus from Africa may have happened through the north or through the Arabian Peninsula, as soon as there was an opportunity to cross the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait (“Gate of Tears”) on the southern side of the Red Sea.