Mankind's Origins

Assessing the Origins of Mankind
People can be dogmatic on both sides of the creationist/evolutionist debate; some Christians say the world was created in 6 days and is no older than 10,000 years; what about fossils and dinosaurs?  ‘Er, the devil put them there!’  End of debate; and perhaps end of reason too.  Some evolutionists say the world is billions of years old and evolution is all around us; where are all the missing links then?  Where are all the species evolving between two others?  ‘Er, there was one found in a desert and it’s over 2 million years old!’  So, when we have an end to open debate, I think we have an end to thinking too.  The question is, how do you know you know what you think you know?  Dogmatic assertion does not make a thing true.  So we should be open, and maybe we might just come to the truth of the matter.  One other danger with the creationist/evolutionist debate is also that some creationists are not trying to prove creation, they are trying to disprove evolution, and some evolutionists are not trying to prove evolution, they are trying to disprove creation.  This just takes us down blind alleys, and does not help us get to the truth.

It’s in that spirit of openness and honesty that I wish to explore the origins of Mankind.  I will first put my cards on the table; I am a Christian and I do believe in creation, basically that God created the whole universe from scratch.  However, I can’t prove this and I wish to explore the debate around the whole thing, the whole idea of where we come from as human beings.

Some Christians say that the world was created in 6 days and that the world is no older than 10,000 years or so; some evolutionists say that the world is billions of years old and that life is an accident, a glorious accident no less, but to them in the final analysis merely an accident after all.  They say that human beings evolved from apes; that wonderfully advanced as we are, we are from lesser beings; a process which has taken many millions of years.  There are faults for me with both blanket arguments; the fossil record seems to indicate that the world is far older than some creationists would assert.  Secondly, I just can’t look at the wonder of a human being or the wonder of nature without seeing that there is some divine plan behind it all; how could all that be an accident?  There is one other thing too: most people of whatever persuasion feel that there is definitely a spiritual dimension to life, something that we can’t touch, see or perceive with our five senses, but that we instinctively feel to be there, side by side the real world.  Whatever the case, I feel there is far more to this earth than generally meets the eye.

If the world is no older than 10,000 years old, what are we to make of the wanderings of the Aborigines in Australia and the Kalahari Bushmen in Southern Africa, both who are said to have been moving around their respective homelands for about 40,000 years?  Is the human race really so old, and how can it be proved that people where wondering around for so long?  As a creationist I can accommodate the idea that God created human beings a long time ago; there isn’t a problem for me here.  But, what is the truth?

Does the biblical story of creation seem so far-fetched and so fantastical, and too neat that we prefer a more realistic explanation?  When we are reading Genesis are we reading hard and fast facts, or are we reading truths embedded in ancient folklore?  I tend to believe the latter; it may be possible to believe the Bible literally, but I think God has endowed us with reasoning and a questioning nature; why don’t we use them, whatever we believe? 

If God did create everything, and He created human beings, just why did He do that?  Have we also lost that truth in the mists of time?  What’s the meaning of life anyway?  I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the meanings of life is to be happy and be content; how many people are really that if they were honest?

According to some Christians, and from what I have heard said and seen written before today, Adam and Eve go back to about 6,000 to 7,000 years, or thereabouts.  Curiously enough, it is really at about this timeframe that human beings in the Fertile Crescent, where Iraq roughly is today, started to become civilised; first started to properly cultivate grains, settle down in urban areas, started to create pottery and to use a written-down language; in short, it was the start of civilisation as we know it.  So it seems sort of strange that both stories, that of the beginning of civilisation and the story of mankind’s beginnings have a correlation.  Also, according to David Rohl, in his excellent book Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation, the Garden of Eden can be located in the Adji Chay valley in north-west Iran; this isn’t far at all from the original place of civilisation in the Fertile Crescent.  Have the two stories, that of early civilisation and of Adam and Eve, become intertwined over thousands of years, when they might not have any correlation at all?  Or perhaps they do.  It has been said before, that when the Jews were exiled to Babylon about 2,500 years ago they appropriated some Babylonian tales and incorporated them into their own history and certainly the early history of mankind.  The Flood tale is certainly not just found in the Bible, that’s for certain.  The point I am trying to make is that in some way the biblical tale of Adam and Eve, the beginning of human history, has been somehow infused with civilisation’s beginnings too; why should this be?  Is one of the reasons simply that the Jews got their history mixed up, and another quite frankly just because no one really knows when the first humans walked the earth?  If this is so, then maybe we need to look again at the myths of early civilisation, and we certainly need to look at Genesis in the Bible again.

Why is there so much variety in the same species?  Look at dogs and cats for instance; there are so many different shapes and sizes and colourings and yet they are still dogs and cats.  To an evolutionist, this is perhaps proof that evolution as a theory is reality; that such variation is evidence of a quite natural selection process in species.  To me, I believe that such variety is part of God’s plan and that these differences were in these species right from the start of Creation.  We are all human beings for instance, but we certainly don’t all look the same.  Why are we all so different; different ethnic groups, different colours, different facial features and so on, if we are supposedly descended from apes?  We have different eye shapes, different types and colour of hair, different coloured skin, different noses and different eye colour; in short, we are all the same species, but we are very different from each other.  Even people of the same ethnic group can be very different, and then when we compare say an Aboriginal Australian to someone from Sweden, and a Swede to an Arab, and an Arab to someone from Japan, we can see that they are simply very different to each other.  If we have a common ancestor with chimpanzees, why are we all so fundamentally different looking?  I’ve never heard anyone answer that to my satisfaction.  My view quite simply is that these differences throughout the one human race were there at Creation and for God’s purpose and pleasure.  Simply put, God wanted variety in the human race and that’s what He created quite frankly.  But let’s be honest; that’s not a particularly scientific explanation, it’s my opinion as a Christian.

Looking at the biblical origins of humankind, and looking specifically at the biblical idea of three separate groups of humans within the one human race, in other words Noah’s three sons who were Ham, Shem and Japheth; according to the Old Testament, it was Ham, Shem and Japheth’s offspring that populated the world after the Flood.  Shem is considered the father of all Semitic people like Jews, Babylonians, Assyrians and perhaps many Europeans too.  Ham is considered to be the father of black people, like Ethiopians, Egyptians and perhaps also Arabs too, although it is has been said that Arabs are actually Semitic in origin.  Japheth, for me, is harder to pin down.  According to one source, he is the ancestor of Indo-Europeans.  I always was led to believe, through study of the Old Testament, that Japheth was the progenitor of the Asiatic peoples, people like the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese and so on; people of East Asia basically.  Whatever the fact of the matter is, and whatever the fine points are, there seems to be three definite groupings of human beings spread around the world, with many admixtures of those three in the world.  If you look at the world today, all humans beings are either of these three groups or a mix of any number of them.  But, to me, there are only three original human types; for a Christian of course, this fits nicely with the biblical story.  So far, so good.

So, to the story of the Ark; fact, fiction?  Well, according to the Bible, the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat, not the mountain of Ararat itself; a different place entirely.  In David Rohl’s aforementioned book interestingly enough, he claims that the Sumerians, the first people who really became civilised, may derive their name from Shem, thus being descended from him.  Accordingly, he also writes that the Ark came to rest in Kurdistan.  The actual resting place of the Ark is then not Mount Ararat but a mountain called Judi Dagh, which is actually in south eastern Turkey.  It’s not really important for my argument this, but I think it helps to get things right.  It’s rather curious that where the Ark is supposed to have settled, in south eastern Turkey as discussed, that the spread of the three ethnic groups has been around this descending of the Ark; Africans to the south, Semitic peoples to the near south, near east and north, and Asiatic people’s to the far east of the Ark.  The people nearest to where the Ark settled, like the Kurds and Turks seem to be in some way a mix of all the different ethnic groups.  Yes, I’m aware that this is very probably an over-simplification, but it is in simplicity that we might find some answers.  Some people, even some Christians, might take umbrage with the idea of a great flood and an ark filled with two kinds of every species.  How could all the species we find on earth fit into a relatively small vessel?  Is this what the Bible says anyway?  Also, was it a flood that affected the whole earth, or did God in fact cause local flooding of the Middle East simply because humanity at that time was only to be found in this region?  This is just food for thought, as like most people I don’t really know the answer to this vexing question.

Then we come to the idea of Neanderthal men, and men that according to some were part-man and part-ape.  For a Christian who believes in Creation, there is no middle ground here; you either believe that humankind was created from scratch as we are now, or you don’t.  You can’t believe that we are a unique creation and be descended from apes.  I expect that, whatever point of view you take, there are certain things that don’t appear to make sense.  Every so often for instance, a skull is found that has supposedly ape and human features, and this is trumpeted as the Missing Link; until another skull is found that is!  This endless round of trying to prove something which can’t really be proved, might say more about some evolutionists than the Theory of Evolution itself.  Disproving something to prove something else doesn’t sound very scientific to me.

There is another thing both creationists and evolutionists need to think about; neither a creationist or evolutionist was there when the world was created or formed, so neither can say 100% categorically that their belief is correct because they weren’t there!  I believe with all my heart that God created everything from scratch, that there was quite simply creation for a purpose, but I can’t prove it.  Neither can it be disproved.  A human being to me, is so complex even physically, with a super-computer for a brain, wonderfully designed hands that can do all sorts of amazing things, a pair of precision made eyes, and other wonderful parts that allow us to perceive what is happening around us moment by moment; a marvellous collection of inner organs that generally work very well in keeping us alive, and so many more things that makes the human body too perfect to be an accident.  Again, you may disagree fundamentally with this, but I think you should think about how amazing we are. 

The origin of mankind in the Old Testament seems allegoric and mythic, but I believe that there is truth to be gleaned from these folktales.  Did Adam and Eve lose the spiritual connection they had with God because of eating the forbidden fruit?  Is the story of the origins of mankind even through myth trying to teach us universal truths?  According to David Rohl, and no doubt other biblical scholars too, there really was a Garden of Eden; I think some Christians struggle with this.  I think we can look at it this way; it was either a real place that can be found on a map, or it is symbolic of man’s innocence at the start of Creation; and to some people it might be both.  Whatever you believe, there are it seems no simplistic solutions to understanding the origins of mankind.  And when learned and clever people on both sides of the argument believe completely opposing things, just who are you going to believe?  I think if you are genuinely searching for complex answers to complex questions, and if you’re a Christian especially, you need to go back to the Bible and spend some time digesting what it says.  Also, the very simplicity we find in statements in the Bible might help us to glean truths therein.

I am going to look at some lines from the Old Testament in the Bible.  I am looking specifically at a New Jerusalem Bible, which is a modern but thoroughly authoritative translation.  God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and all the creatures that creep along the ground.’  God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:26-27)  This states quite clearly that man was created, and was created as the crowning glory of Creation, and was placed at the head of Creation.  There’s no mention of men coming from apes, or apes coming from mammals, and of any mammal crawling out of the sea; it is unequivocal; we are unique creations made in the image of God.  We’re not animals, we’re not happy to live like pigs in filth; we are human beings created above everything else in Creation; we have questions and we need answers; we are spiritual beings made to commune with God.  And just what does ‘make man in our image’ really mean?  We are flesh and blood, but we have a spiritual dimension to our nature; when people miss this, I think they miss the very reason for our being created in the first place.

God said to Noah, ‘I have decided that the end has come for all living things, for the earth is full of lawlessness because of human beings.  So I am now about to destroy them and the earth.  Make yourself an ark out of resinous wood.  (Genesis 6:13-14)  Here is the written idea that God destroyed the earth with a cataclysmic flood.  Many cultures and peoples, not just the Jews, have a flood mythology, basically that in their folktales there are mentions of a great flood.  The question we ask is, why would God destroy what He had made, and for what purpose?  If we read the Bible account of the Flood, we might conclude quickly that God was taking the good of humanity, which was a very tiny number of people, and starting again.  The question we might also ask is, how far from human creation was the Great Flood?  How long has mankind been on the earth?  Again, no one has fully answered this question to my satisfaction, and in actual fact how could they?  We just don’t really know.

And then we come to Abraham; he is for me a major character in understanding many biblical and extra-biblical tribes, peoples and nations around the earth.  Yahweh said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your kindred and your father’s house for a country which I shall show you; and I shall make you a great nation, I shall bless you and make your name famous; you are to be a blessing!  I shall bless those who bless you, and shall curse those who curse you, and all clans on earth will bless themselves by you.  (Genesis 12:1-3)  When we see the last line: ‘…and all clans on earth will bless themselves by you.’ what is it that is being imparted?  I have come to believe that Abraham’s seed was to be spread all over the world and can be found in many nations genetic make-up; he is certainly the ancestor of Jews and Arabs; regarding Arabs, this isn’t made so clear in the Bible account but it at least says that Ishmael, Abraham’s son would be a great nation too numerous to count.  It’s generally accepted that Ishmael is the ancestor of Arabs.  Yet again, the Bible narrative is dealing in new beginnings and a second start for mankind; this time it is about specific bloodstock from Abraham, from which of course the Chosen People would come from.  No one disputes that there is a Jewish ethnic group in the world, so why don’t we look a little closer at what else the Bible says about Abraham’s descendants; the Jews are the lynchpin in the Bible; that they exist means other tribes exist, also written about in the Bible.

With dogmatic creationists on one side, and equally dogmatic evolutionists on the other, who may equally both be learned and well-read, perhaps if we want to find the truth we may need to find the middle ground; I’m not suggesting a middle ground by believing both things at the same time, which is an impossible stand to take, but the middle ground of reason, that opens up genuine debate, a debate about finding the truth.  As Christians, we should always endeavour to seek the truth.

What reality can we glean from the Old Testament, like the story of Adam and Eve, the Flood, the Garden of Eden, the story of Abraham, Joseph and Daniel and so on?  There is a theme in the Old Testament of beginnings and endings, and starting all over again.  It is reflected in Christianity as a whole.  The message of the world is hatred, enmity, anger, ruthless exploitation and a sorrowful end.  God’s message is one of hope, redemption, forgiveness, genuine care for others and always a second chance and a new start.  The person who has lived in error, maybe for half their life, has always a chance of a better life with a purpose to that life.  Look at the story of Paul, or Moses, or Joseph, or Abraham; all given better lives for a reason by a loving Creator who has only ever wanted the best for us.

According to the latest scientific thinking, both humans and chimpanzees have a common ancestor going back about 6million years ago or so, when humans went one way and chimps went the other; or so the current theory and thinking goes.  As a creationist, of course I have a problem with this; on many levels.  Firstly, if we were set above the rest of Creation, and were meant to be spiritual and material beings, how could we have evolved from creatures that are obviously not spiritual in nature?  Secondly, just why do human beings look so different from each other, even within the same ethnic group, to say nothing of different ethnic groups?  Thirdly, if evolution is an on-going process, and is a scientific reality, just where are all the species in nature halfway between one species and another?  In short, where are all the ape-men and half fish-half mammals, and so on?  Just where are all these sub-species to be found, and why has no one found them in the modern world?  Every so often,  as I wrote before, a find ‘confirming’ the evolutionary path from apes to humans is trumpeted as the missing link, usually something millions of years old, and for the next twenty, ten or even five years the scientific community pin all their hopes on it; until something else is found!  I think here lies the problem; people may simply be looking in the wrong place for the wrong reason.  Trying to disprove something by proving something else is as I have said not really scientific; but I may be wrong!  At any rate, why can’t people take a rigorous approach to the Bible, as they do for anything else?  The Bible is worth at least that, even if you are an Atheist.  No one is asking you to suspend disbelief, because we all have questions if we are honest, just to take the Bible as any other thing to be studied and evaluated seriously.  The final problem I have with a belief in the Theory of Evolution is that ultimately we're coming from nowhere and in the final analysis we're going nowhere.  This then, is a truly hopeless evaluation of human existence, whereas the gospel is one of hope overflowing.

In conclusion then, there are two clashing and contradictory stories telling the origins of mankind.  One is that there was a specific purpose and reason for Creation, a Creation that was by a loving Creator who has only ever meant the best for us, and the other is that human beings are really only descended from apes, and that we are at best accidents, accidents of life that was started with no purpose whatsoever.  I believe implicitly that there is purpose to our lives and that we were created for a purpose that goes far beyond anything we can really imagine.  Whatever we believe, whether we believe in creation or evolution, we can agree on one thing: the world of nature is a marvellous and wonderful thing.  I urge you, if you genuinely have questions, to find a Bible and then to spend some time reading it and then praying on what you have read.  In my view, God has all the answers to even the most searching questions.

Rohl, D.  1999.  Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation.  UK.  Century Random House Group.  looking at the story of Adam and Eve  a page looking at mankind’s origins  this is a link to the ‘Evidence of God’ series