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Thursday, November 01, 2007

The origin of humans (and a little about the meanings of "evolution")

I have recently discovered a pretty good attempt to differentiate among the meanings of evolution, by Steve Martin, of "An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution," and I commend it to you. I also have a web page that tries to do this. We say some of the same things, but there are differences. I have recently updated this web page, which has been on-line, with occasional updates, for a few years.

The main reason that I have updated, is because I decided that I didn't say enough about the origin of human beings. (Steve Martin doesn't deal with this much, either) If human beings came from some other type of organism through an evolutionary process, there is no good reason to suppose that there was anything special about this, any more than, say, the apparent descent of zebras and horses from a common ancestor would have been by a unique process, so there's a good reason for leaving it out of a discussion of the types of evolution -- it's not a unique type, if it happened. But the response of many Christians to the suggestion that humans may have evolved from some pre-human animal requires some discussion, in my view.

Why is there so often a response to the possibility that humans have evolved? There seem to be several answers, the most obvious being that we are human, and may not want to know anything "bad" about our origins, just as we might not want to know that we had an axe murderer in our family tree. (I don't see that origin from some non-human type, if it really occurred as God's way of producing us, should be considered a bad thing.)

Another answer is that the Bible indicates that the origin of humans was special. Genesis 1 and 2 do not describe the origin of any other species in detail, but the origin of humans is detailed. The process is described in such a way that, if it was meant to be taken literally, it leaves no room for an evolutionary process in human origin. The origin of humans is not only described, but we are also the only beings described as being in God's image, whatever that means, and as having some sort of control and responsibility for other living things.

It is also true, of course, that the Bible tells us that Christ came as a human, miraculously becoming a God-man. This, too, indicates that humans are special.

So it is no wonder that many Christians have a very hard time believing that humans came from some non-human species.

I'm not sure how to take Genesis on the origin of humans. I don't know enough of the original language. There are those who do know it, and believe that the Bible is God's word, divinely inspired, but disagree with one another about how literally to take the first part of Genesis. It doesn't seem likely that I can determine this issue in this life.

The Bible doesn't seem to allow for any doubt that God was involved in the origin of humans, however and whenever it came about. We are here because of God's purposes.

It is, of course, possible that other organisms came to be as they are through evolutionary processes, but that humans were specially created, as described in Genesis.

However humans came about, it seems clear that they have changed ("evolved," if you please, in one meaning of the word) since the first humans. Taken literally, Genesis teaches that the various races of humans all sprang from Noah's family, and there are differences between races. (These differences are insignificant, compared to the similarities!) Even to a young-earth creationist, who might be supposed to doubt that humans have been subject to evolutionary processes more than others, these differences must have come about in the few thousand years since Noah's flood. I have never read a scientifically informed young-earth creationist who doubted that natural selection, Darwin's main mechanism, works, or that it has worked in humans, at least since the flood. A person who believes that the earth, and humans, are more than a few thousand years old, will also accept that humans have changed since Homo sapiens first appeared.

Some Christians believe that the first part of Genesis was not meant to be taken strictly literally, and some of these Christians are willing to believe that God used some sort of evolutionary process to bring about the existence of humans here on earth. Billy Graham, for one, is on record as saying that this may have been true. Note that he doesn't say that it is true, but that it might be. I'll give Graham the last word:
". . . whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God."

Thanks for reading!

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