One of the most persistent challenges in trying to reconcile Biblical truth with the findings of modern science is this: What do you do with the cavemen?
The mainstream scientistic consensus today is that there have been human-like creatures discovered in the ancient fossil record that predate humans like you and me. Names such as Cro-Magnon man, homo erectus, and the neanderthal fill our imaginations with images of semi-ape, semi-human creatures hobbling or running around with crude tools, making grunting noises, many of them living in… well… caves. My wife thinks I must be related at times to these creatures, particularly when I get out of bed in the morning, bumping into things when I am barely awake!!
But seriously, could it be that these brute creatures are related to us, we homo-sapiens, or is such a concept alien to the teaching of the Bible? Does the existence of these creatures insult or even undermine the Christian concept of the special status of humanity’s uniqueness?
News within recent years suggests that there is some evidence of actual interbreeding between modern humans and neanderthals thousands of years ago, as in this story from the British Natural History museum:
So what does the Bible have to say regarding creatures like the neanderthal?
Your Long Lost Cousin, the Neanderthal?
The question of the Bible and the “cavemen” is a hot, controversial topic among Christians. Some have offered some ideas as to where “cavemen” are to be found within the Bible. The first mention of anyone living in a cave is Lot and his daughters when they escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:30). Samson lived in a cave for awhile (Judges 15:8), and David hid in the cave of Adullam when his life was threatened (1 Samuel 22:1). But are these cave dwellers related to folks like the neanderthals?
The problem with these attempts to locate cavemen in the Bible, is that they do not mesh very well with the descriptions of what scientists call hominids, these not exactly human, but close, type of creatures that evolutionary scientists say are part of the evolutionary tree of human origins, like the neanderthal. Could there be evidence of hominids in particular in the Bible?
Two main camps within the Christian community offer different solutions. Some say that these hominids arrived after the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3. In other words, hominids were descended from the first humans, contrary to the findings of mainstream science, but for various reasons they differ from today’s humans. Here are some possibilities that have been suggested:
- These hominids are actually the Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-7), the offspring of the “sons of God” and “daughters of men.”
- Hominids actually arrived by the time God destroyed the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and dispersed humans and these hominids across the earth, eventually resulting in the dying out of the hominids.
The other camp argues that hominids actually came before the Fall of humanity, if not before the creation of the first humans. These hominids are not mentioned in the Bible, though some Christians who hold to what is called the “gap theory” suggest that there might have been some pre-Adamic race or races, thus including hominids, in a gap period between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
As you can tell, Christians are all over the map as to where these hominid creatures, or cavemen, fit in, if at all in the story of the Bible. Christians who hold to a Young Earth view of creation, are quite divided regarding whether or not hominids arrived before or after the first humans.
On the other hand, there are other Christians who accept the mainstream scientific idea, adhering to the concept of Evolutionary Creationism, and they have no difficulty with the existence of hominids, believing that God simply used the biological development of these hominids as part of His providential plan to introduce God’s crowning achievement, humans like you and me, into the created the order, being made in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). Different models of this view exist, but a common one was articulated by the late John R.W. Stott, one of the most influential evangelical Bible teachers of the 20th century.
My acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ may have existed for thousands of years previously. These hominids began to advance culturally. They made their cave drawings and buried their dead. It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. You may call them homo erectus. I think you may even call some of them homo sapiens, for these are arbitrary scientific names. But Adam was the first homo divinus, if I may coin a phrase, the first man to whom may be given the Biblical designation ‘made in the image of God’ (Understanding the Bible: Expanded Edition; 54-56, for a fuller quote)
Other Christians, mainly holding to an Old-Earth view of creation, do not think that that the Evolutionary Creationism position meshes that well with the story of the Bible. God instead supernaturally and miraculously created Adam and Eve from the “dust of the earth”, as opposed to coming from some pre-existent being like a hominid.
So what then is the relationship between hominids and humans, from an Old Earth perspective? Several years ago, I heard Hugh Ross, the president of Reasons to Believe, suggest that it is possible that God might have created “cavemen” creatures like the neanderthal before modern humans as a way of exposing different human-like prototypes to the other animals in order to prepare them for their eventual encounter with Adam and Eve and their descendants.
Some might be confused by all of these different, and often contradictory, ideas floating around. This is understandable, particularly since there is a lot we still do not know about human origins. Scientists are continually learning and discovering new things all of the time, and the truths of God’s Word are still being studied. Discussing these various solutions to the problem of the “cavemen” is not meant to confuse. Rather, it is meant to give us a dose of humility, warning us not to be overly dogmatic on issues such as these. The important lesson is this: nothing regarding the existence of the “cavemen” undermines the central teaching regarding the creation of humanity as revealed in God’s Word: you and I were created in His image in order to bring honor and glory to His name. God is under no obligation to tell us about the “cavemen” in the Bible. The only reason why the existence of neanderthals and other “cavemen” creatures could pose a threat to Biblical faith is … if we we let it.
For a somewhat technical critique of the connection between hominids and humans, consider this video from Reasons to Believe, by biochemist Fuz Rana:
For a different approach from an Evolutionary Creationism viewpoint, consider this video by Joy Walters, a student intern at BioLogos: