The common evolutionary story is that modern humans first arrived on the biological scene, roughly 200,000 years ago, in East Africa. However, a controversial new discovery challenges that narrative. Does this news have any impact on Christian faith?
Most of the fossil or footprint evidence for hominins; that is, creatures that are thought to be biological ancestors to modern humans, have been found in Chad, Ethiopia, and Kenya, dating back several million years. However, a new study published in August, 2017, offers evidence of human-like footprints that have been found on an island, off of the coast of Crete (Greece), that date back to 5.7 million years ago. The age and location of the discovery may cause scientists to rethink where modern humans actually came from.
New Scientist magazine suggests that this latest research implies that modern humans may have come from southeastern Europe, and not way down south, in East Africa. In my mind, it opens up the possibility that the first humans might have actually come from somewhere roughly in between, in the nearby Middle East, which fits in with some models of Old Earth Creationism, or Evolutionary Creationism, that postulate that the first human beings, Adam and Eve, lived in an area of the Middle East. Many Old Earth Creationists would nevertheless contend for a definite break in biological development between hominin creatures and modern humans, whereas Evolutionary Creationists would see biological continuity between hominins and humans.
The 5.7 million year old dating, of course, creates a problem for Young Earth Creationism, that insists that the earth is less than 6,000 to 10,000 years old. I have heard of possible explanations by Young Earth Creationists, that suggest that the dating is completely wrong, and that the footprints were made shortly after the global flood. The footprints would have come from either (a) human beings, and not hominins at all, or (b) ape-like creatures, that became extinct after making these prints. I am not sure how this all works, considering the facts that the evidence does not seem to indicate that these footprints were made by modern humans, and that we have no evidence of such ape-like creatures going extinct within the past 10,000 years. Would a pair of these ape-like creatures been aboard the Ark?
No matter what becomes of this discovery, it in no way undermines the biblical teaching about the sinful nature of humanity. After the story was released to the public, vandals found the site, spray painted part of the area, and stole several of the footprints, destroying some of the data. Thankfully, the site was not completely destroyed, and so it will hopefully remain a place that might yield some future discoveries.
For a closer look at what the Bible might have to say about the existence of hominins (or “hominids,” as some say it), you can dig into Veracity here.