Does Hugh Ross Believe in Soulless Ancient Humans?

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Hugh Ross, author of Navigating Genesis and founder of Reasons to Believe (RTB), believes the ancient world was peopled with pre-Adamic intelligent but soulless human-like bipedal beings who painted on cave walls and buried their dead. Not being made in the image of God, however, they were only placeholders in this world with no possible place in the next.

Noting that this amounts to a belief that soulless humans, though Dr. Ross would not call them human, lived before Adam and Eve, we have often called attention to the inconsistencies of Dr. Ross’s position with the Word of God. The last time Ken Ham posted about this on Facebook, Dr. Fazale Rana, coauthor of Ross’s 2005 book Who Was Adam?, responded, “Ken Ham, You completely misrepresent the RTB view on hominids.”‬‬

Have we misrepresented Dr. Ross’s beliefs? I think not. Let’s examine his claims in light of science and the Bible.

The Neanderthal Niche

The problem rests largely on whether Neanderthals—one of the best-represented unusual archaic people in the fossil record—were actually human. Reasons to Believe maintains that Neanderthals were not human but only animals—very special, truly bipedal animals able to make tools and paint and be sufficiently concerned about their dead to bury them, but animals nevertheless, not made in the image of God. Ross’s website explains it this way:

RTB’s biblical creation model identifies “hominids,” Neanderthals, Homo erectus and others, as animals created by God. These extra-ordinary creatures walked erect and possessed enough intelligence to assemble crude tools and even adopt some level of “culture.” The RTB model maintains that the hominids were not spiritual beings made in God’s image. RTB’s model reserves this status exclusively for Adam and Eve and their descendents [sic] (modern humans).

The model predicts many biological similarities will exist between the hominids and modern humans but also significant differences. The greatest distinctions between modern humans and the hominids can be seen in their cognitive capacity, behavior patterns, technological development, and culture, especially artistic and religious expression.1

Evolutionists have largely come to see Neanderthals as a sort of archaic human species whose evolutionary relationship to modern humans is debated, but who left their genetic footprint in our DNA through interbreeding. At a time when the Neanderthal image has been considerably upgraded and rehabilitated among evolutionists, how is it that Dr. Ross—who accepts the old-earth claims of evolutionists but rejects biological evolution—insists Neanderthals are but animals?

Irreconcilable Time

The problem is a matter of time. Dr. Ross believes—correctly—that Adam and Eve were real people, the parents of all humanity, and the agents through whom sin entered human history. However, he also buys into secular claims about the age of the Earth—fraught as they are with worldview-based, Bible-denying presumptions—and consequently the great antiquity of Neanderthals. Despite his insistence that billions of years can be stuffed into the Bible, Dr. Ross realizes that the timing of Adam and Eve’s entry onto the stage of history cannot be reconciled with the ancient dates assigned to Neanderthals.2 He therefore maintains that God created Adam and Eve after the human-like animals we call Neanderthals—whatever they were—and that Neanderthals had no biological relationship to true humans. The same would be true for any other archaic humans deemed to be of great age.

Even though Dr. Ross denies evolution, he accepts the evolutionary scientists’ interpretation of the fossil record insofar as the timing of the Neanderthals’ appearance 150,000 to 200,000 years ago, their extinction about 30,000 years ago, and their coexistence with humans in Europe for about 10,000 years.3 Also, despite the evolutionary assumptions and circular reasoning on which it is based, Ross applies the molecular clock dating of human origins to Adam and Eve, presuming that God made the first “real” humans around 100,000 ± 20,000 years ago.4

Thus, because Dr. Ross accepts the biblical truth that Adam and Eve were the parents of all modern humans and that they brought sin and death (though Dr. Ross believes only human death) into this world, he cannot permit the idea that Neanderthals—who are supposed to have been on the earthly scene thousands of years too soon—were actually humans. By default, then, in Ross’s estimation, Neanderthals and their fellow human-like travelers in the ancient world-before-Adam must have just been animals. In Navigating Genesis, Ross even suggests that God created these bipedal, thinking, feeling, intelligent, human-looking beings to put the fear of man into animals before Adam’s race was born. This of course ignores the clear biblical statement (Genesis 9:2) that God put a fear of man into animals in the wake of Noah’s Flood, nearly two thousand years later (tens of thousands in Ross’s reckoning). When we decide to pick and choose which parts of Scripture to believe and which parts to twist in order to compromise with secular, worldview-dependent, Bible-denying claims, such discrepancies are bound to happen!

Human or Hominid?

While Dr. Ross does not specify that “soulless humans” walked the world before Adam, he clearly holds that extraordinary “hominids” like Neanderthals did. Since the preponderance of the evidence—genetic, morphological, and anthropological—indicates Neanderthals were fully human in body and behavior, Dr. Ross’s insistence that they were not spiritual beings made in the image of God can best be summed up as a claim that Neanderthals were a species of soulless humans.

What is a hominid? Though the definition—as created and used by evolutionists—has changed over time, the word always has evolutionary implications. The term hominid embodies the evolutionary assumptions (1) that humans evolved from an ape-like ancestor through a series of pre-human and extinct human species and (2) that humans and modern great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans) share a common ancestor. Hominid (as currently used by most writers) refers to all these individuals —modern humans, modern great apes, and all the presumed ancestors of both, back to the common ape-like ancestor.5 Hominid is a word that lumps humans of all varieties in with animals deemed to be our closest cousins. It is notable, however, that though he denies biological evolution, Dr. Ross depends upon an evolutionary terminology to define the place of Neanderthals in history.

At any rate, Dr. Ross gets around his disbelief in biological evolution with his acceptance of secular notions of billions of years by claiming that God stepped into history now and again to create a new crop of beings until the next wave of extinction wiped them off of the earth. He does this with much of the fossil record, and Neanderthals get the same treatment.

“Image-of-God Behavior”

Admittedly, archaeologists will never dig up a video image of Neanderthals sitting around a cooking fire discussing the day’s hunt, planning crisis contingencies for the cooling climate, pondering what happens to people after they die, and speculating on the nature of God and man. However, archaeological evidence indicates that archaic people Ross and Rana exclude from the line of Adam did possess genuine culture and technology. There is evidence they made complex tools, cared for the permanently injured or diseased among them, and even appear to have planted flowers around the grave of their dead. They fashioned lumps of pigment into drawing tools that would have been suitable for applying make-up to their bodies6 and are thought to be the artists who artfully imprinted their painted handprints on cave walls in northern Spain. Recent discoveries indicate they even made and wore jewelry!7 (Read more about it in “Did Neanderthals Accessorize?”)

Furthermore, overturning the old claim that Neanderthals were too evolutionarily primitive to use language, genetic analysis of the Neanderthal genome has shown that the form of the FOXp2 gene strongly associated with language learning in modern humans matches the Neanderthal gene.8 Thus, scientific research affirms what a truly biblical creation model predicted all along. But buying into the secular dates assigned to these beings, Rana maintains that if these ancients had been real people made in the image of God, they would have made substantial progress and displayed more convincing “image-of-God behavior”:

While artifacts are found with hominids that precede human beings in the fossil record, our model maintains that they will differ fundamentally from those associated with the first true humans. The archeological remains that coincide with hominids should indicate the absence of image-of-God behavior.

Without question, hominids living as long ago as 2 million years employed tools and possessed a “culture” of sorts. Still, their crude technology and simple lifestyle remained static for hundreds of thousands of years at a time. When new modes of technology and culture appear in the archeological record, the advances generally represent relatively small steps upward, followed by long periods of stasis. Even as recently as 100,000 years ago, the hominids used remarkably unsophisticated technology.9

Rana and Ross’s conclusions—springing from the unquantifiable, opinion-based, supposed lack of Neanderthal cultural progress—are ultimately rooted in the evolutionary timing they insist on applying to the Neanderthals’ sojourn on earth. If Neanderthals really had preceded Adam and Eve by 100,000 years and failed to improve their lot before vanishing after perhaps 170,000 years, that would still not prove they were somehow mentally deficient sub-human animals, only that they didn’t produce the sorts of artifacts and written material that survive the assault of time. After all, there are people today who live an aboriginal lifestyle and many more who speak languages that have no written form. Their humanity is not questioned. Nevertheless, the unacceptable “failure” of Neanderthals to prove their humanity by leaving archaeological evidence of their “progress,” in Ross and Rana’s view, is tied to the Bible-rejecting dates they accept from evolutionary scientists.

Genetic Footprints

If Neanderthals were too unsophisticated for RTB to count them among those made in God’s image, how does Reasons to Believe explain the genetic footprint Neanderthals left in modern human DNA? After all, genomic comparison of Neanderthal DNA (recovered from fossils) to modern human DNA is strong evidence that Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans interbred! And that could only be true if Neanderthals actually were human.

Reasons to Believe’s Dr. Fazale Rana tries to explain away these genetic signatures:

Only a few years ago (2010) researchers surprised the scientific world with data indicating that humans and Neanderthals interbred. Presumably, these encounters left behind a 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal contribution to the human genome. Since that time, other studies have suggested that humans also interbred with the mysterious Denisovans. In fact, even in this short timespan, the scientific community has practically elevated human-hominid interbreeding to the level of orthodoxy.

I’ve discussed this issue numerous times via online articles and podcasts because RTB often receives questions about it. People wonder how the interbreeding scenario impacts the doctrine of creation, in particular the belief that humanity was specially created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27). As disturbing as this topic may be, I caution everyone against drawing premature conclusions.

A number of more recent studies report that genetic signatures some paleoanthropologists have interpreted as evidence for interbreeding may actually owe their existence to the original human population’s substructure—not to interbreeding. Perhaps the same effects have also led to unwarranted conclusions about other markers thought to indicate interbreeding. (emphasis added)10

What does Dr. Rana mean when he writes “that genetic signatures some paleoanthropologists have interpreted as evidence for interbreeding may actually owe their existence to the original human population’s substructure—not to interbreeding”? Is the genetic evidence for Neanderthal’s humanity as shaky as he suggests? Again, not at all.

The research Dr. Rana cites is an analysis in which evolutionary scientists point out that the genetic signatures taken by many as evidence that Neanderthals and early modern humans interbred is also consistent with the possibility that Neanderthals and early modern humans shared a common ancestor in the human evolutionary lineage.11 Dr. Rana claims this groundbreaking study gets around the problem of Neanderthals and early modern humans coexisting, cohabiting, and interbreeding. But the research actually points out that the only alternative to Neanderthal-Homo sapiens interbreeding is that they shared a human ancestor! And since Ross and Rana deny any biological relationship existed between Neanderthals and human beings, their ironic dependence on an analysis that expressly depends on such a biological relationship is a misapplication of the research that rather conveniently ignores its context.

The Problem with Compromising God’s Word

Have we, then, misrepresented Dr. Ross by saying his position suggests soulless humans lived before Adam and Eve? No. Neanderthals must, based on genetic evidence, have either been cousins, cohabitants, or ancestors of anatomically modern humans. And because he denies biological evolution, Dr. Ross should then see that these were human beings, fully human descendants of Adam and Eve.

Ross and Rana, however, cannot reconcile this fact with their beliefs in the millions-of-years dates assigned to the ancient people in the fossil records. They must hold that all such archaic people pre-dated Adam and therefore could not have been made in the image of God, did not have eternal souls, and thus were not human. Hence, they must postulate an extraordinary status for Neanderthals and other archaic people, denying the genetic evidence and deeming the archaeological evidence for their culture and technology to be insufficient evidence of “image-of-God behavior.”

This is the sort of tangle that develops from twisting God’s Word to make it conform to beliefs based entirely on a Bible-denying worldview.

What is the proper place for Neanderthals and other archaic humans? Once we reject the unbiblical dates imposed on their fossil record we can make sense of the people who left the footprints and their bones in the Ice Age. Neanderthals and other now extinct varieties of humans are easily understood as the natural consequence of the dispersion from the Tower of Babel. That groups of people dispersed from Babel after the global Flood—initially isolated and limited in size—developed distinctive anatomical variations is no surprise. You can read more about how such distinctions develop in small populations in “How Are Cavemen Different?

How much knowledge of the true God these groups retained, we do not know. However, as the not-too-distant descendants of Noah’s family, it is possible those unrecorded discussions around some campfires concerned the things of God and that as they gazed up at the stars they recognized the hand of their Creator. But it is also likely that they were pagan idolaters, since without scriptural truth, people tend to quickly drift into superstition and error. We simply cannot know for sure. But neither culture nor time nor geography nor lack of literacy nor any anatomical distinction alters the fact that the proper place for Neanderthals and all other extinct human beings was among the descendants from Adam and Eve, all made in the image of their Creator just as we are.

Further Reading

About Neanderthals and Other Ancient Humans:

About Hugh Ross’s Progressive Creationism and Old-Earth Creationism:

For More Information: Get Answers


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Footnotes

  1. “Hominids,” Reasons to Believe, accessed April 15, 2015, http://www.reasons.org/rtb-101/hominids.
  2. Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana do not, however, accept a biblically accurate date of about 6,000 years ago for the creation of Adam and Eve. Ignoring biblical chronology, they derive their date from evolution-based molecular clock dates for “mitochondrial Eve” and “Y chromosomal Adam.” Rana writes,

    As Hugh Ross and I discuss in Who Was Adam?, numerous studies indicate that humanity originated: (1) recently (around 100,000 years ago, plus or minus 20,000 years or so); (2) at a single location (East Africa)—close to where some Bible scholars think the Garden of Eden was located; and (3) from a small population of individuals. . . . These astounding results harmonize with a traditional reading of the biblical account of human origins, and suggest that Adam and Eve likely existed as real persons who gave rise to all of humanity. (http://www.reasons.org/articles/were-they-real-the-scientific-case-for-adam-and-eve)

  3. Fazale Rana, “Does New Date for Neanderthal Mean the End of Human-Neanderthal Interbreeding?,” Reasons to Believe, June 15, 2011, http://www.reasons.org/articles/does-new-date-for-neanderthal-extinction-mean-the-end-of-human-neanderthal-interbreeding.
  4. Fazale Rana, “Were They Real? The Scientific Case for Adam and Eve,” Reasons to Believe, October 1, 2010, http://www.reasons.org/articles/were-they-real-the-scientific-case-for-adam-and-eve.
  5. Both the terms hominid and hominin embody the same evolutionary assumptions. Hominid generally encompasses modern humans, modern great apes, and all presumed the ancestors of both, back to the common ape-like ancestor. Hominin generally refers only to the human side of the evolutionary lineage after it diverged from the common ancestor supposedly shared with apes. Hominins are thus modern and extinct humans and all their immediate ancestors, back to the common ape-like ancestor, excluding apes, whereas hominids includes the great apes.
  6. Dan Jones, “Neanderthals Wore Make-up and Liked to Chat,” NewScientist, March 27, 2008, http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13536-neanderthals-wore-makeup-and-liked-to-chat.html.
  7. Davorka Radovčić et al., “Evidence for Neandertal Jewelry: Modified White-Tailed Eagle Claws at Krapina,” PLOS ONE 10, no. 3 (2015): e0119802, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119802.
  8. S.E. Fisher and C. Scharff, “FOXP2 as a Molecular Window into Speech and Language,” Trends in Genetics 25, no. 4 (online 21 March 2009): 166–177, doi:10.1016/j.tig.2009.03.002.
  9. Fazale Rana, “Who Was Adam? An Old-Earth Creation Model for the Origin of Humanity,” Reasons to Believe, February 1, 2012, http://www.reasons.org/articles/who-was-adam-an-old-earth-creation-model-for-the-origin-of-humanity.
  10. Fazale Rana, “Did Humans and Neanderthals Interbreed?,” Reasons to Believe, July 2, 2013, http://www.reasons.org/articles/did-humans-and-neanderthals-interbreed-2.
  11. Rana cites the same research in several articles on the Reasons to Believe website. The study to which he refers is A. Eriksson et al., “Effect of Ancient Population Structure on the Degree of Polymorphism Shared Between Modern Human Populations and Ancient Hominins,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 35 (August 28, 2012): 13956–13960, doi:10.1073/pnas.1200567109.

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