What Does It Mean to Be Human?

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Abstract

Is being human just a matter of accumulating a quota of qualities that humans have, even if evolutionists could find a way that ape-like creatures could have done so?

This year has played host to several discoveries that prompt us to ponder what it means to be human. Is there really more than one kind of human being? Is everything evolutionary scientists call Homo human? Are there in our past any in-between species that were on their way to becoming human?

A Teachable Moment

Let’s pause a moment to grab a helpful analogy from Margary Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit—an appropriate choice for this after-Christmas feature to close out 2015. In that 1922 classic children’s book, the Velveteen Rabbit starts his transformational journey in the Boy’s Christmas stocking. Soon, ignored and overshadowed by expensive mechanical toys with superior features, the fuzzy bunny begins to view his more primitive sawdust-stuffed design as “insignificant and commonplace.”1

“What is REAL?” he finally asks the Skin Horse. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”2

During a toy’s fanciful life, Skin Horse explains, interaction with the stresses imposed by a child’s play alters its external appearance. “Most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby,” he says.3 Indeed, illustrating the universal nature of survival of the fittest, Skin Horse explains that toys that “break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept”4 don’t make it. Toys that can’t go the distance don’t survive to make their transformation. But external wear-and-tear are visible manifestations of a child’s love, and that child’s love gradually changes the very nature of the toy, eventually making it “Real.” Skin Horse prophetically informs Rabbit that “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”5

Once Upon a Time, a Long Time Ago

Of course, this charming and imaginative story has nothing to do with molecules-to-man evolution, or even ape-to-man evolution, but it can help us envision the evolutionary story. According to evolutionary dogma, once upon a time, a long time ago, interaction with the harsh world progressively transformed ape-like creatures into a series of progressively more human-like creatures and finally into full-fledged humans. These primitive hominins6 then evolved further over many thousands of years into modern humans like those that live in your neighborhood. Or so the widely accepted story goes.

The Smithsonian in 2015 sent its exhibit “Exploring Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human?” on the road to libraries across the country. The exhibit, according to the Smithsonian, was designed to “highlight key milestones in the journey of human evolution and explain how they developed over time, including walking upright, the earliest known technologies, brain enlargement, symbolic language development, the origin of agriculture and the creation of complex societies.” As Ken Ham pointed out in his illustrated blog post on this exhibit, “Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit Propaganda Campaign for Atheism,” it serves to indoctrinate young and old with the false religion of atheism, seducing even Bible-believers to compromise what God has clearly told us about the first Adam as the first human and also the rebellious “original sinner” from whom we all descended. This falsehood erodes the foundation for acceptance of Jesus Christ, our Savior, whom the Bible (1 Corinthians 15:45–47) refers to as the “Last Adam.” (Read more about the importance of belief in the historicity of Adam in “In Defense of the Historical Adam.”)

A Sum of Our Parts?

In 2015 we came to understand more about our uniquely human features as well as the common designs we share with many animals. Scientists taught chimps to walk on two legs and studied how they did it to better understand the anatomy that makes human bipedal locomotion out of reach for chimps. (Check it out in “Did Humans Walk Like Chimps Up the Evolutionary Tree?”) Scientists compared the unique features of the human hand to those of chimps and gorillas in “Are Human Hands More Primitive Than Chimps’?” Each sort of hand, it turns out, has features designed to equip its owner for a particular lifestyle. But naturally the evolutionary scientists conducting the study thought their analysis showed how humans evolved and failed to see the hand of our Creator in these marvelous designs.

Evolutionary scientists in 2015 analyzed the babbling of baby bonobos and decided their purposeful peeping was, like human baby talk, a primitive transitional form of language. (Read more about these bonobo whisperers in “Do Babbling Bonobos Decipher the Evolutionary Secrets of Baby Talk?”) Other scientists brought us detailed analyses of the rhythmic clicks and warbles that Tilda the orangutan uses to tell her caregivers she wants treats. From Tilda’s tricks they concluded that our ape-like ancestors only had to think of something to say, figure out how to assign symbolic meaning to their sounds, and teach their friends to take their meaning and—voilá—human speech evolved. (Get re-acquainted with Tilda’s antics in “Can Orangutans Talk Like Humans?”)

Without the context of biblical history to enable them to understand the true origin of human language, however, Tilda’s trick is on these evolutionists. The rudimentary ability of animals to communicate with each other and with human caregivers, while routinely personified by those of us who’ve been blessed to enjoy beloved animal companions, does not mean they are our evolutionary soul-mates or reveal the source of symbolic language. God our Creator gave Adam and Eve the ability to communicate with language. The Bible records that they spoke with each other and with God the day they were created. While we certainly need to study the characteristics of language, we need look no further than the history recorded in Genesis to know that God gave humans language and later, at the Tower of Babel, confused human language into many.

Evolutionists have also made amusing strides in their attempt to explain how the human brain evolved its size and complexity. In the past few years we’ve seen a lot of speculation that the human brain evolved thanks to better nutrition once humans climbed down from the trees and found interesting food for thought. Even the assistance of viruses has been invoked to try—unsuccessfully—to explain how the human brain evolved! (See “Endogenous Retroviruses: Key to Mammalian Brain Development?” to discover the holes in this argument.) The year 2015 even brought us a study claiming that, to become human, babies evolved the ability to be born quite helpless with dramatically fewer capabilities than chimps and their ape-like ancestors. This, we are told, was the key to human intellectual, social, and cultural evolution.

Yet while comparison of the different ways human and chimpanzee brains mature during infancy highlights their differences, it does not reveal how they come to exist. Humans did not evolve from animals. As we discussed in “Did the Human Brain Evolve the Ability to Evolve ?,” this study of how uniquely a human baby’s optimal brain development depends on his or her caregivers should remind us that these gifts from God are made in His image and are designed to require the loving care of parents.

The Smithsonian exhibit was sent around the country to teach and preach an evolutionary story of human origins. But like the Velveteen Rabbit, the exhibit is telling a fictional story. Just as stuffed bunnies in real life only become real in the imagination, so ape-like ancestors only became human in the evolutionary imagination. The Rabbit in the story wished to become real, but in the case of evolutionary science it is the evolutionists who imagine ape-like ancestors have over millions of years acquired physical features and mental abilities and moral natures until somewhere along the way they crossed some line and became Homo or even human.

Human beings are not just a sum of parts that finally crossed a line and became human.

But human beings are not just a sum of parts that finally crossed a line and became human. And evolutionists have never shown any way that an ape-like creature could acquire those human innovations and become something new and more complex. As the Velveteen Rabbit learned from the Skin Horse, having special mechanical innovations like “things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle” are insufficient to transform an individual into a new and completely different kind of creature. In fact, as “A Fresh Look at Human-Chimp DNA Similarity” and “Differences Between Chimp and Human DNA Recalculated” recently pointed out, the highly touted genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees are overrated and overlook the galactic differences between humans and our ape non-cousins, a genetic gap that mindless random evolutionary processes could never hope to bridge!

Assorted Homo

London’s Museum of Natural History is also celebrating human evolution with their exhibit showcasing varieties of humans that supposedly emerged through complex evolutionary processes. Their Human Evolution exhibit features “8 different kinds of humans, arguably 8 different human species” which, according to Professor Chris Stringer, represent evolution’s “experiments in how to be human.”7 The exhibit does indeed feature mostly genuine varieties of Homo in its effort to showcase how we know which fossils are human. In an interview at the exhibit, Professor Stringer explains that evidence from DNA and evidence of behavior like the use of complex tools and burial of the dead confirms they were “as evolved as us.” Pointing to a Neanderthal model, he says, “As you can see, this Neanderthal was fully human, a bit different in detail, but certainly a human being.”8

We would agree completely that there once were a number of now-extinct varieties of humans and they were indeed “fully human.” The 2015 news provided a great example of this in “Neanderthals, Like Other Humans, Heated Water, and Organized Their Homes.” But neither Neanderthals nor other varieties of humans represented in the fossil record were the products of evolution or the evolutionary stepping stones to more highly evolved humans. In the beginning God made two humans, Adam and then Eve, and all humans have descended from them. From God’s Word preserved in Genesis we know that they did not evolve from animals but were created fully human the same day as land animals just about 6,000 years ago. In fact, when Christians accept worldview-based compromises about the age of the Earth, as we discussed in “Does Hugh Ross Believe in Soulless Ancient Humans?,” they can become very confused about the truly human nature of extinct people like Neanderthals.

Cousin Ledi?

When we examine 2015’s news stories looking for previously undiscovered Homo varieties, we find the fragmentary Ledi jaw LD 350-1. This fossil from Ethiopia consists of a left lower jawbone and five teeth. That’s not a lot to go on. It can be tricky to figure out whether or not a fossil belonged to a human when only scant fragments are available. From the Ledi jaw there is no way to estimate the brain size of the fossil’s original owner or to reliably assess even the jut of its jaw. Nevertheless, there is enough of the jaw preserved to make a reasonable case for its original owner being a true human being. Read more about it in “Is the Ledi Jaw the Missing Link in Human Evolution?

Naledi Is No Cousin of Ours!

Yet not all that is called Homo is necessarily Homo. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether fragmented and incomplete fossils came from a true Homo or not. The year 2015 brought us a great example of that dilemma in the form of Lee Berger’s controversial South African discovery of Homo naledi. Berger named 1,550 fragments belonging to numerous individuals Homo naledi and created a lot of media buzz with his insistence that the fossils represent a newly discovered Homo species. Much of his claim rests on a rather contrived story explaining how the fossils—though no grave goods—came to rest in a chamber of the Rising Star cave system accessible only through a series of very narrow passages through the agency of some very creative burial practices. Check out the whole story in “Is Homo naledi a New Species of Human Ancestor?

Controversy raged not just among Bible-believing creation scientists, but among evolutionary scientists who begged to differ with Berger’s claim that he’d happened upon an undiscovered species of Homo. The well-publicized contention about these bones showcased the fact that when an evolutionist classifies a fossil as Homo, he does not mean the same thing a Bible-believing scientist does. As discussed in “What Does It Mean to Classify a Fossil as Homo?,” evolutionary scientists believe human evolution occurred as a continuum through various intermediate forms. The belief that such in-betweens exist and the need to find them influence how fossils are named. When an evolutionist—whether an atheist or a Christian who has tried to twist God’s Word to accommodate man’s fallible evolutionary ideas—classifies a fossil as Homo, he only means something far enough on the road to becoming human to make the cut. But Bible-believers, even if faced with fragmentary fossils, do not have the luxury of assigning them to a point on an evolutionary continuum because from God’s Word we know in-betweens never existed.

What Does It Really Mean to Be Human?

Humans did not evolve by acquiring a bunch of human parts, but were created by God who loved them and breathed life into them.

Clearly humans possess particular anatomical traits, substantial genetic distinctions, and unique behaviors and abilities that no animal exhibits. Evolutionists can observe these distinctions but cannot explain how they came to be. But in addition to these, humans also have a spiritual nature that no animal possesses. Humans did not evolve by acquiring a bunch of human parts, but were created by God who loved them and breathed life into them (Genesis 2:7). Humans alone were made in the image of the Creator God (Genesis 1:27), a little lower than the angels, prompting the psalmist to exclaim to the Lord, “What is man, that You are mindful of him? And the son of man, that You visit him?” (Psalm 8:4–5).

Yet despite this love, soon after God created Adam and Eve, these first humans rebelled against Him, dying spiritually and making themselves and all their descendants spiritually dead sinners in need of a Savior (Romans 3:23, 5:12). But God our Creator loves us, and therefore God’s Son Jesus Christ was born into this world as a human being to die as a sacrifice for human sin (John 3:16–18). Those who repent and trust Him are spiritually restored to life (1 Corinthians 15:22) and granted the gracious gift of eternal life with Him (Romans 6:23). In this new year, may you know the love of God (Ephesians 3:14–19) through Jesus Christ and experience the abundant life (John 10:10–11) Jesus Christ purchased for you with His precious blood (1 Peter 1:18–21).

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Footnotes

  1. Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit: Or How Toys Become Real (New York: Bantam Dell Doubleday Publishing Group, 1922), 4.
  2. Ibid., 5.
  3. Ibid., 8.
  4. Ibid., 5.
  5. Ibid.
  6. The terms hominin and hominid are both words whose definitions embody 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 it is currently used by most writers) refers to all these individuals—modern humans, modern great apes, and all presumed the ancestors of both, back to the common ape-like ancestor.

    Hominin refers only to the human side of the evolutionary lineage after it branched off 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.

    Thus, in current usage, the word hominid generally includes all hominins plus all the great apes and their ancestors.

  7. Francesca Stevens, “What Makes Us Human? New Exhibition Aims to Unravel Mysteries of Evolution,” Evening Standard, December 19, 2015, http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/what-makes-us-human-new-exhibition-aims-to-unravel-mysteries-of-evolution-a3140936.html.
  8. Ibid.

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