Did Neanderthals Need the Gospel?
It’s a logical question if Neanderthals were human beings, as scientists now recognize.
Increasingly, evolutionary anthropologists are admitting that they had Neanderthals all wrong. Neanderthals were people, not brutes. They were our intellectual equals (in terms of brain capacity), and probably our physical superiors. Why have they been maligned for so long? And now that they are recognized as fully Homo sapiens, how should we repent of historical racism, and treat them with the respect they deserve?
Viewpoint: Why we still underestimate the Neanderthals (BBC News). With this Tontological question, the BBC tries to walk back over a century of misjudgment about our Neanderthal brethren. BBC reporters—all DODO loyalists—were probably as much to blame as other Darwinians. They all focused on slight anatomical differences in Neanderthals, as if those were proxies for intelligence. Fortunately, at least one secular paleoanthropologist is willing to lead his fellows out of the dark cave of evolutionary bias: Clive Finlayson. “In recent years, we have seen how differences in anatomy seem not to have mattered,” he says. Who were the real cavemen? In Plato’s cave, it was the Darwinians!
And so we have consistently mistaken survival and extinction with biological superiority or inferiority. That is why we have incessantly sought differences to explain our observations. We are here and they are not and so we must seek differences to explain the data.
Of course, part of the problem is that we are participants trying to explain a story in which we are actors and that will inevitably lead to bias in our favour. Having given the Neanderthals a name, we immediately conditioned ourselves to seeing them as something else.
They were not us. They were hardly human and we were certainly superior to them [Finlayson says with sarcasm]. After all, we are here to tell the story. It is one of history’s ultimate distortions, perhaps the greatest of them all.
So sheepish is Finlayson about his field’s racist bias, he ends by saying he would be ashamed to meet a Neanderthal today. “If our history is anything to go by, what would we do if we found a remotely isolated group of Neanderthals somewhere on Earth today?,” he asks. “I leave it to the reader to answer that question.” We all know what would happen. “Modern” racists (should we call them ‘modern-human supremacists’?) would undoubtedly commit genocide against these strong, skilled, intelligent people, just because they look a little different.
Our Equals or Superiors
Prehistoric cave art suggests ancient use of complex astronomy (Science Daily). This article says that Neanderthals and other peoples of their time could use astronomy to keep dates up to 250 years.
Study suggests multiple instances of inter-breeding between Neanderthal and early humans (Phys.org). This is one more study showing that Neanderthals and so-called “modern” humans could get married and have children. That means they were clearly of the same species as us. Look at the skulls at the top of the article; are they really that different? Big brains, eyes, all the human traits are there, just slightly different in some ratios. The similarities are greater than the differences. Even today, we know that people can differ widely in anatomy. Put Andre the Giant next to a petite Asian girl. The differences don’t matter to their humanity.
Neanderthals: javelin athletes helped us show how effective they were at hunting with weapons (The Conversation). In this study, modern javelin throwers tried their hand at hitting targets with replicas of Neanderthal spears. You can watch their attempt in a short video clip. The design of the spears makes them more aerodynamically stable, but harder to throw than modern javelins. “Rather than being a limitation of the spears,” Annemieke Milks says, “this may mean that Neanderthals, with their robust physiques, would throw such spears with great power.” Neanderthals could have swept all the Olympic medals if competing with “modern” javelin athletes. It also takes skill, planning, and excellent hand-eye coordination to kill large prey from a distance with a spear. Modern hunters with rifles couldn’t do that. All they have to do is aim and let the gunpowder do the hard work.
In short, evolutionary anthropologists have erred by giving Neanderthals a different species name, and implying they were more primitive or ‘less evolved’ than we are. “The footnote is that we have to change the chip, the paradigm if you prefer,” advises Finlayson (using “we” again, when not everybody has been guilty of historical racism). That’s a pretty big footnote. It means overthrowing a bias that has gone on for well over a century, and tossing out all the baggage that went with it. The old teachings need to be shamed and shunned. It’s way past time for Neanderthal Civil Rights. It’s time to respect our kin.
Getting back to our headline, did Neanderthals need the gospel? For Christians, the question answers itself. If these were people, they were sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. As in Adam all die, in Christ shall all be made alive, said Paul in I Corinthians 15:22. As intelligent men and women, boys and girls, Neanderthals needed salvation as much as any of us. This people group needed Christ just like all humans do today, including those who look “different” from western biased perceptions of how people ‘should’ look. Missionaries since the resurrection of Christ have taken the gospel to all tribes, tongues, and peoples. Remember that in the Bible, there was a long period (centuries) before and after the Flood when there was no written Word of God that we know of. People since Adam’s fall had natural revelation from creation and conscience. They had oral tradition (which can be accurate for generations). And they had prophets like Enoch, Noah and Abraham long before Moses took tablets of stone written with the “finger of God” down from Mt Sinai. Paul told the pagan people of Lystra (Acts 14) that God did not leave Himself without witness. He told the Athenians that God made us so that all men would seek after Him, even though He is not far from any one of us (Acts 17:27).
Notice how it was evolutionists who committed the historical racism. This needs to be a lesson to pastors today. Many evangelical pastors are so fearful of the scientific consensus on evolution, they avoid the subject, thinking the gospel will be maligned if they don’t accept everything scientists tell us. But the scientists were wrong! —wrong for 150 years! Watch this short episode from ‘Is Genesis History?‘ where Del Tackett asks Dr Kelly about how 19th-century theologians caved in to the scientific consensus. Many still do today. Trust in the consensus is the only motivation for so-called ‘theistic evolution’ and various compromise positions. To the law and to the testimony! Isaiah warned. If the Lord be God, follow Him! Elijah challenged. We know what the Word of God says about creation and the history of mankind. We see repeatedly the extreme errors of Darwinian evolution, which often go on for decades or centuries. We don’t need those blind leaders of the blind. People need the Word of the Lord. Pray for boldness to preach the Word to a culture, like Lystra, wandering blindly in idolatrous myths.
This is a good opportunity to share this anecdote again: Joachim Neander, the original ‘Neanderthal Man’ whose property gave the name ‘Neanderthal Man’ to the bones found there, was a preacher of the gospel. He also wrote the famous hymn extolling the truth about the origin of the world and man, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.” Sing that! —not “It’s a long way from amphioxus.”