The Origin of Modern Humans: Why the Fossil Evidence rules out a Fundamentalist Reading of Genesis (With new cartoon)

The Ken-Cat
By Christadelphian Ken Gilmore

Since January 2011, evangelical Christian and physical anthropologist James Kidder has been writing an excellent series of posts at BioLogos on the fossil evidence for human evolution. It's the sort of material that Christadelphians desperately need to read on the subject, particularly given that nearly fifty years ago, the then editor of The Christadelphian, LG Sargent acknowledged that:
 
there is abundant evidence of early “man” at a time which certainly appears to be far beyond the limits allowed by Bible chronology. This must be admitted even after discounting the slender and uncertain remains claimed for a still more remote antiquity, about which there have been such notorious blunders and even downright fraud. [1]


while the arranging brothers of the Watford ecclesia in the UK, in the wake of the excommunication of Ralph Lovelock had the intellectual honesty to recognise:
problems that undoubtedly exist should be frankly admitted by us as a community, for we do naught but dishonour to the word of God by pretending that these problems are not there. Our Brotherhood bears a responsibility to those in search of Scripture truth, and especially to those of tender years, to turn its attention to the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study, unhindered by the rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgments that have been all too prevalent among us in recent times. [2]
As I've pointed out before, our community has betrayed those of 'tender years' in not only failing to address these problems (we've largely retreated into the sort of mindless fundamentalism espoused by extremist YEC organisations such as AiG and CMI to our shame) but in demonising those who have the honesty to recognise that the evidence for human evolution is beyond dispute, and are seeking to fulfil the commission a previous generation has entrusted us.
Kidder's ongoing series is worth reading in its entirety, but the three parts he has dedicated (so far) to the fossil evidence for modern humans alone is enough to demolish any fundamentalist reading of Genesis, given that we have copious evidence of fossils essentially identical to modern humans predating the earliest possible date for Adam, and the genomic evidence flatly rules out universal human descent exclusively from two people living six thousand years ago. These fossils are our ancestors. They are our heritage. They also shout loudly the fact that we have no option other than to revise our flawed, human, uninspired interpretations of the Biblical narrative.

Kidder's first post in the modern human section examines the African evidence:

Omo 1


Located at the Omo Kibish site in Ethiopia. Dated to 195,000 years. Kidder notes "While the rear of the vault is clearly rounded, like that of modern humans and what is preserved of the brow ridges are reduced, very little of the face has been preserved. Nonetheless, the weight of the evidence suggests that it is more modern than not." [3]

Herto


These likewise come from Ethiopia (the Afar triangle in the north) and have been dated to around 164,000 years. Kidder states "[t]hese individuals are, on balance, modern human in morphology but with some archaic traits." [4]

Klasies River Mouth

These remains, dating between 80,000 to 100,000 years ago are found at the other end of the continent at the tip of South Africa. The remains consist of mandibular and cranial fragments, with enough features to conclude that "the overall morphology of the sample is deemed modern." [5]

SourceS. Afr. j. sci. vol.109 no.5-6 Pretoria 2013


Jebel Irhoud



These remains come from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco, and are dated to around 160,000 years ago. Kidder notes that "[w]hile the cranial characteristics of the adult...are notably archaic, the face is quite modern in appearance, showing few to no archaic traits at all. Also importantly, examination of the juvenile mandible revealed a growth pattern only associated with modern humans." [6]

Kidder's second post looks at the fossil evidence in south west Asia and Europe. The most famous fossil evidence from SW Asia is found in modern Israel:

Qafzeh and Skhul

Skhul V
Skhul IV
The habitation layers at Skhul caves on the slope of Mt Carmel, have been date between 100,000 and 110,000 years. Not far from Skhul is the Qafzeh site near the lower Galilee region. Kidder notes "[t]his skull has been dated by Thermoluminescence and Electron Spin Resonance to between 92 and 101 ky BP. Qafzeh 6 is regarded by most researchers as modern human although we noted some archaic characteristics for it. For one, the skull is long and very wide compared to the modern human sample...When included with the Skhul remains, it is clear that a population that was on the cusp of modernity was resident in this area." [7]

Qafzeh 6. Source

The earliest anatomically modern human fossils in Europe date to no earlier than 40,000 years. Kidder notes [8] three examples:

Mladeč, in the Czech republic (31,000 - 37,000 years)

Mladeč skull. Source
Cro Magnon in France, just under 30,000 years, and Vogelherd in Germany, around the same age as the Cro Magnon fossils.
Cro Magnon skull.
Kidder notes that the anatomically modern human fossil evidence in East Asia is more fragmentary than that in Europe or SW Asia. Evidence includes:

Liujiang






Located in south-west China, this cranium has been dated to between 111,000 and 139,000 years.

Zhiren Cave

The presence of a chin on this mandible, also from south-west China and dated between 100,000 and 106,000 years confirms that this is from an anatomically modern human.

Australasia

Lake Mungo remains. Source

The earliest anatomically modern human remains in Australia are from Lake Mungo in New South Wales, are around 60,000 years old.

Conclusion

The implications the fossil evidence for anatomically modern humans has for traditional readings of the creation narratives are profound, and simply cannot be ignored any longer. Kidder puts it perfectly:
One thing is clear from this survey, however: the earliest sites with modern human remains have been securely dated to greater than 150,000 years ago. While young earth creationists have attempted to denigrate and dismiss modern radiometric methods, such attempts have been without success. These methods are extremely robust and very well understood
As importantly, however, no early modern human remains have been discovered in the Fertile Crescent, the area where it is presumed that the activities recorded in the early chapters of Genesis took place. In fact, this region has yielded no concrete human remains prior to the Neolithic period, some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. 
These two points have profound implications for the traditional understanding of the Garden of Eden account. The appearance of modern humans at this early date exceeds any literal reconstruction of the biblical texts in Genesis involving the appearance of Adam and Eve. Further, the placement of these earliest moderns strongly suggests that they cannot be incorporated into any version of the events of Genesis 2-4 as traditionally understood. They seem to be completely extraneous to the story. If this is the case, how are we to interpret these chapters? 
Were Adam and Eve, as some have suggested, Neolithic farmers, being only two of many people alive at the time? Is the story of Adam and Eve symbolic, representative only of humans as a whole? While the palaeontological evidence alone is not sufficient to answer these questions conclusively, these data strongly suggest that while either of these options is viable, a straight, literal reading of the text is not. (Emphasis mine) [8]
Nearly fifty years ago, the Watford arranging brothers pointed out the need for our community "to turn its attention to the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study." This we have failed to do. If we continue to shrug off this challenge, wallow in fundamentalism, privilege human ignorance over the witness of creation, and excommunicate anyone with the honesty and willingness to take up the challenge, it is unlikely there will be a Christadelphian community in existence fifty years from  now.

References

1. Sargent LG "The Origin of Man", The Christadelphian (1965) 102:344
2. "Statement From The Watford Ecclesia", The Christadelphian (1966) 103:543

3. Kidder J "The Origin of Modern Humans: The Fossil Evidence, Part 1" BioLogos Blog June 16th 2014
4. ibid
5. ibid
6. ibid

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