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What is a man, If his chief good and market of his time Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more. Sure He that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not That capability and godlike reason To fust in us unus'd. - Hamlet Act IV, scene iv
Human cloning. Stem cell research. The Human Genome Project. Genetic engineering. These scientific advances prompt many questions. Is man merely a physical being, the sum of his parts? Can those parts be dissected and used at society's discretion? Or is there more to human beings than their physical makeup? Does human life possess innate worth and significance that establish inviolable boundaries? These questions lead to the most crucial one of all - what is man?
A picture of Earth recorded by Voyager 1 from 3.7 billion miles away emphasizes the profound nature of these questions. In the middle of this grainy photograph, produced by the spacecraft's instruments on Valentine's Day 1990, Earth appears as just a small, pale-blue dot - one tiny planet in the midst of the universe's great expanse (see figure 1.1). For astronomer Carl Sagan, the stunning imagery magnified the reality that
every part of human history that had ever been known occurred on thissmall dot. As you look at it you can think of every poor person and every rich person that has ever lived. Every ancestor you ever had came from this tiny world. Every terrible crime and extraordinary invention, from the discovery of fire to the invention of spaceflight, has all occurred on this tiny little speck.
Humanity's home is located in the Milky Way Galaxy. This spiral galaxy measures about 120,000 light-years across and consists of about 200 billion stars. Yet the Milky Way Galaxy is only one small galaxy in a collection of 27 galaxies spanning 3 million light-years. Together they comprise but a small fraction of the universe, which contains roughly 200 billion galaxies. Each galaxy includes an average of about 100 billion stars, making a total of about 20 billion trillion stars. As an infinitesimal part of the universe, Earth's smallness seems incomprehensible. But there, in its midst, stands man.
Most people don't need current astronomy facts to be spurred to consider humanity's insignificance. A contemplative gaze into a clear night sky is enough. In light of the vast cosmic expanse, humans just don't seem to matter at all.
About 3,000 years ago a man named David wrote a song expressing his sense of human triviality as he looked up into the dark, jeweled expanse of about 6,500 visible stars.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
David saw evidence for God's existence. He believed the beauty and vastness of the heavens resulted from God's handiwork. In light of the universe's grandeur, David, a human being with a heart full of desires, struggled to think that God might take notice of any particular individual.
However, in the depths of his incredulity, David recalled the Genesis 1 creation account.
You made him [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
Based on ancient scrolls, David believed that God had created man and woman in His image and appointed them to take charge of Earth and all its other creatures. Even though humanity appeared to be a tiny part of the cosmos, God made people the pinnacle of His creation. David's view of humanity largely prevailed in the Judeo-Christian world until the early 1870s. Then publication of Charles Darwin's detailed work on human origins, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, stopped the music.
For evolutionists, the idea of man's inherent value and purpose no longer made sense. Darwin proposed that, like all species, humanity evolved through a process of descent with modification from an ancestor shared with apes. As Darwin put it, "In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some apelike creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term 'man' ought to be used."
Darwin saw evidence that human beings are nothing more than animals - certainly not the direct product of divine activity. He believed man differs only in degree and not in kind from apes.
Charles Darwin did the unthinkable: He interpreted humanity in a fully mechanistic and materialistic fashion. According to this view, all of human nature, not just humanity's physical makeup, emerged under the auspices of natural selection. Darwin regarded humanity's mental powers and intellectual capacity, as well as moral sense and religious beliefs, as evolution's invention.
Only An Accident
The late Stephen Jay Gould, in his work Wonderful Life (written nearly 120 years after Darwin's The Descent of Man), drove home naturalism's claim: Man's appearance, self-awareness, intellect, and moral sensibility are not the inevitable product of an evolutionary process that marched inexorably toward increasingly sophisticated organisms with advanced mental capacity. Rather, humanity is nothing more than "a thing so small in a vast universe, a wildly improbable evolutionary event," that it must be a quirk of fate. Gould based his conclusion of "historical contingency" on the nature of the evolutionary process. Because chance governs biological evolution at its most fundamental level, repeated evolutionary events must result in dramatically different outcomes. According to Gould, "No finale can be specified at the start, none would occur a second time in the same way, because any pathway proceeds through thousands of improbable stages. Alter any early event ever so slightly, and without apparent importance at the time, and evolution cascades into a radically different channel." With a metaphor of "replaying life's tape," Gould asserted that if a person were to push the Rewind button, erase life's history, and let the tape run again, the results would be completely different. The nature of the evolutionary process renders outcomes nonreproducible. Evolution has no tendencies. From this perspective, humanity might never have been.
Until recently, Gould's (and others') case for historical contingency was qualitative, based on the logical outworkings of evolution's observed mechanisms. New work by scientists from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) and Michigan State University provides quantitative support for historical contingency. These researchers modeled the evolutionary process with computer simulations monitoring the behavior of autonomously replicating computer programs. These studies showed that biological evolution must take place along a unique pathway each time, if and when it occurs. In other words, evolution cannot repeat.
Historical contingency drives away any hope one might derive from thinking evolution "had humanity in mind" as it began its work 4 billion years ago. Evolution has no "mind," no direction, no tendency toward progressive advance. The evolutionary process, rightly understood, might not have produced human beings at all.
Accordingly, primates emerged through a lucky happenstance. Lucky happenstance caused bipedal primates to appear. Lucky happenstance brought primates with large brains into being. And, once lucky happenstance gave modern humans their start, only lucky happenstance kept them from suffering the fate of Neanderthals and Homo erectus.
Historical contingency dramatically amplifies man's insignificance in the cosmos.
When Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, he lacked direct evidence for human evolution. He surmised that man must have evolved from an apelike animal based on anatomical comparisons among humans and other mammals, embryological similarities, and the existence of what he called "rudimentary," or vestigial, organs - biological structures found in humans that seemingly served little or no function but that appeared to be derived from fully functional ancestral forms. Darwin reasoned that natural selection and variation were at work in humans, just as in lower animals. He believed that after humans arose, several subspecies (races) evolved. Darwin also provided an explanation as to why distinctly human features evolved and how these characteristics provided man's progenitors with an evolutionary advantage.
At the time Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, paleontologists had just discovered Cro-Magnon Man fossils (1868), dated at 35,000 years of age, in the caves of France. However, these human remains did little to support the notion of human evolution.
Paleontologists had also discovered the first Neanderthal specimen (1856) in the Neander Valley of western Germany. These fossil remains, which dated anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 years in age, bore many similarities to modern humans, yet they also possessed distinct features. For example, the skull displayed prominent bony ridges above the eyes, unusually large teeth, a chin that receded, and a forehead that sloped backward. Debate centered on Neanderthal's "human" status. Was he a primitive prehuman or simply a deformed human?
Because of their similarity to human beings, Neanderthals provided little fossil evidence for humanity's shared ancestry with the great apes. Paleontologists had yet to discover fossils for intermediate forms that could demonstrate the gradual transition of apelike creatures into humans - fossils that could powerfully corroborate Darwin's idea.
However, the Neanderthal fossils convinced many people that humanity's age far exceeded 6,000 years, the age espoused by many self-described biblical literalists, who viewed the Genesis 1 creation days as 24-hour time periods. For many people, this finding greatly diminished the credibility of the biblical account of Adam and Eve.
Though human evolution gained little direct support from Neanderthals, it indirectly gained favor. The scientific community seemed to have demonstrated biblical error regarding human origins.
"A Beast, No More"
The first ape-human "intermediate" interpreted from the fossil record was discovered in 1890 on the Indonesian island of Java by Dutch paleontologist Marie Eugène François Thomas Dubois. This species, dubbed Pithecanthropus erectus (and later Homo erectus), walked upright but had a brain size about 60 percent that of modern humans. While some anthropologists regarded "Java Man" as one of humanity's ancestors, controversy surrounded this conclusion. Still, this evidence seemed to substantiate human evolution.
In 1924 anthropologist Raymond Dart uncovered a small skull in South Africa with a blend of ape and human features that represented (to the scientific community) humanity's most primitive predecessor. This fossil, nicknamed the Taung Child, was formally classified as Australopithecus africanus. Dart reasoned that the Taung Child must have walked erect based on the location of its foramen magnum (the opening in the skull's base that receives the spinal cord). As with Pithecanthropus, however, controversy swirled around the status of the Taung Child in relation to modern humans.
But then Louis Leakey uncovered stone tools in the early 1930s. This discovery drew him and his wife, Mary, back to Olduvai Gorge in Kenya again and again in an attempt to find and identify the toolmaker. The turning point for human evolution finally came in the late 1950s. After nearly three decades of labor, Mary Leakey discovered the Zinj fossil in East Africa. Almost immediately after this discovery (eventually classified as a robust Australopithecus), Louis Leakey unearthed the first Homo habilis specimen. Paleontologists considered this species the connection between the more primitive apelike australopithecines and Homo erectus. These scientists also regarded Homo habilis as the species responsible for the tools recovered in Olduvai Gorge and the first toolmaker in the human evolutionary pathway.
These two discoveries opened the floodgates. In the decades since, paleontologists have uncovered a treasure trove of hominid fossils that encompass a wide range of species and their accompanying archeological remains. The discoveries occurred throughout eastern, central, and southern Africa; Asia; the Middle East; and Europe - and the riches continue to pour in. Each new hominid unearthed appears (to the general public) to fill in the evolutionary tree and clarify the course of human evolution over the last 6 million years.
For many people, genetic comparisons between humans and the great apes further fill in the fossil evidence for human evolution. Such studies indicate a high degree of genetic similarity (98 percent) between humans and chimpanzees, for example. To evolutionary biologists, this resemblance means humans and chimps must have shared a common ancestor roughly 5 to 6 million years ago. Darwin's circumstantial case has apparently been substantiated by such compelling evidence that H. James Birx (a visiting professor at Harvard University) wrote in the introduction to a new edition of The Descent of Man, "The myth of Creation as espoused by religious creationists and biblical fundamentalists has been replaced by the fact of evolution.... Despite the wishes of some to the contrary, the fact of evolution will not disappear."
So, What's Left to Discuss?
These discoveries and their implications about humanity's origin and place in the universe continue to captivate the general public's interest. To satisfy this curiosity, reports about hominid finds and the latest ideas in human evolutionary theory permeate the popular media. Topics related to human origins are a programming staple for PBS and the Discovery Channel. The most recent fossil discoveries and their importance to human evolution are frequent topics in science periodicals such as Scientific American, National Geographic, and Discover.
In the last few years, Time magazine has published at least two cover stories about hominid fossil finds, and the recovery of a hominid fossil (dubbed the "Toumai Man") even made the front page of USA Today. Given the widespread media attention to these discoveries, it's no wonder that most people believe there is overwhelming evidence for human evolution.
The Ultimate Question
For Darwin, evidence of humanity's "lowly origin" came from the "indelible stamp" of evolution on "his bodily frame." But was he right? And what about David? Does his view, expressed in the Bible, have any merit at all?
Is humanity a quirk of nature - a mere accident with no significance whatsoever? Or is man the crown of creation, made in the Creator's image?
Given the magnitude of the question, one must give careful consideration to the data. Does the fossil record really support Darwin's view of the "indelible stamp"? Or does the record reveal the need for an alternative theory, one based on David's explanation - the biblical view of humanity's origin? Facts from the fossil record, as described in the next chapter, point toward some intriguing answers.
Excerpted from WHO was ADAM? by Fazale Rana Hugh Ross Copyright © 2005 by Reasons To Believe. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 22, 2005
There are many today who would reject a book of this nature as being ¿science ¿ however, the back of the book endorsement of Dr. Ross and Dr. Rana¿s last two book projects by Nobel Prize winning chemist Richard Smalley leaves no room for doubt as to the scientific meritorious nature of these two men¿s writings. Similarly, endorsements by Jack Hayford, Norm Geisler, Walt Keiser and other leading Christian writers assures the Christian reader that they are getting an book that they will find compatible with Christian teachings. Reading this book provided a unique look at the issue of humanities origin. Rana and Ross address the issue head on, dealing with the relevant scientific evidence on its own terms rather than trying to ¿explain it away.¿ The ultimate conclusion is that an honest analysis of the data demonstrates an amazing harmony between the historical record and the teachings of Scripture. One thing that did seem to be out of place was the chapter entitled ¿The Best Possible Time.¿ The material in this chapter, as excellent as it was, did not seem to fit in well with the rest of the book and would have perhaps been better as an appendix. Another feature of the book, which makes it very accessible to the reader with a limited science background, is that the chapters that by necessity include information that might be difficult for many lay readers to follow are ¿bottom lined¿ at the end of each section. Additionally, side boxes explain important concepts and data in an easy to follow manner that most average readers would find quite understandable. In conclusion, this book overall does an excellent job of providing a detailed analysis of the pertinent scientific information, showing how and why it harmonizes with a Biblically based model, and doing so in a manner that is easily accessible manner that most readers would find quite enjoyable.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2005
Adam and Eve were mythological figures-right? After all, hasn¿t science proven that evolution is a fact? Many people assume this premise -but wait¿here comes a book that challenges the evolutionary paradigm: ¿Who Was Adam?¿ This book compares two models that attempt to explain human origins: the evolutionary model and the RTB creation model. Both views are put to the test for scientific viability. The authors compare King David and Darwin¿s view of the significance of humanity examine hominid fossil record and current evolutionary models that explain humanities origin. They present the testable RTB model for humanity`s origin, analyze the most up-to-date research in the areas of genetics, archeology, paleontology and timing of humanity¿s appearance from an astronomical view. Long life spans noted in the book of Genesis are addressed and recent genetic evidence from human populations that map humanity¿s spread through the Middle East is examined. Geological and archeological research indicating the timing of human migration throughout the world is investigated as well. Whether human evolution is fact, origins of bipedalism and humanity¿s large brain size is discussed. Homo erectus, Neanderthals, genetic differences and similarities between chimps and humans that fit within the RTB model are gone over in detail. A response is given to what many consider the greatest challenge to biblical creation-junk DNA. Although this book was very knowledge intensive, I found it to be readable and interesting. A glossary of terms listed in the back of this book (as was in the last book this team produced, `Origins of Life¿) would have been helpful. Everything in consideration, I would highly recommend the purchase of this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2005
For those of us Christians who are interested in the question of human origins, this book is a real help. As the president and professor of New Testament and theology in a seminary for future ministers and teachers, I often am asked how we can reconcile the Bible¿s statements about the creation of Adam and Eve with the findings of modern science. And how does the universal flood fit in, along with the historic occupation of the various continents by human beings? Most people have the impression that the two accounts¿the Bible¿s and that provided by physical and historical anthropology¿are contradictory. They assume that the Bible is mythological at this point, intended to teach only spiritual truths. Who Was Adam? is a high quality work that presents a convincing case for what is called the RTB (Reasons to Believe) model. This model assumes that the Bible, interpreted consistently in all the relevant passages, is historically accurate, and that Adam and Eve were two humans created directly by God about 50,000-100,000 years ago. It also assumes the reliability of modern scientific investigations and conclusions, subject to correction by future discoveries. It concludes that the RTB model agrees with these two sources of information. In so doing, it favors the modern Out-of-Africa theory, that all humans descend from a small population in one location in the Middle East or eastern Africa. It further offers specific predictions for future research which can falsify or modify the model. This approach is unique in the modern theology-science debate and discussion. In several chapters Rana and Ross summarize the latest findings in paleoanthropology, including the rapidly developing field of genetic history. Rana¿s specialization in molecular biology is especially evident in these chapters. Special attention is given to the appearance of bipedalism and increased brain size, and a lengthy chapter demonstrates that Neanderthals were not human. This book is a convenient collection of information from all the important scientific disciplines as they relate to the origin of humans. It is amply footnoted, with more than enough references to current original scientific papers and books written by leaders in the field. I have few criticisms. A glossary would be helpful. While Rana and Ross explain the technical terms and abbreviations at their first usage, it is hard to find that definition when it reappears later. I also would like to see a more complete treatment of the arguments used by their opponents to suggest human characteristics in hominids, as the use of fire and simple tools, and how these may be based on communicating and learning from each other. There is a typo at footnote 20 of chapter 1. As a non-scientist, I found the book particularly helpful in making the complicated array of ancient hominids understandable, and in offering a sensible and realistic way to understand the Bible¿s perspective on the origin of human beings. I highly recommend this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2005
This is fascinating work on the parts of Drs. Rana and Ross. The origin of humanity debate has long needed this scientifically testable creation model. The book lays out the model, as well as the scriptural setting behind it. Citing hundreds of journal articles they show how the latest research supports their model. As dutiful scientists, they make specific and often bold predictions concerning the findings of future research into the hominid fossil record, ¿junk¿ DNA, and more. As a sophomore biochemistry student at Case Western Reserve University, I will be eagerly watching to see how their predictions pan out.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.