Human Evolution and the Biblical ‘Kind’

I’ve previously covered the fact that modern Creationists have more or less accepted evolutionary theory, even if they vehemently deny what they call ‘macroevolution’ (the actual scientific term is much more strictly defined than their definition, which amounts to something along the lines of ‘evolution, but only if I think it sounds likely’). I’ve also pointed out that the practice of defining humans as apes was first begun by Carl Linnaeus long before common ancestry was a serious contender in science, and certainly before it became accepted fact.   

Based on the above, I’d like to make a prediction: eventually, certain groups of Creationists will accept that evolution has occurred, both on the micro and macro scale, with the sole exception of humanity. I don’t think this is too much of a stretch; the history of Creationism is the story of anti-science activists slowly ceding ground as they attempt to reach out to those who are not religious fundamentalists. However, it is abundantly obvious that many (if not most) non- Biblical literalist Creationists mainly object to evolution on the grounds that it ‘calls humans animals’. All other life may carry the taint of having evolved from more ‘humble’ beginnings, but humans, they argue, are special, which explains why so much of the Creationist literature is pre-occupied with lying about hominid fossils and misrepresenting how much we know about our lineage. From a scientific point of view there is no reason to put more emphasis on human evolution than that of any other form of life other than understandable curiosity with our own origins, and this certainly isn’t the area where most people would look for fatal weaknesses in the theory.

However, Creationists once again undermine themselves by accepting ‘microevolution’, particularly when it is defined as ‘change within Biblical “kinds”‘. Although nobody can seem to give a coherent description of what a ‘kind’ actually is, one oft-cited example is dogs; although there are hundreds of different breeds of dog, they are all still within the same ‘dog kind’. This is a huge mistake on the part of Creationists, because it means that they should also accept humans and our evolutionary cousins as being within the same ‘kind’ as well.

Before I continue, I’d like to point out that even within modern humans there is an incredible amount of variation. I am physiologically very different from a Chinese or north African person, who in turn are very different from Inuit or south Americans. Variation is even abundant on much smaller geographic scales, as evidenced by the fact that the tallest and shortest groups of people on Earth reside in Africa (or are directly descended from there). The situation can be likened to that of different breeds of dog, an analogy that most people seem curiously hesitant to make – and not on scientific grounds, either.The point I’m trying to make here is that there is no universal template for what humans should like look, which means the the argument from incredulity – ‘They’re too different from us’ – is no barrier to accepting our recent ancestors as being related to us.

The situation is worse still for those Creationists who take ‘kind’ to mean ‘family’, as humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutangs are all members of the family hominidae (or ‘great ape’). To deny this would be to not only deny evolution, but also the entire branch of science that seeks to classify life. Even a casual examination of our proposed recent ancestors and the current hominidae reveals the folly of accepting the family definiton of ‘kind’ while rejecting any relation between modern humans and, say, Homo habilis, with whom we most likely shared a common ancestor. 

By defining ‘kind’ as ‘family’, then, Creationists unwittingly make two seperate concessions to science and evolution:

1. They accept that humans, chimpanzees, orangutangs and gorillas are of the same ‘kind’. If not, they must either change the definition of ‘kind’ or attempt to show that humans  should not belong to the family hominidae. 

2. They also accept that some of our recent proposed ancestors would also fall within the same ‘kind’ as us, and therefore should have no problem with ‘ape’ to human evolution.

6 Responses to Human Evolution and the Biblical ‘Kind’

  1. Jeff says:

    Interesting stuff here. Thought I”d throw a few thoughts out. Just for the record I believe that humans evolved and that Genesis is consistent with this fact. My observations here are resulting from my contact with folks a bit more literal-minded than I am.
    #1) Most people that I know of who think there’s an important distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution say that the distinction is along the lines of a species. Any evolution that would cause divergence into the territory of a new species simply won’t happen, according to them.
    The reason for this: they realize that some instances of microevolution can be observed. For example if you the right kind of single celled critter in a test tube, kill about half of it with an antiobiotic, than wait a while, the resulting single-celled critter is now an evolved form of the original in that it’s evolved a resistance to the antibiotic.
    #2) I’m not sure that creationist thought will move in the direction you predict. I think the thing that stands in the way of all this is that once the creationists admit that other critters could have arisen through Darwinian evolution, they’ve pretty much given up the whole argument. At this point, they’ve admitted that the fossil record and the logic works for other organisms, so I think the natural question would become “Why wouldn’t God allow humans to arise that way? If the bible was only describing the creation of the other aninals and the plants metaphorically, why are we supposed to take it literally when the last couple chapter of Genesis roll around?”
    #3) I’m less sure about this, but my best guess is that the biblical term “kinds” would be roughly identical with the term “species”. Domesticated dogs, for example, are all one species.
    #4) I think that the reason that most creationists steer clear of talking about the “kinds” of humans is that they are aware that it’s quite a slippery slope from here into eugenics and racism.

  2. I actually already know a few people who have no problem with evolution, but take exception to human evolution. You may be on to something there.

    I liked your bit about equating “kinds” with “family”. Aside from the obvious fact that humans are grouped in the same family with other creatures that creationists claim we couldn’t be related to, fossil records show that there are many instances of variation across different taxa, whether we are talking of the genus-species “barrier”, family-order, etc.

  3. forknowledge says:

    Some quick replies, because I’m supposed to be catching a flight soon😉

    Jeff:

    1) Defining ‘kind’ as ‘species’ doesn’t actually solve the problem for them, though, since several extinct members of the genus ‘homo’are also considered earlier types of ‘human’. They could define ‘kind’ as literally including, say, Homo sapiens and not Homo kenyanthropus, but that would deny the amount of variation they’ve already allowed! The whole thing is a good way of demonstrating how unscientific Creationism is in the first place.

    2) They’ve pretty much given up the whole argument anyway, they just don’t realise it yet. (I predict some furious backpedalling in a few years.) And while their objections might be based on the Bible, that’s not something you can admit in a scientific setting and expect to be taken seriously, which is what they want at the moment.

    3) Domesticated dogs are probably not a good example, since much of their evolution was human-directed. If they do allow dogs as all being within the same ‘kind’, though, they’re admitting to a fairly huge amount of variation right there.

    4) It’s not unless you’re pre-disposed to thinking along racist lines in the first place (in my opinion). There are very obviously physiological differences between different races, but admitting that and speculating about it doesn’t suddenly make you racist.

    airtightnoodle:

    I’m planning on doing a post about how science (and evolution in particular) often offends human ‘dignity’, which will go more into how people have a lot of very silly notions about humans. If you liked this one, you’ll probably find that enjoyable too!

    I think people who take affront at the idea that we ‘came from monkeys’ don’t have to be Creationists, as you pointed out – it’s a pretty widespread idea. Worse are the people who will gladly accept that we’re mammals, but are horrified if you refer to us as animals – even as just belonging to the kingdom ‘Animalia’ in a taxonomical sense.

  4. Carl Drews says:

    There is this important Biblical idea that God exalts the humble and the lowly: King David, Mary, and Jesus Himself (born in a stable of suspicious parentage, laid in a feeding trough). Most people think that apes are hairy, ugly, and smell bad. If God chose to take a few apes and crown them with glory and honor, it would be perfectly consistent with Psalm 8:3-8.

    What’s the problem with accepting our biological descent? Human pride?

  5. Interesting food for thought, Carl.

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