This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.

Question

Hello Dr. Craig,

I'm intrigued by your proposal of locating Adam and Eve as the first couple of Homo Heidelbergensis (HH). However, I do think it would be beneficial if you'd explain a bit more why specifically this species is a good fit for the first human couple.

You stated before it is difficult to pin down what properties are necessary and sufficient for personhood and that we can ascertain which properties plausibly constitute these through introspection into our own capabilities. Thus, the ability to communicate via language seems to me an inherent property of humanity.

Would it thus be problematic for your proposal if HH did not have this ability? Also, what about arts? Has the study of paleoanthropology provided evidence for ancient artistry? Or do you think this is merely a cultural exercise, not a distinguishing factor for humanity? It seems to me that if HH did not have language or arts, this would somewhat diminish its humanity.

Also, I wonder if the discovery of interbreeding of Homo Sapiens (HS) with other hominins has been a contributing factor for your conclusion Adam and Eve were a member of HH, not HS. Is this so? If it was discovered HH interbreeder with other hominins, would this affect your conclusion in any way? Lastly, what specifically distinguishes HH from other hominins before it that leads you to the conclusion there was a fundamental discontinuity from its predecessors? It seems to me that there needs to be some leap in mental capacities between Adam and Eve and other species in order to be considered fully human, so I'm interested to hear from you what this should be according to you. Always interested to hear your response!

Kind regards,

Hidde

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William Lane Craig's Response

Dr. William Lane Craig

Thank you for your question, Hidde! It’s nice to know we’ve got folks following our ministry in the Netherlands, and I’m only too glad to talk about my current studies!

My case for tentatively identifying Adam as Homo heidelbergensis (Heidelberg Man) is based upon the accumulating evidence for the humanity of Neanderthals. If they were, like Homo sapiens, human, then Adam has to be no later than the last common ancestor of both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, which is usually thought to be Heidelberg Man, who had a brain capacity within the modern range and so is a suitable candidate for the first human.

You’re right that “it is difficult to pin down what properties are necessary and sufficient for personhood.” That’s why I state conditions which are merely sufficient for personhood, without taking a stand on their necessity. So, far example, both language and art are universally taken as sufficient conditions for personhood. They indicate the capacity for symbolic thinking characteristic of modern humans. That’s why the recent discovery of Neanderthal cave art in Spain has so electrified palaeoanthropologists. Language is obviously much more difficult to infer, but many palaeoanthropologists think that archaeological artifacts indicating planning and cooperative behavior on the part of Neanderthals suggest language ability.

Indeed, such behavior is well-attested among Homo heidelbergensis, as the amazing Schöningen spears show. Hartmut Thieme, the chief excavator at Schöningen, contends that the manufacture alone of the spears, which date back to 400-300,000 years ago, not to mention the cooperation involved in hunting wild herd animals, is sufficient for abstract, conceptual thinking.[1] Thieme believes that in order for such a venture to succeed, “extremely careful planning, coordination, and discussion among the hunters” must have taken place, right down to the many details.[2] “Found in association with stone tools and the butchered remains of more than ten horses, the spears strongly suggest that systematic hunting, involving foresight, planning and the use of appropriate technology, was part of the behavioral repertoire of pre-modern hominids.”[3] Thieme even believes that there must have already existed among the hunters at this early time “highly evolved, richly diverse, verbal communication.”[4] Amazing!

How would it affect my case if Heidelberg Man were shown not to possess the arts or language? It’s very difficult to prove a negative like this; that’s why archaeologists look for positive signs of human behavior. If, as I’ve suggested, arts and language are sufficient for humanity, it doesn’t follow that if Heidelberg Man lacked them, he wasn’t human. There is in the archaeological record a time lag between the appearance of anatomical modernity, including large brain size, and its cultural expression in art and language. So an ancient human might have had the capacity for such behaviors, even if the demands of his environment had not yet called forth such behaviors. Still, this is very conjectural, and I think the evidence is quite good that Heidelberg Man did evince behaviors, like big game hunting and manufacture of sophisticated weapons and tools, that required modem cognitive capacity.

Interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens certainly supports the humanity of both, though for me what is decisive is the archaeological evidence rather than the genetic evidence. If Heidelberg Man interbred with other hominins would that affect my conclusion? Only that I would want to consider whether those other hominins had the brain capacity sufficient for human consciousness. For example, palaeoanthropologists claim to have recently established on the basis of the remains of so-called Homo antecessor in Spain that it was a sister species of us and Neanderthals. With a large brain and a modern human face, they too could be descendants of Adam and Eve.

Prior to Heidelberg Man seems to be Homo erectus, who seems to have had a small brain and lacked any behavior indicative of modem cognitive capacity. There is definitely a leap in brain size and modern behaviors associated with Heidelberg Man. So until we get evidence that pushes us further into the past, I’m content to rest with the identification of the first humans as members of Homo heidelbergensis.


Notes

[1] Hartmut Thieme, “Der grosse Wurf von Schöningen: Das neue Bild zur Kultur des frühen Menschen,” in Die Schöninger Speere, p. 227.

[2] Hartmut Thieme, “Überlegungen zum Gesamtbefund des Wild-Pferd-Jagdlagers,” in Die Schöninger Speere, p. 178.

[3] Hartmut Thieme, “Lower Paleolithic Hunting Spears from Germany,” Nature 385 (27 February 1997), p. 807.

[4] Hartmut Thieme, “Der grosse Wurf von Schöningen,” p. 227.


This Q&A and other resources are available on William Lane Craig's website.