On an Old Earth View, How Are Neanderthals Accounted For?

Greg explains how neanderthals are accounted for and the difference between neanderthal and human souls.

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Do you think Neanderthals were a sub-human species with no souls? A pre-adamic race as some old-earth Christians hold? If so, how do you defend this view biblically since Adam was the first man? 

I’m not arguing old-earth vs. young earth. I will address the question for those that are old-earth. What do we make of Neanderthals? 

To say that there can be a sub-human species with no soul is confused. It’s the presumption that only humans have souls, and that’s never been the view of the church, for good reason. 

The Bible teaches that animals have souls, and virtually all of the soulish activity we participate in like having sensations, thoughts, acts of will and beliefs, are all characteristic of souls, not purely physical things. These are all things that sentient creatures engage in. It’s not theologically problematic that all sentient creatures have souls. 

Human beings, though, have a different kind of soul than other sentient creatures. The distinction is that their soul is made in the image of God. That sets us humans apart from everything else. Any other hominid creature has an animal soul. It’s a simple soul by comparison to human beings, and these are things that don’t survive the death of the body. 

This is an important distinction. If there are sub-human species, and they’re sentient creatures, then they have souls. That’s not the place to draw the line or the distinction. The line to draw is whether they’re true humans or not. Those who are not theistic evolutionists who believe in an old earth believe that Adam and Eve were the first true human beings. Neanderthals, it appears on genetic analysis, are not and were not true human beings. Rather, they were a very human-like hominid race that God created like he did all the rest of the hominids that ended up going extinct. 

One question that arises is that Neanderthals did seem to have some advanced capabilities. They drew pictures; they buried their dead, etc. All that means is that we’re not entirely clear how they fit in the whole scale. I don’t think Neanderthals were a pre-adamic race, that is, true humans that preceded Adam. If they were true humans, then they antedated Adam. They were human beings from a certain genuine human race that descended from Adam but then died out. 

This might be true of cro magnon man and some of the others genuine true humans that were descended from Adam and then died out for whatever reasons as kind of a sub-group. Not arguing for one side or another (old earth/young earth), I think that old-earthers can make sense of the notion that there were Neanderthals that were human-like, possibly real humans, and still hold that Adam and Eve were the first bona fide true human beings, specially created by God. 

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Greg Koukl

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