Neanderthals are interesting because of their distinct features and fairly recent extinction. But if they lived with our ancestors, why doesn’t the Bible mention them?
Neanderthal History According to Science
The relatively new science of Paleogenomics is uncovering an interesting story about the relationship between modern man and our Neanderthal relatives.
The story starts with Neanderthal showing up in Europe about 400,000 years ago, long before modern man. About 350,000 years later, our great, great, great, great grandparents finally found the exit to Africa and were reunited with their long lost Neanderthal cousins. We know this because you and I (reportedly) have about 1-4% of Neanderthal DNA pumping through our veins, whereas subsaharan African tribes do not (guess they weren’t invited to the party).
Fast forward 12,000 years and Neanderthals are extinct. No one knows exactly why, but modern man was there to watch, and perhaps even lent a helping hand.
So… according to genetics and the fossil record, modern man met up with Neanderthals as we emerged from Africa, engaged in copious coitus, and then watched them all die off (well… they probably didn’t die because we had sex with them, but who knows?).
So the question is, why doesn’t the Bible mention this encounter and the subsequent extinction?
Neanderthal History According to the Bible
Answers in Genesis, as their name implies, finds the answers in Genesis:
“Neandertal fossils are all post-Flood, so these bones are believed to represent just one more group of people which split off from other groups following the Babel dispersion.”
So, according to Answers in Genesis, the Neanderthal are nothing more than another race, like Africans, or Chinese, or Democrats. Problem solved? Well… maybe, but before I mail off my check to the Creation Museum to help rebuild the ark, I’d like to take a closer look at some of those differences.
Homo Sapien, Neanderthal, what’s the difference?
Some of the differences are obvious by just comparing skeletal structure. Recent genome research tells us these differences add up to a .5% difference in DNA. These differences were significant enough to drive Neanderthals to extinction, while apparently leaving us unharmed.
Reportedly, all modern humans share about 99.9% of the same DNA; we have 99.5% in common with Neanderthal, and 95% in common with with chimpanzees. So while Neanderthals are closely related to humans, their differences are pretty significant.
These differences suggest that Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens must’ve spent a fair amount of time apart. (If they were always together, these millions of genetic differences would’ve never emerged.)
This isn’t much of a problem for science, which says Neanderthals changed during their 300,000 year European vacation, but it can be a problem for the conservative Biblical timeline of history.
How did Neanderthal evolve so quickly?
These Neanderthal would’ve had to accumulate a .5% difference in DNA very rapidly. If Neanderthal split off from Babel around 2242BC, and presumably wern’t around when the Bible was being written (about 1500BC), they would’ve only had about 700 years to evolve their unique traits, spread them across Europe and Asia, and go belly up. That’s some pretty rapid evolution, especially for a Creationist.
Compare that to the evolution of the Aborigines in Australia or the first Americans. These groups spent much more time in isolation, yet never amassed the .5% difference in DNA that the Neanderthals managed, and the Neanderthal did it without even leaving home!
What’s more, both Aborigines and early Americans reportedly have traces of Neanderthal DNA. So not only did the Neanderthals have to develop their unique DNA quickly, but they had to do it in time to share it with other races before they set out on their long journeys.
So, barring any undocumented miracles or high doses of radiation, I don’t see how Neanderthal would’ve managed to develop such unique DNA in time to share it with the rest of the world, at least within a conservative Biblical timeline.
There have been many other explanations offered, including the suggestion that these differences were caused by disease (such as rickets) or other environmental factors. But to date, there’s no known disease or environmental factor that can turn widespread populations of men, women and children into Neanderthals. Recent DNA evidence should put such rumors to rest.
The only other species of humans hinted at in the Bible are the infamous Nephilim (Gen. 6:4, Num 13:32-33), a race of giants “as tall as cedar trees” (Amos 2:9) who were the offspring of the ever-mysterious “sons of God.” The Bible says that, to the Nephilim, the early Jews looked as small as grasshoppers (and were just as tasty).
Some people try to link the Nephilim to the Neanderthals, but the Neanderthals were no giants, averaging just over 5′ tall. So unless the early Jews were elves, this doesn’t compute.
And for the record, we’ve found over 400 individual Neanderthal fossils (some even in Israel) and zero Nephilim giants.
More Proof for Evolution?
The fact that the Neanderthal were able to develop such unique DNA makes another strong argument for evolution. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that if they continued in isolation, these differences would’ve continued to accumulate. Eventually, they may have even accumulated a 5% difference in DNA, making these once-humans as genetically different from us as the chimpanzee! So if a modern human can become 5% different, why can’t chimps and humans have evolved a 5% difference from a common ancestor?
The Problem with Old DNA
Modern science has only recently decoded the entire Neanderthal genome from bones “between 38,000 and 70,000 years” old. Scientists also think it might be possible to sequence genes from Homo erectus, dating back to about 100,000 years old. But like a Twinkie, DNA seems to go bad after about 100,000 years.
But this raises yet another question, if all other hominids (Homo habilis, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo ergaster, etc.) were also nothing more than different races from Babel, why can’t we reconstruct their DNA? If they’re no older than Neanderthal, this shouldn’t be a problem. (Ditto for dinosaurs and other extinct creatures).
To me, it seems far more likely that we can’t recover this DNA because it’s older, and not because God has purposefully erased it from select races.
If the Bible is true, it would be nice if it mentioned:
- How Neanderthals fit into the genealogy of Adam,
- Which son of Adam hiked to Europe and degraded into short, stocky men with protruding brows and jaws,
- How Adam’s offspring finally rediscovered their long-lost Neanderthal cousins and began to interbreed.
- Why God chose to exterminate this line of men but not us.
And while this would be nice, I really can’t fault the Bible too much for not mentioning it, it’s just another suspicious omission. If I find fault anywhere, it’s with the Biblical timeline, and with the fact that we’re digging up Neanderthals and not Nephilim giants.
I think the honest-to-Darwin truth here is that the Bible was written after 1500BC when Neanderthals were long gone. The oldest elements in the Bible, such as the Nephilim and the Biblical timeline, were most likely made up, which is why they don’t match the fossils and history that we’re digging up today.