By Dr. Jim Ferguson

What defines a human being? This is not a rhetorical question. A new hominid was recently discovered in Ethiopia and was said to have lived “alongside” Lucy, the famous hominid ancestor of humans; that is if you ascribe to the theory of evolution rather than the Biblical account of human origins. Webster defines hominids as, “any of a family of erect bipedal primate mammals including recent humans together with extinct ancestral and related forms.”

Dayton, Tennessee, is famous for the Scopes monkey trial which pitted evolutionary theory against a Biblical account of human origins. Life is complicated, and we rarely have a full explanation of things, especially human origins, shrouded in the mists of time. Of course, it is human nature to choose one perspective and discount another. But, why can’t both have elements of truth?

Through Biblical and historical records, the 16th century Anglican Archbishop and scholar, James Usher, calculated the Creation as occurring on Sunday, October 23rd, 4004 BC. I wasn’t there, but, given the geologic record and modern dating technologies, this is certainly a stretch.

Science holds that the universe came into being about 13.5 billion years ago, and our sun and the earth coalesced from interstellar dust 4.5 billion years ago. The first blue-green living microorganisms (cyanobacteria) developed on earth about 2.5 billion years ago. Later, more complex lifeforms arose including dinosaurs 200 million years ago, and the first hominids 4-5 million years ago. However, no one can tell us why the universe came into being from an apparent “void” which is the absence of anything. You may be surprised to learn that the best scientific explanation for the origin of life is that it began on the backs of coalescing crystals in primordial puddles, or that life fell to earth from outer space! These explanations obviously don’t answer how puddles happened or life began on space rocks.

Charles Darwin is credited with evolutionary theory where natural selection promotes changes in species over time. It is a valuable theory, but it is not an infallible law such as the law of gravity. And even laws aren’t immutable, because Einstein proved that Newton’s law of gravity was wrong in certain situations.

The Great Rift Valley is in eastern sub-Saharan Africa. This cleft in the earth’s crust occurs between African and Arabian tectonic plates. The Rift extends northward as the Red Sea, ending at the Dead Sea of the Levant.

Over the last 100 years archeological explorations in the Olduvai Gorge of the Rift and in Ethiopia have shed much light on human origins. No, we did not descend from apes. Modern apes and modern man had a remote common ancestor; our two species diverged 4 million years ago. The human species, Homo, began about one million years ago and subsequently had many dead ends like Neanderthals who disappeared 30,000 years ago. Modern man arose about 200 thousand years ago. We call ourselves Homo sapiens or wise men. Sometimes, I question this assertion.

You may find all this arcane, and I admit I’m more interested in my original question than anthropology. However, I am a science guy (certainly more so than Bill Nye) and I view evolutionary theory as a useful tool. But, I also identify with the Bible’s explanation that humans were created in the image of God and imbued with reason. So, when and how did this happen? Genesis gives one explanation. Darwin and science gives another. It’s OK to say we don’t know. In fact, it has been said the enemy of truth is certainty.

I love the lofty prose of Genesis 2:7: “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground (atoms?) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” We quickly conclude that Adam, the prototypical human, was at that moment given life. The great renaissance painting by Michelangelo famously depicts this Creation of Adam. However, if you study the Sistine Chapel painting, Adam is not lifeless, and, in fact, reaches a languid hand to touch the life giving hand of God. I wonder if Adam was just less than fully alive without God’s “breath of life.” Perhaps Adam became a “living being” when he was imbued with a soul.

In antiquity, life was associated with breathing, and death resulted when respirations ceased. Later, a beating heart was the criteria of life. Now, we think that life and humanness resides within our brain and nervous system. However, I have a hypothesis. I believe there is more to a “living being” than a functional nervous system, a beating heart or the tides of respiration.

I imagine at some distant time, perhaps on the Serengeti Plains of Africa, a remote ancestor of ours first gazed up at the stars and uttered the first prayer: “Ahh!” Perhaps that sense of wonder and majesty opened that being’s heart and mind to reach for and touch the hand and mind of God. As the figurative breath of life flowed into our ancestor, he was changed; he became ensouled and a fully created, living being.

There is no way to test my hypothesis because science deals in measurable data. Nor will my hypothesis ever be a theory or a law because the soul is not directly measurable like a heartbeat. However, I wonder if you can observe the absence of a soul or the renunciation of humanness. The Christian-Newsom murderers come to mind.

The Pew Research Center recently published an extensive survey of the changing patterns of religion in America. Atheists, agnostics and “functional” atheists (folks who believe God is irrelevant) now comprise 23% of the American population. Disturbingly, this demographic shift is especially notable in the millennial generation.

Our country is in serious trouble and in decline. Those who deny the obvious are Pollyanna-ish or delusional. Furthermore, because America has lost its way, the world is in serious trouble. I’ve never been an apocalyptic philosoph, but lately I’ve been meditating on Mark chapter 13. You should read and reflect on this wisdom writing.

I used to roll my eyes when my dad said that the world was going “to hell in a handbasket.” Maybe he was right. Maybe this is occurring because fewer of us reach for the stars and the Creator.