Making Sense of the Red Deer Cave Discovery
In March 2012, a team of researchers from Australia and China made international headlines when they reported on the remains of a previously unknown hominid species recovered from two cave sites in southern China.1 These hominids, dubbed the Red Deer Cave People, date back 11,000 to 15,000 years ago. These creatures (which we at RTB would not refer to as “people”) overlapped the timing of modern humans and may have encountered the humans who first migrated into Asia around 50,000 years ago.
Discoveries like this one frequently make the news. And they are often referred to as “transitional forms” linking a primate ancestor to modern humans. But are they? And how can Christians who believe in the special creation of Adam and Eve make sense of newly discovered hominids such as these and of the hominid fossil record, in general?
RTB’s biblical creation model identifies “hominids,” Neanderthals, Homo erectus, and others as animals created by God. These extraordinary creatures walked erect and possessed enough intelligence to assemble crude tools and even adopt some level of “culture.” The RTB model maintains that these hominids were not spiritual creatures. They were not made in God’s image. RTB’s model reserves this status exclusively for Adam and Eve and their descendents (modern humans).
Our model predicts many biological similarities will be found between the hominids and modern humans, but so too will significant differences. The greatest distinction between modern humans and the hominids can be seen in their cognitive capacity, behavioral patterns, technological development, and culture, especially artistic and religious expression.
The Red Deer Cave find fits readily into the RTB model. Detailed analysis of their remains indicates that these creatures were distinct from all the other hominids, including H. erectus and Neanderthals. They are distinct from modern humans, as well.
In other words, newly discovered hominids (in fact, the entire hominid fossil record) can be explained from a creationist perspective.
The details of the fossil record shed light on problems within the evolutionary paradigm. Paleoanthropologists, for example, readily acknowledge that the hominid fossil data cannot be used to build reliable evolutionary trees.2 If they’re right, the assertion that human evolution is a fact becomes scientifically untenable. To demonstrate with certainty that humans evolved by natural processes, requires rigorous evidence of clearly established evolutionary relationships with obvious transitions in the fossil record. Given that such determinations may never be possible, we see good reasons to remain skeptical of claims for human evolution.
- Darren Curnoe et al., “Human Remains from the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition of Southwest China Suggest a Complex Evolutionary History for East Asians,” PLoS ONE 7 (March 2012): e31918.
- Fazale Rana, “The Unreliability of Hominid Phylogenetic Analysis Challenges the Human Evolutionary Paradigm,” (July 1, 2000), https://www.reasons.org/articles/the-unreliability-of-hominid-phylogenetic-analysis-challenges-the-human-evolutionary-paradigm.