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"Pre-fall" human cannibalism: What should Christians think?

Updated: Nov 6, 2022

(For the video version of this blog, see the YouTube video below).

I personally think that the biggest problem with all old-earth positions is suffering before the fall of Adam and Eve. Predators tearing flesh away from live prey is, according to almost old earthers, considered “normal” and falls within God’s pre-Fall creative design. When God saw all that He had made on Day 6 of Creation Week and said, “behold, it [creation] was very good” (Genesis 1:31 ESV), then animal predation and suffering is to be included within this declaration. Old-earth website Reasons to Believe (RTB) unpacks what they think “very good” actually means: “It is this selectivity [the killing of the injured, aged, and infant animals] that helps to enhance the health, robustness, and population of prey species.” They also state, “This abundant and delicate balance of diverse species has killed many animals and thus enriched Earth’s crust with quadrillions of tons of valuable biodeposits—limestone, marble, coal, oil, natural gas, gypsum, etc.”



Notice that RTB’s interpretation of “very good” finds justification in a sort of ecological pragmatism that doesn’t take into account the suffering and pain of individual animals. Most vertebrates experience fear, and all of them feel pain. It is true, animal populations in general do benefit from predation and the survival of the fittest, but is all of the suffering associated with this providential design really “good”? For many old-age advocates, the answer is “yes” and any uncomfortable notions associated with animal suffering are quickly dismissed. After all, cats kill mice all the time. Cats and mice, lions and zebras, what’s the difference?


But what are we to make of the same predatory behavior in early humans? In Yolanda et al. (1999), the authors describe a group of humans that, according to the secular timescale, lived about 800,000 years ago. According to all old-earth advocates, these humans lived before the creation of Adam and Eve and thus existed in the pre-Fall world.



According to the researchers, a group of at least six humans, including two 3 to 4 year-old infants, two adolescents aged about 11 and 14, and two teenagers aged about 16 and 18 (page 608), were butchered and cannibalized in a cave by other humans. Yolinda et al. graphically capture the deeply disturbing nature of these butchered individuals in their post-mortem description of some of the facial bones:


“The face of this young individual shows intensive cut marking on its surface to detach meat from bone and cut all muscles associated to gesture movements. Slicing and sawing marks are frequent …, together with several failed impacts … to separate the face from the zygomatic processes” Yolanda 1999. P. 605




We know that the ones doing the butchering were human because the positions of the cut and saw marks, as well as V-shaped chopping marks, were specific to muscle and ligament attachments (Page 599). In other words, the butchers knew what tool to use, and where on the bones to apply the tool to cut through complex muscles and ligaments at their attachment locations. Non-reasoning animals cannot do this.


So how should Christians interpret these findings? Most old earth advocates will respond by stating that that all non-Homo sapien hominins were not human. Consider this quote from Reasons to Believe:


“These creatures had intelligence and emotional capacity (like most mammals), which enabled them to establish a culture. However, unlike modern humans, these creatures lacked the image of God. Accordingly, they were cognitively inferior to modern humans. In this sense, the RTB [Reasons to Believe] human origins model regards the hominins in the same vein as the great apes: intelligent, fascinating creatures in their own right that share some biological and behavioural attributes with modern humans (reflecting common design). Yet, no one would confuse a great ape and a modern human because of key biological distinctions and, more importantly, because of profound cognitive and behavioural differences."


It is quite clear, however, given their use of specific tools and complex butchering behaviour, that these hominins cannot be equated with apes. Even the authors of the paper consistently call these individuals “human.”



But let’s play devil’s advocate here and assume, just for a moment, that these hominins were in fact not human. Given their very close resemblance to modern humans, and given their highly intelligent ability to wield tools, shouldn’t we still be horrified at their actions?

I am, at this point, going to digress and ask you to imagine the events as they transpired in that cave all those years ago. These six individuals lived in space and time as you and I do today. Two toddlers, an 11, and a 14-year-old and two teenagers, most likely belonging to a nearby tribe, are hunted and killed. Since sharp, metal blades were not used in these communities, these six children more than likely suffered a painful and traumatic death by blunt-forced trauma at the hands of marauding men wielding stone tools. I am not exaggerating by stating that death would more than likely have been slow and painful. These six bodies were then moved into a dark cave where they were dismembered and where a skilled group of butchers proceeded to remove every muscle and tendon from every bone. They then proceeded to scrape the bones down their long axes to remove the tough outer membrane or periosteum that protected the bones. This was done so that blunt-forced instruments, as well as specialized stone-tools designed for chopping could gain access to the inner nutrients of the bones. Since hundreds of animals were killed and butchered in that cave, the air would have reeked with the stench of death and decay. Dry blood, bones, and mutilated corpses of both humans and animals littered the cave’s floor. Since these hominins didn’t use fire, the flesh harvested from the dead bodies was not cooked and so it was eaten raw.


And here is the point I want to bring home…


All old-age advocates want us to believe that all of these events occurred in a pre-fall world that God deemed “very good.” In Genesis 1:31, the Bible says, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Equating these hominins with Apes is a complete misrepresentation of the facts and is employed as a device that mitigates the obvious implications for all old-earth positions. The fact is that even if these hominins were not humans, their highly advanced intellectual and emotional behaviors certainly bring them to the brink of humanity. These individuals would have felt pain, fear, and terror, much like modern humans. Are we to really to believe that God looked over all that He had made, and said to Himself, “behold, this is very good” even as blood-soaked cannibals were butchering and eating another tribe’s children where grieving parents wondered at the fate of their sons and daughters?


Yes, I’ve used some liberty in my story-telling, for example, we don’t know if these children were hunted down or if they died from natural causes, but given their age, death at the hands of marauding hunters is the most likely explanation. Either way, there really is no way of mitigating the horrors of dismembered corpses and cannibalistic behaviour. Of course, if we take the Bible at face value, all of this makes sense from a young-age perspective where Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” Romans 8:18-23 ESV.


You see, in a young-age creationist interpretation of scripture, these hominins are post-Flood humans who dispersed at the Tower of Babel. Their resorting to cannibalism suggests their inability to find sustenance in a very broken and fallen world. The alternative is, as Richard Dawkins observed quite horrific:


“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives whimpering with fear, others are slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored” (quoted in Mortenson and Ury, 2008, P. 394).


Now let’s add hominin murder and cannibalism to the equation. One can see that the old earth alternative seems quite repugnant. It’s often been said by many old-earthers that young-age creationism is a stumbling block when leading people to Christ. Yet, faced with the two options, I know which one I’d rather be promoting in my evangelistic endeavors.


Look, I fully agree that this issue is not central to the gospel, and as such, should not lead to a breakdown in fellowship, but in all honestly, I must admit that only a young-age creationist position satisfactorily makes sense of this kind of suffering. Adam sinned and as the Vice Regent of his domain, brought God’s curse on his now completely fallen and broken kingdom. Yet all is not lost. Paul says, “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” That includes us folks. Great promises for those who place their faith in Jesus Christ.



https://reasons.org/explore/publications/pub_channel/why-did-god-make-animals-to-be-so-violent


Yolanda Ferna´ndez-Jalvo, J. Carlos Dı´ez, Isabel Ca´ceres, Jordi Rosell, Human cannibalism in the Early Pleistocene of Europe (Gran Dolina, Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain), Journal of Human Evolution, Volume 37, Issues 3–4, 1999, Pages 591-622, ISSN 0047-2484, https://doi.org/10.1006/jhev.1999.0324.


https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/the-cells-design/answering-scientific-questions-on-neanderthal-human-interbreeding-part-1


Mortenson, T, and Ury, T. 2008. Coming to grips with Genesis: Biblical authority and the age of the earth. Master Books, Green Forest, AR.

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