Science is pretty clear that Homo sapiens has been populating the planet for more than 200,000 years—a considerably longer time than the Christian story would have us believe. The Garden of Eden was purportedly created some six thousand years ago, and most archaeologists believe it was located near the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, at a spot now submerged in the Persian Gulf.
But in fact, forms of earlier human life have been documented as far back as two-and-a-half-million years. Our human predecessors—part of the animalia family, the vertebrata subphylum, the mammalia class, the primates order, the homininae subfamily, and the Homo genus—include, among others, such species as Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, and Homo neanderthalensis. All are now extinct.
As a child raised in a Christian home, I was taught, and came to believe, that man was created in God’s own image. (As an aside, I was also taught that woman was created from a rib of that man—which, if not an original sin, was at the very least an original prioritizing of importance. As a further aside, I later came to understand that the Christian stories depicting this creation were written by men, which explained that version of events.)
Somewhere along the way, I was also exposed to the tantalizing question: did God create us, or did we create God?
Humans alive today—let me group women and men together as humankind for purposes of this essay—are members of the Homo sapiens sapiens subspecies, which we are told has been in existence for perhaps 70,000 years. Were we, through some magical time-warp, able to confront some of our earliest sapiens predecessors, we would scarcely recognize them as human. I cannot imagine what they would think of us.
Nevertheless, biologically, genetically, we are virtually identical.
Pictures of earlier Homo peoples, reconstructed from archaeological findings, show they looked quite different than we do. They behaved differently, too, living in an environment quite distinct from ours. It seems obvious that, over the millennia, humankind has evolved to accommodate the changing conditions. But beneath the skin, beyond the discrepancies in physical appearance, we are related as a part of the same family in the same fashion that any of us are related to our grandparents. The earliest humans so far identified through fossil evidence—perhaps Homo ardipithecus or Homo australopithecus—were part of humankind.
When I was first taught that humankind was created in God’s image, I made the completely valid assumption that God, therefore, looked like us. His many depictions in the magnificent paintings of the masters only proved it—a stern, majestic, bearded being, (male, of course), clothed in white raiment, surrounded by angelic hosts, allowing the tip of one finger to be touched by a mere mortal reaching in supplication.
But I have long since wondered, can that be so? If humankind was, indeed, created in his image, perhaps he actually looks like our earliest ancestors, hairy and ape-like—unless, he, too, has evolved across the centuries (which I concede is a real possibility). This would not contradict the creation story, merely situate it in a much earlier timeframe.
Such speculation, however, leads me to an even more intriguing question. It seems indisputable that Homo sapiens sapiens is continuing to evolve. Our marvellous brains have led us to the cusp of some wonderful, perhaps terrifying, advances in medical science—advances which have allowed us to live our full span of years, and more, relatively free of the scourges of premature death, when compared to those who came before us.
Cloning sheep, so astonishing a feat a mere handful of years ago, was just the beginning. Purposeful studies today in such fields as stem-cell research, human genome-mapping, in vitro fertilization, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, to name a few, are moving us beyond the boundaries of what we have always understood to be true of our mortal selves.
Will humankind, in the not-so-distant future, be able to create human life? And maybe code it to follow a certain, predetermined path of development? Will our brains, perhaps conjoined with, or replaced by, digital, adaptive intelligence be able to take us to another evolutionary stage? From Homo sapiens sapiens to, let us say, Homo sapiens omnipotentus?
Will humankind in that case become, not cast in God’s image, but God? Is that the evolutionary future of the being that created us in the first place? To become us?
It has been written that we are one with God. Perhaps, some day in the future, we shall be so.