From the phenomenological point of view, the uniqueness and the emergence of the human race become visible in many ways. This placed them in a condition of uniqueness compared to any other animals, which led to Aristotle's definition of the human being as a "rational animal" Lat. Although their meanings may be radically different from one another, the "tales of origins" told in the different religions worldwide speak of a connection between the world of humans and a divine dimension, from which they may well have originated.
In the Judaaeo-Christian Revelation, humankind's uniqueness and emergence prove to be a consequence of their being created in the image and likeness of God. The sense of their dignity is further developed in the New Testament, that teaches all human beings are predestined to conform to the image of Jesus Christ, the God-made-man, whose incarnation and redemption are the final revelation and accomplishment of the truth of man.
The study of the historical reconstruction of the appearance and development of human beings on Earth through paleoanthropology, biology, ethnology, and the various disciplines connected to them, has long fostered the debate between religion and science, especially from the 19th century on. Scholars began to understand that this reconstruction ought to be based on an evolutionary frame made of long development and slow transformations. In Western culture the debate focused on the confrontation between the biblical tale on the origins of humankind and scientific data, and on the attempt to find a common ground for them.
The present article aims at analyzing this issue according to a paleoanthropological and evolutionary framework, in order to point out the biological and cultural identity of the human species and tackle the philosophical and theological opinions on the issue. Complementary, interdependent itineraries will be covered by other entries in this Encyclopedia. As it happens for the confrontation between science and faith in other disciplines, such as cosmology, the paths followed by science to find an explanation for "the origins" should not be considered as a dialectic alternative to what human beings have learnt about "their origins" through sources and methods different from experimental science.
The research on the origins of humankind has been enriched with many considerations, especially in the field of paleontology. They provided new basis for the understanding of the evolutionary patterns preparing the appearance of human beings on Earth, which occurred rather late in the history of the living beings. The precursors of the Vertebrates are recognized to be life forms inhabiting our planet in the Cambrian period, about million years ago. The earliest forms of fish developed million years ago, while the earliest Amphibians and Reptiles appeared million years ago.
Starting million years ago, the Tertiary Era was characterized by the development of Reptiles, Mammals and Birds. The earliest forms of Primates date back to about 65 million years ago. It was only late in the Tertiary period about million years ago that one of the branches of the Primates evolved into humans.
Although it is impossible to answer all the questions raised on the origins of human beings, the paleontological records brought to light in the last years provide the basis for an evolutionary theory, which appears to be solidly established. Human fossils as well as molecular genetic and biochemical evidence demonstrate the existence of early life forms, which developed before and prepared the present living beings.
Even though evolution, as an event, is supported by many elements, a completely satisfactory explanation of the causes and mechanisms underlying it has not been found yet. Darwinism is often mistaken for a synonym of evolution or theory of evolution. Even the modern version or "modern synthesis" of Darwinism, holding that random and thus fortuitous genetic mutations and natural selection are the mechanisms ensuring evolution, is only one of the possible explanations for given moments in the evolutionary process.
Although it may sound well-based from a microevolutionary point of view, nonetheless it appears to be unsatisfactory as far as evolution as a whole is concerned, with particular reference to the privileged directions it took, for which further mechanisms are being searched. As regards the appearance of human beings, the theory of evolution is supported by a large number of documents giving evidence to a long path characterized by more and more complex life forms which unfortunately became extinct.
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Along this path, the remains of living beings that have been found displaying features that are more and more similar to humans. They could thus be associated to the ancestors of humankind. Paleontology aims at detecting the evolutionary line that led to the earliest human life forms and, through different phases, to the present human beings. Although this line, which should be further investigated, shows a sort of multilinear, network-like trend, it is likely to have developed from a single African stock monophyletism , notably after the appearance of the earliest human life form.
Moreover, paleontology investigates the mechanisms and modes underlying evolution, with particular attention to the changes in the environment. It was in the environment of the African savannah, east of the great "Rift Valley," that the "Australopithecines," the earliest hominids of the Pliocene, developed about million years ago, starting off the evolutionary line that led to human beings. They were bipeds, however defective their bipedism may have been. Their long upper limbs, observed especially in the earliest individuals, and the joints of limb segments, show they were familiar with the woody environment.
Their craniums were not larger than that of present-day African anthropomorphic monkeys. Their earliest forms are well-known thanks to various remains found in Afar, Ethiopia Australopithecus afarensis , 3,2 million years ago, known as Lucy , in Laetoli, Tanzania 3,6 million years , in Aramis, Ethiopia Australopithecus ramidus , 4,4 million years , in Allia Bai and Kanapoi, Kenya Australopithecus anamensis , 3,9 million years , in Bahr-el-gazahl, Chad Australopithecus bahrelgazalensis , 3,2 million years ago and even in South Africa 3,2 million years.
These have proven to be archaic forms of Australopithecines. Other remains suggest there were also Australopithecines with a weaker body, such as those found in southern Africa Taung, Sterkfontein Makapansgat spanning a period from 3 to 2 million years ago, and robust Australopithecines, as shown by the remains found both in southern Africa robust Australopithecines from Swartkrans and Kromdraai and in eastern Africa Australopithecus Boisei and Ethiopian Australopithecus , spanning a period from 2,6 and 1,8 million years ago.
The earliest Australopithecines, were bipeds too, but they could climb trees easily. The remains of robust individuals feature a strong masticatory system suggesting they must have eaten extremely tough food, while the gracile group must have followed a more flexible and opportunist diet. Among the remains dating back to the period in which the latest Australopithecines had lived 2,5 million years ago , a mention goes to chipped stones which, however, are unlikely to be the outcome of systematic, progressive flint working as in the case of Homo habilis.
This is the reason why the objects used or handled in those times were attached with a completely different meaning, as opposed to the objects related to human beings. It could be defined as a form of "pre-culture", even though Australopithecines have never been considered human beings. Yet, while it seems that the Australopithecus anamensis species was definitely biped and that, according to some authors, it could be connected to the evolutionary line of human beings, others prefer to connect it to the Australopithecus afarensis.
The debate is still on going to establish to what form of Australopithecines African, Anamensis or Afarensis the Homo habilis, i.
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As from 2,5 - 2 million years ago, a group of Hominids lived in eastern and southern Africa at the same time as Australopithecines. The individuals belonging to the new group, though, stood out from the others for their bigger brain and the traces they left of a rudimental civilization.
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A piece of jaw, which may have belonged to a Homo habilis living around 2,5 million years ago, has recently been unearthed in Malawi; if confirmed, this fact gives evidence of a quite ancient migration from eastern Africa to South Africa. The species was called Homo habilis due to the development of their cranial capacity and the presence of forms of manual skill.
In addition to the remains, hand-worked pebbles have been found chipped along the margin of one or both sides chopper and chopping tools. They are the earliest evidence of allegedly intentional stone carving which, according to numerous scholars, appears to express a level of intellect corresponding to that of human beings. Along with the presence of Homo habilis , also territorial organization has been found: researchers identified areas corresponding to huts built and used by men for different reasons: dwelling, flintstone carving or food distribution.
Of considerable interest is also the level of development achieved in the regions of brain associated with articulated language the Broca area for the relevant muscles and the Wernike area for language understanding.
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It is the endocranial cast, where the first brainprints were taken, which gave these results. In many authors' opinions, these elements show that the Homo habilis species was undoubtedly human. Homo Erectus. As early as 1,6 million years ago in Africa life forms having a higher cranial capacity but featuring, however, a certain roughness, start to become evident.
Despite the finds unearthed in eastern Africa Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania , we know that they soon spread both northwards and southwards moving farther to Eurasia, where they went on evolving for hundreds of thousands of years. Although it may lead to misunderstandings, the adjective erectus did not refer to any functional feature, as if they had acquired the upright posture. Instead, it revokes the ancient fossils of Pithecanthropus erectus discovered in Java in the late 19th century, including a typically human femur and a rather primitive skull.
The name of Homo ergaster has recently been proposed for the earliest African forms of Homo erectus. All the human fossils dating back to some , - , years ago, when their characteristics gave promise of developing into Homo sapiens , are classified as Homo erectus. Furthermore, their civilization proved to be more advanced: bifacial industries, pebble carving, and stone chipping, in addition to " Levallois " artifacts, dated to a later stage in their evolution. In ancient times, however, the Homo erectus species had already migrated to Asia and Europe.
The most famous Asian remains are the Pithecanthropus fossils unearthed in Java from on. The Pithecanthropus finds have deeply influenced human paleontology. The remains brought to light in Java are traced back to a period spanning from Lower to Upper Pleistocene and feature various morphologies.
Among them are some human remains showing a primitive aspect, peculiar to the African branch of Homo erectus enriched with endemic characteristics. On the dating of the earliest remains some 1,9 to 1,2 million years ago consensus has not yet been reached despite their clear connections to the African forms, whose origins are currently believed to be lost in antiquity.
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By carrying out a compared analysis on these finds and the remains of the so called Sinanthropus uncovered in Cho-Kou-Tien, Beijing, since , and in other Chinese regions Longtandong, Jinniushan, Yuanmou, Yiyuan, Yiunxian, ecc. As far as Europe is concerned, recent discoveries trace the appearance of Homo erectus earlier in time compared to past studies. Classified under the name of Homo heidelbergensis , they are characterized by the Mauer mandible, which dates back to about , years ago.
In Dmanisi, Georgia, a jaw was found and traced back to 1,2 million years ago.
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In Cipriano, Latium, Italy, a skull of Homo erectus was found and dated to , years ago. A number of human fossils unearthed in Atapuerca, Spain, attest to the presence of human beings in the Iberian peninsula during the same period. Although they descend from the African branch of Homo erectus , they differ from it in several characteristics, which is why this form was named Homo antecessor. They are likely to have been the ancestors of Homo heidelbergensis , as well as of "Neanderthal men", and of the modern form of Homo sapiens.
The culture of Homo erectus , however, attests to an unmistakable human level. Lithium industries, i. The Acheulean artifacts from the Lower Paleolithic period have been accurately shaped on both sides and on the edges with finishing touches. Apart from their mere functionality, it is worth focusing on the concept of symmetry these tools express.
Similarly, splinter fashioning gives evidence to the will to improve tools through the Levallois technique, where the initial flaking on the core was used to predetermine the final shape of the artifacts. Some , years ago, the presence of Homo erectus coincided with the domestic use of fire. Skulls have been found bearing signs of alleged funerary maybe anthropophagic rituals, e.
At this stage, the organization of dwelling areas, both outdoor and in caves, is accepted as incontrovertible. Regarding the economy, it relied on hunting and gathering as through out all the Paleolithic period.
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The transition from the Homo erectus to the Homo sapiens species occurred so gradually that a number of remains were classified as "modern" erectus or "archaic" sapiens. This transition is believed to have taken place between In those times, the earliest forms of sapiens i. The same is to be said for the Neanderthal men living in Europe and in the Middle East between , and 37, years ago who, however, left no descendants.
Human remains dating from 90, years agofound in Palestine, descending from the African forms of archaic Homo sapiens have been officially recognized as evidence of the origins of the Homo sapiens sapiens species, i. The Homo sapiens sapiens must have experienced an explosive development: from 35, years ago, it has settled in all the continents, including America and Australia. Sapiens culture is undoubtedly advanced, as shown by stone and bone industries, notably from Upper Paleolithic, in rock paintings, and funerary rituals.