When Did People First Start Knowing the One True God?

It's so easy to make fun of creationists and almost as easy to mock the so-called "theistic evolutionists" who have developed "sophisticated" ways of rationalizing Christianity and evolution. The accommodationists among us don't like to alienate the theistic evolutionists because their views are not in conflict with science—or so they say.

Let's take a look at the science behind theistic evolution. Here's an article from BioLogos that looks very interesting. It's written by Denis Alexander, Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge and it's billed as A Response to Coyne, MacDonald, Ruse, and Wilkinson, Pt 2. Jerry Coyne brought it to my attention1 [It feels so good when it stops].

Remember that Denis Alexander is at Cambridge University (UK) so he's presumably one of the top intellectuals in his field. He says,
First, it should, I hope, be clear by now that I don’t think there is any problem with using the language of “data” and “models” in this context, providing that we don’t start thinking that we’re using the terms as they’re generally used in everyday science. Since such terms are used, as we have seen, in a wide range of disciplines, there seems no particular reason not to use them here. If pressed, then I would say that their use in our present context is somewhat akin to the various models posited to provide evolutionary explanations for the origin of music.1 In other words, it is quite possible to generate plausible models for things which are consistent with various kinds of data and argument, including in this case a good deal of aesthetic insight, yet without any realistic hope of deciding between different models in the foreseeable future. If someone would prefer to label the Retelling Model and the Homo divinus Model, ‘informed speculations’, then I have no problem with that at all, except to say that in the end even speculation A may be more plausible than speculation B, so it comes to the same thing in the end. Carrying out thought experiments is the way that human knowledge expands.

Speaking of knowledge takes me to a second point, this one for the positivists. In many ways this particular discussion is one internal to the Christian community, a point that will become even more apparent below. Clearly models that discuss the possible ways in which humans first came to know God are not going to gain much traction in the minds of those who do not believe that God exists. So I wouldn’t blame atheists at all for thinking that even discussing such models is a bit of a waste of time. If I was trying to present arguments to atheists for belief in God, then this is certainly not where I would start! But my intention here is not to present arguments for belief in God, but instead to present some reflections for the world-wide community of around two billion Christians, who do as a matter of fact believe in God and, in their various ways, do believe that God can be known, and who, one presumes, do believe that theological knowledge counts as real knowledge.


Instead I start with a somewhat different set of questions when thinking about models such as the Retelling and Homo divinus models. Taking the corpus of Biblical literature as a whole, here we have a ‘grand narrative’ of creation, alienation from God due to human sin and disobedience, redemption through Christ, and a new heavens and a new earth. We have the possibility of fellowship with God through freely willed choice. Our nearest cousins, chimps and bonobos, to the best of our knowledge, do not. So the curious Christian is likely to ask at least some time during their lives, “Well, when did that possibility first begin? When did people first start knowing the one true God in such a way that they could pray, walk with God, and be responsible to God? When could they first be judged by God because they had sinned?” It is those kinds of questions that the Retelling and Homo divinus type of models are interested in addressing. Did all this happen rather slowly, as in the first model, or rather fast, as in the second? Notice that the questions raised are not to do with the origins of religion (however defined), which is another kind of discussion altogether, but with the origins of spiritual life, knowledge of God, the time when humans first became answerable to God for their actions. Notice also that the questions would still be there even if we had in our hands only the New Testament. It is not Genesis that poses the questions, though Genesis is clearly relevant, but rather the Christian theology of creation, sin and redemption. The themes of creation, sin and redemption keep replaying like a musical répétitif through the biblical symphony. The early chapters of Genesis is where the répétitif is first introduced, and so attracts our attention, but let us not forget the répétitif in the rest of the biblical texts.
Here's one of many possible charts showing our fossil ancestors.

So, what do you think, dear readers? When did our species first start knowing the "one true God"? Jerry Coyne is putting his money on Homo erectus but I'm thinking the correct answer is "not yet." It troubles me a bit that the majority of members of our species have never, ever, in their entire history believed in the Judeo-Christian God. That nasty little fact doesn't seem to trouble Denis Alexander. I guess that's because we rely on different ways of knowing. My way is scientific. David Alexander relies on "theological knowledge."

[Photo Credit: This is a photo of one of our ancestors from One Million Years B.C. I don't know if she knew about the one true God.

1. I don't usually read the articles posted on The BioLogos Forum.
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