Before Adam



Before Adam

Five-year-old Ayla is the lone survivor of a Cro-Magnon tribe after an earthquake has wiped out the rest of her family. She wanders, utterly alone, for several days, near starvation. Somehow, she survives an attack from a cave lion, but hunger, exhaustion, and her wounds finally bring about her collapse in the open waste.

 But then she is discovered by a medicine woman in a tribe of Neanderthal people who call themselves “the clan.” Their cave has been destroyed by the same earthquake, leaving them in search of a new home. The instinct of the clan leader is to leave the child to die, being that she clearly represents an adversarial people. But their finding her at that moment in such a state is considered to be a sign by the medicine woman, and she persuades the leader to allow her to keep the child.

This is the opening scenario in the 1980 best-selling novel entitled The Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean Auel, and its five sequel volumes in the Earth’s Children series. Ayla’s imaginative story of travails and triumphs are considered to be authentic to the prehistoric epoch that modern-day paleontologists generally consider to be when Homo sapiens evolved over a great period of time from Neanderthals into the Cro-Magnons. In these six books, the author seeks to tell the everyday story of an individual who could have inspired the myth that caused the making of the Venus figurines that have been found throughout Eurasia.

The interest in human origins had stirred the imagination of writers of fiction before Jean Auel. In 1906­–1907, Jack London authored a serialized story in 18 segments for Everybody’s Magazine that he later published as a book entitled Before Adam. Writing in the earlier years after Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species, London explored the imagined everyday life in what is considered to be the Neanderthal–Cro-Magnon epoch. In Before Adam, however, he includes in the narrative comment in support of the theory of evolution that Auel has taken for granted in her Earth’s Children series.

He cites, for example, one evidence of prehistoric evolution is an almost universal dream of falling without ultimately dying from the fall. “You and I,” he avers, “are descended from those that did not strike bottom; that is why you and I, in our dreams, never strike bottom.”1 (If the ancestor had died from the fall, in other words, the memory of the fall would not have been passed down in inherited memory.)

To those who have “belief in personal reincarnation experiences,” he offers, “when they have visions of scenes they have never seen in the flesh, memories of acts and events dating back in time, the simplest explanation is that [their personality has] lived before.”2 And he summarizes, “An instinct is merely a habit that is stamped into the stuff of our heredity, that is all.”3

As London’s story leads the reader through the life of his Cave People in their rivalry with the more advanced Fire People and the more animalistic Tree People, he addresses other questions that may have challenged the theory of evolution.

One of these questions that had been posed to proponents of evolution—and of atheism—as an explanation of the genesis of humankind is at its base philosophical. It wonders about the idea of good and evil. How could good and evil have somehow taken root in human thinking if Homo sapiens is nothing more than the current stage in an ages-long development from some single-cell entity in the primal ooze?

Certainly, one can imagine that “evil” may have become reflexively perceived as any experience that poses some threat to an individual, whether short-term or fatal. But where and how could the idea of “good” have, well, evolved? And why?

One aspect of these questions pertains to altruism, a selflessness in the defense of others. If the history of humankind is nothing more than the ongoing result of survival of the fittest—of the law of tooth and claw—why would an individual make any attempt to protect another individual?

Interestingly, London himself touched on this topic in Before Adam. After an encounter when the narrator of the prehistoric story had been struck in the leg by an arrow during an attack from the Fire People, he and a companion from the Cave People were trying to escape. Flight, however, was impossible with the arrow still in his leg. His companion ran on but then, looking back, returned. And the two of them hid breathlessly in the fork of a tree till the Fire People had passed by.

Reflecting on this seemingly illogical, selfless behavior, the narrator asserts, “His conduct in remaining by me, in spite of his fear, I take as a foreshadowing of the altruism and comradeship that have helped make man the mightiest of the animals.”4

This imaginative description would offer an account of a signal moment in human prehistory when Richard Dawkins’s “selfish gene” developed, by chance, into an unselfish organism. And if this altruistic comrade were to have lived further to produce offspring, presumably he would have conveyed this kind of moral behavior to the next generation, who, in turn . . . .

The question of this moral behavior, in fact, has drawn popular atheist writers into its consideration. There is a growing acceptance that it must be answered. “Morality,” writes Sam Harris, “should be considered an undeveloped branch of science.”5 He further posits that “many people imagine that the theory of evolution entails selfishness as a biological imperative. This popular misconception has been very harmful to the reputation of science. In truth, human cooperation and its attendant moral emotions are fully compatible with biological evolution.”6 And he proceeds to outline what, for many, is considered a reasoned analysis of the evolutionary development of the concept of right and wrong—of good and bad—in humankind.

Behind the dialogue over the origins of morality, though, remains a basic difference as to what kind of verification is acceptable. For some, only empirical evidence can pertain to the discussion; for others—people of faith—experiential evidence is also admissible.

“The one unmistakable, incontestable manifestation of the Divinity,” thinks a character in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “is the law of right and wrong, which has come into the world by revelation.”7 And this revelation surpasses the merely sensory. It is both affective and intellective, and ultimately it confirms a foundational belief in the reality of transcendence.

“There is . . . an absolute in regard to morals,” writes Francis Schaeffer. “It is not that there is a moral law back of God that binds both God and man, but that God himself has a character and this character is reflected in the moral law of the universe.”8

Before Adam—and certainly before any creature since Adam’s time whose bones may have been found lying in a cave in Europe—there was God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1–3, NIV). Before Adam, there was good!



1. Jack London, Before Adam (originally published in 1917), Kindle edition, loc. 9,439.

2. Ibid., loc. 9,462.

3. Ibid., loc. 9,436.

4. Ibid., loc. 9,905.

5. Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (New York: Free Press, 2010), 4.

6. Ibid., 56.

7. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Constance Garnett, trans. Kindle edition, 630.

8. Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), Kindle edition, loc. 534.