Spectrum of Human Ancestors

“[I]f there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal… These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they;” (Abraham 3:18-19)

In a previous post titled “The Organization of Intelligences: The Why of Evolution”, I laid out my theory that Abraham 3 may contain a theological reason for God to use evolution in his creation of life. That reason has to do with something I’ve called “the Spectrum of Intelligences”. In this post, I want to give a more visual example of what I mean when I talk about this Spectrum of Intelligences.

The scripture quoted above from Abraham 3 is endlessly interesting to me. All the intelligences, which lived with God before the world existed, could be ordered or organized on a continuous spectrum from less intelligent to “more intelligent”. That’s basically what this passage is saying.

But why is it there? What is this doing in the Book of Abraham? What was Abraham trying to get across? Was this just part of an elaborate fabrication by Joseph Smith? If so, what was he trying to get across by it? Where in the world did this snippet come from?

You have to admit, these verses are quite curious, and almost completely unnecessary. It doesn’t have to be in there to make Abraham 3 work as a chapter of scripture. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we don’t discuss Abraham 3:18-19 much in seminary (at least not when I was in school). They don’t give discourses on it in General Conference. Nobody gets assigned to speak about it in sacrament meeting. I haven’t heard any theological discussions about it among LDS scholars. We’re apparently perfectly fine to just blow past it while reading the Book of Abraham without really stopping to ponder its existence.

Well, let’s think about it now then. Abraham 3:18-19 is obviously telling us that some spirits are more intelligent than others. But why? It can’t be doing that simply to reinforce the fact that you can be smarter than your neighbor while simultaneously being dumber than Albert Einstein. What would be the benefit of that (see 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Nephi 19:23)? In my opinion, there is so much more to this scripture than prophesying of the varying GPAs and SAT scores of the latter days! I think Abraham 3:18-19 has to do with ancestors, traits, and deep time. I think it has to do with evolution.

Family Photos

Imagine you could see a lineup consisting of your father, his father, his father, his father, and all of your direct ancestors up through your paternal line all the way back in time. For those of you using FamilySearch, follow the leftmost line all the way up on your family tree. It also works if you follow your maternal line–your mother, her mother, her mother, her mother, and so on, forever back in time. If you could really do this, you would be able to see every single one of your ancestors (along this line) that you ever had. (See this awesome It’s Okay to Be Smart video for an example of what I’m talking about.)

This lineup starts with you in the 21st century, and ends with a microbe named the Last (or Latest) Universal Common Ancestor—LUCA for short. 

Below is a small sampling of what some of our ancestors may have looked like, laid out on a scale from the earliest to the latest–meaning I’m starting at LUCA far in the past and heading toward the present, to you. Now, just so you know: the species highlighted in the images below are not necessarily confirmed ancestors of humankind. We can’t confirm with absolute certainty that we directly descended from any one of them, but if evolution is a real thing, then they are closely related to those that actually were our ancestors. Or in other words, if we could go back in time, our direct ancestors, if not these very species, would have looked very much like them during each period. 

And also, I’ve obviously skipped A LOT of generations in your family line. Even though every single ancestor you ever had played an irreplaceable role in making you, I had to settle and pick only a handful of them for this gallery. Just know there are MANY individuals and “species” missing from this list. This blog don’t got space for millions of pictures!

LUCA was a microbe-like ancestor of all living things. [1]
When: about 4 Ga
Dickinsonia was one of the earliest-known animals. [2]
When: 567 Ma
Pikaia was a likely ancestor of all vertebrates (things with a backbone). [3]
When: 530 Ma
Guiyu oneiros was one of the earliest-known bony fishes, or Sarcopterygii, the group which would give rise to all land vertebrates. [4]
When: 419 Ma
Tiktaalik was a possible ancestor of all tetrapods, the vertebrates that made it from the water to the land. [5]
When: 375 Ma
Archaeothyris was one of the earliest synapsids, a group of hard-egg-laying amniotes that would one day lead to mammaliaformes. [6]
When: 306 Ma

Hadrocodium was one of the earliest-known mammaliaformes, which would give rise to the mammals. [7]
When: 195 Ma
Cranial capacity: 0.045 cc

Plesiadapis tricuspidens was one of the oldest-known primate-like creatures–a possible ancestor to all primates. [8]
When: 55 Ma
Cranial capacity: 5.213 cc
EQ: 0.34

Proconsul was a possible ancestor to all apes. [9]
When: 23 Ma
Cranial capacity: 150 cc
EQ: 1.60
Australopithecus afarensis was a likely ancestor of all species in the genus Homo. [10]
When: 3.9 Ma
Cranial capacity: 461 cc
EQ: 2.2
Homo habilis was the earliest-known member of the genus Homo, and likely gave rise to all humans. [11]
When: 2.3 Ma
Cranial capacity: 640 cc
EQ: 4.3
Homo erectus is probably ancestral to all humans today. [12]
When: 2 Ma
Cranial capacity: 800 cc
EQ: 5
Homo sapiens is you! [13]
When: 0 Ma, or the present
Cranial capacity: 1350 cc
EQ: 7.8

If you could see such a lineup of all of your direct ancestors back through time, you would eventually notice that your family lineup is a spectrum—a spectrum of bodies. Back 100 years, even 100,000 years in your line, your ancestor is a Homo sapiens that looks a lot like you. But go back 2 million years and your ancestor is a Homo erectus, who looks slightly different than you, and who has a slightly smaller brain size than you do too. Go back 3.9 million years and your ancestor is an australopith that not only looks a little different, but also has a smaller brain size than your Homo erectus ancestors. And the further back you went on your line, the more different your ancestors would look and the smaller their brains would get. 

In fact, studying how human intelligence evolved is a major area of research among anthropologists and paleontologists. How did we get so dang smart if our distant ancestors were no more than little rodent-like furballs trying to avoid getting squished by hungry dinosaurs back in the day? If you follow the story of mammalian and human evolution, you’ll see how some truly mind-blowing (pun intended) environmental factors combined to develop our minds and bring us from the underground burrowers of the night to the day-loving builders of skyscrapers. To borrow some language from the Book of Abraham, “the earth” was carefully “prepared” by mass extinctions and evolutionary pressures “to bring forth” our extraordinary intelligence (see Abr 4:24-31, and “The Creation Account vs Science: Do They Agree?”).

And the climb was pretty amazing. In 195 million years, the brain size of our ancestors grew from 0.045 cubic centimeters to 1350 cubic centimeters, or—as Abraham 3 might put it—it “increased” by that much. That’s almost an incredible 3 million percent increase! Not only did brain volume increase, but so did the encephalization quotient (EQ), which is a measurement of the brain weight compared to overall body weight. Even though we don’t have the biggest brains out there (look at whales), modern humans have the highest EQ of all animals. In 55 million years, the EQ in our family line increased from 0.34 to 7.8–a twenty-twofold increase! (14)

And so, here’s what I’m getting at: If you could line up all of your direct ancestors in a single file, you would come to realize that not only is this lineup a spectrum of body shapes, it’s also a spectrum of cranial capacities and EQs. It’s a spectrum of intelligence.

“If two things exist,” the Lord told Abraham, “and there be one above the other, there shall be greater things above them… These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they” (Abraham 3:16-19). 

If the Book of Abraham were to tell some natural history–perhaps, produce a documentary about human evolution–it might say something like this: If you have a plesiadapis, then you have a proconsul “above” and “more intelligent” than him, and an australopithecine above him, and a Homo erectus “greater” and more intelligent than him, and so on until you find “another more intelligent than they”, which would be you. And above you and all of your ancestors, there’s one “more intelligent than they all”–and that, of course, is God.

When viewed in this light, this out-of-place excerpt about some spirits being more intelligent than other spirits can suddenly take on a whole new meaning–a whole new significance that can help explain why we even see this passage of scripture in the first place and why we find its message displayed in the nature around us and in the fossil record beneath us. When we look at Abraham 3 in this way, it can help explain why an all-knowing, loving, eternal, and intelligent God would use a process like evolution to create us.

How can it help explain evolution? If there is an infinite spectrum of spirits from less intelligent to more intelligent, and they all need physical bodies, then why not give them all bodies and let them assist in the creation process by having them become the ancestors of the bodies of those spirits who are “above” them (or “more intelligent” than them) on the scale? For example, a spirit with the intelligence of a plesiadapis is sent to earth in a plesiadapis body 55 million years ago, eventually becoming a common ancestor for all smarter proconsuls 32 million years later. And the proconsul-like intelligence is sent to earth in a proconsul body, becoming a precursor to all of the more-intelligent Homo erectus individuals that will appear several million years later, and so on. A process like this allows for all things to appear “naturally” (Moses 3:5), while at the same time allowing the Lord to be the Creator (see “Let Us Prepare the Earth: Natural Selection in the Scriptures”). And most importantly, another thing this does is it gives God a reason to use evolution in His creation, which is overwhelmingly what the evidence indicates.

“God himself,” said Joseph Smith, “finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself.” (15)

The Spectrum of Intelligences of Human Ancestors (not to scale)

Animal Spirits and “the Noble and Great”

During his ministry, Joseph Smith revealed that all animals have spirits (see D&C 77:2, my Four Beasts post). If animals today like chimpanzees have spirits, then why wouldn’t the ape-like animals that lived millions of years ago also have spirits? And if some of these prehistoric ape-like animals were our physical ancestors, then why wouldn’t they be part of this grand spectrum of spirits that Abraham saw existed “before the world was” (Abraham 3:22)? Why wouldn’t they be part of those “spirits and glory” among which a more-intelligent God found Himself, and for whom He instituted laws through which they could receive bodies and progress?

Abraham speaks of “spirits”, “souls”, and “intelligences” with varying degrees of intelligence. He also speaks of some “noble and great” intelligences who have been “chosen” to become “[God’s] rulers” (Abraham 3:23). Abraham learns that he is one of those “noble and great ones” who were chosen for great things. Could it be that our animal ancestors are lesser “intelligences” from down on the spectrum, and all humans in these last days were “chosen” to be “rulers” over the other animal intelligences on Earth, and potential “rulers in the Church of God” (see D&C 138:55)? Could it be that you and me, your parents, your bishop, your high school math teacher, your grandmother, the men and women you saw on TV last night, and all the other 7.7 billion people on the planet are all part of those “noble and great ones”, because we were “more intelligent” than most other spirits, and we have the ability to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and become rulers, not only in the Church, but one day in the Kingdom of Heaven? (16)

It’s some stuff to think about for sure. I don’t know all the answers, but I believe we should be asking these questions. Why does Abraham 3:18-19 even exist? What is its purpose? Are animals intelligences? If so, were they included in the organized intelligences Abraham saw before the world was made? Did God find Himself in the midst of animal spirits who needed laws whereby they could advance? And what is the significance of the noble and great ones?   

So, next time you’re perusing your family history, take some time to ponder your deep family history–like millions of years in the past. As you do, remember Abraham 3, and ponder the meaning of a pre-existent hierarchy of intelligences in the presence of God. Our distant ancestry written in the rocks and what lies recorded in the Book of Abraham very well may be more related than we typically think.


Sources and Notes

  1. LUCA (Last Universal Common Ancestor): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHVZ9B1ay_4; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_universal_common_ancestor
  2. Dickinsonia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickinsonia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickinsonia
  3. Pikaia: https://www.flickr.com/photos/77048201@N04/7062156425; https://www.newdinosaurs.com/pikaia/
  4. Guiyu oneiros (oldest articulated bony fish): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guiyu_oneiros; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarcopterygii
  5. Tiktaalik (early tetrapod): https://phys.org/news/2018-02-fish-scientists-left-ocean.html; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiktaalik
  6. Archaeothyris (early synapsid): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeothyris; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeothyris
  7. Hadrocodium: http://palaeos.com/vertebrates/mammaliformes/mammaliformes3.html; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrocodium; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4127475/
  8. Plesiadapis tricuspidens: https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndfossil/poster/PDF/Plesiadapis.pdf; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plesiadapis; https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2013.2792; https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2013.2792
  9. Proconsul: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proconsul_(mammal); https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proconsul_(mammal); https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/37578/1330470308_ftp.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  10. Australopithecus afarensis: http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/australopithecus-afarensis; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australopithecus_afarensis; http://www.roperld.com/science/humanintelligenceevolution.htm#appendix; http://www.efossils.org/species/australopithecus-africanus
  11. Homo habilis: http://howhumanshaveevolved.weebly.com/homo-habilis-appearance.html; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_habilis; http://www.roperld.com/science/humanintelligenceevolution.htm#appendix
  12. Homo erectus: http://ancientnews.net/2018/02/04/homo-sapiens-direct-ancestors-migrated-out-of-africa-2-million-years-ago/; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_erectus; http://www.roperld.com/science/humanintelligenceevolution.htm#appendix; https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/homo-erectus-a-bigger-smarter-97879043/
  13. Homo sapiens: http://www.bigshocking.com/how-to-scare-someone-with-10-amazing-scare-tactics/stare-at-a-random-person/https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/encephalization-quotient; https://www.britannica.com/science/human-evolution/Increasing-brain-size
  14. ((1340-.045)/.045)*100%=2,999,900%; Whales: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_size; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encephalization_quotient; (7.8-.34)/.34=22.9
  15. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1971/05/the-king-follett-sermon?lang=eng
  16. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

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