Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maybe The Neanderthals Aren’t Dead After All

Last time we talked about Dr. Spencer Wells and his genetics work. He spent over ten years gathering human DNA samples from all over the world to show that the first man came from Africa about 60,000 years ago. He uses a marker in the Y chromosome that remains unchanged from father to son to help him determine human ancestry.
However, what we didn’t talk about was something that Dr. Wells found that is more applicable to who we are today. The genetic makeup of human beings from around the world is more alike than we think. Though humans have over three billion base pairs in 23 chromosomes, “…we're all incredibly similar. 99.9% identical at the genetic level.”

So, though we have green eyes or brown eyes, we come from Europe or South America, we are all related—99.9% related. That’s an extremely high percentage, isn’t it?

Does it make you pause and consider the implications for humanity? Does it encourage your mind to reflect on a God that designed us?

Christians, Jews and Muslims know there was a first father and mother, but science has muddied the waters and encouraged us to believe that the Bible is just a series of stories—stories about belief, not of reality. Jesus came along and reiterated what his Father had accomplished with the creation of man by telling us, “Love thy neighbor…” and “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers…”

The movement to keep science and faith separate is divisive as well as counterproductive. It is only when we take ALL evidence and put it together that we get the full picture. Science uses nature to deduce how the world works. That is only half the story. The Bible persuades us to remember that there is more than HOW there is a WHY. It beckons us to make sense of our purpose.

The cooperation of these two disciplines (yes, theology/faith is a discipline) will allow both sides to see the world differently. Science allows faith to see the miracle that the Earth is in a special place and the delicate balance that it maintains to support life. Faith allows science to question the meaning of why the Earth is here. You cannot fulfill your destiny as a human being without answering BOTH questions.

What would happen if we looked at science from a faith perspective? What if we looked at how molecules work and said, “Hmm, the way these molecules work reflects the love of God.” Perhaps we could find a cure for cancer if we looked at the problem from the eyes of our Creator. We could ask what is missing, versus how do we kill this. It’s all in the perspective.

Going back to Dr. Wells’ research, we see that in his discoveries of the origin of man he has discovered something that Christians already know. A reporter made the following comment to Dr. Wells, “You are very critical of racism.”

To that, Dr. Wells simply responded, “Yes. We are all much closely related than we ever expected. Racism is not only socially divisive, but also scientifically incorrect. We are all descendants of people who lived in Africa recently. We are all Africans under the skin."

Though Dr. Wells may believe he is keeping science separate from faith, he has just made Jesus’ case for why we are called to love our neighbor. I wonder if he recognizes that. I wonder if we recognize that.

Typically, we use the term Neanderthal to describe someone who does not see others as equals or when they refuse to use logic and forward thinking. While the DNA of the Neanderthal may be extinct, unfortunately they still exist.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Neanderthals Are Dead

The Neanderthal is dead. Yes, contrary to popular belief, these species are dead and they’re not coming back. How do we know? I’ll get to that in a minute, but first let me tell you how scientists came to this conclusion.

You may have first heard of Dr. Spencer Wells when he used DNA samples to show that the first man came from Africa about 60,000 years ago. He used a marker in the Y chromosome that remains unchanged from father to son. For more information, follow the link to the website, or the Princeton interview of Dr. Well’s book, The Journey of Man.

In a scientific movement started by Dr. Spencer Wells, National Geographic has taken on this new line of thinking with the name: The Genographic Project. This project has taken scientific data from many different disciplines including archeology, anthropology, climatology, and genetics to name a few.

The goal of the Genographic Project is to take data from these and other disciplines and put it together to form a bigger picture of the human journey on Earth. For example, the migration of humans from Africa took place somewhere around 50 to 60 thousand years ago. Dr. Wells’ researchers looked at how the continents were connected during this time period, then used this data in conjunction with the many DNA samples they have taken all over the world and matched everything together. What I like about this type of research is that Dr. Wells doesn’t work in a black box. He takes data from all different disciplines to come up with his theories. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? The different disciplines shouldn’t be independent of each other. In fact, they are interdependent of each other, which allows a thorough scientist to come to more complete conclusions about the history of mankind.

When the skeletons of Neanderthals were found, it was assumed that because of their skeletal similarities, they were our ancestors. However, recent Mitochondrial DNA has shown that they are “a distinct species and therefore an evolutionary dead end.” Neanderthals are not our ancestors, never have been.

In other words, scientists were wrong. Would the correct version of our hominoid history have happened if we had kept scientific disciplines separate, if we just looked at skeletons and make predictions within that small discipline? Probably not. We would most likely continue to grasp at theoretical straws and make wild guesses in a closed environment.

What’s most fascinating to me is that answers to human history exist in our DNA. Our Creator put these markers there for us to find, which reminds me that God always has a plan. He understands our need to know where we came from and where we are going.

But do we remember where we came from? Do we remember God? What would happen if we took all this scientific data and tried to match it with Biblical data? Though Dr. Wells states that Biblical people began much earlier, I wonder what would happen if we took Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s Hebrew understanding of the Bible and matched it with the Genographic Project. Hmmm…could be interesting!