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A biblical and scientific Adam

"A biblical and scientific Adam" Continued...

Jesus’ virgin birth is clearly a most exceptional case, but it shows that we must reckon with more than one possible account for DNA matches. The solidarity of human beings with animals and with primates belongs to a different order than solidarity within the human race, but the broad principle of solidarity remains.[18] John Bloom perceptively asks, “Does man have to be different to be proof that God made him directly?” The answer is no.[19]

VIII. Do percentages matter?

Now for the sake of argument, suppose that human DNA had matched chimp DNA in 99 percent of the cases all along the DNA strands, not merely in cases of single-base substitutions in aligned regions. What would that prove? Within a Darwinian framework, it might suggest that human beings are merely one more primate. But if God exists and is interested in human beings—if indeed He created human beings uniquely in His image, as the Bible indicates (Genesis 1:26-27)—the essential character of human nature is not to be found in quantitative comparisons in the chemistry of DNA. A merely quantitative approach to human nature is part and parcel of a materialistic worldview, where virtually everything reduces in the end to matter and motion. On the other hand, if persons are significant, because God made them, it matters little what is their exact chemical make-up. What matters is that they are persons who can relate to God who is personal. The framework for interpretation is different, and that framework leads to a different assessment of the significance of humanity. The question of genetic similarity remains of interest to scientists, but it is entirely secondary to the question of human significance.[20]

IX. Junk DNA

About 1.2 percent of human DNA has code that is translated into proteins.[21] What about all the rest? When geneticists became aware of noncoding DNA, the Darwinist framework provided an explanation. Noncoding DNA was interpreted as giving us a record of broken evolutionary pieces that no longer had a function—it was “junk” DNA.[22] Francis Collins pointed to this “junk” as one evidence for the gradualistic character of human genetic origins.[23]

But further research has uncovered many positive functions in what was formerly termed “junk.” The ENCODE project (the “Encyclopedia of DNA Elements”) has endeavored to catalog systematically the noncoding DNA, and reports that more than 80 percent “have now been assigned at least one biochemical function.”[24] The leader of the ENCODE project accordingly called for retiring the word “junk.”[25]

X. The function of the framework

Is Darwinism in trouble? In one sense, no, because Darwinism has become a flexible framework. Is 98 percent of the genome alleged to be nonfunctional? No problem, because it confirms that Darwinian evolution is messy. Is at least 80 percent of it functional? No problem, because it confirms how efficient natural selection, mutations, and DNA rearrangements are in producing superb fitness and complex functionality.

Many kinds of evidence can be fit plausibly into the Darwinian framework, because the framework itself has evolved over a hundred years to provide space to accommodate evidence.[26] The pervasiveness of the framework makes it difficult for people to stand back far enough to ask crucial questions.[27] Should we exercise skepticism about reigning assumptions? Should we ask whether the framework as a whole needs questioning? A few people see problems. Nobel Prize winner Robert B. Laughlin complains:

“Most important of all, however, the presence of such corollaries [from mass behavior in solid state physics] raises the concern that much of present-day biological knowledge is ideological. A key symptom of ideological thinking is the explanation that has no implications and cannot be tested. I call such logical dead ends antitheories because they have exactly the opposite effect of real theories: they stop thinking rather than stimulate it. Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause! Sometimes one hears it argued that the issue is moot because biochemistry is a fact-based discipline for which theories are neither helpful nor wanted. The argument is false, for theories are needed for formulating experiments. Biology has plenty of theories. They are just not discussed—or scrutinized—in public. The ostensibly noble repudiation of theoretical prejudice is, in fact, a cleverly disguised antitheory, whose actual function is to evade the requirement for logical consistency as a means of eliminating falsehood.”[28]

© 2013 Westminster Theological Journal. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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ENDNOTES

1 Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2012).

2 J.P. Versteeg, Adam in the New Testament: Mere Teaching Model or First Historical Man? (translated and with a foreword by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.; Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2012); C. John Collins, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011).

3 Enns, Evolution of Adam, ix-x; Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., foreword to Adam in the New Testament, by Versteeg, xii: “The scientific issues involved, certainly important and in need of careful attention, are not my concern here.”

4 Krishna Ramanujan, “Genetic Divergence of Man from Chimp Has Aided Human Fertility but Could Have Made Us More Prone to Cancer, Cornell Study Finds,” Cornell University News Service, May 13, 2005, http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/May05/Chimps.kr.html (accessed September 19, 2012).

5 Jeffrey Norris, “What Makes Us Human? Studies of Chimp and Human DNA May Tell Us,” UCSF News Center, June 28, 2010, http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2010/06/5993/what-makes-ushuman-studies-chimp-and-human-dna-may-tell-us (accessed September 19, 2012).

6 “New Genome Comparison Finds Chimps, Humans Very Similar at the DNA Level,” NIH News: National Institutes of Health, August 31, 2005, http://www.genome.gov/15515096 (accessed September 27, 2012).

7 But some DNA has functions other than coding for proteins. See below. Further explanations of DNA can be found in many places, e.g., Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

8 Ingo Ebersberger et al., “Genomewide Comparison of DNA Sequences between Humans and Chimpanzees,” American Journal of Human Genetics 70, no. 6 (June 1, 2002): 1490-97 [1492-93], http://www.cell.com/AJHG/abstract/S0002-9297%2807%2960701-0 (accessed September 19, 2012).

9 Ingo Ebersberger et al., “Mapping Human Genetic Ancestry,” Molecular Biology and Evolution 24, no. 10 (2007): 2266, http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/24/10/2266.full.pdf (accessed September 19, 2012); referenced by Casey Luskin, “Study Reports a Whopping ‘23% of Our Genome’ Contradicts Standard Human-Ape Evolutionary Phylogeny,” Evolution News, June 3, 2011, http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/06/study_reports_a_whopping_23_of047041.html (accessed September 19, 2012).

10 For a clear exposition of different meanings of “evolution,” one may see John C. Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? (Oxford: Lion, 2009), 100-108.

11 Similarly Alvin Plantinga distinguishes between unguided and guided evolutionary processes (Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011], 16-17, 39, 55, 63).

12 Lennox, God’s Undertaker, 96-99.

13 Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), esp. ch. 1.

14 On “methodological naturalism,” see ibid., ch. 19.

15 Because of “redundancy” (“degeneracy”) in the DNA code, two distinct codons, consisting of triplets such as CTT and CTA, may code for the same amino acid, such as leucine. In spite of the fact that distinct codons could code for the very same amino acid, distinct species tend to reuse the same codon at the same position in analogous proteins. This evidence is not explained merely by appeals to common protein function. So an additional explanation is called for, and of course Darwinism supplies it in the form of common descent and gradual modification.

16 On the importance of frameworks of interpretation, see Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition (4th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012).

17 See Poythress, Redeeming Science, ch. 18.

18 John Bloom mentions the wine in John 2 and suggests further illustrations of special action that authenticate the special character of the product: the president of a firm personally signs a letter typed by his secretary; or, in the ancient Near East, a king might personally make the first brick for a temple (“On Human Origins: A Survey,” http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/origins/humans-jb.htm [accessed September 26, 2012]).

19 Ibid. (italics original).

20 The Bible focuses on man’s religious status and relationship to God. This focus is appropriate because it is vital to our understanding of God Himself, human sin, and Christ’s redemption. In addition, our personal relation to God really does constitute what is most weighty and distinctive about humanity in comparison to animals. A number of authors, observing the importance of religious status, have theorized that a sudden appearance of religious consciousness or a sudden transition to relatedness to God or a sudden initial act of divine revelation is compatible in principle with a gradualistic origin of humanity at the biological level. They distinguish sharply between religious relationship and biological history.

In reply we may indeed acknowledge that in theory many possible biological stories for how God brought man into existence might be minimally compatible with the general principle that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-17). But Genesis 2:7 and 2:21-22 are more specific. These verses along with the entire context make points about man’s religious relation to God, but in my judgment they resist being interpreted as if they had no implications about processes (see Poythress, Redeeming Science, 249-51).

21 The ENCODE Project Consortium, “An Integrated Encyclopedia of DNA Elements in the Human Genome,” Nature 489 (September 6, 2012): 71, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7414/pdf/nature11247.pdf (accessed September 25, 2012).

22 Jonathan Wells, The Myth of Junk DNA (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2011), 19-27.

23 Francis Collins, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), 136-37. It should be noted that Collins, because he is a Christian, believes in divine purpose. Moreover, he has now changed his mind and stopped using the term “junk DNA” (Wells, Myth of Junk DNA, 99).

24 Magdalena Skipper, Ritu Dhand, and Philip Campbell, “Presenting ENCODE,” Nature 489, no. 45 (September 6, 2012), http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v489/n7414/full/489045a.html (accessed September 25, 2012); see also The ENCODE Project Consortium, “An Integrated Encyclopedia of DNA.” The issue is discussed further in Casey Luskin, “Junk No More: ENCODE Project Nature Paper Finds ‘Biochemical Functions for 80% of the Genome,’” Evolution News and Views (September 5, 2012), http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/09/junk_no_more_en_1064001.html (accessed September 25, 2012). In addition, we may note that many geneticists tend to interpret biochemical function narrowly to mean a coding function: the sequence of ACGT bases is functional if it is translated into RNA that has a function, or if it is recognized as a “promoter” or regulatory region that influences the expression of neighboring DNA. But in addition to these functions, parts of the DNA may serve “structural” functions, such as forming a key environment for the centromere, serving as spacers, and influencing DNA folding into chromatin (Wells, Myth of Junk DNA, 62-63, 72-77).

25 Ewan Birney, quoted in an interview by Stephen S. Hall, “Journey to the Genetic Interior,” Scientific American 307, no. 4 (October 2012), 82.

26 A biblically informed Christian framework can also flexibly accommodate many forms of biological data. The difference is that the Christian framework does not claim to establish its case by appeals to biology, but rather by appeals to biblical testimony, to history, and to the universal evidence for God (Romans 1:18-25).

27 There is also an ideological taboo against criticism (Lennox, God’s Undertaker, 94-96, 99).

28 Robert B. Laughlin, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 168-70.

29 Lennox, God’s Undertaker, 112.

30 Francisco J. Ayala et al., “Molecular Genetics of Speciation and Human Origins,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 91, no. 15 (July 19, 1994): 6787-94 [6787], http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC44284/?tool=pubmed (accessed September 26, 2012).

31 Ibid., 6787.

32 Takashi Shiina et al., “Rapid Evolution of Major Histocompatibility Complex Class I Genes in Primates Generates New Disease Alleles in Humans via Hitchhiking Diversity,” Genetics 173 (July 2006): 1569; see also Ann Gauger, “The Science of Adam and Eve,” in Ann Gauger, Douglas Axe, and Casey Luskin, Science and Human Origins (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2012), 105-22.

33 Dennis R. Venema, “Genesis and the Genome: Genomics Evidence for Human-Ape Common Ancestry and Ancestral Hominid Population Sizes,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 63, no. 3 (2010): 166-78, http://www.asa3online.org/PSCF/2010/08/20/genesis-and-the-genome-genomicsevidence-for-human-ape-common-ancestry-and-ancestral-hominid-population-sizes (accessed September 26, 2012).

34 Albert Tenesa et al., “Recent Human Effective Population Size Estimated from Linkage Disequilibrium,” Genome Research 17 (2007): 520-26, http://genome.cshlp.org/content/17/4/520 (accessed September 26, 2012).

35 “… pairwise r2 was calculated … only for SNP pairs between 5 kb and 100 kb apart … to avoid the influence of gene conversion on observed LD at SNPs that are closer [and that might otherwise probe more remote times]” (ibid., 521).

36 Ibid., 524.

37 Feng-Chi Chen and Wen-Hsiung Li, “Genomic Divergences between Humans and Other Hominoids and the Effective Population Size of the Common Ancestor of Humans and Chimpanzees,” American Journal of Human Genetics 68 (2001): 444-56, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1235277/ (accessed September 27, 2012).

38 Ziheng Yang, “Likelihood and Bayes Estimation of Ancestral Population Sizes in Hominoids Using Data From Multiple Loci,” Genetics 162, no. 4 (2002): 1811-23, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12524351 (accessed September 26, 2012).

39 In fact, Chen and Li explicitly mention the issue of a bottleneck at a later time: “The human lineage apparently has undergone a significant reduction in effective population size since its separation from the chimpanzee lineage” (“Genomic Divergences,” 455).

40 Zhongming Zhao et al., “Worldwide DNA Sequence Variation in a 10-kilobase Noncoding Region on Human Chromosome 22,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 97, no. 21 (October 10, 2000): 11354-58, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC17204/ (accessed September 26, 2012). This paper is one of many that use data from present-day human genetic diversity.

41 Zhao et al. (ibid., 11355) uses two models: (1) G. A. Watterson, “On the Number of Segregating Sites in Genetical Models without Recombination,” Theoretical Population Biology 7 (1975): 257; and (2) Fumio Tajima, “Evolutionary Relationship of DNA Sequences in Finite Populations,” Genetics 105 (October 1983): 438, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1202167/ (accessed September 26, 2012). Subsequent to writing my article, I have also had my attention drawn to another technical article, Stephen T. Sherry et al., “Alu Evolution in Human Populations: Using the Coalescent to Estimate Effective Population Size,” Genetics 147, no. 4 (1997): 1977-82, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1208362/ (accessed January 21, 2013), which also depends on Watterson’s 1975 model (p. 1978 col. 2) and shares the same limitations.

42 William Henry Green, “Primeval Chronology,” BSac 47 (1890): 285-303.

43 Genesis 4:2 describes Cain and Abel as engaging in agriculture and sheep herding. This description has suggested to some interpreters that the text is referring to the Neolithic period (around 10,000 B.C.), when archeologists can see evidence of these activities. But Cain and Abel may have lived earlier. They may have taken the first steps, and yet have had their steps aborted by subsequent human decline due to sin. For a discussion of still other options for interpretation of Genesis 4–5, one may consult any number of OT commentaries. Derek Kidner succinctly discusses the genealogies (Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary [London: InterVarsity, 1967], 82-83).

44 On the assessment of fossils, see Casey Luskin, “Human Origins and the Fossil Record,” in Science and Human Origins; also Bloom, “On Human Origins: A Survey.”

45 For critical appraisals of mainstream media claims, one may also look to websites like “Evolution News and Views” (http://www.evolutionnews.org/) and “Reasons to Believe” (www.reasons.org), which respond to current news.

46 Gaffin, “Foreword”; C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2006).

47 See Gaffin, “Foreword,” ix-xxv.

48 Vern S. Poythress, “Evaluating the Claims of Scientists,” New Horizons (March 2012): 6-8, http://www.opc.org/nh.html?article_id=739 (accessed September 26, 2012); also at http://www.framepoythress.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/2012Evaluating.pdf (accessed September 26, 2012).

49 Michael Polanyi analyzes the element of personal commitment at length in Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964).

50 Poythress, Redeeming Science, esp. ch. 1.

51 On the broader question of the origin of various kinds of life, see ibid., ch. 18; on the creation of Eve, see ibid., 249-51.

52 Discussions on biblical authority and purposes are of course voluminous. See particularly John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2010).

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