Human History in DNA

Human History in DNA
In the last decade, geneticists have learned how to decode DNA in ancient human remains. We can now begin to see human history in DNA. The media has saturated us with the theory that humans originated in Africa and migrated from there to the rest of the world. National Geographic was a major promoter of that theory, and it was based on the field work of a group of anthropologists like Louis Leakey who actively defended that view. Discussions about race have also been a part of this debate among scientists, and sometimes the exchanges have been less than cordial.

The most recent debate along these lines has come with the release of a book titled Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past by David Reich. Reich runs a lab at Harvard Medical School which has released a great deal of data in the past decade. In 2010 Reich’s lab informed us that all non-Africans have Neanderthal DNA in their genome. Reich maintains that race is a social construct and that differences in genetic makeup are geographically related.

A group of 67 scholars released an open letter on BuzzFeed.com objecting to Reich’s racial concepts. Other anthropologists have contended that the reality of our origins “is more complex and interesting than scientists ever imagined.”

The biblical description of human history is so brief that one should not look for conflicts with the biblical account. The Bible tells us that we are all related, and the fact that all races are fertile with one another supports that. The Bible does not tell us when Adam and Eve lived or how much time elapsed as humans migrated throughout the world.

A careful study of the Bible indicates that we are all equal and have a common ancestry. God’s design of our genome has allowed us to survive as a species for a very long time in spite of disease. Reich’s book supports that notion but gives us some idea of how the design has worked by examining human history in DNA.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Job’s Dinosaur

Job's Dinosaur
There is an interesting Bible reference to a fearsome creature in Job 40:15-24. Some creationists consider this to be Job’s dinosaur showing that dinosaurs and humans interacted at the time of Job. This is part of an attempt to suggest that dinosaurs and early humans were contemporaries to disprove the scientific evidence that dinosaurs became extinct long before humans existed on Earth.

The question is, “What kind of creature Job is describing?” Did an animal that existed in the past fit this description? The Hebrew word used for this creature is “behemoth” which literally means a large creature. Many animals that lived in the past and some living today could be called large creatures. We must look at the properties of this animal as described in the passage. We know that it was an herbivore (“feeds on grass like an ox”). Also, we know that “his tail sways like a cedar.” The description also tells us that he was virtually impossible to control.

The AP reported on May 5 about a discovery at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Scientists found human footprints inside the footprints of a giant ground sloth. The giant ground sloth was an herbivore that could stand seven or eight feet tall, had tight muscles and front legs tipped with wolverine-like claws. It had a huge tail used mostly for balance when it stood on its hind legs to get at vegetation. It appears that some humans were hunting the sloth and tracking it closely.

There is no denying that ancient humans interacted with these huge creatures. In the Natural History Museum in Chicago, there are displays of the fossils of these creatures, and the picture shows a recreated giant ground sloth at Kartchner Caverns near Benson, Arizona. The finding of human tracks intersecting the tracks of the sloths leaves no doubt about the fact that they were contemporaries. You can’t prove that Job’s dinosaur was actually a ground sloth, but the description fits very well. It is certainly more likely than the claim that the animal was a T-rex or a brontosaurus.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

IQ and Intelligence

IQ and Intelligence
My first master’s degree was in psychometry, which is the study of tests and measurements. I worked under Dr. David Segel who was a pioneer in that field. One of the interesting things I learned in my studies was that IQ and intelligence are two different things. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is a measure of your ability to perform on a certain kind of test. My mentally challenged son Tim scores very poorly on a Stanford Benet IQ test and very well on a Wechsler Bellevue IQ test. The Stanford Benet test measures an individual’s ability to manipulate and control shapes and spaces. The Wechsler Bellevue is a verbal test. The two tests measure different things, and Tim’s scores were wildly different depending on the type of test.

IQ and intelligence should not be confused. Webster’s dictionary defines intelligence as “the ability to learn and understand,” which has nothing to do with any test. IQ is radically affected by access to education, healthcare, food, living conditions, and the kind of test used. The average IQ in Kenya in 1948 was 72, and today the average is 97. A 25 point gain is not an indication of a change in intelligence, but rather a change in the ability of the people to better answer the questions on the chosen test.

It isn’t possible to compare the intelligence of humans on the basis of race or to compare humans with animals. Some animals do very well on some IQ tests. Koko, the gorilla that we have mentioned in previous issues of our journal, scores a 95 on some IQ tests according to articles in several popular magazines. Crows have high intelligence in solving certain types of problems. A food morsel floating on water in the bottom of a graduate frustrates children under eight years old because the can’t figure out how to get to it. A crow, however, will add pebbles to the graduate until the food floats up to a place where the crow can reach it. Who has the most intelligence?

Human uniqueness is not in our intelligence. It is our spiritual nature that sets us apart and allows us to do things such as art, music, worship, etc. Mentally challenged humans do these things, but intelligent animals do not. Animals may be intelligent and even score high on some IQ tests, but they do not have the capacity to feel guilt, to be sympathetic, or to create. IQ and intelligence aside, humans are unique because of our spiritual nature. We are created in the image of God, and that uniqueness is embodied in what the Bible calls “the soul.”
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Data from Popular Science, Spring 2018.

Being Human

Being Human
One of the oldest debates among scientists is what it takes for an individual to be called “human.” The problem is that each discipline has its own criteria for being human.

A physical anthropologist would likely base his definition on the size of the brain, the shape of the mandible, or the position of the foramen magnum–the opening into the brain through which the spinal column passes. A cultural anthropologist might use community structure or communication techniques. In each discipline, the criteria correspond to the tools that discipline uses in its study. All of them are useful, but none present the full picture.

The biblical definition of being human is that being uniquely created in the image of God–that being possessing a soul. Physical appearance and physical characteristics are not part of the biblical definition. The indicator of being created in the image of God is how those spiritual characteristics are expressed. Worship, artistic creation, the use of symbolism, musical creation, and the ability to feel guilt and sympathy are leading indicators.

The media has portrayed the Neandertals as prehumans. Because they were bulky and jut-jawed they seem to fit the picture of prehuman cavemen. Movies have portrayed them as brutes lacking human characteristics. We have maintained for many years that the Neandertals were a race of humans. Recent genetic studies have shown Neandertal genes in the modern human population.

Recently researchers found artwork in three Spanish caves that are attributed to the Neandertals because they predate the time when other races of humans, such as Cromagnons, came to the area. Dr. Francesco d’Errico who has been studying the evidence for Neandertal artwork in the caves says, “Neandertals took modern humans into caves and showed them how to paint.”

The Bible tells us that God created humans in His image. We don’t know when that took place, or how far and how quickly the descendants of Adam and Eve moved out across the Earth. God designed humans to adapt to all kinds of environments, and climatic stresses led to racial variations. The Bible’s statement that “God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the Earth” is supported by every evidence we have available. However, while being human, our capacity to act like animals and not express our likeness to God’s image cannot be denied.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Data from Science News, March 17, 2018 page 6.

What Makes Humans Special?

What Makes Humans Special?
As we look at the many creatures that inhabit planet Earth, we see that humans are unique. What makes humans special?

Unlike most animals, we walk on two legs. Even primates that can stand upright, spend much of their time on all-fours. Standing upright frees our hands for making and using tools. It also allows us to use our hands for creating art and writing stories and books. Our hands enable us to write instructions explaining how to use the tools we create. Writing makes it possible for us to record the things we learn about the world around us.

Our hands allow us to do things that no animal can because of our opposable thumbs. Most apes and monkeys have opposible thumbs, but only humans can bring their thumbs in opposition to any of our four fingers.

Most animals are covered with a thick layer of hair to protect them from the harsh environment. We protect ourselves by clothing that we design using our creativity and that we make using our hands.

Humans are special in our ability to speak. The design and position of our larynx, tongue, and mouth make it physically possible to create sounds that form words. Beyond our physical traits, the ability to understand symbolism is essential for advanced communication. Your ability to understand the meaning of words, even the meaning of the words formed by the letters you are reading is unique to humans.

Human children are dependent on their parents for a much longer time than any animal, and our family relationships are important throughout life. We are capable of an “agape” type of love that emphasizes the needs of others rather than ourselves. We learn to love in our families as our parents model a godly love for us.

Most animals live as long as they can reproduce and they die soon after that. Their purpose is to procreate and maintain a balanced natural environment. Humans live far beyond the time when we produce offspring because we have a purpose beyond reproduction. God has given us the responsibility take care of the creation and to serve others and to serve Him.

Our brain makes us unique, not necessarily because of its size but because of what it can do. There are animals with larger brains. The sperm whale has the largest. When you compare brain weight to body size, many birds have brains that make up 8 percent of their body weight. The human brain is only about 2.5 percent of our body weight, but it far exceeds the brain of any animal in intelligence.

The greatest difference–and the biggest mystery to science–is what is often referred to as “mind.” How can mere atoms and molecules form cells and neural connections to create the human sense of self-consciousness and purpose? How can they form themselves into a mind that can contemplate the universe and our purpose in life? We believe this most unique feature of humans is more than the physical action of neurons. We prefer to call it our soul.

As we seek to know what makes humans special and unique, we have to look beyond the physical realm. Our creativity, our search for beauty, our desire for loving relationships, our seeking after justice, and our need to worship, all indicate that we know there is something beyond what this world offers. We believe those desires are in our souls because we were created in the image of our Creator and we were created to have a relationship with Him. That is truly what makes humans special.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Human Species and Racial Differences

Human Species and Racial Differences
One of the oldest controversies among anthropologists is over whether a “splitter” view or a “lumper” view is the most accurate description of human history. As scientists study ancient fossils, they have to determine whether they should be split into different species of hominids or lumped into races of one human species. One of the famous splitters was Louis Leakey who attached a new name to every find he made. Because of his long and productive life in studying the fossils of Africa his names have stayed around for a long time.

Other anthropologists have suggested that many of the specimens with unique names were actually just racial variations. Races can look very different and yet still be one species. There is just one human species. Looking at the skeletal remains of a Pygmy and a Swede, one might conclude that they are two different species, but they are fertile with one another, and they are one species. Racial characteristics are usually related to climate. Skin color is related to how close to or how far from the equator ones’ ancestors have lived. Lighter skin color can absorb more vitamin D from limited sunlight, and dark skin gives greater protection from the harmful rays of the Sun.

All of this has been getting attention recently as scientists study the DNA of the remains of various humans. The London Natural History Museum has just released a study of the DNA of the so-called “Cheddar Man”–a human skeleton discovered in Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England, in 1903. The study suggests that this person had dark skin, blue eyes, and curly hair. The theory is that the British landmass was connected to continental Europe and that humans migrated into the area with some of them coming all the way from Africa.

The Bible makes it clear that there is one human species. The apostle Paul said in Acts 17:26 God “has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the Earth.” What distinguishes humans as a species is that God created us in His image which gives us the ability to worship and have creativity and a concept of self. Our physical characteristics which identify us racially are simply functions of genetic heritage and the environment in which we live. Racial prejudice comes from ignorance, and Christians should be leaders in demanding equality for all people.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

How Old Was Methuselah?

How Old Was Methuselah?
One question that keeps coming up is how ancient people recorded in the Bible lived so many years. How old was Methuselah? Genesis 5:27 tells us that Methuselah lived 969 years. How can that be?

As I hit my eightieth birthday with all the aches and pains that go with old age, I have to ask why anyone would WANT to live that long. The ancient Hebrew texts tell us that people in those days had aches and pains too. You might say that their bodies were different from ours, but that isn’t what the evidence shows. You can date a human bone by a careful study of the bone material itself and studies have shown that people in ancient times had very short lifespans by our standards.

We have discussed this issue in the past, and one possible explanation we have mentioned is that they weren’t using our method of measuring time. Julius Caesar gave us the calendar in 45 B.C., and Pope Gregory adjusted it long after the time of Christ, but ancient people used celestial objects to measure time. Some scholars have given another possible answer to the time issue. Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith (Volume 55 #4, pages 239-251) and Brevard S. Child’s book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture pages 152-3 suggest a cultural answer to this question.

Sumerian King List
In Mesopotamia, great people were honored by assigning them an age that was symbolic of their character or accomplishments rather than reporting their chronological age. The ancient Sumerian king list records, “In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years.” The picture shows one surviving copy of the Sumerian king list. The list also tells of other kings with even longer reigns. It should be pretty obvious that this is not referring to chronological age. Other cultures of that time did the same thing. The Chinese recorded their rulers as having very long lifespans comparable to Methuselah’s.

So how old was Methuselah? Remember what it means to take the Bible literally. It means you look at who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how people of the time would have understood it. The age of Methuselah is not an error, but rather it may be an accurate recording of what the author had in mind when he gave credit to this great man of faith.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Child, Brevard S., Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Fortress Press, © 1979, ISBN 0-8006-0532-2

Essenes and Qumran Discoveries

Essenes and Qumran Discoveries
In the 1970s there was a lot of attention paid to a community of ascetics known as the Essenes. This group lived in the Qumran area near the Dead Sea and were probably the producers of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the past, skeptics of Christianity have suggested that they were the originators of Christian teachings and of Jesus himself. The Essenes expected a “Teacher of Righteousness” who would rise from the dead.

As scholars probed more deeply, it became obvious that there were huge differences that invalidated attempts to discredit Christianity by ascribing its teachings to the Essenes. The Essenes were ultraconservative Jews, many of whom rejected marriage and attempted to hide from the Romans.

On November 16, 2017, anthropologist Yossi Nagar of the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem presented a study of 33 newly discovered skeletons found at Qumran. Carbon-14 dating puts the bones at 2200 years ago, close to the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The bones are mostly, if not all, from adult males and have no signs of having been in combat, so they were not soldiers.

In February of 2017, researchers found another cave that seems to have held more scrolls or pieces of leather or papyrus that were ready to be used for writing. The significance of the finds is that they may lead to more scrolls in the area. Questions about who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls do need to be answered to establish the validity of the documents.

The content of the writings of the Essenes validates the accuracy of the Bible. So far the Dead Sea Scrolls contain all the books of the Old Testament except the book of Esther. The scrolls predate the birth of Christ, and they show that the text of the Old Testament has been faithfully preserved. Research continues and will have great value in answering biblical questions.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Science News December 23,2017.

Chinese Christianity is Ancient

Chinese Christianity is Ancient
Recently someone asked whether Christianity was just a European creation and never had worldwide distribution. What many people don’t realize is that Christianity came to China in A.D. 635. A limestone block called the Nestorian Stele was created in A.D. 781, and it records 150 years of early Chinese Christianity. The stele gives the story of the Christian mission work in both Chinese and Aramaic.

The missionaries established Christian congregations in China and Mongolia. They did not try to westernize the people they were teaching. They dressed and lived simply, learned Chinese, and respected the Confucian culture.

There was no state church in most of Asia, so unlike Europe, the early Christians in the East did not have protection by the state. However, when Marco Polo traveled the Silk Road to China in 1254-1324, he found that the gospel message had proceeded him.

Chinese Christianity continues to function today in the homes of people and in quiet, steady teaching by Christians. The state continues to try to suppress the Church, but it is alive and well. We have our “Does God Exist?” DVD series overdubbed in Mandarin Chinese and copies of the DVDs have been made in China. Benny Mullins has been a part of doing that work, and we continue to get emails, written questions, and requests from all over China.

Hostile governments cannot contain the good news about Jesus Christ and the freedom that Christians enjoy no matter the culture or geographic setting. Christianity is not an American or European or Middle Eastern phenomenon. It is an outreach by God to bring all people into a loving relationship with their Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Ancient Animal Butchering by Humans Is a Croc?

Ancient Animal Butchering Is a Croc
One of the things I love about science is that because of the nature of the discipline, errors eventually get corrected. Data on ancient animal butchering by humans just received a correction.

“In a field where researchers reap big rewards for publishing media-grabbing results in high-profile journals … there’s a push to publish extraordinary findings, but evolutionary researchers always have to weigh what is interesting versus what’s correct.” That statement was made by David Braun, an archaeologist at George Washington University in Washington D.C. He was responding to an announcement that what scientists thought was human butchering work with stone tools was apparently crocodile bites.

The date of tool use by early humans has been pushed back again and again as microscopic investigations looked at the shape of marks on the bones of horses and other animals. Carnivores like hyenas leave U-shaped marks on bones. Scientists had assumed that V-shaped incisions with internal ridges were caused by ancient animal butchering by humans using stone-age tools. The new finds show that crocodile bites can leave the same pattern on bones as stone butchering tools.

The traditional and biblical views of early humans show that they were gatherers and that butchering animals came along sometime later. The picture of the real human history is based on the evidence, and it is a constantly changing picture. The picture gets modified as scientists discover new evidence. The model indicated by Scripture and the scientifically-accepted picture will get closer to agreement as new evidence comes to light, and old evidence is re-examined.

Data from Science News December 9, 2017, and the November 6 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
–John N. Clayton © 2017