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 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

Dinosaur Mania in Media

Dinosaur Mania
We seem to have an obsession with dinosaurs, and popular science magazines can’t seem to get enough dinosaur articles. Dinosaur mania struck in May 2018 with Smithsonian Magazine, Scientific American, and National Geographic all featuring dinosaurs as their main articles.

Smithsonian told about new discoveries in China. Scientific American gave a speculative review of how new discoveries affect the classification of dinosaurs. National Geographic provided us with pictures of new fossils of the birds and bird-like dinosaurs. Their article makes the argument that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs after the asteroid collision that ended the dinosaur age. All of these articles are presented with wonderful pictures and charts.

Many people in both the scientific community and in the religious community seem to believe that there is a conflict between what these articles present and what the Bible says. Children receive indoctrination in dinosaurs from “Dinosaur Train” and other shows on children’s TV and websites plus revisions and repeats of “Jurassic Park.” It is important in all of this dinosaur mania that children should not be taught that the Bible is anti-science.

There is much about the history of the Earth that the Bible doesn’t address. There is an economy of language in the Bible, and it doesn’t give us information about how God prepared the resources He knew we would need. The Bible simply says He did it, not how He did it. Passages like Proverbs 8:22 ff and Romans 1:18 ff tell us that wisdom and design were involved, but they give no specifics about when it happened, how long it took, or what the processes were.

No Hebrew word used in the Bible could be applied to dinosaurs. The words used in the creation week referred to animals that Moses knew. We don’t see references to bacteria, viruses, platypuses, penguins, or organisms that use chemosynthesis instead of photosynthesis to produce their food. The Bible does consistently use four classifications of animals. First Corinthians 15:39 is the clearest statement of this: “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes and another of birds.” In Genesis 1:21-27 the same classifications are used: cattle (behemah), winged fowl (kanaph oph), and great sea creatures (tannin). (For a detailed treatment of these Hebrew words, please see “God’s Revelation in His Rocks and His Word” on our website.)

We may be accused of being too literal in our understanding of these words, but we are looking for the agreements between the evidence and what the bible writers express. So were the dinosaurs birds or were they reptiles (part of the “flesh of fish” grouping)? Science has not answered that question yet. The National Geographic article pushes the argument hard that the birds are simply dinosaurs that survived the asteroid collision, but there are many scientists who disagree. Dinosaur mania has taught us much, but there is still much to learn.

Either way, the biblical account is not in error. It simply does not address what seems to have been an effective tool God used to help prepare the Earth for humans. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is short, brief, and leaves many questions for us to answer ourselves. The methods God used are not important to the overall message of the Bible. If God created everything, and if science is knowledge of what actually happened, they must agree. If they don’t agree, we either have a poor understanding of the scientific evidence or a poor understanding of what the Bible intends to convey. None of us are immune to those two problems, and that certainly includes your author. Let us keep learning and searching for positive answers and stop trying to generate conflict that is destructive to everyone.
–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

Becoming New Creatures

Becoming New Creatures
The National Geographic Channel has been airing a very interesting new series of programs titled “One Strange Rock.” The series hosted by actor/comedian Will Smith tells about the many “strange” and “lucky” features of planet Earth that make it possible for us to live here. In the most recent episode, eight astronauts explain why they think that humans should colonize space. They and some other prominent individuals have recently suggested that colonizing other planets or living in space may be the only hope for the human race to survive. In the process we might find ourselves becoming new creatures.

This episode brings out the many ways that space life will affect our bodies. Based on present experience with the International Space Station we know that bones and muscles weaken when they do not have to overcome the effects of gravity. Body fluids shift upwards causing other physical changes. There are changes to a person’s eyesight which can be permanent. Outside of Earth’s atmospheric protection, astronauts face greater amounts of cosmic radiation that can trigger “light flashes” in their eyes. Long exposure to the higher levels of radiation may lead to cancer or brain damage. At the same time, bacteria grow faster and can become more deadly in a zero-gravity environment. The environment of space, even with the best protective gear science can devise, may at best be toxic and at worst fatal to humans.

Even with those considerations, the astronauts are saying that we must colonize space. Part of their reasoning is that humans have evolved to handle the challenges of life on this planet, and we will perhaps evolve becoming new creatures to handle the new hazards of space. They say it will just be a matter of adapting to a new environment. Will Smith said in this episode, “Even if we survive the journey and make the place feel like home, we still might not save our species. Just by being there we might turn into something else.”

I think that the real answer to human survival IS for us to turn into something else. Human survival depends on people turning away from their sinful passions and hatred. It involves becoming what God created us to be and living out the teaching and example of Jesus. Going to another planet and taking along our sinful nature with all of its baggage will not save us. The real hope for the survival of the human race does not involve leaving the planet God created for us. It does not require leaving Earth with all of its “strange” and “lucky” features that make life possible. It is not necessary for us to go to a much more hostile environment and evolve into new creatures. The answer to our survival is becoming new creatures here and now as described in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Dawkins-Remolina Debates in Colombia

Dawkins-Remolina Debates in Colombia
If you have followed this ministry for a while, you will recall that in the summer of 2017 John Clayton spent several weeks in Colombia giving many presentations on evidence for the existence of God. He was invited to speak there preceding debates between atheist Richard Dawkins and Catholic priest Gerardo Remolina. Remolina is a leading scholar at the Jesuit Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogota, where the first debate took place. We received a newspaper account of the first debate, and we hope to eventually have a chance to review reports of the Dawkins-Remolina debates at Medellin and Cartagena.

It was interesting that in the first debate there was almost nothing said about the existence of God. Remolina suggested that the age of the universe was 14 billion years and that the age of the Earth was around 5 billion years. Dawkins said he agreed but stated that 40% of the American public thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. Dawkins said that is equivalent to believing that the North American continent is only 8 meters wide. Dawkins continued to maintain that belief in God is due to ignorance on the part of believers, and Remolina made no response to Dawkins claims.

Dawkins stated the atheist belief that life evolved mechanically and that the Bible was a collection of diverse myths. Remolina agreed that Adam and Eve are a myth but said that the myth is a structure of thought and does not pretend to explain anything. Dawkins claimed that the Bible was not historical because there is no evidence of the events it describes. Remolina could have given massive evidence for the historical validity of the Bible, but instead, he stated that science uses myths. He quoted Carl Sagan’s statement that the “Big Bang” was a myth because science cannot duplicate it in the laboratory. Dawkins attacked the Catholic tradition of original sin ridiculing the teaching that children are born sinful.

We are reading a translated newspaper report which may be incomplete. The fact is, however, that the debate was about Catholic traditions and opinions of Dawkins on the history of life. The fundamental arguments for the existence of God–cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, moral arguments, ontological arguments, and philosophical arguments–were barely mentioned and evidence was not presented by either side. We hope that later Dawkins-Remolina debates will approach the real questions and the weight of the evidence29. Stay tuned.
–Roland Earnst & John N. Clayton © 2018

Bird Migration Data

Bird Migration Data
A fascinating area of study is bird migration. With new technologies, scientists are gathering more bird migration data than ever before.

Arctic terns spend their summers in Alaska and migrate thousands of miles to wintering grounds in South America. Years ago researchers demonstrated that the tern didn’t get the migration information from its parents because terns raised in isolation having no contact with other terns could still make the journey. Terns deprived of visual acuity could still make the journey, so the migration was not by landmarks. The Earth’s magnetic field was not the method because terns equipped with a magnetic scrambler could still make the journey. Similar tests showed it was not by smell or by sound. The researchers concluded that the tern used several navigation tools. If one was lost, the bird would switch to another. We suggested that such a complex system was not a product of chance. It is designed into the tern’s DNA suggesting that God had something to do with the design.

In the March 2018 issue of National Geographic, there is an excellent article titled “Epic Migrations.” Scientists use new tools to collect bird migration data that enables a much more precise understanding of both short and long migrations. Nearly half of all bird species are migratory, so there are a large number of species to study, and scientists are gathering new data continuously.

The long-distance winner of migration is the bar-tailed godwit. One specimen flew 7,150 miles non-stop in eight days from its summering grounds in Alaska to its wintering grounds in New Zealand. In the weeks before migration, godwits build up enormous layers of fat adding more than half their body weight. When they arrive in New Zealand, they have lost all of the fat reserves. Because they do not glide or soar in the journey, their wings are beating all the time. On the way back to Alaska, the birds travel 6,000 miles to China near the Yellow Sea where they spend six weeks. Then they fly 4000 miles back to Alaska. Their departure time for these trips is the same from year to year, influenced only by local weather and winds. They seem to be guided by a precise clock.

Researchers have found an assortment of interesting bird migration data. Studies of frigatebirds in the Pacific show that they sleep while soaring, but only for about 12 seconds at a time for a total of 42 minutes a day. Research shows that half of the bird’s brain is asleep and the other half is awake. Other studies have shown that European starlings use the Sun as a compass and that indigo buntings use stars as a compass. European robins use an internal magnetic compass. When researchers artificially rotated the magnetic compasses by 90 degrees, the birds flew the wrong direction until the Sun came up. Then they reset their magnetic compasses using the Sun for orientation.

Each species of migratory birds seems to have their own built-in devices to make their journeys. The programming of their DNA is incredibly complex and seems to be a designed characteristic built into each species. We can learn a great deal about God by observing the world around us, and truly “we can know there is a God through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Letters in the Sand

Letters in the Sand
What do you see in this picture? Look closely, and you will see evidence of letters in the sand.

Notice the waves that were caused by wind blowing across the desert. Then notice the really surprising thing the wind has done! The wind has created some lines in a very interesting pattern. The lines seem to spell out the name of the world’s largest hot desert—SAHARA. Yes, the Sahara Desert covers most of northern Africa and to find something this amazing that the natural forces have “written” on the sand is truly unusual.

Wait a minute! Are you suggesting that those letters are not the effect of the wind and natural forces? Are you thinking that maybe an intelligent being actually wrote in the sand? Consider carefully the fact that the Sahara is huge and there are vast areas of sand. Given enough time and the proper wind directions why couldn’t this word show up by natural forces alone? Surely somewhere in that desert there must be a naturally formed letter—maybe an “S.” Surely in all of that area it is possible that natural forces could have formed the other letters. Given the billions of grains of sand and enough time they could just happen to line up in the proper order to spell a word. Couldn’t they?

Okay, you are not buying my story. Perhaps an intelligent being was involved in the formation of this word in the sand. But if you won’t believe me concerning the six letters in the sand, would you believe three-billion letters? That’s how many letters came together in the proper order to form the DNA strands in every cell of your body. That DNA code gives the complete blueprint for YOU. You can read S-A-H-A-R-A in seconds. If you were to read the three-billion letters of the DNA from one of your cells at the rate of one per second, every second of every hour of every day, it would take 31 years. Do you believe that the DNA code came into existence in a completely natural and unguided way?

Oh, you are suggesting that it all started out with something simple and then evolved into what it is today. Sorry, but fossil evidence shows that even the simplest bacteria that emerged shortly after the Earth came into existence had extremely complex DNA codes. Life just can’t exist without the code. The code is information and information is the product of intelligence. We suggest that just like those letters in the sand, life can’t happen without an intelligent Creator.
–Roland Earnst © 2018

God’s Natural Cloning

Natural Cloning of Crayfish
When scientists reach a new accomplishment, they sometimes discover that God has already done it. The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) has been reproducing by cloning for more than 20 years. Natural cloning, or parthenogenesis, is one of the tools of God for species reproduction.

Someone caught a female slough crayfish (Procambarus fallax) in the Florida Everglades in 1995. A hobbyist bought it for a pet. For an unknown reason, it became a new species called the marbled crayfish and started cloning itself. The hobbyist could not take care of the increasing numbers of crayfish, so he took them to a pet shop where others bought them for their aquariums. A German aquarium owner bought a bag of these mutant crayfish from an American pet trader and found his tank overrun with female crayfish. The marbled crayfish are all female clones from the one female crayfish. The number has gone from one to billions around the world today.

Crayfish are at the bottom of the food chain for freshwater ecosystems, and with this new method of reproduction, the supply of crayfish can be good even with heavy predation. These crayfish can adapt to so many kinds of environments that scientists are concerned about them becoming an invasive species in various areas. Researchers have recently sequenced the genome of the marbled crayfish to learn more about this creature. They are suggesting that study of marveled crayfish reproduction may give clues to how tumors develop and grow.

We still have a lot to learn about these cloned crayfish. There are other organisms in which natural cloning occurs without male participation. Study of this design feature may lead to more advances in the areas of food production and health.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
For more on marbeled crayfish click here. For more on how cloning might be used to protect an endangered species click here.

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

Dinosaur Train and Reality

Dinosaur Train and Reality
I have been blessed over the past year with a two-year-old who calls me “Booh” which is Thai for “Grandpa.” It has been a wonderful experience for me in several ways. One of the things I have learned as he has grown older and watches children’s television is how much bad good and bad information children are exposed to in their preschool years. My adopted grandson’s favorite television program is a PBS Kids series called Dinosaur Train.

The program opens with a small pair of creatures that look like pterodactyls standing by a nest containing four eggs. The eggs hatch and the first three hatchlings look like their parents, complete with the ability to fly. The fourth egg hatches a few seconds later with a baby who looks nothing like the parents and who says, “What am I doing in a flying reptile nest?” The mother dinosaur picks up the baby, and the whole family flies to a train station called the Dinosaur Train.

On the train, a conductor takes the family on a trip to different geologic time periods–Mesozoic, Cenozoic, Paleozoic, Triassic, etc. There the family meets dinosaurs from the various time periods who explain what they eat and how they find their food. The train has a cattle car with large dinosaurs in it, and the family goes to a coach containing smaller dinosaurs.

Occasionally a scientist identified as a paleontologist presents a mini-lecture. The lecture may be on the meaning of words, the current evolutionary beliefs about the animals, or the geological processes that shaped the history of the Earth. His presentations are generally accurate, and he attempts to give the viewers a vocabulary that would be the envy of most college freshmen. Sound effects are very entertaining, and the program stays away from blood and gore and tends to focus on herbivores.

There are lots of concerns that parents may have about the current geologic and evolutionary beliefs that are presented as facts. I am concerned about the anthropomorphism of the dinosaurs. The train is a mid-twentieth century coal-burning steam engine and the train station is from the same time period. The conductor is a dinosaur wearing an outfit that looks like a circus barker. He not only calls the “All aboard,” but he gives Powerpoint-style explanations. The dinosaurs all speak perfect English and behave as humans. Everyone is friendly, T-Rex speaks kindly with everyone, and groups of dinosaurs sing Broadway-style tunes. Dinosaur Train is quite frankly very entertaining.

The problem I have is that the dinosaurs are essentially humans, engaging in human contests, doing human things, and having human relationships. Mom and dad have human roles and enjoy human activities like picnics and visits to different climates and places of recreational value. It is no wonder that those who tell children that humans and dinosaurs lived together find a ready audience of young people. I have hunter friends who dislike the story of Bambi because it vilifies hunters and fails to present children with the importance of balance in nature and the role that carnivores like ourselves serve. The same difficulty is present when people don’t understand the role that dinosaurs had in preparing the Earth for humans by supporting the ecology that produced the resources we need to survive on this planet.

Dinosaur Train is interesting and creative, but parents need to take time to give more accurate and realistic teaching to their toddlers as they get old enough to understand. There is no problem in explaining the role of dinosaurs if we understand how God designed and planned for humans from before time began.
–John N. Clayton © 2018