Science and Human Origins: A Review

Last year Christianity Today ran a cover story entitled: ”The Search for the Historical Adam.” Several prominent men associated with the faith community were quoted as registering questions concerning whether humans indeed started as a special creation or were simply a random, naturalistic product of Darwinian evolution. The mainstream “scientific” view might have been best summed up by the late Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson in his 1967 book: “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”

A new book to be released in June from the Discovery Institute Press, Science and Human Origins, is aimed at providing some perspective on this specific issue. The book is a series of five short essays, by three authors, totaling 120 pages with citations. Perhaps the essence of the book can be condensed this way: Rather than merely assuming the answer to critical questions, scientists should prove it scientifically, which in this area has not been done satisfactorily.

For the sake of brevity I will focus on three of the chapters. Chapter 1 contends that for neo-Darwinism mere “similarity” is assumed to confirm common ancestry. But assuming the answer is not itself scientific. Common ancestry could be proven by showing that “a step-wise path must exist from the ancestral form to the new form... and, second, there must be enough time and probabilistic resources for neo-Darwinian processes to traverse that path.” Referring to research she has conducted on converting one bacterial protein into another similar one with a different function, the author concludes that this takes at minimum seven mutations and the “waiting time for seven coordinated neutral mutations to arise in a bacterial population is on the order of 10 to the 27th years.”* Since the universe is thought to be only around 10 to the 10th* years old the undirected path could not reasonably have happened. The number of mutations for a supposed non-human relative of ours to become human is many more than 7, hence the problem is much more aggravated than the bacterial experiment suggests and, hence, relatedness has not been scientifically proven.

Chapter two emphasizes the inadequacy of neo-Darwinian undirected processes to get from Point A to Point B if the distance is material. A study published in 2006 “has identified twenty distinct gene families, each with multiple genes, that are present in humans but absent from chimps and other mammals.” In other words, the gap between A and B is so great that it simply cannot be accomplished in the few million years posited for the change to have occurred by means of what Richard Dawkins describes as “[n]atural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life....”

Chapter 4, written by Casey Luskin who participated in the Spectrum conference in Chicago last year, takes on Dr. Francis Collins when he claims that human DNA provides “powerful support for Darwin’s theory of evolution, that is descent from a common ancestor with natural selection operating on randomly occurring variations.” The Collins conclusion, Luskin writes, is based on two main arguments: “non-coding DNA shared by humans and other mammals is supposedly functionless junk”, and “human chromosome #2 resulted from the fusion of two chromosomes like those found in apes....”

Luskin shows, however, that much of what might have been initially thought to be “junk” actually has functions that are helpful in such areas as the regulation of cells, genome dynamics and developmental programming. Moreover, Collins specifically calls out pseudogene caspase-12 as evidence of Darwinism because “why would God have gone to the trouble of inserting such a nonfunctioning gene in this precise location?” Recent research, however, is revising the view that pseudogenes are “junk” and even caspase-12 is now said to be able to produce a type of functional protein.

With respect to chromosome fusion the book takes the following tack. It is not clear that there actually was a fusion event. If there was, “a huge amount of alleged telomeric DNA is missing or garbled.” But the key point is this: Even if we assume that chromosome #2 resulted from a fusion, this says nothing about when it was fused and whether it was fused in a prior supposed pre-human ancestor or simply a prior human. “At most, it shows our human lineage experienced a chromosomal fusion event, but it does not tell us whether our lineage leads back to a common ancestor with apes.”

Chapter three talks about human origins and the fossil record and Chapter 5 discusses whether population genetics proves that there could not have been a literal Adam and Eve (only two humans) at some point in time.

Those interested in recent scientific findings in genetics and paleoanthropology and their impact on some central neo-Darwinian assumptions will enjoy this book. While the subject matter can be highly technical, care has been taken in this book to make the essential elements available to the thoughtful non-scientist. As the author of Chapter 2 says: “The truth is that humans have a tendency to accept what they’ve been told over and over, and scientists (being human) are no exception to this. Stories have their place in science, in the framing of ideas, but they aren’t what makes good science so persuasive. So, scientists who insist that Darwin got our story, the human story, right would do well to ponder the evidence that would be needed to make that claim persuasive.” The evidence to date, he concludes, “has convinced me otherwise.”

*It appears that the exponential notation didn't transfer when published. The review has been updated.







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Sat, 10/25/2014 | Los Angeles Adventist Forum
October Adventist Forum
Ronald E. Osborn, Ph.D., A 2014-2016 Mellon Postdoctoral Fell ow in the Peace and Justice Program at Wellesley College (Boston), and a 2 015 Fullbright Scholar to Burma/Myanmar, Formerly an Adjunct Faculty Membe r in the Dept. of International Relations at USC, and in the Honors Progra m at UCLA. Topic: "Death Before the Fall?: A Conversation with Ronald Osbor n."

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