Easy-going ape joins the genome club.
The bonobo, an endangered species native only to the region south of the Congo River in central Africa, is the last great ape to get its genome sequenced. Comparison with chimpanzee and human genomes reveals the bonobo genome is “98.7% identical to corresponding sequences in the human genome.”1
Kay Prüfer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led the sequencing study. Prüfer’s team found the human genome has just as much in common with the bonobo as with the chimp. "Humans are a little like a mosaic of bonobo and chimpanzee genomes," says Prüfer. The bonobo and chimp share an even higher percentage of DNA, 99.6%. The researchers feel this information should help us understand more about the last common ancestor of all three. They write, “That ancestor may in fact have possessed a mosaic of features, including those now seen in bonobo, chimpanzee and human.”1
Prüfer says humans and chimps diverged from their common ancestor 6 million years ago, but chimps and bonobos did not diverge until a million years ago after being geographically isolated by the formation of the Congo River. They eventually formed separate species, though they do resemble each other. Speciation, as we frequently point out, is observable in nature, does not require millions of years to occur, and does not involve evolution into new kinds of animals. Speciation is often associated with such geographic isolation as would have occurred when various members of the ape kind arrived in Africa after disembarking from the Ark, In other words, chimps and bonobos likely “speciated” from a common ancestor, and there is nothing about that process that supports ape-to-human evolution.
The apes’ behaviors differ greatly from each other, but the researchers note each species has much in common with humans, genetically and behaviorally. Chimps, for all their cute movie roles, are well suited for the more aggressive roles in which some filmmakers cast them. Chimps can be fairly aggressive, even quite violent. They also are competitive and have a male-dominated hierarchy. Chimps, unlike bonobos, can use tools and have “bigger, better brains.” Bonobo males, on the other hand, “do not compete intensely for dominant rank” and are often subordinate to females.1 They “make love, not war” and may bite but never kill. Bonobo society is a non-violent and playful world of sharing. Bonobos are even nicknamed “hippie chimps.”2 Geographically isolated from gorillas and chimps, bonobos may have been able to survive with their non-violent behavior because they faced little competition for resources. Chimp and gorilla habitats overlap in the wild, possibly prompting selection for their more aggressive natures.
While the researchers are confident that the behavioral differences will be explainable genetically, they have not yet investigated those questions. However, believing that humans are equally related to each of these apes, some scientists hope this sort of information will explain how the ugly side of human nature evolved. Brian Hare, who heads the Hominid Psychology Research Group at Duke University, comments, “Is the bonobo genome the secret to the biology of peace? They have done something in their evolution that even humans can’t do. They don’t have the dark side we do. If we only studied chimps, we’d get a skewed view of human evolution.”
Commenting on the apparent similarity between bonobos and humans, molecular geneticist and creationist Dr. Georgia Purdom says, “Just as with the chimp genome, we see numbers reported of over 98% similarity between the bonobo and human genomes. This shouldn’t be surprising when you understand how the bonobo genome was sequenced. The scientists used human and chimp genomes as a template or scaffold to assemble the bonobo genome because of the supposed common ancestry shared by them. This type of sequencing is very biased and leads to inflated amounts of similarity.” For more information about the way evolutionary bias affects the technology used to sequence and compare genomes, see How Genomes are Sequenced and Why it Matters: Implications for Studies in Comparative Genomics of Humans and Chimpanzees and Genome-Wide DNA Alignment Similarity (Identity) for 40,000 Chimpanzee DNA Sequences Queried against the Human Genome is 86–89%.
God created Adam and Eve on Day Six of Creation Week. He made them the same day He created land animals, including apes. By God’s eyewitness account, therefore, humans and apes do not share a common ancestor. Speculation about origins is always influenced by worldview-based presuppositions. Those who reject the possibility of a Creator must create untestable scenarios built on speculation about the way genomes of ape-like ancestors could mutate enough to become human. Read more about this topic in today’s feature on the “Six secrets of you”!
Finally, the origin of humanity’s “dark side” requires we look no further than Genesis chapter 3. When Eve responded to Satan’s question, “Yea, hath God said?” by doubting God’s Word, when Adam and Eve rebelled against the Creator—humans acquired a sinful nature, a “dark nature” God never intended for us to have. Our problem is sin, not our evolutionary past. The answer to our sin problem is not found in the genetics lab but in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Identity and age of the world’s largest group of human fossils is in dispute. “Getting that wrong even affects how we construct our own evolution,” says evolutionary expert.
Twenty-eight of Europe’s earliest human inhabitants are buried in the famous La Sima de los Huesos “Pit of Bones” near Burgos in northern Spain. But who they were and when they lived is now a matter of great dispute among evolutionists.
On the strength of their identity as the earliest Europeans—600,000 years ago by conventional reckoning—and their identity as Homo heidelbergensis, the European Union (EU) funded construction of The Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos. The museum, which opened in 2010, is designated a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. It is located about 10 miles from the 50-foot pit in the Atapuerca cavern where the bones were discovered. The EU donated millions of euros to the project because of the importance of La Sima de los Huesos for understanding human evolution.
But Chris Stringer, the Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum in London, believes both the identification of the Sima fossils as Homo heidelbergensis and their assigned date of 600,000 years are wrong. He is concerned these errors distort the human evolutionary tree. Stringer’s “Status of Homo heidelbergensis” study has just been published in the journal Evolutionary Anthropology. Stringer believes his correction of the fossils’ age and identity fully restores the human evolutionary story to reality.
Homo heidelbergensis is a variety of human whose skulls have less prominent features than Neanderthals. Their place on the evolutionary tree is debated among evolutionists, but they are thought to have evolved later than Homo erectus and to be the last common ancestor of Neanderthals and early modern humans (Homo sapiens). Those at La Sima de los Huesos, discovered in 1990, were initially dated at 350,000 years. The Atapuerca excavation led by Madrid University’s Juan Luis Arsuaga identified the fossils as Homo heidelbergensis and re-dated them to 600,000 years. The dates were derived from uranium dating of a stalagmite above the pit, which of course does not necessarily mean the stalagmite formed at the same time the people were buried, a point of concern raised by Stringer.
Homo heidelbergensis fossils have been found in Germany, Greece, England, and China. However, the Sima collection comprises ninety percent of known heidelbergensis fossils. Stringer reports fossil and genetic evidence now show the Sima fossils are just Neanderthals. "The problem is that many of the skeletons unearthed at La Sima clearly have Neanderthal features," he contends. "In particular, their teeth and jaws are shaped very like those of Neanderthals. But all other evidence indicated Neanderthals did not appear on the scene for another 200,000 years. Dating these bones to such an early date completely distorts our picture of our evolution."
As to the dates of the Sima collection, Stringer says “I think they [Arsuaga’s team] got it right the first time.” Stringer does not believe Neanderthal features could have arisen 600,000 years ago. Phillip Endicott of the Musée de l'Homme in Paris likewise maintains that his genetic analysis indicates Neanderthals emerged 400,000 years ago and says, “The bones in La Sima, which bear Neanderthal features, are supposed to be 600,000 years old. This cannot be true.”
Stringer, as well as Yolanda Fernández-Jalvo and Peter Andrews, of the Natural History Museums of Madrid and London respectively, says the relative lack of small bones in the pit suggests the bodies were not buried there intentionally but swept by a flood into a pit beneath the preexisting older stalagmite.
“The Atapuerca finds are hugely important,” Stringer says. “There is no other site like it in terms of numbers of bones [over 6,000] and skulls of our ancient predecessors. It is the world's biggest collection of ancient human fossils and the team there has done a magnificent job in excavating the site. However, if we cannot correctly fix the age and identity of the remains then we are in trouble. Getting that wrong even affects how we construct our own evolution.”
By reclassifying the Sima collection as Neanderthals and reassigning the dates to those conventionally accepted for Neanderthals, Stringer frees up the rather sparse collection of Homo heidelbergensis fossils elsewhere to be the ancestors of both Neanderthals and modern humans. He explains, “Removing the Sima fossils from heidelbergensis means that the species once again makes a good common ancestor for the Neanderthals, modern humans, and probably the Denisovans (known from DNA recovered from fragmentary fossils in Siberia) too. These new views on the dating and classification of the Sima material have led to a constructive scientific debate with the Atapuerca team, which will help to progress our understanding of the place of these important fossils in human evolution.”
Perhaps the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos will need to change its signage. If we were going to design its new ones, we would start by pointing out that when it comes to origins science, your starting assumption—that God’s Word is trustworthy or not—determines your conclusions. Stringer says we must “correctly fix the age” of the fossils, and the age “affects how we construct our own evolution.” But without eyewitness corroboration of the burial, how can we know the age we have “fixed” is correct? Yet the worldview-based decision about the correct age of these and other fossils determines “how we construct our own evolution.” Stringer’s statement is an implicit affirmation of the fact that the evolutionary “story” you are willing to accept—or to reject—depends on your worldview-affected assessment of the “correct age.”
Human fossils of people who dispersed from Babel are found in various layers of Pleistocene rocks (conventionally dated at 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago), which were laid down during the Ice Age. (The Ice Age occurred after the global Flood of about 2350 BC and was triggered by it.) Variations exist between these skeletons, with Homo erectus being found in the deepest of Pleistocene layers fairly close to Babel. Homo heidelbergensis fossils are found in layers dated by evolutionists to around 600,000 years. Neanderthals appear above that level, and only early modern humans are preserved in the layers above these. Biblically we understand that a variety of people dispersed from Babel, and these human fossils track their scattering around the globe. The oldest and deepest of these human fossils—Homo erectus—were just as human as we are. And so were those whose fossilized remains were found in La Sima cave.
“We have evolved to need coercion,” says Harvard biologist.
Evolution gave each of us the sweet tooth that controls our lives and leads us to self-destructive obesity, according to Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman. And Lieberman’s opinion piece in the New York Times supports New York mayor Bloomberg’s soda-slamming solution. “We did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive,” Lieberman writes. “Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did.” That “help” should take the form of coercion to save us from our outmoded irresistible urges. “We have evolved to need coercion.”
“Lessons from evolutionary biology support the mayor’s plan,” Lieberman writes. “Humans evolved to crave sugar, store it [as fat] and then use it. For millions of years, our cravings and digestive systems were exquisitely balanced because sugar was rare.” But now, “The food industry has made a fortune because we retain Stone Age bodies that crave sugar but live in a Space Age world in which sugar is cheap and plentiful. Sip by sip and nibble by nibble, more of us gain weight because we can’t control normal, deeply rooted urges for a valuable, tasty and once limited resource.”
Many people have expressed great displeasure at the New York mayor’s decision to ban the restaurant sale of sugary soda in portion sizes greater than 16 ounces. Lieberman’s analysis supports the mayor’s ban, explaining the seductive power of sweets through evolution. There was a time, so the story goes, when sweets were a rare but rich source of energy to help us out-compete our “chimpanzee cousins,” fueling our growing brains and allowing us to stash away fat (converted from excess sugar) for the days of deprivation. Now, with so much sugar around, we understandably have trouble controlling that sweet tooth, so society should help us to help ourselves, for society evolved to promote our survival in spite of such inborn cravings.
Evolutionary science is nowadays used to explain practically everything, and not just in nature. As columnist Dennis Prager comments, “Evolution explains love, altruism, morality, economic behavior, God, religion, intelligence.” Thus it is no surprise, he writes, “Along comes Professor Lieberman not merely to use evolution to explain human behavior, but to justify coercive left-wing social policy.”
Evolutionary science is really a way to explain life without God. Molecules-to-man evolution is a belief system and is not grounded in testable experimental observations but in unverifiable ideas about the past. And like a religion, evolutionary scientists speak with authority to explain why we are the way we are, how we should then live, and what we should do to be saved.
Because our modern lives are so blessed by the results of scientific advances, science for some has become the ultimate authority in life. For many, the idea that “science says it, I believe it, that settles it” has become the litmus test of all truth. Yet science is an ever-changing body of knowledge built upon testable ideas and our interpretations of our observations. Beliefs about origins are not testable, but those beliefs—those starting points, like whether or not God exists—are used to interpret all information about our origins. Science—while an incredible blessing overall—should be our servant and not our god.
On the other hand, God created us and therefore knows us best. He loves us and proved it by sending Jesus Christ to make salvation available, even though all people rebel against Him. Because He created us and loves us, He is the One best equipped to tell us why we are the way we are, what we must do to be saved, and how we should then live.
We know from God’s Word that He created Adam and Eve about 6,000 years ago fully functional and mature, the ancestors of all people. Humans were created with the ability to metabolize sugars for fuel and to store extra calories. But, starting with Adam and Eve, humans have rebelled against God’s perfect plan, and sin’s curse has affected every area of our lives, including the world all around us. Thus, the ready availability of empty calories in tasty sweets does make it easy to consume more calories than we need. And while there are many reasons people over-eat and under-exercise, none have an evolutionary basis. We may engage in self-destructive gluttony to seek pleasure, relieve stress, or perpetuate habitual patterns, but our lack of self-control has nothing to do with evolution.
Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham discussed this topic on his June 13 Facebook page, and as he pointed out, “Belief in molecules-to-man evolution is really a religion—it’s a religion that is therefore used to explain everything—doesn’t matter what the evidence is—they will fit it in in an attempt to explain it from their starting point of naturalism/millions of years/evolution.” Furthermore, he points out, evolutionary secularists “don't recognize (or want to recognize) the sin nature of man and that sin has affected every area of life.”
Evolution cannot explain our problems. The sinful nature of man and the cursed state of the world do. And the solutions to our problems don’t come from blaming them on an evolutionary fairy tale. Neither do solutions come from dredging up an evolutionary justification for whatever policy is popular—or unpopular—at the time.
What is man? A series of lucky evolutionary accidents—a mutant masterpiece!
The 9 June 2012 issue of New Scientist has dice on the cover to remind readers, “Evolution is a game of chance.” The issue contains a series of articles highlighting the “wealth of information” available from comparing the human and ape genomes.3 “It gives us a perspective on what it takes to become human,” says paleoanthropologist John Hawks. But more than genetic explanations for some of our special characteristics is in view here. The magazine’s focus is on how humans evolved from ape-like ancestors. As the lead article says, the journalist “uncovers six of the winning mutations that helped humans hit the jackpot.”
What fossils cannot provide—presumably because insufficient transitional forms were preserved by haphazard fossilization—secrets preserved in genetic codes can reveal, or so the story goes. And while “we are a million miles from a complete list” of the advantageous mutations that presumably transformed ape-like ancestors into the “lucky you” in the mirror, “even the first few to emerge as likely candidates are shedding light on the ascent of man.” We can see only the results of millions of years of evolution and selectionand not “the harmful mutations that were weeded out,” Hawks points out. 4 Therefore, “When we look back at the whole process, it looks like a stunning series of accidents.”4
The genomic recipe for “proving” human evolution follows a predictable pattern. First, identify a gene associated with distinctively human traits. Then, by comparing the human version of the gene to corresponding ape genes, define any differences as mutations and voilà, another of the countless lucky accidents that made us human becomes headline news!
Manual dexterity places the human ability to use tools light years ahead of otters that beat shellfish open with rocks. Tools are great, so Arthur C. Clarke’s portrayal of “the day an ape-man started clubbing things with an animal bone as a pivotal moment in our evolution” in the classic science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is spot on from the evolutionary point of view, but “our progress has been dependent on our dexterity.”5 Noting even a chimp’s opposable thumb is less specialized for dexterity than a human’s, the “Helping Hand” article discusses a gene called HACNS1.5 Its insertion into genetically engineered mouse embryos seems to alter forelimb development. Operational (observational) science reveals the human version of this regulatory gene differs in 16 places from the chimp version. 6 But through the magic of imagination, evolutionary scientists confidently declare this gene has “undergone 16 mutations since we split from chimps.”5
The other five articles in the series focus attention on the brain. After all, the human brain’s information storage and retrieval capacity provides the physical platform to support our abstract thought processes, including uniquely human linguistic abilities. Like “Helping Hands,” these articles follow a predictable pattern. The key ingredient to this recipe for “proof” involves re-defining significant chimp-human DNA differences as “mutations.” Inherent in this definition is the presupposition that humans evolved from ape-like ancestors, and, by then interpreting differences as mutations, the presupposition appears proven.
Noting that human brains are “three times the size of those of our nearest relative, the chimpanzee,” 7 “Brain Gain” explains the increase in size “since the human lineage diverged from chimpanzees some 5–6 million years ago”8 is likely attributable to a gene called ASPM, saying, “We know this gene was undergoing major changes just as our ancestors’ brains were rapidly expanding.” 7 A defect in human ASPM causes microcephaly. And because there are many differences between normal human ASPM and ape ASPM, evolutionary scientists infer that it has evolved rapidly to produce bigger brains.
Of course, being bigger is not enough. The many convoluted folds in the brain provide space for human neurons to make a vast number of interconnections. Because recent research has shown that formation of these interconnections during embryonic development is facilitated by a regulatory gene-duplicate called SRGAP2, the human neurological architecture is “obviously” the evolutionary by-product of random gene-duplicating mutations.
The SRGAP2 gene may indeed be of critical importance in normal human embryonic brain development, but that does not prove it had an evolutionary role in human brain development. As we pointed out in our extensive discussion (see News to Note, May 12, 2012) of the presumed “evolutionary history” of this important gene, “The researchers suggest this and similar ‘human-specific gene duplicates’ helped ape-like ancestors leap to more efficient brain function and scamper up the evolutionary intellectual tree, leaving their cousins in the dust.” 9 Furthermore, “Happily for the evolutionary model, the [molecular date for the duplication] just happens to be about time evolutionists believe human ancestors diverged from Australopithecine ancestors.”9
Yet these impressive calculations are built upon circular reasoning, statistical fallacies, and even evolutionary bias built into the technology used to compare genomes. As molecular geneticist and creationist Dr. Georgia Purdom explains, “People need to understand that many assumptions by the scientists, like human evolution from an ape-like ancestor, have a direct effect on how the scientists compare the genomes. They compare them in a way that will achieve the conclusion they have already determined is true—that humans and apes share common ancestry. It’s truly a case of circular reasoning!”
“Jaw Dropper” tells the tale of the gene MYH16, the blueprint that determines the protein components in jaw muscles.10 The human version differs from the chimp version, providing humans with “wimpy jaw muscles by comparison.”10 Supposing strong jaw muscles would keep the skull too tight for brain growth, muscle researcher Hansel Stedman says, “We are suggesting this mutation is the cause of the decrease in muscle mass and hence the decrease in bone. Only then do you lift the evolutionary constraint that precludes other mutations that allow your brain to continue growing.”10
Of course, bigger better brains require a generous fuel supply, so evolutionists look to comparative genetics to explain the generous supply of glucose-generating amylase enzyme in human saliva, the human brain’s efficient glucose transport systems, and the “replumbing [of] its blood vessels” from the ape-like ancestral model. Humans have anywhere from 6 to 15 copies of the gene to make salivary amylase—which accounts for the human “sweet tooth”—whereas the chimp only has two. 4 And a sort of brain-over-brawn mechanism in the human brain’s blood vessels shunts glucose—the optimal fuel for brain cells—to the brain in preference to muscles, showing that “athleticism has been sacrificed for intelligence.”11 Because the “sweet gene” is present in greater quantities in humans and because the blueprint for the brain’s glucose transport system is contained in a gene that differs from that in apes, these lucky evolutionary improvements are attributed to “mutations” rather than to divine design.
The recent sequencing of the gorilla genome sheds evolutionary light on the brain’s plumbing. A defect in the gene RNF213 causes Moyamoya disease in humans with constriction of the brain’s blood supply. And because normal human RNF213 differs from the gorilla’s version, ”The gene may have played a role in boosting the brain's blood supply during our evolution.”11 Evolutionary geneticist Chris Tyler-Smith, part of the gorilla genome group, explains, “We know that damaging the gene can affect blood flow, so we can speculate that other changes might influence that [brain blood flow] in a beneficial way.” 11 Yet again, present-day genetic defects and inter-species differences are observable, but attributing those differences to divergent evolution and accumulation of mutations is imaginative, unverifiable, and contrary to the biblical eyewitness account. God, our Creator, was the only eyewitness to our origins and has left us His account, testifying to His unique creation of humans in His own image distinct from animals on the Sixth Day of the Creation Week about 6,000 years ago.
Our linguistic capabilities are partly attributable to the “language gene,” FOXP2. This gene is thought to regulate genes related to the embryologic development of the neurological hardware involved in language learning. A British family (“KE”) that suffered extreme language deficits in 16 members was found in 2001 to have a mutation in FOXP2, revealing the gene’s importance. But because each animal possessing FOXP2 has a slightly different version, evolutionists believe a mutation in FOXP2 was the happy accident that gave humans the “gift of the gab.”12 Indeed, there was actually speculation that the KE family had “reverted to a ‘chimp-like’ version of the gene”! 12 The family’s reputed reverse evolution was debunked by documenting they had a “new mutation,” but the very fact that such evolutionary reversion was ever thought of reveals a deeply ingrained evolutionary worldview.
Despite the determination on the part of evolutionists to define interspecies differences as documented mutations from evolutionary ancestors, it is vital that discerning Christians continually note the difference between that which is experimentally observable in the present and that which is imaginatively envisioned in the evolutionary past. God created human beings in His image, with a unique spiritual nature and an eternal destiny. Man acquired a sinful nature by rebelling against his Creator. To envisage human beings as nothing more than evolutionarily advanced animals—mere products of random luck over millions of years—is not an inconsequential choice but a dangerous position making it easy to ignore the need to be reconciled to our God through Jesus Christ.
As we reported last week, evolutionists lost a battle in the Korean educational system, and some “evolutionary examples” are being expunged from high school textbooks. Dr. Georgia Purdom has obtained additional information from a Korean creation scientist detailing how the Society for Textbook Revision, which is associated with the Korea Association for Creation Research and the Korean Evolution Research Society, has convinced the Korean Ministry of Education and textbook publishers to critically evaluate some of the iconic evidences used to support evolution. Changes are voluntary, and publishers are being encouraged to remove some examples because they are not based on sound observational science. Some iconic examples of evolution that are considered outdated even by evolutionists often remain in textbooks as if they were undeniable proofs. Be sure to read Dr. Purdom’s analysis of this encouraging story. This is a good step forward, comparable to allowing open and critical discussion of the scientific evidences used for evolution in classrooms in this country. And vocal evolutionists are not happy about these developments. But the opponents of God’s truth do not rest, so remember to pray for biblical creationists seeking to remove stumbling blocks to faith in God’s Word in Korea!
Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us. If you didn’t catch last week’s News to Note, why not take a look at it now? See you next week!
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