Another Branch of the Family


Does the partially complete sequencing of the Neanderthal genome challenge creationists’ view that they were fully human?

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Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute in Germany has announced the “first draft” of the Neanderthal genome. Paabo says his team has found no sign that Neanderthals and “modern” humans interbred, yet claims Neanderthals may have been able to speak to our own ancestors, since they share the well-known FOXP2 “language” gene. “There is no reason to believe they couldn’t speak like us,” Paabo said. “But of course there are many other genes involved in speech and language, so there are many more studies to be done.”

Paabo presented the news at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference (see items #3, #4). According to the research, of the 60 percent of the Neanderthal genome sequenced so far, 99.5 to 99.9 percent of the DNA is the same.

The sources for the Neanderthal genome are bones found in a cave in Croatia. The team answered no to the question of whether modern Europeans had significant genetic information from Neanderthals, yet—curiously—found that the Neanderthal genome has a different form of one brain-development gene that is found today among Africans.

The team also hasn’t found anything in the genome to explain why Neanderthals are no more. “I don’t think they became extinct due to something in their genome,” Paabo explained. “It was clearly something in their interaction with the environment or with modern humans that caused them to be extinct.”

Even among humans alive today, there can be up to 0.9 percent genetic variation (although older estimates were as low as 0.2 percent); either way, it shows that Neanderthals clearly fall within the range of modern human variation.*

More importantly is the archaeological evidence, however, which overwhelmingly shows that Neanderthals—despite their physical differences, such as a larger cranial capacity—were as intelligent, social, and creative as us “modern” humans, and thus were made in the image of God, descendants of Adam through Noah.

* See Darwin’s Plantation for details.

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