A field of evolutionary research is explored in-depth in this week’s issue of Newsweek (whose cover reads “The Evolution Revolution”). In “Beyond Stones & Bones”, author Sharon Begley describes how geneticists are increasingly relying on the technique of comparing genomes in the search for dates, as opposed to the old method of digging up fossil bones. Focusing on the evolutionary account of human origins, Begley writes, “Fossils and tools testified to our ancestors’ origins in Africa, the emergence of their ability to walk upright, the development of toolmaking and more. But now two new storytellers have begun speaking: DNA and brains.”
This “new science” is illustrated by Begley’s description of anthropologist Mark Stoneking’s work investigating lice. (That’s right, lice.) Stoneking, hoping to determine when clothing replaced hair as the prime human covering, compared the DNA of head lice (which live in hair) and body lice (which infest clothing). Then, using estimates for how quickly DNA accumulates changes, Stoneking and his colleagues calculated that the “fork” in the louse family tree (when head lice and body lice went their separate ways) occurred “no more than 114,000 years ago.” Deducing that this divergence took place at the same time a new habitat (clothing) appeared, Stoneking concludes that humans first fashioned clothing right around 114,000 years ago. (One wonders if compromisers will fit this in with Genesis 3:7, 21.)
It’s explorations like the above that led Begley to write:
Although we tend to see the march of species down through time as a single-file parade […] the emerging science shows that the story of our species is far more complicated than Biblical literalists would have it—but also more complex than secular science suspected. […] The neat traditional model in which one species gave rise to another like Biblical “begats” has been replaced by a profusion of branches, representing species that lived at the same time as our direct ancestors but whose lines died out.
Begley then describes various applications of the idea of the “molecular clock.” The idea of the molecular clock is that by extrapolating the present, observed rate of changes in DNA back into the past, then comparing the differences in two genomes, scientists can use math to determine how long ago two genomes diverged (hence Stoneking’s estimation of the louse divergence). For instance, the article reviews how the molecular clock indicates that humans and chimps diverged “5 to 6 million years ago” (although Begley mistakenly claims human and chimp DNA are “no more than 1.2 percent” different).
The article then runs into some of the inconsistencies in which this dating technique has resulted (for evolutionists, anyway). Begley describes alleged apeman “Toumai,” a supposed non-chimp ancestor of humans who would have, according to the traditional evolutionary model, evolved after the human-chimp split (which, as mentioned above, is placed at 5–6 million years ago according to the molecular clock). The problem is that other dating techniques place Toumai at 7 million years old; of course, this inconsistency doesn’t appear to shake these evolutionists’ faith in their dating methods.
Begley then explains how other new fields of research, such as “paleoneurology” (the study of fossil skulls and braincases), have similarly turned traditional evolutionary history topsy-turvy. According to the article, Homo erectus was “almost certainly a[n evolutionary] dead end,” rather than being our ancestor, as scientists have traditionally thought.
Since scientists have only observed the rate of DNA mutations in the present, they must extrapolate that rate into the past using uniformitarian assumptions.
But inconsistencies such as these are only the first problem with these “revolutionary” evolutionary sciences. Another problem is the assumption of a constant rate of DNA change in the “molecular clock” model. Since scientists have only observed the rate of DNA mutations in the present, they must extrapolate that rate into the past using uniformitarian assumptions.
Of course, there are some legitimate “evolutionary” (i.e. variation within a kind) relationships. All dog species today are legitimately related as descendants of the original, created dog kind—having diverged since the creation, about 6,000 years ago.
Ultimately, the way in which a person interprets facts depends on their beginning assumptions. When an individual begins with the Bible, he or she sees how the diversity of life today fits into the Bible’s account of the history of the universe. When a person rejects the Bible’s account and relies on extrapolation into an “unknown” past, what does he or she get? Contradictions and more unknowns when trying to solve, as Begley puts it, “the age-old quest to understand where humankind came from and how we got here.” It’s a quest that’s put to rest when one finds the answers in Genesis.