Science & Faith
9/5/12 at 11:16 AM 11 Comments

A Recent Fight Over Human Evolution: Fossils vs. DNA

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RickK commented on my last post about human evolution:

Yes, the fossil record is spotty. But the hominid fossil record makes a nice icing on top of the mile-high cake of DNA evidence that links us as firmly to our fellow ape species as it links us to our parents. No reasonable, educated person doubts that humans evolved from earlier, ape-like species. But of course, unreasonable doubt abounds.

Rick, you may be interested to learn about a recent controversy between paleontologists and geneticists regarding the mystery of human origins. You can find the general story outlined here (follow the links there for details and for the primary sources). Given that the two parties in this particular debate are committed Darwinists, this might help convince you that there are reasonable doubts about the reliability of genetic (DNA) evidence regarding human origins. The fossil experts (paleontologists) are telling us that the DNA experts (geneticists) have some major reliability problems when it comes to questions about human evolution.

Critics of the often-conflicting Darwinian stories of human origins are not "science deniers," but rather they are using critical thinking skills to evaluate what we can reasonably infer from the available evidence. The New York Times article linked from the above summary is worth your time and open-minded consideration. Here are some excerpts from it:

Inquiries into human origins are on strong ground when genetic data and fossil evidence point in the same direction, but at present geneticists and paleoanthropologists have somewhat different stories to tell. All human fossil remains in Africa for the last 100,000 years, and probably the last 200,000 years, are of modern humans, providing no support for a coexistent archaic species. Another team of geneticists reported in 2010 the finding that Neanderthals had interbred 100,000 years ago with Europeans and Asians, but not Africans. This, too, conflicted with the fossil evidence in implying that modern humans left Africa 100,000 years ago, some 55,000 years before the earliest known fossil evidence of this exodus. In a report still under review, a third group of geneticists says there are signs of Neanderthals having interbred with Asians and East Africans. But Neanderthals were a cold-adapted species that never reached East Africa.

These three claims of interbreeding have opened up a serious discordance between geneticists and paleoanthropologists. For digesting the geneticists' claims, "sup with a long spoon," advised Bernard Wood, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University.

Richard Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University, said the new claim of archaic and modern human interbreeding "is a further example of the tendency for geneticists to ignore fossil and archaeological evidence, perhaps because they think it can always be molded to fit the genetics after the fact."

Dr. Klein said the claims of interbreeding could be "a methodological artifact" in the statistical assumptions on which the geneticists' calculations are based. The flaw may come to light when enough inconsistent claims are published. "Meanwhile, I think it's important to regard such claims skeptically when they are so clearly at odds with the fossil and archaeological records," he said.

Dr. Tishkoff said that she agreed on the need for caution in making statistical inferences, and that there are other events besides interbreeding, like a piece of DNA getting flipped around the wrong way, that can make a single DNA sequence look ancient. "But when you see it at a genomewide level, it's harder to explain away," she said.

So, back to my main point. RickK asserts that Darwin doubters are doubting unreasonably. This recent debate between two groups of Darwinists illustrates the point that there is plenty of room for reasonable doubt about the over-confident assertions of many Darwinists. Look for more on the issue of human evolution in future posts here.

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