Science & Religion #15: Was Adam Part Neanderthal? (A DNA Primer)By: Mike S
Several recent studies suggest that there is a good chance that Homo sapiens (us) mated with Neanderthals in the past? Did Adam have Neanderthal DNA? Do we? What does this mean? The next few posts in this series will discuss evolution, different species, time lines, etc. In order to understand this better, this is a short primer on DNA and what it means for science and religion.
DNA is an amazing substance. It literally makes you you and me me. But how does it work? It’s really just a LONG molecule made up of 4 bases: A, T, C and G. These are packed various ways into chromosomes. DNA can be be exchanged, reshuffled, duplicated, etc. Volumes could be written about all of this and we will cover some of these concepts later, but for now that’s really it.
So what does DNA do? It is essentially a recipe book. Copies can be made of the main DNA strand to make a “working recipe”. Every three base pairs together codes for an amino acid, and strings of amino acids make proteins. Proteins and the products of proteins make up our entire body. So DNA is essential for life.
The quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dogs.
Something can be deleted: The quick red fx jumped over the lazy brown dogs.
Something can be duplicated: The quick red fox jumped over the the lazy brown dogs.
Something can be reversed: The quick red fox depmuj over the lazy brown dogs.
Something can be changed: The quick red fox jumped over the lady brown dogs.
There is also a lot of “junk” in our DNA that gets cut out when it is used. For example:
The quasdfghjklick red fox jumweerrsfsfeedped over the lazsdfsfsdfajhsdfjky bradlksfaown dogs.
We call these various things mutations. Most of the time, a mutation “ruins” what the DNA needs to do, like in the “reverse” example above. But sometimes a mutation “makes sense” as in the “changed” example. And occasionally, one of these changes might be better. Are “lady brown dogs” better than “lazy brown dogs”? Perhaps. The theory of evolution suggests that changes that make an organism more likely to survive get passed down, while ones that make an organism less likely to survive get weeded out.
So, back to Adam and Neanderthal DNA. What does that mean? And how can we use DNA to determine how closely related different people/animals/etc. are? Suppose I gave you 10 sentences and told you I changed one thing at a time. Could you reorder the following sentences in the order I made the changes?
1. The quick red fox
2. Quick reddy fix
3. The quick reddy fox
4. The red red foxs quick
5. The quick red red fox
6. The quick red red boxes
7. The quick fix reddy
8. The quick quick fix reddy
9. The quick reddy fix
10. The quick red red foxes
Try it if you’d like. Here is the answer:
The quick red fox————————————
The quick reddy fox The quick red fox
The quick reddy fix————– The quick red red fox
! ! !
The quick fix reddy Quick reddy fix The quick red red foxes——————-
! ! !
The quick quick fix reddy The red red foxes quick The quick red red boxes
There are several things we can see from this:
1) The split between red and reddy took place early, forming 2 main sub-groups
2) Quick is an important word. In ALL cases, Quick hasn’t changed.
3) “The quick red red foxes” is more closely related to “The quick red red boxes” than to “The quick reddy fox”
4) It’s possible to recreate lineages, relatedness, etc.
What does this have to do with DNA? Scientists do the same thing. We can compare human DNA with that of other animals in the world around us, and animals with each other. And what do we find? Human DNA is approximately 98% the same as chimpanzee DNA, 90% the same as mouse DNA, 85% the same as zebra fish DNA, 23% the sane as yeast DNA, and 7% the same as E coli bacteria. And just like in the “sentence” tree, we can determine how closely organisms are related, when things likely branched, and if we know how fast changes occur in DNA, how long ago various things happened.
So, humans and Neanderthals. Scientists have been able to sequence DNA from Neanderthal remains. And when they compared them to human DNA, there is a 1-4% overlap. It would be like reading the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and finding snippets from War & Peace mixed throughout. Either it’s a complete coincidence, or else at some point in the past there was some sort of “intermingling” between the two books. It begs the question, how did it get there?
- Did Adam have some Neanderthal DNA? Did it get mixed in AFTER Adam? Or is our DNA technology up-in-the-night and this is a false association?
- Do you think that DNA analysis is a valid way of determining relatedness between people? Between races? Between species?
- Many of our prophets and apostles have discounted evolution completely as a tool of Satan to deceive. Since these statements, DNA technology has shown that we are quite related to the great apes, for example. Why would God make us so much like apes? Is it a test?
NOTE: This post is #15 in a series. For a list of other posts in the series, see the Series Recap.