The “Baptist Press” and Denisovan Fossils: Does Science Confirm the Bible?

The “Baptist Press” and Denisovan Fossils: Does Science Confirm the Bible?

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بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْم

“Though it appears to throw a wrench into the theory that humans descended from archaic subspecies that migrated out of Africa, it fits quite well into the Biblical narrative.”

– Julie Borg, Baptist Press[1]

            On this blog, we have discussed examples of scientific errors in the Bible and the attempted explanations of Christian apologists, which have failed miserably.[2] But the apologists also frequently attempt to use science to try to bolster their claim that the Bible is the word of God, as Muslim apologists do as well. I recently came across an article in the “Baptist Press” titled “Fossil find complicates theory of human evolution”, where one such attempt was made. In this article, I will discuss the “fossil find” that this Christian apologetic source is trying to claim as a victory for the Bible and show that, while the fossil evidence may certainly have thrown a wrench into the controversial topic of “human evolution”, it still does not help the Bible. In fact, no matter what we find in terms of fossil evidence in the future, the Bible will always be wrong, as we will see.

The “Fossil Find”

            The article in the “Baptist Press” begins by delightedly stating:

“[a]nalysis of an ancient human tooth appears to have taken one more bite out of the evolutionary narrative.”

The “analysis” that the author is referring to appeared recently in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, the article did not provide any other information, not even a title or a link. Therefore, it is difficult to figure out which study the author is even talking about. However, after a brief search, I found the scientific paper. It appears that the article in question is authored by Bailey, Hublin, and Anton and is titled “Rare dental trait provides morphological evidence of archaic introgression in Asian record”.[3]

            Based on their analysis of the 3-rooted lower second molar tooth from a 160,000-year-old Denisovan fossil, the authors concluded that:

“…the presence of a 3-rooted lower second molar in this 160,000-y-old fossil hominin suggests greater antiquity for the trait. Importantly, it also provides morphological evidence of a strong link between archaic and recent Asian H. sapiens populations. This link provides compelling evidence that modern Asian lineages acquired the 3-rooted lower molar via introgression from Denisovans.”

denisovan tooth.gif
Figure 1 – The 3-rooted lower second molar tooth of a Denisovan (Source: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/30/14806)

To make this easier to understand for laymen, it behooves us to define some of the scientific terms mentioned:

  • Hominin – In evolutionary jargon, the term “hominin” refers to “modern humans and our ancestors that evolved after our split with the chimpanzees and gorillas…”[4] As Casey Luskin, a researcher at the Discovery Institute,[5] states:

“Hominin fossils generally fall into one of two groups: ape-like species and human-like species, with a large, unbridged gap between them.”[6]

  • Homo sapiens – Meaning “wise man”, this is the scientific name for “modern humans” (i.e., you and me).
  • Introgression – According to Martin and Jiggins in their article “Interpreting the genomic landscape of introgression”, introgression is “the transfer of genetic material between species…”[7] In other words, it implies interbreeding.
  • Denisovans – Part of the hominin group, these were “early humans who lived in Asia and were distantly related to Neanderthals”.[8] Like Neanderthals, Denisovans interbred with “modern humans”.

So, the conclusion of the study is that the 160,000-year-old 3-rooted fossil tooth of a Denisovan is proof that modern humans, especially Asians, carry an ancient Denisovan trait, which means that genetic material was transferred from Denisovans to modern humans, obviously through interbreeding. The “Baptist Press” article seizes on this relationship by stating that:

“…where there is interbreeding, there is a strong case that the two species are actually the same.”

This is certainly true, and there is strong evidence that both Neanderthals and Denisovans were in fact the same as Homo sapiens. In other words, they were human beings just like us. The fact that there was interbreeding is itself strong evidence that all 3 groups are part of the same species.

            Further evidence for this relationship is found in the fact that Neanderthals buried their dead,[9] a behavior which has only been observed in “modern humans”.[10] Neanderthals also made cave art as well.[11] There is even evidence that they constructed musical instruments,[12] though there is still some controversy on this matter. Coupled with the presence of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans, the additional evidence of Neanderthal culture builds a strong case that they really were Homo sapiens, and not Homo neanderthalensis. As Luskin states:

“…these observations have led to proposals that Neanderthals were a sub-race of our own species.”[13]

 

Neanderthal cave art.jpg
Figure 2 – Neanderthal cave art found in Spain (https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-neanderthals-were-artists-20180222-htmlstory.html)

            As for Denisovans, a recent discovery in Siberia has shown that they also interbred with Neanderthals. DNA analysis of a bone from “Denny”, a teenage girl, revealed that she had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.[14] This discovery has further fueled the debate as to whether Denisovans and Neanderthals should be reclassified as Homo sapiens.[15]

            So, there is clearly a growing body of evidence which does seem to “throw a wrench into the theory that humans descended from archaic subtypes…” as the “Baptist Press” article claims. Indeed, with every new fossil discovery, the evolutionary history of humanity gets more confusing. But does this evidence fit “quite well into the Biblical narrative”? As a matter of fact, for some very simple reasons, the answer is no. The new scientific evidence still contradicts the Bible.

            The article by the “Baptist Press” makes the following claim:

“[t]he Bible says that after the Genesis flood, people dispersed out from Babel, and groups of humans became isolated.”

Then, it refers to an article from the Christian website “Answers in Genesis”, and states that:

“[t]he isolation limited genetic variability and produced people groups like the Neanderthals and Denisovans, Elizabeth Mitchell wrote in an article for Answers in Genesis.”

Let us now discuss why these claims are completely without merit and can be rejected, even when considering the recent scientific discoveries.

The Genesis Flood

            There are a few reasons why the recent discoveries don’t help the Genesis account of the flood. First, there is no evidence of a global flood. Second, using the Bible’s detailed genealogies,[16] we can pin-point the approximate date of the flood to around 2348 BCE.[17] This is confirmed by Christian sources, including “Answers in Genesis” (AIG), which makes the following astonishing claim:

“The Flood of Noah’s day (2348 BC) was a year-long global catastrophe that destroyed the pre-Flood world, reshaped the continents, buried billions of creatures, and laid down the rock layers.”[18]

            As for the Babel incident, AIG dates it to 2242 BCE, a mere 106 years after the flood.[19] Obviously, there is a clear contradiction between what the Bible says and what science says. Both the “Baptist Press” article and AIG claim that Denisovans and Neanderthals emerged after the flood and the Tower of Babel (around 4,200 years ago), but how can this be when the Denisovan tooth mentioned above dates from 160,000 years ago? It is impossible that Denisovans and Neanderthals emerged only 4,200 years ago! The fossil evidence discounts the Biblical genealogies and hence the Bible still contradicts the scientific evidence. For young-Earth apologetic sources like AIG to prove otherwise, they would need to demonstrate that the ages assigned to the Denisovan tooth and other fossils, whether of humans or animals, are flat-out wrong. Of course, no serious scientist would deny that the real age of the Earth is more than 4 billion years old. Even the Discovery Institute, which criticizes Darwinian evolution, does not deny the general reliability of the dating of fossils or Earth or even the universe. For example, Luskin states that the origin of the genus Homo was around 2 million years ago.[20] Indeed, thanks to radiometric dating, it is an undeniable fact that the Earth is far older than just 6,000 years. Its actual age is closer to around 4.5 billion years.

            As for the claim that the Biblical flood occurred only around 4,200 years ago, there is no evidence for such a global deluge. In fact, if this flood had happened around that time, it somehow failed to wipe out Egypt, which was a thriving civilization and kept continuous records from the reign of Menes to Darius Ochus.[21] That means a span of almost 3000 years. For a global flood to have happened, it should have happened before 3000 BCE, instead of around 2300 BCE. Even then, there is no evidence of such a deluge. In contrast, there is plenty of evidence of other mass extinction events in the history of life on Earth, such as the Permian extinction, which wiped out 96% of marine life, 70% of terrestrial vertebrates, and 80% of insect genera.[22] It was one of the greatest extinction events in history. But the flood was supposed to be even worse, and only a few thousand years ago!

The Bible’s Young Earth

            There is no doubt that the Bible’s extensive genealogies set the origin of the Earth to several thousand years ago. On this point, Christian sources like AIG are just being honest, whereas those who try to reinterpret the Biblical text considering modern scientific evidence are doing so to avoid admitting the inconvenient truth. But while the former group insists that the scientific evidence is wrong and the Bible is right (but presents no evidence), the latter group insists the scientific evidence is correct and it is only the interpretation of the Bible that is wrong. Thus, the latter group argues that the genealogies in the Bible should not be taken literally and that they are not “complete” genealogies. They also usually claim that the “six days” of Creation are not literal 24-hour days but could instead represent long periods of time, perhaps spanning millions of years. Both claims can be refuted, as shown in the article Science in the Bible and the Quran.[23]

            As explained in that article, there is no evidence that the genealogies are “incomplete” and are supposed to represent only ancestor-descendant relationships instead of literal father-son relationships. The internal evidence shows that the genealogies represent the latter (e.g., Adam/Seth, Seth/Enosh, Lamech/Noah, etc.). As for the 6 days of Creation, these can only be interpreted as 6 literal days since Exodus 20 compares the 6 days of Creation to the 6 days that the Israelites should labor per week, and God’s “day of rest” on the 7th day to the Sabbath for the Israelites. Even when considering that Psalm 90:4, which states that a “thousand years” in God’s sight are “like a day that has just gone by”, it would only mean that each day represents 1,000 years. That would still not be enough to save the Bible since it took billions of years for the Earth to form.[24]

Conclusion

            While the new Denisovan fossil tooth only adds to the growing scientific evidence that they were the same as Homo sapiens and does indeed “throw a wrench” in the evolutionary timeline, it does not support the Bible. The “Baptist Press” article made a rather large leap of logic in its attempt to declare victory on behalf of the Bible, but there was no such victory to be had. The Bible still contradicts the scientific evidence of the history of life on Earth. Therefore, the Bible is not inerrant. It is quite errant. And Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) knows best!


[1] http://bpnews.net/53378/fossil-find-complicates-theory-of-human-evolution

[2] See Sam Shamoun’s failure as an example: https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/on-rabbits-and-rumination-a-response-to-christian-interpretations-of-leviticus-115-6/

[3] Shara E. Bailey, Jean-Jacques Hublin, and Susan C. Antón, “Rare dental trait provides morphological evidence of archaic introgression in Asian record”, Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences 116, no. 30 (July 23, 2019): https://www.pnas.org/content/116/30/14806.

[4] Fiona Coward, “The Rise of Humans”, in Prehistoric Life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth, ed. Angeles Gavira Guerrero and Peter Francis (New York: DK Publishing, 2012), p. 443.

[5] The Discovery Institute is comprised of scientists who are critical of Darwinian evolution, and instead propose an alternative scientific theory: intelligent design.

Here is its website: https://www.discovery.org/id/

For articles discussing the science behind intelligent design theory, see here: https://evolutionnews.org/

[6] Casey Luskin, “Human Origins and the Fossil Record”, in Science and Human Origins (Seattle: Discovery Institute Press, 2012), p. 45.

[7] Simon H. Martin and Chris D. Jiggins, “Interpreting the genomic landscape of introgression”, Current Opinions in Genetics and Development 47 (December 2017): 69, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959437X17300357.

[8] https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/dtcgenetictesting/neanderthaldna

[9] Coward, op. cit., p. 466; Luskin, op. cit., p. 72.

[10] However, other funerary “rituals” have been observed in some animals. For example, scientists recently reported chimpanzees attending to a dead companion and cleaning its teeth. There was no burial but the behavior was still remarkable (https://www.livescience.com/58340-chimpanzee-cleans-corpse-of-son.html).

There have been isolated reports of animals “burying” their dead companions (one can find such reports on the Internet), but these seem to be just that, examples of isolated behavior, and not proof of a definitive culture of burial rituals in the animal kingdom.

[11] Luskin, op. cit., p. 72.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., p. 73.

[14] https://www.newscientist.com/term/denisovans/

[15] Ibid.

[16] The genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 allow us to calculate the age of the Earth to around 6000 years https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/science-in-the-bible-and-the-quran/).

AIG also proposes that the Earth was created around 4000 BCE (https://answersingenesis.org/age-of-the-earth/how-old-is-the-earth/).

[17] C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 220.

[18] https://answersingenesis.org/the-flood/

[19] https://answersingenesis.org/tower-of-babel/

[20] Luskin, op. cit., pp. 73-74.

[21] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 220.

[22] Douglas Palmer, “Young Earth”, in Prehistoric Life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth, ed. Angeles Gavira Guerrero and Peter Francis (New York: DK Publishing, 2012), p. 33.

[23] https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/science-in-the-bible-and-the-quran/

[24] For a discussion on why these same arguments do not apply to the Quran, see the following articles:

https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/noah-and-the-flood-in-the-bible-and-the-quran/

https://quranandbibleblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/science-in-the-bible-and-the-quran/

 

8 thoughts on “The “Baptist Press” and Denisovan Fossils: Does Science Confirm the Bible?

  1. Pingback: The “Baptist Press” and Denisovan Fossils: Does Science Confirm the Bible? – Blogging Theology

  2. stewjo004

    @ QB

    Interesting article QB. So some parts I’m confused on:

    1. How does this fossil discovery disrupt the conventional understanding of human evolution?

    2. So what was Baptist Presses’ argument; that Neanderthals and Denisovans were essentially inbred humans in isolation after the flood? I don’t see how this discovery confirmed the Bible in any way, shape or form.

    3. So if these 3 groups are basically all humans with small mutations what about the other groups? What’re the alleged differences between them and us?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 1. Denisovans and Neanderthals are generally assumed to be different species from humans. As such, they are considered to be “transitional” species between us and our supposed apelike ancestors. But since the evidence that they were actually humans is mounting, the gap between the ape-like ancestors and modern humans has only gotten bigger. The transitional species are missing (“missing links”).

      2. Yeah basically.

      3. I assume you mean species like Homo erectus and Homo habilis. It’s been suggested that H. erectus is also very similar to humans. The fossils go back to around 2 million years ago. But H. habilis was probably very different from humans.

      Like

    1. Very interesting! I agree for the most part. It’s a difficult subject but we can safely say that the Quran does not fall into the same trap as the Bible. The Bible’s detailed descriptions of the creation events are its own self-inflicted wounds.

      Like

  3. Vaqas Rehman

    I’ve personally been found of the interpretation of Sh Dr. Yasir Qadhi and his talks/papers on the subject. That any Hominins pre Adam(a.s) were another creation and that Adam(a.s) was the first, miraculously created homo sapien. Regardless of the position you take, i think it’s a testament to Islamic theology that such nuanced opinions can exist while being consistent with the Quran and Sunnah.

    https://yaqeeninstitute.org/series/collection-evolution-in-the-scales-of-scripture/#.XVaZPehKhPY

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! Like I said, the Quran does not fall into the same trap the Bible does.

      Allah knows best, but I think that Adam lived a very long time ago. I’m thinking tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years ago. And I definitely agree that his creation was miraculous and does not need to be assessed using natural laws. That can also apply to the Bible, but it doesn’t save the Bible from its own self-inflicted wounds.

      Like

      1. stewjo004

        @ QB

        Oh, they’re retarded. They would have to prove:

        1. Major inbreeding
        2. Them being cut off from each other (which they weren’t as fossil records show they were doing it)

        As for H. Habilis my little bit of Google-fu about them they don’t seem that weird they’re using tools etc:
        http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/homo-habilis

        What is it they believed they differed with us in?

        Moving on, I agree that Adam(as) was probably a REALLY long time ago because certain ahadith just make more sense for example:

        Narrated Sahl bin Sa`d:

        I saw Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) pointing with his index and middle fingers, saying. “The time of my Advent and the Hour are like these two fingers.”

        https://sunnah.com/urn/46130

        If the time was as the Jews claim this wouldn’t mean anything. What are 1,400 years in a 6,000 year period of existence? However, as you stated in the article if Homo have been around 2,000,000+ years 1400 years is a small drop in the bucket of mankind’s existence.

        Even our small amount of authentic ahadith counter this time period because even the little bit of time frames listed between major prophets is shooting 8,000+ years

        https://islamqa.info/en/answers/20907/how-many-years-were-there-between-adam-and-muhammad-peace-be-upon-them-both

        Like

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