Monday, December 25, 2006

"Spirit and Mind" -> Noah and Alleles

The realm of evolutionary proof has moved from the paleontologist to the geneticist.

If anything, the paleontologist, who studies fossils, has presented more problems than it has solved. The biggest obvious issue is the explosion of life that came during the Cambrian period. If you studied evolution in high school or grade school, you probably have thought that evolution happened at a "peanut butter" rate. The change was spread evenly over numbers of years like peanut butter on a sandwich. However, we notice that we don't have this in the fossil record. Instead, we have an explosion of life at 570M years ago. (Darwin recognized this as a problem from the beginning.)

There have been several ideas to address this:

1. Life was developed at a much more complex level before the Cambrian period but we cannot find the fossil evidence.

2. Life spontaneously jumped at a very fast rate for some unknown reason. This is call "Punctuated equilibrium" and certainly isn't liked by everybody.

3. Oxygen was a limiting factor, and as soon as it was really present, life really took off. (Of course, there is also the thought that an over abundance of O2 almost killed the earth.)

Regardless, of the proposals, the issues are many.

So, instead, the geneticist is now driving the boat.

One of the cool things about genetics is that is is observable by all. Now, modern genetics are being used to question a couple of religions. One is the religion of LDS (Latter Day Saints or Mormons). Joseph Smith said and wrote that the tribes of Israel came to America and colonized the land. As we genetically test the population, we find out that there is no shared common genetic traits between Israelites and the native Americans. This has caused some Mormons to leave their faith. The most popular way of explaining this, by Mormons, is to explain that the Mormon scriptures have been incorrectly used in that the Israel influence and population was much smaller than historically thought.

The same type of criticism has been leveled against the idea of Noah. It is worth talking about it here.

If you look at the DNA, there are unique combinations of DNA code, which are commonly called alleles. If Noah and the others on the ark were normal human beings, you might expect somewhere around 10-16 alleles out of the DNA for given sections of the DNA code. However, if we look at the population we have today, we find out a much, much more wide set of alleles than 16. So, to get today's set of alleles in a short 4000 or so years from the Noah flood, Darwinists claim the human genome would be mutating at an alarming rate. In fact, they claim it would be high enough to suggest that the DNA code was so unstable that we were ready to blow apart. (Through cancer or other spurious genetic mutation.) Therefore, we can't believe in Noah. Genetics tell us that this rate of change won't happen.

The problem genetics is that it cuts both ways. Most of the genetic research today points toward a common ancestor called "Mitochondrial Eve." Who was this Eve? Mitochondrial Eve lived around 150,000 years ago. She was the common ancestor for all human beings. We can tell this because the mother passes down a chunk of mitochondria DNA that everybody has. And we all have this chunk of DNA.

Now why do we all have this genetic code?

There are three main ideas:

1. For some reason, this Mitochondrial Eve had some genetic feature that really allowed her children to do much, much better than any other children. Basically, if you don't have this Mitochondrial Eve in your family tree, you don't exist.

2. Stanley Ambrose said that a volcano basically wiped out all of mankind, which happened after Mitochondrial Eve, but could have limited the population set to this common ancestor.

3. We actually believe in the Bible.

Most Darwinist hate the name Mitochondrial Eve because it can be easily used to say "hey, that Eve from the Bible." In fact, the most common ancestor is actually Noah's wife. (If we believe that Noah was only married once, and his sons came from his common wife.)

So mind you, the Darwinist and the reader of scripture are stuck with the same idea:

a. We had a common ancestor that would then indicate that we had a strong genetic bottleneck of alleles.

b. The difference between the two standpoints is one of acceptable genetic change rate.

So let's scale the the two hypothesis:

--Noah happened something like 4-10 thousand years ago. (I know some would say 2500 years ago, but I am at a loss of how you can bridge to this gap while looking at the evidence of the bristlecone pines.)

--Mitochondrial Eve happen something like 150-200 thousand years ago.

Thus the acceptable rate increase for DNA mutation in the Noah model would suggest somewhere around 150/10 to 200/4 = a factor of 15 to 50 times higher in the Noah model Mitochondrial Eve model. A factor of 15 is hardly worth talking about, and an accelerated factor of 50 is well within acceptable rates. Comfortable mutation rate? No. Practical mutation rate that could be absorbed? Yes.

Now, I will admit that I struggle with the Noah story as a Christian. If there was any story that tested my faith it is this. The story of creation is one that I see as beautiful and is in sync with what we know of cosmology. The elegance of creation story is in stark contrast with every other creation account that is told by other religions. I understand the story of Moses.

With Noah it is different.

It would certainly seem that the evidence for a worldwide flood should leave a bigger footprint, and we must wonder how the ice caps were not affected. Perhaps, this is a post for a later time, but for the time being, I am willing to put my Noah issues behind me.

Now here comes the rub, by the Bible's own story, this time of man was one that was tremendously not of this genetic code. The time of Noah had some type of difference of environment that made him very resilient. He might even be able to with stand high levels of mutations.

What do I mean?

People were living 900 years. Noah lived 950 years. He lived 300 more years after the ark settled down. His offspring started to lose lifespan after the flood. Depending on how you translate the Hebrew, the periods in the genealogies could stretch out because the write may have only hit the "highlights" and main ancestors in the chain. If this is the correct interpretation, then slowly, over time, the long life spans of Noah and his children were getting shorter and shorter.

We believe, today, with the science that we have, that lifespan is dictated by our genetic code and the way that our telomeres are set. So this would indicate that our DNA went through some type of a transformation. If you think about it, the problem with longer life spans is that it allows more damage (or mutation) to be done to the father or mothers genetic code. Thus longer life spans would contribute to higher levels of allele differentiation.

Noah has a logic, but the overall story is so fantastic and strange that the Darwinist will not believe it. I understand their point and I do not wish to minimize it. Of all the stories in the Bible, I also have difficultly in believing this one. The story soon gets even weirder, as these long living individuals rally together into one government. This turns into a big research project called the Tower of Babel. God, basically out of understanding that a unified human race with one language is going to collapse again, sees the only answer to this is to drive a different language.

So here you have the neat picture of the repopulation of the world:

a. Man's lifespan is dwindling down with every person living shorter than his parents.
b. Man is split in his language, and basically he moves away from each other at an alarming rate.

However, it is important to note: there is a difference between being fantastic and being illogical. The story, while fantastic in nature, is not illogical in nature. The idea of the changed genetic code transpiring along with the change in the language seems to logically hold within the story. The story, no matter how weird it seems to be to us, has a certain sense behind it.

As a matter of fact, I would suggest that the opposite (if we turned out to not have the wide disparity in genetic code and the wide separation in the language) might be an argument against the validation of the scriptures.

If you want to accept the scripture of Genesis, which I know is a difficult thing to do for those with a scientific bent, the change in the life span of man does ring toward a logical explanation.

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