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A Burgoo of Human Origin Discoveries

Three New Studies Support Biblical Account of Humanity’s Creation

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the state of Kentucky? Horse racing? Wildcat basketball? The Louisville Slugger? Bluegrass music? What about burgoo?

Though most people probably haven’t heard about this spicy stew, it’s as much a part of the traditions of the Bluegrass State as the Kentucky Derby. Burgoo consists of a mixture of meats (beef, chicken, pork, mutton, and game animals, if available) and vegetables cooked (and re-cooked) in a large kettle over an open flame until all the flavors meld together. No two Burgoo recipes are the same. The preparation and consumption of Burgoo serves as a center piece for social gatherings. At times the entire community contributes the ingredients to make a large pot of stew.

Molecular anthropologists have recently concocted a burgoo of their own consisting of discoveries that turn the heat up on the support for the Out-of-Africa hypothesis of human origins, and with it, the biblical account of humanity’s beginnings.*

Out of Africa Hypothesis

In a nutshell, this model (also called the replacement model) maintains that modern humans evolved recently (about 100,000 years ago) in East Africa from a small hominid population and then migrated around the world to replace pre-existing hominids. Proponents believe that Homo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus are evolutionary side branches and dead ends.

Relative Proportion of Harmful Mutations in European and African Populations

One recent study, carried out by an international team, examined genetic variation in fifteen African American and twenty European Americans. These workers characterized genetic variability by examining single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and categorizing the DNA sequence differences as benign, possibly damaging, and probably damaging.

They noted that African Americans harbor a greater degree of SNP diversity than European Americans. Interestingly, European descendents have a greater proportion of harmful variations than people with an African ancestry.

These results find explanation if humanity arose in East Africa from a small population, and recently migrated into Europe through a genetic bottleneck. Bottlenecks result when a population drops to low levels and then recovers its numbers, or if a small subpopulation becomes separated from the main group and then later grows in size.

Genetic and Copy-Number Variation

Another study characterized the genetic variability of twenty-nine populations from around the world by monitoring 525,910 SNPs and 396 copy-number differences.

Again, the patterns of genetic variability noted in these two studies for people groups from around the world fit with the predictions of the Out-of-Africa hypothesis.

A third recently reported study focused on about 650,000 SNPs found in the genomes of 938 people representing 51 populations from around the world. The SNP data clustered into a number of groups displaying a geographical relationship that indicates an African origin of humanity and subsequent spread around the world.

Overwhelming Evidence for the Out-of-Africa Hypothesis

These three new research reports can be thrown into a large simmering kettle of studies that support the Out-of-Africa model. (For a detailed discussion of the myriad evidences in favor of the Out-of-Africa Hypothesis see the book Who Was Adam? Collectively, the consensus that emerges from this work indicates that humanity originated recently (about 100,000 years ago) from East Africa (near the location theologians ascribed to the Garden of Eden) from a small population. Amazingly, studies using mitochondrial and Y chromosomal DNA markers trace humanity’s origin back to a single man and woman. These studies also indicate that humanity’s migration around the world began at or near the Middle East.

Though often presented and discussed within the context of the evolutionary paradigm, this model has profound biblical implications. In some respects, the Out-of-Africa hypothesis appears to be the biblical model awkwardly forced into the evolutionary framework, like an incorrect puzzle piece. If humanity’s genesis happened in the way described in Scripture, the genetic diversity patterns observed among people groups around the world would be very similar to those discovered by anthropologists. It looks as if Adam and Eve really existed, giving rise to all humanity.

Next week I will describe another study using DNA extracted from ancient head lice that also lends credence to the biblical account of humanity’s origin. I decided it would be best not to describe this work for now. I didn’t want to ruin anybody’s appetite.

*These studies made science news headlines when first published. I discussed the scientific and biblical implications of this research on the February 22, 2008 edition of our new podcast, RTB’s Science News Flash. This podcast offers a unique Christian perspective on headline-grabbing discoveries. A free subscription to this podcast is available through iTunes.