Everybody loves a birthday. For little kids, it's a chance to get showered with presents; for us older folks, it means we made it through one more year.
In August the scientific community celebrated an unusual birthday, of sorts. It's been 150 years since the first Neanderthal fossil was discovered. And to commemorate the occasion, a joint team of scientists from Germany and the U.S. announced plans to complete a draft of the Neanderthal genome (an organism's entire genetic makeup) within the next two years.
This research program provides an unimaginable opportunity to test various theories about humanity's origin. Since that first fossil's discovery, Neanderthal's identity and place in humanity's origin have fascinated scientist and layperson alike. Traditional evolutionary models assert that Neanderthals played some role in human evolution. The Reasons To Believe model, on the other hand, maintains that there is no evolutionary connection between Neanderthals and modern humans. If the RTB theory is correct, Neanderthals should prove genetically distinct from modern humans. In Who Was Adam? I discuss work done on mitochondrial DNA sequences isolated from Neanderthals. These studies indicate that the creation model's predictions about Neanderthals are likely correct. Yet these sequences constitute a small, specialized fraction of Neanderthal DNA.
With the Neanderthal genome in hand, we will be able to definitively test the predictions of our creation model. I expect it will show, once and for all, that these hominids did not evolve into modern humans. What a wonderful birthday present!