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Seminary prof adds caution to claim of 50,000-year-old common ancestor

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–All human beings can trace their family trees back to just one man who lived as recently as 50,000 years ago, an Oxford University geneticist said in recounting his findings in a recent PBS documentary.

A Southern Baptist seminary professor warns, however, that this research may have dangerous implications for Christians despite its seemingly helpful appearance, describing the findings as “friendly on the surface, but still completely naturalistic.”

The geneticist, Spencer Wells, acknowledges striking parallels between his findings and the scriptural account of man’s origin. “It’s interesting that both genetic science and the Bible show that there is a single origin of molecule,” Wells told the Internet news service, Rediff.com. “According to genetic science, we come from a single male ancestor. In the Bible too it is mentioned that there is a single male Adam and single female, Eve.”

These conclusions, recounted in a PBS special earlier this year titled, “The Journey of Man,” come from Wells’ work the past 10 years to construct a complete human family tree, in which he took DNA samples from populations across the world and used clues from the Y chromosome of male DNA to piece together a map of human migration.

In the evolutionary process depicted by Wells, all humans originated from one man in Africa and subsequently populated the earth via migrations across the globe. “There are now some 6 billion people spread across our planet,” Wells says in the PBS documentary. “Not so long ago, our species numbered little more than 10,000 and their world was a single continent: Africa. Then something happened. A small band left their African homeland on a journey into an unknown, hostile world. You are one of their children.”

Over the course of the two-hour program, Wells traces human migrations through Africa, the Middle East, Australia, Central Asia and even North America and emphasizes the interrelatedness of all humans.

“Everyone all over the world — we’re all literally brothers under the skin. Brothers and sisters separated by a mere 2,000 generations,” Wells says. “Old-fashioned concepts of race are not only socially divisive but scientifically wrong.”

Wells, whose education includes research at Harvard, Stanford and Oxford universities, remarks, “The story of man seems impossible,” then subsequently asks, “How did man come about so suddenly?”

It’s a question that seems to many Christians to open the floodgates of apologetic opportunity.

Ted Cabal, professor of Christian philosophy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is concerned, however, about the naturalistic implications at the core of Wells’ research.

“The concern that we need to point out is that his [Wells’] work is still a full-blown evolutionary piece,” Cabal said. “He’s really not arguing for a special creation of human beings by God but is arguing for evolution of homo sapiens from some kind of hominid past and that this evolution of humanity just happens to be a fairly recent thing.”

In particular, Cabal pointed to several negative implications of Wells’ research of which Christians should be aware.

The most serious problem with The Journey of Man, Cabal said, is that the research is grounded in an evolutionary worldview that inherently distorts the biblical picture of man. “Evolutionary presentations of what it means to be a human, like this program, clearly are unbiblical in that they do not present human beings as being something other than nature, and more specifically as human beings made in the image of God,” Cabal said.

Cabal, who has presented multiple papers on creation to the Evangelical Theological Society, acknowledged that some positive implications arise from Wells’ theory — such as a common ancestor of all humans and a repudiation of racism. He warns, however, that because Wells is fundamentally a naturalistic evolutionist, his findings will contradict the scriptural picture.

“Even if science in some of these kinds of evolutionary schemes comes close — like agreeing on the unity of the human race and fairly recent times — it’s never going to come out and let us see what God teaches us, that we are the crown of his creation,” Cabal said.

“Though we are a part of creation, we are nevertheless distinct from the creation in that we are made in God’s image, we have a special dominion over his creation, and have privileges to know him and have eternal life. Those kinds of things set us apart from the creation and are not believed by evolutionists and are rejected in the picture they portray of anthropology.”

Another serious problem with The Journey of Man is that it misleads the average viewer as to the certainty of Wells’ theory, Cabal said. “The fact of the matter is that popular programs like this one rarely let the layperson or the non-trained person watching the program realize just how much controversy there is in the scientific community over a particular theory that is being espoused. Science changes, particularly on the details regarding the human evolutionary past.

“We don’t want to just use this term ‘science says’ as though it’s always equally clear and authoritative on every issue,” Cabal continued. “It’s simply not, and anthropological stuff is one of those areas in which it is far more controversial among scientists themselves than the general population ever imagines.”

Thus, Cabal cautions Christians against utilizing findings from genetic anthropology in apologetics, warning that uncertain theories may prove to be unreliable evidence for biblical creationism.

Finally, Cabal said the notion of an African origin for humanity appears to contradict the biblical account, which places Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — typically thought to be in the Middle East.

According to Cabal, there is debate over precisely where the Garden of Eden was located. However, Wells “argues more an out-of-Africa origin for the human race that appears to be a contradiction with the Bible on the issue of where Adam was….”

Ultimately, despite Wells’ acknowledgement that his findings run parallel with certain elements of the Bible, Wells also acknowledges a distinction in his thinking between evolutionary science and Christianity. “I don’t like to get involved in religious issues because I am not a specialist in religion,” he told Rediff.com. “I am a scientist and I demand evidence. And religion is not about evidence but about belief.”

Cabal concluded, “In the final analysis, it’s interesting. I think a believer will look at something like this and will be somewhat encouraged but should not hang his hat on anything they [Wells and his research assistants] would say, whether it seems to be supported or not.”