Sunday, August 07, 2011

Hugh Ross on Common Ancestry

What in the Wide World of Sports is a' Goin' on at RTB??????????

One of my readers clued me in to a podcast by Hugh Ross in which he tackles theistic evolution, otherwise known as evolutionary creationism. The title of the series is “I did not know that.” This particular talk can be found here.

The focus of the talk is how there is evidence for a historical Adam and Eve and that they were created between fifty and sixty thousand years ago. He specifically contrasts theistic evolution with what he calls the “Biblical model for human origins,” as if there is no theological basis for TE.

His understanding of TE is that we evolved from early ape forms but that it was controlled by God in a way that we scientists can never discover. This is a peculiar statement because science, left to its own devices, is not in the business of discovering whether or not God controlled events and processes. It is through faith that people believe in God.

Ross is one of the original proponents of the “tweaking” argument—that the universe shows evidence of a divine hand that tweaked the gravitational constants and elemental formation in just such a way as to allow life to occur. One degree off either way and...nothing. This is put forth in his book Fingerprint of God.

As I have mentioned before, the problem with this argument is that it is post hoc. We think that it is tweaked because we are here to observe it. There was always a slight probability that the universe would have developed like this anyway.

First he argues that evolution cannot explain the complexity of life because the second law of thermodynamics will degrade the genome of any species over time.


The second law of thermodynamics only applies to closed systems. Hugh Ross is a physicist and he is not aware that the earth is not a closed system? How can that be? It is part of the earth/sun system. There is also interaction with other bodies such as the moon. Everything on earth receives energy from the sun and this, in itself, is a thermodynamic process. Further, as someone else put it, if the earth really is a closed system, then God cannot operate in it. As soon as you introduce intervention from outside, the system opens. Onward...

He then says that the human genome has gotten more decayed over time since the creation of Adam and Eve also because of the influence of the second law of thermodynamics.


The second law of thermodynamics does not explain this. Genetics does. Our genome is more decayed (if you will) because of the influence of genetic load. With extensive gene flow, bad alleles are masked and can persist in a population in large numbers without expression. As we have been able to address many genetic defects with medical treatments, the number of these alleles has increased in our population. This is especially true in western nations, where our diet and behavior has created even more problems for us.

Ross states that there is evidence that modern humans have not been around very long because in Chromosome 21, there are only three different haplotypes and that, if humanity was older than that, there would be more.


This is a complete misread of a paper by Jin, et al (1999)1 in which the authors study the haplotypes of Chromosome 21 in an effort to shed light on modern human origins. For one thing, there aren't three haplotypes, as Ross asserts. There are ten. There are three haplogroups that suggest that there were three migratory episodes of modern humans out of Africa. Ross focuses on the word “entropy” and, unfortunately, interprets it the way a physicist would. In this case, entropy refers to a function of Wrights Fst, which is a measure of genome variability. For example, North Americans have less entropy because they have greater genetic homogeneity than other groups that were studied. It has nothing to do with thermodynamics.

Ross argues that the chromosomal evidence that humans and the higher apes have a different number of chromosomes is invalid or misunderstood. In the early 1990s, it was discovered that human chromosome two is an end-to-end-fusion of two ape chromosomes. A close examination of chromosome two revealed that, while the other twenty-two chromosomes have one centromere, or central segment, human chromosome two has an extra non-functional centromere. Furthermore, while every chromosome has end segments known as telomeres, human chromosome two has inactive adjacent telomere segments in the middle of the chromosome. It is argued that, sometime in our early past, there was a translocation of two chromosomes to form Chromosome two. Ross argues that such a translocation could not possibly have happened because this would be “catastrophic for the organism” and would result in death.


There are many documented cases of translocation in animal species. There are species of horses that have different numbers of chromosomes and yet can produce fertile offspring. Ross further hampers his argument by saying that the jury is still out on whether or not the evidence is real because they might only appear to be centromeres and telomeres. This is, again, nonsense. It is obvious what they are. Further, how does he explain the duplication of the genes sequences in each chromosome?

Ross then tackles evidence for common ancestry contained in the disovery that the great apes and humans share the inability to manufacture vitamin C. He argues that in place of the inability to produce vitamin C is a new mechanism that recycles vitamin C in apes and humans. This is, he argues, not a loss of genetic function so much as it is a gaining of a new function. What Ross side-steps here and never mentions is that the arising of this mechanism in apes and humans is still evidence of common ancestry. In fact, it is better evidence because it means that exaptation happened in a common ancestor which was then passed on to each line.

And how does the evidence of the creation of a new mechanism in apes and humans figure into his idea of genome degradation?

He then launches into a discussion of the mitochondrial DNA evidence for the origins of modern humans and suggests that it demonstrates that we are descended from one woman (Eve) and then argues that this person likely lived between 50 and 60 thousand years ago. He further argues that Adam lived at the same time, based on Y-Chromosome evidence. This is their “testable creation model.”

There is a distinct problem with the harmonization of this evidence and the Bible. First, you have to really stretch the biblical genealogies to get them as far back as 50 to 60 thousand years. Second, while it is true that there was one original mtDNA variant from which modern humans are said to have arisen, that does not mean that there was only one woman alive at the time. In fact, there is evidence that there were thousands of modern humans alive at the time and that there was no distinct human couple at all.

Worse, the new evidence indicating that modern humans have 9% Neandertal genes calls into serious question the integrity of modern Homo sapiens as a unique species, suggesting that we are much, much older than we thought—perhaps 200 to 300 thousand years old.

He closes out by suggesting that the DNA evidence supports the disembarkation of four women and four men from Noah's ark, like that in Genesis 6-8. Aside from the genetic data indicating that the modern human population bottleneck reported by Venema occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, not the Middle East, there is not a scrap of biological, geological or palaeontological evidence that there was a world-wide flood of any kind.

In one fell swoop, RTB has turned its back on its historical Old-earth, progressive creation model and embraced the heart of young earth creationism, a model that has no serious scientific support of any kind. Is this really what RTB wants to do? If it really is accepting the idea that there were only eight people alive at the time of the flood, it must. It has always carved out a place that is separate from that of the major YEC groups and attempted to use conventional science as support for its apologetics. Now it seems that they are willing to accept a completely concordist model, even if it means the world-wide flood model, warts and all.

Not a fine day for scholarship.

1Jin, L., Underhill, P. A., Doctor, V., et al. (1999). Distribution of haplotypes from a chromosome 21 region distinguishes multiple prehistoric human migrations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 96(7), 3796-3800. doi:

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  1. You did a very good reading, and takedown, of Ross' arguments (his argument involving vitamin C is especially peculiar). One thing you might not have known is that Ross believes in a local flood that killed all humans (he speaks of a 'universal but local' flood). This has its own problems, of course (particularly the problem that humans were not concentrated in the Mesopotamian flood basin)... but it's different from your assumption that he believes in a global flood.

    BTW, have you read Cathy Hill's papers on the flood? I find them very interesting...

    If you'd like, here they are. The first one's kind of an overview of the Hill's Biblical interpretation process.

    She points out some fascinating hints in the text itself that make it hard to believe that a global flood is being described (even though the language looks global).


  2. Ross, the astrophysicist, is going to need some very good arguments in biology to convincingly attack Collins, the biologist. For people like me who cannot judge by themselves whether this or that argument from genetics/biology is valid, the credibility issue weighs just as much or even more than then details of the discussion.

    I think Ross is much better on his hometurf, astrophysics.

  3. WTanksley, thanks for the correction. Of course, if it is a local flood, then he has even more problems explaining the lack of speciation in modern humans. Who were all of these critters running around outside of the Near East, anyway?

  4. I have read almost all of Carol Hill's articles and highly recommend them to anyone with an interest in flood geology. I especially like her article on the Grand Canyon. Thanks for the tip.

  5. Barry9:46 AM

    I'm sure that you in particular will enjoy this week's lecture from Hugh Ross on the human fossil record. For some reason there is an extremely long, rambling introduction before he actually addresses the topic of the talk.

    The talk from their visiting scholar the previous week is here.

  6. Jim, thanks for the analysis. It's so hard to critique RTB when their scholarship appears so careless. I think you do a very good job.

    BTW, the answer, sadly, to your initial question is, "Same stuff that's always goin' on."

    I remember that cool Glut1/DHA paper in Cell a few years ago; it would have made a good blog post/journal club.

  7. Thank you, Steve. Kind words.

  8. How do you harmonize these scientific elements with the Scriptures? If Adam and Eve were mythical creatures, then was the Fall also mythical?

    And if Adam and Eve were not real people, then how do you interpret Paul's theology in Romans and elsewhere?

    How do you interpret 1 Cor 15:45?

  9. Isn't it similar to the way we interpret Paul's statement in Phil 2:10 "in heaven and on earth and under the earth" in light of the Copernican/Galilean cosmology where we no longer hold this view of the world?

  10. Sverre and Charles, I think that is correct. I am not ruling out the existence of an Adam and and Eve but it is becoming more likely that if they are historical people (and I don't for a minute think that you can't be a Christian and not think that) they existed some time in the Neolithic, around 7 to 10 thousand years ago and that the ensuing flood was local to the region in which they lived.