Friday, June 09, 2023

Does the Evolution of Species by Hybridization Refute Biblical Creationism?


                                                          The Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey

                                               The Black and White Snub-Nosed Monkey

                                                        The Gray Snub-Nosed Monkey

The latest issue of the journal Science has a special section on "Primate Genomes" that includes an article reporting genomic evidence that the gray snub-nosed monkey evolved through the hybridization of the golden snub-nosed monkey and an ancestor of the black and white snub-nosed monkey.  The evidence for this is the genetic mosaic of parental ancestries that show a major contribution from the golden snub-nosed monkey and a minor contribution from the black and white snub-nosed monkey.  This can be seen in the mosaic coat coloration for the gray snub-nosed monkey that shows a mixture of yellow hair from the golden snub-nosed monkey and black hair from the black and white snub-nosed monkey (Hong Wu et al., "Hybrid Origin of a Primate, the Gray Snub-Nosed Monkey," Science 380 [June 3, 2023]: 926).  These three species of snub-noted monkeys are found in the wild in southern China and the northern regions of Myanmar and Vietnam.

Although at first glance this report might not seem very interesting, showing the evolution of primate species by hybridization has deep scientific and perhaps even theological implications for how we understand the origin of species.

I have written previously about the debate over evolution by hybridization.  For a long time, the traditional belief of Biblical creationists was that the Creator had originally created all species of plants and animals to be eternally separate and fixed, and consequently God had specially endowed hybrids with sterility so that they could not reproduce and produce a new species.  But then in The Origin of Species, Darwin argued that some hybrids were fertile.  

Over the past 150 years, most biologists have recognized the evolution of new plant species by hybridization, but they generally assumed that this was uncommon for plants and impossible for animals.  In recent years, however, the evidence for the evolution of animal species through hybridization has grown--including the observation by Peter and Rosemary Grant of hybrid speciation in the finches of the Galapagos.  There is also increasing evidence that Homo sapiens may have interbred with Neandertal and other hominid species.

This would seem to refute the Biblical creationist doctrine of all species being created by God as eternally separated.  But then, as I have indicated in some previous posts, some Biblical creation scientists have argued that this is based on a misinterpretation of the Bible's story of creation in Genesis.  God created the "kinds" of plants and animals to be separate, but not the "species."  If "kinds" is understood to correspond to "families" in modern taxonomy, then we can say that God originally created all the "families" with the potential for evolving into different species by natural selection.

We could then say that since all the species of snub-nosed monkeys belong to the same family--Cercopithecoidea--God originally created that family of monkeys with all the genetic potential for evolving into separate species by natural selection and hybridization.

But recently, some of those who write for "Answers in Genesis" have warned that this is apostasy, because it concedes too much to evolutionary science and strays from the clear literal meaning of the Biblical teaching about creation.

There are at least two obvious problems here.  First, it shows that the Biblical Revelation is so obscure that Christians cannot reach agreement about its meaning--particularly, as it bears upon the creation-evolution debate.

The second problem is that this debate casts doubt on the Biblical teaching that human beings were set apart from and above all other animals by being created in the "image of God," which suggests that the emergence of the human soul must be a miracle that cannot arise by natural evolution.  If we agree that the Biblical "kinds" are not "species" but rather "families" in modern taxonomy.  Then we would have to say that while God created the Great Apes as a family of primates, the human species evolved within that family by natural selection from primate ancestors.

The Great Apes are a taxonomic family (Homididae) that includes eight living species in four genera: Pongo (the Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli orangutans), Gorilla (eastern and western gorillas), Pan (chimpanzees and bonobos), and Homo (of which only modern Homo sapiens has survived to the present) (Yong Shao et al., "Phylogenomic Analyses Provide Insights into Primate Evolution," Science 380 [June 2, 2023]: 913-924).

Should we say then that all of these Great Ape species were created by God in His image, because there is no special creation to separate human beings from other Great Apes?  This has become a contentious issue for creation scientists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Relatedly, one of the more interesting recent findings is the Denisovian genome being responsible for an EPAS1 gene variant in Tibet contributing to high altitude survival advantage..