A recent article in
the journal Science[1]
gives further confirmation of the mixed heritage of the human species.
Researchers compared the DNA of 35 Melanesians from the Bismarck Archipelago in
Papua New Guinea to the DNA of
ancient Denisovan DNA from a 40,000-year-old
partially fossilized sample. They also compared DNA from other non-Melanesian
populations and DNA from Neanderthal
samples.
Denisovan is the name given to an ancient hominid people group that lived from
500,000 years ago until they became extinct approximately 40,000 years ago.
They were a distinct race of people differing from Homo sapiens and continued to coexist with the human population in
parts of Europe and Asia. It is a similar story to that of Neanderthals. Those human cousins also became extinct around 40,000
years ago and coexisted with Homo sapiens
for approximately 450,000 years. There was plenty of time for the three groups
to interbreed.
The paper by Pääbo et al. indeed shows that Denisovan
DNA has made a significant contribution to the nuclear DNA of contemporary
Melanesians. They suggest that “
all
non-African populations derive ~2% of their ancestry from Neandertals, whereas
substantial levels of Denisovan ancestry (~2-4%) are only found in Oceanic
populations.”[2]
I am always fascinated
with this kind of research both at a scientific and a theological level.
Theologically, what does this mean for the imago
dei
? If humans were created with the image of God and over long periods of time, we are talking about something more than our common
ancestry or our DNA. The fact that the last common ancestor that all people on
earth could claim is older than Neanderthals,
Denisovans, or Homo sapiens, causes us to ask questions about the nature of the
biblical concept of the first humans. Considering the DNA mixture that many of
us carry how do we understand our relationship with Adam and Eve? At what point
in this grand plan did God stamp His image upon His creation and declare the
man and woman to be ha’adam (
הָאָדָם) or human? Now, of course, some would say that
we should not even be asking such questions. They would say that God created
Adam and Eve ex nihilo (out of
nothing) and placed them in a garden without any ancient ancestors. The
question I would want to then ask would be, “Why did God create humans in
such a way that it looks like evolution occurred?”

Works Cited:

Pääbo, Svante. “Excavating
Neandertal and Denisovan DNA from the genomes of Melanesian individuals.”
Science 17 (March 2016). http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2016/03/16/science.aad9416.full
Saey, Tina Hesman. “Neandertal DNA
may raise risk for some modern human diseases.” Science News,
2016.
https://www.sciencenews.org/article/neandertal-dna-may-raise-risk-some-modern-human-diseases


[1] (Pääbo 2016)
[2] (Pääbo 2016)