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RACE.  THE BIBLE AND SCIENCE

Part 1.  Intro

Part 2.  Scientific Basis of Race

Part 3.  Race in the Bible

Part 4.  Conclusions 

Intro 

According to the Bible, all humans on earth today are descended from Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives, and before that from Adam and Eve (Genesis 1-11). But today we have many different groups, often called ‘races,’ with what seem to be greatly differing features. The most obvious of these is skin color. Many see this as a reason to doubt the Bible’s record of history. They believe that the various groups could have arisen only by evolving separately over tens of thousands of years. However, as we shall see, this does not follow from the biological evidence. The Bible tells us how the population that descended from Noah’s family had one language and by living in one place were disobeying God’s command to ‘fill the earth’ (Genesis 9:1, 11:4). God confused their language, causing a break-up of the population into smaller groups which scattered over the earth (Genesis 11:8-9). Modern genetics show how, following such a break-up of a population, variations in skin color, for example, can develop in only a few generations. There is good evidence that the various people groups we have today have not been separated for huge periods of time. 

The Bible teaches us that God has ‘made of one blood all nations of men’ (Acts 17:26). Scripture distinguishes people by tribal or national groupings, not by skin color or physical appearance. Clearly, though, there are groups of people who have certain features (e.g., skin color) in common, which distinguish them from other groups.


Scientific Basis of Race  Scientifically, there is really only one race—the human race. To avoid the evolutionary connotations associated with the word ‘race’, lets refer to these as people groups.  All peoples can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. This shows that the biological differences between the ‘races’ are not very great. In fact, the DNA differences are trivial. The DNA of any two people in the world would typically differ by just 0.2 percent.2 Of this, only 6 percent can be linked to racial categories; the rest is ‘within race’ variation. 

The variation in DNA between human individuals shows that racial differences are trivial. This genetic unity means, for instance, that white Americans, although far removed from black Americans in phenotype, can sometimes be better tissue matches for them than are other black Americans.  

Anthropologists generally classify people into a small number of main racial groups, such as: 

  • Caucasoid (European or ‘white’)
  • Mongoloid (which includes the Chinese, Inuit or Eskimo and Native Americans)
  • Negroid (black Africans)
  • Australoid (the Australian Aborigines).  

Developing Differences Through Heredity Each child ever born bears traits of their father and mother.  We carry information in our body that describes us in the way a blueprint and specifications describe a furnished building. It determines not only that we will be human beings, rather than cabbages or crocodiles, but also whether we will have blue eyes, short nose, long legs, etc.  

When a sperm fertilizes an egg, all the information that specifies how the person will be built (ignoring such superimposed factors as exercise and diet) is already present. Most of this information is in coded form in our DNA. These DNA sequences are passed down in the form of chromosomes.  All people have 46 chromosomes, 23 from each parent.  Wrapped around these chromosomes are DNA instructions that create traits.  These instructions are called genes. To illustrate coding, a piece of string with beads on it can carry a message in Morse code. The piece of string, by the use of a simple sequence of short beads, long beads (to represent the dots and dashes of Morse code), and spaces, can carry the same information as the English word ‘help’ typed on a sheet of paper. The entire Bible could be written thus in Morse code on a long enough piece of string. 

In a similar way, the human blueprint is written in a code which is carried on very long chemical strings of DNA. This is by far the most efficient information storage system known, greatly surpassing any foreseeable computer technology. This information is copied (and reshuffled) from generation to generation as people reproduce. To understand genes, for example, there is one gene that carries the instructions for making hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in your red blood cells. If that gene has been damaged by mutation (such as copying mistakes during reproduction), the instructions will be faulty, so it will often make a crippled form of hemoglobin, if any. (Diseases such as sickle-cell anemia and thalassemia result from such mistakes.) 

So, with an egg which has just been fertilized—where does all its information, its genes, come from? One half comes from the father (carried in the sperm), and the other half from the mother (carried in the egg). Now since genes come in pairs, in the case of hemoglobin we have two sets of code (instruction) for hemoglobin manufacture, one coming from the mother and one from the father. 

This is a very useful arrangement, because if you inherit a damaged gene from one parent that could instruct your cells to produce a defective hemoglobin, you are still likely to get a normal one from the other parent which will continue to give the right instructions. Thus, only half the hemoglobin in your body will be defective. (In fact, each of us carries hundreds of genetic mistakes, inherited from one or the other of our parents, which are usefully ‘covered up’ by being matched with a normal gene from the other parent)

Say a society thinks that full “pouty” lips on a female are desirable.  The male will seek out a female with “pouty” lips.  It is likely that the offspring of this couple will result in a child with full lips, which may be reinforced by that child seeking the same trait in a mate.  Within three generations you can establish a permanent trait within that subset of humanity!

These instructions become ancestral traits which can remain within a people group for thousands of generations if the people group does not mix with other group traits.  Within a few short generations a people group could develop many different traits:  almond shaped eyes, large feet, blue eyes, curly hair, and many more characteristics.   Skin Color: Fundamentally all of us have the same “color” of skin.  All skin cells in the absence of the pigment melanin (a dark-brownish pigment that is produced in different amounts in special cells in our skin) are almost transparent.  A person with no melanin producing gene in their skin cells is considered an albino.  If we produced a little melanin, we would be European white. If our skin produced a great deal of melanin, we would be a very dark black. And in between, of course, are all shades of brown. There are no other significant skin pigments.4 

What does melanin do? It protects the skin against damage by ultraviolet light from the sun. If you have too little melanin in a very sunny environment, you will easily suffer sunburn and skin cancer. If you have a great deal of melanin, and you live in a country where there is little sunshine, it will be harder for you to get enough vitamin D (which needs sunshine for its production in your body). You may then suffer from vitamin D deficiency, which could cause a bone disorder such as rickets.  Generally based on the environment you live in, your body will produce the amount of melanin it needs. 

We also need to be aware that we are not born with a genetically fixed amount of melanin. Rather, we have a genetically fixed potential to produce a certain amount, and the amount increases in response to sunlight. For example, you may have noticed that when your Caucasian friends (who spent their time indoors during winter) headed for the beach at the beginning of summer they all had more or less the same pale white skin color. As the summer went on, however, some became much darker than others. 

How is it that many different skin colors can arise in a short time? Remember, whenever we speak of different ‘colors’ we are referring to different shades of the one color, melanin. If a person from a very black people group marries someone from a very white group, their offspring are mid-brown. It has long been known that when mulattos marry each other, their offspring may be virtually any ‘color,’ ranging from very dark to very light.  

So how did the colors of the races develop?  If those individuals who produced one type of gene were to go off and live in an isolated location, in a few short generations all of those individuals would be of that color.  Given that human nature tends to make people associate with those who are most like themselves this is what happened and continues to happen.  If people groups were to begin to intermingle more freely, then the genetic differences would become more homogenized, rendering group traits more indistinct.   If all people on Earth were to intermarry freely, and then break into random groups that kept to themselves, a whole new set of gene combinations could emerge. It may be possible to have almond eyes with black skin, blue eyes with black frizzy short hair, etc. We need to remember, of course, that the way in which genes express themselves is much more complex than this simplified picture. For example, sometimes certain genes are linked together. However, the basic point is unaffected. 

Even today, within a particular people group you will often see a feature normally associated with another people group. For instance, you will occasionally see a European with a broad flat nose, or a Chinese person with very pale skin, or Caucasian eyes. Most scientists now agree that, for modern humans, ‘race’ has little or no biological meaning. This also argues strongly against the idea that the people groups have been evolving separately for long periods.

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August 31, 2006 - Posted by | News You Can Use

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