As humans, were we created just as we are? To the creationist, without question, this is biblical truth. To the curious mind, we start looking for answers within the diversity of different species starting with humans. Using the Tower of Babel to explain human diversity is like hoping to get Father Christmas to resolve global hunger.
Before Charles Darwin, humanity was literally in the dark! There was no logical, coherent and plausible explanation that explained the origin of species, leave alone the diversity of variants within each species. Darwinism has to be regarded as one of the greatest and undoubtedly the most unprecedented ideas of all time.
Unfortunately, despite the remarkable progress in assisting with rational and congruent explanation of life, the bigger part of our population still remains in obscurity of religious dogma. Creationist creed and philosophy has become an anathema to progression of human knowledge and coexistence.
As indicated in some of my previous writing, the end of knowledge and the concept of a deity continues to attain a virtuous realm in the society in the name of faith. Similarly, a quest to search, explain or elucidate on such issues through a logical and evidence-based approach is frowned upon and regarded as faithless disgrace in the society. To make matters worse, such is justified in different sections of the scripture and thus condemn most people in believing without questioning.
In this article, we shall explore the source of human diversity, also known as human variability in brief. In future, we shall dig deeper into some of the key variations where extensive and verifiable research has been carried out. There is continued and unambiguous genetic evidence currently available on evolutionary progression of human variability.
Species Variability and Genesis Story
Variability is a common and inherent attribute to every species. Homo sapiens sapiens is no exception. From our skin color, the size of our nose, shape of our eyes to the build our body, there is huge diversity in the human spectrum. Most of these traits are obviously inherited from our parents and genetically passed on from one generation to the other over thousands of years. The question always arises on the Darwinian explanation of this diversity and contributing factors to such a wide spectrum of variability. Humans have undoubtedly one of the largest degree of variation compared to most of the other species.
Such understanding is crucial. It is an important question especially in explaining the origin of man and the prevailing creationist creed of having been created exactly as we are today. A simple and plain understanding of this variability is possibly a good starting point for wondering minds into the folly of Genesis story.
To the curious and inquisitive mind, the current variation in human diversity cannot be explained by a few verses in the book of Genesis. Nor should folly and imprudence creationist theology be construed as faith. There is tendency of ‘believers’ to jump into refuting Darwinism by mocking it as ‘monkey-to-human’ theory. This blinds a lot of people who have labelled evolution with such misunderstanding and prefer to remain blind in the name of faith and loyalty to religious doctrine.
I’ve heard the argument from theologians that one should not interpret the bible literally. There seems to be those aspects where scriptures are to be inferred literally and other figuratively. The incongruity of such understanding is the changes in interpretation to suite the situation (and the preacher). When it suites me, then I look at the literal explanation and become figurative when the situation changes, or vice versa.
A closer look at human diversity will possibly open people’s minds and re-ignite the marvel of our complex interaction with our environment as one of the millions of species inhabiting this planet.
There are certainly many ways of classifying variability within humans. This ranges from color (skin, eyes, hair etc), body shape, body size, race, physical abilities, mental abilities, cultural, disabilities, temperament and vulnerability to diseases. As a matter of fact, our variations are endless. Two of the primary factors affecting variation is genetics and the environment. I’m primarily interested in genetic aspects of human variability and how it has been shaped by our environment over thousands of years.
The understanding of this variation is primarily important at two levels:
- Such variation is a simple stepping stone in helping to understand the source and origins of man. It is a demonstrable process and evidence of how a species adapts to its environment and genetically propagates features to enhance its survival.
- Demystifying human variability helps in increasing the awareness of our species and reduce the social stigma that has afflicted how we interrelate with each other. This is especially so with skin color and race issue which continues to be belligerent in most societies globally.
Different models have been used to classify human diversity, but have had their challenges. Typological model was used in the 19th and 20th century based on geographical location of selected traits. Then came the population model that was introduced in the 1940’s and emerged concurrently with growth of the field of population genetics. In the 1960’s the Clinal model was introduced based on human biological variation. It is possibly the closest model we currently have that comprehends the real nature of human diversity.
Human variability has previously been used by a wide section of the society to claim and assert social authority. More so with religious bias and prejudice, the society has exploited sections of society based on religious teachings that in most cases is evidently skewed to the oppressors favour.
One of the most contentious and possibly still very controversial is skin color. From time in memorial, religion has justified social stratification based on skin color and scriptures interpreted to suite the oppressors. Slavery was conducted and supported through biblical justification and so was Apartheid in South Africa.
To a Darwinian and evolutionary scientist, our skin colors are nothing more than the amount of melanin produced by our skin cells (melanocytes) as protection from harmful UV rays. The various changes and variations in human diversity have their origins in how we interacted with our environment as Homo Sapiens immigrated from Africa and occupied the rest of the planet. Over thousands of years, adaptive changes to the different environments has led to changes in our looks, morphologically, culturally and most pronounced, linguistically. To the curious and probing mind, the similarity and differences in our languages based on geographical proximity has nothing to do with the Tower of Babel.
Understanding human Variation
Let’s start with the cradle of mankind. Humans have lived in Africa longer than any other continent. That is a verifiable fact. (Such a basic understanding is unfortunately overlooked by creationists who maintain that the world is approximately 10,000 years old. Such absurdity and close-mindedness only helps to perpetuate intolerance based on ignorance.)
Because of the hundreds of thousands of years of our evolutionary history, this has allowed African population acquire and accumulate minute and small mutations that form our genetic variation. A small group of homo sapiens immigrated from Africa and expanded to the rest of the planet, carrying a small part of the genetic variation. Therefore, the genetic variation of people living outside Africa is a subset of what is already existing and can be found in Africans.
The patterns of human variation are both highly complex and constantly shifting through time. This is more so with the routine and accelerated immigration in the modern era. Migration of home sapiens from Africa to the rest of the world progressed at snail speed compared to the modern transportation system. It is common for the skeptical mind to question why such variation does not occur anymore.
Creationists want to experience Darwinism during their lifetime. The absurdity of such a mindset is a true reflection of how the bible has led into gross misunderstanding of the time-scale of origins and geneses of life. If one believes that the world is six to ten thousand years old (as per biblical interpretation), it is no wonder they would want to see such changes occurring in their generation.
That said, it is important to note that we are still 99.9% genetically identical as homo sapiens![i]
As allude to earlier, skin color remains one of the most obvious but also the most contestable issues of human variability. Rightfully this has been an issue for racial, religious, economic and social stratification. Skin color and extension into racial stratification continues to be divisive and acrimonious in most societies.
To an evolutionist, skin color is a result of years of adaptive changes to the environment. To the African and other tribes living along the equator, constant and ever-present exposure to UV rays from the sun, led to the development of high melanin production than those who immigrated to the temperate regions of our planet. Similarly, the people who immigrated to temperate regions developed a lighter skin to allow for useful UV rays that is crucial in synthesis of Vitamin D and consequential importance in bone development.
Allan Goodman, a biological anthropologist, puts this point across very well. “All skin color, whether light or dark, are not due to race but an adaptation of life under the sun.”
Skin Color as a major aspect of human variability will be covered fully in more detail through a dedicated article.
Human variation has led to a new branch of medicine known as Evolutionary Medicine that looks into how diseases have evolved and advanced as a result of our genetic variation. The most classic and possibly the most unquestionable form of human genetic variation is in Sickle Cell Disease. To any creationist doctor, this is usually a point of departure and possibly reflection (Into the folly of creation story). Genetic mutation that gave rise to Sickle Cell disease was in direct response to protect against malaria and ultimately aid in survival of the species.
Hypertension (esp. in African American) and AMD (Age related Macular Degeneration) are other diseases associated with genetic variability in homo sapiens.
Blood group are genetically inherited from our ancestors and the variability is based on the presence or absence of two Antigens and two antibodies. The important question to an evolutionist is why the variation. There has been a strong link of blood types and the resistance developed to certain illnesses. Even though smallpox has long been eradicated from the face of this planet, it is thought that B and O blood types had protection from the disease.
There is whole host of many features that can characteristically explain human variability based on our genetic inheritance and environments that we have adapted to.
From the long nose being adaptive to arid and cold environments to the Bergman’s rule about the size and build of the body in correlation to the climatic conditions of original habitat. The phenotypic differences of tropical climates producing slender bodies with long limbs and north polar Eskimos with short limbs and stocky bodies.
Lactose tolerance is also a genetic variation that can be traced to our survival when other foods are scarce and only milk is available