Not My Daddy!

They spy each other across a crowded room. He sure is big: barrel-chested and even a bit brutish. She’s cultured and refined, but there’s no denying that spark…

Today’s issue of Science announces the startling news that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens once interbred. The theological implications are enormous. I used to tell my students that the earliest evidence of religion falls not only among the artifacts of the Cro-Magnon branch of the hominid tree, but also among the remains of Neanderthals. If they had religion, and if they weren’t “human,” what happened to their souls when they died? I received a lot of puzzled looks from seminarians and more than one or two angry stares. The Bible, after all, claims that each was made according to its own kind. Seems like Adam and Eve might have been sleeping around with the non-Eden set. Looks like we’re in for another theological conundrum!

Neanderthals and Homo sapiens diverged once the human lineage left Africa, but once they met in a smoky Paleolithic bar, well, nature took over once again. And if these two hominid species interbred, who is to say what went on back in the days of Lucy? What happened in prehistory stays in prehistory, religions must needs proclaim. If we are honest with the evidence, our bonobo cousins share ancestors so do they share souls?

Some of the present human race, according to the DNA evidence, is walking around with Neanderthal blood, while others are not. I suppose gene sequencing might reveal which camp you are in. Will there be a Church of the Neanderthals? And will non-Neanderthals be allowed to share communion? And were the founders of the world’s great religions all Cro-Magnon or not? If they were of a slightly differences species, can I still join? Theologians, it is time to grab your pencils!

Maybe your dad, but not mine!

15 thoughts on “Not My Daddy!

    • Yes, Matthew, I’ve seen that. Unfortunately, the evidence just doesn’t bear them out on this. All of this shows that human evolution is more complicated (certainly not less!) than had been previously hypothesized. It is bound to be an interesting ride.

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    • For one thing, they are extinct. On the differences between the species on a genetic level, I am not qualified to say. I trust scientists without creationist agendas to make that determination, and from the research I have done, I have found no dissenting voices.

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  1. Without having read the article in question, there is a question that strikes me: do we know as *fact* that some people have Neanderthal DNA while others don’t, or is that speculation?

    I have long suspected that some folks who have crossed my path have been a bit tainted, but before I shout “dirty mudblood”, I’d have to wonder if that kind of interbreeding was so long ago that it’s the skeleton in all of our closets. Kind of makes the old-school interracial couples seem tame!

    On a similar notes, did you hear WNYC’s Radiolab podcast on Lucy, the chimp raised by humans? http://tinyurl.com/28wgmvy

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    • As always, you’ve given me plenty to think about, Jonathan. Gene sequencing seems to indicate that only part of the current human population of the world bears Neanderthal genetic material. (I personally thought up some fantastic potential cuss-phrases based on this news!) Because of my fear of eugenics and concerns that people like to race to premature conclusions, I wonder if this information is at all safe for human consumption. I’ll check out the podcast on Lucy — thanks for pointing it out!

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      • After reading this, I came across another article on Wired.com that suggested that people from most racial groups have around 1-4% Neanderthal DNA.

        EXCEPT for Africans, who don’t have it. Which raises questions about our old racial prejudices, no?

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        • On the contrary! This would mean that only those who are from Africa are pure Homo sapiens!

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  2. a) Neanderthals were truly human, they weren’t sapient.
    b) genetic analysis appears to indicate that neanderthal and sapient genes are shared in some populations.

    If b) is true, either the out of Africa single wave of sapients is challenged by sapients diverging from pools of populations of unknown extents of intermixing or separate waves.

    Seeing we are clear that we all stem from one original clan, the former proposition is presented for science to analyse.

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  3. All the practising? I think than non reproductive sex is common with humans and some other species.

    Being “at it” all the time is a great way of maximising fertility when females are fertile.

    I think you are going to have to have a talk with your better half about your attitude to being “at it” as “breeding behaviour”. I am sure your sudden dispassionate approach to all your memories of events in your relationship may discussed a bit more frankly than you ever liked..

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  4. A little agonising on my behalf.

    According to recent surveys al humans (as in sapients) carry Y chromosomal markers back to one individual @ 60 ka ago.

    The assumption being a single largish clan waddled out of africa about that time and through the inference of the articles of late; 1)clans grew
    2) clans (or troupes) separated,
    3) clans migrated and
    4) clans interacted with other humans.

    The variability of the reported “neanderthal gene” content with modern populations would indicate that the process continued for a fair while for some groups and minimally for others.

    This in itself allows for a new method of genetic migration mapping of modern humans and ancient forms.

    Stand by folks.. There is a lot of entertaining stuff coming your way soon

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  5. what a wally me.. all male humans carry Y chromosomal markers. The females that carry Y chromosomal markers are males by convention I am told.

    Begs forgiveness for brainbuster

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