A recently published study of mitochondrial DNA seems to support the Biblical account of Noah’s Ark, concluding that most species existing today all came into existence at the same time about 100,000 years ago, with each species beginning with one set of parents. Several religious scientists received the news with ambivalence and one prominent rabbi noted the inherent flaws in the scientists’ initial axiom.
Mark Stoeckle from The Rockefeller University in New York and David Thaler at the University of Basel in Switzerland recently presented the results of their study of the DNA barcodes of 5 million animals from 100,000 different species. The barcodes are small segments of DNA found outside the nuclei of living cells, what are referred to as mitochondrial DNA, passed down from the female progenitor to her offspring. With each reproduction, mutations enter into the barcode, as they do when you repeatedly photocopy a document. By measuring the accumulated errors scientists are able to infer the passage of time.
The two scientists came to some remarkable conclusions. They concluded that 90 percent of all animal species alive today come from parents that all began giving birth at roughly the same time, fewer than 250,000 years ago. The study also concluded that species are quantized. This means that instead of there being a broad continuum of animal varieties resulting from millions of years of gradual evolution, creatures fall into very distinct, widely separated populations.
According to their study, something happened 100-250,000 years ago that created entirely new populations from previously existing species, beginning with a limited gene pool, possibly even a single pair.
“This conclusion is very surprising,” Thaler wrote in his study. “I fought against it as hard as I could.”
The researchers suggested some possible causes for this cataclysmic reboot of life on Earth.
“Ice ages and other forms of environmental change, infections, predation, competition from other species and for limited resources, and interactions among these forces,” they suggested in their paper.
But the phenomenon, they noted, was clearly inherent to all living things on the planet.
“All of animal life experiences pulses of growth and stasis or near extinction on similar time scales,” they wrote.
This scenario, one in which humanity begins anew alongside animal species, seems familiar to believers in the Bible as a description of what took place when Noah left the Ark, accompanied by his family and all of the animals. But Professor Natan Aviezer, a physics professor at Bar Ilan University who is a learned and devout Jew, denies that there is any Biblical relevance to the study.
“The Torah does not talk about Japan, or Europe, or Asia,” he said. “The Torah is a book of Jewish history, focusing on the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Jewish History is the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East. If you read the story of Noah, you might ask how the kangaroos got to Australia. The answer is that they never left Australia. Floods in Israel don’t kill kangaroos in Australia.”
“If you look at the size of the Ark, there is no way it could have held all the species in the world. But it did hold all the species from this region,” Professor Aviezer concluded.
Dr. Lee Spetner,an applied biophysical physicist with a Ph.D from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who also happens to be an observant Jew, said that the study was unnecessary as proof of the Bible’s relevance or accuracy.
“It sounds like the flood story in the Torah, describing all the species starting from a pair,” Dr. Spetner said. “But I wouldn’t take any of these scientific announcements as a reinforcement or proof of the Torah. I don’t need any reinforcements. Do you?”
Spetner noted unlike faith in God, science frequently changes its conclusions.
“You have to be careful using these scientific theories as a support since tomorrow they can come out saying something completely different,” Spetner warned.
Dr. Spetner addressed the glaring contradiction between the scientific theory of the development of species and the Biblical account: the timeline.
“It is interesting how the scientists seem to be coming around but the Torah disagrees with their 100,000-year estimate,” Spetner explained. This was not an impasse for the religious physicist, who explained why scientific theories are based on time scales of hundreds of thousands of years as compared to the 6,000 year timeline proposed by the Bible.
“Whenever we examine the past we are making inferences based on what we find in the present,” he maintained. “Scientists have to make an assumption that the laws of physics and nature were the same in the distant past as they are today. That is understandable since there is nothing else they can do.”
“But the Torah makes a much different assumption,” he said. “The Torah says that during the Six Days of Creation, the laws of nature were much different than they are today. The Torah also says that the laws of nature from the first man until the Flood were much different than they are today. The scientists’ estimate of time can’t be expected to correspond to the Torah’s measurement of time. They rely on what we consider to be invalid assumptions. It is a reasonable assumption from their point of view and the only method available to them.”
The study also opened up the possibility of an inbuilt cyclical evolutionary process of creation and finality. Rabbi Yosef Berger noted that this is a necessary aspect of a belief in a Creator.
“This is described in the Talmud,” Rabbi Berger told Breaking Israel News. “The world was created and destroyed several times before God created this world.”
“Western culture believes the world is like a huge machine,” Rabbi Berger said. “They think it was made, like a automobile, and will keep running until something breaks or until it runs out of fuel.”
“Believing in Creation implies Messiah, a time when things were designed to end,” the rabbi said. “For us, that is at the end of 6,000 years, very soon indeed. Of course, this is only comforting for those that realize this world is much more than its physicality. After the Messiah, the spiritual aspect of Creation will continue.”