Geneticist praises the Creator
Robert Carter chats with ICR geneticist Dr Jeffrey Tomkins
Dr Jeffrey Tomkins earned a Bachelor of science in Agriculture education from Washington State University in 1985, a Master of Plant Science from the University of Idaho in 1990, and a PhD in Genetics from Clemson University in 1996. After becoming a Christian in his undergraduate years, he set his sights on the creation science movement, eventually leaving the Department of Biochemistry and Genetics at Clemson for the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), where he now serves as the Director of Life Sciences. Jeff focuses his research on genetic similarities (or lack thereof) between humans and chimpanzees, and other areas relevant to human origins.
I have known Jeff for more than a decade, but we had really only interacted on a professional level before this interview. I wanted to talk about his Christian background and was surprised that he was raised in a purely secular home, dominated by evolutionary thinking. His father was a research chemist and a fan of Carl Sagan.1 He had essentially no exposure to Christianity growing up:
I knew very little about the Bible and absolutely nothing about creation science. Because I grew up in one of the most un-churched regions in the USA, the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, WA), Christianity was hardly ever on my mind. Although I was never hostile towards Christianity, I just never really thought about it much.
How does a secular kid grow up to be a dedicated student of creation? Jeff says he had reached a low point in his life emotionally:
Then I was presented with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through some amazing circumstances as the result of a new Christian roommate. I immediately gave my life to Christ.
That is not what is supposed to happen to someone being trained as a scientist! Of course, the secular world was not going to let him go that easily:
Shortly thereafter my faith was challenged by evolutionary teachings. Although I knew God was real, I needed some answers to these questions about origins and began a personal quest to thoroughly research the issue.
This is something we at CMI see often. Young Christians frequently struggle with the age of the earth and evolution questions. In fact, many of the current CMI speakers went through a similar process of challenging the scientific status quo. Sadly, there is also a lot of misinformation out there. Even some Christian books try to reconcile an ancient earth with the book of Genesis, as Jeff soon found out:
I first started off reading a popular book in which the author attempted to incorporate the long ages of evolution with the Genesis days of creation. The problem was that both the science and the theology didn’t make much sense using this twisted approach. I then began reading books by Henry Morris and Duane Gish, two of the early pioneers of modern creation science. To my surprise and great satisfaction, their writings were both scientifically and biblically sound. The Genesis account of creation, the global flood, and the dispersion of people groups at Babel are fully supported by hard scientific data. I quickly realized that evolutionary ideas (including eons of deep time) are part of a failed paradigm that exists only in the minds of deceived men, not scientific reality.
As he studied more and more biology, he found new inspiration:
I took classes in plants, farm animals, microbiology, and entomology (insects). In every sphere of biological life I was exposed to incredible examples of intelligent design by the Creator. Later in my graduate career, as I focused first on physiology and then genetics, evidence for organismal complexity became overwhelming, and the foolish speculations of evolution more ridiculous. Every new discovery of incredible complexity in the genome only bolsters my faith even more.
Similar to my own experience, he developed a love for learning after seeing the amazing work of our Creator:
My understanding of the scientifically valid framework of creation science increased my love of learning in the biological sciences, especially later in graduate school when I became immersed in the field of genetics and genomics. My appreciation of God’s design allowed me to sail through my Ph.D. program with straight As in my coursework along with a program of highly successful research in the area of quantitative genetics.
But how does a creationist survive in the world of science when everything is based upon evolution?
When I was getting my Ph.D., I was blessed to have a strong Christian as an advisor, but I did keep my creationist paradigm under wraps for the most part. Later during my post-doctoral research and then during my time as a faculty member, I continued to maintain a low profile in my creationist beliefs in order to be able to publish, get research funding, and have a faculty job in general. Unfortunately, the religion of evolution dominates our secular universities. You can be a Christian and a creationist, but you had better keep your mouth shut about it if you want a job.
That was a sad, but not surprising, testimony to the state of education today. Happily, God had other things in store for Dr Tomkins:
I eventually chose to use my talents by taking a job at the Institute for Creation Research. Now I am able to freely pursue a line of scientific research that better defines origins and biology in general, especially in the area of human genetics. This decision did come at a financial cost due to the loss of a cushy secular university job with a big salary, but it was worth the price.
Jeff has been an active creation scientist and has made several tremendously encouraging discoveries (see boxes). Some examples include his putting to rest the claim that two chimpanzee chromosomes fused to form human chromosome 2. The so-called fusion site is in the middle of a highly regulated gene promoter and is right in the middle of an important region for binding transcription factors.2 He also discovered that many ‘pseudogenes’ are fully functional and actually quite important for life.3 “Even more exciting,” he says, “is my recent research with unassembled raw chimpanzee DNA sequences.” Why? Because they clearly show a much lower level of genome similarity (maybe 80%) than touted by the media. The lower level of similarity defies evolutionary claims of human-ape common ancestry.4
Did he have any significant mentors or heroes he looked up to as he went through school? Referring specifically to Henry Morris and Duane Gish:
I never engaged with my creationist mentors personally while they were still alive, but read just about everything they wrote. These creation science pioneers probably had the greatest influence on my life and career as a scientist, albeit at a distance.
Young scientists take heart! You are not alone. Jeff had the following advice for young creation scientists who want to pursue higher degrees:
My advice would be to get good grades, perform high quality research, keep a low profile, quietly connect with other creationists for support, and actively study creationist literature in your field of choice.
Chromosome 2 Fusion?
Humans have 23 chromosome pairs. Apes have 24. Evolutionists often claim that two smaller chromosomes fused head-to-head at some early point in human history. They base this claim on the fact that the banding patterns in two smaller chimpanzee chromosomes are similar to the banding pattern on human chromosome 2. However:
- The bands actually do not line up perfectly. The evidence for the human chromosome 2 fusion is in the wrong place.
- Chromosome fusions have been documented in other species, but there are no examples of a head-to-head fusion. The telomeres help prevent this.
- If a head-to-head fusion occurred, it should leave behind evidence of the original telomeres, i.e. a characteristic repetitive telomere sequence (TTAGGG), in both forwards and backwards direction. There are telomere motifs in this area, but they don’t repeat in the fashion they would if they were truly telomeric. They can also be found in other parts of the genome.
- Since every chromosome has a centromere, a head-to-head fusion should produce a chromosome with two centromeres. But centromeres have a distinctive, species-specific repeating sequence of 171 bases. Human chromosome 2’s supposed vestigial centromere looks nothing like a chimp centromere, but it does match several other places in the non-centromeric human genome.
- If a head-to-head fusion occurred, there is no way that it happened in the middle of an active gene, for two halves of a single gene would not be found on different chromosomes. Yet the supposed fusion site is located in the middle of a highly expressed and tightly controlled human gene.
Considering all this, there is much evidence against the claim that human chromosome 2 is the result of an ancient fusion event.
Evolutionists believe that humans and chimps split from a common ancestor 5–7 million years ago. As ‘evidence’, evolutionists claim humans and chimpanzees are nearly identical. One often hears “98% similarity”. But is this true? Consider the following:
- The chimpanzee genome was built using the human genome as a guide, a ‘scaffold’ used to ‘hang’ short sequence reads from the chimpanzee sequencing project. Thus, there is a built-in extra degree of similarity. Note how they presupposed common ancestry with chimpanzees without actually testing it.
- The chimpanzee genome was built before the revelation that nearly all sequencing projects were contaminated by human DNA.1 Human contamination would add another degree of false similarity.
- The human and chimpanzee Y chromosomes are radically different. Half of the chimpanzee Y chromosome is ‘missing’ and the rest is only ~70% identical to human.2 Evolutionists struggle to explain how such a tremendous difference happened, even given their assumption of ‘deep time’ .
- There are about 35 million single-letter differences that separate our two species, a huge number of short insertions and deletions, and thousands of genomic rearrangements. Under evolutionary theory, they have to account for these in just a few hundred thousand generations.
- If you randomly take sections of the chimpanzee sequencing data and try to find matches in the human genome, and vice versa, you will find less than 90% similarity. And, many sections of the chimpanzee genome simply do not exist in human. [See Ref. 4]
Clearly, the degree of similarity is much less than most people claim!
References and notes
- Longo, M.S., et al., Abundant human DNA contamination identified in non-primate genome databases, PLOS ONE, 16 February 2011 | doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016410.
- Carter, R.W., The chimpanzee Y chromosome is radically different from human, creation.com/chimp-y-chromosome, 16 December 2010.
References and notes
- See Grigg, R., Carl Sagan and Contact: Defiance of God and promotion of ET, 19 Aug 2010; creation.com/sagan. Return to text.
- Bergman, J. and Tomkins, J., The chromosome 2 fusion model of human evolution—part 1: re-evaluating the evidence, J. Creation 25(2):106–110, 2011; creation.com/chromosome-2-fusion-1. See also part 2, same issue, pp. 111–117; creation.com/chromosome-2-fusion-2. Return to text.
- Tomkins, J., Pseudogenes are functional, not genomic fossils, Acts & Facts 42(7):9, July 2013; icr.org/article/7532. Return to text.
- Tomkins, J. and Bergman, J., Genomic monkey business—estimates of nearly identical human–chimp DNA similarity re-evaluated using omitted data, J. Creation 26(1):94–100, 2012; creation.com/chimp. Return to text.