New study of body lice disproves the Bible?
Popular headlines said, ‘“Lousy” study shows clothing 70,000 years old.’ The news reports also claimed that the study contradicts what ‘the compilers of Genesis’ wrote about Adam and Eve, who made clothes as soon as they realized they were naked. According to reports on this new research, ‘humans were naked for a million years before they noticed their state of undress.’1
Such a claim begs for closer scrutiny.
The new study admits the challenge of discovering the origin of clothes, because clothes are so perishable, unlike stone tools and artifacts. Archaeologists have found some old needles, but not much else. As a result, the origin of clothing remains a major mystery in human evolution—anthropologists want to know when mankind’s apelike ancestors ‘lost their hair’ and presumably started wearing clothes to protect them from the weather.
To fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge, researchers decided to look at the evolutionary history of body lice, a subspecies of head lice which lays its eggs on human clothes. If they knew how long ago body lice diverged from head lice, they should know the likely date for the appearance of the first clothes, too. After all, pests like lice tend to colonize a new niche as soon as it becomes available, right?2
So the challenge was to find a ‘date’ for the appearance of body lice—which no scientist was present to observe.
Here is the convoluted reasoning that led to the ‘72,000 year’ date for the first appearance of clothes.
Assume that chimpanzees and humans diverged from a common ancestor about five million years ago.
Analyze the genetic codes of modern lice on chimpanzees and humans. Compare the differences (about 170).
Assume that these differences are due to mutations.
Assume that these took place gradually at about the same rate over those assumed five million years (this gives an average of 1 mutation per 30,000 years).
Analyze the genetic code of modern body lice, which are merely a subspecies of head lice. Compare the differences (only about 2 or 3).
Assume that the differences between head lice and body lice are caused by mutations.
Assume that these mutations also occurred at the exact same rate as the others, i.e. one mutation per 30,000 years. Thus it is concluded that the body lice colonized human clothes about 72,000 years ago.
Certainly this is a creative effort to fill in some gaps of scientific knowledge about human history. But if only one of the assumptions is wrong, then it’s just a mind game (see ‘The Rules of the Game’) with no basis in reality (and absolutely no value in understanding human origins and culture). Such assumption-laden ‘mind games’ occur in all sorts of scientific studies that investigate history (e.g. Radiometric dating).
Even if the assumptions were true, another problem is the small sample size, which yields an incredible margin of error: 72,000 ± 42,000 years.3 With such a poor statistic, a modern date is even possible. As evolutionary biologist Kevin Johnson noted, with intentional irony, it yields a date between ‘170,000 years ago and yesterday.’4
Rather than relying on the twists and turns of human reasoning, however, modern man has a sure source of truth about the origin of clothes—and this record does not require large leaps of logic. God gives us an eyewitness testimony in Genesis:
When were clothes invented? About six thousand years ago, on the same day that Adam and Eve sinned and lost their innocence (3:6–7).
When did lice colonize clothes? After God’s Curse (3:17–19).
Why were clothes invented? Adam and Eve’s sin was not sexual in nature. They were husband and wife, and had been told to procreate before the Fall. But as now-sinful creatures, nakedness had a totally new significance. Sin distorts nakedness and sexuality. In other words, there is ultimately a moral basis for wearing clothes, even in warm climates.
The origin of clothes is only a mystery if one willfully rejects the written record of God’s infallible Word. Whenever scientists reach conclusions that contradict the history of the Bible, it’s time to start asking questions … about the obviously wrong assumptions behind man’s fallible beliefs.
References and notes
- Wade, N., Why humans and their fur parted ways, New York Times, <www.nytimes.com/2003/08/19/science/19HAIR.html>, 19 August 2003.
- The study admitted that this was ‘a critical assumption … [because] it is possible that clothing existed for some time before lice exploited this new ecological niche … .’ In this particular case, their assumption about lice is reasonable—but the study does not acknowledge the other, more critical assumptions. Kittler, R., Kayser, M. and Stoneking, M., Molecular evolution of Pediculus humanus and the origin of clothing, Current Biology 13:1415, 2003.
- Ref. 2, p. 1414.
- Weiss, Rick, Creative search for the naked truth, Washington Post, <www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11847-2003Aug18.html>, A1, 19 August 2003.