Assessing the Ross-Rana Model

Reasons to Believe (RTB) is among the most important organizations in the origins conversation. It is led by a wise leader, whom I deeply respect, Dr. Hugh Ross. I had the privilege of sharing the stage with him this last January, asking Are Humans Special?

Recently, I invited Dr. Fazale Rana from RTB into dialogue about their model of human origins. I made the claim that the recent work in population genetics we had done “falsified the RTB model.” The RTB model, also, has come up several times on the Peaceful Science Forums.  Several RTB supporters identify with Peaceful Science, and have been asking questions about it.

Retracting My Error

It turns out that I was wrong. That claim is retracted here. We did not falsify the current RTB model. Please accept my apology for an confusion my prior statements have caused. I was in error.

We did not falsify the current RTB model, just their first model, which was already falsified. I was able to begin conversations with Dr. AJ Roberts and Dr. Rana this last week, both before and at the Dabar Conference. It is not clear from the outside, but there is currently a range of RTB models, some of which might possibly comport with the genetic data. This story here is important, because even many RTB supporters do not know the progression here.

What is the RTB Model?

In the first RTB model, published in the first edition of Who Was Adam? in 2005, Dr. Ross and Dr. Rana lay out their first model. Among other details, they define “humans” as Homo sapiens, and insist there was no interbreeding between “humans” and other lines. This is a sole-genetic progenitor model, with Adam placed less than 100,000 years ago. Reading Scripture largely literally, they infer there is a lost record of agriculture over this time too. This model is what is commonly understood to be the RTB model, and we can say that this does not match with population genetics.

This, however, is not the current RTB model. In 2015, they published the second edition of Who Was Adam?, with several updates to the model. To their credit, they acknowledged and accepted the growing evidence for interbreeding between Neanderthals and Sapiens. They adapt their model, in light of this evidence, to acknowledge “bestiality” that arises in our lineage as a consequence of the fall. We might call of this an “Out of Africa and Hybridization” model of origins, where the hybridization is deemed against God’s wishes.

Not Sole-Genetic Progenitors

This model, whatever we call it, is not a sole-genetic progenitor model. Humans arise as a single couple, and the main trunk of humanity begins without genetic input from others. However, eventually, Adam’s offspring interbreed with Neanderthals and Denisovans. Now, we all descend from them as well. Some of us, maybe even most of us, have their DNA in our genomes alongside Adams. We all genealogically descend from Adam, but we are not entirely his genetic offspring. That means that we do not expect to see a genetic bottleneck in population estimates in the RTB model. To conclude that evidence against a single couple genetic bottleneck is against the single couple origin of Homo sapiens (and therefore against this model), is an example of the Ecological Fallacy or the Fallacy of Division.

It is entirely possible that the RTB model could be plausible in light of genetic evidence. Or, at the very least, it has not yet been tested. It might survive a careful test. Moreover, we are positioned now to test the RTB model by measuring the time to most recent 4 alleles (TMR4A) in the Homo sapiens specific lineage. I have the data now, and am looking forward to picking up the conversation with Dr. Rana at the end of summer. This is a really interesting question, of high importance in the origins debate. I’m very curious to see what the data will tell us.

I am holding off testing the model too soon. I want to do with this with Dr. Rana and Dr. Roberts. They are honest scientists, and want to bring them along with this. This is, after all, an effort of peace. In the end, also, I hope their model stands.

That Which Lies Ahead

I plan to look at the evidence myself. Will the RTB model stand? Or will it fall?

The more options available to others, the better. I commend Dr. Rana and Dr. Roberts for, without hesitation, wanting to see what the data shows. In the coming season, we might have some very interesting results to share. RTB, also, includes a range of views on Adam. So even if this specific model fails, it is possible another might work. This is a great moment for the RTB community. Help us understand at Peaceful Science what is the full range of views at RTB. Come tell us on the Forums how you imagine Adam. How large, exactly, is the RTB zoo of Adam models?

Several old earth creationists, including RTB supporters, hope that RTB “steals” the Genealogical Adam model too. They are more than welcome to include it as one option among many in their tent. Response from conservative theologians across the spectrum was positive. Maybe our insight into genetic vs. genealogical ancestry broadens the tent at RTB. After all, a Genealogical Adam does give them a way to affirm sole-genealogical progenitorship without bestiality, in the same timeline of a plain reading of Genesis.

RTB, also, already acknowledges that there were people outside the garden with whom Adam’s offspring eventually interbreed. Maybe this was not bestiality, but what God intended in the first place. So, in the coming year, let us consider together a Genealogical Adam and the current RTB model.

Come walk with us as we dream of Adam.

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Notable Replies

  1. Read about the zoo of Reason to Believe model here: Engaging the Zoo of RTB Models.

    I hope the RTB supporters (e.g. @AJRoberts, @KenKeathley, @ClarkC, and @Guy_Coe) here share this widely in your networks. I made a mistake in assessing their model that this post retracts. I do what I can to retract errors quickly. I will make mistakes, but you can trust me to correct my errors.

  2. I see this as a victory for the church because of the way all sides handled it.

    Regarding your intention to find a MRCA by testing the four most recent alleles, you may have an unexpected result. If Adam was made de-novo 13.4K years ago (or more recently) he may have had a unique genetic signature. Maybe he is a genetic ghost, but that has always been a possibility, not a certainty. After all, Eurasians have recognizable Neanderthal genes apparently and those hybrid events were much further in the past than Adam was. A lot will depend on what you test of course.

  3. Not knowing ahead of time that a highly-publicized position has been under private review and recently, potentially, modified is pretty darn excusable. Especially when you have to go to such lengths to bury the hatchet to even make that discovery, rather than simply, and with some perverse glee at the public fanfare, chopping down their tree. Glad you know a “good neighbor” policy when you see one. Kudos, and looking forward to your collaboration with them.

  4. I ought to add how long and how deeply respectful I am for Dr. Ross and the RTB ministry.
    The church has not always done well at navigating the sea changes from our common past theological perspective, which have slowly arisen under painstaking scientific scrutiny in the last two hundred years or so.
    Scientists who do their craft well, especially as people of faith AND people with a healthy skepticism of unquestioned orthodoxies, are the unsung heros who have advanced our understanding with precision, of what exactly the Bible is affirming, as regards the natural world, and in the Bible.
    I am deeply indebted to so many who have worked so hard, and am deeply thankful for the common fellowship they have assisted in creating among us, whether from RTB, ID, BioLogos, or any number of similar ministries working to get at the true meaning of the Scriptures, and giving glory to God, thereby. Cheers!

  5. I also have tremendous respect for Dr. Hugh Ross, Dr. Rana, and RTB. As recent as January of this year (2018), at the ASA Southern California Day Conference, I asked Dr. Ross about his views on the descendants of Adam and Eve. And at that time, at least, he seemed to be of the view that there was no interbreeding with Neanderthals and that RTB had doubts about the reliability of the Neanderthal genetic evidence. I believe he suggested that perhaps Europeans had contaminated the Neanderthal genetic studies and perhaps researchers from Africa (presumably because they have been shown to not have interbred with Neanderthals) should investigate Neanderthal specimens as to be sure not to contaminate the genetic record. I could have misunderstood his comments and I don’t want to misrepresent what their model may show, but this is just my understanding of what I thought I heard in response to my question.

  6. @purposenation, welcome to the forums!

    Dr. Ross is not a biologist and wisely defers to Rana and other biologists. I recently invited him to a session on the science of Adam, and gave a lecture on this in attendance. He wisely demurred from participation, even though I invited him.

    For the currrent RTB model, it seems the focus should be on their written work:

    That is where, in print, Dr. Ross acknowledges that evidence with Rana. What you are hearing from him in person is probably put in the speculative bin.

    Though, if others hold that view, we should be clear the genetic evidence solidly rules out sole-genetic progenitor within the last 500,000 years. That interbreeding with Neanderthals is really helpful, as it brings in additional genetic diversity to allow for the hope of a single couple origin of Sapiens.

    Just for the record, that is not terribly plausible for a range of technical reasons. How does he even know that it wasn’t Africans or Asians that were handling the material?

  7. Yes I know. We are going to deal with that too. I’m just saying Neanderthal, because that is what they have accepted. The RTB model is between a rock and hard place there. As “distasteful” as interbreeding is in their model (but not in a Genealogical Adam model), they need it to get enough diversity. Or so it seems.

    True. End of summer you might get a chance to have that conversation with Fuz.

  8. So, in the interest of reviving this association and topic, I thought I’d excerpt a bit of their current fundraising letter.
    This from Dr. Ross, whom I support and esteem highly:

    “Recently, I came across a Facebook discussion on dinosaurs. What struck me was how much anger the Christians expressed towards scientists and science.
    Chances are right now you can think of at least five people in your life who believe scientists are trying to knock down our faith or who simply refuse to talk about science. Why is that so true of so many Christians?
    If you ask me, this reaction comes from fear. Millions have a deep-seated fear that the next big scientific discovery will be the one that shatters their faith. Millions more are afraid that if they ask science-faith questions --or even worse, voice their doubts --they’ll be pounced on and ridiculed, or labeled as not having enough faith.
    Do you remember that fear? Before you discovered Reasons to Believe or other science apologetics, were you afraid that science might lead you away from your faith?”

    I’ll include more later, if there’s interest.

    Do you see this as a legitimate perspective from an OEC organization? Is it a fair way to raise funds? Personally, I think so.

    The letter goes on to explain that they’re sending a free copy of their brand new DVD, “Meet Jeff Zweerink.”

    “It’s Jeff’s talk from this years’ AMP conference, full of great information. But what I like best is the way Jeff shares his own struggles with fear and doubt. Jeff admits honestly that sometimes new discoveries challenge him. But, these are what scientists call “anomalies,” things we just can’t explain right now. They don’t derail the trend of scientific discovery toward greater and greater proof of God’s hand in nature. And, as Jeff clearly shows, engaging our with our doubts, instead of suppressing them, is actually the road to deeper faith!”

    Good going, RTB. Thanks again for your ministry!

  9. I suppose its legitimate. They aren’t breaking any laws. They are talking about real insecurity that people have.

    I just think that the Resurrection, God’s work in history to reveal himself, is much stronger than any “scientific apologetics.” I’d point to Jesus for confidence over any effort of my ministry. That’s just me though.

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