Jeanson holds a PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from Harvard University. His undergraduate work was in molecular control of photosynthesis and his graduate work was around molecular and physiological control of adult stem cells. After obtaining his degree in 2009 he went to work for the Institute for Creation Research and now is employed by Answers in Genesis. Dr. Jeanson is among a growing number of evangelical Christians who have decided to pursue advanced degrees in the sciences for the express purpose of defending young earth creationism.
The book consists of ten chapters divided into four parts with an introduction and afterword. Included are 40 pages of color plates that are referenced throughout the text.
In chapter one Jeanson frames his work within the context of a jigsaw puzzle and the importance of having the edge pieces to be able to effectively understand the puzzle. He argues that Charles Darwin only had a few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and none of the edge pieces. He then presents genetics in chapter two as the source of the origin of traits (hence, the basis for the origin of species). Jeanson’s thesis is that genetics is the edge pieces of the puzzle that Darwin didn’t have. I’m inclined to argue that Jeanson has it backwards that indeed evolution is the edge and corner pieces and that genetics is a part of the more detailed center pieces.
Jeanson does give a nice overview of the history of genetics from Mendel to Watson and Crick and shows how each contribution was made to our understanding of inheritance of genetic traits.
In chapter three Jeanson dives into the inner workings of the cell, pivots to a discussion about the process of development and how cells encode information and then concludes with a discussion of the ENCODE project and non-coding DNA. On this last point he nowhere indicates that there has been some controversy in the scientific community about many of the conclusions of the ENCODE project nor has he mentioned that ENCODE had to clarify some of its statements.
For Jeanson DNA differences “set the hard limits and constraints on a potential explanation for the origin of species,” so we can begin to see where he is going with his line of argument, and here he brings back in the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle, as these “differences” become the edge pieces of the puzzle.
The next section contains many pages of various color plates some containing explanations while others didn’t. These plates are discussed throughout the text of the book and are a nice contribution.
Chapter four begins with Jeanson discussing the fact that science is about inductive reasoning and how that was the basis for Darwin’s theory. He then proceeds to discusss the geographical distribution of animals concluding that migration and speciation explains how most of the animals got to their respective locations.
Up to this point the book hasn’t been all that bad, maybe a few occasional snarky remarks about evolution. Chapter five however took a major turn for the worse. The chapter begins with an interesting discussion about Linnaean classification and how it represents a nested hierarchy but then Jeanson invokes a typical creationist comparison with automobiles and other types of transportation as another form of nested hierarchy. He then discusses various vestigial structures and concludes that Darwin’s discussion in the Origin about breeds and species is better explained by modern creationism and that Darwin’s thesis didn’t eliminate modern creationist views.
In a number of paragraphs he talks about the Book of Genesis and how it should be interpreted and how those interpretations have impacted modern creationist views of science. The book would have been better served if the biblical material was in a separate chapter discussing some of the issues of interpretation and its impact (or lack of) on science, rather than bringing it into the conversation so far into the book.
Also, despite decades of denial from various anti-evolutionary creationists that there are no transitional fossils, Jeanson not only admits they exist, he says they are consistent with evolution and specifically common ancestry. Of course he thinks the nested hierarchy of modes of transportation is the answer to transitional forms, namely, that God designed them that way.
Jeanson begins chapter six with a discussion of timescales and mentions Charles Lyell, but rather than dealing with the issue head on he goes down a different path and introduces the concept of rapid speciation. He again brings up the breeds-species comparison and references the fact that breeding began by humans about 12,000 years ago and spends much of the chapter talking about speciation rates of different species and how so many have arisen over the past 12,000 years. It seems that Jeanson is taking the breeds and species comparisons much too far especially since the concept of breeds is not technically a term in classification but rather a subset of species based around specific characteristics that the breeder values.
At the beginning of Jeanson’s book Darwin is said to not have an adequate understanding of the origin of species because so many species were yet unknown, but in this chapter we are told that Darwin had a large sampling of species. It would seem that the large sampling was sufficient enough for Darwin (in conjunction with other lines of argument) to formulate his theory of evolution. So, it would appear that the earlier criticism is really unjustified.
Chapter seven is the largest in the book and begins with a discussion of mutations and mutation rates. Jeanson explains that genetic comparisons of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) form branching patterns or nested hierarchies that fit exactly what evolution would expect. He then rejects that idea and explains that nested hierarchies are expressing functional roles in each family and that families (meaning the biological classification of family) was directly created. He references many of his articles that were published in Answers Research Journal for further justification.
Indeed, much of the chapter is Jeanson arguing that evolutionary predictions of the number of mtDNA mutations are too great when comparing the differences among various organisms such as humans, Chimpanzees, Neanderthals, roundworms, fruit flies, water fleas, baker’s yeast, etc. to actual mutation rates. He then argues that when comparing these various rates in timescales of 6,000 years that the young earth creationist predictions are confirmed. The problem is that Jeanson’s claims fall in the face of many studies related to molecular clocks, both nuclear and mtDNA, all show that the so-called “evolutionary timescales” are in fact justified. One review of Jeanson’s Answers Research Journal articles show that he has manipulated the results of various studies to come up with his greatly increased mutation rates than the ones that mainstream science has settled on. Further, modern studies of the human mtDNA tree has divided that tree into three haplogroups referred to as L, M, and N. Jeanson attempts to associate these groups with the three wives of Noah’s sons from the Ark.
One of the frustrating things Jeanson does in this chapter is make statements about contemporary science such as that the universe “evolved 13 to 14 billion years ago,” that the earth “formed around 4 to 5 billion years ago”, that “plate tectonics suggests that there was a supercontinent millions of years ago,” etc. for each of these he simply references Douglas Futuyma’s 2013 edition of his textbook Evolution without any page numbers leaving the interested reader having to do their own search to find the relevant information. Although these topics are covered in Futuyma’s text these are not the primary focus of his book. So why not refer to works that deal with that particular area of science? When talking about the age of the Earth he could just as easily reference the primary work by G. Brent Dalyrimple or any number of standard textbooks on geology or paleontology. This may be nitpicking but it kind of left me scratching my head.
Jeanson also claims that without the assumptions of the rates of salt flow in the oceans, radiometric dating, tectonic plate movement, the speed of light, etc. “the geologic and astronomical arguments for millions and billions of years collapse.” He then talks about the fact that young earth “geologists” think that the universe and the earth are actually in the range of 6,000 to 10,000 years old, that all species formed in that timeframe, and Noah’s flood was an historical and global event that dramatically altered “global rates of geologic change.” Although these ideas are all underlying assumptions to Jeanson’s attempt at “replacing Darwin,” none of them are taken seriously by the scientific community and for good reason.
Whereas chapter seven discussed mitochondria DNA, chapter eight reviews nuclear DNA. And just like mtDNA Jeanson admits that nuclear DNA also falls into nested hierarchical patterns. Jeanson makes the astounding claims that 1) both evolution and young earth creationism expect nested hierarchies, and 2) that the consideration of nested hierarchies does not eliminate either position from consideration. Both of these claims are contested by science.
Jeanson makes the claim, that “across diverse species, preexisting nuclear DNA differences looked like they might be required to produce more nuclear DNA differences via mutation.” He goes on to explain that when it comes to the number of actual nuclear DNA differences in human-chimp and human-human comparisons with predicted expectations from both an evolutionary timescale and a creationist one (6,000 years) that both underestimate those numbers substantially. He then says that evolutionists merely explain those differences as pre-existing at the time of the human-chimp split from their prior ancestry, while for the creationist the pre-existing differences were created that way in Adam and Eve.
Jeanson concludes chapter eight returning to the jigsaw puzzle analogy and states that like mtDNA, nuclear DNA differences represent another corner piece of the puzzle, giving additional contraint on the overall picture of the diversity of life.
The heart of chapters seven and eight regards mutation rates and divergence times specifically between evolutionary timescales and creationist timescales and Jeanson’s challenge that evolution be able to make testable predictions regarding mutation rates that match long timescales and actual DNA differences. His claim is that evolution is unable to do this while creationism is able to make such predictions and has a better explanation for those differences that don’t meet the prediction.
In chapter nine Jeanson makes the intriguing statement, “[i]f human breeders can do so much with so little genetic potential, and if much more genetic potential exists in the wild, then a natural ‘substitute’ for humans is almost unnecessary — natural processes need to accomplish so little.” This is astounding because for so long creationists have attempted to argue that natural processes were not enough to produce the diversity of life, and yet, here we have Jeanson making that very claim.
It is also in this chapter that Jeanson lays out his model of rapid speciation and repopulation of all species after Noah’s Flood. He ties in his discussions of DNA differences from chapters 7 and 8 with that of migration from chapter 4 to claim that populations could have grown from the numbers that were on the Ark to what we see today.
Jeanson concludes chapter nine with laying out the main differences between the evolutionary and creationist (or as Jeanson dubs it, the preexisting genetic diversity model) views of speciation. The first is the source of DNA differences or heterogyzosity, from the evolutonary perspective mutations are the ultimate source, but Jeanson wants to claim that mutations are not enough. From the creationist side he claims that the source of the differences are preexisting and are that way because God designed it to be so from the beginning of creation. The second regards the formation of species of which he frames the evolutionary view as one of individual mutants being able to survive in various scenarious, but for the creationist since diversity is already built-in and preexisting then natural selection, migration, genetic drift, etc is sufficient for the diversity.
In these later chapters Jeanson is concerned with the amount of nuclear DNA differences. From an evolutionary perspective those differences are explained because of mutations through extended generations over deep time. Jeanson cannot have deep time, he only has 6,000 years, so for him the differences are preexisting and had to be that way from creation itself. In essence, its a form of front loading. God creates the potential and ability of diversity upfront, so that diversity occurs naturally, but in the case of YECism, over a relatively short period of time.
Chapter 10 concludes the main body of the book with a discussion of speciation of various families of species looking at the number of known species with the number of species who have published mutation rates and outlining the number of mtDNA differences. The conclusion is that biological patterns in those studies match “linear patterns of speciation within families.” The essence of the argument is that species are becoming less diverse, are moving from heterozygous to homozygous. In essence Jeanson is arguing that genomes are deteriorating.
Jeanson conclusions with his jigsaw puzzle analogy and argues that the puzzle is incomplete because there are millions of species whose mutation rates have yet to be documented. He further claims that in reality there isn’t just one puzzle but many based around the family or perhaps the genus.
Lastly, Jeanson brings his book to a close with an Afterword attempting to place his book within a philosophical and religious framework. He begins by making a rather dubious claim that for the last 130 years there has been a polarized clash between the “two sides,” but seeing that young earth creationism is outside mainstream science and is fundamentally tied to religious faith, there is no “two sides” at all. Mainstream science encompasses people who hold to a wide spectrum of views on politics, economics, morality, religion, and a host of other topics and issues. So, from the perspective of the scientific community, there is no dispute over the reality of biological evolution. On the other hand, there is the current culture wars being waged by those who hold to fundamentally different beliefs about the world. That’s where young earth creationism dwells.
Jeanson goes on to make the false association of evolution with atheism. This is a logical fallacy of poisoning the well and ignores the fact that a great many religious believers hold to the scientific theory of evolution. He then proceeds to discuss theistic evolution with the claim that evolution and the Bible cannot be reconciled, missing the point that he is assuming a literalistic interpretation of the Bible and that one can reconcile faith and evolution by recognizing that the Bible need not be approached from an overly simplistic literalism. The rest of the chapter is a discussion about God and his attributes and becomes essentially a mini-sermon appealing to the reader for ultimate conversion.
Let me conclude with several observations.
One of the major flaws with Jeanson’s work is his attempt at a comparison between his “creationist model” with that of the “evolutionary model.” There are many problems with his approach including the fact that these are not the only two ideas out there and more importantly they are not on an equal footing. The creationist model as understood by Jeanson is based on 1) a particular approach and interpretation of the Bible as an historical narrative and literal history; 2) the idea that the age of the Earth is in the range on only 6,000 years; and 3) that most of the geological strata are the result of a singular global flood approximately 4,500 years ago. Each of these are problematic in and of themselves and yet Jeason’s entire edifice is built on all of these being true.
Another problem with Jeanson’s work, one that tends to plague all young earth literature, is that the data is made to fit the conclusion. Just an overview of the history of science especially since the late eighteen century shows us how natural philosophers came to specific conclusions based on mounds of evidence. We see this when Hutton realized that the nature of the rock strata showed that it took much longer than a few thousand years to produce what we see today and this idea of an old Earth was collaborated at the turn on the twentieth century with the discovery of radiometric dating. We see this again with Charles Darwin and his realization that the evidence pointed to biological evolution rather than fixity of species. Another example is plate tectonics that revolutionized the geological sciences. In each case conclusions were reached based on mounds of evidence. Jeanson is simply unable to overcome the fact that he is stretching things in order to reach a certain conclusion. All of the evidence for an ancient Earth and biological evolution are simply dismissed in the hope that he can make data fit the young earth paradigm.
I also wonder who the intended audience is for this book. I’m guessing that Jeanson is attempting to reach a general audience, but also wants scholars to read it as well. I bring this up because the book does start off with some good historical and introductory material, but by the time you reach chapters 7 and 8 you are in the thick of genetics discussions related to mitochondrial and nuclear DNA mutation rates and this is simply over the head of most readers. Sure, it will give the lay audience the feeling that they are reading something amazing and scholarly, but in reality they have no real ability to know or evaluate the claims being made. It would seem that much of the more technical discussions could have been simplified and the technical details either placed in appendixes or in endnotes or just simply refer to the relevant articles as he did in many places.
Throughout the book Jeanson discusses how he obtained information from various databases, doing his own manipulation of the data, which is to be expected since that is his area of expertise. The problem is that most readers are not geneticists or other type of professional biologist who have the expertise to evaluate his conclusions, especially since Jeanson is making his case outside of mainstream science. To his credit Jeanson does outline his methodology so anyone who does have the knowledge set can review the work.
All in all, this is an intriguing work and shows that young earth creationists are seriously wanting to do research, unfortunately their disposition towards a particular ideology (evangelical fundamentalism) constrains their work and often leads to cognitive dissonance.
Also, for those who want additional information about Jeanson’s work, especially from chapters 7 through 9 can consultant his five main articles that are freely available from the Answers Research Journal that are published online at the Answers in Genesis website.