What about Noah and Population Genetics?

Abraham had a lot of boys from his third wife. But it seems to me your appeal to cancer cells as a way to find a way for a higher mutational load is just as objectionable. They are not “functional” in any good sense.

PS- Rather than spending 100% of your energy looking for a way to make a flood that wiped out humanity work with the science, why not spend some of that energy considering that the scriptures when rightly handled do not teach that such a flood occurred? Why not give those vids a chance and we can talk about scripture and not just science…

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A YEC with strong MT inclinations would have to question the timeline of Egyptian history (the usual approach seems to be to make some dynasties coexist), and somehow squeeze everything to the time after 2200BC of Babel. Which obviously brings some serious problems with it.

This might play a part of why YEC archaeologists seem to like LXX. But there is also the fact that the LXX genealogies seem to have way better exegetical support (as documented by Henry B. Smith in the article linked above).

I think the mentioned article does some good ground work there (It was published in the journal of AiG after all). I’m not too familiar with the King James movement (having become a YEC before ever touching a KJV), but it might help if you note that some times Jesus quotes the OT in ways that are supported by LXX but not MT.

Sure, I have many hats, and I attack each of them at turns. It seems my remaining scriptural questions with a local flood are smaller than what I have with the cataclysmic YEC scenario of completely overturned geography.

Exactly, and that is why I’d really like to see how the population genetics data will treat the global flood.


Thanks, I had missed that one!

I thought that goes without saying. :slight_smile:

My point here is to find a well documented limit for how large mutation rates a human population could tolerate without extinction. The cancer cells mutate at a 100x higher rate than what is required for this YEC scenario, so it is clearly not to be taken as an example of victorious survival and heathy functionality, but rather the extreme at the border of lethality. A complete human body will not suffer as much without dying, but I hope to see an empirically determined limit for how much is too much.

Perhaps this will help you see where I’m aiming at: I’d rather see @swamidass beat up a superman than a strawman.

For a fairly simple reason: the title of this topic is “What about Noah and Population Genetics”, and I really like taking things one at a time.

But thanks for the videos, I had a quick listen and you seem to have good stuff there!

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In fact, @Otto, the great majority of OT references in the New Testament do derive from the LXX.
But aside for the eccentrics (even me) on this blog, I’ve never encountered any YECs who have said,
“… and that’s what the LXX says!”

I’m not following you about population genetics treating the global flood. There’s nothing to consider.

A global flood eliminates the pre-Adamites. This blog is introducing the pre-Adamites in a serious vein.

There was some considerable back-and-forth discussion between Venema (BioLogos) and Dr. Buggs (I.D.) on how far back do we have to go to the “Wall of Genetic Noise” which makes it theoretically possible to hide a 2-person bottleneck (which is an Adam/Eve hypothetical). If my memory serves correctly, the current Human Genome Diversity is so pronounced, we have to go back 700,000 years (which takes us well into the pre-sapiens timeframe) before we can “HIDE” a hypothetical bottleneck of 2 humans.

A similar effort could be done for a 6 person bottleneck (Noah’s children with wives). And it seems obvious that it would be easier to hide a 6 person bottleneck than a 2 person bottleneck… but even if it takes us back to as recently as 300,000, it not only doesn’t conform to the usual timelines for a global flood - - - but it’s not going to support @swamidass’s work.

PS: The reason I use the term “hide” in conjunction with the bottleneck analysis is that human genome diversity is so pronounced, and a 2 person bottleneck so drastic, the data clearly excludes the possibility of such a bottleneck for any time frame significantly more recent than 700,000 years ago. The best we can expect is to allow for the possibility of a bottleneck beyond the “clear zone”, and past the wall of “genetic noise”.

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Well if you want to go at it from the other direction we now have DNA samples for hundreds if not thousands of individuals from 13,000 to 5,000 years ago. NOTE: Even if a YEC would not accept those dates, they are still people who lived in the same areas in the distant past. Even if it was 3,000- 6000 years ago what I am saying about amount of genetic difference holds. …If DNA mutated significantly faster than it does now during that period then we should not be able to build plots like the one in this link…

Or build webs of relationships like the one in this link…

And this one is only mtDNA but we should not be able to have mtDNA with only one letter difference after 9000 years…

In short, even if much higher mutation rates could have happened in theory without proving fatal we have strong evidence that they did not happen…

Therefore, a humanity-ending global flood didn’t happen. But the scriptures don’t really say that is what happened anyway. What they really say happened is in the videos/book.

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I totally agree. Take the rest on another thread.

I 100% endorse that. I have no use for strawmen arguments. If you can find a way to make it work, I’ll certainly make it known too. I have no motivation to mispresent the data.

Some Preliminaries

Yes, but it is not likely that these animals were getting 100x times the normal rate of mutation in their germline. Remember, that somatic cells are going to get far more mutations than germline cells (because they are more exposed and dividing), so you are far more likely to die, than somehow live long enough to produce viable offspring.

Also keep in mind that every child is born with about 100 to 200 de novo mutations, and as the father ages, this can approximate double. However, that increase in mutation rate makes it much more likely that the child will have autism.

What you are proposing here is that there are 10,000 or more mutations per generation for several generations. We know of no mechanism that can increase mutations rates that high, and then magically return to the levels we’ve seen currently. It is hard to imagine a process that would mutate at this high a rate with out just leaving us dead. I know of no examples of any mammal that can survive that amount of mutation, producing viable offspring. Can you find any papers that do show anything like that?

That is different. Cancer cells are not producing viable human offspring. That is an example of somatic mutation, which is far higher than germline mutation.

It is just entering the realm of science fiction to imagine mutation rates this high. I’m pretty sure we do not even see survivable mutation rates that high in insects and C elegans. I’m a medical doctor, by the way, and weeding out mutations in sperm is not going to work. What ever process is increasing mutations rates 100x in germline is doing much more in somatic cells. I’m just no sure how any individuals survive that degree of mutational load, let alone have viable offspring. Maybe I am missing something here, but that is a rate of mutation that we have just never observed.

The TMR10A Distribution

Here it is. It 181,000 years ago. So, this predicts a mutation rate about 45x higher than we directly observe in humans (if the flood was 4,000 years ago). That is really high. If we try and squeeze all the mutation into a window in the past. That means you are looking at >100x mutation rate than ever observed for >1000 years. That just boggles my mind. I’m very open to finding any models that might work, but this totally stumps me. I just do not see what could work.

So yes, if Adam and Eve do not have our biology, then yes, TMR10A does not have to be close to TMR4A. However, for them to be far appart (180 kya vs 500 kya), that would require them to be genetic mosaics, it seems.

That option, however, is not available for Noah. I do not think that trick for them is playing fair. I’d hope you agree. This seems to strongly falsify the notion that there was a Noah bottleneck of 5 individuals within the last 10 kya. Do you agree?


@Otto are you a YEC? Just FYI, so is @J.E.S, one of our moderators. We will treat you with kindness here.

TMR10A does seem like pretty clear evidence against the AIG view. I’d remind you, however, that the AIG understanding of Genesis is not the traditional view. It arises very recently in history, first in the mid 1800s, and then largely dropped. And then again in the 1960’s. It is fine if you feel the need to take that view, but the AIG position is not the traditional view of Genesis.

It would be interesting to see how you understand this this data, and how it interacts with your understanding of Scripture.

I’ll now just give a couple of brief comments, and hopefully I’ll soon have time to answer the other questions.

I agree, this seems to make the problem even worse. We might want to talk more about it later. But at this point I’ll just raise two points that may make it harder to give this effect a numerical estimate: the exposure effect would be related to the type of radiation, so that would be very much true for Alpha radiation, to a smaller effect for beta radiation but not so much for gamma rays. And correct me if I’m wrong, but the cells that divide often are also more disposable. Se the big problem are not the dead cells, but the uncontrolled cells: we are mostly talking here about the growing risk of cancer.

I know, it is hard to imagine for me too, but if it is possible, I’d use either evidence or evidence based calculations for this, rather than my intuitions. I’m ok with using intuitions for determining priors, but it is harder to crunch out bayes factors out of them. The most interesting bayes factors come out of clearly defined likelihoods.

I expected we had seen something more than the autism data by this time, but we have not, so I’ll see how far that goes.

The autism rate (not counting other autism spectrum disorders) seems to be 0.2%. The data about a doubled autism rate with a doubled rate of mutations would sit well with the assumption that we get the combined probability by multiplying the probability of the independent events. The correct way to calculate the probability is by multiplying the inverse, and for a 100x dose we have:
1- (1-0.002)^100 = 18.1%

An autism rate of 18% is certainly very high, but if autism is the canary in the coal mine for rising mutation rates, this seems to leave some room for speculation. A population could survive this, if autism was the only factor. But obviously it is not the only factor, so we need to take into account more data.

Correct me if I’ve understood this wrong, but I made a quick search for C elegans mutation rates and this seems to imply that the limit would be around 10 000 to 100 000 times for C. elegans:


I’m actually quite surprised with this number (that is speaking about per gene mutation rate, but also the spontaneous mutation rate is with the same units). If I didn’t get that completely wrong, we have here a multicellular organism which is able to stand up to 1000 times the amount of mutations needed for H. sapiens in the hypothesis we are trying to test here. We are no more talking about cancer.

So far this still seems like an open question to me, at least based on the data presented here.

Dr. Buggs was right to point out that the bottleneck hypothesis had not been tested. I would propose a similar claim, that we seem not to have tested the claim: In H. sapiens, what is the maximal mutagenesis compatible with population lethality/sterility?

And I would be happy to see this tested (Of course I’m not an expert in the subject, so probably I’ve not found the relevant studies yet, but I have more faith in your expertise, and I’ll try my best playing the devils advocate :smiley:).

Thank you Joshua! That is beautiful! So this would be pretty much in line with the 100x I calculated before.

Yes, this is exactly why we are talking about Noah: we don’t need to wrestle with the question of how fair the “starlight created in transit” category of explanations is (I would say the mosaic biology view is certainly ad hoc (=low prior), and if not in this category, it is close enough), because even if you had as much of them as you like, they won’t apply here.

If you can properly test the increased mutation rate hypothesis, this will also make any discussion of mosaic biology irrelevant.

I’m not saying the hypothesis is likely, but I’m saying we should build the argument properly into the form of a bayes factor.

That is not true. The opposite, really.

Your skin, hair, blood cells, and internal organs all have dividing cells. They are the first to go. They die, and you die in days, weeks or months. It is a very horrible death. You loose your hair, you vomit and loose your appetite, and you stop producing red blood cells and white blood cells, becoming unable to fight off infections. We actually administer lethal doses of radiation in the hospital to treat many cancers, but we have to do a bone marrow transplant to keep patients alive.

Cancer is not what kills you. That is just the long term risk if you somehow survive.

As for radiation as the mechanism of this (as proposed by RTB), it would cause primarily deletions and rearrangements, both of which are much more dangerous than point mutations (which is most of what we see). Rearrangements can delete genes or break them totally, and so can deletions if they cause a frameshift.

The lethal dose of radiation for humans is ~400 Rads, which kills 50% of people. At 1kRads, everyone is dead. The LD50 for uniform low LET irradiation of man. - PubMed - NCBI

Roughly 1 rem, or 1 Rad, is approximately 3 years of natural radiation exposure. So we get about 10 rem, on average, before having kids. Increase radiation by about 40x, and we are up to the point where 50% of the population is dying every generation. More accurately, there would be even more dying if you take cumulative effects into account. Of course, keep in mind:

  1. Most of these mutations are not the right type any ways, and the germline cells will be among the the least likely to be affected (because they are buried deep in the case of eggs, and protected if they are testes).

  2. Infertility would take place before that point too, as rearrangements cause genetic interference, and many of the mutations that won’t kill us will still injure development irrecoverably.

  3. We do not see this many deletions in the human genome. We see mainly point variations, which are less likely.

You could look at alpha and beta radiation, but that type of radiation does not penetrate deeply.

He does not say that any more. He thinks that TMR4A does test the hypothesis, and rules it out before 500 kya.

That is not an ethical study. We know that we have just never observed anything approaching that rate in large mammals (or probably even small mammals). It has never been observed.

I think we have.

I’m all for that, but the arguments are not determined to be improper or proper based on use of a “bayes factor.”

The evidence is really clear. The YEC model of a genetic bottleneck of 5 people for Noah does not fit the evidence. To make it fit, we would need to invoke some large, ongoing miracles, where God is adding mutations to human populations for thousands of years in the past, and then stops for thousands of years. We also need to either (1) believe God was miraculously adding mutations before the flood too, or (2) posit that Adam and Eve were Genetic mosaics. Those options might be the only way for this to work.

Of course, ongoing miracles of that sort are unattested to in Scripture, and do not have any reason, it seems, except to fit the data. There does not seem to be an independent reason God, which should substantially reduce our confidence in it.

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Thank you for the clear explanation!

This is a clear numerical limit, and it is clearly sufficient to show that

This is true. The mutagen should produce point mutations for there to be any sense in postulating it. For the sake of completion we will want to calculate the limits for point mutation inducing mutagens. It seems ENU (N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea), which is known to produce point mutations, and has been studied with mice, should give us a good reference for the whole class of point mutation inducers (we don’t have to care for the infinite number of possible causes if we can rule out the whole category):

The mutation frequency induced by a 400 mg/kg dosage of ethylnitrosourea is 12 times the maximal mutation frequency achievable with a single exposure to x-rays and 36 times that reported for procarbazine, the most effective chemical mutagen previously known for mouse stem-cell spermatogonia. Ethylnitrosourea is already the mutagen of choice in deliberate attempts to create mouse models for human disease and in any experiments in which a maximal mutation rate is desired. Repeated-dose regimens similar to the ones reported here should increase the efficiency of such studies. [emphasis added]
(Dose-repetition increases the mutagenic effectiveness of N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea in mouse spermatogonia)

A fractionated dose of ENU, an alkylating agent, can produce a mutation rate as high as 1.5 × 10^−3 in male mouse spermatogonial stem cells. (Mouse Mutagenesis Using N-Ethyl-N-Nitrosourea (ENU) )

The spontaneous mutation rate in mice seems to be similar to the human rate:

Thus, the total mutation rate was about 1.1 × 10−5 per locus per generation. Assuming 103 b per locus, we obtain 1.1 × 10−8 mutations per b per generation. (Rates of Spontaneous Mutation)

The rate reported for ENU must be in per locus units, but it would still be 100x the spontaneous mutation rate of 10^-5. [edited] This would be in line with the “12x better than x-rays”, but I might have misunderstood something. That is quite a difference to the radiation induced data, but as you said, radiation causes “primarily deletions and rearrangements, both of which are much more dangerous than point mutations”.

Assuming the above, and if we can use the 12x as some kind of scale factor in comparison with the radiation, we would get the equivalent of 40 * 12 = 480 times mutation rate as a preliminary answer to the question: “what is the maximal mutagenesis compatible with population lethality/sterility?”

Am I completely wrong with that one? Feel free to correct me. :slight_smile:

Exactly: he was right at the time when he said it.

There are certainly unethical ways to perform the study, I must agree I seem to have messed things up again with the small mammals. :sweat_smile:

I hope you don’t feel irritated by this, but it seems to me like we still have some work to do. But we are making good progress!

I fully agree with that, once we can rule out the numbers related to point mutations. I must add that the ongoing miracles is really an intellectual suicide even by YEC standards!

Help me out with this too?

I’m not any more.

I always had the idea that if I would abandon the YEC position, it would be because of arguments that I had really understood and gone through properly.

Once I had adopted a bayesian epistemology, I couldn’t avoid seeing priors and likelihoods everywhere, and although I had previously adopted quite a nihilistic attitude to scientific certainty, some things can still be crunched into huge bayes factors (I had been pretty much a scientific antirealist, following the underdetermination argument of Bas van Fraassen, especially when it comes to natural history).

I also saw that even if there was no shortage of intellectually lazy arguments on the YEC side, the intellectual honesty wasn’t admirably higher on the other side either (I didn’t feel an emotional pull, just the push from both sides): quite often the arguments were faulty of circular reasoning, and didn’t really give the YEC side any benefit of doubt, even for the sake of the argument. I felt like few scientists really deal seriously with YEC arguments, and those who do, too often do it arrogantly and with poor arguments.

I want to mention that I wasn’t really actively searching for the best old earth argument I could find: it was more like “I have plenty to do with the ones coming at me, and I’ll take them one at a time to see what the are made of”.

At the time I was open to questioning any of my core arguments from Scripture, at least in principle (It becomes pretty obvious within the bayesian framework that its hard to justify a posterior of one for any hermeneutic conclusion, especially when we are talking about a dead [or resurrected] language and a large cultural distance). But for quite long, simply the amount of seemingly strong and unanswered (for me anyways) biblical arguments was something that made me doubt that even if any single one of them could turn out to be flawed, what is the likelihood that they all are?

It seemed like abandoning a YEC theological paradigm was more like ad hoc theology than an intellectually honest way of looking at the scriptures. I had seen some fine points from old earthers that I could agree with and even accommodate in my YEC theology, but the cornerstones seemed to be untouched.

When I found satisfying answers for a couple of the core arguments, it kind of made the crack in the paradigm: I started to systematically re-evaluate and analyze the biblical core arguments. I pointed the same skepticism and bayesian analysis into seeing if I could poke holes into the rest of them while sticking to a strict methodology. It appeared to me that most of the arguments could be attacked quite powerfully, and there were some strong biblical arguments that went against the AiG catastrophism. Even the remaining unanswered questions didn’t seem so strong anymore.

I hope to go into more detail some time later. :slight_smile:

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I hope this Joshua’s recent comment shows why this is a relevant discussion:

As long as the YEC model has the room for speculation by some ad hoc science fiction (beyond the cartesian demon level skepticism, which would make God a deceiver by their own words), it is not as bankrupt as it can be. To most powerfully make the scientific case against the YEC model, one should start with assumptions that they are committed to, show that it does not fit the evidence, and rule out all the logically possible categories of explanations.

The best way to do this seems to be to take things that must have a known value after the global flood (such as the amount of people, or the amount of standing trees), and have a steady rate of change that can be empirically measured, which can be independently calibrated by known historical dates 2000-3000 years back, and where any way of increasing the rate in question would have a limit or would not go unnoticed.

It seems credible that one could make the argument from those datasets, but it isn’t yet clear to me how exactly I would do that, and how powerful the argument would be. But I’m open for any suggestions!

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ENU is not a good either. Keep in mind that we see far more transitions than transversions:

ENU is an alkylating agent and has preference for A->T base transversions and also for AT->GC transitions.[5] However it is also shown to cause GC->AT transitions.[6]
ENU - Wikipedia

We would see that in the data, but we do not. Instead, we see this:

From: Common Descent: Humans and Chimps / Mice and Rats

So before we do any more work to work out math or plumb the literature, it might be worth trying to find a mutagen or mechanism that can increase mutations in precisely these ratios. I’m not sure if one exists.

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A conventionally dated global flood is contravenes, easily,by the uninterrupted continuity of Egyptian dynasties… also, the same flood which created myriad fossils should have a million human corpses to fossilized.

However, a global flood 10,000 to 100,000 years ago makes rebuttal against a flood in that period more cumbersome.

So the only way to have a flood sometime during the Egyptian historical period is for it to be regional.

Note the correction…

I agree, sort of.

In the end, they can still decide…

In the end, if we just posit miracles everywhere, we can’t really say anything with confidence. That ultimately may be where YEC leaves us.

That is really true. I hope you have found something different here. Also look at @Joel_Duff’s excellent work:

That was true for me too. YEC is difficult scientifically, but eventually I couldn’t understand that certainty in such a idiosyncratic interpretation.

Yes, I saw strong biblical arguments against YEC too, ironically.

Yes, and that is a clear reason for why I wouldn’t use ENU as an actual hypothesis. The point I was making here is that ENU is the best known mutagen for producing a maximal amount of point mutations, and it can be used to measure the partial problem of “how much mutations could a human population bear”.

It seems you could make a strong argument from the mutation fingerprint, but at least two questions must be settled before It can be appreciated for its true strength:

  1. Do we have the data for similar mutation fingerprints for most known mutagens? (Otherwise this seems like, to use the bayesian analysis, an argument from a low prior probability: how credible is it that there would be an unknown mutagen, which would amplify the natural mutation pattern, without making measurable differences in the pattern? And if such a mutagen exists, how easily could it affect the whole population, or even the whole biosphere?)
  2. Is the pattern of “natural mutations” caused by one single cause (in which case a simple amplification would help remarkably), or is it a sum of several independent mechanisms, which would need to be independently amplified in the right proportions to give the pattern (in which case the likelihood is significantly smaller)

Otherwise that data seems to be suitable for another kind of strong argument for an old earth, but lets keep that discussion somewhere else for the moment.

I don’t like to leave my arguments in the state of “I’m not sure if a suitable mechanism exists”, if we can do better. We should give the devil his due by assuming for the sake of the argument, that such a mechanism could be found and applied, and see if we can still derive a baffling ratio of likelihoods.

So we can analyze the probabilities P(“unknown magical mutagen”|YEC) and P(Evidence|YEC & “unknown magical mutagen”) separately and in the end we can show how many and how severe ad hoc assumptions have to be made to save the hypothesis.

I would call that beating up the superman. :smiley:

Sorry @Otto, that is not how science works.

It is an issue of resources. It is reality that this is often how things are left. Though, this gives a way forward for people who want to scientifically challenge this mutation rate. A research program to make the scientific case would:

  1. Identify a mutagen that produces mutations at these ratios.
  2. Demonstrate this mutagen can mutate mice or rats at 50x to 100x their natural rate, without killing them or reducing mutation rates.
  3. Produced a plausible explanation (or evidence) why everyone across the entire globe was exposed to this mutagen.
  4. Demonstrate that ancient genomes do not contradict the mutation rate.

If that can be done, that full cohort, then perhaps even that might become part of mainstream science. As you can see, that is a very difficult thing to do, even if it is what happened in the past.

You two questions fine, however what you are running into a “fine-tuning” problem. Such a fine-tuning is highly non-parsimonious. We also have an independent way of testing mutation rates in the distant past (ancient DNA).

For such a reason, such a position is high vulnerable to challenge.

That is not how science works. It is invitational.

We invite those who think this is a real possibility to show us how it is coherent with the evidence. We always maintain the humility that we missed something. We hold results provisionally.

I see what you are trying to do @Otto. It just does not work that way. Science does not bring us to the type of confidence for which you are looking. It is invitational.

Yes, one could make a strong case from Egypt, assuming the YEC is strongly committed to the MT timeline. But there are practical problems and therefore I prefer other arguments.

First the YEC might try something like Velikovskian timelines, where the dynasties overlap and some co-exist (Two short articles here and here).

When pushed on the facts, the YEC might back down on a particular timeline, but demonstrating that the timeline is solid at each point includes investigating a mountain of evidence from several disciplines (see a lengthy introduction to the issues here). In the end of the day, if you can engage the YEC long enough, and you have the patience to go through it all, he will probably decide to go with the LXX dates.

This seems to be happening with AiG, at least that last article from 2014 includes the mention of collaboration with ABR, quoting: “This new collaboration is aimed at using the respective strengths of each ministry to help each other through the difficult areas of science and archaeology, including all things Egypt. Although we might not agree on specific dates or timing of events, as young Earth creationist organizations our agreed aim is to preserve the integrity of Scripture at all times.”

It just happens to be the case that the article linked previously in support of LXX chronology is a 2017 paper by an ABR member in AiG journal.

The first Egyptian dynasty begins after the LXX flood date, so one could make the case from pre-dynastic Egypt or ancient Mesopotamia, but those timelines are calibratid by carbon dating, so you would have to first make the case for C-14 (which happens to be the scientific case that really made me convinced that the YEC can’t work).

This can also be answered relatively easily: the Bible tells us that people were very violent and corrupt, limiting population growth, and one might also make a hypothesis that people didn’t reproduce with a maximal rate (the high begetting ages being some food for thought on this), but more importantly: the people seemed to live in cities and the Babel incident seems to imply they had a “bad habbit” of not scattering around the world (Gen. 11:4), so extrapolating this as part of the corruption before flood is not such a stretch. So if they all lived in a relatively small area, they could be in the bottom of the ocean (or below).

A more powerful case could be made from apes in general. The YEC would have to invoke something like regional ecosystems corresponding to the different geological layers.