Did we find the “Human” gene? A Critical take on a classic idea of genetics

One of the biggest questions connected to the study of biology is that of whether man is unique from apes. If we look at our genetic structure, we find that there are an astounding number of genetical similarities between humans and their genetical relatives.  It creates a notion that man and ape are actually physically the same species.

That’s where miR-941 comes in.  This is a gene recently discovered in mankind that gives them a distinctness apart from apes.

From Medical News Daily:

This new gene is the first known gene to be found in humans and not in apes. According to the team, it appears to have a certain purpose in the human body.

No other similar gene can be found in any similar species; thus giving us a trait that has never existed in another species.  At first look, this feels like another nail in the coffin that Chrsitians are always looking for disprove macroevolution as the origin of human life.

But is this an accurate examination?   In a recent article on Christianity Today, biologist David Unander believes that this discovery, while it exists as helpful, isn’t as “revelatory” as we might want it to be.

What might these results mean? This is remarkable work, apparently uncovering an important genetic element unique to human life that wasn’t even glimpsed a few years ago. It also isn’t a “traditional” gene, producing one to a few protein products, but a tiny RNA that is part of a very complex program involving hundreds of other, different, tiny RNAs and proteins.

Does “the definitive difference” for being human then rest on a single gene? Well, no: that strikes me as journalistic hyperbole, for reasons scientific, philosophical, and theological.

In his explanation, Unander expresses a strong sense of “vitalism”, the idea that the attribute that makes man genetically and spiritually unique is metaphysical.  This is an essential claim, and is important to remember.  As Christians, we hold to the belief in a metaphysical “substance” (to use Aristotle’s terminology) which defines man as man. In this, man’s uniqueness comes from his “manness” (to use my teacher’s terminology).  In other words, there would be no need for genetical uniqueness to make man unique.

Both Aristotle and Unander are on to something; Christians believe all men to have a soul, which is unlike any other creature on earth.

Does this mean that there are no unique genetic qualities in mankind?  I’m not sure.  Science is still trying to understand man and his genetics, so there is still the possibility that all of this could be validated  But for now, I know that man’s metaphysical uniqueness is more than sufficient to distinguish us from the animal.

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