[Originally published as the second part of Where do the races come from?]
Subtle genetic differences develop different shaped hair follicles that produce straight, wavy, to curly human hairs. Round hair follicles manufacture tube-like, straight hair. Oval-shaped hair follicles produce flattened hair shafts, which curl. Flatter hairs make tighter curls.
Human hair also shows a range of tones, from white to black, all depending on the amount and type of pigment they have. White hair, usually found in the elderly, almost totally lacks pigment. Brown hair contains a medium level, and black hair has the most pigment. A mutation in a gene that codes for a pigment receptor protein causes red hair. Some Neanderthal men had red hair, since their DNA shows this mutation on chromosome 16. Since the Neanderthal ethnic group went extinct long ago, this mutation must have happened early in human history.
Special cellular machinery manufactures melanin pigments. Many animals make and use it to darken their features, including insects. In humans, more melanin makes skin, hair, and eye irises darker.
Melanin is responsible for much of our eye color. The color coats the iris diaphragm. The small black pupil of the eye is a hole that allows light to enter the inside of the eyeball, so it has no pigment. Variation in eye color from brown to green largely depends on the amount of melanin on the iris, which genetics determine. However, it involves dozens of genes, each with its own inheritance pattern, so it is difficult to pinpoint the exact color of a child’s eyes by the genes alone.
More melanin better block the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. Blue eyes filter less ultraviolet light, which commonly damages retinas. Blue eyes actually result from a mutation that prevents adding the pigment necessary for proper eye protection. Persons with light blue, green, or hazel eyes have little protection from the sun, so they experience tissue damage if not protected by sunglasses.
What does this have to do with ethnicities? First, mutations have clearly contributed to trait variations that we often associate with ethnicities, including eye color. Second, standard (but complicated) inheritance principles explain most color-based trait variations, including eye color. No wonder a child might seem to have “Aunt Linda’s eyes.” Third, the wide varieties and often stunning beauty in eye colors showcases God’s creativity. Apes’ and other animals’ eyes are often simply dull in comparison.
Like eye color, skin color depends on the level and type of melanin that special cells called melanocytes produce in the skin. In addition to showing variation, melanin protects the cell’s nuclear DNA. It does not shield the entire cell, but it can cover the nucleus like a protective umbrella.
Melanin reduces ultraviolet type B (UVB) damage by absorbing or scattering the ultraviolet radiation that otherwise would have been absorbed by the DNA, causing mutations. This protects against skin cancer. The specific wavelengths of light that melanin absorbs match those of DNA, thus protecting DNA from the sun’s damaging radiation. Skin color also depends upon the size, number, shape, and distribution of melanocytes, as well as the chemical nature of their melanin content.
Modern genetics reveals that Adam and Eve could have had within their created genes almost all the pigmentation varieties seen today. If the trait of human skin color follows the “polygenic” inheritance pattern, then Adam and Eve’s children could have appeared either very dark or very light, although most were probably medium brown, like their parents.
Vitamin D Triggered by Sunlight
A melanin balance is necessary to protect the skin’s DNA from UV damage yet allow the light skin to “trigger” its benefits. Skin harvests UVB sunlight and uses it to process vitamin D, which the body requires. Vitamin D helps to promote proper bone density and growth by helping to regulate calcium and phosphorus in the body. Vitamin D deficiency leads to bones that lack the required calcium levels, causing rickets and even contributing to cancer, cardiovascular disease, mental impairment in older adults, and severe asthma in children.
What does all this have to do with the origin of people groups? As people migrated away from Babel in modern-day Iraq to northern latitudes, they had less exposure to sun. Others migrated to the tropics. Each person inherits their skin tone, and different skin tones interact differently with various climates.
Light-skinned people from the frozen north who visit lower latitude sunny locations have less melanin to block the sun’s UVB rays. Without this protection, they may experience sunburn, which dramatically increases the odds of skin cancer. On the other hand, dark-skinned people visiting areas of dim sunlight may not produce enough vitamin D. They may need vitamin D supplements or obtain additional vitamin D from foods. For this reason, foods such as milk and bread are vitamin D fortified.
As global geographical distribution of various peoples shows, skin color variation is not determined by distance from the equator. Nevertheless, the skin tones we inherit can have different fits in different environments, and basic genetics reveal God could easily have programmed all human skin variation into the first created couple.
Another example of superficial racial differences are the so-called almond eyes of many Asian people groups. The Asian eye has a fat layer in the upper eyelid that pushes the lid down, causing the eye to appear to be more closed. No Caucasian or Middle-Eastern ethnicities have this eye design, but two rare African tribes do. These tribes plus Asians must have inherited the trait from their ancestors at Babel. The information that codes for this trait was lost to Caucasians, Arabs, and others who migrated away from those who retained it.
All of these are normal variations and examples of the remarkable variety that exists in all life—even within each created kind. Genetics confirm that only two people, Adam and Eve, contained all the genes required to produce much of the basic variety seen across cultures today. In the end, as these people groups illustrate, race is not a biological but a sociological construct.
Darwin’s Conclusions about Race and Sex
Charles Darwin, the founder of modern evolutionary theory, openly expressed racist and gender sentiments that make Bible believers cringe. As mentioned above, although the title of Darwin’s most important book is often cited as The Origin of Species, the complete title is The Origin of Species of Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The favored races, he argued in a later book titled The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex,[vi] were supposedly Caucasians.
Darwin also taught that the “negro race” would become extinct, making the gap between whites and the lower apes wider. In his words:
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races … The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state … than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.[vii]
Darwin did not begin racism, but his ideas bolstered it big time.[viii] No science supports Darwin’s main ideas, and the Bible treats all people as equally human in God’s sight.
Darwin also taught that women were biologically inferior to men and that human sexual differences were due, in part, to natural selection. As Darwin concluded in his Descent of Man book: “the average mental power in man must be above that of women.” Darwin argued that the intellectual superiority of males is proved by the fact that men attain:
a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands. If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music composition and performance, history, science, and philosophy, with half-a-dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison …We may also infer… that if men are capable of a decided preeminence over women in many subjects, the average of mental power in man must be above that of women.[ix]
Modern society has proved this naïve assumption to be not only wrong but also irresponsible. Darwin used many similar examples to illustrate the evolutionary forces that he concluded produced men to be of superior physical and intellectual strength and yet produce women to be more docile. Thus, due to “…success in the general struggle for life; and as in both cases the struggle will have been during maturity, the characters thus gained will have been transmitted more fully to the male than to the female offspring. Thus, man has ultimately become superior to woman.”[x]
All this imaginative drivel ignores God’s Word entirely. Genesis 1 extols the equality of genders by telling us that God created both husband and wife together as a married couple to reflect His image. It takes both to reflect His image. As a divinity student, Darwin surely read this. Did he deliberately ignore it?
[vi] Darwin, Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex.
[vii] Darwin, Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Volume 1, 201.
[viii] Stephen Jay Gould, Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977): 127.
[ix] Darwin, Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Volume 2, 327.
[x] Darwin, Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Volume 2, 328.