A while back, this guy Nathaniel Jeanson sent me a copy of his book, Replacing Darwin, and sent a few email suggestions that we debate or that he appear on my YouTube channel. I glanced at the book, saw that it was rank drivel, trying to reconcile young earth creationism with modern science. I looked up Jeanson, and found a fundamentalist fanatic who went to all the trouble of getting a Harvard biology Ph.D. while ignoring all the science he was supposed to learn, and that he was now employed by Answers in Genesis. I knew enough. I ignored him, didn’t reply to any of his emails, and stuffed his bad book onto a shelf with a lot of other creationist trash*.
My approach was perfect. He hasn’t pestered me since.
Unfortunately, he has continued to write bad books. His latest is an abomination called Traced: Human DNA’s Big Surprise, in which he claims to have figured out how all the peoples of the world arose…from the 8 people on Noah’s Ark, of course. There’s no way he could derive that from honest, accurate population genetics, or the actual data from modern molecular genetics (IT DOESN’T FIT), so he’s relying on cramming badly interpreted science into an absurd hypothesis derived entirely from a few chapters in the book of Genesis. Fortunately, an actual scientist has reviewed the book.
Nathaniel Jeanson’s Traced: Human DNA’s Big Surprise (2022, Master Books) offers virtually no surprises. This is not a science book. It is a work of fundamentalist religious propaganda dressed to appear scientific. Jeanson attempts to employ an analysis largely of his own invention on a narrow sampling of the human genome – extant Y-chromosome samples borrowed from other studies. These doctored genetic patterns are mapped onto historical events in an attempt to prove to the reader that all human beings are the descendants of the three sons of Noah – Shem, Japheth, and Ham. Jeanson’s views on world history are adolescent, Western-centric, and almost entirely focused on conflict and his science amateurish and divorced from any established methodology in molecular population genetics. In the end Jeanson, like all good science denialists, ends up ostensibly proving to the reader what he believed to begin with. Traced is a book working within his contractual obligations to his employer (the evangelical, conservative Christian ministry, Answers in Genesis) to promote a narrow, legalistic, literalist reading of the King James Bible and a Christian culture war agenda. It is not a science book. It is not a sober, informed historical account. It is a proselytizing work of pseudoscientific apologetics covered with a thin veil of carefully selected empiricism in an attempt to give his ideas the credibility he apparently craves.
I bet it’s on sale at the Ark Park, though.
He may have a Ph.D. in biology, but…you know that biology is an immensely broad field, right? Getting a degree in one area does not mean you are qualified to discuss in detail another area. That’s what Jeanson is doing, using his irrelevant credentials to hop over and mangle a sub-branch of biology he has no credentials in.
The science in Traced is, like that of his previous book, sloppy, contrived, and completely divorced from any semblance of rigorous methodology in the field of either history or population genetics. This should be no surprise. Jeanson has absolutely no training in these fields. His PhD never dealt with the subjects he is now researching at his job at the Answers in Genesis ministry. As I have observed in my assessment of Replacing Darwin, Jeanson appears to be making up methods as he goes and in doing so makes what I would consider embarrassing mistakes – mistakes easily avoided by taking the time to read even basic textbooks in the fields of molecular systematics and population genetics.
That made me wonder what his actual degree is in, and to my immense shame, it’s cell and developmental biology. Goddamn. He’s another Jonathan Wells.
I want you to know that developmental biology is not an easy sub-discipline of biology. It’s just one where there a number of old school faculty focused on classical embryology and experimental manipulation of embryos, which are good and interesting topics, but which also don’t require that you learn any population genetics or evolutionary biology in general. It’s just that the good ones do try to learn more, especially since evo-devo has become prominent, and they don’t go into careers with anti-science organizations to misrepresent that which they don’t understand.
Another thing about this review: it turns out, entirely unsurprisingly, that Jeanson and AiG are eurocentric bigots.
Jennifer Raff has a new book out now on the peopling of the Americans (Raff. 2022. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas. Twelve. Hachette Book Group. New York.) and like any good scientist should she addresses the problem from multiple disciplines from genetics to archaeology to anthropology. Reading Raff alongside Jeanson reveals how different their two worlds are. Raff is multidisciplinary and scholarly with a dual PhD in anthropology and genetics and a publication record in these disciplines commensurate with her professional experience. Jeanson’s attempts at answering questions about human history are almost entirely uninformed by any professional expertise in any relevant discipline, his methods are amateurish, he has no record of publishing in these fields, he ignores long-standing and well-established data. But perhaps the most striking difference is the great care and respect Raff takes when dealing with the history of people outside of her ethnic and cultural identity contrasted with the ham-handed way in which Jeanson deals with culture, ethnicity, and issues pertaining to race.
Jeanson’s approach to history reminds me of my own thoughts about human history as an adolescent boy – views of history that an appetite for knowledge and eventual experience with other cultures compelled me to outgrow pretty quickly. In Jeanson’s view of human history war is entirely central. Virtually every movement of people he describes is the result of violent conflict. Aggressors are everywhere and every geographical feature is either a fortification or invitation to invasion.
Jeanson is liberal with pejorative labels for entire cultures, sometimes with a wink enclosing these labels in quotations and sometimes not. He describes the people of Mongolia as “barbarians” and “…the long-standing enemies of China.” (using quotes to hopefully insulate the reader from thinking he thinks they are barbarians, pgs. 117-119). He paints simplistic descriptions of otherwise complex people using terms such as “primitive” (pgs. 159-160). He uses stereotypical tropes such as when he says, “The diverse peoples of East Asia all resemble one another.” (pg. 115).
Yeah. Go read Origin, a terrific book by a qualified scientist on her area of expertise, without a load of baggage from racist white people.
I predict, though, that we’re going to hear a lot more from Jeanson, given that AiG is promoting him heavily and that his views align so nicely with the bloc of Republican ignoramuses that have become so vocal in recent decades, and no one listens to qualified scientists on anything anymore.
*That shelf (actually a couple of shelves) is overburdened right now, and I might have to start dumping books. Some of them I would never give away to a library, and others are curiosities with no educational value at all. I might start giving away to my patrons on Patreon, where at least they’d go to people smart enough to not take them seriously. Maybe I’d balance them by giving away a few good books, too.