Question: "How does the fact that human beings possess some Neanderthal DNA impact creationism?"
Answer: According to scientific studies, some of the DNA in modern humans actually came from Neanderthals. This finding is sometimes held up as evidence to disprove the idea of creationism. Despite such suggestions, there is no reason to view the DNA link as evidence against creation or God or the Bible. Rather, the same evidence serves as a useful counter to many of the attacks made on the Bible and its account of our origins.
First of all, the fact that various living things share a basic structure—DNA—does not necessarily suggest evolution or atheism. It’s just as much evidence of common design. There are a wide variety of car engines, made of different sizes and for different purposes. However, most automobile engines feature the same fundamental parts—which makes sense, since they’re generally the most effective means to accomplish the purpose they’re intended for. Mere similarity of DNA, in and of itself, can’t be used to prove that there is no designed difference between two creatures.
The topic of Neanderthal DNA is just as complex within the scientific community, at least in any sense that’s meaningful to Christianity. In short, the lines between different species can be blurred. This is a problem for certain aspects of biology. Natural selection usually defines itself in terms of populations that no longer breed with each other.
However, part of the scientific controversy over Neanderthals is the extent to which they mated with “modern” Homo sapiens. Recent studies made headlines specifically because they claimed to have identified segments of Neanderthal-sourced DNA in the human genome. The problem is that, if Neanderthals are so similar to modern man that we could have had children together, why consider them a separate species? Why not think of them as another ethnic group within the human family?
This is where a look at humanity starts to get ugly. As recently as the age of men like Charles Darwin, humans of certain races were considered subhuman. It was not uncommon, in the 19th century, for scientists to claim that people of African descent were genetically closer to gorillas than they were to white men—Darwin wrote as much in The Descent of Man. Are we doing the same to Neanderthals—assuming that they were inferior, stupid, or subhuman when they were not?
The variations in Neanderthal traits seem to fall within the range of possible modern human biology. Re-creations of Neanderthals using muscle and skin approximations always invite comparisons to living celebrities. In other words, the difference between Neanderthals and modern humans seems to be much less than that between various breeds of dogs—yet all dogs are the exact same species, regardless of breed.
Of course, there is more to the scientific differences between modern humans and Neanderthals than the shape of bones. The point is merely that the compatibility and similarity between Neanderthals and modern humans are far stronger than the differences. Drawing lines between the two in a way that makes Neanderthals inhuman creates problems for biology and modern science. Treating Neanderthals as just another race of humans creates problems for non-theistic philosophy.
Whether or not there are Neanderthal components in modern human DNA is, ultimately, irrelevant to the Bible’s message on creation.