Some Good Reasons to Think Adam and Eve Never Existed

First, there was never a bottleneck of two people that accounts for the diversity of humans living today.

Second, geneticists tell us that the diversity of contemporary humans derives from no less than 12,500 black African ancestors, 2,500 of whom left Africa to populate the rest of the globe between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. That’s as narrow as the bottleneck ever gets.

Third, the probability that Y-chromosome Adam (120,000-350,000 years ago) and mitochondrial Eve (140,000-200,000 years ago) were of the same reproductive age at the exact same window in time, were located close to one another geographically, and actually had children together, is vanishingly small. (If you want to chuck a miracle into your first-couple thesis, I suppose that would be the place to do it.)

But, in any case, there was no first couple. There was not even a first human. There is only the continuum of an evolutionary lineage that goes all the way back to the first cell.

In other words, like thumbing slowly from one page of a cartoon flip book to another, a single offspring does not tend to dramatically vary from its parent.

Just as one cannot pinpoint the moment when a tadpole becomes a frog, or a toddler a child, so there was no moment that a Homo heidelbergensis couple gave birth to the first “true” Homo sapien. These classifications are for our convenience, but at the boundaries they’re not meaningful. If you’re going to refer to the “first” Homo sapien, he or she spent its first nine months in the womb of a Homo heidelbergensis mother, and could just as easily have remained designated as one of those as one of us.

Introducing the miraculous insertion of souls into a first couple, and positing that that first couple’s offspring slowly displaced the soulless, doesn’t help, for their genetic markers would still accompany them, and geneticists say that our contemporary genetic diversity is too large to be explained by a bottleneck of two people. There never was such a dramatic, two-person, genetic bottleneck.

So Occam’s razor here suggests something much simpler than the bestiality hypothesis: Genesis 2 and 3 should not be read literally.

Like the Iliad, the Genesis story has beauty, poetry, and psychological power, but strictly speaking, it’s not true. There was no first man formed from inorganic dust, no first woman drawn from his rib, no special garden between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where they lived, no forbidden tree they ate from by which death and sin entered the world, and no children they produced that went on to colonize the planet.

It’s okay to treat an etiological narrative as an etiological narrative. It’s okay to correct a genre category mistake (mistaking a figurative narrative for a literal one).

Occam’s razor, baby, Occam’s razor.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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10 Responses to Some Good Reasons to Think Adam and Eve Never Existed

  1. The theory of evolution indicates that there is diversity and speciation because one kind of creature begat another kind of creature.

    For there not to be a single, original male-female pair means that by pure random coincidence many different parents of a particular kind of creature begat many specimens of the new kind of creature, independently and at nearly the same time.

    It is just as plausible to surmise that a species originates from a single pair of parents than from a collection of parents spawned randomly, independently and at nearly the same time.

    Further it is absurd to conclude that there was no first of any species.

    How does one go from zero to any other number without a first?

    Again, the atheist concludes, without any proof whatsoever, that many members of a new species were all spawned independently from various parents of a different kind, all at the same time.

    And the history of evolution clearly shows periods of evolutionary explosion which puts the lie to Darwinian gradualism.

    The atheist simply fabricates a creation narrative supposedly based on science, not to explain reality, but to make the absurdity of atheism seem plausible.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Silenceofmind:

      If you watch the above video in the post, it explains clearly why evolution is on a continuum when it comes to lineage. After the first cell divides into two, there’s no looking back. Ever after, you’re basically dealing with populations of individuals greater than two intermixing genetic variations along the way, not a single couple that then starts a new species after, say, experiencing a single mutation.

      After a collection of many mutations in a population (coming from many individuals) a geneticist might say, “We should designate this a new species.” But the species boundary in a lineage is always a judgment call–not something that comes down from Mount Sinai. And mutations coming from many different individuals interacting is how we get to a new species.

      The smallest bottleneck of humans accounting for the diversity of humans living today is 1250 according to population geneticists, not two.

      There is one theist chess move around this. You could posit that God put souls in Adam and Eve, and this made them (in God’s eyes) a new species, and then they had intercourse with the soulless creatures that looked like them, spreading their soul mutation to their offspring. In this sense, you could posit the spread of the soul mutation to all humans living today. It’s a fanciful solution beyond the reach of geneticists to refute. The soul, after all, leaves no genetic trace.

      I guess it depends on how badly you want to save Adam and Eve as a literal couple living, say, 200,000 years ago.

      But the existing population out of which the Adam and Eve fetuses were conceived has to be dealt with, for their mothers wouldn’t have been Homo sapiens, but Homo erectuses of some sort, and now the ensouled Adam and Eve would have to live among them. We’re talking about bestiality as God’s method for spreading the soul mutation. It seems crazy to me, but there are Christians who propose this.

  2. Santi,

    “Populations of individuals intermixing genetic variations along the way,” still leads to changes (mutations) that must appear in at least one individual.

    That one individual then mates and those changes are inherited by future generations.

    What do suppose are the chances of a single variation which causes the creation of a totally new species happening in an entire population of individuals at the same time?

    Minuscule to say the least.

    What actually happens is traits are passed to single individuals who than then mate with other individuals to produce a new kind of creature.

    If male and female of the new creature are not born together at nearly the same time, they will never mate and propagate the new species.

    That is why the family tree of life has so many branches, probably an infinite number of branches, if we count all the newly born species that went extinct.

    The atheist way of explaining biology would lead to monotony, not diversity.

    And most living organisms would still be protozoans, bacteria or algae.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      We might be close to agreeing here, but let’s see. Imagine an island off the coast of a continent. Two birds from the continent–a male and a female–get swept up by a storm and find themselves stranded on this island. They go on to mate and a new species of bird evolves. They’re the Adam and Eve of that particular species on this particular island.

      But wait. What if six birds are swept over to the island, and they begin interbreeding? Over time, mutations swap in all sorts of directions between the descendants of those six, and those mutations add up to a new species specially adapted to that island.

      Which couple is the Adam and Eve of the new species now? Answer: there was no Adam and Eve for that species. There was a population that got isolated down to six–that bottlenecked at six–and those six combined their genetic inheritance to generate and swap genes to make the new species, and the variety of genetic diversity it possesses today.

      Population geneticists would know that there were six individual birds from which the species branched, not two, based on the amount of genetic diversity displayed by the contemporary members of the group. They would know this for the same reason that population geneticists know today that the contemporary diversity of humans indicates that our species has never bottlenecked at a figure of less than 1250, and that the Khoisan tribe in Africa possesses the most divergent genetic profile of any people on the planet.

      But what if those birds evolved a civilization and had a religious text that told them that their species started with a couple, and they read it literally? Then you could posit that of those six original birds, two of them were given one mutation–a spiritual mutation–in which God put an eternal soul in two of them. This is not something traceable by genetics, but it would be reasonable to assume that if the soul mutation was advantageous, then it would have spread to all the descendants of the six birds over time (by interbreeding).

      The birds could even posit (if they wanted to), that their Adam and Eve soul mutation started on the continent, and spread among many birds before it ever came to the island, and that all six original inhabitants of the island had souls (because their moms and dads had souls).

      In other words, there’s a way around the genetics. If you’re prepared to treat a soul change as a species change that confers benefits that would spread.

      When it comes to miracles, you can do anything you want. All bets can be off. Population geneticists can’t prove the birds’ religious story is wrong, but the birds can never know whether or not they’re deluding themselves.

      But imagine if the birds had experts in literature and the study of bird culture, the overwhelming majority of whom saying, “The Adam and Eve bird story in the old book is an etiological narrative. It needn’t be read literally.”

      Now things get complicated again. Would it be wise of the birds to go against BOTH the geneticists AND the cultural and literary academics of their species? Or would it be best for them to say, Let’s read our Adam and Eve bird story as a good campfire tale, and leave it at that?

      Which conclusion is in accord with empiricism and Occam’s razor? Can the birds’ religious orthodoxy, like the birds themselves, evolve to accommodate the deliverances of their reality testing?

      • David Martin says:

        It does come down to faith. Do u trust the storyteller? Aethiest have faith. They believe there is no story,no God. i also like your comic book example but yourtalking about changes in an organism. .no new programming- no new outcome. Your flicking thru a book with the same picture.dna is information or programme.organic matter can tho, do one thing very well as it is programmed to do it by itself, that is degenerate.

      • Anonymous says:

        If the birds story is good enough to survive i guess its like the darwinian strongest survives theory

      • Longtooth says:

        The fundamentalist theists argue creation verses evolution as if the matter were merely a game of logic devoid of any evidence sufficient to decide one way or the other. For them it’s never a matter of facts, but always one of faith devoid of anything akin to empirical knowledge. “There are no transitional fossils” the fundamentalist pundits love to claim despite abundant evidence to the contrary. “The great biblical god hand-crafted all creatures past and present during a six-day period less than ten thousand years ago and dinosaurs and humans lived side by side”. All this sort of stuff despite well confirmed radiometric time dating showing the history of life going back almost four billion years with dinosaurs extinct sixty five million years before any humans existed. Therefore”, the theist concludes with satisfaction, “the scientific insight carries no more substance than the biblical”. The noteworthy character of the matter, it’s not even a god versus no god issue, although the fundamentalists very well want to sell it that way. It’s all about the literal credibility and continued status of a collection of old religious scriptures that the fundamentalist church depends on for its claim to social authority, not the existence of god per se.

  3. Longtooth says:

    “’Populations of individuals intermixing genetic variations along the way,’ still leads to changes (mutations) that must appear in at least one individual.”

    Mutations do not arise from genetic variations. A mutation might affect some genetic material that an organism has to share with its population, but it’s not the other way around. Most mutations are undesirable. They seldom confer any advantage, more likely being disadvantageous. Although mutations can be a mechanism of biological evolution they are not the strong force by any means. Natural selection acting on existing trait variations is. That is, natural selection acting on traits that the population already possesses in some degree of abundance. Rapid evolutionary changes often occur when small subgroups become environmentally isolated (in some way or another) from the parent population and encounter substantially different adaptive challenges. In such case, it stands to reason that variations which confer an advantage will spread relatively rapidly through an isolated sub group (generationally speaking). The speciation threshold is crossed when environmental differences and time have conspired to reproductively isolate the subgroup such that breeding with the parent population is no longer possible even if the environmental barriers disappear. It’s the dynamics among these kinds of variables that are responsible for the rich diversity of life. The point, however, is that evolution and speciation aren’t reliant on a single root male-female paring even though small isolated groups are favored.

    “And the history of evolution clearly shows periods of evolutionary explosion which puts the lie to Darwinian gradualism.”

    It’s hardly a lie. Darwin simply didn’t know everything and could only conceptually go where the best evidence of the time led him. Kind of the same problem that the original author(s) of Geneses had, wouldn’t you say? The big difference is that science is not dogmatically bound in faith to what Darwin said. Although his basic theory stands, many of Darwin’s detailed thoughts have been eclipsed by the work of others. The genetics of Gregor Mendel is one that’s big among them. As to the matter of “explosion”, even though evolution is known to have been accelerated in times past, most famously in the Precambrian “explosion”, the basic notion of gradualism hardly goes away. After all, the “explosion” was drawn out over a period of some twenty million years and likely aided by some crucial changes in the biosphere.

    • Longtooth says:

      While I’m at it I’ve got to house clean on some technical stumbles in my paragraphs above. It’s the rock that an armature like has sometimes got to roll.🙂 I should have said “Cambrian” rather than “Precambrian”. Nevertheless, there likely was a bit of “exploding” going on during the Precambrian too. That possibly involved creatures having no skeletal structures and thus leaving nothing to fossilize. There evidently is some evidence of microfossils with skeletal structures dating from the Precambrian era. Also I misspoke about the significance of mutations in evolution. Despite the power of existing genetic diversity in a population, mutations are indeed at the foundation of evolution. It nevertheless seems that just the occasional beneficial mutation can eventually have far reaching impacts on the genetics of a species.

  4. dcyates says:

    As I’ve already mentioned several times previously, although I’m a conservative, evangelical Christian who adheres wholeheartedly to the “verbal, plenary” inspiration of Scripture, I don’t believe for a second that Genesis 1-3 was ever intended to be read in a wooden literal fashion. As with all literature, in order to properly interpret and thus to understand it, we need to accurately identify the genre in which it was written. For instance, when we read Gen. 1, one of the first things we should notice is all the repetition (“And God said…” “And God said…” “And God said…” “Let there be…” “Let there be…” “Let there be…” “… and it was so…” “… and it was so…” “… and it was so…” et cetera). Now, admittedly, it doesn’t read like classical Hebrew poetry — that is to say, it doesn’t, for example, read like any of the Psalms. But it doesn’t read like the book of Samuel, either. So, while it’s not Hebrew poetry in the strictest sense, it’s not meant to be understood as constituting chronological history, either.
    Rather, Gen. 1 is most likely intended to function as all other ancient Near Eastern “creation” stories were intended to function: To treat such questions as, “Why do we worship the god we do (as opposed to all the other gods on the menu)?” and “Who are we in relation to this god?” For instance, when we read the Enuma Elish, we find that Babylonians worshiped Marduk because he was taller, better looking, had bigger muscles, told funnier jokes, and got hotter chicks compared to all the other gods. And, on top of all that, it was Marduk who battled against and defeated Tiamat, the watery chaos monster (who represented salt-sea water) and her consort, Apsu (who represented fresh-ground water), and who thus, through his earthly representative and son, the king, brings law and order to the land. As well, we find that humanity was created to serve the gods by providing a place for them to live (via temples in the form of ziggurats) and to feed them (via animal sacrifices).
    When we turn to the Bible, we find that the opening chapters of Genesis perform the same function: YHWH is the God we are to worship because he created everything and, in so doing, brought order out of the primeval watery chaos. Furthermore, in contrast to the Mesopotamian gods, he is gracious and kind; he doesn’t need humanity to provide for him, rather he provides over-abundantly for his creation (e.g. “‘I have given EVERY green plant for food.’ And it was so” [v. 29; emphasis mine]), and the entire cosmos is his temple (e.g. “Heaven is my throne, and the Earth is my footstool” [Isa. 66.1]).
    Moreover, the opening chapters tell in microcosm the essential story of Israel. God had placed his people in an Edenic paradise (“a land flowing with milk and honey”) and gave them the Law (i.e. not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and later the Torah), but they violated that Law, and so were expelled from their Land — even at the point of a sword — forced eastward (cf. Gen. 3; esp. v. 24) toward the land of Shinar, later known as Babylon.
    In conclusion: Are Adam (Heb. for “mankind” or “humanity”) and Eve (Heb. for “life-giver”) actual historical figures? No, and they’re not meant to be understood as such.

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