An Analogy for Comprehending Why Population Geneticists Say Adam and Eve Never Existed

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 about 12,250, and that the Khoisan tribe in Africa possesses the most divergent genetic profile of any group of 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 into 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 likely 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 back on the continent).

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 to the possessors, you’re home free.

And when it comes to miracles, you can do anything you want. You can put the eternal soul mutation anywhere along the continuum of our evolutionary lineage. 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 (a campfire story about origins). It doesn’t need to be read literally.”

Now things get complicated again. Would it be wise of the birds who are religious and accept evolution 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 or not?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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