Adam and Eve Science

You may have heard a scientific rumor that Eve was discovered through genetics by biologists.   Be careful to not get caught up in the metaphors that are sometimes used by scientists to illuminate a concept.

The theory of evolution predicts that any two organisms living or dead has a common ancestor.    For example, you and your siblings have  your mother and father as your common ancestors.   And you and your cousins share a grandfather and a grandmother as a common ancestor and so forth.    Since all life comes from life (after the first life form, that is) we can extend this as far back as we want.   But can we really find Adam and Eve through this process?

Naturally, we don’t have birth records going back thousands of years, but we can study the gene sequences of living organisms (such as living humans).    Since the gene sequences of all organisms contain vast amounts of information about their evolutionary past, we can develop a pretty good picture of how organisms are related to each other and how far back they shared a common ancestor.   If we had living organisms for every lineage of species that ever existed, from their gene sequences we could theoretically build a precise family tree showing every generation of every organism going all the way back to the first life form.

But as we know, lineages go extinct and human families go “extinct” as the last descendent of a particular lineage or family dies having not left any children behind.   That means that we can’t get an exact picture of every generation, but we can get a really good idea of how far back in time we would find common ancestors for different organisms.

Doing this analysis on human gene sequences we have found that the population of humans in the distant past was as low as about 10,000 people.   This implies that at times quite a few family lineages died out, which is not surprising.   That means that all the humans living today have genes that came from someone in that population of around 10,000 people.    We can do that analysis using the mitochondrial DNA in living humans we find we can trace our genes back to a single women who existed in that population.   We call that woman the “mitochondrial Eve”.   If we analyze the Y-chromosones of living humans we find we can trace our human lineage back to a single male living in a small population.  We call that man the “Y-chromosome Adam”.

Lest you think we have discovered a scientific basis for Adam and Eve, you need to know that the analysis gets a timeframe for mtDNA Eve and Y-Adam that differs by about 100,000 years.   This is not a scientific problem, because the analysis doesn’t expect that the mtDNA Eve and the Y-Adam are part of the same set of parents.   Also, the analysis expects and does find a minimum population size at the times of these two humans in the tens of thousands.

A recent article on a blog at the BioLogos Foundation describes the latest science on genetic human ancestry and how it relates to the Christian faith.

If you are a Christian who is confused, concerned, or cantankerous about science, faith, and how they can be reconciled, I suggest you peruse through the blogs at the BioLogos Foundation website.


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