The historical Adam
Theological conundrums and scientific implications
Adam is an important historical figure in the Bible. But if Adam is historical, should we see evidence for him in the genetics of modern humans? And how does the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 relate to what we see in human genetics worldwide?
This post is based on a presentation by Dr Robert Carter of Creation Ministries International (CMI). It deals with many questions about human races and human history.
Why is Adam important?
There are profound theological implications for the existence or non-existence of a man named Adam early in human history. According to the Bible he is the person from whom all human beings descend. For example, the genealogy of Jesus (His human nature) goes back to Adam (Lk. 3:38). And Luke is the most historian-like writer of the authors of the gospels.
Paul makes some theological statements about Adam, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12NIV). Here Paul is making a profound theological argument that is based on the reality of the historical man named Adam. He is referring to the scene in the garden of Eden where Adam rebelled against God and therefore God pronounced that death was a consequence of that rebellion. All death traces back to that historical event in the garden of Eden.
He also says, “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam [Jesus], a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). Here Paul is equating Adam and Jesus in a very significant way. Our ancestor Adam fell into sin, while Jesus rose from death. Adam succumbed to sin; Jesus overcame sin. Adam was given death, Jesus was resurrected (gave us a solution to death).
Genesis is history
Because of how the New Testament refers to Adam, we can’t treat early Genesis as mythology, or poetry, or speculation. This also raises the issue of biblical perspicuity – how easily can we understand what it says? There are parts of the Bible that are mysterious and will always be mysterious. And there are other parts that are crystal clear – especially when we look at the historical statements in the Bible. And Genesis is written as if it were history. For example, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died” (Gen. 5:3-5). This is a very clear historical statement. And the later writers assumed that the book of Genesis was historically true.
If those statements aren’t really true and we are supposed to understand them in a different way, then when does the Bible start being literally able to be understood? I know that theologians have all sorts of ways around these questions, but I’m not intellectually satisfied with any of them. Because if you take Genesis as history, that assumption can run through the entire rest of the Bible without contradiction and without any sort of a conflict. But when you start denigrating Genesis as something other than history, you come to all sorts of different theological issues later on. Very important ones, such as the passages above.
Where do races come from?
Taking Genesis as history also gives a historical grounding for understanding and answering some very important questions that are being asked in our culture today. Like, where do races come from? What is the origin of different people across the world? How closely related are we? The Bible gives very clear answers to those questions. In fact, according to the Bible we are all “kissing cousins” from one end of the planet to the other. Given the amount of time the Bible says the earth has been around, and given the average human generation time, there might he only 150 (32 years per generation since the flood), or maybe 200 (24 years per generation since the flood) generations in all of human history. That makes us incredibly closely related. Especially if you consider we all came from Noah’s family who came off the ark about 4,500 years ago.
But a lot of people think there is a conundrum here – there’s a conflict between what the Bible says and what science says. If these are historical events in Genesis, we have the science of genetics which is able to test theories of history. Should we see Adam in the data? Yes, if you understand what you are supposed to be looking for. The answer might not be what you expect. Usually when it happens to me, its because I misunderstood what the Bible actually says. I was making assumptions about the Bible that weren’t true. But the evolutionists believe that they have discovered a Y-chromosome Adam as the father of all men alive today. Now this is not the Biblical Adam as they put him in a different place (in Africa) and 100s of thousands of years ago and not a few thousand years ago. The reason for this is something they call the molecular clock (see Appendix A) – if you add up the number of mutational differences over time, they add up to long periods of time to explain the number of differences that we see in the Y-chromosome in males around the world today. There is a lot of very complex science involved in that, a lot of assumption; and a lot of history; and history of people’s assumptions about where humans came from (specifically from monkeys). And so, a lot of that is driving the out of Africa theory.
Adam and Noah
Biblically we also have one human ancestor. His name is Adam. And he lived about 6,000 years ago. Not only is there a time difference between the evolutionary Adam and the Biblical Adam, there is also a location difference. We don’t know where Adam lived. We don’t know where Eden was. After Adam was expelled from Eden, he went eastward. But that doesn’t help us to locate Eden.
We don’t know where Noah built the ark, which floated for five months. There is no geological or geographic connection between the landing place of the ark (in the mountains) and the starting place of the ark. We have no idea. I do not place Eden in modern day Iraq. In fact, I think that is a Biblical minimalist position where people are assuming that it was a local flood, and that Genesis just came out of the ancient legends and ancient mythologies of the Middle East. I don’t believe that at all.
There is another issue about Y-chromosome Adam. Biblically our Y-chromosome answer is not Adam, it’s Noah. That is, all men in the world go back to Noah and Noah goes back to Adam. But in those ten generations between Adam and Noah some mutations might had occurred in Noah’s Y-chromosome that he inherited from his ancestors. And any mutation would have changed Adam’s Y-chromosome. Since only Noah’s Y-chromosome made it through the flood, we don’t know what Adam’s Y-chromosome was. So we should be saying, “Y-chromosome Noah”. Noah is the father of all people alive today. The Bible says that Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. If we look at a family tree of all the Y-chromosomes in the world, do you think we would see Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth? What if I told you that I’m not expecting three branches? There are a whole lot of reasons for that. Not necessarily three. It is possible, but I don’t think so. It is possible that the Y-chromosome lineage of Shem, Ham or Japheth died out. Although according to the table of nations in Genesis 10 the population expanded rapidly, and it didn’t die out. But mathematically, a Y-chromosome lineage could have died out. The probability goes down rapidly in an expanding population, but it is not impossible.
There is a second reason to question whether or not we should expect three branches. What if Noah didn’t have any mutations at all, he was pre-flood. What if the mutation rate pre-flood was very low? Then Shem, Ham and Japheth may have inherited identical Y-chromosomes in which case all the diversity we see today is post-flood and they all started from Shem, Ham or Japheth who might even have had children a couple of hundred years after the flood with the same exact Y-chromosome. If that’s true it will be impossible to locate the center point of our family tree.
Ladies when you were growing on your mother’s uterus, your ovaries were finished after only about 22 cell divisions. And the eggs and ovaries have been held in protective custody until today. Sometimes ovulation may happen up to 45 years after a woman is born. Well, that egg has not divided. There are risks of chromosomal abnormalities as a woman gets older and older (for example, the incidence of Downs Syndrome is tied to the age of the mother). But most mutations don’t come from the mother. Most mutations come from the father. And the older the father is, the more mutations he passes on to his children.
There’s something else that comes into play here. Something I call patriarchal drive. It’s the idea that old men are genetic poison in a population. Why? Because old men pass on a lot more mutations than young men. A man’s reproductive cells start dividing at puberty and they don’t stop dividing until the man is dead. And every time one of those cells divides its potentially adding more mutations to any further cell that arises from that cell. Because the little copying enzymes have to copy more than 3-6 billion letters depending on what stage of cell division you are talking about. And they do make occasional mistakes. And those mistakes can propagate over time. They keep building up. And so older men pass on more mutations. We’ve actually measured this in genetics. But nowhere is the oldest father recorded in the Bible. By more than a century, Noah is the oldest father recorded in the Bible. How many mutations did he pass on to his children? So, Shem, Ham and Japheth could have had radically different Y-chromosomes than their father. Or because of the way that reproductive cells clonally reproduce, it is possible that two of the brothers inherited the same cell line and the other brother inherited the different cell line and therefore is very different. Or it is possible that they all inherited the same cell line with very similar or identical Y-chromosomes. All these three possibilities are within the Biblical framework.
Y-chromosome family tree
So when you see this tree that I drew of human Y-chromosomes and you don’t see three branches, what’s your answer? Is it bad? Does it mean that Adam is not true? That Noah is not true? I got this data from the Simons Genome Diversity project. I have done a lot of work on Y-chromosome data using the 1,000 genomes project, the Simons Genome Diversity project, and the Human Genome Diversity program. There’s a lot of genetic data out there today. And I have gone through this at length. This particular tree was drawn after I filtered a lot of particular data because raw genetic data is full of errors. So, there is an art to the science, and we have to be careful when an evolutionist makes a pronouncement based on art and assumption and it’s not the raw data. But this is the best data that I can present to you right now. This is a tree of all the men in the world. Every major branch of the Y-chromosome family tree is represented here.
Let me go through this for you. A are rare lineages only found in Africa. E are lineages found in Africa and not-Africa. The lineages I and J are found almost cosmopolitanly in Eurasia and they represent some of the earliest lineages we find in Eurasia. R is the lineage of 80% of European males. Q is the lineage of native Americans. Note that the Q’s split off the R lineage before the Rs really form. You can look at the branches on this tree and estimate how long ago it was when this lineage was founded. And the R lineage is late in history. It looks like it arose in central Asia and then spread east, west, and south. There are a lot of other miscellaneous lineages here that are labelled with a letter. The letters aren’t in alphabetical order because they are named after the order of their discovery, not necessarily where they fit on the tree. Group O is very interesting. These are Chinese, Japanese, Korean – most of the people of east Asia. This group has a beautiful fan, which is a signature of a population that has remained in one place for a long time and has just grown over time. The group A, which is rare in Africa, is spindly and spidery. This is what happens when the population is very small for a very long period of time.
Where would I put Noah on this tree? Evolutionary Adam is way down on the A branch. The Bible says that people expanded rapidly. The signature of a rapidly expanding population is a fan. So I’m going to put Noah somewhere in the center of this starburst. But I don’t know where because I don’t see three distinct branches. Where’s Shem? Where’s Ham? Where’s Japheth? Are you going to say that Ham went to Africa? Well, that’s not true. The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 says that Ham’s descendants lived all over the place including the island of Crete, which is right next to Greece. Ham’s lineage also goes into modern day Turkey. Interestingly a giant wave of Anatolian (Turkish) farmers pushed up into Europe in ancient times. Were some of the descendants of Ham amongst them? You can’t say that the Japhethites settled in Europe. You don’t know that.
Table of Nations
The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 is a description of the grandsons of Noah as they spread out on the earth. We have two options here. This is written either as they were spreading out or after they spread out. If it was the former, there’s another 4,000 years of history after that and a lot of opportunity for scrambling. Invasion and warfare spread around Y-chromosomes (we don’t want to talk about what happens to the ladies in the city when it is conquered by an invading army). We have trading. We have people wandering. And you can’t look at a man and know what his Y-chromosome is. In fact, there are two different parts on this tree that contain men from Papua New Guinea (C and K/S/M). These are two radically different parts of the tree. Because you can’t know the history of a man based on his Y-chromosome lineage when you look at him, I expect that Y-chromosome lineages are going to blend over time. If that’s true and if the Table of Nations is written early, the signal is going to be completely blurred. In fact, there might not be any representation of the Table of Nations in genetic data today.
The other option is that the Table of Nations was written several centuries later, but not as late as the Babylonian captivity. That is not true. Genesis wasn’t written while the Jews were in Babylon. They didn’t invent a history for themselves. These are ancient records. But let’s say there is someone in the Middle East area and they are trying to describe an ethnology of all the people that they know about. They know as far west as Crete and north-east Africa. And as far east as Iraq. And they knew the people around them. But they don’t know anything about any people group that lives beyond that. So, these people groups are already a product of mixture. So you can say, the descendants of Ham went and settled Grete. But that doesn’t mean that every man on Crete is a descendant of Ham. Such a very important center of Mediterranean trade is not going to retain only one Y-chromosome lineage over time. If this is true and the Table of Nations is written later in history, again that means that the signal will be blurred. As this is the case for either option. I am not expecting to see the Table of Nations in modern genetic data – because of human behavior and thousands of years of history.
Who settled in Europe?
So, who settled in Europe? Well the earliest remains in Europe belong to the Neanderthal, and they look like they branch off at the A lineage, which is associated with Africa today. After that we have people moving into Europe that we call hunter-gatherers. That’s not primitive, it’s just people living off the land. It’s like a guy in a log cabin in the woods. He made the log cabin with his axe. He’s a hunter-gatherer. He’s not farming, he’s hunting. He’s collecting berries. He’s collecting plants. Hunter-gatherers had to be very in tune to their environment. They have to be very smart, or the weather kills them. And yet these people moved into Europe, genetically distinct from the first people in Europe. And then later on another wave of people came up again from Anatolia (Turkey). They brought farming to Europe. And they are very genetically distinct from those other people. The hunter-gatherers intermingle with Neanderthals and the Neanderthal genes bleed upwards in the archeological record. And then the farmers come – we can see it in the archaeological record and in the genetics. The genes from the Neanderthal bleed into the hunter-gatherers. The genes from the hunter-gatherers’ bleed into the farmers. And so on. We have all this intermixing of people. And yet they are bringing in new genes and new technologies and new ideas and new pottery styles.
This is the new field of ancient DNA. We can extract DNA out of old bones. Yes, it is degraded. But if that individual has a whole lot of letters that line up with one of the existing groups of Y-chromosomes and doesn’t carry the letters of the other Y-chromosomes, you know what group he belongs to. In this way we can see genetically distinct populations in Europe. In fact, the hunter-gatherers and the farmers are more genetically different from each other than Europeans are from east-Asians.
You may have heard these old racist terms Mongoloid, Caucasoid, and Negroid. These are outdated terms that have no place in modern discussions. No one believes this anymore. And one reason for that is that because when you look at Europeans and east-Asians (which are two of those classic groups that people tried to divide us up into), the Europeans are an amalgamation of people groups that are more distinct than Europeans are from east-Asians.
So, what’s a race? I have no definition of it. Modern genetics has destroyed all concept of race. Let me give you another example. My group R1b is a recent group – we took over Europe. But if you look in central Africa, south of Lake Chad in the country of Cameroon you will find a group of men, some of whom have the darkest skin of any people on the planet, and they share my Y-chromosome. That means that I (Irish Robert Carter) am “kissing cousins” to these men. And I’m more closely related to them than I am to other Irish men who come from different branches of the family tree.
Modern genetics has destroyed all concept of race.
Adam is historically important, theologically important and genetically sound, if we understand the possible parameters that the Bible gives us. We have a lot more flexibility than you might expect, and the genetic data doesn’t disprove the Biblical Adam.
Be encouraged, the Bible is true history. The Bible is true theology. We can use it as a guide to understand where we came from and where we are going.
Appendix A: Using DNA as a clock
DNA analysis contradicts the out of Africa idea that humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor and the idea that Neanderthals are not human. We now have DNA sequences from thousands of people from all over the world. The first big surprise was how similar people are across the world. That was not what people expected. Back in Charles Darwin’s day he was trying to split people up into races. Evolutionists were trying to divide people up into tribes and groups. But what we have found out through gene sequencing is that people are nearly identical across the world. The commonality of the genetic code within people across the world tells us that we all came from a single small population just a short time ago. And that there has been only one dispersal of people across the planet. And that the center of diversity of all people in the world is somewhere between north-east Africa and the Middle East. So the origin of mankind is pretty much where the Bible says it was. The origin of mankind involves a small people group just like the Bible says. And the origin of mankind involves a dispersal across the world just like the Bible says. Everything we are learning is pointing more and more toward a biblical answer for the origin of humanity.
The human race has not been around for that long. We can determine this from the mutation rate that can be measured in the laboratory. The rate can be calculated by counting up the number of differences in the DNA between a bunch of people that we know are closely related. That’s the rate. Then we can look at all the people across the world. How long would it take to explain all these people given the rate that we know? And the answer is a few thousand years for both male lineages (which is the Y-chromosome) and female lineages (which is the mitochondrial DNA). Both of them give us a similar answer that people are not millions of years old.
Most chromosomes recombine and so the genes get scrambled in subsequent generations. But there are two specific small pieces of DNA that are passed down the generations unchanged. These are associated with the different chromosomes that come as a result of being male or female. The Y-chromosome is only inherited from father to son to grandson to great-grandson. And so if a mutation occurs, it stays only in that lineage. And the other little piece of DNA called the mitochondrial DNA, that from a lot of experiments is only passed on from mothers to their children. Because of that it’s also passed unchanged from one generation to the next (like the Y-chromosome). Except, if a mutation occurs, you now have a new lineage. And so when we look at the Y-chromosome across the world, its clear that they are all very similar to one another. And if we count up the number of differences between them, its 500-600, maybe as many as 800 at the most, which can explain all the men in the world. At the mutation rate we know, we’d expect a couple of mutations per generation, which means that the mutations occurred over only a few hundred generations. That’s more like the biblical time frame than the evolutionary one.
According to mitochrondial DNA, most people in the world are about 20-25 mutations separated from the mitochrondrial ancestor, Eve. Well that’s just a few hundred generations (assuming a mutation rate of about 0.1 per generation). So there is a stark difference between a Genesis paradigm approach to how mankind began and how long they have been around, and the evolutionary paradigm that says mankind has been around for millions of years. The genetics says that mankind is very recent when we use real-world mutation rates measured in the laboratory.
But there’s another factor we also have to account for. And that is what happens to mutations over time in a population? Every child has more mutations than the parent was born with. That means that every generation is actually a step down from the ancestors (which is opposite to the idea of biological evolution). And at the rate we can measure it’s an average of 60-100 mutations in the genome per generation. At that rate we will go extinct before millions of years happens.
So there are two ways to look at this issue. One is how fast the mutations are changing and because of that we can’t have been around that long. But if we have been around that long that mutation rate would have killed us – we would already be extinct. The evolutionary model requires that mutations are removed over time. But there is not enough time. There’s too many mutations and it overwhelms them mathematically. Back in the 1950s, this famous scientist Haldane said that if there’s as many as one mutation per every ten children, we’re guaranteed to go extinct. Well, it’s about 100 per child! That’s a thousand times worse than the worst-case scenario they can handle mathematically. All this evidence points back to the biblical historical record.
When we look at people across the world, they’re so similar to each other it’s clear we actually came from an Adam. For example, the red in a red beard or red hair is a mutation. It’s a broken gene. And white skin is a broken gene. We know what letter change happened in that gene. And all Europeans share that skin color. So with a little bit of genetic diversity and 6,000 years of mutation we can explain people with no common ancestry with the chimpanzees. We don’t need millions of years. We don’t need evolution.
Concerning the chimpanzee, the evolutionary paradigm tells us over and over again that we have 98% similar genetic code with the chimpanzee. That’s not true. Some of my colleagues have run the numbers and when you take a piece of the chimpanzee genome and look at the human genome you get about 80% identity. And we do the reverse, and we get about 80% identity. 98% was a myth. When they sequenced the chimpanzee genome they didn’t want to spend 3 billion dollars on it. That’s how much it cost to do the first human genome. In order to sequence a genome back then they would randomly sequence lots and lots of little pieces about 300 base pairs long. And then they would use a big computer program to line them up. And if you had enough pieces you’d fill all the holes; to make sure you don’t have a gap. When they did the chimpanzee genome they sequenced it five times over and lined it up on the human genome. So they assumed common ancestry without ever testing it and they made a “Swiss cheese” genome. There are so many holes in the chimpanzee genome that it’s not usable. So several years later someone went back and they only resequenced the Y-chromosome. And it turned out to be radically different. The Y-chromosome in the chimpanzee is half the size of the Y-chromosome in humans. And of the half they share with us, it’s only 70% similar to the human version. The paper that did it said that was as much difference as we expected between mankind and something like a chicken! This agrees with our experience that the human being is radically different to any other animal that we see around us.
This appendix is based on a video presentation on “Using DNA as a clock” by Dr Robert Carter, a marine biologist.
Appendix B: Phylogenetic tree
A phylogenetic tree is a branching diagram or a tree showing the (evolutionary) relationships among various biological species or other entities based upon similarities and differences in their physical or genetic characteristics. In a rooted phylogenetic tree, each node with descendants represents the inferred most recent common ancestor of those descendants. Unrooted trees illustrate only the relatedness of the leaf nodes and do not require the ancestral root to be known or inferred.
This post is based on a video presentation on “The historical Adam” by Dr Robert Carter of Creation Ministries International (CMI).
Posted, August 2021