Adam and Eve still a possibility?

Geneticist Richard Buggs, Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London, has just written an intriguing article in Nature: Ecology and Evolution (28 October 2017), titled, Adam and Eve: a tested hypothesis? Comments on a recent book chapter. It appears that Buggs is unpersuaded that science has ruled out Adam and Eve. He thinks it’s still theoretically possible that the human race once passed through a short, sharp population bottleneck of just two individuals, followed by exponential population growth. Buggs disagrees with the assessment of Christian biologist Dennis Venema, professor of biology at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, who forthrightly declared in chapter 3 of his 2017 book Adam and the Genome that it is scientifically impossible that the human lineage ever passed through a bottleneck of two, and we can be as certain about this fact as we are about the truth of heliocentrism.

Here’s Buggs’ take-down of the three methods employed by Venema to discredit the possibility of a single primal couple. As a layperson, I have to say it looks as if Buggs has done his homework:

Linkage disequilibrium within populations

…The methods assume that the populations at any given time point are at equilibrium and not expanding exponentially (the authors deliberately exclude the last 10,000 years from this analysis as they know that exponential population growth has occurred in this timeframe). It is hard to see how they could pick up on a short, sharp bottleneck even if one had happened. It would be nice to see this modelled, just to check.

PSMC method

…More recently, some simulations by a graduate student have shown that the PSMC method does not detect short, sharp bottlenecks, such as those caused by a pandemic or natural disaster. Thus I cannot see that PSMC analyses (many more of which have been done on human genomes since the original paper by Li and Durbin) can be cited as rigorously disproving a short, sharp bottleneck.

Incomplete lineage sorting

Venema makes an argument based on incomplete lineage sorting among humans, apes and gorillas, which gives a large estimated effective population size. This argument is not relevant if we are only interested in the human lineage (the occurrence of ILS does not require maintenance of large populations sizes in every lineage after speciation and so does not exclude a bottleneck in the exclusively human lineage).

Buggs adds:

We need to bear in mind that explosive population growth in humans has allowed many new mutations to rapidly accumulate in human populations (A. Keinan and A. G. Clark (2012) Science 336: 740-743). Hyper-variable loci like MHC genes or microsatellites have so many alleles that they seem to defy the idea of a single couple bottleneck until we consider that they have very rapid rates of evolution, and could have evolved very many alleles since a bottleneck.

In his conclusion, Buggs modestly refrains from claiming to have rebutted Venema’s arguments:

The question asked by my religious friends is different to the questions being asked in the studies discussed above. My religions (sic) friends are not asking me if it is probable that humans have ever passed through a bottleneck of two; they are asking me if it is possible. None of the studies above set out to explicitly test the hypothesis that humans could have passed through a single-couple bottleneck. This is what we need to nail this issue down…

If I am missing something, then I would very much like to know. Whilst this issue may seem trivial to many readers, for large numbers of religious believers in the world, this is a critical issue. Do they really face a binary choice between accepting mainstream science and believing that humans have, at some point in their history, all descended from a single couple? I am open to the possibility that they do face this dilemma, but I need more evidence before I am persuaded.

I would be interested to know what biologists think of Richard Buggs’ article. Is he right? Does science still leave open the possibility of Adam and Eve? Over to you.

362 Replies to “Adam and Eve still a possibility?”

  1. Gregory Gregory
    Ignored
    says:

    Torley deserves a big, fat consolation prize kiss on the cheeky, for this thread and for the next 150,000 ‘apologetic’ words he is about to write (not waste?) on this atheist miserable skeptical zone blog, when he could be doing nothing better for humanity with his catholic talents.

  2. Neil Rickert
    Ignored
    says:

    Moved a post to guano.

  3. Rumraket Rumraket
    Ignored
    says:

    Gregory:
    Torley deserves a big, fat consolation prize kiss on the cheeky, for this thread and for the next 150,000 ‘apologetic’ words he is about to write (not waste?) on this atheist miserable skeptical zone blog, when he could be doing nothing better for humanity with his catholic talents.

    You’d rather he sat around on uncommon descent telling comfortable magical fables to people who are already convinced they’re true?

  4. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    newton: For instance, what is the body language of God?

    for starters I’d say that is what most folks are observing when they look at the universe and life and anything of value at all.

    newton: But as with all human communication it is subject to misinterpretation as men constantly demonstrate when it comes to women.

    All communication is subject to misinterpretation.
    Except I suppose inter- Trinitarian communication that is why the indewelling of the Holy Spirit is so important when it comes to understanding the word of God.

    It’s also why personal humility is important when you think you understand what is being said to you. That Goes for communication from women as well as God

    newton: So God’s message about Himself is a reward?

    Yep nothing comes for free.
    it is one of the rewards for Christ’s sacrifice.
    If you get the message it’s because Christ has paid for it with his blood.

    newton: It is beginning to sound like the Word of God is reserved for the educated elites or ancient Hebrews

    Not at all,

    My grandpa was very handy at a Greek- Hebrew dictionary and concordance and he never got past the eighth grade.

    Grandma was handy as well and she was very quick to let Grandpa know when she did not agree with his particular interpretation of a word or phrase.

    When you understand what the message cost and how valuable it is you want to make sure you get it right.

    newton: So in your expert opinion was Eve formed from the rib or side of Adam?

    I don’t really have an opinion. I haven’t studied it enough

    The word form in the KJV is בָּנָה (banah) it often means “establish”
    The word for rib in the KJV is צֵלָע (tsela`) It usually means “side”
    The word for Adam in the KJV is אָדָם It’s usually just a generic term for “humanity”

    Long story short It looks to me that there is a lot more going on in this passage than the flannel board story that keiths internalized when he was a preschooler.

    There is a sense in which Eve was originally a part of Adam and is still deeply connected to him so that they can be regarded in someway as one entity rather than two .

    That is the message of the passage as I see it.

    To go beyond that general outline to the precise medical details of what happened will need to wait for more of that divine body language we were just speaking about I suppose.

    peace

  5. llanitedave llanitedave
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: You have no evidence for your claim that God was speaking of physical death. None. The evidence that does exist makes it clear that God was not speaking of physical death.

    This is not difficult.

    You have no evidence for your claim that God was speaking at all. None. The evidence that does exist makes it clear that the whole story is fictional.

    This is not difficult.

  6. Corneel Corneel
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: There is a sense in which Eve was originally a part of Adam and is still deeply connected to him so that they can be regarded in someway as one entity rather than two .

    But not completely equal, are they?
    When I look at the universe and life and anything of value at all, I notice that men are born from women, not the other way around. Perhaps God is using his body language to warn you about the gender roles in stories from patriarchal societies?

    Might help the communication with your wife as well.

  7. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    llanitedave: You have no evidence for your claim that God was speaking at all. None.

    What would count as evidence? Who get’s to decide?

    I’d say that we have a ton of compelling evidence that God is speaking.

    The problem is there is a very good chance he was not speaking to you so you would not find the evidence to be convincing even when it is overwhelming.

    peace

  8. llanitedave llanitedave
    Ignored
    says:

    fifthmonarchyman: What would count as evidence? Who get’s to decide?

    I’d say that we have a ton of compelling evidence that God is speaking.

    The problem is there is a very good chance he was not speaking to you so you would not find the evidence to be convincing even when it is overwhelming.

    peace

    The most fundamental evidence would be anything that indicated that the stories as written in that book actually occurred. If the narrative were factual and historical, the physical evidence of it, even today, would be overwhelming. All of your interpretive hand-waving is necessitated by the fact that none of that evidence exists. None. Even the ancient apologists recognized this, which is why they had to develop rhetorical workarounds such the allegorical interpretations of Paul, Philo, Augustine, and Origen. But those interpretations only re-defined symbols, they did nothing to add an evidentiary basis to the narrative of Adam and Eve, nor the six days, nor Noah.

    You can waste all the time you want trying to find an interpretive meaning of the Genesis stories which match what you want to believe, but after all that time, what you’ve gained is a only more convenient package of wishful thinking. You’re no closer to reality than you were at the beginning. You might as well be arguing whether Dumbledore was taller than Grindlewald based on their names. At least there you have an outside chance of getting the author to weigh in.

  9. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: Why cling to Christianity when better explanations are available?

    Christianity is not an explanation.

  10. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    Rumraket: You can practically feel Gregory’s longing for the good ole days of inquisitions and witch-burnings.

    We still have them right here at TSZ. Which is probably why he keeps coming back here.

  11. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    llanitedave: The evidence that does exist makes it clear that the whole story is fictional.

    Then God did not lie and keiths is wrong.

  12. fifthmonarchyman
    Ignored
    says:

    llanitedave: The most fundamental evidence would be anything that indicated that the stories as written in that book actually occurred.

    Which stories are you talking about? Just last week news was published from “that book” that was used to adjust the timeline of Egyptian pharaohs due to it containing the oldest recorded eclipse.

    There are lots of empirical evidence like this to corroborate stories from the Bible as I’m sure you are aware.

    If you want to look at a religious text with no supporting empirical evidence to I suggest you look at the book of Morman.

    Perhaps you are referring specifically to the story of Adam and Eve? What sort of overwhelming empirical evidence would you expect to see if that story were true that you don’t see?

    llanitedave: Even the ancient apologists recognized this, which is why they had to develop rhetorical workarounds such the allegorical interpretations of Paul, Philo, Augustine, and Origen.

    What sort of workarounds are you talking about?

    Are you referring to the ancient effort to show that the text was somehow compatible with the false “scientific” consensus of that time that the universe was eternal?

    llanitedave: You can waste all the time you want trying to find an interpretive meaning of the Genesis stories which match what you want to believe, but after all that time, what you’ve gained is a only more convenient package of wishful thinking.

    That is quite a charge. Do you have any objective evidence to back it up or are you just expressing your own biased subjective opinion on the matter.

    peace

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