Out of Africa or Out of Eden: Does Science Contradict the Bible?
by Rich Deem


Out of Africa?

Scientists have known for a number of years that the most genetically diverse human beings come from Africa. It is assumed that this higher degree of diversity is due to more time for genetic mutations to accumulate in this founder population. However, it is also possible that humans arose outside of Africa and first migrated there, where populations were relatively undisturbed by subsequent human migrations. If the original founding population were replaced through later migration events, Africa would appear to be the home of humanity's origin, even if it were not.

Rich Deem

Numerous genetic studies over the last few decades have shown that human genetic diversity is greatest within African populations, leading scientists to proclaim that modern human populations originated in Africa. However, the Bible says that humans were created in Eden, which is described as being in or near Mesopotamia. Can we stretch the biblical creation narrative to place Eden in Africa or is it possible that the science is wrong? Alternatively, is the Bible just wrong about where humans originated?

Eden in Africa?

Some Christians have suggested that the Bible is not specific enough to conclude that Eden is in Mesopotamia. Let's look at the biblical description of Eden to see if it could be stretched to include eastern Africa.

The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:8-14)

The location of Eden has always been somewhat uncertain. However, the Bible describes four rivers, two of which (the Tigris and Euphrates) are in Mesopotamia. The other two rivers are unknown. However, the Bible describes the river Gihon as being associated with Cush, which is described as being near Egypt, probably being on the Arabian peninsula. The other river (Pishon) is said to be in the land of Havila, which is described as being east of Egypt, toward Assyria,1 . A tentative map of the area is shown to the right. If modern humans originated during the last ice age2 then the Persian Gulf would have been dry (due to sea levels at least 400 feet lower than present).3 So, it is entirely possible that the location of the Eden is currently under water.

A new review of the archeological literature4 reveals evidence that the Persian Gulf region was once a lush oasis, during the last glacial maximum. At that time, sea levels were much lower, meaning that virtually all of the Persian Gulf was a large floodplain above sea level. More than 60 archeological sites, some of which are currently submerged, show that the area was extensively inhabited. The study describes four rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers from Mesopotamia, the Karun River (biblical Pishon?) draining the Iranian Plateau, and the Wadi Batin River (biblical Gihon?) flowing across northern Arabia. The convergence of the four rivers, along with subterranean aquifers, resulted in what the author described as the "Persian Gulf Oasis." According to the study, "This evidence is
used to construct a model of human occupation around the basin over the course of the last 100,000 years."4

Although it is possible that the garden of Eden was in Africa, it would have to be at the very boundary of potential locations. In addition, such a location would contradict the Genesis 2 narrative that says that God planted the garden "toward the east" (presumably east of Israel). Ethiopia is to the southwest. Therefore, the Persian Gulf region matches the description of the biblical narrative the best.

Out of Africa?

Numerous scientific studies have proposed to have shown that a small group of individuals migrated out of eastern Africa and eventually expanded into most of today's populations.5 In reality, what the studies have shown is that African populations exhibit the most genetic diversity among all people groups. The theory is that once a population has been founded, the amount of genetic diversity increases over time. The theory is generally good, but does make some assumptions. One of the assumptions is that the populations have undergone little or no interbreeding with other populations. For Africa, the assumption is generally good, since Africa is geographically isolated from the rest of the world. The only route to get into Africa is through Suez. Likewise, for Native Americans, there was only one route - over the Aleutians near the end of an ice age, when sea levels were low and temperatures were beginning to moderate. However, for people groups in Mesopotamia and the Middle East, there was no geographic isolation. Being at the intersection of three continents, the Middle East has seen numerous people groups migrate through and back. So, it would be very unlikely that peoples of the Middle East would have the greatest genetic diversity of modern humans, even if humans originated there.

Two new studies, the result of the human genome project, examined the genetic diversity of over 1,000 individuals from 51 population groups all over the world.6, 7 As in previous studies, peoples of Africa were the most genetically diverse. However, these studies also determined that those from the Middle East were the second most genetically diverse. The authors of one study admitted that Middle Eastern population genetics was not just simple gene flow, saying, "The Middle Eastern populations may have experienced both continuous gene flow and shared ancestry with the rest of Eurasia."7 The authors of either study did not consider the possibility that humans originated in Mesopotamia, as the Bible says, since the out of Africa hypothesis is the current reigning paradigm. However, given the evidence of admixture in Middle Eastern populations and the fact that those populations are still the second most genetically diverse, it is entirely possible that modern humans originated in the Middle East, but lost much of their genetic diversity through subsequent migrations and replacement.

Conclusion Top of page

New genetic analysis of human population groups shows that peoples of the Middle East represent the second most genetically diverse group among world-wide populations. A hypothesis is proposed that modern humans originated in the garden of Eden, in or near Mesopotamia, through the direct creation of God, and subsequently migrated world-wide, first into Africa, then Asia and Europe, and eventually the Americas and Polynesia. Subsequent back migrations diluted the genetic diversity of this founder population, making them appear to be less ancient than the Africans. The hypothesis can potentially be tested by carefully examining more Middle Eastern populations in more detail to attempt to reconstruct the original founder population.

Other Resources Top of page

Who Was Adam?: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of ManAre humans just advanced apes or have they been specially created in the image of God? Publications by scientists almost never ask the question, whereas publications by theists seldom examine the scientific data that relates to the question. However, two scientists raised in non-Christian homes, Fuz Rana (Ph.D. in chemistry) and Hugh Ross (Ph.D. in astronomy), have written a new book (Who Was Adam?: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man) that examines the question of human origins by comparing biblical and evolutionary models.

Creation As Science: A Testable Model Reasons To Believe's third in a series of books proposing a testable creation model takes on the origin and design of the universe. Previous books, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off and Who Was Adam?: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man, examined the origin of life on earth and the origin of mankind, respectively. Creation As Science develops a biblical creation model and compares the predictions of this model compared to a naturalistic model, young earth creationism, and theistic evolution. This biblical creation model is divided into four main areas, the origin of the universe, the origin of the Solar System, the history of life on earth, and the origin and history of mankind.

References Top of page

  1. They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Assyria; he settled in defiance of all his relatives. (Genesis 25:18)
  2. The Bible itself states that the covenant and laws of God have been proclaimed to a "thousand generations," requiring a minimum of ~40,000 years:
    "Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments;" (Deuteronomy 7:9)
    Remember His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations, (1 Chronicles 16:15)
    He has remembered His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations, (Psalm 105:8)
    See Descent of Mankind Theory: Disproved by Molecular Biology for information on the scientific data about the probable dates for the origin of modern humanity.
  3. Rising Sea Levels from the University of Michigan.
  4. Rose, J. I. 2010. New Light on Human Prehistory in the Arabo-Persian Gulf Oasis. Current Anthropology 51: 849 DOI: 10.1086/657397.
  5. Rosenberg, N. A. et al. 2002. Genetic Structure of Human Populations. Science 298: 2381-2385.
    A. M. Bowcock et al. 1994. High resolution of human evolutionary trees with polymorphic microsatellites. Nature 368: 455-457.
    S. Ramachandran et al. 2005. Support from the relationship of genetic and geographic distance in human populations for a serial founder effect originating in Africa. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 102: 15942-15947.
    Rosenberg, N. A. et al. 2005. Clines, Clusters, and the Effect of Study Design on the Inference of Human Population Structure. PLoS Genet. 1, e70.
  6. Li, J. Z. et al. 2008. Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation. Science 319: 1100-1104.
  7. Jakobsson, M. et al. 2008. Genotype, haplotype and copy-number variation in worldwide human populations. Nature 451: 998-1003.

Last updated December 15, 2010


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