An atheist who didn't read the book - Island of Sanity

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An atheist who didn't read the book

A creationist who didn't read the book

Man had originated by natural means -- not from any existing ape or monkey, as some of Darwin's more stupid and unscrupulous critics asserted he had said, but from an ape-like primate, and before him from an animal which would have to be classified as belonging to the group of Old World monkeys.

Julian Huxley, Charles Darwin and His World

Or as a more recent outspoken atheist, James Randi, put it:

... Boston Globe reporter Beth Daley, in her article reporting this event, wrote, by way of explanation: "Creationists reject the notion that humans evolved from apes…" Well, Ms. Daley, so do I, and so do any scientists I know of. Darwin never made that claim, though it's often stated by the media to show their poor understanding of evolution and of Darwin. Homo sapiens descended from the same root stock as the great apes, and the two diverged about two million years ago, but humans did not evolve from apes., Dec 14, 2007

Now we could quibble. Evolutionists say that humans are descended from an "ape-like" creature, and their favorite candidate these days is a group of creatures they call "australopithecines", which is Latin for "southern ape". So they say it looks like an ape, it acts like an ape, and we call it an ape, but it's not an ape, and if you say that we say it's an ape, even though that's what we say, that proves that you don't know what you're talking about.

Nevertheless, I always cringe when I hear a creationist say that evolutionists claim that humans descended from apes or monkeys, because I know they're just setting themselves up for ridicule from the evolutionists.

An evolutionist who didn't read the book

So imagine my surprise recently when I came across a criticism of Biblical creationism by someone who had, apparently, not read the book or made any effort to find out what it said before he criticized it. This is doubly surprising because the writer in question is the same James Randi that I just quoted above ridiculing creationists and reporters for not reading Darwin before critiquing him.

He has an article ridiculing many Christian ideas, but this criticism particularly struck me. He wrote:

Adam and Eve, they said, were the original humans, plunked down in a garden to start our species going. But I didn't understand, and still don't, that they had only two children, both sons — and one of them killed the other — yet somehow they produced enough people to populate the Earth, without incest, which was a big no-no!, July 25, 2003

If he actually read Genesis before making fun of it, he would have seen that in the very next chapter after it talks about Cain and Abel, it says that Adam "... became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. ... and he had other sons and daughters."

Be fruitful and multiply and find logarithms

Is it mathematically possible for one couple to have given birth to our entire present population within the Biblical time frame? Let's look at it this way: What would be the rate of population growth to get from 2 people to today's 6 billion in 6000 years? Is it a reasonable number?

The calculation is straightforward enough:

Let r be the rate of population growth. Then:
2 (1+r)6000 = 6x109
(1+r)6000 = 3x109
6000 log (1+r) = log(3x109)
6000 log (1+r) ~= 9.4771
log (1+r) ~= 0.001580
1+r ~= 1.0036
r ~= .0036

That is, the average population growth rate would have been about 1/3 of 1% per year.

How does that compare to historical growth rates? This is well below the current growth rate of about 2.2%. Current population growth rates are probably well above the historical average because of more reliable food supplies, better health care, etc. Unfortunately no one knows what the population of the world was before about 1750, when it is estimated at 800 million. By a similar calculation, to get from 800 million to 6 billion in 250 years would require a growth rate of about 0.8%, still over double the "Eve-to-today" number.

Someone might object that the Bible says that the Earth's population was mostly wiped out by Noah's Flood and so we would have had to start over from there. The Flood is generally dated around 2500 BC. To get from 8 people (Noah and his wife and three sons and their wives) to 6 billion today would require:

8 (1+r)4500 = 6x109
(1+r)4500 = 750x106
4500 log (1+r) = log(750x106)
4500 log (1+r) ~= 8.8751
log (1+r) ~= 0.001972
1+r ~= 1.0045
r ~= .0045

That is, less than 1/2 of 1% per year. Again, well below the growth rates since anyone has been keeping records.

Brothers and Sisters

Genesis quite plainly tells us that Adam and Eve had more than two sons. It doesn't tell us exactly how many, but from the fact that "daughters" is plural, that clearly implies at least two girls, combined with three named sons makes at least five children. Note the three sons are named in the context of the story of the first murder: Cain killed Abel, and then when Eve had another son (Seth) she considered him something of a replacement for the dead son. As their other children were apparently not involved in any stories considered important enough to include in the Bible, we are never told their names.

So there's no mystery how this family populated the world: The brothers and sisters must have married each other.

Cain and Able and Ted and Alice

Perhaps Randi is trying to rebut this obvious reply by saying that they would have had to reproduce without incest. Says who? There is no mention in the Bible that incest was prohibited until thousands of years later.

An important reason why incest is a bad idea today is because it gives a high probability of birth defects: Most genetic defects are recessive, so if you marry someone who does not have the defect, your children will be all right. But if you marry someone else who does have the defect, then your children are at risk, and your brothers and sisters have inherited the same genetic defects that you have. But Adam and Eve's children would presumably have had few if any genetic defects. If Adam and Eve were created genetically flawless, there was no time for mutations to accumulate.

Of course there are also social problems arising from incest that might or might not be applicable. Still, if the choice is between awkward social situations and the extinction of the human race, I'd choose (a).

According to Genesis, Adam lived to be 930 years old and many other people before the Flood had similarly long lives. I'm sure Randi doubts that too, but if it was true, consider: Modern women are fertile for about 20 to 30 years, or one-third of their lives. If Eve lived 900 years and was fertile for one-third of that time, that would be 300 years. She might have given birth to dozens or even hundreds of children. (And none of them ever called.)

Be fruitful and multiply

Randi further says that this one couple could not have "produced enough people to populate the Earth". The historian James Ussher (1581-1656) estimated that the world was created in 4004 BC. This is the most recent date I've heard seriously proposed. Could the entire present world population have come from one couple in just 6000 years? I've put the math in a sidebar, but the answer is: Yes, easily. It would have required an average population growth of 1/3 to 1/2 of 1% per year, well below growth rates since we've had records.


My surface conclusion is that if you're going to ridicule other people for critiquing your ideas without fully understanding them, you should be very cautious not to immediately turn around and do the same thing yourself.

But on the more important issue: Was it possible for Adam and Eve's children, as their family is described in Genesis, to populate the world? An elementary reading says yes. The text plainly tells us that they had at least three sons and two daughters, and they might have had more. The brothers and sisters in this first generation would have had to marry each other. This first family could easily have given birth to our present population with very modest rates of population growth.

The fact that it's possible doesn't prove that it's true, of course. But there is nothing about the story in Genesis that is not biologically and mathematically possible. The story is scientifically plausible.

© 2008 by Jay Johansen


Sasquatch May 23, 2014

Adam and Eve are irrelevant. Run the math from the time of Noah.

Clearly the 4,000 BC number is way too young. Written history stretches further back than that in some regions.

Jay Johansen May 23, 2014

I did run the math from the time of Noah. See the sidebar, beginning at, "Someone might object that the Bible says that the Earth's population was mostly wiped out by Noah's Flood and so we would have had to start over from there." As I say in the sidebar, this gives a growth rate since the Flood of less than 1/2 of 1%. Not at all implausible.

Sasquatch May 23, 2014

Ah. My mistake. Just call me "the atheist who didn't read the sidebar". At least I did bother to look and see that the ark had multiple breeding pairs of humans on it. Been too long since I read the book.

Ludmila Jul 23, 2014

Someday little Pip will write the defitinive reference work on leafs of teh werld. Darwin = finches gathered in travel; Pip = leafs etc.Also, yay! No more seekrit hidden cartoons -- all new fresh * cats!*K&P are pretty darn fresh all the time, natch.

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