Reasons to Believe

Cain Worked the Soil and Abel Tended the Flocks

New insight into the origin of agriculture buttresses a weak spot in RTB’s human origins model.

All scientific models have weaknesses. RTB’s creation model is no exception. Even though the RTB human origins model finds powerful support from the scientific record, there is some unease related to the origin of agriculture. Recent discoveries—recounted in an article written by science journalist Michael Balter—help alleviate some of this discomfort.

The RTB model maintains that:

  1. Humanity traces back to a single woman and a single man.
  2. Humanity’s original population size was relatively small.
  3. Humanity originates in a single location at or near the Middle East.
  4. Humanity’s origin dates back to between 10,000 to 100,000 years ago.
  5. Humanity spread around the world, recently, from near the Middle East.

Studies on the genetic diversity of people groups from around the world are provocative in light of the RTB model. This work indicates that modern humans originated at a single location (at or near the presumed site of the Garden of Eden), recently (less than 100,000 years ago), and from a small initial population that traces back to a single man and woman. The archeological and genetic evidence shows that by 50,000 to 60,000 years ago humans had spread from near the Middle East into Asia and Europe with a migration pattern that fits with the biblical text. For details see Who Was Adam?

Even though the genetic data powerfully affirms the biblical description of humanity’s origin, some are troubled by the dates for humanity’s origin and spread in light of the timing of agriculture’s appearance. The scientific evidence indicates that wide-scale agricultural practices emerged around 10,000 years ago—well after humanity’s origin and migration around the world.

In contrast, the RTB model predicts that some type of farming and animal husbandry were in use close to the time of humanity’s beginning. Genesis 4:1-4 teaches that Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel, “worked the soil” and “kept flocks,” respectively. This model also maintains that farming and animal husbandry spread from the Middle East to different locations around the world as a consequence of human migrations.

On the surface, the scientific evidence seems to contradict the RTB human origins model.

This discrepancy can be resolved if the archeological and genetic evidence traces the origin of the large-scale domestication of plants and animals, not the origin of agriculture itself. It’s possible that the first humans engaged in farming and animal husbandry well before 10,000 years ago at levels that escape scientific detection. Accordingly, the first humans lived as hunter-gathers, but they supplemented this lifestyle by harvesting and manipulating wild plants and taming wild animals.

The latest understanding of agriculture’s origin supports this assertion. Studies of the Ohalo II site in Israel indicate that humans were engaged in proto-farming practices nearly 12,000 years before the Neolithic revolution. Field evidence suggests that the domestication of plants was a gradual process, occurring over the course of several thousand years. Humans cultivated wild plants for thousands of years before the plants showed the anatomical changes associated with domestication. Once domesticated plants were developed, they were planted in mixed fields along with wild versions of the crop.

New evidence also indicates that domestication occurred independently around the world about 10 separate times. The first large-scale domestication of plants occurred about 13,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, followed by domestication activities in Southeast Asia and New Guinea 8,000 and 7,000 years ago, respectively. Recent studies have even uncovered evidence for large-scale plant domestication in South America as far back as 10,000 years ago, only a few thousand years after the first humans made their way into the Americas.

The independent, multiple origins of large-scale agriculture support the notion that the first humans engaged in farming and animal husbandry well before 12,000 years ago. It seems highly unlikely that human beings would have independently and simultaneously discovered plant and animal domestication that many times. It appears as if humans took with them a well-developed understanding of farming and animal husbandry when they migrated to different regions of the world.

In the context of the RTB human origins model, these new insights into the origin of agriculture suggest that Cain and Abel were engaged in proto-farming and proto-husbandry.

Subjects: Human Origins and the Bible, Origin of Agriculture/Human Civilization, TCM - Human Origins

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana