Reasons to Believe

Speaking of Adam and Eve: Study of Languages Supports Biblical Account of Human Origins

Adam named his wife Eve because she would become the mother all the living.
Genesis 3:20

Did Adam and Eve exist? A number of evangelical Christian are now arguing that they didn’t. But I disagree. I think Adam and Eve did exist, and not just because I believe what is recorded in Scripture. In my opinion, good scientific evidence backs up belief in a literal, historical Adam and Eve.

Recently, a scientist from the University of Auckland in New Zealand used linguistic analysis of language to trace humanity’s origin. In doing so, he provided independent confirmation of the Out-of-Africa model for human origins, and with it, support for the biblical creation model.1

Numerous studies of genetic variability indicate that humanity originated recently (around 100,000 years ago) in east Africa (near where some theologians think the Garden of Eden existed) from a small population. Mitochondrial DNA studies suggest that all humanity traces back to a single woman. In like manner, studies of Y-chromosomal DNA indicate that all men can trace their origin to a single man. (See Who Was Adam?and the New Reasons to Believe e-Zine, pages 4–6, for previous discussions on this topic.)

Anthropologists tend to view these data from an evolutionary perspective (coining the term “Out-of-Africa model”). Yet, the data are provocative from a biblical standpoint. They reveal the type of pattern one would expect if Adam and Eve really existed and gave birth to all human beings.

Phonemics

The sounds of language—vowels, consonants, and tones—are referred to as phonemes. Linguists have discovered that languages spoken by larger populations tend to possess more phonemes than languages spoken by fewer people.

Quentin Atkinson at the University of Auckland wondered if phonemes could be used to study humanity’s origin. What further motivated his idea is the phenomenon in genetics known as the serial founder effect. When a subpopulation breaks off of the main population, that smaller group displays much more limited genetic variability than the parent population. If the subpopulation, in turn, spawns another subpopulation, that resulting group of “break-a-ways” will display an even more reduced genetic variability.

When people began to migrate around the world, a small group left the point of humanity’s genesis. Serial fracturing of the migrating population took place, consequently generating the serial founder effect. According to Atkinson’s hypothesis, this phenomenon should be evident in the phonemes of the world’s languages.

The Results: Something to Talk about

Atkinson analyzed 504 languages and discovered that African languages displayed the greatest number of phonemes. (African populations are the most genetically diverse and thought to be the oldest people groups.) He also determined that languages of people groups in South America and Oceania possessed the fewest number of phonemes. (These people groups are believed to be the youngest.) Atkinson also noticed a cline in phonemes (a gradual decrease in phoneme numbers) as the languages moved away from Africa and into Europe and Asia.

The phoneme patterns Atkinson discovered closely match the genetic diversity data, and independently support the Out-of-Africa model. It is encouraging that a number of separate lines of evidence (genetic, archeological, and now linguistic) harmonize with the biblical account of human origins. The scientific case for Adam and Eve is stronger today than it has ever been, in spite of what some evangelicals might think.


Subjects: Adam and Eve

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

1. Quentin D. Atkinson, “Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa,” Science 332 (April 15, 2011): 346–49.