Science Proves Man is… African?

Did man originate in Africa? What does the Bible say about man's origins? My thoughts on an article arguing we are all African.

A fellow member of SEO Refugee asked others to promote an interesting blog article about the origin of man. According to the author, “All genetic studies said one thing, namely that modern humans started in Africa and spread out to the rest of world.” Ultimately, he concludes that “we know that modern humanity started in Africa.”

Upon reading this, I was reminded of the Lucy story. According to some, Lucy provided evidence for man originating in Africa and from a single female. Despite the article’s claim that we now “know” that man originated in Africa, many Christians, including me, will likely approach this evidence with skepticism.

Did man originate in Africa? I was raised to believe that man originated in the Middle East. Most of my teachers pointed to the region in southern Iraq or Kuwait where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow into the Persian Gulf. One story I heard placed man’s origins in the mountains in northern Iran. I’ve heard some say we originated in Israel, the region of Baghdad, and other Middle East areas. Africa was never a consideration in my younger days. However, the discovery of Lucy caused quite a stir.

What does the Bible say about man’s origins? Where does it say we originated? Scripture teaches that God created man from the dust of the earth on the sixth day (Gen 1:27-31; 2:7) and placed man in the garden located in Eden in the East (Gen 2:8). However, God does not reveal the geographical location of the garden or Eden in Scripture. All that is revealed is that man was created and placed in the garden in Eden in the East.

Biblical scholars believe that because God brought the Hebrews into Palestine, the region of Israel and the surrounding area, that this must be where the Garden of Eden was located. However, Scripture tells us that a river flowed out of the garden and divided into four others. This main river is not named. The four into which it divides are named: Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, Euphrates (Gen 2:10-14). The Pishon watered the gold-rich region of Havilah, who is a son of Cush (Gen 10:7). The Gihon watered the region of Cush. The Tigris flowed east of Assyria. The Euphrates is not associated with a region. Based on this, some scholars conclude that because the Tigris and Euphrates, which exist today, meet in southern Iraq, then the other two rivers must have met there also. Therefore, they conclude this is where the garden was located.

There are problems with this analysis. First, Scripture says that the four rivers flowed out of a single river. The Tigris and Euphrates do not flow out of the Persian Gulf, but into the Persian Gulf. Second, there is no single river flowing into these two located in that region. Third, the location of the other two rivers is debated. Two river basins that may be associated with the Pishon and Gihon, along with the Tigris and Euphrates, originate in the northern region of Iraq and Iran.

My conclusion is this: the location of the garden is unknown. God does not tell us where on the globe we can find the garden. In fact, he “stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life” in order to keep man from accessing it (Gen 3:24). Therefore, one cannot conclusively proclaim that the location of the garden is known. Instead, we are meant not to know. Rather, God wants us to know that

  1. He created man;
  2. He placed us in the garden;
  3. Man sinned against God;
  4. Man was cast out of the garden.

Now, as to the African origin. Is it impossible or improbable? Impossible it is not; improbable it is. Scripture does associate the Tigris and Euphrates with the place where man began. These two rivers exist in the Middle East, not in Africa. Even accounting for the idea that the geography of the continents changed dramatically due to the flood (Gen 7:17-24), it is not likely that the Tigris and Euphrates moved from south-central Africa to Iraq.

Nevertheless, such a move is not impossible. Scripture records that no humans survived except Noah, his wife, his three sons, and his three daughter-in-laws. If the Earth’s geography was dramatically altered, which I believe it was, then it is possible that the rivers named Tigris and Euphrates were not the ones that originally held those names. Instead it is the rivers Noah and his descendants believed to be those rivers.

That being said, such an analysis of the flood and the renaming of rivers by Noah and his family would make my Old Testament professor shake his head in shock. When Moses wrote the Pentateuch, it was he who used the names Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon, and Gihon in the second chapter of Genesis. He was under the inspiration of God (2 Tim 3:16) when he wrote it, but he used the names he knew and referenced rivers he was familiar with. Therefore, when Moses said the Tigris and Euphrates rivers came out of the garden, then he meant the same rivers we know today. Remember, Moses wrote long after any geographical or topological changes caused by the flood. This would point to the garden being in the Middle East, not in Africa.

I could offer further thoughts regarding the location of the garden, but such would be mere speculation. The location of the garden is unknown. Man might have originated in Africa, but I do not believe it is probable.

Regarding the scientific evidence referenced by the article that conclusively proves man originated in Africa, such evidence is, in fact, not conclusive. There is an assumption made by the article’s author and the scientists, that must be brought to light. They seem to believe that all the scientific evidence we have cannot be refuted. They believe that nothing remains undiscovered that will point to a different conclusion. Basically, they believe that there is nothing new to be discovered.

However, I do not hold such a belief. I believe it is very possible that there is still more to be discovered. Contained within those yet undiscovered treasures may be information that points to a different origin. Therefore, the article would be best to say that based on all we know to date, science concludes that man originated in Africa.

Scientists may dispute this idea of new discoveries refuting current conclusions. However, I would simply point to the idea that man once believed the universe revolved around the Earth, that fire was an element, and that traveling faster than the speed of sound was impossible. However, all these old beliefs, based on science, were refuted by later scientific discoveries. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the scientific evidence of an African origin is not absolutely conclusive. The debate is not over; but merely subdued until the next major scientific discovery.

About John L. Rothra
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