As the Apostle Paul gave his famous speech on Mars Hill in Athens, he was aware of how many people groups, cultures and languages interacted in this city, which was a commercial center between Europe, Africa and Asia. He made this profound observation:
“From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.” (Acts 17:26)
He was certainly affirming the culmination of the Biblical account of Creation, which makes it clear that every person who has ever lived on earth has descended from Adam and Eve, the first human couple. He might also have been reporting the findings of the modern science of evolution. Let me explain.
When Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species in 1859, some Christian scholars rejoiced in what seemed to them to be a new insight into how God created living things. One of them, Henry Drummond, was a young Scottish scientist and also an assistant evangelist to the great Dwight L. Moody. He gave a series of popular lectures at YMCAs and other venues in which he persuasively argued that God was glorified by the findings of evolution. I have two of Drummond’s books on my shelves, Natural Law in the Spiritual World (1877) and The Ascent of Man (1891), which opened my eyes to this honeymoon period between science and religion.
However, there were several outspoken atheistic and agnostic leaders, particularly Herbert Spencer, who used the theory of evolution to explain away the need to believe in God as creator. As a result, within a few years of Drummond’s lectures and publications, sharp battle lines were drawn. It was the Bible vs. evolution, and that’s been the belligerent posture Biblical conservatives have taken ever since. It’s either/or.
Since I was a biology major in college, I’ve been dealing with this tension for more than half a century. I didn’t think I’d live to see the day when objective scientific research into human evolution would actually add support to the Bible’s account of the creation of humans. Intense study of genetics, of how the various traits of individual human beings are passed on from one generation to the next, has resulted in the scientific conclusion that every human person who has ever lived on earth has a lineage that goes back to one individual mother. She has been given the nickname “Mitochondrial Eve” (after the tiny part of a human cell responsible for passing traits on), and she lived in east central Africa about 120,000 years ago. A similar study has traced the male lineage back to a single man from approximately the same time period and the same region of the world — scientists have nicknamed him “Y-Chromosome Adam.” Further genetic studies have led scientists to postulate the likely migration of “Adam and Eve’s” descendants throughout the world. At this site you’ll find a map of the current thinking on the likely pattern of expansion.
There are other issues between the Biblical and scientific accounts of the origin of the human race that don’t fit so neatly. For instance, those who take the dates in the Bible literally calculate that creation took place a little more than 6,000 years ago, which is a lot more recent than 120,000 years ago. Personally, I don’t feel my belief in the Bible is compromised if I see some of the numbers of years as symbolic, rather than literal. A more serious matter is the difference between the Bible’s affirmation that God formed Adam directly from the dust of the ground, while the evolutionists’ notion is that Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam were born of parents in an existing line of ancestry. I don’t have any trouble seeing the “Adam and Eve” of science as being created by God indirectly from the dust of the ground, through many generations. It helps me to recognize that the creation account in Genesis 1 is organized as a beautiful poem, rather than a history of events as they happened. Maybe most of you won’t care about any of this, but it means a lot to me (and probably a few others).
So, both the Bible and science conclude the same basic truth:
“From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.”
My primary ancestors were probably not the blue-eyed Scandinavians I learned about in my childhood Sunday School class. They were most likely dark-eyed, dark-skinned Africans. That’s my Black History lesson for today.
— Pastor George Van Alstine