Saturday, November 3, 2018

Adam and Eve and the Cultural Big Bang

In my investigation of what science has to tell us about the existence of Adam and Eve, I am intrigued by a question that is widely disputed among the scientists who study this subject. The question is when and how modern human behavior developed. One idea that has been proposed is particularly controversial with both scientific proponents and scientific critics. The idea goes by different names including "the cultural big bang," "the late Paleolithic revolution," and "the great leap forward." The proposal is that modern human behavior began suddenly about 50,000 or so years ago. This idea was particularly popular about 15 years ago with many proponents still, though some scientists say that more recent archeological discoveries give hints of modern human behavior that began about 100,000 years ago and developed slowly not suddenly.

I am a non-expert as I try to investigate this question since I am an experimental particle physicist and not an archeologist. But as an outsider, it does seem to me that there seems to be some kind of explosion of modern behavior about 50,000 years ago. It seems that at about that time humans began to develop a way of thinking that invented new tools and developed new ideas and began to shape the environment around them.

In my previous blog post I outlined some of the genetic evidence that has been used to determine (1) when a male and female ancestor of all humans lived and (2) a time frame for when the human population was fairly small in the last few hundred thousand years. I stated that among scientists who study this subject, "The general consensus is that the first humans consisted of a small population of about one thousand to a few thousand individuals who existed about 100,000 years ago (with uncertainties of about plus or minus 50,000 years) in order to produce the genetic diversity we see now." But I went on to question how accurate that number of a few thousand individuals actually is and whether or not a single male and female could produce the genetic diversity that we see now.

My last post generated quite a bit of discussion on another message board consisting of people who are much more knowledgeable than me discussing subjects such as the genetic evidence for human origins. I was able to look at some of the data that is used to make claims about our ancient ancestors. What I noticed for the particular genetic marker under investigation is that although the most probable date for a common ancestor was a few hundred thousand years ago, there was a small probability, maybe 5% or so, that the common ancestor could be as early as 50,000 years ago. When dealing with mathematical models there is a difference between what is most likely (and how well that most likely value is known) and the range of possibilities. So even if the mathematical model I was observing was correct, an age of 50,000 years ago for this common ancestor was not completely ruled out. Also as I stated in my previous blog, I'm not convinced that the mathematical models have enough detail and sophistication to give the claimed precision. But even if the models are correct, there was a possibility within the model for a common ancestor as recent as 50,000 years ago.

So my non-expert investigation leads me to a conclusion that I'm pretty sure would not be shared by the expert scientists in the field. It seems to me that (1) given the uncertainty and level of detail of the models used to investigate human origins and (2) given the apparent sudden emergence of human behavior some 50,000 years ago, that it is still well within the realm of scientific knowledge to postulate that there was, indeed, one male and one female who are the genetic ancestors of all humanity and lived about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. I believe that all of the good genetic and archeological science that has done to try to understand human origins could be interpreted as being consistent with a model in which Adam and Eve were the first humans who lived about 50,000 years ago and that all humans are their genetic offspring.

As a non-expert, but as a scientist who has some ability to interpret data, I certainly understand why the most probable dates for early humans are assigned as a hundred thousand or more years ago by the experts and why the experts believe the smallest human population was a few thousand people. But often in my field of particle physics, as more data is gathered and more sophisticated models are developed, some ideas that at first seem to only have a 5% probability turn out to be correct. Maybe that is the case here and further scientific discoveries and developments will make this idea of Adam and Eve living about 50,00 years ago, that is right now apparently only a small possibility, actually the most likely probability.

Since my proposal here is well outside of the scientific consensus you may be asking what the experts in the field, particularly those who are Christians, believe that the genetic and archaeological evidence tells us about the existence of Adam and Eve. We'll explore that topic in the next post.


  1. Dr. Mike assuming the A and E hypothesis is true (I do) scientists in the field over time should discover a demarcation between what you have referred to as soulish humans that have left artifacts that strongly indicate enhanced emotional attachment, inventiveness, curiosity, analytical thinking, rationality and evidence of being "a living soul" ald all earlier cultures. I have no idea whether such has been found or identified.

    1. Good insight Keith. There is some indication that all such spiritual activity began at about the same time as the cultural big bang about 50,000 years ago.