New Out of Africa Humanity Dispersal Model

Latest research indicates that there were multiple out of Africa dispersals, from multiple locations, and tens of 1000s of years earlier than the Biblical Tower of Babel period:

This lends strong evidencial weight to the notion that many of the Genesis accounts were myths, or allegorical representations of a higher symbolic message. At the very least, the new research raises many troubling questions and points regarding the traditional Biblical interpretations of origins:

  1. No one centralized Garden of Eden location
  2. There was never one localized scattering or dispersal of humanity, languages, culture, etc.
  3. Many Adams and many Eves as a result of the multiple dispersal originations.
  4. The latest evidence deminishes the cohesiveness of the salvation theme decribing man’s fall and redemption through Jesus Christ, i.e. one branch of modern humans (those migrating via the Levant, up through Europe) received the “Image of God,” while another group (those migrating south-easterly tens of 1000s of years earlier via the Bab el Mandeb Strait through Asia) did not.

What are the current theological and exegetical responses to address these multidisciplinary scientific challenges?

This is not a necessary entailment of the newer models, particularly if…

If the “image of God” in mankind came about prior to any out-of-Africa dispersals — and, one ought to add, prior to intra-Africa dispersals as well, since African human DNA is more diverse than human DNA elsewhere — and if any sort of linguistic dispersal occurred prior to this as well, then no migration models will cause problems for the essential trustworthiness of the Genesis narratives.

Of course, this requires a certain bleaching of the Genesis narrative of any geographic / historical details, which some will find problematic.


This is precisely my point, as those who insist on biblical literalness or lean heavily in the direction of Concordism, will have to reassess their exegesis based on where the scientific evidence is leading. The prevailing weight of the research is now making it intellectually dishonest to ignore the implications to long-held beliefs.

Some influential BioLogos writers have said that as long as the Apostle Paul believed that all living persons of his day descended from a single identifiable Adam, then there is no disconnect between science and theology. Well, if Paul believed that, he was wrong, and his didactic on redemption would be without merit. We now know that all living humans of Paul’s day would not have been the progeny of just one Adam.

It’s becoming clearer that man’s need for salvation is simply a New Testament brute fact and that the Biblical Genesis narrative describing the Fall is nothing more than a bronze-age attempt to codify a set of beliefs and practices. I believe that those who accept the extreme antiquity of the earth while rejecting the evidence for human evolution, no longer have a good academic foot to stand on.

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Well, I think we need to carefully define what we mean by “the progeny of just one Adam.”

If you mean that there is a relatively recent common ancestor to everyone living in Paul’s day, who may have been specially created by God and then placed among other hominids of his day, then smarter people than I am have declared this possible. (Paging @Swamidass, though I know this is a busy week for him…)

If you mean that Adam is the sole progenitor (along with Eve, of course) of everyone living in Paul’s day, and also a member of H. sapiens, the chances of this are vanishingly small. (For more on this, see the extraordinarily lengthy thread “Adam, Eve & Population Genetics.”)

I’m not sure this is what the original author(s) of Genesis were trying to do. This strikes me as anachronistic. But I’m not a Biblical scholar.

I rather agree with you, but the discussion is far from over, and I think it’s unwise to jump to the conclusion prematurely and alienate traditionalist readers who are exploring their options.

I always want to see some more Babel discussion on the Forum (and on BioLogos blogs), but it doesn’t seem to generate as much buzz as Eden discussions do. I hope people pay attention to this part of your question, because I think it is promising and potentially helpful. I think the geographical situatedness of Babel is more unequivocal in the Biblical text than that of the Garden of Eden, making it seem a bit more irksome to summarily whitewash its core narrative of all geographical detail.

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Yeah, me too. @BradKramer you should add this to the possible future topics list. Is Walton going to write a Lost World of Babel book?


I just peeked over at Peaceful Science for the first time in a long time and found a discussion on that forum about this, fwiw.

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Get J. R. Middleton to write something. I found his discussion of Babel in his book on the image of God quite interesting.

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RJS has a good summary of it.

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@Christy I don’t know if John Walton is writing about Babel in a future book, but it’s definitely on our short list of future monthly themes. We get asked about it a lot.

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The ultimate model will probably work better without having to accommodate a “Fall”.

Millions of Christians, for centuries, have lived good, spiritual and noble lives without a hint of interest in a so-called “Fall”.

So Paul used descent from Adam (3 times) as a foundational fact from which to argue for the universality of the Gospel. And we are to believe that he was wrong about Adam, but right about Jesus.

No one should be suprised why that line of reasoning is uncomfortable for most Christians.

It’s not about whether or not we can live “good, spiritual and noble” lives without affirming a Fall. Of coruse that is possible. However, it is not (in my opinion) coherent. It does not make sense of a world that is, for lack of a better word, Fallen.

Martin Luther King is worth remembering. He did not affirm a historical Adam, but he certainly affirmed a fall. He found the “liberal” Christianity of his day, with its skittishness on sin, to be incoherent. And he was right. This world is broken. It is not the way it is meant to be.

@pmorris, @AMWolfe is right. There is no reason to doubt that if Adam lived from 6,000 years ago or earlier, he would also be a genealogical ancestor of everyone. This is just as Paul, likely, believed. So why force a conflict with science that need not exist?

Regrading “sole-progenitors”, it depends what we mean. If Adam and Eve confer a specific theological to all of their offspring by descent, then they are the theological sole-progenitors of all humans (called “adams” in Genesis) in history. We all have a theological status (fallennes) conferred exclusively by descent from them and them alone. This is consistent with the use of “sole-progenitor” by Reasons to Believe and Answers in Genesis, who both affirm sole-proprietorship and interbreeding between Adam’s line and others.

Regarding the “only ancestors” in a “single couple” bottleneck, it may be consistent with the genetic evidence if Adam and Eve lived before 500,000 years ago, as some people believe. Perhaps they were the sole-biological progenitors / common ancestors of Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo sapiens about 700 kya to 500 kya. Perhaps they were the sole-biological progenitors of all Homo genus, about 2 million years ago.

It is critical not to misrepresent the science. Genetics does press on Adam, but not nearly as much as we think. They could have been specially created (from the dust and a rib) in a divinely created garden, just 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, and also be the genealogical ancestors of all those in recorded history.

There are enough challenges that science brings to theology on its own. Let’s not manufacture them were they do not exist.

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The overarching theme of the Biblical narrative from the Genesis accounts is God’s dealing with humanity as a homogenized group and within a singular geographical context, prior to Babel. This is in sharp contrast to the latest research ( which shows humanity more diversified both in region and in time.

Out of Africa migration of modern humans into Eurasia and Australia is said to have begun as early as 120 kya, so that by the conservative dates given for Adam, the flood, and Babel (100 kya - 60 kya), those distant regions were already populated. The Bible narrative says nothing about these original peoples and appears to exclude them from any divine interaction. Instead, we read of God dealing with a distinct population group who are constrained within a particular location (The Levant\Mesopotamia) and time.

This poses a problem theologically, I believe, as those earlier migrations had no singular “Garden of Eden” locus of origins. The research now shows that humanity evolved, not from one geographical location in Africa, but at least three; as early as 300 kya, and in several waves over millennia. Results from population genomic research and the field of paleoanthropology show that the Biblical story of origins is more fiction than fact.

Unlike the Apostle Paul, modern readers have the benefit of scientific research to help clarify and contextualize their understanding of the Genesis account. Through the clarifying lens of science, we now have greater support in our conclusions that Genesis 1-11 is best understood as the ancients’ allegorical way of describing the world around them and the interaction with their God.

You are missing the point. The latest research that shows our ANCESTORS (not humanity) “diversified both in region and in time” provides evidence for interbreeding everywhere. This increases confidence that universal genealogical ancestors are common and recent, and also in the Middle East 10,000 years ago.

[quote=“pmorris, post:12, topic:37739”]
Out of Africa migration of modern humans into Eurasia and Australia is said to have begun as early as 120 kya, so that by the conservative dates given for Adam, the flood, and Babel (100 kya - 60 kya), those distant regions were already populated. [/quote]

You are very much missing the point. You are giving a genetic telling of the story. This is correct, but there is also valid genealogical and theological ways of telling the story. It begs the question too. How do we define theological humans?

This is just patently false. It arise from an equivocation between genetics and genealogy. We cannot see genealogical descent in genetics far enough back. The silence of genetics here, cannot be interpreted as a “problem” for theology.

Many people would say that Genesis allows for the view are putting forward here. HOWEVER, Paul’s statements do not. The most obvious way to resolve this is to say that Adam and Eve were among others in Genesis, but BECOME universal ancestors of everyone by the time of Paul. That is entirely 100% consistent with the science.

This is a non-sequitur. You are making a scientific error in the interaction between science and theology. This is not a matter of opinion but of fact.

Science does not clarify things on which it silent. It is largely silent about Paul’s belief that we universally descend from Him. It is unkind o misrepresent the science in such ways. As I’ve said, there are enough challenges from science that we do not need to manufacture them where they do not exist.

I think we’re talking past each other. My comments and views are based on (admittedly) rudimentary understanding of what appears to be a clear reading of the latest scientific research.

The research now shows that human evolution occurred in different locations in Africa, and at different times. My discussion is trying to tease out an understanding of how to reconcile a single, point-in-time and location creation, as described in Genesis, with a sporadic, spontaneous combustion creation, as it were.

From the attached chart, it appears that human evolution originated in North Africa, East Africa, and South/East Africa, and at different periods of time. Theologically speaking, how do we square this emerging fact with the singular Biblical Garden of Eden location?

To begin with, I affirm that is what the latest science is showing. I agree with it as our best understanding of what the evidence tells us about our ancestors. However, your understanding of how this interacts with theology needs to be recalibrated.

  1. Just because populations move along these lines does not mean individuals do not go back the other way.
  2. There is a big difference between genetic ancestry (which is shown in the figure) and genealogical ancestry, which is not.
  3. Scripture makes zero claims about genetics, but some feel it makes claims about genealogical ancestry.
  4. Though genetic ancestry of populations follows the patterns in the figure, genealogical ancestry of individuals does not.
  5. Universal genealogical ancestors can arise recently (e.g. just 10,000 years ago) in the Middle East.

Given all this, its not clear what the figure your present has to do with theology at all. Your theological conclusions, even if they are correct, are a non-sequitur from the science. May be Adam and Eve, ancestors of us all, do not exist, however it is not science that tells us this.

I see migration, not origin, represented here. I don’t think anyone pretends to know precisely where humanity originated or in how many places that happened.

Am I missing something?

At any rate, I see at least three ways forward, aside from Joshua’s comments.

  1. The Garden of Eden happened before the first out-of-Africa migration, 120 kya.

  2. The Garden of Eden happened soon before the out-of-Africa migration of 60 kya, since your article clearly states that “other recent studies do confirm that all present-day non-African populations branched off from a single ancestral population in Africa approximately 60,000 years ago.” (I do think it’s important, by the way, that we not neglect the question of African genetic diversity, since all Africans must be included in these calculations if we are to avoid the pitfalls of Eurocentrism and racism.) This would allow for the rough coincidence of the Garden of Eden with the emergence of behaviorally modern humans.

  3. The Garden of Eden is a myth in the technical sense (not in the popular “untrue story, opposite of fact” sense of the word), that has much truth to it but is not intended to be understood as a story of scientific origins. For more on this, one might read Enns’s Evolution of Adam, which (if my memory serves me right through the many years since I read it) explores angles such as “Adam as a type of Israel,” “The fall as Wisdom literature,” “Adam as everyman,” etc. Those who take this view tend to say that the lived reality of sin is more critical to understand than its etiology, and that the efficacy of Jesus’s sacrifice and the new life he offers us are not contingent on the historical reality of Genesis 1-11.

It sounds like you are taking an approach closer to #3, but based on the current science I don’t see why one would have to rule out #2, #1, or Joshua’s genealogical approach.


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There is recent research literature that concludes the emergence of homo sapiens sapiens was a pan-African affair, with early specimens evolving separately in Morroco and other regions across the continent, migration patterns notwithstanding.

This conclusion is in direct contrast with the traditional understanding of the Garden of Eden being the singular location where humanity was created. In an effort to accommodate the science, could the Garden of Eden be considered a figurative representation of the entire continent of Africa as a whole?

That attempt might solve the location issue, but the thorny matter of timing remains. The Garden account describes man’s creation as a singular creative event - not multiple, as the science suggest.

If we are to take the scientific research as fact, then our theology must adapt. Man’s evolution originating in different locations and different periods of time is so far removed from any reasonable interpretation of Scripture as to make that exercise pointless. It seems to me that #3 in your list of options is the more reasonable approach to accept, in light of the prevailing scientific evidence.

How do you know that the “humanity” of Genesis (literally “adams”) is the same thing as Homo sapiens?

If we take the scientific research as fact, it still does not press on theology as much as you think. Can you tell me how we determine who the “adams” of Scripture are from genetics and bones? At what point do we become “adams”?

Your response is addressing a question I didn’t ask in my last reply. Here is the question I DID ask:

“From the attached chart, it appears that human evolution originated in North Africa, East Africa, and South/East Africa, and at different periods of time. Theologically speaking, how do we square this emerging fact with the singular Biblical Garden of Eden location?”

In other words, if the latest science is to be believed, we have multiple evolution events of homo sapiens sapiens, in multiple locations, over millenia. The Biblical account has been traditionally interpreted as describing one point-in-time creative event for humanity. My question seeks to flesh out whether our theology can accommodate/reconcile these latest discoveries.

I didn’t see this in the article you linked to, apart from the graphic that I pointed out was ambiguous. Granted, I didn’t read every word on the site. Could you highlight the relevant section for ease of reference, ideally with a URL? I ask not out of disbelief but of sincerely wanting to learn and dig deeper into the literature you’re reading. Forgive me, please, if I’ve missed something obvious.

I think this just sort of compounds the violence that we non-Africans regularly do to Africa in treating it as a small, homogeneous continent unworthy of detailed description. I don’t think you’re seriously proposing this, so I’ll spare you the diatribe. Suffice it to say Africa is the second-largest continent after Asia, with over a billion people, and yet people still think it’s okay in modern-day America to say they’re going to “Africa,” when they would never give Asia or Europe the same broad-brush treatment.


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