The Garden of Eden

I’ve always been very confused about where humans originated. When I was a child, and my mind was a blank slate, I was taught that Adam and Eve were the first man and woman on earth. I learned that they lived in a garden called Eden, which was somewhere in what is thought to be the Middle East, possibly present-day Iraq. The lush region between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers was where various pre-Hebrew legends originated.

After their expulsion from their paradise, Adam and Eve went somewhere else, but that was never specified. Then after a worldwide flood, descendants of the few survivors built a tall tower in that same region of the Middle East. After the tower builders miraculously began to speak in different languages, God sent them to different parts of the world. Anyway, that’s the way I remember the story. There were many parts of that story that confused me, but I just accepted it as what I was supposed to believe and didn’t think too much about it.

New information

The question of where did humans originate resurfaced later when I took a college course in introductory anthropology. There, I was presented with an entirely different story. In the new story, our species was only one of several human species that had appeared on the planet. They all were said to have come into existence in Africa, somewhere south of the Sahara Desert. When the climate changed and the desert shrank, our ancestors gradually made their way northward along the Red Sea, just following the food supply. They eventually ended up in the Middle East, and from there they branched out in all directions to populate the planet over a period of around forty to fifty thousand years.

These two stories were undoubtedly at odds with one another. The first story involved our species starting out as God-created, white people in the Middle East, and the second one, as dark people in Africa that had evolved from earlier primates. How was I to reconcile these two stories? I believed both, but in two different parts of my brain.

Analyzing the first story

The first story didn’t explain much and had to be taken on faith—faith that the people who taught it to me were telling the truth. Biblical stories like that originated thousands of years ago in the minds of people who were trying to understand the world. They creation myths to explain how their tribe came into being. I’m sure it wasn’t to deceive anyone, but an honest effort to discern their place in nature. As far as Adam and Eve were concerned, since those myth makers didn’t have any concept of evolution, they believed that God created humans in a separate creation.


As far as tall towers, those were built by people in Iraq in pre-biblical times. They served religious purposes and were called ziggurats. Their ruins still exist. People built tall structures in many places around the world in order to be closer to the sky, where they believed the gods lived. In mythology, towers and mountain tops were often the places where one could gain wisdom.

Mythology holds a kernel of actual history that was passed down orally from one generation to another before being finalized in a written form. The early myth makers knew people spoke in different languages but couldn’t understand why. So, they created a story to explain that confusion and the story became the Tower of Babel.

Analyzing the second story

The second story made a lot more sense to me because it was based on real evidence from archeology, language studies, and scientific explanations for racial characteristics. I learned that for furless beings like humans, dark skin in tropical Africa was an asset. Melanin protected them from the harmful effects of the sun. Then, as people moved into cooler climates, those who were lighter had an advantage because they could absorb more sunlight and produce more vitamin D. So, the migrants to the north became progressively lighter over many generations. After all, something like 2,000 to 2,500   generations would have passed on adaptive traits during those forty to fifty thousand years.

What about the people of eastern Asia whose eyes appear to be slanted? This may also be a survival adaptation like skin color. Before the days of goggles, narrow eye openings would have protected eyes against the harsh glare of the sun.

The main takeaway here is that we are mistaken when we assume physical traits distinguish one human race from another. It’s clear to evolutionary scientists that all of us homo sapiens are the same race. We just look different because of adaptations to the conditions in which we’ve lived.

Solving my confusion about where humans originated

I did find the second story much more rational, but at the same time, I still believed the first story because it had been implanted in my mind at such a young age. Like the fear of hell, it was almost impossible to dislodge. It took many years for my mind to resolve the confusion of what was real and what was myth. Now I understand the second theory to be the more accurate one, and the first as a way of indoctrinating me into the Christian culture.

I discovered that my religious indoctrination was misleading, so I can’t put my full trust in it.

Mythological origins

I suppose my current confusion concerns why churches are still presenting the first theory as truth. We twenty-first-century humans know infinitely more about our environment than the writers of the three-thousand-year-old scriptures knew. Why should we believe what they wrote over what we see with our own eyes? If we are told it’s God-inspired, what does that really mean? Do we believe the Bible was God-inspired because that’s what the Bible itself told us? Who decided that, and why should anyone believe it? Although we still have huge gaps in our knowledge, we should realize that the evolution of humans in Africa is much more likely than the story told in the Old Testament. If one story is based on actual evidence, and the other is based on ancient mythology, it seems that the story based on evidence is much more likely to be true.

Having said that, I still think it’s possible to appreciate both stories simultaneously, although only one of the stories is factually true. Humans originated in both places, at least in the minds of some. Just because we might know more now about our actual origins doesn’t mean we can’t attempt to appreciate the struggles our ancestors went through to make sense of the world and times in which they lived.

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