Where did the different human races come from?
30 January 2023 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
Given that our church teaches a short human history timeline, how does it explain such wide differences in racial features?
Signed, Racially puzzled
You ask a question that is loaded with controversy—and the classic Adventist explanation is a bit embarrassing. It has to do with Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth as the origin of race differences.
According to a story in Genesis 9, Ham looked at his father when he was drunk and naked. (The rabbis have long debated whether that was just looking, or this was a metaphor for something worse.) His father wakes up and curses him, saying that the descendants of Ham and his son Canaan would be servants to the descendants of Ham’s brothers.
Now comes the mythological part, because it’s not in the Bible: it was said by some Bible commentators, who were probably defending the primacy of the white race, that Japheth was of white complexion, Shem medium, and Ham black-skinned. The conclusion: Noah’s curse was about the division of the races into three major groupings, in which scheme Ham and his son Canaan were doomed to be enslaved black Africans.
Ellen White supports this theory in Patriarchs and Prophets, p.118:
Noah, speaking by divine inspiration, foretold the history of the three great races to spring from these fathers of mankind.… The posterity of Canaan [Ham’s son] descended to the most degrading forms of heathenism.… God bore with their impiety and corruption until they passed the limits of divine forbearance. Then they were dispossessed, and became bondmen to the descendants of Shem and Japheth.
To Aunty’s knowledge, no other explanation for racial differences has ever been offered by our church. (And yes, Patriarchs and Prophets says what you think it says: that God caused black people to become slaves.)
Aunty consulted a genuine population geneticist (who asked to remain unnamed) about this question. Here is the response:
The only way to get the amount of genetic divergence we see today in a mere 4,500 years (since Noah’s sons are said to have been producing their children), one would need to postulate that mutation rates are about 50 times higher than currently observed. Since we have been able to sequence DNA from ancient human bones that are at least that old, we know mutation rates are not that high. So it is impossible, unless we postulate that God personally changed the DNA of all humans on earth to produce the lineages we can see today.
Let me add that at the DNA level, races have no meaning. Genetic variation within and between races often overlaps in complex ways that make racial definition meaningless. Races are a social, not a biological, construct.
In short, that much change in racial characteristics in that short of a time period can’t be explained by the Bible or science.
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