According to the Bible, the first human man ever to walk the Earth was Adam, created by God and partnered by his female counterpart Eve. Norse mythology shares a similar concept of a deity-created man and woman, though in Norse legend the planet's first couple are entitled Ask and Embla.
Regardless of his given name, the world's first man has recently been the focus of two scientific studies looking at an area of genetics known as phlyogenetics, a field of research examining the evolutionary roots of all species. The studies have been attempting to discover the essence of "Adam," sifting through a host of chromosomes to find the one from which all others were derived.
The first study, published in March 2013 and conducted by the University of Arizona, dates the first humans back to around 338,000 years ago.
"Our analysis indicates this lineage diverged from previously known Y chromosomes about 338,000 years ago, a time when anatomically modern humans had not yet evolved," said Michael Hammer, an associate professor in the University of Arizona's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
These findings have been roundly rebuffed by the later study, however, which was carried out by the University of Sheffield in the UK.
Eran Elhaik from the University of Sheffield is convinced that his research indicates that "Adam" hailed from Africa about 100,000 years later:
"We can say with some certainty that modern humans emerged in Africa a little over 200,000 years ago," he said in a press release.
Elhaik's paper has been published in the January 2014 issue of the European Journal of Human Genetics, and claims that there is no evidence to suggest that humans who were comparable anatomically with today's modern man existed that long ago.
"We have shown that the University of Arizona study lacks any scientific merit," Elhaik claimed. "In fact, their hypothesis creates a sort of 'space-time paradox' whereby the most ancient individual belonging to the Homo sapiens species has not yet been born."
The rebuttal has provoked a hot debate, and Hammer was keen to defend his work:
“The paper by Elhaik and colleagues … does not present a convincing argument against our paper and unfortunately at times appears to display a lack of technical understanding of the subject area. We are in the process of submitting a rebuttal," he said.
Meanwhile, the studies have attracted attention from ecumenical circles, and Werner Arber, the head of the Vatican's scientific academy, was keen to point out that even if they appeared to have identified the very first Y chromosome of the earliest man, neither of the studies would actually be able to locate "Adam," who he suggested was more of a religious archetype.
“Scientific investigations have no means to identify Adam and Eve and to sequence their genomes,” said Arber, who holds a Nobel prize winner for his work in physiology and is the current president of The Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS). “Therefore, identification of Adam and Eve remains a matter of religious belief.”
Indeed, while metaphors are useful in communicating science, modern terminology shouldn’t be conflated with the Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the PAS, stated that it was a mistake to begin aligning scientific findings with Biblical events or character:
“Contemporary scientific language is not the language of the Bible,” Sorondo told FoxNews. “Therefore, although the Bible adopted an early scientific language, it cannot be read in the light of today's scientific language…This was clarified during the scientific revolution of Galileo (the founder of our Academy) when Cardinal Cesare Baronio rightly pointed out that the Bible tells us how to reach Heaven but not what Heaven is. “Of course this is also true for phylogenetics.”
Science has christened the world's earliest man by the slightly less personal names of " MCRA" or " A00."Joe Pickrell from the New York Genome Center suggests that connecting this with the "Adam" archetype is misleading.
“At some point, a population geneticist had the clever idea of calling this common ancestor ‘Adam,’” he stated on the Pickrell Labs website. "This is a biblical allusion, of course, and it probably was good for a bit of amusement a couple of decades ago. But it’s time to retire this metaphor–not only because it confuses the public … but because it confuses even practicing human population geneticists.”
So, was "Adam" a genuine historical figure or merely an archetype? His existence has been challenged by those who argue that genetic data indicates that humanity evolved via the reproduction of thousands of individuals, not just two. Then there is the well-documented case for our evolution from other species, for which there has always been compelling evidence. The human genome has numerous defective genes embedded within it, and a large number of the same defective genes are also present in the chimpanzee genome, in similar positions with identical mutations.
Other studies, however, appear to indicate that humanity arose from a very small group, and analysis of mitochondrial DNA providing insight into the origin of the maternal lineage indicates that humanity can be traced back to a single ancestral sequence. Thist could be construed as one single woman, and paternal lineage determined by characterization of Y-chromosomal suggest a similar single ancestral sequence that could be interpreted as a single man. So, these findings could provide some scientific evidence for the theological explanation that "Adam" and "Eve" were real people.#
Despite this, modern day religion appears to have opted for the stance that biblical stories and characters cannot, and perhaps should not, be confused or linked with scientific concepts.
Arber proposes that “a logical sequence of events in which the creation of our planet Earth may have been followed by the establishment of the conditions for life.
"It is our duty today to preserve (and where necessary restore) this consistency on the basis of the improved scientific knowledge now available. I am convinced that scientific knowledge and faith are complementary elements in our orientational knowledge and should remain so.”
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