Estimates vary widely of the minimum viable population for humans to stably reproduce without being subject to significant detrimental effects of inbreeding. Minimum estimates (e.g., for space colonisation) usually range in the dozens to hundreds, but most general estimates for Earth repopulation err on the safe side and choose numbers well into the thousands.

In light of the fact that the MVP of humans is certainly greater than two, we cannot interpret the story of Adam and Eve as a literal account, unless other divine provisions were made after the Fall in order for humans to be able to make it on their own. Is there consensus among Biblical scholars about this?

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    Unless human genetics was somehow different than it is now... Less genetic disorders, for example. – StackExchange saddens dancek Sep 6 '11 at 14:46
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    The same question could be asked of the people and animals alive after the flood. The flood account gives us a slightly larger pool of human DNA to work with, but a very small per pool of DNA (ranging from 2 to 14 animals) per "kind." – Flimzy Sep 6 '11 at 23:10
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    Many Bible scholars would agree that the story should not be taken literally, even apart from genetic concerns. But as you can see from the answers below, this is not a consensus. – Bruce Alderman Sep 13 '11 at 13:51

You can interpret the story of Adam and Eve literally. What you're attempting to do is what all scientists do, assume that the situation today has always been the same and estimate incorrectly.

What you fail to realize is that DNA has probably been copied a few trillion times from cell to cell to cell to human to cell to human. All things copied tend to break down, become unstable and begin to produce error.

If the DNA was perfect (containing not a single error), as we can expect it to be, in Adam and Eve's time, or even in Noah's time, then this would not be a problem. Modern science has already learned that every human being on the planet contains genes from one dominant male and one dominant female.

New DNA studies suggest that all humans descended from a single African ancestor who lived some 60,000 years ago. To uncover the paths that lead from him to every living human, the National Geographic Society launched the Genographic Project, headed by Spencer Wells. (link)

The particulars could very easily be up for debate, but the premise that a single male and single female were the start of it all, is truly the only evidence that we have.

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    There's no way for these scientists to validate any such date. The point is that we're finding a single male and female to be the source of all mankind. – Marketing Consultant Sep 6 '11 at 15:23
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    Jonathon, you (and many others) are seriously misinterpreting the nature of this kind of research. Several different genes have been traced back to a likely single original ancestor -- but for each gene, that original ancestor is certainly not the same as for some other gene, nor even living within the same 10k year period. Another angle on this is that if you trace back to a time when there were just a few thousand modern humans in a small geographic area, then chances are good that many of them have passed genes onto all of us -- that's what natural selection would make us expect. – zipquincy Sep 6 '11 at 15:36
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    Your problem Marc, is that you think our scientists have all of the answers, which they don't. – Marketing Consultant Sep 6 '11 at 15:37
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    This is really really bad "scientific" reasoning, that's all I'm saying. If you would like me to show some of ways how, I'll be happy to (maybe in chat). Again, I'm only referring to the "science" claims, not any biblical interpretation. – Marc Gravell Sep 6 '11 at 20:50
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    -1 for not understanding the research; if you had just stopped at the "DNA was perfect and other things were different", it would have been a sensible answer (if not an entirely consensus view). Consider your cousins: you all have one set of grandparents in common, but they have others! That's all the 60k year number means: there was one set of great-great-(...)-grandparents that we all shared that far back. In contrast, we share variability in MHC complexes with chimpanzees, showing that there were way more than two of our ancestors for at least the last 5 million years. – Rex Kerr Sep 7 '11 at 2:20

Given that Adam and Eve were created in a perfect state (albeit one that didn't preclude their ability to choose to sin), and given that God told them to "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that [am]moves on the earth" {Genesis 1:28}, why would we presume that those two were not a "minimum viable population"?

The population post-Flood was only 8 (and two of them are not recorded as having more children), and yet today we have a global population of ~7 billion.

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  • Good point about the flood. Note that the perfection explanation also requires a period of hypermutation after the flood to generate all the genetic diversity observed today. It also would have had to affect different species differently, so that some species appear to have gone through population bottlenecks and others don't, and those who have appear to have done so at different times. – Rex Kerr Sep 7 '11 at 2:25

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