Friday, March 18, 2005


We're All Cousins

I got this nice idea from Richard Dawkins, the evolutionist.

Everybody knows that we all have a lot of ancestors. We each have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so forth--the number doubles each time you step back another generation.

If you go back to approximately the time of Jesus, say 32 generations, that means you have approximately 8 1/2 billion ancestors. Go back only a little further, and you have trillions.

Trouble is, there weren't eight and a half billion people on the Earth when Jesus was alive. In fact, there have never been eight and a half billion people on Earth--there are only six and a half billion now, and there are more people alive now than have ever been alive at once before.

So what does this mean? Only that not all of your ancestors were unrelated people. Jeff Foxworthy has a joke that goes, "If your family tree has no branches, you know you might be a redneck." But the fact is, somewhere back in everybody's family tree, distant cousins were marrying distant cousins. As Dawkins points out, the metaphor of a family "tree" only works for a small number of generations. Then, the metaphor becomes that of a river, because human DNA, and bloodlines, are constantly dividing and recombining, dividing and recombining.

If you're following this, you probably can see another implication of this: you, and I--each human being on Earth, in fact--have ancestors in common.

It's just a question of how far you have to go back in time. With your first cousins, you only have to go back two generations. With your next door neighbor, maybe you have to go back twelve or fifteen generations. With some guy in another country, maybe twenty or thirty. But somewhere back there, you share common ancestors with every other person on Earth.

Note that you don't have to be an evolutionist to believe this, either, because it completely squares with the Bible. According to that story, we're all descendents of Noah, and before that, Adam and Eve.

It turns out that every human being on Earth is fairly closely related, too. Dawkins says that you and I both share more DNA in common with an African Pygmy or an Australian Aborigine than a yellow Labrador retriever has in common with a black Labrador retriever.

Oddly enough, the two strains of human DNA on Earth that are most distant from each other are both black Africans. How that happened, nobody's quite sure.

In any event, one doesn't have to be very observant to notice that we human beings spend an awful lot of time and energy focusing on our differences, on separating ourselves and our group from every other group. And of course, fighting with each other.

It might be a good idea, then, once in a while, to remember that we're all cousins.

The Quotidian Meander

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