What is Polygenesis?

To help move the conversation forward, I wanted define polygenesis and monophylogeny. This is a sensitive and important topic, because polygenesis was used by racists as justification for denigrating other people.

What Exactly is Polygenesis?

Polygenesis is not actually about Adam and Eve. Many people who affirmed polygenesis did not even believe Adam and Eve were real, or believed that we all had an origin in single population. Polygenesis always has these characteristics:

  1. Humans are separated into distinct lineages (species or sub-species), with differences in biological abilities.
  2. These distinct sub-species persist to current day (denial of monophylogeny )

Humans can arise from multiple or single sources in the distant past.
These distinct lineages either arose from different Adam&Eve couples (one version) or by speciation from a single source (the evolutionary version).

Three Types of Polygenesis

Here are three different versions of polygenesis.

Adam and Eve Polygenesis (left): This version was put forward by many slaveholders and segregationists. The believed everyone arose from Adam and Eve, without any interbreeding with others. Still at some point God separated everyone into biologically distinct categories that needed to remain separate. Sometimes this was associated with the “curse of Ham.”

The Adams and Eves Polygenesis (center): This version was put forward several times, most infamously La Preyrer. He argued there were several Adams and Eves, and that they produced distinct populations across the globe. People after him argued that each group had different intellectual capabilities, rights, and worth.

Evolutionary polygenesis (middle): This version was the scientific version of polygenesis, put forward for about a century, alongside the religious version. This version also held that humans had diversified into different subspecies, with different intellectual capabilities and worth.

All three of these versions of origins are wrong.


What Exactly is Monophylogeny?

The way that modern science came to reject polygenesis is by discovering and affirming monophylogeny in the present day. Monophylogeny states:

  1. There may have been different types of human in the past (such as in the scientific account)
  2. In current day, there is only species of human.

There is an immense amount of evidence for this. So it turns out that polygenesis is false.

Three Types of Monophylogeny

Here are three versions of monophylogeny.

Genetic Adam and Eve (left): This is the classic story of Scripture, and was a bulwark against polygenesis in the church. Everyone descends from Adam and Eve, and there was no interbreeding with others.

Genealogical Adam and Eve (center): This is the classic story of Scripture too, but also, includes interbreeding with others in the distant past. With the genealogical correction to their understanding, this includes Walton, Kidner, Alexander, and also many of us here at PS.

Evolution Monophylogeny (right): This is the current understanding in science. Humans arise as a population, but there was substantial interbreeding through our history, at least among Sapiens, such that we are certain we are all the same species.


What Are The Lessons Here?

It should be clear that polygenesis is more about the present than the past. It is built around the false claim that people alive today are of different biological types. This turns out to be false. What ever one believes about the distant past, polygenesis should be rejected. We should affirm the unity of all mankind in the present day, but blaming racism on details of the distant past alone is not a coherent rule.


@jongarvey, @pevaquark, @gbrooks9, @rogero, and @AllenWitmerMiller, what are your thoughts?

Frankly, seeing how modern day humans are one big “mix”, I don’t lose much sleep over it.

Nevertheless, when I first read your articles about how all humans today share a MRCA from not all that long ago, I did think that that was really quite amazing. This thread is a reminder that my prior uninformed intuitions on the topic (of most MRCA) set me up to be very surprised. I knew that all humans today are closely related but I would never have guessed that they were so recently related.


@AllenWitmerMiller You would enjoy David Reich’s Who We Are and How Did We get Here.


The other related book is Steve Olson’s Mapping Human History, Olson being the guy who subsequently got the work culminating in Rode’s Nature article organised.


Yes - very clear, and might be worth including as a section in your tome.

The public thinking on polygeney is muddled - and confounded counterproductively by PC terms like “people of colour” that perpetuate the myth of separation - and paradoxically implies that humanity consists of pure whites (albeit privileged, entitled and whatever) and “all the rest.”

What GA contributes to that is to add (in a Christian context) to the work of those like Olson who saw recent common ancestry as demolishing even the idea of “leaky racism” - ie that it’s granted the “races” aren’t pure, but they’re still important dividers of humanity.

So driving home the alternative message has to be useful… though to preserve the importance of individual hertiages as well. I may be only marginally more Irish than that US politician is Cherokee, but it’s still something to be celebrated, though not to throw bombs over.


I would agree, and including a careful analysis of it, along with the historical backdrop, would help bring young readers up to speed on the science AND the Scriptures at a time when such coherent relevance is sorely needed.
For too long now, it has “not been told in Gath.”
@jongarvey , when is your “book” coming out? Do I have to minutely digest your blog, instead, to get at it? : )
@swamidass , how do we get you and @jongarvey invited to the RTB studios to have a lively roundtable with Hugh and Faz and @AJRoberts ? The whole team there would be a great discussive body.
Now, THAT’s an episode that would truly be remarkable and serve the body of Christ!
Start swimming over, @jongarvey !


Olson’s book is now very dated (2002). It has missed the entire field of ancient whole genome sequencing. Reich’s book and the rapid progress in genome sequencing of fossils changes our understanding of who we are and how we got here.

1 Like

Sadly, so many who help perpetuate polygeny thinking also tend to insist that there was some sort of inherent superiority in Europeans which made them explorers, scientists, inventors, composers, technologists, etc. while the peoples of various other continents were allegedly inherently “backwards.” I feel grateful to Jared Diamond for providing such easy to grasp explanations for how geography, climate, domesticated animals, and other very fortunate conditions gave Europeans incredibly advantageous opportunities.

It is my hope that what Dr. Swamidass has explained about such a recent MRCA will become common knowledge among the general public. I consider the realities of the MRCA right up there in importance with what I learned from Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

I wonder how these important ideas can best be taught in public and private schools.

[POSTSCRIPT: As a linguist, I can’t help but feel compassion for someone learning English and encountering near-homophones like polygeny and polygyny. For that matter, they may also get confused by homophone and homophobe.]


With millions of genomes sequenced, and sites like ancestry.com, MRCA is becoming common knowledge among the general public. Books like Reich’s and Rutherford’s A brief History of Everyone who ever lived explain MRCA well.

1 Like

Come to think of it, my personal experience with DNA-analysis in the course of genealogical investigations about a decade ago was probably my first experience with the MRCA concept. Considering how often companies like Ancestry.com are even advertising on TV, I wonder what percentage of the American general public now recognizes the term MRCA.

I noticed that the media coverage (and even late night comedians’ jokes) about Elizabeth Warren’s Cherokee ancestry and DNA testing results has brought about a lot of relevant education to the American public. Even political cartoonists are making jokes about the “1/1024th Native-American” actually being less than the average American’s NA genetic component. As a result, millions of Americans are now aware that most of us probably have Native-American heritage somewhere in our family tree if we go back far enough. Surely this is a good thing: that people are becoming more aware of just how “mixed” we all are.


I always feel a bit embarrassed mentioning the book - it seems like forever (especially given how long it was around before I got a contract), but on the other hand it’s got relevant stuff in it (and I need to plug it!).

We’re at the stage when the only thing left to do by me is indexing, so maybe out the beginning of next year? I took down the web version when touting it around publishers, so fragments on the blog are a bit scattered. But it’s on its way…

A transatlantic trip on the QM2 might be nice…


It would be great to have you here, especially if you can come to Dabar. We really will have to figure some way to do a podcast or video cast together.


Well we’ll see - must remember my passport has expired. Meanwhile, have webcam, will travel.

1 Like

@swamidass This is good. I agree it belongs in the book and on the website/blog site. It answers the odious biological implications of Polygenesis. I would follow up on it or add something regarding the spiritual implications of the GA view; for in this view, there is certainly a time where not all are related to a Genealogical Adam and Eve. Especially for those in the Reformed “Double Destination” tradition, this may create all kinds of interesting eddies and questions. Reasoning through the non-biological implications of a de novo creation of one pair amidst an existing population–both currently and historically–will be a help to the strength of the the model.


Can you clarify the questions you are seeing here? As I understand it, a reformed view seems to evaporate all these “problems.” You might appreciate @jongarvey’s take on this:


What are we missing? What am I missing?

Maybe I’m tilting at windmills here, but what I see is the question of where election arises in this context. Does God’s sovereignty relate to only a certain lineage? Is the lineage of Adam synonymous with God’s election to salvation? Is there some aspect of this intermixture related to the election to damnation? Now, I’m not a high Calvinist, but in reading this thread, these are questions that came to mind. To the non-Calvinists, the determinist/free-will debate still has some relevance, but I conjecture that it has the most traction within a Christian deterministic framework. These are the questions that come to mind, that I think good commentary from theologians within that tradition may help unpack or dismiss.

1 Like


My immediate reaction to the question of election is that since election is in Christ, from sin to salvation, conformity to him and eternal life, it is relevant (rather than restricted) only to Adam’s offspring.

Reprobation, whether seen in hard terms of predestination or simply as non-election, also has to do with the just punishment of sin - again irrelevant to any before or alongside Adam who had never received a command from God, never had access to the benefits of the new creation, and never fallen.

Let’s take a limiting case - a reasonably-intelligent-hominid ape. Whilst God’s sovereign providence still covers, and cares, for it, the question of election doesn’t enter the question, because it is of the old creation, not the new. The same thing can be expressed in covenant-inclusion terms or any other theological framework.

Now project that, imaginatively, to a more intelligent hominid, capable of civilized activity - maybe even with a literal version of the awarmness of God that Scripture attributes, figuratively, to the whole creation. So our non-adamites clap their hands, like the trees of the field, and are glad or fearful when God governs their existence (as per the beasts of Ps 104). They live, and they die, and are innocent, but not destined to govern the angels for eternity… nor in the least ambitious for something so beyond their created pay-grade.

But nobody is taling about the trees or young lions being elected in Christ - that is a term applying to the sons of Adam in the mysterious context of the predestinaton of the righteous and (maybe) the wicked.

That’s one Reformed approach, anyway.


Thanks, @jongarvey. What I hear you saying is the new/old Adam paradigm is irrelevant to those outside the line of Adam. I appreciate you taking the time to write this up. :+1:t4


I would enjoy this book, friend Jon.