Races and Languages: From Where? Answering Racism

People often mentally categorize others by race. Physical features, like skin color, that distinguish one group of people, a ‘race’, from another, are easy to notice. So Caucasians are ‘white’, while those of Asian and African decent are darker.

Collective, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These traits distinguishing groups of people from each other easily leads to racism. This is the discrimination, ill-treatment, or enmity towards other races. Racism has contributed to making societies today more caustic and hateful, and it seems to be on the rise. What can we do to combat racism?

The question of racism begs a related question. Where do races come from? Why do race differences among humans exist? Additionally, since race has a strong correlation with ancestral language; Why are there different languages?

The ancient Hebrew Scriptures record a historical event in early human history explaining both the diversity of languages we hear, and the different ‘races’ that we see today. The account is worth knowing.

Genetic Similarity in the Human Species Leading To Our Genetic Ancestors

Before we explore the account there are some basic facts we should know about the genetic makeup of humanity. 

The genes in our DNA provides the blueprint that determines the way we look, our physical characteristics. Humans exhibit very little genetic diversity between different people compared to the diversity seen within an animal species. What this means is that the genetic difference between any two people is very little (on average 0.6%). This is much less than, for example, compared to genetic differences between two macaque monkeys.

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid)
PublicDomainPictures, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, humans are so genetically uniform that we can trace the line of descent from all women alive today back through their mothers, and their mothers, and so on. Doing so shows all lines converging to one ancestral genetic mother, known as Mitochondrial Eve. There is also a male equivalent known as Y-Chromosomal Adam. He is the most recent ancestral male from whom all humans living today have descended. There exists an unbroken line of male ancestors going back to him. The Bible does state that all humans alive today descend from an original Adam and Eve. So genetic evidence is consistent with the Bible’s account of the origins of humans. Not only the ancient Chinese, but modern genetics testify to an Adam as our common ancestor.

Origin of Human Races According to the Bible

But then how did the different human races arise? The ancient Hebrew Scriptures describes, just a few generations after the flood, how people were scattered across the earth. With only some basics in genetics, we can see how such an event would give rise to today’s races. The ancient account reads: 

1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:1-4

The account records that everyone spoke the same language. With this unity they devised new technologies and started to use them to build a high tower. This tower was to observe and track the movement of stars, since astrology was keenly studied in that time. However, the Creator God made the following assessment:

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11:6-9

History records that civilization began in ancient Babylon (modern-day Iraq) and that from here spread across the planet. This account records why. Because the languages were confused this ancestral population was split into various language groups along clan lines.

Implications of Babel from Genetics

The Tower of Babel
Jl FilpoC, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The various sub-clans could no longer understand one another. Since kleshas and other negative attachments came naturally to people since sin and karma had entered the world, these various clans quickly became distrustful of each other. As a result they withdrew from other clans to protect themselves and they did not inter-marry across the language groups. Thus, in one generation the clans became genetically isolated from one another and dispersed.

Punnett Squares and Races

Consider how races arise from such a situation, focusing on skin color since that is a common marker of race. Skin color arises as a result of different levels of the protein melanin in the skin. White skin has less melanin, darker skin has more melanin, while black skin has the most melanin. All humans have some melanin in their skin. Darker people simply have more melanin, giving rise to darker skin. These levels of melanin are controlled genetically by several genes. Some genes express more melanin in the skin and some express less. We use a simple tool, called a Punnett square, to illustrate the various possible combinations of genes. 

Punnett Square of Melanin

For simplicity assume only two different genes (A and B) that code for different levels of melanin in the skin. The genes Mb and Ma express more melanin, while the alleles mb and ma express less melanin. A Punnett Square shows all possible outcomes of A and B that can arise by sexual reproduction if each parent has both alleles in their genes. The resulting square shows the 16 possible combinations of Ma, ma, Mb, and mb that can occur from the parents. This explains the diverse range of skin color that can result in their children. 

Punnett Square Demonstrated

Tower of Babel Scenario

Assume the Tower of Babel event occurred with parents who were heterozygous as in this Punnett square. With the confusion of languages the children would not inter-marry. Therefore each of the squares would reproductively isolate from the other squares. So the MaMb (darkest) would now only intermarry with other MaMb individuals. Thus all their offspring will only remain black since they only have genes expressing greater melanin. Likewise, all the mamb (white) would only intermarry with other mamb. Their offspring would always remain white. So the Tower of Babel explains reproductive isolation of the different squares and the emergence of different races.

We can see diversity like this arising from families today. Maria and Lucy Aylmer look like they come from different races (black and white), but in fact they are twin sisters from heterozygous parents. Diversity like this arises simply by genetic shuffling. But if diversity like this arises and then these offspring are reproductively isolated from each other, then their skin color distinctiveness will persist in their offspring. The Tower of Babel is that historical event explaining how clans retained their isolation from other language clans. Thus what we call ‘races’ today have persisted since then.

Twin Sisters Lucy and Maria Aylmer

One Family – No Race Distinction

But once we understand how races arose then we realize that all diverse races are simply part of the same human family. There is no basis for racism once we understand where race differences really come from.

As the Bible states:

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Acts 17:26-27

All people today, no matter what their race, skin color, or other distinctive features, descend from the same original couple. In that case we are simply one large and diverse family. The Bible says that God established the diversity of nations so that we would reach out to find Him. He unfolds His way for us to reach Him by begetting one special nation out of all the nations. We look at how this nations finds its beginning next.

What can we do about racism?

Here is a list of some things we can do towards eliminating racism and combating it day-by-day:

  • Educate ourselves: We must educate ourselves about racism and the effects it has on people and society. For example, we can do research on racism in the past and present and its impact of people.
  • We should speak out against racism: Whether it occurs in our daily lives, places of employment, or communities, we must always speak out against racism. This entails rejecting racist humor, epithets, and stereotypes and the institutions and practices that uphold racial inequity must be held accountable for their systemic racism.
  • We can support anti-racist initiatives: We may assist groups like civil rights organizations, community-based groups, and advocacy groups in their efforts to combat racism and advance racial justice.
  • Look at our own biases: Implicit biases might be a factor in racism. We need to look at our own biases and make an effort to get rid of them.

But corrupted … like orcs of Middle-earth

Previously we looked at what the Bible means when it says that God created people ‘in the image of God’.  This explains why human life is precious.  However, the Bible continues on from creation to explain a serious problem.  We can see the problem from this Psalm (song) in the Bible.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

This says that ‘all’ of us have ‘become corrupt’.  Though God made us ‘in the image of God’ something has wrecked this image in all of us.  We reveal corruption in a chosen independence from God (‘all have turned aside’ from ‘seeking God’) and also in not doing ‘good’.

Thinking Elves and Orcs

Orcs were ugly in so many ways, but they were simply corrupted elves.

To understand this, compare orcs and elves from the movie Lord of the Rings. Orcs are ugly and evil.  Elves are beautiful and peaceful (see Legolas).  But orcs had once been elves that Sauron had corrupted in the past.  The original elf image in the orcs had been wrecked.  In a similar way the Bible says that people have become corrupted. God had made elves but we have become orcs.

For example, we know ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour.  But we do not  unfailingly live by what we know. It is like a computer virus that damages the proper workings of a computer. Our moral code is there – but a virus has infected it. The Bible starts with people as good and moral, but then also corrupted.  This fits with what we observe about ourselves. But it also brings a question: why did God make us this way? (Knowing right and wrong but corrupted from it). As the atheist Christopher Hitchens complains:

The elves, like Legalos, were noble and majestic

“… If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts [i.e., corrupt ones], he should have taken more care to invent a different species.”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  p. 100

But he misses something very important, the Bible does not say that God made us this way, but that something terrible happened after God made us. The first humans revolted against God and in their rebellion they changed and became corrupted.

The Fall of Mankind

This is often called The Fall.  God created Adam, the first man. There was an agreement between God and Adam, like a marriage contract of faithfulness, and Adam broke it. The Bible records that Adam ate from the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’ even though they had agreed that he would not eat from that tree. The agreement and the tree itself, gave Adam a free choice to remain faithful to God or not. Adam had been created in the image of God, and placed into friendship with Him.  But Adam had no choice regarding his creation, so God allowed him to choose about his friendship with God. 

Just like the choice to stand is not real if sitting is impossible, the friendship and trust of Adam to God had to be a choice.  This choice centered on the command not to eat from that one tree.  And Adam chose to rebel.  What Adam started with his rebellion has gone non-stop through all generations and continues with us today. We look next at what this means.