If the biblical account of human origins is true, where does racial diversity come from?

While the Bible doesn’t describe how racial diversity arose, it does seem to imply that it arose rapidly as humans scattered following the Tower of Babel rebellion (described in Genesis 11:1–9). For many years, however, the scientific consensus has been that human regional differences arose gradually via evolutionary processes over 2 million years or so. This idea aligns with an evolutionary model for human origins called multiregionalism, which proposes that a primitive form of human migrated from Africa into Europe and Asia, and then evolved independently into a modern human form. Regional differences supposedly resulted from these separate evolutionary trajectories, requiring a vast amount of time to manifest.

A challenge to this consensus comes from recent genetic variability studies. The current research data indicate that modern humans appeared relatively recently, very roughly 100,000 years ago, and dispersed globally within the last 50,000 years. This new finding means that, ironically, the evolutionary explanation for human origins faces the same challenge as the biblical view: how could racial differences emerge over the course of a few tens of thousands of years, at most?

This conundrum has resulted in a focused effort to explain the origin of racial diversity, and the findings suggest the multiregional hypothesis is incorrect. Studies indicate that racial differences, driven by microevolutionary processes such as natural selection, sexual selection, and genetic drift, can arise rapidly for migrating humans.

The scientific data suggests the following adaptive scenario, as an example: The first humans may have looked very much like African people groups today. As they made their way into northern latitudes, lightening of the skin pigmentation would have allowed for more efficient vitamin D synthesis (to compensate for reduced exposure to UV radiation). And changes in nose shape from broader and flatter to sharper and narrower would have helped to warm cold air before it reached the lungs.

The latest scientific data indicates that superficial differences such as these can arise rapidly. As scientists uncover more about the origin of humanity, the biblical view and timing appear all the more reasonable.