Since the early 1970s, studies have been done to determine the minimum viable population (MVP) of many species, not least among them humans. In more colloquial language, MVP refers to how many members of a species must be present for it to have a 90 to 95% chance of surviving under average condition.
Perhaps one of the most famous MVP calculations in history – though relatively obscure in other fields – is John Moore’s number of 160 – that is to say, 160 people would be needed for humans to most likely survive. New Scientist calls this the ‘magic number’ for space pioneers, suggesting that for colonisation on Mars (or even further afield) one would need 160 people.
John Moore’s calculation is in the main correct, but New Scientist is but one of many who misuse or misunderstand the meaning of MVP. In the article, it is suggested that MVP could be ‘halved’ to 80 via social engineering (the idea is that later pregnancies will extend the lengths of generations), but this idea is flawed. Not because it wouldn’t work, but because MVP becomes an invalid source of measurement. Wikipedia states that ‘MVP does not take human intervention into account’, and this is a form of intervention – in this case, social scientists back on earth suggesting lengthening generations.
Now, why am I addressing MVP?
Minimum viable population is an attack used on creation by some evolutionists, so it’s important to know how to counter it. The argument is that Adam and Eve – two people – fall far below the MVP claimed by such surveys as Moore’s. There are a number of ways to refute the argument, which typically refers to the population bottlenecks of Adam and Eve as well as Noah and his relations (the latter less commonly than the former) as impossible.
Here are the rebuttals:
Josephus states that, according to tradition, ‘The number of Adam’s children…was 33 sons and 23 daughters’. Whether or not this number is likely (and it seems to be when comparing the extended period in which Eve would have been giving birth to children). All of these children would almost certainly have had essentially perfect DNA – with no defects or mutations. And fertility is one of the scientifically observed facets of humanity which genetic mutations affect, making childbirth less common and more difficult.
Adam and Eve, being created perfect, would have an optimal set of circumstances, genetically speaking, to give birth to many children.
Evolution and MVP
There is evolutionary evidence – or at least, it’s interpreted as thus by many evolutionary scientists – that there was a population bottleneck eight to ten millennia ago (right before the most recent ice age), wherein human population dropped to about twelve. Yes, twelve.
Not only does this match the Flood timeframe reasonably well, it also provides the exact same problem for evolution. And all of these other solutions don’t work with it since they’re based on the ideas of a pure creation and divine intervention.
To say ‘extended’ here is an understatement. Adam lived 930 years – not even 40 behind Methuselah, the oldest known person in history according to the Bible. (Don’t make the mistake of thinking Methuselah is definitely the oldest person in history. The Bible isn’t a categorical list of all people, and thus it’s possible – in fact, reasonably likely – that someone older than him is simply not listed in the genealogies.)
Scientifically speaking, since Adam lived about ten times as long as he would today (give or take a decade or two), Eve’s period of fertility would be extended tenfold – from 35 years to a staggering 350-year period. Since MVP is based on the prior length of time, it would probably decrease significantly in light of the new figure.
MVP is probabilistic. Even ignoring the other arguments, the elephant in the room is that God is, after all, a God of more than the improbable – He’s a God of the impossible. If Abraham can have a son at ninety-nine, if bread can fall from the sky in the Sinai desert, if David can defeat tens of thousands of Philistines single-handedly, then surely Adam and Eve can ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28).
Minimum viable population is a scant argument at best. With a bit of thought, the problems with it are clear, but that’s the problem – most people don’t give it enough thought. The principle problem – not just with the refutation to the problem of MVP but with apologetics as a whole – is that people give in too easily. How many times have you heard someone say ‘The Bible is full of contradictions’ and seen others accept it without proof?
So MVP should be a sign of the average Christian’s difficulty dealing with tough questions like these. If that’s you, don’t let it be. Study the Bible. Learn apologetics. And most of all, use it.