Origin of Races

Question
When or how did races originate?
Answer
There are different definitions of race, so there are different answers to your question. One definition is that a race is a group whose members are capable of breeding with one another. By this definition, the races are such things as "humans" and "chimpanzees." These races originated in creation when God created the different animals and man (Gen. 1-2).

It is also common to speak of different "races" of humans. Sometimes we mean by this that there are different groups of people whose common genetic makeup is visually and generally distinguishable from that of others. At other times we speak of human "races" in terms of "ethnicity," by which we refer not so much to a group of people who are visually similar, but to a people with a common short-term ancestry (all humans share a common long-term ancestry in Adam and Eve, and subsequently through Noah's family). By either of these definitions, "race" has no real "origin" as such. Rather, these types of races develop slowly, with members within them changing only ever so slightly, so that it takes generations before any significant distinctions develop between different groups. These definitions of "race" are therefore fairly loose, and are more or less applicable on a case-by-case basis.

It is worth noting that there are no absolute distinctions that can be drawn between members of what we might call a "race" in terms of visually distinguishable genetic makeup or in terms of "ethnicity." That is, the genetic makeup of the average person in any given "race" or "ethnicity" is far more similar to the average person in all other races and ethnicities than it is to the least average person in the same race. For example, consider the visually distinguishable genetic case of "typical white male" (TWM), "atypical white guy" (AWM), and "typical black male" (TBF). Both TWM and TBF have nearly identical height and build, health, body parts, etc. At the same time, the differences between TWM and AWM can be incredibly drastic. Perhaps AWM has no limbs, several chronic diseases, and is grossly obese. Other than their skin and hair coloration, and a few specifics of bone structure, the visually apparent similarities between TWM and TBM are overwhelming, and are far greater than the visually apparent similarities between TWM and AWM.

Both the differences between these types of races and the differences within these types of races develop in the same way: by selective breeding and sometimes by mutation. We call this process "microevolution," which is not to be confused with "macroevolution." "Macroevolution" is the hypothetical process, put forth by Darwin and others, by which one species (or "race" by our very first definition) or portion thereof becomes a distinct species incapable of successfully breeding with the original species. "Microevolution" is simply the process of differentiation within a species. Microevolution does not result in different species, but in different and distinct characteristics within a species. For example, some breeds of dogs did not exist only a few generations ago, but rather they were bred into existence by selectively breeding existing breeds. This process takes place either by reducing or increasing the existing gene pool of a given group so that certain traits disappear while others become more pronounced. It may also be somewhat affected by mutations, though not so as to create a new species.

Microevolution is the way that visually different people groups have come to exist today, such as Anglos, Hispanics, Asians, etc. Consider, for example, the historically recent development of the ethnicity "Hispanic." Prior to the colonization of the Americas by Europeans, there were no Hispanics. Hispanics came into existence as the result of crossbreeding between Europeans and Native Americans.

Or consider that all of the current human races descend from Adam and Eve. People look very different today because of the great isolation between people groups that took place after Noah's time, and again after the Tower of Babel. When society fragmented and these fragments became isolated, the people within these fragments were left with a gene pool that was smaller than that of the entire race. As further divisions occurred, the gene pools got smaller and smaller; probably, as certain traits were not conducive to reproduction or survival (such as genetic disorders and diseases), they died out and the gene pools became smaller and smaller. Over time, these processes began to make the different fragmented groups look less and less like one another. But as fragmented groups met, joined, intermarried, etc., they added new genetic material to their existing gene pools. This counteracting process tended to make people look more and more like one another. We can see by looking at our modern world that there has been more fragmentation than unification. For example, the general categories of "black" and "white" still hold some meaning today, and there are hereditary reasons that people fall into these general categories.

However, the lines between the categories are very blurry - the "categories" are not like boxes into which people can be easily classified. Rather, they are only emphases or tendencies. They are statements of generalities not of specifics, and as such they are useful primarily on a general level rather than on a case-by-case basis. For example, most white people have at least some certain genetic traits that are more typical of black people that of white people. In this sense, they are less white and more black than they might have been.

In the context of this discussion, I should mention that there some these days who argue that God created the different "races" to be distinct from the "white" race. For example, this is a characteristic of the Christian Identity movement. The thought is that only white people are actually descended from Adam and Eve, and that the other ethnicities were created as part of the animal kingdom. This is a preposterous concept that I would not even bother to mention if it were not for the sad fact that so many people who name the name of Christ have fallen into this pattern of thinking.

In point of fact, the Bible itself does not say anything about "races" as we think of them. It never distinguishes between people groups on such a broad, general scale, at least not in any way that would attribute any positive or negative quality to those with any particular trait. Rather, it speaks of "nations," identifiable political entities that as such can be held responsible for their actions. Yes, it also speaks of the heritage of these nations at times, but not for the sake of demonstrating that they are less than human. And the important distinctions it draws are not between "white," "black," "brown," "grey," etc., but between "Jew" and "Gentile," where "Gentile" is simply an all-encompassing term for "non-Jew." And in all events, the point of Scripture is that all peoples, all nations, all human beings share in salvation - not just Jews, not just whites, not "just" anybody (cf. Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; Ps. 49:1; 72:11,17; 86:9; 117:1; 148:11; Isa. 25:6-7; 56:7; 66:18ff.; Matt. 28:19; Acts 10:34-35; 17:30; Gal. 3:8; Rev. 7:9; 14:6). In fact, Scripture itself provides examples of people from many different ethnicities who came to faith: Canaanites, Babylonians, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Romans, Greeks, Syrians, etc.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.