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Where Cain Got His Wife: Is This a Moral Problem for the Bible? And does Darwinism Provide a Better Answer? (an Email Exchange)

Featured as a back-of-page article in the CSABC Quarterly Letter of June 2015

by Richard Peachey

Earlier this month [June 2015], my atheist friend Greg and I had an email conversation on the classic question of where Cain got his wife . . . which generated a discussion of whether Darwinism has a superior basis for morality than the Bible.

Greg: Is there something missing here?

Richard: Hi, Greg. Regarding Genesis 4:17 and the question of where Cain got his wife, the article you linked offers the reader a hard choice between incest and impossibility. But creationists have dealt with this 'problem' many times. (See, for instance,

The answer involves what we now refer to (and abhor) as 'incest' — but this would have been unavoidable given that our species began with one individual, Adam.

Laws against incest do not appear to have been given until the time of Moses (Leviticus 18), so for us to now condemn Cain's marriage as incestuous (and therefore immoral) is simply anachronistic. (At or near the time of God's "very good" creation, the problem of genetic mutations that we currently associate with the marriage of close relatives would have been less of an issue.)

Consider: Eve herself was formed from part of her husband's body (Genesis 2:21-25). So the first couple was already, in some very strange way, 'incestuous' — if you insist on thinking of it in that way.

Cain's unnamed wife was probably one of his sisters (mentioned in Genesis 5:4, in the genealogical summary of Adam's life). Another possibility (perhaps less likely) is that Cain married a niece.

We are not given the ages of Cain or Abel at the time of the murder (various possibilities are considered in the article How old was Cain when he killed Abel?). Nor do we know how long Cain had been married, or how many of his siblings were around at the time. Cain's lament in Genesis 4:14 ("whoever finds me will kill me") may indicate that there was already a sizeable population of Adam and Eve's descendants.

The idea of Cain being married to a sister (before or after he killed Abel) contradicts nothing in the biblical account, and is "crazy" only if we think anachronistically. Given that all of us are descended from Adam (as the New Testament agrees: Acts 17:26; Romans 5:12-21), how could the species be continued without at least some initial brother-sister marriage?

Regards, Richard

Greg: So homosexuality is bad and incest is good. This is confusing. LOL (no need to address this, I get it) No wonder the world is mad. I am sticking with Darwin. Unrelated boys and girls is more palatable to me. . . . [Greg then moves on to some unrelated political content.]

Richard: Greg, your preference for Darwin doesn't help you with this issue. Darwinism provides no solid basis for ethics, whether against incest, rape, or anything else.

Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog"):

"As I have already urged, the practice of that which is ethically best—what we call goodness or virtue—involves a course of conduct which, in all respects, is opposed to that which leads to success in the cosmic struggle for existence. In place of ruthless self-assertion it demands self-restraint; in place of thrusting aside, or treading down, all competitors, it requires that the individual shall not merely respect, but shall help his fellows; its influence is directed, not so much to the survival of the fittest, as to the fitting of as many as possible to survive. It repudiates the gladiatorial theory of existence. . . . Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.

Similarly Richard Dawkins, today's leading atheist and evolutionary biologist:

"Treating evolution as though it were a good thing is a point of view advanced by English biologist Julian Huxley in the 1920s and 1930s. Huxley tried to make evolution into a kind of religion. In contrast, his grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley, thought that evolution was a thoroughly bad thing, and I agree with him. I would hold it up as an awful warning. . . . I believe natural selection represents a truly hideous sum total of misery.

Will Provine, historian of evolutionary biology at Cornell:

"No gods, no life after death, no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no human free will – are all deeply connected to an evolutionary perspective. You're here today and you're gone tomorrow, and that's all there is to it. . . . it starts by giving up an active deity, then it gives up the hope that there's any life after death. When you give those two up, the rest of it follows fairly easily. You give up the hope that there's an immanent morality, and finally, there's no human free will. If you believe in evolution, you can't hope for there being any free will. There's no hope whatsoever of there being any deep meaning in human life. We live, we die, and we're gone. We're absolutely gone when we die."

Michael Ruse, evolutionist philosopher:

"There are no foundations to morality. It is just a sentiment or a feeling, as was argued by David Hume and more recently by the noncognitivists (most famously, the emotivists). Morality is something that has been put in place by evolution to make us work efficiently as social animals; without morality, there would be chaos. I argue in addition, however, that although morality is in this sense subjective, our biology makes us think that it is objective; if it did not, we would start to cheat, and once again everything would break down, and chaos and anarchy would rule. In this sense, as I have said many times, morality is a collective illusion of human beings, put in place by our genes, to make us efficient social animals."

For further reading: "Darwin's nihilistic idea: evolution and the meaninglessness of life," by Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg (Biology and Philosophy 18:653-668, 2003).