Something that's really bothered me about Christian religions is their complete acceptance of the idea that we are - all of us - products of incestuous relationships.

In their view, it all started with Adam and Eve.  Fast forward a little over 1,000 years and hit the reset button with Noah, his three sons, and the wives of each.

I just can't get past how sick and twisted that is, and how none of them seem to have a problem with it.  

Am I the only one?

Tags: Adam, Ark, Eve, Incest, Noah

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This was one of the things that got me into trouble during Sunday school. As a young kid it totally grossed me out and I did not get any kind of meaningful answer when I would ask...and ask...and ask.

I brought this up with my brother several years ago (he is my "the bible is the literal word of god" brother) and he just stared at me for a while and then stated that "I really didn't understand God's way did I". Things went downhill from there.
This is a good example of the problems of Christianity and Bible literalism. People really DON'T want to think too deeply about the matter. Anybody that does can't find a satisfying answer, so they don't give one. Either they run up against a brick wall or they smash that wall to pieces.
The idea of Adam and Eve is very silly to me and never made any sense.

That said, the idea of incest may seem inherently wrong to you, but that is because society has made it so. Morally, many people took offense to incest. Biologically, incest is dangerous because it allows for amplification of recessive, deleterious, and negative gene products. However, for small tribal groups (especially in early human history), incest is almost a guarantee. Although incest within the immediate family ended for the most part long ago in western society, incest within an extended family has continued up until today. Charles Darwin married his first cousin (he later considered how interbreeding within families can cause negative effects).

This goes back to my ketchup argument. A lot of people were sickened by the green and purple ketchups that came out a few years ago, but only because they had a mental block that told them that ketchup had to be red, even though the other colored ketchup's were exactly the same otherwise.

I am in no way saying we should support incest. With our larger populations we can afford to avoid it and with our knowledge of biology we can justify why it should be avoided. However, before you get sickened by ancient peoples' incest realize that they didn't have the same mental block to it that you do. For them, it was probably fine and completely socially acceptable.
This is true, I also wanted to bring it up myself.

However, our biology is still anti-incest, if not so much so as our culture. Many studies have found then we choose our mates based on how different their MHC's are from our own (essential components of the body's immune response), which we detect through their pheromones. We each inherit six genes for these, three from each of our parents, that are expressed co-dominantly throughout our lifetime. Mating outside our family tree ensures our offspring gets a unique set of their own, which conveys the greatest protective advantage against disease.
(I think you probably know this actually, I remember you mentioning something about you + science..)
There is a counter-argument and evidence against this, however, which suggests our biology is as much the product of our genetics as our upbringing. Generally people will not find siblings attractive, even if they are not blood related. Being raised together generally instills enough of a psychological deterrent to mating.

The risks of recessive/deleterious/negative gene products is far smaller than the average person assumes. I think there's this crazy idea that if someone mates with their cousin or sibling, they will have deformed or mentally challenged children. While the risk of a child developing a genetic disorder is increased in incest, it's not to the degree people imagine. I don't think incest could be objectively considered high-risk health behavior until it occurs for multiple generations within the same family. One cousin marrying another is generally not going to throw anyone's DNA out of whack, but if a girl marries her brother and their child then marries it's dad well, there will probably be some issues. Furthermore, much of the risk rests on what genetic diseases are within that family's germline to begin with: if you're not carrying for cystic fibrosis or cancer, your kid can't get it, even if you do it with your sister.

I don't want to be an advocate of the Genesis story, but it is absolutely scientifically plausible that two members of a species could give rise to large, genetically-rich population. It actually happens all the time. You can throw a single bacterial species in a test tube and let it replicate, and within a matter of days have distinct progeny that can define as many as twenty different SPECIES -- even though they all share the same single parent (where is Carl Linnaeus when you need him?).
Our sexual reproduction cycle is the greatest hindrance to optimum success in matching that (it just flat out takes way too long to have a human child) but essentially, I don't think we can use this argument against Christians. Science will be on their side -- WE are on their side as evolutionists. All life came from a single cell, and our development as humans was a very slow, gradual process that rested on a very, very small population -- possibly even only 2!

I don't think mocking or challenging the religiously devout for the incest argument is fair or even logically sound. It might even be hypocritical, depending on how you want to define the boundaries of relation.
Oh agreed.

Ya, I wasn't saying that incestual matings amongst humans definitely caused genetic disorder. I agree that too many people think this is the case, but again that's only because of society. We hear jokes in movies and on television about people from the southern appalachian areas inbreeding and causing retardation, there are non-stop ideas about how backwards the amish are and people relate it to inbreeding, and I'm sure there are other cases where society assumes genetic problems not based upon biology but based upon shared viewpoints.

I find hormone/pheromone studies extremely intriguing. There's so little we yet know about the evolutionary linkages to how we respond to each other on a biochemical level. Did our genes lead us to create these societal ideas that incest is wrong, or did our viewpoints on inbreeding long ago select for responsiveness to people who have different genetic makeups? We can make a lot of inferences from our knowledge, but the field is still fairly open. I think we'll see some really amazing things in the next few decades within evolutionary anthropology.

I have a small problem with one of your last arguments. We do not necessarily know if all of life on Earth came from one single cell. This has been an idea for a while, but some different ideas are surfacing. I personally wonder if many different cellular life forms arose on early earth and after much lateral gene transfer and evolution formed a more consistent biosphere. We really don't know for certain how it all started and there are many possibilities. Some of them more absurd than others. However, you are right, we do believe now that at least once in human history our entire species suffered a genetic bottleneck where the entire species consisted of only a small number of individuals.

I agree that the incest argument is not a logical one to make against religion. I'm pretty certain that incest in the human species came long before religion.
+10 for incorporating ketchup in the conversation!

I think I understand how there is no genetic defect automatically associated with an incestuous pairing; the defect has to already be present in the parents--regardless of their relation--for the offspring to be "defected" somehow. But you also mentioned regarding Charles Darwin marrying his cousin:

[I]n that case the parents both came from wealthy families where inbreeding was more common than most of us can imagine these days and so it was even more likely that some of the children would have some genetic defects.

If a population is originated by a single breeding pair, wouldn't the subsequent generations necessarily continue inbreeding? If so, wouldn't the inevitable result be multiple generations continually practicing incest and arriving at that increased chance for genetic defects? Why is there an increased chance? Is it just more likely that closely related people will carry the same autosomal recessive disorders?

(I'm sure you know that I'm just being curious and not snarky, but I figured that I would throw in this disclaimer anyways. Oh, and I don't care about my mental block, GREEN KETCHUP IS JUST WRONG!)
Someday, we'll all eat green ketchup together and look back to these days as our time of unknowing... :)

So, yes the chances of some negative/deleterious genetic effect being passed along is increased with inbreeding and then even more so with many generations of inbreeding, but is still not guaranteed. But in some aristocratic families in western Europe a few hundred years ago it wasn't uncommon to see all offspring of a family wed first cousins or for an uncle to mate with a niece, and so any negative effects were almost certain to be passed along. Some of the best examples of this are royal families where intermarriage was continued in close families for many hundreds of years. The Habsburgs are the best known example, where many defects including a cleft palate were passed along the entire bloodline as the entire family interwed generation after generation.

So what's different there is that the entire family continued close inbreeding for so many generations. If a large genetic bottleneck occurs and only a small population remains, then inbreeding is bound to occur. Any genetic defects that the entire population possesses will be passed along. But after only a couple generations the population could easily begin more genetically distanced matings and any defects are likely to be selected against in later generations.

However, due to our viewpoints on inbreeding in modern society, many people assume that even one or two events of incest are going to cause some kind of mutant people like they saw in movies from the 1980's (the Toxic Avenger anyone?). But this really is not the case.
Thanks for the explication!

But after only a couple generations the population could easily begin more genetically distanced matings and any defects are likely to be selected against in later generations.

I think that this is the point that I was missing before; I did not fully think through the exponential expansion of a population, assuming that at least three or more offspring survive from each breeding pair (which is probably a fair assumption to make, I would think).

Another misconception that I had regarding incest was that it results in increased chromosomal abnormalities, causing an increased chance of Downs' syndrome and the like. Is there anything to this, or is it just another pop culture myth? (Did I really just label something regarding incest as "pop culture?" I must be a very disturbed person, lol.)

Someday, we'll all eat green ketchup together and look back to these days as our time of unknowing... :)

I may be convinced to indulge in the purple variety, but I will never partake in the blasphemous condiment that is green ketchup!
It doesn't result in any increased chromosomal abnormalities.. I've never heard of that and can't see (from a scientific position) it being possible.

The zygote doesn't know it contains the DNA from two closely related parents, it just divides and goes about its day normally lol =p
The zygote doesn't know it contains the DNA from two closely related parents, it just divides and goes about its day normally lol =p

That makes sense. I really can't remember where I got the idea that incest increased the chance for Downs' Syndrome. I think a lot of my misconceptions about the supposed genetic pitfalls of incest were fostered by an episode of the X-Files called "Home" which was about "a clan of inbred, genetic mutants."

(Yeah, I was a dork in high school and totally obsessed with the X-Files to the point that I spent my Friday nights waiting for it to air on TV, lol. But it actually makes me sad now, because my interest in the show means that I must have been scientifically curious but instead got hooked on the lure of conspiratorial, sensationalized pseudoscience. I mean, the tagline of the X-Files was "I want to believe" rather than "I want to understand;" a main theme of the show was to denigrate Scully's rational, scientific methodology and glorify Mulder's insistence upon some supernatural or conspiratorial explanation.)
A little taste of the purple and green is only a matter of time.

I've heard tell that purple ketchup is a gateway ketchup variety. One lick and you'll be hooked. Eventually, looking for the next big high, you'll find green... We'll have to go to condiment rehab clinics together. They'll try to teach us that whole "everything in moderation" jazz, but it won't work. The allure of green ketchup will have you relapsing every time you see a cheeseburger. You'll write posts on Think Atheist and at the end of every one write, "anyone got some green ketchup?". But don't worry, at least it's not crack.



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