It is very easy today to look at the sheer amount of diversity between races, languages and cultures, and discount the concept of a common origination of all human beings in the garden of Eden. For many who can’t believe what is in the first three chapters of the bible, why continue? And so it is a stumbling block to many in coming to the faith. Genesis has basically been written as history in layman’s terms; the recording of births, life spans and children, the evolution of wickedness and the cleansing flood, of leaders and cities built, and amazingly, the interaction of God and His angels with mankind.
To us this may seem both over-simplistic and fantastical; On one hand, the supernatural aspect so prevalent in the narrative seems distant from a modern culture that continually seeks a sign from a seemingly aloof God; But yet the natural aspect of the narrative – the human elements which range from companionship to murder, do not surprise us at all, because we humans have not changed all that much.
Though the bible is not a scientific document, none of the explanations written in it as to history and origins has been disproved by modern science. This is no small feat considering those writing it would have had no idea of the vast and far-reaching scope and implications of what they were recording and how far into the future their words would be projected. Through their writings, the bible explains much indeed.
Genesis chapters 7 through 11 contain the information that, many years later, offers explanation of the current makeup of people and nations on the earth, through these three major events:
1) The flood, which was accompanied by both atmospheric and geological changes;
2) A potentially large earthquake during the lifetime of Peleg, possibly responsible for the shifting of continents; and
3) The confusion of languages at the tower of Babel.
To speculate in detail about the amount of change that could have been brought about by such events is somewhat futile, but on a more basic level, much understanding can be gained. Using what we know from scientific knowledge today, the effects of these events (assuming they were real) would still stand the test of time in explaining the different races, languages and cultures.
A summarized version may read like this: Gen. 7:11 shows that the “fountains of the great deep bursted forth, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.” This would affect temperature, sea levels, possibly radiation levels from the sun without the protective canopy, and climate in general. We do not know what the fountains of the great deep were, however it is entirely possible that their loosing was in conjunction with the movement of geological strata and even tectonic plates. The effects of such a volume of water on the surface would have been immensely increased pressure, and along with the recession of the water, the burial and compaction of the dead (animals and people) that could account for the fossil record, as well as the formation of oceans, lakes and rivers.
In the days of Peleg it was said that the “earth was divided” (literally “split”) (Gen. 10:25). It is imporant to note here that Genesis chapters 10 and 11 are not meant to be understood as being chronologically consecutive. This is evidenced by Gen. 10:5 “…every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” compared with Gen. 11:1 “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” This is not a contradiction, but rather illustrates that chapters 10 and 11 are happening concurrently to some degree. We find interestingly that the lifespan drops rather dramatically in Peleg’s time; he only lives about half as long as his father. The rabbi Sforno offers an explanation that people were suddenly cast into different climates, affecting their livelihood.
The concept of one original language (often referred to as proto-human) is not foreign to linguists, many of whom subscribe to a monogenesis theory. The confusion of languages at the tower of Babel would have certainly caused those who could not understand one another to separate, and band together with those who could.
With these events happening within a relatively short time of one another, it certainly offers a plausible explanation, not strongly refutable by science, as to the current state of nations, languages and people.