Some young earth creationists have cranked out numbers which supposedly demonstrate that the world’s current population could have developed from a very small number of people only a few thousand years ago. Richard Schermer (spelling?) addresses this briefly in his book Why People Believe Weird Things. He notes that the geometric progressions used posit that there were only about 600 people alive at the time the pyramids were built, meaning that a very few people worked very, very hard to construct enormous structures from quarried stone and farm the Nile valley besides.
I have heard Creationists argue that possibly Adam and Eve were not the only people God created, and that their story is just representative of what was happening at various sites around the world. I recall there was a disagreement among religious broadcasters some years over whether the early descendants of Adam and Eve committed incest, or whether God had created a whole bunch of other people with which they could intermarry. If the latter were the case, it would presumably account for Cain having lived in a city.
In making these arguments, however, my inofrmants all seemed to overlook the point that the world’s population apparently had to regenerate again from the people on Noah’s Ark after The Deluge. Maybe a whole of extra people were created but it wasn’t mentioned in scripture.
For some people large numbers don’t seem to have a literal meaning. This is just a personal observation, but I think a fair number of Biblical literalists honestly don’t have any grasp of just how big the world’s population is now, or how diverse and widespread. This helps account for an assertion I have heard several times that it is “fair” for God to condemn people who do not accept Christ since “everybody learns about Jesus eventually”. For a lot of people–not just Christians–the details of their personal experience are viewed as a universal law for Mankind.
The belief in the Tower of Babel seems to have been among the first stories which large numbers of Christians were ready to reject as mythical. By the mid 19th Century it was widely assumed by educated people in the U.S. and throughout Europe that the story referred to a temple in Babylon which was counted among the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Despite this, the story of Babel has had a powerful influence on Western thought, and that influence remains to this day. Adam and Eve were able to speak as soon as they were created, and it appears that the whole of Mankind still spoke this God-given language up to the time of the Tower of Babel. This led to two peculiar assumptions.
The first was that there was an original language which is somehow purer or more natural than others, one that people might know instinctively. People raised in extreme isolation, and in particular identical twins, sometimes develop their own ideoglossia or private language. There was a king in Scotland who ordered that two identical twins be raised in isolation so that they could not hear human speech. The idea was that they might communicate in the original, natural language of Adam and Eve.
Eventually the twins were summoned before the king and ordered to talk. His “experts” decided that the gibberish coming from them was Hebrew, which, at the time, was widely thought to be the original language.
The second idea was that the languages people spoke were closer to the original language, and therefore somehow superior, the closer one got to the middle east and the site of Babel. The first books of English grammar were written by clergymen in the late 18th Century, and they operated on the belief that Latin was superior to English as the Romans lived closer to Babel than had the English. It would have made sense for them to study Greek or Hebrew in order to get closer still to Babel, but that would have involved a lot of extra work, learning a new alphabet, and, possibly, having to deal with a lot of dirty Jews and foreigners.
The result of this is that certain rules of grammar were imported directly from Latin and grafted into English. This is, for instance, the origin of the rule against split infinitives.
Latin is still, of course, sometimes held up as an especially important and exalted study by people who were forced to study it. In law school classmates of mine who had taken Latin in high school insisted they had an advantage over the rest of us. I recall how they said “it taught them to think”, but it did not seem to teach any of them to think they had possibly wasted their time.
I largely bought the story that knowing Latin gave them an advantage until one day in an Estates class we heard the term “cy pres” for the first time. A product of a Jesuit high school education then showed off for me by conjugating it.
He was able to give the Latin conjugation despite the fact that “cy pres” is two words, and not one.
Neither of them is a verb.
The words are not Latin, but antiquated French.
Otherwise, though, he seemed to have it right.