Re: Mitochondrial Eve

Glenn R. Morton (
Sat, 15 May 1999 14:31:36 -0500

Hi Gordie,

Gordon Simons wrote:

> Whose house is out of order? Human biologists or Christians? These papers,
> if they "scream" for anything, scream for a reassessment by human
> evolutionists of many of their present cherished views. The apple cart
> has been turned upside down, and much scrambling has occurred. This is not
> to say that the basic picture of human evolution has been altered. But
> much recent work based on mutational studies now seems suspect.

I absolutely agree that these data scream for the evolutionists to
change also. The bullying Out of Africa School should have a bit more
respect for their adversaries. Those anthopologists who have
pooh-poohed the abundant evidence for very intelligent, and human
behaviors among the archaic humans need to adjust as well. My interest
is in the behavior of apologists who, by claiming to be working for our
Lord, explicitly or implicitly, place themselves on a higher moral
plane. Thus, there should be a higher standard for what we teach. Of
course, scientists have a moral obligation to deal with the facts as
they are and not as they want them to be. But all in all, IMO even the
worst misguided anthropologist is more closely aligned with the
observational data than are the Christian apologists who have tried to
claim that mankind appeared on earth less than 100 kyr ago. And the
anthropologist does not make a claim for metaphysical truth in the
manner that the apologist does. The apologist is trying to 'support' the
Scripture and uses Scriptural authority for the basis of their own.
Anthropologists don't do that. And for those reasons, I intend to keep
the spotlight on our failings as Christians rather than on the other.
For we need to remove the beam from our eye before removing the splinter
from theirs.

> It is nice that there are a few Christian folks like Glenn who are
> attempting to match Christian apologetics with new data, but most
> Christians have more important things to do than, schizophrenicly, to
> match Christian apologetics to the ebbs and flows of scientific research
> -- particularly during times of significant transition.

I agree that apologetics is way down the food chain of Christian
responsibilities. But those who do engage in apologetics have a deep
responsibility to keep up with the data they discuss. They also have a
deep responsibility not to misrepresent what is being said. Of course,
our apologetics can't be driven by the wind. But if one is going to
offer an apologetical system, it should match the vast majority of the
data available at the time of writing. And of course there will always
be mismatches, that is part of the game of science. But we should strive
to minimize them. Sadly, I don't see that minimalization effort very

> 2. This gets to my second point. Glenn quotes Hagelberg et al (1999):
> > " .... For example, position 16129 is considered to be one of the most
> > hypervariable in human mtDNA, with a rate approximately eight times
> > higher than the background mutation rate in the first hypervariable
> > segment of the human mtDNA control region ...
> Many statistical studies based on mutation rates have *assumed* a constant
> mutation rate. A ratio of eight to one is not even close to constant. This
> suggests (to me at least) that any study which must depend on an assumed
> uniform mutation rate needs to viewed with considerable skepticism.

Yesterday I got a chance to go to the library and peruse the last 6
months of Science Magazine. There is an interesting article on the
inconstancy of mtDNA as a clock. (Evelyn Strauss, "Can Mitochondrial
Clocks Keep Time?" Science 283(1999):1435-1438). There are several items
which this article discusses in relation to the clocks:

"It's now clear that in many cases, the main assumption underlying
molecular clocks doesn't hold up: Clocks tick at different rates in
different lineages and at different times. And new work on the biology
of mitochondria suggests that their evolution may be more complicated
than researchers had suspected." Evelyn Strauss, "Can Mitochondrial
Clocks Keep Time?" Science 283(1999):1435-1438, p. 1435

The second is the newly discovered paternal/maternal mtDNA recombination
has the potential for destroying mitochondrial Eve upon which many
apologists have leaned on for strength. If they had done a better job of
surveying what data is actually out there, they would have been able to
proffer a more robust theory. Consider what will happen to the views of
a recent Adam/Eve when mitochondrial Eve disappears, as I believe she
will. Svante Paabo, one of the big names in molecular biology is quoted
as saying,

"Mitochondrial Eve is the one woman who carried the ancestral
mitochondrial DNA," he says, "There was no such woman if there was
recombination." Svante Paabo, cited by Evelyn Strauss, "Can
Mitochondrial Clocks Keep Time?" Science 283(1999):1435-1438, p. 1438

With no Eve apologists of this school, like Newman, will have to adjust
to an older humanity. Newmann wrote:

"I am closer to Hugh Ross, who sees the creation of Adam as some tens of
thousands of years ago, which seems to fit the evidence from
mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam better than Morton's view, and
the biblical teaching of Adam as our forefather better than Fischer's.
Robert C. Newman" Progressive Creationism: Conclusion," in J. P.
Moreland and John Mark Reynolds, Three Views on Creation and Evolution,
(Zondervan, 1999), p. 155

The real question for me, is will they adjust or dig in their heels?


Foundation, Fall and Flood Adam, Apes and Anthropology