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No. 229 "Vital Articles on Science/Creation" July 1992
The Apple (Computer) Bites the African Eve
by Marvin Lubenow*
Copyright (c) 1992 by I.C.R.
All Rights Reserved
* Professor of Biblical Studies and Apologetics at Christian
The "Out of Africa," "African Eve," or "Mitochondrial Eve" theory,
proposed in 1987, has captured the popular imagination. Cover stories
in magazines gave graphic accounts of this alleged "mother of us all,"
said to have lived about 200,000 years ago. Since the theory dealt with
the origin of modern humans (not the origin of all humans), biochemist
Allan Wilson (University of California, Berkeley) was a bit out of line
in dubbing her "Eve." However, that historical mistake may have actually
enhanced her popularity.
Although the theory was controversial, it was hailed as an important
contribution by biochemistry to the understanding of human origins. It
now appears that the results of that study were statistically flawed.
Newer studies do not rule out an African origin or modem humans, but
they do not favor Africa above other parts of the Old World. It further
appears that the method utilized is incapable of determining either the
date or the geographic location of the first
The theory seemed to be rather brilliantly conceived. It dealt with
DNA from energy-producing organelles called mitochondria, which are
in the cell but outside the nucleus. This mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is
inherited only from the mother. The father's mtDNA ends up "on the
cutting-room floor." Hence, there is no mixing of male and female mtDNA
from generation to generation.
The Berkeley biochemists who developed the theory, Wilson, Rebecca
Cann, and Mark Stoneking, made several reasonable but unprovable
assumptions. With no mixing from generation to generation, they assumed
that all changes in the mtDNA were the result of mutations over time. It
was further assumed that these mutations occurred at a constant rate. On
the basis of these assumptions, the researchers believed they had access
to a "molecular clock." Because mtDNA is thought to mutate faster than
other DNA, it is favored because it would lend itself to a more
fine-grained index of time.
The original 1987 study involved mtDNA from 136 women from many
parts of the world having various racial backgrounds. The analysis
led back to a single ancestral mtDNA molecule from a woman living in
sub-Saharan Africa about 200,000 years ago. A subsequent and more
rigorous 1991 study seemed to confirm and secure the theory.
Unfortunately, there was a serpent stalking this "Eve" as well as
the first Eve. The researchers used a computer program designed to
reveal a "maximum parsimony" phylogeny. This would be the family tree
with the least number of mutational changes, based on the assumption
that evolution would have taken the most direct and efficient path--a
rather strange assumption, considering the presumed random and
haphazard nature of evolutionary change. The computer program was,
however, far more complicated than the biochemists realized. They did
not know that the result of their single computer run was biased by
the order in which the data were entered. it is now recognized that with
thousands of computer runs and with the data entered in different random
orders, an African origin for modem humans is not preferred over the
other continents. There is also the suggestion that in the original
study the biochemists were influenced in their interpretation of the
computer data by their awareness of other evidence, which seemed to them
to favor an African origin.
Henry Gee, on the Editorial Staff of Nature, describes the results
of the mtDNA study as "garbage." He states that considering the number
of items involved (136 mtDNA sequences), the number of maximally
parsimonious trees exceeds one billion. Geneticist Alan Templeton
(Washington University) suggests that low-level mixing among early
human populations may have scrambled the DNA sequences sufficiently so
that the question of the origin of modem humans and a date for "Eve" can
never be settled by mtDNA. In a letter to Science, Mark Stoneking
(one of the original researchers who is now at Pennsylvania State
University) acknowledges that "African Eve" has been invalidated.
There is general recognition that Africans have greater genetic
diversity, but the significance of that fact remains unclear.
The "African Eve" theory represented the second major attempt by
biochemists to contribute to the question of human origins. Earlier,
Berkeley biochemist Vincent Sarich estimated that the chimpanzee-human
separation took place between five and seven million years ago, based
upon molecular studies. Although that date was much later than
paleoanthropologists had estimated from fossils, Sarich's date is now
almost universally accepted.
In an article written before but published after the recent challenge
to "African Eve," Wilson (who died in 1991) and Cann (now at the
University of Hawaii, Manoa) laud the virtues of molecular biology
in addressing human origins. They state: ". . . living genes must have
ancestors, whereas dead fossils may not have descendants." The molecular
approach, they claim, ". . . concerns itself with a set of
characteristics that is complete and objective." In contrast, the fossil
record is spotty. "Fossils cannot, in principle, be interpreted
objectively. . . ." They conclude that the method of the
paleoanthropologists tends toward circular reasoning. They are right!
Creationists have expressed that fact for many years.
However, Wilson and Cann were not able to see the logical fallacy in
their molecular biology when it addressed phylogeny. This approach,
known as molecular taxonomy, molecular genetics, or the newer related
field of molecular archaeology, also traffics in circular reasoning.
Molecular genetics, hiding behind the respect we all have for the
science of genetics and the objectivity of that science, is highly
infused with subjective evolutionary assumptions. In this field, the
commitment to evolution is so complete that Wilson and Cann understand
"objective evidence" as ". . . evidence that has not been defined, at
the outset, by any particular evolutionary model."
The mtDNA study of African Eve, as well as other aspects of
molecular genetics, deals with mutations in the DNA nucleotides.
Perhaps we could be forgiven for asking: "When an evolutionist looks at
human DNA nucleotides, how does he know which ones are the result of
mutations and which ones have remained unchanged?" Obviously, to answer
that question he must know what the original or ancient sequences were.
Since only God is omniscient, how does the evolutionist get the
information regarding those sequences which he believes existed
millions of years ago? He uses as his guide the DNA of the
chimpanzee. In other words, the studies that seek to prove that
human DNA evolved from chimp DNA start with the assumption that chimp
DNA represents the original condition (or close to it) from which human
DNA diverged. That is circularity with a vengeance!
It is also necessary for the evolutionist to determine the rate of
mutational changes in the DNA if these mutational changes are to be used
as a "molecular clock." Since there is nothing in the nuclear DNA or
the mtDNA molecules to indicate how often they mutate, we might also ask
how the evolutionist calibrates his "molecular clock." Sarich, one of
the pioneers of the molecular-clock concept, began by calculating the
mutation rates of various species ". . . whose divergence [evolution]
could be reliably dated from fossils." He then applied that
calibration to the chimpanzee-human split, dating that split at from
five to seven million years ago. Using Sarich's mutation calibrations,
Wilson and Cann applied them to their mtDNA studies, comparing ". . .
the ratio of mitochondrial DNA divergence among humans to that between
humans and chimpanzees." By this method, they arrived at a date of
approximately 200,000 years ago for African Eve. Hence, an evolutionary
timescale obtained from an evolutionary interpretation of fossils was
superimposed upon the DNA molecules. Once again, the circularity is
obvious. The alleged evidence for evolution from the DNA molecules is
not an independent confirmation of evolution but is, instead, based upon
an evolutionary interpretation of fossils as its starting point.
We humans are enamored with our ability to develop sophisticated
experiments and to process massive amounts of data. Our problem is
that our ability to process data has outstripped our ability to
evaluate the quality of the data. Computers are not able to generate
"truth" independently, nor can they cleanse and purify data. With the
recognition that mtDNA studies are incapable of determining the origin
of modem humans, biochemists are now turning to nuclear DNA to help
them solve the problem. There are also attempts to recover DNA from
Neandertals and other fossil humans. More and more, molecular genetics
and sophisticated computer programs are being enlisted in the service of
evolution. The results are advertised as independent confirmations of
evolution when in reality they are not. I suspect that molecular
techniques are the wave of the future for evolutionary studies. This
approach is very convincing, because it appears to be so "scientific"
to those who do not recognize the evolutionary presuppositions.
Paleoanthropologists such as Christopher Stringer (British Museum
of Natural History) are now claiming that an African origin for modern
humans is not dependent upon mtDNA studies alone. The fossils also
are said to suggest it. However, an exhaustive survey of the human
fossil evidence does not support an African origin for modern humans.
In fact, when all of the relevant human fossil material is placed on a
time-chart, even according to the evolutionist's dates for those
fossils, the results show that humans have not evolved from a primate
stock. The fossil evidence against human evolution is so strong as
to effectively falsify that theory.
The Bible is God's revelation to those created in His image.
Genesis is part of that revelation. God's revelation is more than just
the passing on of information. It is the imparting of truth which
humans could not know by any other means. The failure of the "African
Eve" theory is just another illustration of the impossibility of
constructing an authentic record of human origins by scientific means.
It is for this very reason that God gave us an authentic revelation of
our origins in the book of Genesis.
-- References --
1. Henry Gee, "Statistical Cloud over African Eden," _Nature_, 355 (13
February 1992): 583.
2. Marcia Barinaga, "'African Eve' Backers Beat a Retreat," _Science_,
255 (7 February 1992): 687.
3. S. Blair Hedges, Sudhir Kumar, Koichiro Tamura, and Mark Stoneking,
"Human Origins and Analysis of Mitochondrial DNA Sequences,"
_Science_, 255 (7 February 1992): 737-739.
4. Allan C. Wilson and Rebecca L. Cann, "The Recent African Genesis of
Humans," _Scientific_American_, April 1992: 68.
5. Wilson and Cann, 68. Emphasis added.
6. Marcia Barinaga, "Choosing a Human Family Tree," _Science_, 255
(7 February 1992): 687.
7. Wilson and Cann, 68. Bracketed material added.
8. Wilson and Cann, 72.
9. See Marvin L. Lubenow, _Bones_of_Contention_ (Grand Rapids: Baker
Book House, to be published in December 1992). This work is the
most extensive treatment of human fossils to be published as yet
by a creationist.
This "Impact" was converted to ASCII, for BBS use,
from the original formatted desktop article.
Comments regarding typographical errors
in the above material are appreciated.
Don Barber, ICR Systems Administrator
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