Feedback archiveFeedback 2010

A gentle answer; and the latest on “mitochondrial Eve”

In this week’s feedback, CMI’s Dr Rob Carter responds to a technical question about mitochondrial Eve.

But first, in response to our report of CMI’s recent Countering the Rise of Atheism seminar, correspondent Andrew S. from Australia sent us a very short message, i.e. simply this link:

Nearly 500 people attended the Countering the Rise of Atheism seminar in Melbourne.
Nearly 500 people attended our Countering the Rise of Atheism seminar in Melbourne.

We’re not recommending you go there—suffice to say it is an angry response (posted by Andrew S. himself) to our write-up, deriding CMI speakers Drs Sarfati, Batten and Wieland in particular, and creationists in general, as having “tiny minds”, and being “morons”, “retards”, and worse. We could have replied to Andrew by pointing out his numerous errors and misrepresentations of the creationist position, which would have taken quite some time, given there were so many falsehoods. (E.g. Dr Don Batten’s Ph.D. is not in theology as the author mockingly proposed but in plant science.) And we could have taken him to task over his smear that Bible-believers are encumbered by “the biases of ignorant and illiterate goat herders who lived 2,000 years ago in another country where myth and legend were commonplace.”

Instead, CMI’s Dr Tas Walker responded as follows:

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the link. Looks like it was posted by you. I’m glad you found our article stimulating.

It was a good attendance at our Countering Atheism conference and the presentations were very well received. Last weekend I visited Melbourne and we did a number of presentations to different groups showing how the scientific evidence supported creation and the Bible. I also conducted a geology excursion to Phillip Island where we examined the evidence for geological catastrophe and showed how the rocks can be interpreted through a biblical perspective. Of course, that is the way the early geologists looked at the earth.

I can’t understand why someone like yourself would be so passionate about fighting God. I mean, if God doesn’t exist why not do what the atheist bus ads say: “Get on and enjoy your life.” “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”

Tas Walker Brisbane Geology Excursion
Tas Walker examines coal during a geological excursion. The coal seam (background) formed from vegetation debris deposited as floodwaters were rising—during the Ascending phase of the Genesis Flood.

I resisted the Lord until my early teens but when I came to know his grace, power and love I have been passionate about Him ever since. He has given me purpose for living and power to overcome my sinful nature, problems and difficulties. He has given me a deep peace within because of the hope that Jesus Christ gives, the fact that he is the Son of God who has saved me from my sin and promised an eternity in a wonderful place (John 14). No worries.

Here at Creation Ministries we have at least four former atheists who now speak and write for us. I will be praying for you Andrew that you will one day join that band, and I hope soon. Drive carefully in the meantime. I suspect that you have had a church upbringing because it seems that kids raised in churches are sometimes the most dedicated atheists.

What would you put as the probability that there is no God? Richard Dawkins said he could not be certain but he was pretty confident. He would not go as low as 49% but he would not go as high as 100%. Have you thought about how you will answer the Lord in the event that you find yourself standing before him? In real life we take out insurance policies to cover us against large losses, even when the probability is very small.

When I was young and before I came to know the love of God and commit myself to him I didn’t want God to spoil my fun. But I was worried about my eternal destiny in case anything happened to me, because I realized that youth was no guarantee of old age. I decided that I would plead that I was too young to know that I needed to repent of my sin and live for the Lord. That was what I thought would be my excuse. I was interested that Richard Dawkins has said he would plead ignorance too.

Such resistance to God is such a pity because God did not spoil my fun. Since I came to the Lord life has been wonderful.

That’s enough from me. Thanks for the link. May the Lord be gracious to you. As John Newton, the atheist slave trader said, “It was grace that taught me how to fear and grace my fears relieved.” May that become your experience, and soon.

All the best,

Tas Walker
Scientist, Editor, Speaker
Creation Ministries International (Australia)

Our second published feedback this week is an enquiry from Canada. Jim M. (who is himself a Ph.D. scientist, supportive of CMI’s work) wrote:

I am leading a creation vs. evolution discussion group at my local church and am currently doing research for the next session. The topic will be “Age of the earth/universe” and one subtopic I am looking at including is “mitochondrial Eve”. I have read 2 or 3 associated articles from your website—which are excellent, incidentally (but then all your articles are!)—the most recent of which is the one by Dr. Wieland from JoC 2005 issue. [Ed: Mitochondrial Eve and biblical Eve are looking good: criticism of young age is premature, Journal of Creation 19(1):57–59, 2005]

Looking at Wikipedia, (which I recognize is not a great place from which to get definitive info but is one which people commonly use), it makes the following assertion: “The variation of mitochondrial DNA between different people can be used to estimate the time back to a common ancestor, such as Mitochondrial Eve. This works because, along any particular line of descent, mitochondrial DNA accumulates mutations at the rate of approximately one every 3500 years.”

There are two references cited, these being:
  1. Soares, P; Ermini, L; Thomson, N; Mormina, M; Rito, T; Röhl, A; Salas, A; Oppenheimer, S et al. (June 2009), “Correcting for purifying selection: an improved human mitochondrial molecular clock”, American Journal of Human Genetics 84(6): 740–59, doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2009.05.001, PMID 19500773
  2. There are sites in mtDNA (such as: 16129, 16223, 16311, 16362) that evolve more rapidly, have been noted to change within intragenerational timeframes—Excoffier & Yang (1999); however most studies avoid using these sites because of the higher possibility of reverse mutations causing information loss.
The first of these postdates the JoC article so I am wondering:
  1. whether there is anything in this article that needs further explaining,
  2. whether you have written an article doing so and
  3. whether there are any more recent articles than the JoC 2005 article?
Thank you.

Jim M.

Dr Robert Carter (CMI–USA) replies:

Dear Jim,

You ask a very good question and I would love to take this opportunity to update you on a few things. The short answer is, “Yes, we have written much on mitochondrial Eve and the molecular clock hypothesis since 2005.”

First, this issue of how fast mutations accumulate rests on whether or not a “molecular clock”1 exists, and this depends on whether or not “neutral” or “junk” DNA (see: The slow, painful death of junk DNA) exists. The clock hypothesis has been hotly debated within scientific circles, although the clock-supporters seem to be better at propagandizing the world (hence the Wikipedia references). I discussed the molecular clock and related issues in an article on the Neandertal mitochondrial genome here: Taking a crack at the Neandertal mitochondrial genome. A more technical version of this paper appeared in our Journal of Creation: The Neandertal mitochondrial genome does not support evolution. I also discussed it in relation to the Out of Africa theory, which heavily relies on the idea of a mitochondrial molecular clock, in a recent Journal of Creation article here: The Neutral Model of evolution and recent African origins.

In summary, the molecular clock hypothesis relies on the Neutral Model of Evolution, which in turn depends on several key assumptions. Each of these assumptions has been contradicted in the evolutionary literature. Molecular clock theorists have to walk around with their fingers in their ears! But if the clock does not exist, there is no way to date evolutionary events, so they cling to it in desperation.

You may also be interested in a paper I published in 2007 on mitochondrial Eve (http://nar.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/35/9/3039).

In the introduction to that paper I listed problems with the molecular clock hypothesis specifically in relation to mtDNA. In fact, I found three different problems, all of which are detailed in the evolutionary literature [numbers in parentheses indicate references in the original paper]:

“Current phylogenetic methods for constructing ancestral mtDNA trees depend on several key assumptions, e.g. a clock-like evolution of mtDNA, a lack of recombination, and a lack of selection … Clock-like evolution has been questioned for the African L2 clades (20,21), making it difficult to accurately place L2 in the human mitochondrial phylogenetic tree—and haplogroup L2a is the most common African-specific haplogroup (22). This also raises questions about the structure of the tree in general. In their introduction, Howell et al. (21) list a series of studies that argue against the clock-like evolution of mtDNA and whether or not mtDNA fits the neutral model of evolution. These two points were raised more recently by Kivisild et al. (23). In addition to questions about the mitochondrial clock, new data have been published that indicate that recombination may occur within mitochondrial lineages and may account for certain homoplasies [repetitive mutations that seem to appear independently in parallel lineages] in the mtDNA phylogenetic tree, although the issue has been debated for some time (24). Several studies indicate that selection may also operate on mtDNA (23,25,26). All of this indicates a need for the use of supplemental and complimentary [sic: complementary] methodologies.”

Robert Carter

Published: 3 April 2010


  1. See text under the subheading “Debunking the molecular clock” in Chapter 6 of Refuting Evolution 2. Return to text.