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Is ‘mitochondrial Eve’ consistent with the biblical Eve?

Published: 5 January 2013 (GMT+10)

B.R. from Australia writes:

Dr Carl Wieland is very confused about the subject of ‘mitochondrial Eve’.

Mitochondrial Eve and biblical Eve are looking good: criticism of young age is premature

His very first sentence on this page is strange.

“Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) indicates that all women have descended from a single woman, called mitochondrial Eve.”

Why only women? A very strange thing to say.

“the mitochondrial Eve findings were in line with biblically based expectations. While not proving the biblical Eve, they were consistent with her reality, and were not predicted by evolutionary theory”

the existence of a mitochondrial Eve is by definition necessary according to evolution theory. Only a person who does not understand it would claim the opposite.

My question is: Is Carl Wieland as ignorant as he appears to be? Or perhaps just dishonest?


B.R. Genetics BSc. Bioinformatics MSc

CMI biologist Dr Robert Carter responds:

Dear B.,

Dr. Wieland asked me to answer this for him because he thought it might look strange for him to be defending himself against false accusations.

First, Carl does admit that he slipped in the first sentence. It probably should have read “people”, but he was not incorrect by saying “women”. It is true, but, as you say, a strange way to put it. He did not say “only women”. But that is a very minor point.

Your main argument seems to be dealing with coalescence theory. I must point out that, and contrary to your assertion, Mitochondrial Eve is absolutely not necessary according to evolutionary theory (same is true for Y Chromosome Adam). There was every possibility that we would have found multiple diverse mitochondrial lineages within modern people and that some or all of these would be shared with chimpanzees. This was not found and so coalescence was brought in to explain the differences. It all depends on historical demographics. True, if you have a small enough population for a long enough time, all mitochondrial lines are expected to converge as lineages are lost due to drift. But we do not know the genetic history of the two species in question. We can only model, and the creation model happens to fit the evidence without any tweaking. Coalescence was a post hoc evolutionary explanation brought in after the relevant data were accumulated. You said that ‘only a person who does not understand it would claim the opposite’, but I am not sure you understand the history of the matter. Dr. Wieland is not wrong in this regard.

“My question is: Is Carl Wieland as ignorant as he appears to be? Or perhaps just dishonest?”

Ah, yes, here comes the character assassination. Abusive ad hominem arguments are standard fare, sadly, but make a poor substitute for polite conversation. He is neither ignorant nor dishonest and you have yet to make a strong argument in your favor.


Dr. Robert Carter


“Dr. Wieland asked me to answer this for him because he thought it might look strange for him to be defending himself against false accusations.”

*Dr. Wieland asked me to answer this for him because he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

“Your main argument seems to be dealing with coalescence theory. I must point out that, and contrary to your assertion, Mitochondrial Eve is absolutely NOT necessary according to evolutionary theory (same is true for Y Chromosome Adam). There was every possibility that we would have found multiple diverse mitochondrial lineages within modern people and that some or all of these would be shared with chimpanzees. This was not found and so coalescence was brought in to explain the differences.”

It doesnt matter how diverse we find mitochondrial lineages. Evolutionary theory predicts universal common ancestry. They would still coalesce sooner or later, and where they do, that is mitochondrial eve.

What exactly is it about Mitochondrial Eve that you think resembles bibilical Eve? Has the name “Eve” confused you?

Or what exactly about her do you think is hard for evolutionary theory to deal with? She was later than you think she should have been?

“True, if you have a small enough population for a long enough time, all mitochondrial lines are expected to converge as lineages are lost due to drift.”

no. all lines are expected to converge because of universal common ancestry. Nothing to do with losing anything.

Anyway, I now know the answer to my question.

Robert Carter:


Mitochondrial Eve is based on coalescence theory, not the idea of universal common ancestry (have you not read Cann, et al., 1987?). When we discovered limited mitochondrial diversity among all people and that the last mitochondrial ancestor of living people was recent on the evolutionary timescale, it was surprising to many, and that result was but one of many possible outcomes (e.g., it was not predicted). We are not talking about a mitochondrial common ancestor of humans and chimps or of humans, apes and monkeys, but a much more recent ancestress. According to your own theory, humans and their post-common-ancestor-with-chimp ancestors lived for several million years, all the while picking up mutations in their mitochondrial lineages. However, and again according to your theory, most of this diversity was lost due to drift and during a bottleneck that was recent on the evolutionary timeline. The common ancestor of individuals in a species should radically post-date the formation of that species due to lineage loss over time through drift, depending on demographic history. This is the central tenet of coalescence theory. You are confusing two separate ideas. Yes, the idea of common ancestry predicts that all lineages will converge (not “coalesce”, as you say) as one goes back in time, but the fact remains that the mitochondrial ancestress of living people (go ahead and throw in Neanderthals and Denisovans, if you wish) existed a relatively short time ago. The only way for this to be true in an evolutionary scenario is through drift, yet it nicely correlates to the biblical model, especially if you take away the silly notion that mutations occur in all lineages at the same rate through all time and under all conditions (the ‘molecular clock hypothesis’).

Oh, and btw, Carl asked me to answer for two reasons: 1) he wanted to make sure he did not make a mistake (he did not, with the exception of one minor point already discussed), and 2) I have published in the field and thus have a little more skin in this game. We both agree that Carl’s main thesis stands: Mitochondrial Eve is consistent with the biblical Eve.



So the answer my question then, is that it IS the timing of mitochondrial eve which you think is a problem, and not simply her necessary and unsuprising existence.

“yet it nicely correlates to the biblical model”

In what way?

If mitochondrial Eve was not the first woman; herself had ancestors; not the ancestor of all humans who have lived; not actually called Eve; not the only common ancestor of her generation or previous generations, what exactly is it that you think fits the biblical model?

Robert Carter:

The “timing” is based on several assumptions, including common ancestry with chimps and the molecular clock. Is it legitimate to start with evolutionary assumptions and draw evolutionary conclusions? Is that not circularity? The timing is not an issue because it is a theoretical construct based on things that can, and should, be questioned. For example, if you take modern values of mitochondrial mutation rates (about 1 every other generation, according to the most recent paper I have just read1), Mitochondrial Eve lived a very short time ago (200 generations!?). Add the idea that mutation rates may not have been the same in all populations throughout their history and the actual number can vary, but not into evolutionary territory with any ease.

As far as necessary goes, her existence is not necessary to evolutionary theory; it was derived, post hoc. As I said earlier, we could have shared multiple lineages with chimpanzees, meaning there was no single “Eve”, as conjectured by Out of Africa theorists [Ed.: OOA says there was one Eve]. A chimp-gorilla-human mitochondrial common ancestor would moot the whole idea of “Eve”.

And as far as surprising goes, we were not the ones evincing surprise. In fact, we were tickled pink. The surprise was among many on your side, and a war was waged in the evolutionary journals, with the opposition led by Templeton, the multiregionalist, who seems to have lost, although a modified multiregionalism has reared its head with the advent of aDNA (ancient DNA) and Neanderthal and Denisovan genome constructs, but that is another matter for another day.

How does this fit with creationist theorizing? The fact that there is but a single female ancestor is one of the basic constraints of our model. Actually, this is one of our major working hypotheses. God could have frontloaded Eve’s ovaries with multiple mitochondrial lines, but this seems unlikely at this point. When we discovered 1) a single ancestress in 2) the recent past, we all said, “bingo!”

Not the first woman? How do you know? No other lines have left any evidence that they ever existed. The idea that she is not the first woman is a matter of theory-your theory.

Not the only common ancestor of her generation? Again, you are drawing conclusions from theory! No other female line has left descendants. Did they ever exist?


Our correspondent finished with this: “What is the salary of the average professional *&%$@!? Seems like quite a nice job”. It seems he had nothing of substance left to add.


  1. Madrigal L. et al. High mitochondrial mutation rates estimated from deep-rooting Costa Rican pedigrees, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 148:327–333, 2012. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

E. P.
Thank you for the response and links, Dr. Carter. Has anyone done a pedigree study on Y chromosomes to get an observed estimate of the mutation rate? Which rates have the studies estimating a date for Y-Adam been using?

Also curious if we have any measurement for the rate of back-mutations? If they're common I would think it would make molecular clocks meaningless, or at best case they could only provide a minimum age?
Robert Carter

These are some great questions. I am working with a team of people who are interested in these very things, and we are attempting to address several, but time is short and the hands are few. Any pedigree study published to date would be rife with evolutionary time assumptions, but see here: chimp-y-chromosome and related links. If you wanted to pursue any of the questions you asked, your efforts might be an aid to the creationist community...
Hans G.
Hello Robert, bad trees are those who do NOT want to hear the Christian message, they want to play the Christians; they want to hunt them down and they are not interested in the teaching.
To water those trees would be a waste of time, that's what I meant.
I like to be busy with CMI- Daily, Hans
E. P.
Good debate, Dr. Carter. I had also been citing the 2012 Costa Rican Pedigree study; it's good to see confirmation that I had been understanding it correctly.

One thing I've wondered about is Y-chromosome Adam. I've searched here and a couple dozen other creationist sites and I can't find anyone addressing the argument from the 1000 genomes project that Y-Adam (actually Noah) must be at least tens of thousands of years old (http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2012/07/estimating-age-of-y-chromosome-adam_30.html). If the data currently leans toward an ancient Y, then so be it; just curious where the YEC argument stands in relation to this data.

Robert Carter

No joke; I am actively working with several creationist scientists on the Y Chromosome Adam idea, but the going is slow. We simply have too many irons in the fire.

However, to address your specific question, the age estimates for Y Chromosome Adam are based on phylogenetic assumptions. They generally use the chimpanzee Y as a guide to assess the ancestral state, the estimate of 6 million years (it used to be much less than that) since our common ancestor, and the assumption of a molecular clock. If common ancestry is not true, or if the age of the common ancestor estimate is wrong, or if mutations do not accumulate in all lines at the same rate, the ages are simply not correct.

Consider this: the chimp Y chromosome was recently radically revised. Turns out that it is very different from that of man (as much different as the researchers expected between man and chicken [their example], and they believe chickens are descended from dinosaurs so you would have to go back to the common ancestor of man and reptiles to get that much expected difference). Man and chimp have very different Ys. But all men alive today have very similar Ys. Using the evolutionists own reasoning, if the Y mutates very rapidly, but all males alive today have very similar Ys, this means Y Chromosome Adam must have lived in the very recent past. I have not yet put any numbers on this, however. It is just an interesting observation.


P.S., don't tall Dienekes, but I am a big fan of his blog!
Hans G.
Sometimes I ask myself if we Christians go against the teaching from Jesus when we try to water and fertilize a bad tree with wisdom and discernment hoping it will produce good fruit.
Robert Carter
Hans, I am not exactly certain what you mean, but the 'good tree/bad tree' illustration is commonly used by CMI speakers in our talks. CMI's strategy is to start with the correct model of world history, fertilize it (so to speak), and watch for good fruit. We stand strongly against all compromise positions that start with evolutionary history, for we believe the evolutionary tree not only yields bad fruit but is also inconsistent with biblical history and theology.
Pei H.
In the original paper cited in this article mitochondrial DNA mutation rates were only threefold higher not nearly enough to get your biblical 6 000 years. The mutation rate is measured only in the hypervariable non coding region, not the overall mutation rate for the actual coding regions of the mitochondria. Also, mitochondrial Eve denotes a single female lineage, not a specific individual.
Robert Carter

Your comments are astute, but please allow me to expand the argument.

First, their "three-fold higher" than phylogenetic rate estimates still yielded a mutation rate of 1.24 x 10-6 per site per year. Multiplying this by the size of the genome (16,569 sites/genome) and then by the average number of years per generation (30 years/generation, modern) gives us 0.62 mutations per generation. OK, this is only for HVR-I, but this is also where the majority of mutations occur in general. Most of the early phylogenetic work was done on HVR-I and HVR-II (because the mutation rates in these areas made them amenable to digestion with restriction enzymes) and most of the phylogenetic break points are in these regions still, even after gene sequencing came into common use. Thus, at this rate, the entire phylogenetic tree can be filled in after a minimum number of generations. There are not that many sites that discriminate among the major phylogenetic branches and the sublineages are not that far removed from the major break points. As I concluded in my 2007 paper (look for the hyperlinked word "published" in the main discussion above), most all people in the world are only about 22 or 23 mutations removed from the consensus mitochondrial sequence and almost all are less than 100. If you wanted to argue that the consensus sequence is not the ancestral sequence (see the discussion in my paper), that is fine, for the lines more removed from the consensus are less removed from the putative ancestral line, and the argument becomes easier.

Also, I am well aware that Mitochondrial Eve denotes a single female lineage in the evolutionary coalescence model, and I made this plain in my published responses above. To say otherwise makes me think you did not read carefully.

john P.
Robert's answer was a good one. Obviously when people such as B.R. lose a debate and are shown up as fools, they will rather resort to profanity. A wise man or woman will stand corrected, a foolish man or woman will not. The Bible says to answer a fool in the way of a fool and give a reason for the faith we have. It would seem B.R. does not know as much about genetics as he thinks he does but is too proud to admit it.
Gerry T.
"What is the salary of the average professional,..."

It's sad how the average evolutionist so quickly degenerates to foul and abusive language. They are always quick to claim the intellectual high ground and even quicker to display just the opposite.
Richard B.
I, too, was impressed by the civility and the learning of 'our man'. Convincing on both fronts, as Truth has very much to do with Grace. Bravo!
daniel P.
Firstly I think it is great that people like B.R are being involved in debate. I genuinely believe that B.R thinks he is right, as CMI think they are too; it is always interesting to follow these types of discussions. I personally don't understand the topic in question all that well, in this case, but having followed many articles over the past few years I have noticed a few common themes. Firstly, CMI are always professional, courteous and well researched (even if they make the occasional mistake – don’t we all?) The atheist on the other hand (and not ALL), are so often left resorting to profanities and name-calling instead of telling the world why their argument is watertight. Get a grip you guys. If you want to advance the religion of atheism then argue science with science. Creationism doesn’t appear to me to be a war of religion against science. So far, from the debates I have read, you are giving your religion a pretty ridiculous look.
Robert S.
The arguments and tactics of some evolutionists demonstrates the truth of the following verse:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9
Britton C.
Hi guys! I remember reading a short while ago that the "mitochondiral Eve" idea was at a dead end because of 2 things. 1: mtDNA has been found to be paternally inherited. 2: Mutation rates associated with mtDNA have not remained constant. To be honest most of this stuff is way over my head, but there are some things I can glean from it nevertheless, so I still enjoy reading about it. I was wondering if you had time to read the article I read and tell me if any of this was accurate or not? Thanks CMI you guys rock! [link deleted as per feedback rules]
Robert Carter
The finding of paternal inheritance (and recombination between paternal and maternal mitochondrial lines) is a matter of debate, but I discussed it in an article on Neanderthal mitochondrial genome (creation.com/neandertal-mitochondrial-genome). Maternal inheritance is certainly the norm. The authors of the paper I cited specifically said that lineage recombination might be able to explain the complex African mitochondrial genealogy. There is only little evidence that it has affected other people groups. FWIW.

If mutation rates are not constant (no molecular clock), the genealogy still stands, but the length of the branches in a phylogenetic tree cannot be determined. I discussed this in my article The Neutral Model of Evolution and African Origins (creation.com/neutral-model-of-evolution-recent-african-origins), under the subheading "Equivalent mutation rates and active selection".

Eve is not "dead", but evolutionary explanations of when she lived are becoming untenable.
Andrei T.
Great response Dr. Carter. This article brought to my attention the new 6000-6500 date of the mitochondrial eve. I first learned about the MtEve five years ago, and since then I believed it was ~175000 years old according to most scientists. Thank you for making me aware of this somewhat momentous discovery.
Harvey R.
I admire the restraint and the patience taken to answer clearly the thinly disguised contempt shown by B.R. in his clumsy effort to wrong-foot Dr Carl Wieland. I am comforted by the obvious depth of knowledge and the soundness demonstrated , once again, by CMI , as they give reason for the faith which they/we hold. Thanks again to this ministry for the work it is doing.
colin M.
A gracious and informative response to a stereotypical militant atheist attack. Predictably, when things don't go their way, they resort to ad hominem attacks, ridicule and aggression. Must be touching a nerve somewhere...

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