Is ‘mitochondrial Eve’ consistent with the biblical Eve?
B.R. from Australia writes:
Dr Carl Wieland is very confused about the subject of ‘mitochondrial Eve’.
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:
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. 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.
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?
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.
- 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.