WHO IS THIS "EVE"?
by Trevor J. Major, M.Sc.
In recent times, a scientific "discovery" has captured the
attention of the popular press. It seems scientists have "proven" that
all modern human beings can trace their ancestry back to one woman
living 200,000 years ago in Africa (Cann, et al., 1987). This one woman
was nicknamed "Eve"---much to the media's delight. An article in the
January, 1987 issue of `Time' magazine was headed, "Everyone's
genealogical mother: Biologists speculate that `Eve' lived in sub-
Saharan Africa" (Lemonick, 1987).
A year later, that "speculation" became a major `Newsweek'
production entitled: "The Search for Adam and Eve" (Tierney, et al.,
1988). The provocative front cover presented a snake, tree, and nude
African couple in a "Garden of Eden" setting. The Bible-story imagery
was reinforced by showing the woman offering an apple to the man.
Many well-meaning creationists were quick to latch onto these findings.
After all, didn't they prove what the Bible has always taught---that
Eve was the first woman? One writer enthused, "the theory sounds
remarkably like the plain statement in the Bible; chapters one and two
of Genesis!" (Mehlert, 1987, 24:156). Another wrote, "The DNA evidence
fits neatly into the creationist model of origins" (Kaufmann, 1988,
25:71). After an extensive discussion of the topic, and despite some
reservations, Nancy Darrall felt confident in stating: "The scientific
findings do not contradict the Genesis account" (1988, 2:7).
Some creationists, made wary by all the media-hype, have shown more
skepticism (see Bartz, 1988a; 1988b; and Major, 1988). After some
background discussion, several difficulties with the evolutionary "Eve"
hypothesis will be presented.
APPLICATIONS OF GENETICS
Perhaps the greatest impact of genetics has been on evolutionary
theories. One laboratory technique examines DNA indirectly by analyzing
proteins common to many different species, because DNA is ultimately
responsible for the specific make-up of each protein. This technique
has been applied to hemoglobin (the substance in blood which transports
oxygen), cytochrome C (used in the energy-generating systems of the
cell), and other proteins. Another method compares the genetic code
directly by seeing how well the DNA from two individuals (of the same
species, or of two different species) will pair-up in the laboratory.
When the DNA of many living species is examined by these and other
methods, a branching diagram or cladogram is often constructed to show
relative similarities and differences between various organisms. For
example, human DNA is similar to that of the Great Apes, Old World
monkeys, and New World monkeys (in descending order of resemblance).
These four groups may be joined to a common "primate" branch. Nearby,
other groups of animals may join the primates on the larger mammal
branch, and so the d iagram will grow as more types of animals are
examined. Such abstract charts are sometimes useful in classifying
organisms. However, evolutionists interpret the cladogram as a "family
tree" because, for them, similarity corresponds to relatedness.
Further, a "molecular clock" is imposed on the diagram to date the
branching point at which one organism "evolved" into its successors.
This clock, developed by Vincent Sarich in the mid-1960's, was based on
comparison of blood proteins among "primates." Sarich took the supposed
evolution of monkeys into apes 30 million years ago as his starting
point. Allow Edey and Johanson to explain the rest.
Having chosen the date, Sarich then calculated the
[molecular] distance between living descendants of
the two lines. Assume (for simplicity's sake) that
thirty units of molecular difference have accumulated
between a modern monkey and a modern ape during those
30 million years. Then the clock is running at one tick
(or one molecular change) every million years. So if
there are five ticks (or five units of molecular
difference) between African apes and humans, there are
five million years separating them from a common ancestor
(1989, p 362).
The power of this molecular clock was such that Sarich's figure of
5 million years was allowed to overthrow the fossil date of 15 million
years---although not without some resistance from paleontologists.
The assumptions inherent in this dating method are obvious: (a) it
relies on organic evolution with its accompanying time frame and
interpretation of fossil data, and; (b) it presumes a constant rate of
mutations. Both these presuppositions are open to a great deal of
debate. Further, there are technical difficulties in both the execution
and interpretation of DNA comparison tests, although these are too
complicated to elaborate on in the present article (see Lewin, 1988a;
1988b; and Kirsch & Krajewski, 1988). At best, these techniques may be
useful in the classification of organisms (Gibson, 1987, 14:71). At
worst (as far as the evolutionist is concerned), they fail to prove and
measure evolutionary changes (Denton, 1985, p 288). If anything,
comparisons of DNA, proteins, and other biochemicals seem to establish
discontinuity between major groups of organisms (Major and Thompson,
1986, 6:33,34). This is consistent with the biblical account of
A Female Prerogative
Many people perhaps are not aware that DNA can also be found
outside of the nucleus in other parts of the cell known as
mitochondria. Often described as "power plants," these mitochondria
play an important role by transforming nutrients into energy which the
cell can use. Operating with a certain degree of independence from the
nucleus, mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA) controls various functions of the
mitochondria. Although mtDNA is identical chemically to its counterpart
in the nucleus, it differs physically by forming short, circular
strands rather than being packed as long "strings" into chromosomes (De
Robertis, et al., 1970, p 223).
Of interest to biologists is the fact that mtDNA is passed on
through the female line alone. Hence, all the cells in every individual
will contain only the egg's mtDNA. Because mtDNA is excluded from the
mixing processes of sexual reproduction, it will remain virtually the
same from generation to generation. Only very minor changes will occur
as the result of occasional mutations. For these reasons, mtDNA seems
an attractive alternative to nuclear DNA for determining relationships
because it eliminates some unnecessary random or complicating
variables. So, how do evolutionists claim to use the female line to
research human ancestry?
Family Trees and Evolution
John Avise, one of the leading researchers in this field, gives the
following example (1989, p 26). Suppose a population begins with 100
females, each with a distinctive pattern of mtDNA. In the first
generation, approximately 37 females will not produce any daughters for
various reasons (i.e., because their daughters do not survive to
reproductive age or because they have only boys). This means 37 mtDNA
variations will disappear from the population. After 20 generations,
only 10 of the original variations will remain, and so on until only
one woman's distinctive mtDNA type can be found among all members of
the current population.
In the meantime, however, the number of variations will increase as
mistakes or mutations occur within the mtDNA. Thus, a female in the
latest generation will possess a copy of the surviving mtDNA---modified
by various mutations. If the modern mtDNA varieties are examined, a
clear pattern should emerge: the mtDNA of closely related people will
be virtually identical; moderately related people will have similar
mtDNA, but there will be a few differences as the result of mutations,
and; distantly related people may have the same general mtDNA sequence,
but there will be many differences. In drawing this pattern as a
cladogram, small "branches" represent close relations; they join larger
branches indicating moderate affinity, and; all branches link up with
the main "trunk" extending from a common point. Using these principles,
except working backward in time, evolutionary scientists at the
University of California at Berkeley formulated an experiment to employ
the advantages of mtDNA.
As mitochondrial DNA occurs in such small quantities, and the
researchers wanted a large sample from each person, they decided to use
human placentas. So Rebecca Cann and her colleagues selected 147
pregnant women from hospitals in the United States (with ancestors from
Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East), and from the native
inhabitants of Australia and New Guinea (1987, p 32). As the babies
were born, the placentas were collected, and the mtDNA extracted.
Subsequent analysis revealed small, virtually irrelevant differences
among individuals in the study. However, differences in the mtDNA
among non-Africans appeared far less than the differences between
Africans and non-Africans, suggesting two distinct lines of descent.
Further, African mtDNA exhibited greater variability than non-African
mtDNA, suggesting that the African line was older, having had more time
in which to accumulate changes. The evolutionists concluded, therefore,
that the origins of modern non-Africans and modern Africans can be
traced back to an ancient African female designated mitochondrial
"Eve." This female was the only one whose distinctive mtDNA survived
through the generations of "recent" human evolution.
In order to see when this woman lived, the researchers used a
molecular clock. First, however, they had to see how fast it was
ticking. As in the work of Sarich and others since him, an assumption
was made that mutations occur at a constant rate. Then, based on the
supposed colonization dates of New Guinea, Australia, and the New
World, they arrived at a mutation rate of between 2 and 4 percent per
million years. Using these rates, along with the average difference
between mtDNA types represented in the study, the researchers concluded
that the common mitochondrial Mom supposedly lived 140,000 to 290,000
The work of Cann and her colleagues suggests that the descendants
of mitochondrial "Eve" were the only ones to colonize Africa and the
rest of the world and, in the process, may have replaced every other
group. This fits into the so-called "Noah's ark" theory of human
origins, i.e., "that a small group of modern humans appeared in one
place recently---perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 years ago---and colonized
the entire world" (Tierney, et al., 1988, p 51). The mitochondrial data
may mean that "Eve's" descendants did not mix with other populations,
although it is still possible that modern nuclear DNA came from a
variety of sources. Even if females from a separate lineage mated with
"Eve's" progeny, then their mtDNA apparently has not survived to
the present time. What actually happened during the course of human
history cannot be resolved from the data because mtDNA is "something of
a passenger in the genetic processes that lead to the formation of new
species: it therefore neither contributes to the formation of a new
species nor reveals anything about what actually happened" (Lewin,
1987, p 24). Thus, evolutionists differ in their views of the "Noah's
Some have seen the convergence at one ancestor as evidence of a
"genetic bottleneck." In other words, "Eve" was the only female to
contribute any genes to subsequent generations. One bottleneck theory
equates the appearance of "Eve" with the evolution of an "archaic
sapiens species" into modern `Homo sapiens sapiens'. A second scenario
places the appearance of modern humans before the appearance of "Eve."
However, the Berkeley group adopts a non-bottleneck approach based on
Avise's model described above (Lewin, 1987, p 26). In this line of
thinking, "Eve" was simply the "archaic sapiens" ancestor whose mtDNA
had the good fortune to survive to the exclusion of her female
contemporaries. Hence, anatomically modern humans allegedly originated
in Africa sometime between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, and then
spread out over the rest of the world. Evolutionists claim that such an
interpretation is in accord with archaeologic, paleontologic, and other
genetic data (Stringer & Andrews, 1988).
PROBLEMS WITH MITOCHONDRIAL EVE
To dismiss research into mtDNA as bad science would be a gross
injustice. However, the investigation of origins will always be a
contentious topic. While popular opinion endorses the findings of Cann
et al., there are those in the scientific community who openly debate
both their methodology and their interpretation. For this reason
alone, Christians should be cautious in embracing this research as
evidence for the biblical account of human origins. Further, the use
of names such as "Eve" and "Noah's ark" should not be construed as the
unwitting acceptance or support of Scripture by evolutionary
scientists. Several problems with the mitochondrial "Eve" findings,
particularly in relation to the Bible, are summarized in the following
1. Perhaps the most obvious problem relates to the molecular clock
used to date the branches of "Eve's" "family tree" and the appearance
of "Eve" herself. Even those involved in the research are uncertain
about the assumption of rate constancy. Consequently, Cann and
Stoneking have increased the range for the appearance of "Eve" to
between 50,000 and 500,000 years ago. In addition, the "calibrations"
of the clock based on archaeology and paleontology involve a reliance
on radiometric dating methods, evolutionary interpretations of the
fossil record, and evolutionary views of cultural and social
development. Some scientists, while accepting the assumption of
constancy, believe the mutation rate is only 1% to 2% per million
years. These rates would place the appearance of "Eve" even earlier. Of
course, none of these age estimates corresponds to the relatively short
time frame of biblical chronology.
2. Evolutionists place "Eve" in a sequence of developing creatures.
Depending on the model used, her ancestors may have been fully human,
or they may have been an "archaic sapiens species" derived from an
African population of `Homo erectus'. However, the true biblical Eve
was the first woman; there were no preceding human or "sub-human"
species. Adam called his wife Eve, "because she was the mother of all
the living" (Genesis 3:20, emp. added). Further, modern humanity owes
its characteristics to the three sons of Noah and their wives; the
genetic information of all others perished in the Flood. Thus, the most
recent common mitochondrial forebear of all people living today would
be the common female ancestor of Noah's three daughters-in-law (this
woman may even have been Eve herself). So in the sense that the Flood
caused a radical constriction in the population of the Earth, the
Genesis record is closer to the bottleneck idea than to Avise's theory
of the gradual extinction of mtDNA lines.
3. Some objections surround the selection of contributors to the
mtDNA sample. As mentioned previously, the Berkeley scientists took
many of their samples from representatives of ethnic groups living in
the U.S. Hence, there is a chance that the mtDNA may have been
modified by intermarriages with other groups on the American continent.
This limitation was supposedly overcome by excluding any pregnant woman
whose family history involved cross-cultural mixing. Cann considered
this screening process successful because most of the black Americans
shared many mtDNA attributes with the African-born individuals. However
the possibility of genetic mixing is not eliminated altogether, in
which case the results may change with a different sample set. This was
the case for researchers at Emory University in Atlanta who, in
conducting mtDNA research, took samples from 700 people on four
continents. Like their Berkeley counterparts, they concluded that
mitochondrial "Eve" originated around 200,000 years ago, but they
suggested the place may have been Asia, rather than Africa. It should
be noted that the biblical Eve originated not in Africa or Asia, but in
the Garden of Eden---a place no longer in existence owing to the
destructive force of the Noachian flood (Bromling, 1989).
4. As with nuclear DNA, there are questions concerning both the
theory and the actual mechanics of the experimental process. For
example, is the process of accumulating mutations understood
sufficiently? Does the technique assess an adequate proportion of codes
along the mtDNA? Can mtDNA comparisons be used to indicate family
relationships over long periods of time, or are there other
complicating factors which would limit such use? These issues arise
frequently in the scientific literature, although they are often
dismissed as temporary gaps in knowledge. However, research is
proceeding as if these answers will do nothing but vindicate the latest
findings. Some solace is gained from the evolutionary interpretation of
the fossil record, which is used to confirm the assumptions and
conclusions used in theories of molecular evolution. Such circular
reasoning severely limits an unbiased consideration of the data.
5. Lastly, other scientists find the "Noah's ark" interpretation
unrealistic. Although supporters of the mitochondrial research concede
that "Eve's" descendants may have interbred with other populations,
they generally believe that no mixing has occurred. This is because the
genetic evidence supposedly indicates a uniquely African origin, and
also because the paleontologic evidence supposedly shows a closer
affinity between, say, modern Asians and African fossils than between
modern Asians and Asian fossils (Stringer and Andrews, 1988). However,
is it reasonable to expect a population to spread out over the whole
world without ever interbreeding with other people? According to
Milford Wolpoff of the University of Michigan, "In recorded history,
there has always been intermixing as populations moved or villages
exchanged wives. I believe we have a long history of people constantly
mixing with one another and cooperating with one another and evolving
into one great family" (quoted by Tierney, 1988, p 51). Of course,
Wolpoff has his own view of human evolution which involves parallel
development of different racial groups. Nonetheless, uniform experience
suggests that men and women will, for various reasons, cross ethnic and
cultural lines. Thus, if the interpretation requires special pleading
(i.e., that no interbreeding occurred), then this may throw doubt on
the method itself.
Who is this "Eve?" She is a hypothetical creature living tens of
thousands of years ago; she allegedly lies somewhere in the
evolutionary line of descent from `Homo erectus' to `Homo sapiens
sapiens'; and she is the supposed source of all the varieties of mtDNA
found in the world today. But she is not the Eve of Scripture; she is
not the first female to be made in the image of God; she is not the
woman created specially as a helpmate for Adam; and she is not the
mother who bore Cain and Abel.
The mitochondrial "Eve" issue is a good example of how the media
can take hold of something and sensationalize what is a highly tenuous
theory. To them, the references to Eve and Noah's ark probably provide
that additional twist to capture the public's imagination, its
attention, and thus its money. But it is also a good example of how
well-meaning, Bible-believing people can be fooled into an uncritical
acceptance of research without first checking its reliance on
evolutionary dogma. Upon further examination, calling this common
ancestor "Eve" turns out to be a slap in the face of those people who
respect the Word of God. Rather, ample valid scientific evidence exists
to show the truth of human origins without having to embrace
speculative and unscriptural ideas.
Avise, John C. (1989), "Nature's Family Archives," `Natural History',
March, pp 24-26.
Bartz, Paul A. (1988a), "Have Scientists Proven That Everyone Descended
From Eve?," `Bible-Science Newsletter', 26:16.
Bartz, Paul A. (1988b), "Scientific Research or Public Fancy?,"
Bromling, Brad T. (1989), "Will Eden Ever Be Found?," `Restorer',
Cann, Rebecca L., Mark Stoneking, and Allan C. Wilson (1987),
"Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution," `Nature', 325:31-36.
Darrall, Nancy (1988), "Maybe Eve Really Did Exist!," `Origins' (United
Kingdom: Biblical Creation Society), 2:5-7.
De Robertis, E.D.P., Wiktor W. Nowinski, and Francisco A. Saez (1970),
`Cell Biology', 5th ed. (Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders).
Denton, Michael (1985), `Evolution: A Theory in Crisis' (Bethesda, MD:
Adler & Adler).
Edey, Maitland A., and Donald C. Johanson (1989), `Blueprints' (Boston,
MA: Little, Brown & Co.).
Gibson, L.J. (1987), "Do DNA Distances Reveal Avian Phylogeny?,"
`Origins' (Loma Linda, CA: Geoscience Research Institute),
Kaufmann, David A. (1988), "Feminism, Humanism and Evolution,"
`Creation Research Society Quarterly', 25:69-72.
Kirsch, John A.W., and Carey Krajewski (1988), "Letters: Conflict Over
the Molecular Clock," `Science', 242:1624.
Lemonick, Michael D. (1987), "Everyone's Genealogical Mother," `Time',
26 January, p 66.
Lewin, Roger (1987), "The Unmasking of Mitochondrial Eve," `Science',
Lewin, Roger (1988a), "Conflict Over DNA Clock Results," `Science',
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Major, Trevor (1988), "Comments on Recent Developments in Molecular
Biology Relating to the Origin of Modern Populations," `Bible-
Science Newsletter', 26:1,14.
Major, Trevor, and Bert Thompson (1986), "Evolution, Creation, and the
Fossil Record," `Reason & Revelation', 6:27-38.
Mehlert, A.W. (1987), "More Problems with Evolutionary Hypothesis,"
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Stringer, C.B., and P. Andrews (1988), "Genetic and Fossil Evidence for
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Tierney, John, Lynda Wright, and Karen Springen (1988), "The Search for
Adam and Eve," `Newsweek', 11 January, pp 46-52.
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