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[4]: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.


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[2]: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

years ago.


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

ark" model.

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).


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[2]:16.

Bartz, Paul A. (1988b), "Scientific Research or Public Fancy?,"

`Contrast', 7[2]:3.

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[4]: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',


Lewin, Roger (1988b), "DNA Clock Conflict Continues," `Science',


Major, Trevor (1988), "Comments on Recent Developments in Molecular

Biology Relating to the Origin of Modern Populations," `Bible-

Science Newsletter', 26[5]: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,"

`Creation Research Society Quarterly', 24:156,157.

Stringer, C.B., and P. Andrews (1988), "Genetic and Fossil Evidence for

the Origin of Modern Humans," `Science', 239:1263-1268.

Tierney, John, Lynda Wright, and Karen Springen (1988), "The Search for

Adam and Eve," `Newsweek', 11 January, pp 46-52.


Apologetics Press

230 Landmark Drive

Mongomery, AL 36117-2752


Index - Evolution or Creation

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