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The Creation Explanation

Creation Explanation Man in His World

Evidence From Molecular Biology
"African Eve" Rises and Falls to Rise Again.

Molecular biology provides many powerful tools for the study of cell biology, genetics and embryonic development. One new field opened up by molecular biology is that of protein gene evolution. By comparing the sequences of nucleotides in the DNA of different species and assuming that the differences came to exist as a result of gradual evolutionary changes, it is claimed that the path of evolutionary decent can be constructed and evidence for genetic relationships developed. Actually there are many problems with this kind of analysis and theorizing. One of the most startling new notions arising from this type of research has been the claim that the entire human race descended from an "African Eve" who lived some 200,000 years ago. This was the conclusion of research conducted by molecular biologists, particularly the late Allan Wilson and his associates at U.C. Berkeley.38 Much ballyhooed in the mass media, this theory was quickly embraced by many, perhaps a majority of scientists concerned with such matters, but others have had serious reservations.

The conclusion that our race descended from some "African Eve" is based on a study of the DNA molecules contained in the mitochondria of cells collected from a limited number of individuals enlisted from a number of different population groups in various nations in Europe, Asia and Afro-Americans. Mitochondria are cell organelles which contain their own small complement of DNA and which are passed on from generation to generation in the egg cells produced by the females. Thus the mitochondrial DNA has in general no component received from the male sperm, but it is directly inherited from the female to the succeeding generation. It was believed that differences in the mitochondrial DNA from different population groups would reveal how the various groups descended from some original population group, with the DNA gradually evolving in the family line leading to each present population group. The DNA sequence data from the mitochondrial DNA was analyzed using a computer program. The results, put into a kind of family tree, showed that the major population groups living today are descended from an original woman or small group of females who lived in Africa 200,000 years ago. To many scientists and multitudes of credulous media people the new theory became a dogma and was quickly incorporated into their evolutionary faith. The "African Eve" became an item of faith for many.

There were doubters, however, in the scientific community who initiated new research directed at testing the theory based on supposed evolution of mitrochondrial DNA. The results of this new research were assembled and reported at the 1992 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which was reported in the Los Angeles Times for February 9, 1992.39 Four kinds of evidence were mustered against the African Eve theory at this meeting--from comparisons of tooth structure, skull shape and social behavior, and from a reanalysis and reinterpretation of the original study of comparative sequences of mitochondrial DNA. It had been reasoned that, if the human race did indeed evolve entirely from the African Eve, without any admixture from other population groups, such as the Neanderthals, then modern people groups should not have characteristics which they inherited from the Neanderthals. Anthropologist Alan Mann, however, has discovered differences in the microstructure of tooth enamel of Modern Europeans which are shared by the Neanderthalers but not by modern Africans.40 This is the reverse of what the African Eve theory predicts. Also presented was evidence of variation and of intermarriage of Neanderthal people with other peoples, which caused their physical differences from modern man to decrease with time. For example, the difference of Neanderthal skull shape from that of modern humans decreased. These and other skeletal similarities of Neanderthalers with modern Europeans reinforce the view that Neanderthalers were ancestors of us moderns. In addition, several anthropologists at the AAAS meeting discussed various kinds of evidence supporting the view that Neanderthal social practices had much in common with those of modern human societies. Finally--and this is the clinching new evidence--reanalysis at three major universities of the original comparative DNA data has demonstrated that no strong conclusions can be drawn as to whether modern humans are descended from Africans or from non-Africans, or that there may have been several "Eves."41 It was concluded that Alan Wilson misapplied the computer program used to analyze the data and arrive at his theory of an "African Eve."

Eager friends of African Eve, however, did not give up but expanded their research. By early 1995 they had come up with considerable new support for the theory.42 At least one eminent paleoanthropologist, Milford Wolpoff, and a few other scientists are still unconvinced, however. They prefer a theory of multiple origins for modern man, rather than a theory of a single African origin.

This story has been rehearsed at some length because it provides an up-to-date illustration of the fate common to most nominations to the office of ancestor of the human race. In 1981 British scientist John Reader commented on the almost endless success of candidate fossils, each one a brilliant but fleeting star on the stage of missing links: "Not many (if any) have held the stage for long; by now laymen could be forgiven for regarding each new arrival as no less ephemeral than the weather forecast."43

More recently, in 1984, a leading American geneticist, Prof. Richard C. Lewontin of Harvard University, was interviewed by journalist Tom Bethell.44 In his candid remarks about the uncertainty of all schemes for ape-to-man evolution. he referred to his 1982 book, Human Diversity, and said: "Look, I'm a person who says in this book that we don't know anything about the ancestors of the human species." Bethell inserted a quote from page 163 of Lewontin's book: "Despite the excited and optimistic claims that have been made by some paleontologists, no fossil hominid species can be established as our direct ancestor." Lewontin went on to explain:

All the fossils which have been dug up and are claimed to be ancestors--we haven't the faintest idea whether they are ancestors. Because all you've got, and the cladists are right [Here he chalked a crude fossils-versus-time diagram on the blackboard]...All you've got is Homo sapiens there, you've got that fossil there, you've got another fossil there...this is time here...and it's up to you to draw the lines. Because there are no lines. I don't think any one of them is likely to be the direct ancestor of the human species. But how would you know it's that one [pointing to a particular symbolized fossil hominid on his diagram]."

The only way you can know that some fossil is the direct ancstor is that it's so human that it is human. There is a contradiction there. If it is different enough from humans to be interesting, then you don't know whether it's an ancestor or not. And if it's similar enough to be human, then it's not interesting.

So, look, we're not ever going to know what the direct ancestor is.

These frank comments by an eminent Harvard evolutionary biologist give a picture in stark contrast to what one sees in public school and university textbooks, or in television science and nature documentaries. It is clear that we who hold a different view of science because of our faith in the Creator-Redeemer God of the Bible are being no less philosophical/religious than are our secular counterparts. Now let us look more closely at the fossil data relating to theories of human origins.



38. Vigilant, L, M., Stoneking, H. Harpending, K. Hawkes, A.C. Wilson, Science, Vol. 253, 1991, p. 1503.

39. Maugh, Thomas H. II, Los Angeles Times, 9 Feb. 1992, Section A, pp. 11,12; Barinaga, Marcia, Science, Vol. 255, 7 Feb. 1992, pp. 686-687.

40. Barinaga, Marcia, ibid (ref. 37).

41. Templeton, Alan R, Science, Vol. 255, 7 Feb. 1992, p. 737; Hedges, S. Blair, Sudhir Kumar, Koichiro Tamura and Mark Stoneking, ibid., pp. 737-739.

42. A.G., "Out of Africa at Last?" Science, Vol. 267, 3 March 1995, pp. 1272-1273.

43. Reader, John, New Scientist, March 26, 1981, p. 805.

44. Bethell, Tom, "Agnostic Evolutionists," Harper's Magazine, Feb. 1985, pp. 60-61.

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