Tuesday, 26 December 2006

When Science and Scripture Collide (and happen to agree)

It is the day after Christmas. The gifts have all been opened and sit by the door ready to be returned. The food has all been eaten and the bathroom scales are assumed to be in error. And I find, as I often do at times like this, that my mind turns, as perhaps do some of yours, to thoughts of Mitochondrial Eve. (ME)

Well, OK, I’m kidding, but the subject did come to mind as I remembered a discussion on the subject on a website devoted to debunking the Christian faith. At the risk of contravening online etiquette, I will not give the source because I don’t want to publicize it here (not, again, that I have great volumes of readers), but such discussions are easy enough to find.

The theory is that all people living on the earth today are descended from a single common female ancestor. The title of ME is given to our most recent common female ancestor. In fact, it is not really a theory, but a mathematical fact.

From the website:
“The proof for the existence of a Mitochondrial Eve is as follows (based on an argument in a book by Daniel Dennett).Consider all the humans alive today on Earth. Put them into a set S.Next, consider the set of all those women who were the mothers of the people in the set S. Call this set S'. A few observations about this new set S'. It consists of only women (while set S consists of both men and women)---this is because we chose to follow only the mother-of relationship in going from set S to set S'. Also note that not every member of set S' needs to be in set S---set S consists of all people living today, while some of the mothers of living people could have died, they would be in set S' but not in set S. Third, the size of set S' is never larger than the size of set S. Why? This is because of the simple fact that each of us has only one mother. It is however overwhelmingly more likely that the size of set S' is much smaller than that of set S---this is because each woman usually has more than one child.Repeat the process of following the mother-of relationship with set S' to generate a new set S''. This set will consist of only women, and will be no larger (and very likely smaller) than set S'.Continue this process. There will come a point when the set will consist of smaller and smaller number of women, until we finally come to a single woman who is related to all members in our original set via the transitive-closure of the mother-of relation. There is nothing special about her. Had we chosen to follow the father-of relation, we would have hit the Y-chromosome Adam (more on him later).”

Where the term “mitochondrial” comes in is that this theory has been scientifically verified by the tracking of mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on only by our mothers. It does indeed confirm that all people living on earth today can be traced to a single female ancestor. Many skeptics quote a figure of about 200,000 years ago; somewhere, they say, in Africa. Some Creation Scientists have come up with a figure of 6500 years ago. I really don’t care. I think the Bible can support a young earth or an old earth. What it does state unequivocally is that it was all created by God.

Now, I do not at all pretend to be an expert in this area. Sometimes people who consider themselves "experts" are too close to a thing, focusing so much on the details that they have difficulty seeing the whole picture. What I want to do is to examine what evidence we have in light of common sense, and not to go beyond said evidence into assumptions based on worldview presuppositions.

What do I mean by presuppositions? Well, in any discussion of this theory, the skeptic will say, as this one does, “…she was by no means the only living woman on Earth during her lifetime. Many other women lived with her…” (emphasis mine, JK).
Well, excuse me, but where did that bit of speculation come from? Apparently the time for evidence is past and the skeptic hopes he can just slip in an assumption and hope the reader won’t notice. I have read this assumption many times in relation to this matter, but have never seen anyone back it up with any evidence at all. All that is said is, “There must have been…” or, “There certainly were…”, other women alive at the time.

Here’s more from the site:
“I mentioned the Y-chromosome Adam (YcA for short) earlier in discussing patrilineal descent. The YcA has also been identified (by the careful sequencing of a small region of the Y-chromosome that all men carry) and has been dated considerably more recent than the ME (yet another slap-in-the-face for bibliolaters---their Adam and Eve lived many tens of thousands of years apart).” (emphasis mine, JK)

Here again, the skeptic shows his ignorance. Obviously the names ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ in this subject are not really meant to be the actual names of the persons involved. I believe, of course that this most recent common female ancestor to us all actually was named Eve. But who is the most recent male ancestor of everyone alive today? It’s not Adam! If we were playing Jeopardy, the answer would be, “Our most recent common male ancestor.” The question would be,… Are you ready for this? “Who is Noah?”

Yes, the human race began anew after the flood. The only humans to survive were Noah and his three sons (Noah being their father and therefore our most recent common male ancestor), and all their wives (each of which would have had different fathers and different mothers and would trace their matrilineal lineage back to Eve). Once again, the Bible is not proven wrong. Noah did indeed live many years after Eve. Just exactly how many years need not concern us.

The skeptic's article concludes with this:
“The existence of the Mitochondrial Eve and the Y-chromosome Adam are no longer in any doubt (remember, both are mathematical necessities)---what is still being discussed is the estimation of how long ago they lived.”

As I have said, I am no expert in this or, dare I say, anything else. But I’m just a guy who observes the world, asks questions and gives a few of my thoughts. And one of my favourite questions, when someone makes a statement and claims it to be fact is, “OK, show me!”

When it comes to attempts to debunk the Bible, we have an unfair advantage over the skeptic: it happens to be true. And the truth, by definition, cannot be successfully refuted.

Take Care

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