Atheist Son Writes… Listen to your great-great-grand-momma

Dear Mum,

It’s been far too long since we last continued our Creation vs Evolution debate. So with Christmas only just behind us I thought I would kick off our discussions again with a gift, of sorts.

Below is a map of your very own maternal journey out of Africa. That is to say, if you traced the birthplace of your mother, grand-mother, great-grand-mother, great-great-grand-mother and so on all the way back more than 150,000 years it would form the route you see here.


How do I know this? Because I had a section of DNA both you and I share, called mitochondrial DNA (mDNA), sent to a lab, sequenced, and compared with with a database of thousands of other DNA from all over the world. Since mDNA is only ever passed from the mother, and never the father, to her children you and I both share a virtually unchanged copy from our great-great-great … -grandmother from hundreds of thousands of years ago!

The fact it is only ‘virtually’ unchanged is the key to the map. Every few thousand years a small mutation appeared in the mDNA of one of our ancestral females which she then passed on to her daughter, who in turn passed it to her daughter and so on for the rest of the maternal line. Each of these mutations are like breadcrumbs leaving a trail we can trace all the way back in time. By comparing these tiny mutations within populations around the world we can work out with a good degree of accuracy when and where the mutation first occurred. This has revealed that groups of humans underwent many different routes around the world.  Each human group, or haplogroup, is identified by a unique letter of the alphabet.

For you and I, the mutations in our mDNA sequence shown below identify us as belonging to haplogroup H.

Our story begins in East Africa sometime between 150,000 and 170,000 years ago, with a woman whom anthropologists have nicknamed “Mitochondrial Eve.” But Mitochondrial Eve was not the only female human at the time – she is, however, the only female who’s children survive to this day. Neither was she the first human female: Homo sapiens evolved in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and the first hominids— characterised by their unique bipedal stature —appeared nearly two million years before that.

I’ve sent you in the mail a personalised document and video describing the journey the daughters of Mitochondrial Eve – our grandmothers – made out of Africa. It presents the evidence that our earliest female ancestors around 60,000 years ago travelled through the near East, and across Anatolia (present-day Turkey). We are also descended from the woman who first crossed the rugged Caucasus mountains of Iran into southern Russia to reach the steppes of the Black Sea. You are the grand daughter of the woman who around 30,000 years ago was among the first humans to venture on foot into Western Europe. From archeological evidence we know that on route our grand mothers survived devastating droughts, the Arab slave trade, two ice ages, and would have come into contact with neanderthals. They were also expert makers of tools, clothing and weapons.

And all this happened hundreds of millennia before some goat herders decided to invent a bunch of stories about an invisible dictator who lives in the sky. Not a single one of these unimaginably brave women, from whom you and I are descended, either knew about or needed your god.

I hope you like the package I’ve sent in the mail and enjoy the story it reveals written in our genes. While we may not yet agree on the evolution of life on earth, I nevertheless hope our heritage is something you agree we can share.

Happy New Year!

Sam

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2 Responses to Atheist Son Writes… Listen to your great-great-grand-momma

  1. Maxx says:

    Thank you both for sharing these stories, I am a free thinker myself (which here means no believe in any god) but do sometimes struggle with the same wall you both encounter when talking with believers.

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