Getting a New Clock

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on May 5, 2012
Featured in News to Know

When the clock’s answers don’t meet expectations, get a new clock.

Molecular clock predictions of the time required to evolve humans and their supposed primate relatives from apelike ancestors have long made demands the fossil record could not meet. According to evolutionists, the oldest primate fossils just weren’t old enough. Evolutionary anthropologists Michael Steiper and Erik Seiffert have devised a new model recalibrating the clock along completely new criteria. According to their model, the known fossils are old enough. In the minds of evolutionists, this method demonstrates the accuracy of their evolutionary model. Though the method was only applied to primate fossils, the authors suggest their method could be used to reconcile numerous other such discrepancies in the mammalian fossil record.

Molecular clocks are calibrated in accord with dates assigned to fossils and the mutation rates of DNA. Since evolution of new life forms supposedly occurs by accumulating favorable mutations, knowing the mutation rate is essential to evolutionary time estimates. Conventional molecular clock estimates have demanded primate ancestral forms date back to 82 million years ago, in the late Cretaceous part of the geologic column. Unfortunately for evolutionary paleontologists, the oldest primate fossils are only 56 million years old. The new model, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, recalibrates the molecular clock used for primates. It eliminates the gap by indicating “young” primate fossils really are old enough.

Steiper and Seiffert propose that the mutation rate and therefore the speed with which evolution happened slowed down as body size and brain size increased.

Steiper and Seiffert propose that the mutation rate and therefore the speed with which evolution happened slowed down as body size and brain size increased. (Perhaps larger animals reproduced less often and thus provided fewer opportunities for inheritable mutations to occur, or perhaps the higher metabolic rate of little mammals cooked their DNA and made it mutate faster, they surmise.) Noting that measurable mutation rates in primates are very variable, they write, “Relaxed clock methods are especially appropriate for primates, because this clade exhibits large and systematic variation in molecular rates both within and among groups.”1

To prove the “hominoid slowdown”2 in mutation rate correlated with increasing body and brain size, they statistically analyzed skeletal and skull sizes of various primate fossils. They then compared those sizes to the accepted fossil dates. By thus calculating a new rate of evolution, they reassessed the expected times various primates should have appeared in the fossil record and found times closer to their new estimates.

They write, “In other words, we predict the molecular rates of long-extinct primates using our knowledge of their phenotypic attributes rooted in the fossil and extant data. This is a significant departure from the traditional method of generating molecular rates using fossils as calibrations. Because our method estimates molecular rates by using paleontological, phylogenetic, geological, and neontological sources, we feel that it has strong advantages over traditional calibration techniques.”3

The authors recommend their new method as an easy and accurate method of assessing the expected speed of evolution. After all, fossil sizes are measurable and therefore more accessible than predicted mutation rates in the deep past. We’ve written here a great deal about the unverifiable nature of such molecular clock assumptions. (See “Circular Clock” for discussion of the statistical sleight of hand noted even by evolutionists and “Molecular Clock Off-Line” and “Gorilla genome’s surprises” for more about variations of mutation rates.)

On the surface, the idea of measuring something physical in the present instead of predicting what mutation rates should have been in the unobservable past sounds like observational science instead of historical science. However, the new method is still based on the assumption that evolution of new kinds of animals from simpler ones occurred. The fossils are real, but estimates of their ages are fraught with unverifiable assumptions, and the notion that one kind evolved into another is imaginary. Such evolution has never been observed. Accumulation of mutations has never been shown to produce the gain of information required to evolve a new kind of creature. Therefore calculations of the “rate of evolution” are based on imagination, not fact, and are of no real value.

So why, if primates didn’t simply evolve as late-comers in earth’s history, are they absent from the deeper parts of the geologic column? We are often asked, similarly, why fossils of humans who died in the global Flood are not found but only fossils of people who died in the Ice Age, preserved in the uppermost rock layers. The answer, provided by the biblically consistent Flood model, sees the geologic column is a record of the order of burial. During the weeks in which the Floodwaters rose and violently destroyed and buried the occupants of habitat after habitat under tons of sediment, humans and animals most capable of fleeing—such as monkeys and apes and birds—doubtless did so. Ultimately they were of course overwhelmed, and most would have decayed. By that time, the bulk of the fossils in the geologic column had been entombed. Thus the Bible provides a historical record that is consistent with the findings in the fossil record, and no new clock is required.

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  1. M. Steiper and E. Seiffert. “Evidence for a Convergent lowdown in Primate Molecular Rates and Its Implications for the Timing of Early Primate Evolution,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 16 (2012): 6006–6011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1119506109.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.


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