"I'm treating the mutation rate as a substitution rate" - Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson

Well, this happened.

(Video version of this if you don’t feel like reading: Bad Creationist Genetics: "I'm treating the mutation rate as a substitution rate" - Dr. Jeanson - YouTube)

I got to chat with Jeanson last night, on the Apologetics Live YouTube show.

The important part was right about two hours and three minutes in: Traced: Human DNA's Big Surprise with Nathaniel Jeanson - YouTube

That direct quote from Dr. Jeanson was

Let me derive how I’m getting to this point. So we’ve got my claim from the examination of the published literature that the mutation rate is 3 mutations per generation, and I’m treating the mutation rate as a substitution rate

That’s…what we’ve been saying for years. And YECs have been “oh, no that’s not what he’s doing, he’s doing real calculations, it’s not the simple, you just don’t get it” and that can all stop now because it really is that simple. That’s all he’s doing, he admitted it, the critics have been right all along.

And the nice thing here is that this isn’t just Jeanson’s work this impacts. He’s undercut everyone who cites his work and or uses the same methodology. There’s no plausible deniability that there was something else going on here. He’s treating a mutation rate as though it’s a substitution rate, and that’s laughably, catastrophically incorrect.

As far as I’m concerned, this “debate” is over. It was never real in the first place; YECs never had a workable model to get TMRCAs within the YEC timeframe. But with this, the second-order debate over whether they have math worth taking even a little bit seriously is done. They don’t. Until someone comes up with a new model, this is the ballgame as far as I’m concerned. You can’t make an error like this, just straight up say “here’s the thing I’m doing”, and have people take you seriously,


Well, I don’t think anyone is citing him. So that limits the impact quite a bit.

In some cases mutation rate does approximate substitution rate. In some cases it doesn’t. Your case would be stronger by explaining why his work is operating in a domain in which mutation rate does not equal substitution rate.

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Hi Dan
I watched a small part of the discussion and thought it was a very respectful exchange which made both of you look professional no matter who is ultimately right.


The NEUTRAL mutation rate does match the substitution rate because new alleles become fixed at a rate proportional to their frequency. ALL mutation does not match a substitution rate.


Yes that’s right.

And in some cases the neutral mutation rate makes up the bulk of the mutations (eg in most non coding DNA, so the approximation). In these cases, subject to other caveats, mutation rate does approximate substitution rate.

As I recall, Nathan spends a lot of time looking at coding DNA, which certainly is not largely neutral. That’s a domain mutation rate will be far higher than the substitution rate (subject to other caveats).

Well and what Dan forgot to mention (it’s easy to forget things in this sort of online debate forum) was that the first graph he showed was for mtDNA and he used only the hypervariable region as a proxy for the rate for the entire mtDNA genome. Evograd did a good job in dismantling this. But, it never matters because Jeanson doesn’t really care about the science. He only cares about making what he already believes sound scientific so any criticism no matter how valid he’s just going to dismiss.


The other issue is that the approximate equality between mutation and substitution rate doesn’t hold at saturation (when mutation rate * time is large). In that case back mutations are increasingly common, so substitution rate is much lower than mutation rate.

@evograd rightly points out on absurd graph which shows the expected number of substitutions under the evolutionary hypothesis as greater than the size of the mirochondrial genome. Of course that’s not the prediction of evolutionary science. That happens because he applying the approximate formulas well outside their valid domain.


Even treating non-coding DNA as neutral would require a broad change in tack for YEC, as they presently seem quite consistent and insistent that all DNA is designed, functional, and essential, and all mutation represents loss of function.


That’s a double edged sword.

If it’s all functional, we should see very low substitution rates. Consequently we should incorrectly see MRCAs far more recent than they really are. That biases the problem in the opposite direction from what YECs need.


I guess the thing that gets me the most is not the mutation rate but the naive way he interprets trees.

I mean does he really think that all populations of constant size only have one branch?

And then taking this ridiculous non-sensical, almost childlike, approach to counting up branches as a proxy for population size and lining it up with a population growth curve and acting like he has discovered fire and everyone should get in line to pat him on the back to me is astounding.

All this makes me really pessimistic for the future when even smart people are so easily duped into believing nonsense, and doing so with enormous confidence.


Just cosigning this because Jeanson is considering all mutations (in the Y chromosome and whichever part of the mtDNA he’s considering - in at least one of his pieces it’s the full mt genome), not just neutral mutations, so “his” mutation rate very much does not approximate the fixation rate.

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Thank God. When that starts happening we are doomed.

When I say citing him, I don’t mean like explicitly building off of his work, but informally. So for example, you hear Dr. Rob Carter saying things like “when you look at the directly observable mutation rate, you get a recent date for mitochondrial Eve”. He’s not doing that math himself, he’s just parroting Jeanson. But he insists it’s more complicated than Jeanson just assuming the mutation rate equals the substitution rate. Turns out, it’s not!


I think Jeanson comes off as wildly arrogant. If what he was doing had any validity it wouldn’t be buried on the website of a religious ministry. He keeps calling these “publications”. They aren’t. They are web pages.

It seems Jeanson will never meet a correlation he dislikes so long as he can use it in his narrative. Next time harp on him about how the conclusion that declining divorces in Maine cause people to consume less margarine and express your incredulity that the result is staring him right in the face.



Funny thing I just realized. In that same show, Jeanson alludes to “genetic entropy”, and what’s one of the foundations of genetic entropy? No neutral mutations! Can’t have it both ways, my man.


I know. I’ve often thought about that. The irony in a creationist model relying on all the variation they measure to be neutral or nearly neutral isn’t lost. It all comes from the fact he just doesn’t know what he’s doing.


I have some good connections in the YEC scientific community. Quietly and off the record, some of them are very clear in their negative assessment of Jeanson’s work. I cannot give more details than this, for obvious reasons.

That is very important, as it corroborates @Joel_Duff 's observation (and, frankly, Jeanson’s complaint!) that YECs are not citing Jeanson. It seems that what he is doing is so out there that even YEC biologists, aligned with his presuppositions, are not able to follow or endorse it.


“Quietly and off the record” is really the problem in my opinion. The clannishness and self preservation inherent in this tells me they really aren’t interested in science, as if we needed any more evidence of that. It’s about furthering a religious agenda and protecting their ministries. When you know something is BS but you look the other way or keep quiet about it that shows to me they really aren’t interested in the truth.


Oh I agree. But I can’t out them. They have to come forward themselves. Maybe they will someday.

This isn’t a uniquely YEC problem. The same problem is just as strong in the Evolutionary Creationist bubble and in ID.


One obvious reason is a lack of strong, scientifically advancing debate that one finds in real scientific disciplines… No, better to leave the field the cesspool it is and allow the more gullible Christians to flounder and lose faith when the truth catches up instead of working to honestly clean up the field. Heaven forbid that anyone have robust discussions to work out any actual details when they can sing Kumbaya instead. Let the singing dull the sense of cognitive dissonance.