Is there a simple experiment that can be done whereby actual empirical data can be used to disprove creationist theories on the origin of life? (Young Earth) Yes there is!
If we can show that the human race arose much earlier than 4000 B.C - the rough date given by 'Young Earth' Creationists, and similar to 200,000 B.C. - the date estimated using the evolutionary timescale, then we have effectively disproven creationism. Similarly, if the empirical evidence fits the 4000 B.C. date, then the theory of evolution could be easliy refuted.
Using Mitochondrial DNA - which is passed down from mother to child only, a date of around 200,000 years was given for the age of humanity - the age of the 'Mitochodrial Eve' - the very first human.
However, this date was built mostly on assumptions of the evolutionary time-scale and many dates given by biologists vary.
A great way to know for certain the age of humanity would be to find empirical evidence, in the shape of the mutation rate for mitochondrial DNA.
For example, by comparing the mitochondrial DNA of a man who died 500 years ago with a 20th century man (who are connected by the same Mitochondrial DNA lineage), we would have a definate mutation rate in order to accurately date the age of 'Mitochondrial Eve'. This evidence would also be a perfect way to empirically refute the 'Young Earth' creation theory.
Recently, scientists have conducted this experiment. The results were published in 'Nature Genetics': "The rate and pattern of sequence substitutions in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region (CR) is of central importance to studies of human evolution and to forensic identity testing. Here, we report a direct measurement of the intergenerational substitution rate in the human CR. We compared DNA sequences of two CR hypervariable segments from close maternal relatives, from 134 independent mtDNA lineages spanning 327 generational events.
Ten subsitutions were observed, resulting in an empirical rate of 1/33 generations, or 2.5/site/Myr. This is roughly twenty-fold higher than estimates derived from phylogenetic analyses.
This disparity cannot be accounted for simply by substitutions at mutational hot spots, suggesting additional factors that produce the discrepancy between very near-term and long-term apparent rates of sequence divergence. The data also indicate that extremely rapid segregation of CR sequence variants between generations is common in humans, with a very small mtDNA bottleneck.
These results have implications for forensic applications and studies of human evolution." Parsons, Thomas J. 'A high observed substitution rate in the human mitochondrial DNA control region', Nature Genetics vol. 15, April 1997, pp. 363-367.
So the mutation rate is significantly higher than expected, but what date would this give? "The observed substitution rate reported here is very high compared to rates inferred from evolutionary studies. A wide range of CR substitution rates have been derived from phylogenetic studies, spanning roughly 0.025-0.26/site/Myr, including confidence intervals. A study yielding one of the faster estimates gave the substitution rate of the CR hypervariable regions as 0.118 +- 0.031/site/Myr.
Assuming a generation time of 20 years, this corresponds to ~1/600 generations and an age for the mtDNA MRCA of 133,000 y.a. Thus, our observation of the substitution rate, 2.5/site/Myr, is roughly 20-fold higher than would be predicted from phylogenetic analyses.
Using our empirical rate to calibrate the mtDNA molecular clock would result in an age of the mtDNA MRCA of only ~6,500 y.a., clearly incompatible with the known age of modern humans.
Even acknowledging that the MRCA of mtDNA may be younger than the MRCA of modern humans, it remains implausible to explain the known geographic distribution of mtDNA sequence variation by human migration that occurred only in the last ~6,500 years. " Parsons, Thomas J. --'A high observed substitution rate in the human mitochondrial DNA control region', Nature Genetics vol. 15, April 1997, pp. 363-367.
Another scientist comments: "Mitochondrial DNA appears to mutate much faster than expected, prompting new DNA forensics procedures and raising troubling questions about the dating of evolutionary events. ...
Regardless of the cause, evolutionists are most concerned about the effect of a faster mutation rate. For example, researchers have calculated that "mitochondrial Eve"--the woman whose mtDNA was ancestral to that in all living people--lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago in Africa. Using the new clock, she would be a mere 6000 years old." Ann Gibbons, "Mitochondrial Eve: Wounded, But Not Dead Yet", Science, Vol. 257, 14 August 1992, p. 873.
So the empirical results, which were expected to back up the evolutionary time-scale, have actually refuted it. Not suprisingly, most scientists have tried to sidestep this evidence and come up with theories to explain it.
It's not often in the origins debate, with all it's estimates, bias and assumptions that we get to use empirical evidence like this, so when the evidence strongly supports the creationist theory, you have got to take notice.
Mitochondrial Eve is, however, not likely to be the biblical Eve. This Eve was probably part of an existing population, and merely the female that all of us can trace our ancestry back to, rather then the mother of ALL living. This is due to an extreme bottleneck in human history, which happened, according to the above data in the last 6000 years.
This fits perfectly with the biblical story of the flood, where one family would survive to repopulate the world. The mitochondrial mother is likely therefore to be Noah's wife***.
OBJECTION: But what about Adam?
We also have an ancestral father, who we shall call 'Y chromosome Adam' for now. Unfortunately, we are unsure at the moment how old he is. Here's my prediction: that emprical evidence will date him as young as 6000 years old. Does anybody know of any studies of 'Y' Adam?
OBJECTION: Isn't accepting these scientific dating methods 'picking and choosing' or data mining, where you reject the vast majority of evolutionary timescales, but accept these?
All evolutionary timescales are built on assumptions. This evidence is different in that it uses empirical data:
"The observed substitution rate reported here is very high compared to rates inferred from evolutionary studies." (Parsons 1997, above) The original rate was inferred by evolutionists, and the date of MtDNA Eve was decided by an inferred rate! But now we have an observed rate, which is much higher than the inferred rate. How is this data mining?
Real empirical evidence, which depends on observation will always be more powerful than inference. This empirical dating of Mitochondrial Eve fits in nicely with the creationist model of human origins, but is devastating to the evolutionary model.
OBJECTION: Also, if this is damaging to Evolution, why do the people who produced this data not see this? They are all evolutionists So, they must be very stupid, or you are oversimplifying things.
It's quite understandable that evolutionists should dismiss this evidence, afterall, they operate on a priori assumption that there is a naturalistic explanation for everything:
"We are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door." Richard Lewontin 'Billions and billions of demons', The New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 31.
I have yet to be presented with any evidence that I am oversimplifying this argument, although I would be happy to listen to detailed criticism.
Used by permission
Both Jaysen Goertz and Anne C. van Rossum have written to point out that since mtDNA is only passed from mother to daughter, Noah's wife would not be the source. MtDNA passed to a son would not be passed on to offspring.
"All mtDNA after the flood belongs to the biological mother(s) of the three wives."--Jaysen Goetz
This correction does not impact the main argument but only the author's guess as to the identity of the "mitochondrial mother".
Re: "All mtDNA after the flood belongs to the biological mother(s) of the three wives." ----This is true only if you agree to the notion that Noah's wife had no further children after the flood. She was, after all, aboard the ark, and with such great life spans, there is no reason to suspect she would cease reproducing after they stepped off it into a new world.