WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

THE CREATION VERSUS EVOLUTION CONTROVERSY: ADDENDUM #3

 

         We concluded addendum #2 by asking if mutations are random as Neo-Darwinians claim or do they occur in response to need?  We saw that mutations do not add information to the genome of an organism.  For mutational changes leading to changes in phenotypes to accumulate to the extent necessary to produce macroevolution (very simple to very complex), there would have to be an increase in information as generations of change build up over millions of years.  Yet we find this not to be the case.   

       Neo-Darwinian evolutionists believe all changes in phenotypes result from random, chance mutations of genes and have nothing to do with a need an organism may have to adapt to its environment. Environment only plays a role in the selection of mutations, thus determining whether they continue or disappear.  Is it possible that mutations are not random but are instead triggered by environmental challenges and therefore environment determines change in phenotypes rather than only selects such changes?   If this is shown to be the case, what implications does this have for Neo-Darwinian claims that all life has evolved through random mutation and natural selection?

NATURAL SELECTION:

       Let’s look at natural selection.  There certainly are examples of natural selection taking place in nature.  In part 5 of the original essays in this series I discussed the peppered moth phenomenon.  The peppered moth species comes in two basic varieties. Some have dark colored wings and some have light colored wings.  In Birmingham and Manchester England before 1845, these moths would sit on trunks of certain trees having a light colored bark.   Birds would feed off the dark winged moths but would largely leave the light winged moths alone because they blended in with the bark. Therefore, the light winged moths became the dominate variety of the peppered moth species.

       As the industrial revolution progressed, the tree bark became darker due to the smoke and grime produced by factories killing off the light colored lichen that covered the bark of the trees.  When this happened birds began to eat more of the light colored moths as they could now more easily see them and the dark winged moths survived better because they now better blended in with the darkened bark. After a while the dark winged moths became the dominate variety.

       This is an example of natural selection at work in response to environmental change.  This is not an example of natural selection at work in response to random mutations causing a change in phenotype. Both phenotypes of peppered moths already existed in the population. Both light and dark colored moths were already present. All that is going on here is a greater survival of one variety of peppered moths over another variety of peppered moths due to changing environmental circumstances. 

       The question we must ask is this:  Can environmental change go beyond facilitating the kind of natural selection seen with the peppered moth?  Can it and does it trigger inheritable mutations that produce changes in phenotypes? If so, to what extent do such changes occur?  Is such change limited to microevolution or can macroevolution occur in this manner where you have large scale phenotype change leading to entirely new types of organisms? 

        As already covered, in order for macroevolution to occur along Darwinian lines, there needs to be accumulated increases in genetic information as the millions of small micro-evolutionary steps occur over millions of years.  Yet such increase in information has not been shown to occur. There also needs to be fossil evidence of incremental transitional changes.  This also is lacking. Some evolutionists, who have come to recognize these problems in Neo-Darwinian evolution, have postulated that large scale evolutionary changes have occurred through genetic rearrangements in regulatory genes. Regulatory genes control what the cell does and how it does it. For example, regulatory genes control which and how many proteins a cell makes. These genes actually turn on and off as needed. Therefore, it is believed by some evolutionists that, depending on the activity of such genes, large scale changes in phenotype could occur rather quickly. Stephen Gould’s idea of “punctuated equilibrium” is a reflection of this approach.  

       This approach, however, should result in large scale increase in genetic information.  There is no evidence this has occurred. Those who believe large scale changes have occurred suddenly also believe this happens randomly.  Yet genetic research indicates the activity of regulatory genes is based on needs of an organism and not on fortuitous random activity.  Recent genetic research has also demonstrated that organisms can and do experience genetic changes in response to changes in their environment. There is a significant amount of literature discussing this research.  While the molecular mechanics of how this happens is still unknown, it has been demonstrated that it does happen. A number of experiments with bacteria have demonstrated this. What such experiments have shown is that the bacteria have latent elements in their genome that become activated in response to certain environmental challenges. Expression of these elements then facilitates phenotypic change. Such change does not increase information as such but rearranges information already present in the genome.

       In view of the forgoing, one has to question to what extent environment determines change in phenotype without there being a mutative change in the genome.  It has been observed that some species that are very much alike can greatly differ in their genomes and other species that are quite different as to phenotype have very similar genomes.  This indicates that the extent of genome differences may be unrelated to the extent of differences in phenotype.  Changes in genomes may simply be responses to environmental changes which lead to changes in phenotypes. If this can be demonstrated to be the case, organisms may not have developed through random mutation and natural selection but by non-random mutation initiated by environmental pressures. Natural selection would only come into play as a means of preserving or eliminating the changes initiated by environmental change.  In other words, genetic change may not be random at all but specific responses to environmental triggers. If this should turn out to be the case, varieties of organisms (change in phenotypes) have and continue to develop, not through random mutation, but through selected, non-random genetic expression initiated by environmental triggers which is then preserved though the adaptation provided through natural selection.

PHENOTYPIC PLASTICITY:  

       The ability of an organism to develop a particular phenotype in response to environmental change is called phenotypic plasticity. An organism's phenotype is simply its set of features, and to be plastic means to be moldable or changeable. This process is sometimes referred to as developmental plasticity. Phenotypic or developmental plasticity simply means an organism's features or behavior can be molded, or influenced by its environment. It also means a single genotype can produce more than one form of structure or behavioral pattern.  For example, an organism is genetically programmed to develop in a certain way but can have such programmed development altered by environmental factors. Fish hatched in toxic water can be deformed due to the impact of toxins on their genetic makeup. Such deformity is not the result of the accumulative effect of years of gradual genetic mutation but of short term environmental change.  Deformed fish will produce more deformed fish unto such time the water is cleaned up and the fish’s genetic expression returns to producing normal fish. Therefore, environment will alter the genetic expression in the fish and such altered expression can be passed along to ongoing generations until environmental change elicits change in genetic expression.  

       A polar bear may go to eating goose eggs instead of seals if seals become unavailable and goose eggs are plentiful. The bears eating habits will be determined by what food is available. A bear is apparently born with a genetic predisposition to fed on the raw meat of seals. This is what a polar bear does when born into a normal polar bear environment.  The polar bear also has an apparent genetic ability to eat other types of food when seals aren’t available. The polar bear doesn’t have to gradually evolve an ability to eat other types of food.  Such ability is part of the bear’s genetic information library. 

        Both of these examples show how environment affects expression of the genome. In the case of the fish, genes are damaged due to toxins in the water resulting in deformed fish.  In the case of the polar bear, resident genetic information is expressed that allows the polar bear to respond to environmental change and thus survive.  In both cases, genes responding to environmental change facilitate change in phenotype. It wasn’t random gene mutation that produced deformed fish or the ability of polar bears to change their eating habits.  It was specific genetic response to changing circumstances in the environment. The same genotype yields different phenotypes in different environments.

        Phenotypic plasticity has been observed to occur in both plants and animals and is a widely observed phenomenon.  This phenomenon strongly indicates that organisms have a huge storehouse of stored genetic information that can become activated and expressed when triggered by environmental changes. It has been observed that a single genotype can give rise to multiple adaptive phenotypes.

       For example, it has been observed that plants adjust their seed production to their density.  The denser the plants are the less seeds they produce. The less dense the plants are the more seeds they produce.  Plants adjust the size of their leaves and stems in response to environmental change. Crabs prey on snails with thin shells. When crabs are around, snails begin to grow thicker shells so the crabs can’t eat them.  Snails prey on barnacles. When snails are around, barnacles grow into a bent shape so the snails can’t eat them.  When snails are not around, barnacles develop into their normal straight form. These organisms contain genetic information that allows them to adjust to environmental change.  They are able to change their phenotype to adapt to their environment. 

       Neo-Darwinian evolution sees different populations of organisms with their many phenotypes occurring due to genetic mutations and natural selection. Is there possibly another explanation for population divergence?  Is it plausible that the differences seen in the various populations of organisms are due to phenotypic plasticity where genetic mutation is not the primary dynamic involved and where natural selection operates only in determining what phenotypes survive once they have been created through genetic response to environmental change?  Is it possible that environment is the prime facilitator of evolutionary change?  Can phenotypes continue to change as environment changes and can such change account for the great diversity of organisms, extinct and extant? 

       Is it possible that basic body plans were designed and created and it is from these basic body plans (both plant and animal) that thousands of organisms have evolved in response to environmental triggers rather than from genetic mutations which are largely detrimental to phenotypic development?  Is adaptation to environmental change the primary dynamic in the development of different phenotypes leading to development of different organisms? Is phenotypic change the result of millions of years of gradual genetic mutation or is such change the result of resident genetic information responding to environmental change? 

       Neo-Darwinians may interpret the kind of changes cited above as  occurring due to natural selection acting on variations already present in the population of snails and barnacles just as is true with the peppered moth example. There may have been snails with both soft and hard shells in the population of snails and when the crabs ate the soft shelled snails, the hard shelled snails became dominant. Likewise, the bent shaped barnacle variation may already have been in the population and manifested itself when the snails eat the straight formed ones. Evolutionists would conclude that these variations had already evolved due to random mutation and were now becoming evident through natural selection acting on environmental changes.  There is, however, strong evidence that environment does elicit genetic change. 

ENVIRONMENT RELATED PHENOTYPIC CHANGE:

       There are pronounced examples of phenotype changes that appear directly related to environmental influences upon an organism. Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in the South Pacific Ocean during his famous voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle in the 1800’s.  There he found finches that looked like finches he had seen elsewhere but yet were different in a number of ways. He took nine varieties of these finches back to England where it was determined that these birds were indeed different from other known varieties of Finches.  Thirteen different species (varieties) of finches were identified on the Galapagos primarily in terms of their having different bills which appeared to be associated with the type of foods they were eating.  Darwin concluded these differences were the result of genetic variations occurring over millions of years with natural selection determining adaptations to the various environments extant on the islands. 

        Is this a reasonable conclusion?  Here we have different varieties of finches having various beak sizes that adapt them to eating different foods available on different islands of the Galapagos.  These particular varieties of finches where not known to exist anywhere else at the time. Other finches known at the time did not have these particular beak characteristics. The finches on the Galapagos were believed by Darwin to have arrived there at some point from the mainland.  Once there, Darwin believed they began to develop a variety of different structures through random genetic mutation regulated by natural selection. Why would evolution produce such genetic changes in just these finches and not others around the world?  It appears more reasonable to conclude these changes resulted from a genetic response to the different environmental conditions to which these birds were exposed.  Environmental factors triggered informational changes in the finch’s genome which produced phenotype changes that became heritable.  

       Someone may object at this point and conclude I am suggesting the nineteenth century Lamarckian idea of acquired characteristics is at play here. This theory held that organisms acquired different traits during their life time and such traits became heritable by their progeny. This theory fell into disrepute when it was shown that when a person loses an arm, his progeny are not born missing an arm and so there is no inheritance of an acquired characteristic. This certainly is true.  One would not expect a genetic response to such an occurrence.  However, where there is ongoing exposure to a particular environment, there does appear to be heritable genetic response.

        Laysan Island, along with a small group of islands about a thousand miles northwest of Honolulu, is an official US bird reservation. In 1967, around one hundred finches from Laysan Island were brought to a small atoll called Southeast Island located about 300 miles northwest of Laysan. Southeast Island is part of a group of four islands within a radius of about ten miles.  In the ensuing years, the finches spread to all four islands of this group. When the birds were examined in 1987, it was found their population had grown to around 800 birds. It was also discovered that these finches were already different from their ancestor finches which came to the Island only twenty years earlier and finches on one island differed from finches on another island of this four island group. In particular, they were seen to have different bills.

        How did such differences develop so quickly?  According to Neo-Darwinian theory, such differences would require millions of years to manifest themselves.  Darwinians may argue that random mutation had already created these variations in the finches brought over from Laysan Island but then why did such variations not manifest themselves while on Laysan Island?  Why would the birds on one island of the Southeast island group develop one set of characteristics and birds on another island of this group develop a different set of characteristics, all within a twenty year period.  The answer appears obvious.  Environmental factors triggered genetic responses that produced heritable differences in phenotypes. What is of greater interest is that such heritable differences in phenotypes developed in a few short years. What this tells us is that it doesn’t take millions of years for variations to appear in particular species of organisms.

        Here is another example. Water fleas are tiny crustaceans known for their ability to skim atop the water's surface. There natural predator are fish. In a laboratory experiment, water fleas with the same genome were exposed to the scent of fish in one tank and not exposed to the scent of fish in another tank.  The fish in the tank with the fish scent developed a hard helmet structure which made it difficult for fish to swallow them whereas the fish in the unscented tank did not develop such a structure.  This happened in a short period of time.  There was no genetic mutation here but simply a informational modification in the genes of the fish exposed to the fish scent. This modification became heritable.

       Oak tree caterpillars that hatch in the spring eat oak blossoms and grow up to look a bit like flowers. Caterpillars with the same genome, but which hatch in the summer, eat leaves and grow up to look like twigs. The different composition of blossoms and leaves affects what traits the caterpillars' genes produce. Here again, we see no change in genome and yet an environmental change elicits a different phenotype. 

        In the past few years, scientists have found examples of how changes in the environment affect people who were found to have certain genes that were previously believed to predispose a person to a particular kind of behavior.  For example, a certain gene produces an enzyme active in the brain called MAOA. In some this gene produces normal amounts of this enzyme while a variation of this gene produces low amounts of this enzyme. Low amounts of this enzyme have been demonstrated to be associated with aggression and criminality to the extent that this gene became known as a "violence gene."

        In 2002, a study by an international team of researchers followed 442 male New Zealanders who carried either of two versions of the MAOA gene.  This study found that men with the variation of this gene that produced low amounts of MAOA were indeed more likely to grow up to be antisocial or violent.  This, however, was only true if they had been neglected or abused as children. In that case, they were about twice as likely to engage in persistent fighting, bullying, theft and vandalism. If they had the "violence gene" but were raised in a loving and non-abusive family, they turned out fine. A 2004 study by different scientists confirmed this. This study demonstrates how environments can determine how genetic expression manifests itself in the behavior of an organism. 

        Many experiments have been conducted with lab animals that demonstrate how environmental changes alter genetic expression. A research project at McGill University in Montreal reported that a gene that shapes how fearful, jumpy and neurotic a rat is can be altered by how regularly its mother licks and grooms it. Maternal care virtually changes the chemistry of this gene and the rat grows up to be mellow. The genetic trait that causes a rat to be neurotic was seen to be adjusted by environment.

        Much research has been done and is currently being done that demonstrates developmental plasticity, or the ability of environment to trigger changes in genotype that facilitate change in phenotype. Genotype is the overall genetic makeup of an organism.  Such change in phenotype is not caused by genetic mutation but by genetic adjustment to environmental change. It is as though the genome has a store house of information that is expressed in response to environmental change. Where such environmental change persists, these genetic expressions become heritable and produce generational change in phenotype.  While natural selection still plays a role in determining survival of the fittest in a particular environment, the frequency of phenotypic change appears more associated with non-random genetic adjustment to environmental triggers than environment selecting levels of survival in response to random genetic mutational triggers.

        As already covered in this series, genetic mutations, by and large, are detrimental to an organism and do not lead to survivability. The Darwinian evolutionist gets around this fact by postulating enormous periods of time for the development of life forms where it is assumed enough non-detrimental mutations occur to facilitate evolution along neo-Darwinian lines.  This belief in mutation driven evolution is then believed to be verified by a fossil loaded geologic column reflecting millions of years of slow uniformitarian development.  Radiometric dating is used to establish the age of the geologic column by dating the igneous rock that surrounds the sedimentary strata that makes up this column. 

        Classical neo-Darwinism is predicated on the idea that most heritable phenotypic change is mediated by alterations in DNA sequence in genomes.  However, evidence is rapidly accumulating that shows heritable phenotypic change also has a epigenetic basis, meaning it can and does take place outside of alterations in the DNA sequence in genomes. This has led to a number of evolutionary biologists taking a new look at the long discarded idea of inherited acquired characteristics.    

 REVIEW:

        In view of all we have discussed in this series to date, let’s take a practical, matter-of-fact, evidential look at this whole issue of how life forms come to be. We know from the entirety of human experience that life comes only from preexisting life. There is not one recorded incident of life generated from non-life.  The evidence says life only comes from pre-existing life.  Even if man were able to combine elements in such manner as to produce self-replicating life, it would still entail application of intelligence to accomplish this. Therefore, it is unreasonable to suggest life appeared from fortuitous activity of non-living elements with no intelligent direction from a cognitive living entity.

        The entirety of human experience reflects intelligent design.  Humans, exercising intelligence, use elements of the physical universe to design and create.  Therefore, it is contrary to all human experience and reason to conclude that the elements of the physical universe came about through non-intelligence and somehow those elements fortuitously came together to generate self replicating living organisms.

       In view of the evidence from human experience as to intelligence being behind design and creation of physical things, it is totally reasonable to conclude the physical elements of the universe and life was designed and created by an intelligent living entity having the knowledge, understanding, wisdom and power to accomplish such design and creation. It is extremely unreasonable to conclude otherwise.  In the original essays in this series, we examined the how and when of the physical creation.  In these addendum's we are specifically addressing the how and when of the creation of life forms.

        It has been established that the geologic column with its abundance of fossils, provides a record of millions of extinct and extant organisms.  We have demonstrated in this series that fossils can only be formed through rapid disposition of sedimentary material and therefore the fossil record cannot represent millions of years of gradual development. We have seen that sedimentary rock can be formed in a relatively short period of time.  This understanding, when viewed alongside of our understanding of how fossils are formed, makes it highly problematic to conclude the geologic column with its millions of fossils took millions of years to develop.  It is much more reasonable to conclude the geological column developed in a much shorter time frame and reflects the action of a catastrophic event such as a great flood.

        The presence of a great variety of body types in the Cambrian layer of the geologic column provides evidence for a catastrophic event creating rapid formation of sedimentary strata due to the action of water. This creation of vertical columns of horizontal sedimentary deposits quickly entrapped millions of organisms. Just when such event occurred in earths history is uncertain.  What this event does demonstrate is the existence of many fully developed body types.  There is no evidence in the Cambrian layer or in any other layer of the geologic column of incremental developmental stages as required by Darwinian evolutionary theory. 

        The absence of clearly defined incremental evolutionary development of organisms is such a problem for neo-Darwinian evolutionists that some have developed alternative theories such as “Punctuated Equilibrium,” which postulates sudden bursts of evolution as opposed to gradual incremental evolution.  In view of the sudden appearance of organisms in the Cambrian strata, it would appear there was sudden appearance of organisms at a point in time only to be followed by a sudden destruction of such organisms at a point in time.

        It is apparent there were millions of organisms extant at the time the Cambrian strata developed. There is little to no evidence of these organisms in the Pre-Cambrian rock.  These organisms in the Cambrian show complete development.  There are no transitional stages of development observed in the Cambrian. Therefore, the Cambrian gives evidence to a point in time appearance of a variety of body types. A point in time appearance strongly points to a designer/creator generating such sudden appearance.  How many different body types where originally created and how many result from adaptation to environmental triggers or genetic mutation is uncertain.

        Since incremental transitional stages do not appear in the Cambrian, it is reasonable to conclude that variations of basic body types seen in the Cambrian did not result to any degree from genetic mutation but resulted primarily from epigenetic activity where the genotype expresses itself in different ways to accommodate environmental influences upon the organism. It also appears such change in phenotype is not incremental but is more along the lines of Stephen Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium” perspective where change happens rapidly in response to the needs an organism may have in order to survive.  Such rapid change would not entail slow incremental transitional developmental stages.  Such change would be more like that observed in the finches on the Southeast Islands. 

      We have seen that such epigenetic activity can occur in relatively short periods of time. While we know genetic mutation does take place and does produce phenotypic change, we also know that most genetic mutation is detrimental to the organism and natural selection sees to it that organisms experiencing such mutations eventually die out.  Epigenetic activity, on the other hand, is not detrimental to the organism but instead is the genotype positively responding to environmental challenges and thus facilitating the survival of the organism.  This epigenetic activity produces both internal and external morphological changes, as well as, behavioral changes to accommodate environmental changes.

       Under neo-Darwinian evolution, phenotypic change is largely seen as the result of random genetic mutation acted upon by natural selection.  Natural selection is how the environment accommodates the phenotypic change facilitated by the random mutation.  If the environment is accommodating to the change, the change survives.  If not, the change will disappear.  With developmental plasticity, the organism’s genotype produces response to environmental change that allows the organism to adjust to the changed environment.  This is a non-random response as the genotype only responds when triggered by an environmental change. 

        This being the case, rather than the environment (natural selection) being the primary determinant in survival of an organism, the genotype determines survival of the organism by facilitating a phenotypic change that will adapt the organism to the changed environment. Darwinian natural selection comes into play only as other environmental factors impact the organism that the genotype does not respond too.

        Our knowledge as to what is necessary for fossils to form, how sedimentary formations can form quickly due to the action of water and how rapidly phenotypic change can occur, raises series questions as to the validity of neo-Darwinism as the medium whereby life came to be and develop.  The evidence is much stronger in support of their being a point in time creation of a number of body types with those body types developing variations in response to environmental triggers resulting in great diversity of organisms both extinct and extant.  This process of diversification due to developmental plasticity continues to this very day and can be observed all over the world.

       This view harmonizes with what we can readily observe and experimentally demonstrate relative to sedimentary rock formation and diversification of life forms.  Rapid sedimentary rock formation has been experimentally created and also observed in nature as discussed in part three of this series. Phenotypic change has been shown to occur in a short time frame due to environmental triggers upon genotypes as discussed in this addendum. Therefore, this view is much more scientific than the view promulgated by neo-Darwinism which cannot demonstrate gradual development of phenotypes over millions of years.

        While this view does not establish the timeframe involved in the development of the great diversity of extinct and extant life forms, it does show that development of such diversity does not demand millions of years for it to take place but could develop and redevelop in a much shorter timeframe.  I stress the word redevelop as it should be apparent from simple observation of nature that both plants and animals very quickly repopulate an area devastated by a catastrophe. An original creation of life forms as described in Genesis could have diversified into a large number of varieties within reproductive boundaries within a relatively short period of time.  If the Noachian flood occurred as recorded and this flood destroyed all land dwelling organisms except for Noah, his family and the animals on the ark, such an event could explain the geologic column as there would have been rapid disposition of sedimentary strata entrapping millions of organisms in order of their complexity.  After the flood, with the reintroduction to the environment of the organisms preserved in the ark and the germination of seeds buried in the drying soil, there would have been rapid re-population of the earth of both plants and animals with increasing diversity as the years went by.  

        As covered at the outset of these addendum's to my original series on this issue, the Christian theological system is predicated on a creationist paradigm. The neo-Darwinian paradigm or any non-creationist paradigm cannot be harmonized with the Biblical account of origins. If the neo-Darwinian perspective on origins is true, then the Biblical account of origins is false and if false it also negates salvation theology which is based on the Genesis account of creation.  

        Neo-Darwinism and Darwinian evolutionary theory in general is based on very problematical concepts as to how sedimentary strata and fossils are formed and how diversification of life forms occurs. In this series of addendum's, I have identified these problematical concepts and have offered explanations for these issues that are much more in line with the evidence.  While this evidence does not establish absolute verification of the Genesis creation and flood accounts, it does provide reasonable grounds upon which to base acceptance of these events as having actually occurred in some sense.

         Some may see this as an apologist attempt to give credence to the Genesis account and the Biblical record in general.  My approach in this entire series has not been that of a Christian apologist.  My intention is to look at the issue of origins and see where the evidence takes me.  If it takes me to see Darwinian evolution as valid then I will have to seriously examine whether there is still reason to believe in the Christian theological system.  To date, however, my research has not established the validity of Darwinian/neo-Darwinian evolution.  Instead, I have found the Darwinian system to be very problematic in many ways and not in line with the evidence. 

        For the Christian, this is a critical matter. Apostle Paul bases his salvation theology on there having been a literal Adam and Eve that sinned, necessitating the Christ event.  The Hebrew Scriptures record that the Sabbath command was based on a literal belief in a six day creation. Christ refers to the Noachian flood as an actual historical event. If these events didn’t happen in some manner, these men are teaching falsehood and the Christian theological system is erroneous. 

        In addendum #4, we will discuss genetic information and further examine mutation/natural selection theory and the concept of intelligent design.

 ADDENDUM 4