To date, we have looked at many aspects of this debate. We have examined the views of both theists and atheists as to origins and how life has come to be.  We have discovered that the debate is not so much between evolutionists and creationists but between atheistic evolutionists and theistic evolutionists/creationists. 

       By and large, creationists don’t deny that evolution has and is taking place at some level. What is denied by creationists is the absence of Deity in this process as is believed by atheistic evolutionists.

       While theistic evolutionists/creationists are divided as to how God has been involved in the process of evolution, they all agree that God is involved.  Atheistic evolutionists, on the other hand, are unified in believing the universe and all life forms have come into existence devoid of any supernatural involvement.  Atheistic evolutionists simply believe the universe and life forms have evolved as the result of undirected random activity of the elements that make up matter and energy. 

        Atheists believe that the basic constituents of energy such as atoms and sub-atomic particles have eternally existed within a state of so-called equilibrium. It is believed these constituents of energy became compressed which created disequilibrium. This disequilibrium led to an expulsion of energy referred to as the Big Bang.  This explosion created the particles of matter that over millions of years has developed into what we see as the universe. 

       Atheistic scientists support this view by showing how atoms incessantly move at a few hundred to thousands of miles an hour at ordinary temperatures. As temperature increases so does the speed of their movement.  At high temperatures, many atoms spontaneously bond when they collide, forming extremely powerful associations in very specific ways.  Atheistic evolutionists believe it is this type of spontaneous reaction of elements that created the Big Bang. 

       Life is seen as protein molecules fortuitously coming together, reproducing themselves, and gradually developing over millions of years into increasingly more complex life forms leading to humans. The amino acids that make up protein are seen as coming into existence as the result of the Big Bang.    

       Therefore, it is believed there is no need to postulate a supernatural Being called God as being the source of the universe and life forms.

       While this godless idea of origins was promoted by some naturalists before Darwin, most of the scientific community before Darwin believed Deity was behind the origin of the universe and life.  In 1802, the English philosopher William Paley reasoned that if you were walking in the desert and came across a watch laying in the sand, you would not for a moment conclude such watch had come into existence by chance.  You would conclude that someone had designed and made the watch.  Paley argued that if a watch requires a designer, so much more would something as complex as living organisms. The argument from design was generally seen to be a valid way of explaining how the universe and life came to be. 

       In philosophical circles, design is seen as one of the three major arguments for the existence of God. It is called the teleological argument.  The other two major arguments are referred to as the ontological and cosmological arguments.  

       Darwin argued against the design thesis in pointing out that you can’t compare a watch with a living organism. A watch is not alive. It can’t reproduce itself.  Therefore, a watch cannot gradually come into being. It must be designed and made.  Darwin theorized that since living organisms reproduce themselves, they could very well begin with having minimal complexity and develop greater complexity facilitated by adaptation to environmental change by what he called natural selection.

       Darwin’s conclusion about the difference between living and non-living things was seen as a reasonable rebuttal to the argument from design.  It came to be believed that living organisms had innate capacity for change and such change occurred through a natural chance progression of events. When this concept was combined with Darwin’s notion of natural selection, the scientific world began to embrace the idea that the great variety of life on planet earth and in the fossil record came to be without the need of a supernatural designer and creator.  The geologic column with its fossil stratification of lower to higher forms of life was now seen as strong evidence in support of Darwin’s Theory.

Natural selection:

       Natural selection, as a dynamic of evolution, is the term applied to the survival of organisms that are more adapted to their environment than other organisms.  Therefore, environment is seen as a major dynamic in the survival of an organism.  Those organisms that survive are able to pass on their particular genetic makeup to their progeny.  Over time, as organisms are exposed to changing environments, changes in body type occur and lead to the development of new varieties of organisms.

       Darwin observed that there are many variations in populations of living organisms and he assumed these variations were inheritable.  Darwin did not know how the variations in organisms were inherited as knowledge of genetics first became known to the scientific community after Darwin’s death.  While he did not know how such changes occurred within the organism, Darwin believed such changes were a response to a need that an organism had to adapt to an environmental challenge and that such change became inheritable and passed along from one generation to another.

       Natural selection comes into play where organisms having more adaptable traits better adapt to environmental challenges than organisms having less adaptable traits. Organisms having the more adaptable traits increase in number while those with less adaptable traits struggle and in some cases become extinct.  Thus was coined the phrase, “survival of the fittest.”  Darwin believed that adaptable traits accumulated over time resulting in organisms becoming quite different from what they started out as. He saw all life as gradually evolving from common ancestors who in turn evolved from still lesser life forms going all the way back to a supposed spontaneous generation of life somewhere in the primordial past.

        With the advent of genetic research, Darwin’s conclusions were re-evaluated leading to what is now commonly referred to as Neo-Darwinism which is the approach currently in vogue within much of the scientific community.  Neo-Darwinism rejected Darwin’s suggestion of inheritable environmentally induced variations in organisms as it was believed heritable traits can only be facilitated by reproductive cells (germ cells) and such cells are not influenced by the environment.  In other words, it came to be believed that environment only selects whether changes in an organism will survive or not survive.  It does not prompt the change seen in an organism as Darwin appears to have thought.

       Instead of further exploring Darwin’s idea of environmental influence on variation in organisms, Neo-Darwinists introduced the concept of random mutation of genes as the starting point for observed variation in organisms. A mutation is seen as a random change in a gene or chromosome resulting in a new trait or characteristic that can be inherited.  It came to be believed that even though most mutations are harmful to an organism, there are enough beneficial mutations that when combined with natural selection and given enough time, they will produce a progression of variations in physiology leading to a variety of different organisms at all levels of life.

       Neo-Darwinism basically takes the approach that mutations have nothing to do with the needs of an organism as Darwin believed. In other words, mutations have nothing to do with whether an organism adapts or fails to adapt to environmental change.  Mutations simply occur on a directionless random basis and produce slight differences in an organism.  Environment then gives direction to the mutation and makes it non-random by either accommodating the mutation (selecting it) or not accommodating it (not selecting it).  In other words, natural selection establishes the continuance or non-continuance of a change caused by a mutated gene. 

       If an organism experiences a gene mutation and that mutation leads to a change in how that organism functions or appears, the survivability of such change will depend on whether such change adapts to the environment wherein it finds itself.  So rather than variations in organisms being produced by an organism needing to change because of environmental challenges as Darwin appears to have believed, Neo Darwinists believe that random gene mutation causes variation in an organism and environment only determines whether such variation will survive.

       Under this paradigm, natural selection is seen as the process whereby an organism finds a mutation useful or non-useful.  If the mutation is harmful to the organism, and most are, the mutation will not be selected and tends to disappear.  If the mutation is useful to the organism it will be selected and establish itself in successive generations of the organism.  As more and more different useful mutations occur and take hold, they begin to accumulate and produce very small but steady changes in an organism. Eventually you have a very different organism from what you started with.

       Very small but steady changes are seen as microevolution.  The accumulation of micro-evolutionary change is believed to result in macroevolution where organisms gradually evolve into very different organisms.  For the Neo-Darwinist, evolution is simply the gradual accumulation of small changes occurring over millions of years leading to the variety of organisms, past and present, which inhabit the earth.  For atheistic evolutionists, this is all seen as occurring devoid of supernatural involvement.  For theistic evolutionists, a creator God is seen as involved at some point of this process with different perspectives as to what that point of involvement is.

      While natural selection is a determinant in whether or not an organism will survive or not survive a particular environmental challenge, natural selection is sometimes seen as producing evolution when in reality it is doing nothing more than showing adaptation of an organism to environmental change without there being any evolution at all. 

       There is the peppered moth species which comes in two basic varieties. Some have dark colored wings and some have light colored wings.  In Birmingham and Manchester England there were certain trees where light colored lichen lived on the bark of the trees making the bark light in color.  Before 1845, these moths would sit on the trunks of these trees having this 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 phenomenon has been used as a demonstration of evolution in that natural selection is at work in response to environmental change.  However, this is not evolution at all.  This is not an example of an organism needing to change in response to an environmental challenge. This is not an example of natural selection at work in response to random mutations causing a change in body type.   There was no mutation of genetic material here. Both types 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. We don’t see here one type of peppered moth evolving into another type. 

       We see in the peppered moth example environmental change facilitating a change in the number of one variety of an organism as opposed to a different variety of that same organism.   While such change isn’t the result of evolutionary development as such, does the environment trigger genetic changes that are inheritable and thus lead to new body types?  Darwin believed that environmental change led to organisms developing body changes that became inheritable. He did not understand how the organism produced such body change. 

        Neo-Darwinists believe such change results from genetic mutation which is believed to be random in nature irrespective of environmental influence. Environment only determines whether a mutation survives. For genetic mutations to become inheritable there needs to be an increase in genetic information.  Yet such increase in information has not been shown to occur.

      Recent genetic research has demonstrated that organisms not only experience adaptation to environmental change as seen with the peppered moth but also 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 bacteria have latent elements in their genome (genetic code) that become activated in response to certain environmental challenges. Expression of these elements then facilitates body type change. Such change does not increase information as such but rearranges information already present in the genome.

       Darwin believed organisms responded to environment changes by developing heritable changes.  He didn’t know how this happened as he knew nothing about genetics and the human genome.   Current research has determined that the genome can be activated to respond to environment challenges in very specific ways.   

     Phenotypic Plasticity:  

       The ability of an organism to develop a particular body type 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.  A genotype is the collection of genes responsible for the various genetic traits of a given organism.

       While an organism is genetically programmed to develop in a certain way, it 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 until 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 by a creator God 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 as taught by evolutionists or is such change the result of resident genetic information (intelligence in the genome) responding to environmental change?  Is such resident intelligence within genomes the result of random mutations occurring over millions of years or was such genetic intelligence designed by an intelligence and powerful Being we call God?

       This all being said, could it be that the kind of environmentally induced changes cited above are 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 as opposed to such change only occurring as the result of genetic mutation as believed Neo Darwinists.

     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.  Were these differences the result of genetic variations occurring over millions of years with natural selection determining adaptations to the various environments extant on the islands?

         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 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.  Such change became an inherited acquired characteristic.

       The idea of inherited acquired characteristics goes back thousands of years and was held by such notables as the physician Hippocrates, the philosopher Aristotle and the early nineteenth century French biologists Lamarck.  Lamarck taught that organisms could acquire different characteristics during their life time and such characterizes 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 such acquired characteristic. This certainly is true. 

       However, one would not expect a genetic response to the loss of an arm and therefore such acquired characteristic would not carry over to one’s progeny.  However, where there is ongoing exposure to a particular environmental change, there does appear to be heritable genetic response and this can happen in a short period of time and not require millions of years of evolutionary development.

        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 fleas in the tank with the fish scent developed a hard helmet structure which made it difficult for fish to swallow them whereas the fleas 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 an informational modification in the genes of the fleas 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 mutational 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 Neo-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. However, the Neo-Darwinist cannot demonstrate this because he cannot show enormous periods of time. 

        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.    

        If it should be shown that organisms largely change as a result of their genome’s response to environmental change, it will change the way evolution is looked at. As already stated, for genetic mutations to become inheritable there needs to be an increase in genetic information.  Yet such increase in information has not been shown to occur.  What phenotypic plasticity has demonstrated is that all the necessary information for change in a phenotype is already present in their genome.  It has not evolved.  Where did this information come from?

       We will look at the matter of genetic mutation and genetic information next time and show how the presence of genetic information points directly to a creator God as the designer and giver of such information.