Bears across the world …
They seem cute when young. And cranky when they’re older … but bears are some of God’s most amazing creatures!
From the thick stomach lining of the panda and the partially webbed paws of the polar bear, to the insect-sucking muzzle of the sloth bear, bears provide a fascinating example of the variety of specialized characteristics existing within one family.
The bear family (Ursidae) consists of eight species, four of which are contained in the Ursus group: the brown bear, American black bear, Asiatic black bear and polar bear. Even within this group (known as a genus) the variation is wide.
The brown and American black bears are mainly vegetarians with appropriate dental features for crushing plant material. However, the first has claws suited to digging while the other has claws more suitable for climbing. The Asiatic black bear, which also has claws for climbing, is an opportunistic omnivorous feeder (eating meat and plants as available).1
The polar bear, however, has some amazing features which allow it to function perfectly in its cold, wet environment. Much heavier than the above bears, it has two distinct hair types, one long and one short, which effectively is like having two coats. By increasing buoyancy, this helps it to swim, as does its long neck and the partial webbing between its toes. Its fur-covered foot pads provide better traction on the ice. Almost exclusively a meat eater (with teeth to suit such a diet), the polar bear also has a large stomach capacity for sporadic (opportunistic) feeding.
The sun bears and sloth bears (also included in the Ursus group by many scientists) also have as many differences as similarities. The sun bear is omnivorous, with sharp, sickle-like claws suited for tree climbing, while the sloth bear (possessing claws for both digging and tree climbing) has an unusual head and dental structure perfect for eating its main food source, termites. The sloth bear’s long muzzle has protrusible lips and nostrils which it can close—these two features allow it to create a vacuum tube to suck up the termites.
The giant panda, like the polar bear, has very specialized features necessary for survival, including powerful jaws and special molars for crushing plants, and an oesophagus (gullet) with a tough, horny lining to protect the bear from splinters when it eats bamboo, its primary source of food. The panda’s stomach also has a thick, muscular lining to protect it from bamboo fragments.
While both evolutionists and creationists consider these specialized characteristics to be adaptations to the environment through natural selection, the two camps are poles apart as to how most of this variation came about in the first place.
Evolutionists believe that the genetic (hereditary) information (which supplies the ‘recipe’ to construct such specialized features in the developing embryo) all arose by an accumulation of copying errors (mutations). Any ‘good’ errors which helped the creature to survive were passed on. In this way, they believe that these design features are all the result of these copying mistakes, accumulated by selection over millions of years.
Creationists, however, while accepting that all of today’s bears probably descended from a single bear kind,2 do not believe that the information in the ‘recipes’ for all these design features arose by chance. No-one has ever observed any biological process adding information!
A better explanation is that virtually all the necessary information was already there in the genetic makeup of the first bears, a population created by God with vast genetic potential for variation.
This doesn’t mean that all of the features of today’s bears would have been on obvious display back then. A simple example would be the way in which mongrel dogs obviously had the potential to develop all the different breeds we see today. Thus, there was no actual poodle to be seen among mongrel dogs hundreds of years ago, but by looking closely at many of them, one would have seen at least some of the individual features found in today’s poodles popping up here and there.
Similarly, it is unlikely that there were polar bears before the Flood—however, since much of the information for their specialized features was already there, some of these features, in lesser form, would have also been apparent in a few individuals from time to time.
It takes selection (natural or artificial) to concentrate and enhance these features—however, this does not create anything really new, no new design information. If there were no genetic potential in the bear family to grow really thick fur, then no bears would ever have inhabited the Arctic.
However, it is likely that not all the features for today’s bears would have been coded for directly in the genes of the original bear kind. Mutations, genetic copying mistakes which cause defects, may on rare occasions be helpful, even though they are still defects, corruptions or losses of information. Thus, the polar bear’s partly webbed feet may have come from a mutation which prevented the toes from dividing properly during its embryonic development. This defect would give it an advantage in swimming, which would make it easier to survive as a hunter of seals among ice floes.
Thus, bears carrying this defect would be more likely to pass it on to their offspring—but only in that environment. However, since mutations are always informationally downhill, there is a limit to the ability of this mechanism to cause adaptive features to arise. It will never turn fur into feathers, for example.3
After the Flood, when dramatic climate and environment changes occurred, there was suddenly a large number of ‘empty’ niches, and as the first pair multiplied, groups of their descendants found new habitats. Only those whose predominant characteristics were suitable for that environment thrived and bred.4 In this way, it would not need millions of years for a new variety (even a new species) to arise.
For example, of the first bears forced to exist on bamboo, only those exhibiting the genetic information for a stronger oesophagus and stomach lining would have survived in each generation. Animals without these features would not have lived to produce offspring, thus reducing the gene pool as only the surviving animals interbred. Thus these characteristics became more prominent in that group. This is more reasonable than assuming that this group had to wait for the right mutations to come along, over thousands or millions of years, to provide those vital features.
Notice how such new species will
be more specialised;
be better adapted to a particular habitat; and
have less genetic information than the original group.
(See the box (below) for a simple example of how information is lost as creatures adapt).
It makes a great deal of sense for God to create the original kinds of creatures as very robust groups, possessing the ability to vary and adapt to changing environments.
In other words, animals which have adapted to their habitat are mostly expressing latent characteristics bestowed by God at Creation. The evolutionary belief that mutations have added all of the necessary design information is opposed to both theory and observation.5
Creationists accept that the design features we see in modern animals are largely the result of original created design, expressed and ‘fine-tuned’ to fit the environment by subsequent adaptation, through natural selection in a fallen world of death and struggle. If, as seems probable from fossil evidence, there were no ice-caps before the Flood, there would have been no polar bears at that time. The wisdom of the Creator is revealed in providing the original organisms with the potential to adapt so as to be ‘fit’ for a wide range of habitats and lifestyles.
The bear family, with its incredible variation, provides clear evidence of an intelligent Creator.
In the example on the right (simplified for illustration), a single gene pair is shown under each bear as coming in two possible forms. One form of the gene (L) carries instructions for long fur, the other (S) for short fur.
In row 1, we start with medium-furred animals (LS) interbreeding. Each of the offspring of these bears can get one of either gene from each parent to make up their two genes.
In row 2, we see that the resultant offspring can have either short (SS), medium (LS) or long (LL) fur. Now imagine the climate cooling drastically (as in the post-Flood ice age). Only those with long fur survive to give rise to the next generation (line 3). So from then on, all the bears will be a new, long-furred variety. Note that:
In 1979, this magazine, then called Ex Nihilo, reported (2(2):18) that the hairs of polar bears were transparent and, like fibre-optic cables, ‘piped’ light energy down to the bear’s skin to keep it warm. The information was from a secular source, and of course we had no polar bear hairs to test.
Now a recent author who has tested their hair points out that this idea, which has been repeated over and over in secular science journals and reports, is actually a myth.6
The polar bear’s hairs are not some unique fibre-optic substance (which come to think of it would actually have been tough to explain if all bears came recently from one kind, as most creationists currently think), but are made of ordinary keratin, just like the hair of all other mammals. This emphasizes the fact that all scientific claims are tentative and fallible, no matter who makes them.
Another erroneous statement about polar bears, which has appeared in some anti-Darwinian literature, is that natural selection can have nothing to do with the polar bear’s white coat, since the bear has no predators.
However, this is not the case, as it is obvious that of the first bears to reach the snowbound regions, those with lighter coats would have had an advantage.
By being camouflaged against the snow, they would have had more chance of being able to sneak up on their prey undetected. Thus, especially where food was scarce, whiter bears would have been more likely to survive and pass on their genes.
References and Notes
- Main source for species descriptions: D.J. Tyler, Creation Matters 2(5):1–3, 1997. Also, general information from Encyclopædia Britannica 2:252, 5:507, 1992 and Hutchinson’s Animals Of All Countries, Part VI, 1923. Return to text.
- Though lack of hybridisation does not preclude descent from the same original kind, ability to hybridise is a clear indicator of such common descent. Although not all tests for hybridisation have been carried out, it is already known that brown and grizzly bears can hybridise with American black bears, polar bears and Asiatic black bears. Sloth bears hybridise with sun bears. See D.J. Tyler, Creation Matters 2(5):1–3, 1997. Return to text.
- Remember that defects can occasionally be ‘good’ to have (e.g. the absence of wings on beetles on windy islands—see Beetle Bloopers) but are always informationally downhill. The poodle example in this article has limitations, because degenerate mutations have played an even greater role in producing certain features (usually clearly seen as deformities) in domestic dog breeds. Just as for mutations in the wild, these do not add information. However, humans may choose to perpetuate a quirky defective trait in domestic dogs, which would be eliminated in the wild. Return to text.
- Also, there would have been small, isolated populations, ideal for certain features to become fixed. Return to text.
- Lee Spetner, Not by Chance: Shattering the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution, The Judaica Press, Inc. USA, 1996. See online review. Return to text.
- Daniel W. Koon, ‘Power of the polar myth’ New Scientist, April 25, 1998, p. 50. Return to text.
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