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Bacterial mutations plus biblical geology

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The Flood is the best biblical explanation for the origin of most of the earth’s sedimentary rocks.

This week correspondents ask about whether the genetic degradation by mutations applies to bacteria, and how the geological record fits into Genesis. CMI’s Don Batten and Carl Wieland respond.

Peter B. from Australia writes:


I agree with the thought of genetic entropy, and that most species given the number of mutations per generation will probably die out in 10,000 to 100,000 years, but how come bacteria are still around? Is that because there many more things that can go wrong with multicellular organisms?

Thanks. Peter B

CMI’s Dr Don Batten replies:

Dear Peter,

Good question! I think it has to do with three things: the mutation rate, the genome size and the mode of replication / reproduction.

Since bacteria reproduce by binary fission, whichever one has the mutation can be effectively eliminated by competition with non-mutated ones, even if the relative decline in fitness is quite small.

If the mutation rate were the same as humans (say 300 per genome of 3,000,000,000 base pairs, or 1 in 10 million), with a typical genome size of say a million base pairs for bacteria, the mutation rate is only one in every 10 replications. Since bacteria reproduce by binary fission, whichever one has the mutation can be effectively eliminated by competition with non-mutated ones, even if the relative decline in fitness is quite small (because of the short generation time and huge populations that are possible).

Computer models, even simple ones like our Weasel, show that you need more than one mutation per individual per generation to get mutational meltdown (error catastrophe). See Weasel; you can click on the download link to download the Windows model, unzip it and install it. You can play with the various parameters and see what happens. Please ignore the typical mutation rates given in the paper above as they were those given by evolutionists based on evolutionary reasoning (that is, because they assumed that life has been around for eons of time, therefore error catastrophe has not happened and therefore the mutation rate is less than … ). They were not measured mutation rates, which were published after we wrote this paper (or we did not know about them!).

Also, because of the short generation times, bacterial populations can rebound quickly from disasters where only a few survive. This is another factor in the survival of bacteria.

I hope this answers your question.

With kind regards,

Don Batten

Chavoux L. from South Africa writes in response to the article

The Issue of Issues(And no, it’s not creation/evolution):


I agree with this article. However, I have to say this: I am not convinced that the current Creation Science interpretation of nature is necessarily true / most in line with the truth of Gen. 1–11. There is nothing in the Bible that claims that all (or even most) of the geological column is the result of the great flood. (It could just as well be the result of the ± 10 000 years since creation). It is possible (though perhaps not the most obvious interpretation) that death existed outside the garden of Eden even before the fall of Gen. 3 (else, why is the tree of life mentioned explicitly as being inside the Garden of Eden?). The correct answer to these kinds of questions could possibly be answered by (creation) science without attacking the truth of the Bible itself. We should always be careful to distinguish between arguments that attack the truth of the Bible and those that might just be attacking our own understanding/interpretation of God’s Word. The first kind should be seen for what it ultimately is: an attack on God’s authority and truthfulness/trustworthiness; the latter might simply be an opportunity for us to get to know Him better and understand His creation better (which is a Good Thing (TM) IMHO).

CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland responds:

Dear Chavoux,

Thanks so much for your email feedback. I agree with you about the need for caution in distinguishing between the ‘models’ we use to understand God’s Word and how it relates to the evidence from history (rocks, fossils, etc. for one thing). The ‘big picture’ in the Bible is a good world, ruined by sin, to be restored in the future. I hear what you say about death outside the garden, but it would be hard to reconcile with God’s clear “very good” statement at the end of the 6 days, which referred not just to the garden but to all things He had just finished making. Further, the restoration images in the Bible all point to death including animal death as being removed in line with the removal of the Curse, which came in after Adam sinned. Given this clear linkage between death and the Curse, it is incongruous, to say the least, to have death anywhere in the world prior to the Curse, which is what would be the case if things were dying outside the garden.

The rhetorical question you ask about the Tree of Life causes little difficulty to this orthodox understanding outlined above. The Tree of Life may have been part of the mechanism through which pre-Fall deathlessness in humanity was maintained. It actually reappears in the New Heavens and Earth, with ‘healing in its leaves’. This would suggest that the tree in the Garden would only come into play after Adam and Eve began to die—for their healing—hence God banned them from the Garden. Their deathlessness beforehand did not depend on access to the tree but their sinlessness. I.e. the Bible’s mentions of this Tree do not anywhere require death outside the garden.

The fact that the bulk of the sedimentary ‘column’ was laid down by the Flood is a straightforward deduction from a) the Bible and b) the existence of the column itself.

Re the Flood—the Bible does not, as you say, directly teach that the rocks and fossils were laid down by a global Flood. BUT—it does clearly teach that there was such a global Flood and that the Earth is only several thousand years old. The rest is a deduction from reason and observation, as follows:

  1. Normal everyday processes cannot lay down that much sediment (kilometres thickness) all over the earth in only a few thousand years. Therefore either the earth is ancient, or there must have been a process or processes which laid down vast volumes of sediment rapidly.
  2. We know from Scripture that there was such a year-long Flood.
  3. Not only is such a Flood capable of doing such an amount of geological work, it is physically impossible that such a Flood would NOT do a huge amount of such geological work.
  4. Therefore it is clear that unless we refute the Bible’s teaching of a global Flood and a recent creation, we have no coherent explanation for the vast sediment and fossil-bearing layers.

The fine details, i.e. how much of the column is due to the Flood, where is the post-Flood boundary, and so on, is legitimately up for discussion. But that the bulk of the sedimentary ‘column’ was laid down by the Flood is a straightforward deduction from a) the Bible and b) the existence of the column itself.

Many thanks for the opportunity to think through these things once more.

Kind regards,

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Carl W.

Published: 26 February 2011

Helpful Resources

Genetic Entropy
by Dr John Sanford
US $25.00
Soft cover
The Geologic Column
by John K Reed, Michael J Oard
US $15.00
Soft cover