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Barcodes, unclean animals, and skeletal mutations


Our speakers and writers spend a considerable amount of time answering questions over email. This week we post a trio of genetics questions that are answered by Dr. Robert Carter. The first deals with a scientific paper that was causing quite a stir because one of the authors was reported to have said he believed in Adam and Eve (he doesn’t). The second involves something Dr. Carter said on the Origins program hosted by our friends at Cornerstone Television. The third deals with questions about what mutations can and cannot do and how much change we can allow in the creation model.

L.J. (USA) wrote in with a question about a recent paper on “DNA barcodes”:

Have you looked into the research done by Stoeckle and Thaler on mitochondrial DNA?1 With a thoughtful response, this whole evolution bubble could burst real quick. Thanks for all you do!

Dr. Robert Carter responds:

That paper was discussed at length among us when it first came out. This was even before the ridiculous claims came out last Fall that one of the authors believed in Adam and Eve. There was such a tremendous backlash (both pro and con) that the publisher took the unprecedented step of adding a disclaimer to the top margin of the paper. I know of no other examples of something like this in the scientific literature:

Note added by authors December 4, 2018: This study is grounded in and strongly supports Darwinian evolution, including the understanding that all life has evolved from a common biological origin over several billion years.

This work follows mainstream views of human evolution. We do not propose there was a single "Adam" or "Eve". We do not propose any catastrophic events.

Their results tell us that most species are young, about the same age, and have about the same amount of genetic diversity among them. If anything supported the biblical idea that many species arose recently from the few ark ‘kinds’, this is it. I guess too many people realized the clear implications of their results!

FYI, a review of Stoeckle and Thaler’s claims by professor Yingguang Liu appeared in the latest Journal of Creation. We will be making hay out of this for a long time to come.

D.M. (USA) wrote:

I saw the Noah's Flood Genetics2 video from the Origins TV show on YouTube. I have this question from the information presented. You said human DNA indicates that humans came from two individuals in the beginning or the 8 that survived the flood, then, if you proved the flood and the Babel dispersion in human beings, why can't you do the same with animals since Noah only took two of some of the animals and seven of the clean animals. If DNA could be obtained from samples of the animals found in permafrost, pre-flood, couldn't that definitively indicate the loss of genetic information from elephants or buffalos due to the flood? Weren't wooly mammoths within the elephantine species and buffalos within the bovine? The animals from the ice may provide the DNA evidence of the flood we think the Bible describes.

Robert Carter replies:

You raise an excellent and interesting question. Various creationists are working on it as we speak. However, a few caveats must be considered. First, ‘clean’ animals tend to come from inbred flocks. Thus, just because more ‘clean’ animals were taken on the Ark does not mean we should expect more diversity among them. Second, each ‘kind’ has different reproductive strategies, different lifespans, different average population sizes, etc., etc. We cannot take a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Third, most of the available genetic data is for humans, for obvious reasons. This is changing, but today it is much easier to study historic trends in the human genome than, say, the pangolin.

One big correction: permafrost is POST Flood. You may be referring to outdated ideas that were being discussed among creationists 20 or more years ago. There was an idea that mammoths were flash frozen, post Flood, but even that has been discounted by all the major creationist organizations. I am not sure where you got the idea that permafrost was pre-Flood. In fact, this could not be true, for then the entire fossil and rock record beneath the permafrost must also be pre-Flood. In effect, you have accidentally erased all evidence for the Flood. I addressed a similar question about Neanderthals and why they had to be post-Flood recently.

Third, to do what you are asking, one will have to delve into the realm of ancient DNA studies. While these are fascinating, there is a huge problem with data accuracy. DNA degrades very quickly and so all aDNA is broken down into very small pieces that are riddled with oxidized nucleotides. It is extremely difficult to separate mutations in the animal while it was alive from post-mortem decay of DNA. Thus, while we can learn much from aDNA studies, we cannot derive a mutation rate from them, we cannot really examine clean vs. unclean, etc.

S.B. (USA) wrote:

Hello! I am an avid creationist that is doing quite a bit of research regarding the creationism/evolutionism debate. Working on refuting quite a bit of major points, I am starting with mutations that add more information. According to every single creationist publisher no such thing exists, all that does exist is deformities, which sometimes can be helpful, and the same copy of information. Sometimes, even duplicate information (In the case of the four-winged fruit fly.) What I am doing is finding every single supposed beneficial mutation and refuting it. Creation Ministries International's archive of articles has been very useful in this endeavor. However, there is one that I have found that I can't seem to refute. The LRP5V171 mutation. To summarize, it increases bone density and doesn't seem to have any outside effects other than that. I have done a ton of research regarding this, and I'm pretty sure the information is way too complicated for me to understand. I was wondering if one of your ministry's microbiologists/geneticist/basically anyone that is more qualified to write an article regarding this mutation? Thanks for your amazing work in furthering our Lord's Kingdom!

Robert Carter responds:

First, have you read my article Can mutations create new information? In there I clearly state that new traits can arise through mutation, and that these traits can sometimes positively affect the odds of survival (although usually within a very limited environmental context, e.g. sickle cell anemia). The LRP5V171 mutation seems to be within that window, but I note that several papers I just scanned call it a "syndrome", so I am not certain that this is not actually a deleterious mutation.

Given that mutations occasionally affect phenotype, I am not sure why you would struggle with this particular example. It is what it is. This type of mutation, however, does nothing to explain where the complex system of bone regulation came from in the first place, so in the end we are back to square one, arguing over the same things evolutionists and creationist have been arguing about for 150 years: the mutations we see are not of the type required to explain common ancestry. Essentially, once you have a complex living organism, you can fiddle with it a little bit, as long as that fiddling does not exceed its design specifications. But just because something is morphable (given) does not mean that it is infinitely morphable (assumption).

If you are interested in the field of genetics and how it supports the biblical worldview, see our Genetics Q&A page.

Published: 23 February 2019

References and notes

  1. Stoeckle, M.Y., and Thaler, D.S., Why should mitochondria define species? Human Evolution 33(n. 1-2):1–30, 2018; pontecorboli.com/digital1/humanevolution/blog/2018/05/22/why-should-mitochondria-define-species. Return to text.
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJNtUEzRGxM Return to text.