Getting it right
Don Batten interviews veterinarian Dr Jean Lightner
By age 13, Jean Lightner wanted to be a veterinarian. She did well in high school, even taking some college (i.e. tertiary) courses while still in school. Jean augmented those courses to gain a B.S. in agriculture before undertaking her degree in veterinary science at Ohio State University (OSU). Jean and her husband were surprised when she fell pregnant before she graduated with her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.). Jean commented: “Oops! It’s a bit hard to get a job in large-animal medicine when you have this belly!” So Jean took the opportunity to get a Masters degree also.
Her supervisor was in the family way too, so she was quite sympathetic to Jean’s family commitments, which Jean appreciated.
In the Masters program, Jean spent a lot of time evaluating research papers and discovered that the conclusions were often much stronger than the experiments justified. This seemed particularly so with research in human disease. Jean experienced this personally with her next pregnancy, when her doctor wanted to test her for a disease for which she had no risk factors. After Jean checked the research that supposedly justified this test, she declined it. Jean commented, “I don’t like being a pincushion, having needles stuck in me for no good reason. I don’t do that to the animals I care for.”
So Jean ended up with three degrees; whereas she had planned only to get a D.V.M. to enable her to practise veterinary medicine. She sees these opportunities as gifts from God that equipped her to contribute scientifically to the creation movement. Jean particularly valued the Masters program where she learned research and analytical skills that enabled her to evaluate scientific claims critically.
Dr Lightner commented on how few papers in operational science1 pass muster when critically evaluated. Don commented that it is much worse with historical science (such as dinosaurs dying out millions of years ago) where people are daydreaming about the past because we cannot do experiments on the past. Jean remarked, “Yes, much of it is pathetic”.
Jean home-schooled her children for most of their education and took up researching creation issues seriously as her children got older and needed less supervision.
The importance of assumptions
Dr Lightner stressed the importance of scientists striving to get it right: “With operational science, people’s lives can be at risk—and with the creation issues (historical science) it is their eternal destiny, which is even more important.
“You have to question your assumptions (or presuppositions) when doing research, but many scientists don’t even seem to be aware that they have assumptions! This is particularly so with origins (historical science), where the presuppositions drive it. For example, one assumption is materialism (matter is all there is); that no supernatural Creator was involved in the origin and history of the Universe.”
Jean sat in on a graduate class in evolution at OSU that underlined the importance of presuppositions. The evolutionist zoology lecturer was debunking all the evidence for evolution taught to Jean as an undergraduate. For example, he admitted that the fossil record did not support evolution. Jean says, “I had heard creationists say that, but this was the first time I’d heard an evolutionist say it.” He admitted that the sudden changes suggested by the fossil record made biologists uncomfortable because organisms were not observed to change in such leaps. He suggested that life could have originated on some other planet and sky-rocketed to Earth after it evolved. Jean: “I was taught to be very polite, so, the most I did visibly was roll my eyes, but inside I was rolling on the floor dying of laughter. This was supposed to be a science class. I could not believe I was hearing this. This class showed me just how much it wasn’t about the evidence; regardless of the evidence, they were committed to evolution. It was very eye-opening.”
Jean recognizes that there is quite a variety of evolutionists. “Many without a science background are so certain they are refuting these creationists and they use the most ridiculous arguments—it’s pathetic. The vociferous people are not usually the clearest thinkers, for sure. And there are many who have just accepted evolution ‘on faith’— they have never really thought about it. I have had some very interesting, intelligent discussions with evolutionists.”
Natural selection overplayed?
Like other creationist biologists, Dr Lightner accepts that natural selection occurs (it is a rather trivial observation that an animal born with a serious defect will die and not reproduce). However, she thinks that it is overplayed as an explanation: “I am not convinced it explains much of the pattern we see. One of the problems is that most genetic changes in organisms have too small an effect to be retained by natural selection.2 Also, many mutations—such as ones that predispose to cancer in humans—often only come into play after the reproductive years (so they have already been passed on to the offspring; they are not selected against).”
Variety in creatures off the Ark
Looking at the variety today of cows (clean animals) and pigs (unclean) off the Ark, Jean concluded that there is definitely something going on that indicates that the animals were programmed to produce variety.
Dr Lightner: “Where did the diversity come from considering the population bottleneck at the Flood? Who said that all genetic changes are accidents? Evolutionists. The Bible indicates that God created animals with the ability to fill the earth, which means that the capacity to adapt to all sorts of environments was designed. There has to be something going on that is more than just accidents.”
An example in coat colour in animals?
Jean studied the genetic basis of coat colour in animals and found that a particular protein3 acts like a multi-function switch to generate a wide range of coat colours. This protein only affects coat colour, so mutations (changes in its DNA letter sequence) don’t cause problems elsewhere and are well tolerated. When functioning normally, this protein can switch on the production of the dark pigment called eumelanin. A lighter yellow to red pigment is also produced. Mutations can damage the switch in different ways:
- A ‘broken switch’ fails to stimulate the production of the dark pigment. This results in the lighter pigment being visible and so we get the tan/blond colour of a retriever dog, for example.
- A ‘switch stuck in the ON position’ over-stimulates the production of eumelanin and this results in a dark black colour.
“The creator might well have designed this special switch gene with the ability to vary in this way to create a variety of colour patterns.
“Some genes are designed not to be modifiable; others to be modified. The mutations involved are not just accidents, but in a sense targeted, because of the susceptibility of the target to modification.”
Jean has an interest in directed mutations that help adaptation: “Some have written about these in bacteria, for example your paper on nylon-digesting bacteria,4 but I have wondered about animals. I think some of the DNA that evolutionists have (wrongly) labelled “junk”5 actually plays a role in causing greater variety in offspring by rearranging existing genetic modules in a controlled manner. We have much to learn about this.”
Investigating created kinds
Dr Lightner has a related interest in the limits of the created kinds, in defining what species of animals today have descended from the ones that God created—for example she has investigated the cattle kind and the sheep-goat kind.6 This field of study is called baraminology—from the Hebrew for created (bara) and kind (min). “God created animals after their kinds to reproduce and fill the earth, so this suggests that one type of organism is not going to change into a completely different type. As discussed, there will be adaptation and so variety within the created kinds (‘baramins’). The patterns we see in the fossils and living things fit well with this concept.”
A strong argument for creation
Dr Lightner has always been impressed with the amazing design of God’s creatures. Recently she has come to see redundancy as another powerful evidence for creation. Redundancy is seen in DNA sequences that have known roles, yet when they are ‘knocked out’ in mice they show no ill effects. Jean: “At first I thought it was wasteful to have such an overlap in function.” But her oldest child, who pilots MAF airplanes, explained how important redundancy is to ensure the safety of aircraft. “It provides a built-in safety mechanism by allowing a second system to take over in the event the first one fails. But such redundancy doesn’t just happen by accident; it requires intelligent design.”
Jean remembers being converted when 10 years of age, but she was not well discipled. Her family moved town and they did not go to church for some years. Later, during free reading time in 9th grade English class she would read her Bible (she knew she should). She would pray for God’s help in tests and thank Him when she got As. “There was a relationship there.”
Taught evolution as a 10th grader, Jean realized that if evolution were true, life had no purpose and her interest in science was foolish, because nothing matters. “I basically knew that if evolution were true, the Bible was not.”
Dr Lightner works with young people. It frustrates her that kids often have a lack of purpose, and evolution feeds that lack of purpose. “They are going nowhere, don’t contribute and they lack enthusiasm for life. In Christianity, everyone is important; everyone has some gift that they are meant to use to bless the body of Christ. With Darwinism there is no hope, no purpose, no reason to want to contribute anything; no reason to believe you can contribute anything of value.”
Jean recalls: “I had a bit of a struggle in my undergraduate years when I kept getting told there was so much evidence for evolution. I was confused; I kept looking for evidence of new structures arising, but only ever saw modification of existing structures. It is one thing to explain the modification of existing structures, but something entirely different to explain the origin of the structures. It was not till later that I realized that the evidence was not the issue; it was the atheistic, materialistic worldview that drove belief in evolution.”
“My ability to trust God’s Word depended on my seeing that it was consistent with the real world. However, I remember being challenged to believe and obey God’s Word, even though I could not refute all the supposed ‘scientific evidence’ against it. I did that and God blessed me. Later He gave me the information to overcome the doubt, to understand that creation really does make good sense. My struggles showed me that people need to read and obey the Bible. We need to learn to trust the Bible and God will bless us.”
“God tells us in the Bible to do things that just don’t make sense in a secular/evolutionary world; things like love, forgive, and give when we don’t have any expectation of getting anything back for ourselves. These things are foolish from a naturalistic standpoint, but they are not foolish if God is real.”
Christian leader unhelpful
“When I was having doubts, one of the most damaging things for my faith was when I read a respected Christian teacher who basically said that the Bible does not really mean what it says, particularly the creation account. That was probably more detrimental to me than the evolutionary teachers insisting that they were right. It was devastating to hear a Christian leader basically say, ‘God doesn’t mean that; you don’t have to believe that’.”
“This experience underlined to me that I too am fallible and could mislead others, so I want to be careful to make sure that what I say is well founded.”
Living with Purpose from God
“I have been devoting my time to understanding biology from a biblical point of view. I continue to be awed by design in nature, just as I was as a child. It encourages me to see how well the Bible’s history fits with what we observe today. In my writing, I hope to communicate how the Bible is consistent with scientific observations and can be trusted in all areas.”
- Operational science: studying how things work using repeatable experiments. Historical science: reconstructing the past using evidence in the present, such as fossils. Return to text.
- See: Plant geneticist: “Darwinian evolution is impossible”, Creation 30(4):45–47, 2008. Return to text.
- This protein is the melanocortin-1 receptor, found in the cell membranes of cells that produce colour pigment (melanocytes). See: Lightner, J., Colourful creature coats, Creation 28(4):33–34, 2006. Return to text.
- Batten, D., The adaptation of bacteria to feeding on nylon waste, Journal of Creation 17(3):3–5, 2003. Return to text.
- Various types of repetitive sequences of DNA and transposable elements, which can be found in different locations in an organism’s DNA. Return to text.
- See some of Dr Lightner’s articles. Return to text.