Designed to adapt?
Published: 3 January 2017 (GMT+10)
Evolutionists look at examples of animals adapting to their environments, and they assume that in this way, given enough time and enough tiny changes, primitive frogs have turned into turtles, and fish into philosophers.
Creationists have long agreed that inheritable adaptation happens via natural selection.1 This helps explain how the kinds represented on the Ark were able to rapidly diversify afterwards into many different varieties, even new species.2
On its own, natural selection can only sort (or get rid of) existing information. It cannot generate any new information or variability itself; it can only choose from what is already there. Genes come in pairs,3 are reshuffled at reproduction, and many exist in at least two forms, so living things have a lot of built-in variability already. Thus the ‘dog kind’ pair on the Ark could have diversified rapidly into coyotes, dingoes, wolves, etc. without any genetic novelty necessarily introduced into their DNA.
Such variation is a downhill genetic process, involving a loss of genetic information, as has been documented for decades.4 It does not constitute ‘evolution’ as commonly understood, which would require an overall uphill process, with lots of new information arising along the way.
The standard source of the new information needed in evolutionary theory has long been mutations—inherited changes in the DNA which until recently have been assumed to be almost exclusively random, i.e. genetic copying mistakes.
Creationists agree that mutations happen frequently; in fact they are accumulating so rapidly that it seems no amount of selection can halt the eventual extinction of all non-microbial populations within thousands, not millions of years.5
And creationists also agree that even a random genetic change can sometimes confer a definite survival advantage in special environments, which helps explain how some new species have emerged since the Flood of Noah. Take, for instance, the mutations that caused a loss of melanin in the hair follicles of polar bears, or wingless beetles and birds on windy islands,6 and blind fish in caves.
These sorts of mutations, along with reproductive genetic variation and natural selection, provide a perfect recipe for generating many ‘species’ in just a few thousand years since the various created animal ‘kinds’ spread out from the Ark landing site. But such obvious losses of information highlight the general problem for evolution; that overall, the processes of genetic change are overwhelmingly heading in the wrong direction for microbes to become microbiologists.7
Mutations—not all random
Can mutations ever add information? There has been some debate over this, which reflects some of the difficulty in defining information.8 But it does seem that mutations are sometimes capable of introducing novel genetic content into the DNA of a group of organisms, on which selection can then act to cause adaptation. However, when this happens, is such novelty always random? Or can it sometimes be, as seems to be gradually becoming apparent, the result of some sort of functional system designed and intended for some degree of adaptation?
Standard neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory has long insisted that all mutations are random. But there is increasing evidence that this is not always the case—and that when animals adapt to various environments, they (at least sometimes) can do so under the control of some sort of functional system designed for adaptation.
A growing number of evolutionary biologists are acknowledging that generating the genetic changes for adaptation is not always a blind process. For instance, it is known that rapid mutations in special places in DNA can play a key role in the adaptation of organisms to their environment.9
Also, as noted in an important evolutionary book, “until recently [biologists] have been very reluctant to concede that … mutations might be formed specifically when and where needed … It was simply assumed that all mutations are blind mistakes.”10 But now, an increasing number of scientists acknowledge that when mutations (i.e. inheritable changes in DNA) lead to adaptation, “not all … are haphazard mistakes; rather, some mutations are ‘directed’.”11
Adaptation—predictable, thus non-random
Accumulating research has shown that adaptability can be predictable.15 It appears that organisms can at times actually change and adapt in response to their environment.12 It is now known that an animal’s environment may alter or activate specific genes in specific locations which results in a specific trait that can enable the animal to adapt and survive better in its new environment.13 Such occurrences are repeatable and thus predictable.
As published in the prominent science journal Nature, individual organisms can proactively “respond to their environment by changing their form … to generate traits that are well-suited to them”.
Examples include “the jaws of cichlid fishes that change shape when food sources alter, to leaf-mimicking insects that are brown if born in the dry season and green in the wet”.12
All of this implies that an engineered system might exist to regulate or control at least some adaptation. Some creationists have long predicted this.16 And evolutionists are increasingly acknowledging that something like this may exist. Some evolutionists even suggest there is a “mutation-generating system that makes informed guesses about what will be useful” and that such an ability is “plausible, predictable, and validated by experiments”.17 See Box 1.
Clues from immunity
The form such a system could take is not yet understood, but our immune system may give us some clues. The immune system works by intentionally generating a series of random mutations to produce variants from which the right antibody is ‘selected’, which is why evolutionists have at times hailed the immune system as a good example of ‘evolution in action’. (See Box 2, which also demonstrates the functioning of a system designed to generate and control mutations for a specific purpose, strikingly similar to when organisms adapt as described above.)
Limits to adaptation
The existence of any such adaptation system gives little comfort to any idea of amoeba-to-man evolution, ‘God-guided’ or otherwise. Just as the immune system is strictly limited to producing antibody variants (and not brain cell variants, for instance), an adaptation system would likely also have strict limits on the amount of variation that is possible.
Like the immune system, it could only do what it was designed to do: generate and control specific changes to already-existing genetic information or body traits.18
Thus, it would be incapable of growing wings on a pig for example (there is no wing-making information present in a pig)—no matter how much time was involved. And as far as present-day observation is concerned, limits to adaptation are indeed what we observe. A recent study titled ‘Evolutionary rescue and the limits of adaptation’, concludes,
“Evidently, there are hard limits to the level of a given stress to which a given organism can adapt … even when some billions of individuals are exposed … for thousands of generations. … [W]e must beware of assuming that [evolution’s] power is unlimited.”19
The immunologist, microbiologist, Darwin skeptic and intelligent design advocate Dr Donald Ewert appropriately notes:
“If we take the data from the immune system at face value, a principle emerges: biological change is orchestrated within limits. The ability to adapt … to changes in the environment while maintaining the integrity of the system is likely a designed feature of organisms.”20
Many of these sorts of findings have stirred great controversy in the scientific community, since blind random mutations and unlimited variation are at the core of neo-Darwinian philosophy. Many evolutionists are struggling with the implications of the data, and some are advocating for a new (or at least ‘extended’) theory of evolution to explain it.12
However, an obvious implication is that any purposeful adaptation system would have been intelligently designed to generate the variety needed for creatures to be able to survive and adapt in this fallen world. Such an ability would be especially useful after the Flood of Noah, and is consistent with biblical creation, not evolution.
The bacterium E. coli needs a particular amino acid in its food source to thrive. However, when this food source is unavailable, a specific gene in the bacterium gets activated (switched on) which enables the bacterium to survive by producing the amino acid for itself. If this gene were defective, these bacteria couldn’t produce the required amino acid, and without this food source the colony would mostly starve to death.
But scientists have found in the lab that if this gene is faulty or non-functional after activation, the rate of mutation begins to increase significantly in that specific gene location. These mutations continue until the required genetic variation is found which enables the E. coli to begin producing the required amino acid.1,2 This process seems reminiscent of how the immune system operates (targeted, with a specific outcome as a goal).
Similar observations have been found in spiders, snakes and snails “that use poison to capture their prey and defend themselves against predators”. Increased mutation rates specifically targeted to venom genes results in altered venom poison. This enables these animals to adapt to changing environments and to “keep up with changing predators and prey”.1,3,4
References and notes
- Jablonka and Lamb, ref. 9 (main article), p. 96.
- The lead scientist noted, “The implication for evolution is that if you have a specific stress—you're starving for a specific amino acid, in this case—that activates a specific response, increased mutation rates where it will count the most. This is a model for how an organism acquires an ability necessary to live in a new environment.”, missoulanews.bigskypress.com, accessed 2016.
- Zhang, Y-Y., et al., Structural and Functional Diversity of Peptide Toxins from Tarantula Haplopelma hainanum (Ornithoctonus hainana) Venom Revealed by Transcriptomic, Peptidomic and Patch-clamp Approaches, J. Biological Chemistry 290(22):14192–14207, 2015.
- See Lighnter, J., Gene duplication, protein evolution, and the origin of shrew venom, J. Creation 24(2):3–5, August 2010.
The immune system—randomness within plan and purpose
The immune system (IS) in our body is designed to recognize and kill invading germs which cause sickness and disease. Each type of germ has a unique body shape. The IS must produce a specific antibody that fits into the invading germ’s shape, like the correct key in a lock, so it can begin the process of eradicating the invader.
When the IS encounters a particular type of germ for the first time, the way it makes the correct-shaped antibody is by generating a variety of ‘random’ antibody shapes in quick succession, until the correct antibody shape is found which fits into the germ. Multiple copies of this successful antibody are then made.
To do all this, the IS operates a ‘factory’, controlled and protected in a special place within the DNA so as not to interfere with other functions. This factory generates a rapid series of DNA variants, each producing a different-shaped antibody till the correct variant is achieved.
The mechanisms by which these variants arise are the same ones by which animals generate the variation which allows them to change and adapt to their environments—conversion, reshuffling (recombination) and mutation of genes.1 The selection of the ‘successful’ antibody variant is an obvious analogy to natural selection, in which the most ‘successful’ organism gets to make the most copies of its genes. So it’s no surprise that evolutionists often hail the IS as ‘evolution in action’.
But they have missed a critical distinction. The IS produces random mutations intentionally, always within defined parameters and limits, part of a specific response to a given stimulus. Crucially, these mutations are regulated and controlled within a factory that has a clear role and purpose—the hallmarks of a designed system.
Also, there are many potential antibody designs that will do the one-target job (fit the germ), and there is a limited number of options to choose from; that is, it is an easy search. Whereas, with evolution of organisms, many genes are quite specific, meaning that there are a limited number of possibilities that work amongst a huge number of possibilities; that is, it is a very difficult, improbable search.
And as the main text shows, like the immune system, some sort of purposeful system for generating variation ‘as needed’ is increasingly being conceded as likely present in some instances of biological adaptation, too.
Our immune system may therefore reflect, rather than evolution, the way such a designed adaptation system could operate.
- Coico, R., Sunshine. G., Immunology: A Short Course, 7th Edn, Wiley-Blackwell, April 2015.
References and notes
- Wieland, C., Muddy Waters, Creation 23(3):26–29, June 2001; creation.com/muddy. Return to text.
- See Catchpoole, D., and Wieland, C., Speedy species surprise, creation.com, October 2012; creation.com/speedy. Return to text.
- In organisms with eukaryotic cells (which have a nucleus and chromosomes), which includes all complex multi-cellular organisms. Return to text.
- See ref 2. The ‘daughter’ populations will have less information (variability) than the ancestral kind. Similarly, when mongrel dog populations were sorted through breeder’s choices (analogous to natural selection), the resultant ‘pure’ breeds also have less variability than their mongrel ancestors, so are less able to adapt further. Hence, a Chihuahua population can never be bred to produce a Great Dane, and vice versa. They also have a high rate of genetic defects because each member of a breed often carries two identical copies of the mutations that existed in the original population. Hence, they are demonstrably less fit than their ancestors! Return to text.
- Sanford, J., Genetic entropy (4th Edn), FMS Publications, 2014 (available creation.com/store). Sanford, a former Cornell professor, is a pioneer of genetic engineering. See also carter, R., Genetic entropy and simple organisms, 25 October 2012; creation.com/ge-simple. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers, Creation 19(3):30, December 1997; creation.com/beetle. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., The evolution train’s a-comin’ (Sorry, a-goin’—in the wrong direction), Creation 24(2):16–19, March 2002; creation.com/train. Return to text.
- Carter, R., Can mutations create new information?, J. Creation 25(2):92–98, August 2011; creation.com/new-info. Return to text.
- Jablonka, E., Lamb, M., Evolution in Four Dimensions, revised edition, MIT Press, p. 94, March 2014. This is known as hypermutation in DNA hotspots. Return to text.
- Jablonka and Lamb, ref. 9, p. 87. Return to text.
- Jablonka and Lamb, ref. 9, p. 87. Return to text.
- Laland, K., et al., Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?, Nature 514 (7521):161–164, October 2014. Return to text.
- Jablonka and Lamb, ref. 9, pp. 87–102. Return to text.
- Laland, K., et al., The extended evolutionary synthesis: its structure, assumptions and predictions, Proceedings of the Royal Society B 282: 20151019 | dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2015.1019. Return to text.
- Stern, D., The genetic cause of convergent evolution, Nature Reviews Genetics 14:751–764 | doi:10.1038/nrg3483, nature.com, published online October 2013. Return to text.
- See Batten, D., The adaptation of bacteria to feeding on nylon waste, J. Creation 17(3):3–5, December 2003; creation.com/nylon. Return to text.
- Ref. 9, p. 101. In addition, many ‘Evo-Devo’ biologists refer to what is called ‘developmental bias’ as part of adaptation (see ref. 14). Return to text.
- This is a loose definition, as it is not yet clear what such a system entails. Return to text.
- Bell, G., Evolutionary rescue and the limits of adaptation, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. 368(1610):85 | doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2012.0080. The study notes this is true for both fast and slow environmental changes, even “when the environment deteriorates slowly over the course of many generations.” Return to text.
- Ewert, D., Adaptive Immunity: Darwinism in miniature or high-tech tinkering with stasis?, evolutionnews.org, November 2010. Return to text.