‘Evolution in a Petri dish’?

Have scientists demonstrated evolution in action?


This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 30(4):38–39.
Photo by Josh Grosse, www.wikipedia.org Nematode

So trumpeted Scientific American, December 2007, p.17. What are they talking about? Some Spanish researchers managed to get some nematodes (tiny roundworms) commonly used in lab experiments to grow in the presence of bacteria that normally kill them. Apparently a mutant form of the nematode was adapted to living with the bacteria. This is supposed to demonstrate ‘evolution’.

Have they demonstrated that mutations can create new, complex features—the sorts of changes needed to change worms into fish, for example? The biochemical basis of this nematode adaptation has not yet been elucidated, but the article reveals that,

‘The difference in the worms’ movements shows that the ability to survive bacteria does not come without cost. The mutated individuals breathe poorly—they consume 30 percent less oxygen—and they are not as fast as their wild cousins in competing for food. … From a Darwinian perspective, Martinez says, the phenomenon represents a “second-class selection” that resembles the utility of the sickle cell mutation against malaria.’

So we are looking at ‘broken’, defective worms, not ones that are on an upward path to greater complexity. These worms are not going to become humans!

Sometimes it is helpful to be broken—as in the beetles with defective wings that could not fly on a windy island (and thus avoided being blown into the sea)—see Beetle bloopers. Note the comparison with sickle cell trait. This is another example of a broken gene that happens to be adaptive under certain circumstances, according to one of the world’s leading experts on the disease, Dr Felix Konotey-Ahulu. That’s what mutations do: they break existing genes, not create brand new ones.

Mutations do not create the complex, integrated DNA code needed to explain how some worms changed into fish or ultimately how microbes changed into mankind. Nor do natural processes explain the origin of incredibly complex, essential cellular components such as the ATP synthase complex that all living things need to have to live (see Fantastic voyage), or the DNA code that is common to all living things for that matter (see DNA: marvellous messages or mostly mess?).

In a side bar note, the editors claim that this observation ‘provides evolution with experimental evidence—evidence that creationism does not have.’ Now creationists accept that mutations occur, that natural selection occurs and that adaptation occurs (see the many articles on this web site under Mutations Q&A and Natural Selection Q&A), so whoever wrote this either has no idea of what he/she is arguing against, or is being deceptive.

They also claim that this nematode is ‘on the verge of speciation’. But creationists don’t deny that ‘speciation’ occurs either—yet another straw man argument, as speciation can happen without natural processes having to invent new complex features. For example, different species of cattle (Bos spp.) all have the same suite of organs; they only vary in size, colour, etc. See: Speciation Q&A

This article is yet another example of the deceptive bait-and-switch trick, or equivocation, that is so favoured by evolutionary propagandists like the editor of SA, John Rennie. My colleague, Jonathan Sarfati, countered Mr Rennie on a previous occasion when Rennie launched into an incredibly ill-informed scathing attack on creationists. See 15 ways to refute materialistic bigotry.

If by ‘evolution’ Mr Rennie and Co. mean that organisms can adapt by mutations and natural selection, then we creationist biologists readily accept this, so they have not provided evidence for anything that contradicts ‘creationism’. But if they mean that they have demonstrated that worms can change into fish (which is the grand claim of Evolution / Darwinism), then what they have shown has nothing to do with proving this.

Interestingly, the editorial sidebar quotes a Spanish scientist as saying, ‘“To my knowledge, it is the first time that an evolutionary law has been demonstrated” in a complex creature’. That’s an interesting admission, considering that evolutionists have been telling us for decades that evolution is a fact. But the article itself refutes this claim, pointing out that the adaptation in the nematode resembles sickle cell in humans. In their endeavour to hype up the findings to try to score a point against ‘creationism’, they contradict themselves. Warfarin resistance in rats is another example of a mutation breaking an existing gene in a complex creature where it is adaptive (see Rats! Another case of sickle cell anemia). The CCR5 delta32 mutation in humans is another example of an adaptive mutation in humans (conferring resistance to HIV), but again, it is a broken gene. There are many more examples of mutations breaking, wrecking existing genes where they simply cause disease, with no benefits whatsoever. Indeed, over a thousand human diseases are known to be caused by mutations. The mutation-natural-selection train is going in the wrong direction.

So, Mr Rennie and Co., of Scientific American, you have not demonstrated Evolution at all, only ‘Devolution’ that happens to be adaptive, which is no threat to creationists. When you find a mutation or a series of mutations that occurred naturally that creates one of the hundreds of enzyme complexes upon which life depends, you might perhaps have a valid point to make. But I won’t hold my breath while I wait for an example, I might end up breathless like the nematodes!

Published: 16 January 2008