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Creation 41(4):48–50, October 2019

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Genetic entropy: The silent killer

A devastatingly powerful argument against evolution

by

 A-B-Z-DNA

People die for many reasons, but if you are fortunate enough to escape death through war, crime, random accidents or illness, entropy will always be there to ensure you meet your Maker. Generally speaking, entropy is the universal tendency for things to run down and fall apart.1

Not surprisingly, the same tendency is at work in entire populations, generation after generation. We now know, thanks largely to the work of Dr John Sanford (renowned plant geneticist and genetic engineering pioneer from Cornell University), that the same gradual process of ‘running down’ is also operating in the human gene pool.

Called genetic entropy, it is driving humanity—and all higher organisms—to the point of extinction (barring divine intervention, of course).2 In fact, this process, which operates more rapidly in ‘higher’ organisms,3 means that the human species could only be several thousand years old; certainly not hundreds of thousands of years, or we would have already become extinct.

This topic is not widely known, but it’s very powerful support for biblical creation. Simply put, genetic entropy means that the information content in the genome (all of our genes) is progressively declining, due to the accumulation of mutations, generation after generation.4

Mutations: good, bad, or indifferent?

Mutations happen in all life forms (and in viruses). In our corrupted, fallen world, the mechanisms that replicate the genetic material from one generation (or one cell division) to the next now are imperfect. Another source of mutation is environmental radiation. Each time we have children, we inevitably pass along some mistakes that were not there before.

Estimates vary, but a common figure is that each child is born with around 100 new mutations. These are added to the ones already accumulated in previous generations.

These mistakes are almost never helpful. Could you ever expect to improve an encyclopedia by adding more and more spelling mistakes every time one is printed? The evolutionary literature acknowledges this very clearly:

Even the simplest of living organisms are highly complex. Mutations—indiscriminate alterations of such complexity—are much more likely to be harmful than beneficial.5

And:

In summary, the vast majority of mutations are deleterious. This is one of the most well-established principles of evolutionary genetics, supported by both molecular and quantitative-genetic data.6

One estimate is that damaging mutations outnumber helpful ones by a million to one.7 Even most of the ‘beneficial’ mutations turn out to break things rather than make things, e.g. wingless beetles on windswept islands.8

Neutral mutations?

Some people, especially those with scientific backgrounds, believe that most mutations are neither good nor bad. They believe the vast majority of mutations are neutral. This is a major misconception. Given how important the information coded in DNA is for living things, it is easy to see that most random changes are going to have some effect, and most of these will be bad. They will not simply do nothing. From a scientific paper on the topic:

… it seems unlikely that any mutation is truly neutral in the sense that it has no effect on fitness. All mutations must have some effect, even if that effect is vanishingly small.9

Almost neutral

While there are essentially no mutations that are strictly neutral, mutations can be so minor in their effects that they are ‘effectively neutral’ (Dr Sanford calls them ‘nearly-neutral’). Geneticist Motoo Kimura (1924–1994) created a new model where ‘effectively neutral’ mutations were a huge proportion of the total. He discovered that these mutations caused a general decline in ‘fitness’ over time. This term ‘fitness’ is often used in confusing and circular ways, though.10

Despite this, Kimura never questioned the notion of evolution. He took it on faith that occasional mega-beneficial mutations would cancel out the effect of this gradual decline:

Whether such a small rate of deterioration in fitness constitutes a threat to the survival and welfare of the species (not to the individual) is a moot point, but this will easily be taken care of by adaptive gene substitutions that must occur from time to time (say once every few hundred generations).10,11

But there is no evidence to justify Kimura’s wishful speculation. The evidence shows the opposite: given enough time, organisms will eventually succumb to the weight of the damaging mutations that accumulate gradually, and will go extinct.12 In fact, a paper presented by Sanford and others at a symposium on information at Cornell University demonstrated that lots of such ‘high-impact’ beneficial mutations would actually hasten extinction. They “strongly interfere with selection for or against all low-impact mutations”, which makes the problem of genetic entropy worse.13

But natural selection … ?

Evolutionists will sometimes try to rebut these ideas by saying things like, “If a mutation is damaging, it will be weeded out by natural selection.’ This oversimplified view of selection is drilled into biology students relentlessly in classrooms all over the world—and it is greatly misleading, because for most mutations, it is totally wrong!

Natural selection (NS)—a straightforward, real process—essentially just means ‘differential reproduction’; some members of a population will reproduce more than others. Therefore, the traits that are possessed by the ones reproducing the most are going to become the most common in the population over time.

The power of NS has been carefully measured.14 For selection to be able to ‘see’ the mutation, it must be strong enough to affect reproduction (e.g. by killing the individual before it can reproduce, or by causing sterility or a significant decline in fertility).

Thus, NS cannot ‘see’ a nearly-neutral mutation because, on its own, the negative effect of the individual mutation is very tiny—far too small to cause any appreciable difference in reproduction. As errors accumulate with each generation, eventually their collective effect is very damaging (see ‘Racing cars and error catastrophe’ p. 50).

It is easy to see that selection does not weed out most mutations. We all have hundreds of mutations our ancestors did not have—yet most people have no trouble becoming parents and passing on their genes (along with many mistakes, both old and new).

NS only works on individuals

Forced to acknowledge that NS is blind to nearly-neutral mutations, a common evolutionist response is, ‘Once the accumulating damage from the mutations becomes significant, NS will start to remove them.’ But this fails to understand the problem. Natural selection can only weed out individual mutations as they happen. Once mutations have accumulated enough to be a real, noticeable problem, they are then a problem in the entire population, not just in an individual here or there. The whole population cannot be ‘selected away’—except by going extinct!

In short, if the world were even several hundred thousand years old, genetic entropy means that we would have long since become extinct.15 This demonstrates that it is biblical creation, not evolutionary theory, that matches up to genetic reality—and it highlights the dismal future that awaits humanity apart from the intervening work of our Creator God.

Racing cars and error catastrophe

 racing-car

Imagine a racing car in top condition. Now imagine someone strikes it with a small hammer, putting a modest dent in one of its panels—or a chip in its windshield. Will this single occurrence affect the car’s chances of winning the race? No, but it’s obvious that the hammer blow did some damage, albeit slight.

By analogy, the hammer blow is a nearly-neutral mutation; the dent is the mutation’s effect. The race is analogous to ‘natural selection’; the winner of the race is ‘fitter’ than the competition.

Now imagine this gets repeated thousands or even hundreds of thousands of times, all over the car; eventually it will suffer significant damage. It will get less aerodynamic; it might become impossible to see out of the windshield; electrical connections inside the car might get jarred loose. Eventually, given enough of these slight impacts, the car will become totally unusable. But the process is happening to not only one car. Every car in the race is accumulating these little dings at roughly the same rate. At some point, so many cars will have become unusable that the whole race must be cancelled.

Canceling the race is analogous to extinction. In genetic terms, this is called ‘error catastrophe’ or ‘mutational meltdown’.

References and notes

  1. For a detailed lay-level explanation, see Wieland, C., World winding down, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs GA, 2012; available creation.com/s/10-2-602. Return to text.
  2. Sanford, J., Genetic Entropy, FMS publications, 2005–2014; available creation.com/s/10-3-513. Return to text.
  3. See Carter, R., Genetic entropy and simple organisms; creation.com/genetic-entropy-and-simple-organisms, 25 Oct 2012. Return to text.
  4. Lynch, M., Rate, molecular spectrum, and consequences of human mutation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 107(3):961–968, 2010. Return to text.
  5. Gerrish, P. et al., Genomic mutation rates that neutralize adaptive evolution and natural selection, J. R. Soc. Interface, 29 May 2013. Return to text.
  6. Keightley P.D. and Lynch, M., Toward a realistic model of mutations affecting fitness, Evolution 57(3):683–5, 2003. Return to text.
  7. Gerrish, P. and Lenski, R., The fate of competing beneficial mutations in an asexual population, Genetica 102/103: 127–144, 1998. Return to text.
  8. Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers, Creation 19(3):30, 1997; creation.com/beetle. Return to text.
  9. Eyre-Walker, A. and Keightley P.D., The distribution of fitness effects of new mutations, Nat. Rev. Genet. 8(8):610–8, 2007. Return to text.
  10. Kimura, M., Model of effectively neutral mutations in which selective constraint is incorporated, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 76(7):3440–3444, 1979. Return to text.
  11. For an in-depth explanation of the issues surrounding the term ‘fitness’, see creation.com/fitness. Return to text.
  12. For an instance of genetic entropy in a virus population: creation.com/genetic-entropy-evidence. Return to text.
  13. Sanford, J., Baumgardner, J., and Brewer, W., Selection threshold severely constrains capture of beneficial mutations, in: Marks II, R.J. et al. (eds.) Biological Information—New Perspectives (proceedings of a 2011 symposium at Cornell University), World Scientific, Singapore, p. 283; krusch.com Return to text.
  14. Gibson, P., Baumgardner, J., Brewer, W., and Sanford, J.,Can purifying natural selection preserve biological information?, in: Marks II, R.J. et al. (eds.), ref. 13, pp. 232–263. Return to text.
  15. Kondrashov, A.S., Contamination of the genome by very slightly deleterious mutations: why have we not died 100 times over? J. Theor. Biol. 175(4):583–594, 21 Aug 1995. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Genetic Entropy
by Dr John Sanford
US $25.00
Soft Cover
World Winding Down
by Carl Wieland
US $12.00
Soft Cover
Evolution's Achilles' Heels
by Nine Ph.D. scientists
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

George D.
Sorry Paul Price, 13th December, but "hurricanes" is not a valid example. Hurricanes occur frequently and basically randomly, and yes we know that they will occur, like rain, or snow or any other weather variation. We just can't be sure when - even expert weather forecasters are frequently wrong, very frequently! Genetic entropy is a theory, or maybe a hypothesis; as I suggested, that theory so far includes no known timescale. [And taking account of the state of the world, it would not be a far-out assumption that the Lord Jesus Christ will have fulfilled his promised return to earth in power and glory long before genetic entropy reaches its finality of extinction, or even before a long enough time has elapsed to establish that it is actually taking place, or not].

What is significant is that genetic entropy is being used as a counter to evolutionary theory, again no more than a theory, extrapolated to infinity from two very close (points (eg Darwin's finch beak comparison), and as any proper engineer or scientist knows is an invalid extrapolation. Genetic entropy may or may not be correct, but it is irrelevant, merely just another line of endless argument, like evolution itself.

The true, irrefutable demolition of evolutionary theory lies no further away than our own human bodies which could never have evolved from whatever "primordial protoplasmic globule" (per W S Gilbert), not in a billion years. Our bodies are the answer to the evolution nonsense; it's simple and blindingly obvious. We, and everything else, were created. But there are none so blind as those who refuse to see, and 2 Corinthians 4: 1-7, and particularly verse 4, tells those of us who believe where that blindness comes from. QED.
Paul Price
GE is not irrelevant; it shows us genetically the truth of what God told Adam and Eve in the Garden--that they would die if they disobeyed. We are dying not only individually, but collectively as well. Can you predict exactly when you, personally, will die? I'd wager you cannot. Does that mean it's only a "theory" that you will in fact die? Clearly not. Ageing applies to populations, not just individuals. Your sermonizing here in the comments is way off topic.
George D.
The entropy theory may or may not be correct, and it seems nobody has come up with what might be called the angle of taper, that is how long will it take to arrive at extinction. However, far more to the point is the sheer impossibility of the "theory of evolution". First, it is a bit like looking up the answer in the back of the book, namely that a creature knows instinctively what it is evolving into. Second, considering the human body alone, the fantastic complexity had to be designed in advance of construction: the binaural, optical focusing, digestive, breathing, and blood circulation systems; the automatic balance of a high body on two small feet; the growth of two successive sets of teeth, but only two; the growth of finger and toe nails, but only on the finger and toe ends; the blood remaining fluid in the body, but congealing almost immediately on exposure to air, while the body starts a self-healing process under the formed scab. Then there is the most amazing factor of all, deemed a miracle if it wasn't happening every day - that two small specks, one male and the other female, when joined together, but not otherwise, will in the course of nine months produce a complete baby, with a full set of body parts which continue to develop into an adult, and not only so, but even having physical and facial resemblances to the parents. Evolution? Not the remotest chance! Not the remotest! Not! Evolution is a fraud, a fake, a con, the apparently only way to avoid "....God created ...." Millennia ago the Psalmist concluded that the FOOL hath said in his heart there is no God or, more exactly, said in his heart No God. So instead, let us wisely and humbly bow down and worship him.
Paul Price
Not being able to predict when extinction will happen is not the same as not knowing whether it will happen. We can't predict in advance when or where hurricanes will happen each year, either, but we still know they will happen.
D R L.
"Thanks, but I already knew how evolutionists abuse the term "evolution" to mean only "change" (when it's convenient to do so). You're deliberately ignoring the entire point of this article you're commenting on, and instead choosing to continue to debate semantics over substance."
Again the evidence-free accusations of dishonesty!
It's not only change. It's a certain kind of change.
I'm sorry if you think it's trivial, but I happen to think it is important to get one's fact right and use words properly.
Especially when "the entire point of this article" is to perpetrate a misunderstanding.
Paul Price
It's not apparent to me that you've even read this article. No future comments from you are going to be approved here unless you want to talk about something of substance. The article is not promoting any misunderstandings.
D R L.
"you've just proved that the word "evolution" has become meaningless)."
No, I've merely tried to point out that it does not have the meaning that Creationists pretend it does. Evolution, basically, is genetic change in a population over generations. No matter what direction the change, it is still evolution.
Paul Price
Thanks, but I already knew how evolutionists abuse the term "evolution" to mean only "change" (when it's convenient to do so). You're deliberately ignoring the entire point of this article you're commenting on, and instead choosing to continue to debate semantics over substance.
D R L.
"It takes a single-celled organism over a continuous span of billions of years and takes it all the way up to a human being. That's billions of years of sustained complexity-building in the upwards direction."
No, it's billions of years in ALL directions. Human beings are not the only results of evolution, the entire tree (or bush or net, whatever you want to call it) is the result of evolution. A bacteria or archaea or mushroom or gorilla of today is just as "evolved" as a human being.
Paul Price
You're still ignoring the point. You can use semantic misdirection all you want (you've just proved that the word "evolution" has become meaningless). The point is, there is no credible mechanism capable of building function and complexity over time. There is no credible mechanism capable of turning bacteria into humans. Everything we know about biology and genetics argues the exact opposite conclusion. Are you a science-denier?
,ichel B.
If we go back in time all the way to Adam and Eve, how gloriously beautiful they must have been! I would love to feast my eyes on Eve!
Alison L.
I went to a lecture by Prof A Eyre-Walker when I was a first year undergraduate at Sussex University. He was boastful about his paper and said sarcastically that 'it had an unexpected consequence of being a gift to creationists'.
Afterwards, this creationist undergraduate challenged him with, 'wouldn't natural selection be blind and not see the accumulated mutations until it was too late?' He was totally dumbstruck and could not answer! Eventually he blundered some sort of answer admitting that yes natural section would not see until it was too late! A friend witnessed this and she was amazed at how the question took the wind out of his sails.
Paul Price
Thanks very much for sharing this story. It's extremely revealing! You will find in discussions about GE with skeptics, giving them quotations from the secular experts like Dr Eyre-Walker infuriates them. They can't stand that you're using their own 'trusted sources' to prove that evolution is false. So they take the usual route: accuse you of quoting out of context (quotemining). Your story here goes to prove that Dr Eyre-Walker himself--whom I have corresponded with in the past by email, and seems friendly--understands these implications.
D R L.
Evolution has no direction. It is not true to say, as the blurb for your article does, that "Evolution says genetics keep improving."
Of course, starting from the simplest, there may be a trend towards complicated, but that does not have to be universal. Terms such as "devolution" are designed to mislead.
Paul Price
If evolution really happened, then it observably does have a direction. It takes a single-celled organism over a continuous span of billions of years and takes it all the way up to a human being. That's billions of years of sustained complexity-building in the upwards direction. Sadly for evolutionists, there's not a shred of evidence for any kind of naturalistic mechanism here. What we do observe happening (the accumulation of mutations) definitely brings functionality down. Mutations are not what built life-but they are destroying it.
D R L.
"Evolution says genetics keep improving."
No, it doesn't.
Paul Price
I have no idea what you're quoting, since that statement doesn't appear in this article. However, in layman's terms, it's basically accurate. Evolution must explain how "primitive" single-celled organisms transformed into human beings with no outside help. That's an awful lot of "improvement". There's no mechanism that can even prevent decline, let alone build humans from bacteria.
Paul M.
It makes me wonder how long does the human race have? At our current rate of mutations (eg. 100 per generation) surely the curve is exponential as the weight of mutations increases, so does the health of the individual not just to reproduce, but to thrive in general, earn a living, provide for others etc. How many of us depend on the strength and vitality of at least one of our parents or carers until we are able to leave the nest.
Rolando A.
"You're seemingly confusing the ideas of thermodynamic entropy with genetic entropy." No I did not, as entropy in practice is one and the same thing; everything is running down. In any case, you did not answer my question regarding the evidence or mathematical models that prove that humans could have become extinct under the +/- 300k year time span scenario for human evolution assumed by evolution science. Seemingly, you did not get the point.
Paul Price
Rolando,

Human beings are the most complex organisms in existence; nobody can possibly calculate how many years it might take for the process of genetic entropy to cause our extinction. Our understanding of genetics is not nearly advanced enough for that. However, intuitively it is obvious that GE is not compatible with deep time. That's why Kondrashov wrote, "Why have we not died 100 times over?" (His paper doesn't solve the problem, but he does raise some potential solutions--which Dr Sanford has considered in various places, including his book).

The exact timeframe is not so important. The important thing is the direction of evolution. GE shows us that genetics is winding down, not getting better and better over time. So no matter the timeframe, we are on the path to extinction. That means we could not have evolved from apes, since there is no evolutionary mechanism for that. We were created, and we are in the process of dying, both individually and collectively.
Rolando A.
The curse impacted EVERYTHING in the universe. This includes not only physics and cosmology, but also biology. So the concept of genetic entropy makes perfect sense both in the context of theology and science. Now, how do evolution scientists still get away with their beliefs? The second law of thermodynamics was fundamental in accepting the notion that the universe was not eternal and that it had a beginning. But here we are dealing with a much smaller time-scale, i.e., less than 300,000 years for human evolution. So I think the problem here is that evolutionists can still defend human evolution without entropy taking its toll on mankind, unless creationists mathematical models show different. Could you expand on that?
Paul Price
You're seemingly confusing the ideas of thermodynamic entropy with genetic entropy. I suggest you read Dr Sanford's book so you'll understand that he's talking about mutations affecting the information in the genome, not about 'energy in general'.
John P.
This is a good article. If evolution and deep time were true we'd all be extinct by now-plants, animals and man. Of course evolution and deep time are modern myths. God's word is always true. He was there.The secularists really have no cogent argument against Genetic Entropy

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