Were penguins specifically designed for freezing cold environments?
Bruce B from New South Wales, Australia, writes:
Thanks for the great website and magazine. I wonder could you clarify something for me. God created everything in the beginning for what we assume was a semi-tropical type climate. Many creatures we see today, e.g. penguins, are designed specifically to live in freezing conditions. Could this come about through natural selection or were they created as we see them today? If so how would they have survived in a warm world?
CMI Australia’s Andrew Lamb responds:
We can reasonably deduce that God created the original specimens of each animal kind with a great range of latent genetic variety within their genomes. One could say the original animals were ‘pluripotent’, with the potential for great variety, or even ‘totipotent’, holding the total possible variety for that creature (though more variety did arise later through degenerative mutation). After the Flood, as the animals dispersed around the world from the mountains of Ararat, they adapted to the many niche environments in the harsher post-Flood world. This adaptation is not ‘evolution’ because it involves losing, through natural selection, those genetic traits unsuited to a particular environment.
This concentrates (by ‘selecting for’) traits that are suited to the environment—however, these traits usually need to be already present in the original created kind. See Muddy waters.
Penguins do not exclusively live in freezing environments. On a hot day the summer before last (in February 2005) one of my daughters and I saw a penguin swimming in Sydney Harbour right next to the Opera House. And there is a famous colony of fairy penguins at Phillip Island near Melbourne. This colony is a big tourist attraction. Although both these areas get cold in winter, the sea does not freeze (it never even snows in Sydney Harbour and only extremely rarely at Phillip Island), and they have a warm, even hot, summer.
Penguins, such as the emperor penguin, that have adapted to freezing conditions have probably lost from their population the traits (genes) necessary to flourish in a warm climate. Therefore they might be unable to readapt and survive if moved back to a warm climate, unless perhaps they were crossed with penguin breeds that still retained the necessary traits.
With respect to climate, though we do not know for certain that there were no freezing extremes anywhere in the pre-Flood world, it probably did have a milder climate. There would have been evaporation and winds, with consequential rain and erosion, but as creationist meteorologist Dr Larry Vardiman details in his book Climates Before and After the Genesis Flood, these were probably mild by post-Flood standards—certainly without an Ice Age, for example.
The pre-Flood world’s geography was probably gentler too. The gathering of the waters to reveal dry land on Day 3 (Genesis 1:9) would have produced sediments and landforms of various sorts, including soils, valleys and hills, but these would probably have lacked the severe extremes of our cataclysmic post-Flood geography, which has involved global-scale mountain building near the end of the Flood.
The pre-Flood sea (Genesis 1:9) was probably less salty as well. The Day 3 gathering of waters would have dissolved minerals in the sea, but the tumultuous upheaval of the Flood, involving volcanic activity, would have greatly increased the mineral content of sea water, forcing many sea creatures to adapt or die. Many indeed became extinct at that time, as the deep layers of fossils attest.
Genesis 1:9 also suggests that there was just one continent in the pre-Flood world. With a lack of extremes and little geographical impediment to travel or contact, the pre-Flood animal populations probably remained relatively homogenous, without isolated specialist sub-populations developing. The animals that God chose to send (Genesis 7:9 ‘there went in … unto Noah’) into the Ark would have been robust ‘pluripotent’ specimens, containing a comprehensive range of genetic variety for their kind.
After the Flood there were severer landscapes, saltier seas, and harsher climates, leading to greater isolation and adaptation amongst animals. Just as there are now cold-climate and warm-climate penguins, there are also climate-specific species of many other animals. Consider for example the many different species of Ursus bears, each descended from the same pair on the Ark. These are now each adapted to their own particular environment, but still able to interbreed. More examples can be found in the Speciation and Natural Selection sections in our Topics index.
Re-featured on homepage: 6 August 2022