Challenging evolution with science
An interview with microbiologist Dr Kevin Anderson (1957–2022)
Posted on homepage: 23 February 2022 (GMT+10)
The Creation Research Society (CRS) was founded in 1963 as the world’s first professional society for creation scientists. Some of the best-known names in our movement were among the founding members. CMI speaker and scientist Dr Robert Carter is on their board of directors. He was privileged to be able to interview Dr Kevin Anderson, the then director of the Van Andel Creation Research Center (VARC), which is owned and operated by the CRS.1 VARC and the offices of the CRS are now located on the campus of Arizona Christian University, just outside the city of Phoenix.
Kevin was called home shortly before this interview was to go to press. He leaves behind his wife, Diane, their three children, and four grandchildren.
Dr Anderson earned his Ph.D. in microbiology from Kansas State University. He then became a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow and after that a professor of microbiology at Mississippi State University.
Dr Anderson, a self-professed farm boy from Kansas, worked hard as a kid. He told me he would get up early for chores before school and then had to do chores again after school. He said he was proud of his roots and upbringing, but he knew early on that farm life was not his calling. He said that God can use that background to help instill a strong sense of work habits and responsibility. Interestingly, he and Dr Duane Gish (1921–2013)2 shared the same hometown, and this formed a firm bond between them while both were alive.
As a high school freshman, Kevin read Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, a fictional story about the discovery of a deadly pathogen from space. He said he was captivated by the scientific process described in the book. At that point, he realized he wanted to be a microbiologist.
After his undergraduate degree, he received a Ph.D. in microbiology and spent most of his professional career doing laboratory research on bacteria. This included work on the genetics and ecological interactions of various anaerobic bacteria.3 Kevin was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from the US National Institutes of Health. In 2008, the journal Structure published a special report about a bacterial starch degradation system.4 His post-doc research was the foundational work that led to much of what was reported in this special issue.5
Kevin grew up in a Christian home. His father was a part-time pastor. He said he never really went through a rebellious teenage stage nor a crisis of faith. Instead, he told me, “I went through a period of determining whether I professed to be a Christian simply because that was my family heritage or because that was my personal faith.”
He said he entered college as a creationist, but with only a modest understanding of what that meant or any of the science involved. As a college student, he was very focused on learning how to interpret and follow the evidence.
I never actually encountered anything resembling the ‘acid of Darwinism’ which theistic evolutionist and physicist Karl Giberson claims6 he encountered in his college years, that ‘ate’ away his ‘fundamentalist’ understanding of Adam, Eden, and creation. I have always wondered what classes he took, because as a microbiology major, I never encountered such strong ‘acid’. It might have had a big impact on my creation views if I had, but of course I never came across anything nearly as persuasive and challenging as claimed by Giberson.
Kevin took several evolution classes as an undergraduate. He recalled looking at his notes as he prepared for final exams and thinking, “Where is all this evidence everyone keeps talking about?” The material presented in the courses was little more than speculation and extrapolation (with lots of peppered moths7 and finches8 scattered throughout). In fact, he said,
I was a much stronger creationist upon completion of my postdoctoral training than I was at the beginning of my academic years. I guess I must have been asleep during the five minutes in which they presented the overwhelming evolution evidence that apparently so deeply impressed many of my peers. Rather, the science information I learned seemed to fit so well with creation and even Genesis.
When asked how his belief in creation impacted his time in school, Kevin said that his high school freshman biology teacher got annoyed with all his questions and how he constantly challenged evolution.
I think my great desire to understand the creation/evolution conflict motivated me to learn more about science than most of my academic peers. So, in that regard, it made me a better student because I was motivated to understand the tools and process of science even at an early age.
It also motivated him to understand the difference between science, philosophy, and theology, something too many scientists still do not understand.
My creation beliefs put me in the library studying topics that were not directly related to the classes I was taking, but were a very valuable part of my maturing as a young scientist.
VARC has a fully equipped and operating laboratory. He was able to leverage his experience in biochemistry and cell biology to perform laboratory work on dinosaur tissue and preserved proteins.
I certainly would have never guessed that I would be working with dinosaur bones in a laboratory or talking about dinosaur proteins. As the saying goes: to make God laugh, simply tell Him your plans! I’ve had a front row seat for some of the biochemical work challenging the various explanations currently offered by the evolutionist community.
This work is part of the iDINO project that was spearheaded by the CRS. The goal is to focus on the biochemistry of protein preservation and degradation. They are examining why the various models evolutionists have proposed to try to solve their problem do not work (see ‘Dinosaur soft tissue’ below).
The presence of preserved original biomaterial in dinosaur bones has been well established, even though some evolutionists desperately try to offer alternative explanations. I think the main focus for creationists should be the lack of any sound explanation for the presence of this material in fossils—if they really were 66+ million years old as evolutionists and other old-earthers claim.
When I asked if he had any faith-affirming encouragement to give to the next generation, he replied,
This fallen world will try to convince you that science has ‘proven’ the Bible wrong and that creation is a failed idea. This is simply the rhetoric of people who are wilfully denying their Creator and all the evidence that He left for us to discover in His creation [cf. Romans 1:18–32]. Evolutionists rarely allow close examination of their ideas, usually waving off challenges with dismissive claims such as, ‘No real scientist believes in creation’. This is hardly an inspiring scientific conclusion, as it rests heavily upon everything but the use of science.
Getting back to his background in genetics, he concluded our interview saying,
Twenty years ago, evolutionists were literally giddy with claims that the newly published human genome sequence was devastating to those ignorant creationists. As more genome data and analysis was gradually gathered, that giddiness began to subside to the point that it is now almost nonexistent (and even then, usually just among the genetically ignorant). In contrast, creation geneticists have never been so vocal. It is a wonderful time to be a creationist, and even more so, a creation geneticist. The human genome data has been a godsend for us. For example, the concept that most of it is ‘junk’ (useless) DNA was embraced by evolutionists. It is now clear that almost all DNA is in fact translated, sometimes into protein, but often into different forms of RNA that regulate the expression of many different protein-coding genes. So, even if only about 2% of the genome codes for protein, the rest of the genome is involved in regulating the cell in many different ways. I find it highly ironic (actually, just plain silly) when we creationists are accused of being anti-science. Because people want to equate evolution and science, it’s then assumed that to reject evolution is to reject science. That is hardly the case, since evolution is just one interpretation of the data—and, I would add, a highly flawed interpretation. Science only gives us the tools to gather that data. Scientific discovery continues to confirm creation (such as the genome data). So, we want more science discovery, not less.
Dr Kevin Anderson will be remembered by thousands as a brave and effective warrior for the truth of the Bible and the Gospel.
Dinosaur soft tissue
The presence in many dinosaur remains of original soft tissue with intact proteins has now been well established. Since the evolutionary timeframe puts the youngest such fossils at 66 million years, this is a huge problem for secular researchers. From the laws of physics and chemistry, if they were anything near that old, these proteins should have completely disintegrated long, long before our time. Various ‘models’ have been put forward to try to explain away this massive discrepancy between evolution and the facts.*
One proposed solution that got early attention is called the ‘iron model’. When added to a solution containing proteins, iron can cause cross-linking of the protein chains. This involves the Fenton reaction. It essentially causes the proteins to become a tangled mess, making them more difficult for bacteria to digest and more resistant to chemical decay.
The idea has multiple problems, however. For one thing, it is a huge stretch to believe that crosslinked proteins can last for millions of years. Also, this high cross-linking reduces the flexibility and elasticity of the tissue. Yet, highly flexible and elastic tissue has been discovered in a variety of fossils, showing that no Fenton reaction has occurred.
Further, there is evidence for the double-stranded structure of DNA in some of these dinosaur remains, yet the Fenton reaction destroys, rather than preserves, this double-stranded structure.
The discovery of preserved, unpermineralized dinosaur tissues was a surprise to everyone. These remains were buried during the biblical Flood about 4,500 years ago. To preserve any biological material for that long is rather amazing, but it is not impossible in the creation model. The highly degraded material is in keeping with such recent burial and preservation. However, consider the evolutionary position. Clearly, long-agers are on the back foot, having to invoke nearly miraculous preservation conditions that contradict basic laboratory science and field observations.
* For explanations as to why none of them work, see Anderson, K., Echoes of the Jurassic, 2nd edn., CRS Books, 2017. There are many articles on dino soft tissue in a creationist context, e.g. Smith, C., Dinosaur soft tissue, 28 Feb 2018; The iDINO Project Special Report, CRSQ 51:229–313, 2015; Thomas, B., Original biomaterial in fossils, CRSQ 51:232–247, 2015; Thomas, B., Dinosaur proteins and radiocarbon wreak ‘Jurassic World’ havoc: latest creationist research demolishes dinosaur dogma, 25 Jun 2015.
References and notes
- See the Creation Research Society website: creationresearch.org. Return to text.
- Duane Gish was a well-known creation speaker and author, and an expert in protein synthesis. He was renowned for the large number of successful public debates he had with leading evolutionists. See creation.com/duane-gish. Return to text.
- Anaerobic bacteria do not require oxygen to live. Many species are dangerous to human health. Return to text.
- Koropatkin, N.M., Martens, E.C., Gordon, J.I., and Smith, T.J., Starch catabolism by a prominent human gut symbiont is directed by the recognition of amylose helices, Structure 16:1105–1115, 2008. Return to text.
- The first two footnotes of Koropatkin et al., Ref 4, were to a two-part paper: Anderson, K.L. and Salyers, A.A., (1) Biochemical evidence that starch breakdown by Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron involves outer membrane starch-binding sites and periplasmic starch-degrading enzyme; (2) Genetic evidence that outer membrane binding of starch is required for starch utilization by Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron, J. Bacteriology 171:3192–3198, 3199–3204, 1989. Return to text.
- In his book, Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and believe in evolution, HarperOne, 2008; reviewed at creation.com/toxic. Return to text.
- Tay, J., Reclaiming the peppered moth: designed to adapt, Creation 42(3):18–21, 2020; creation.com/peppered-moth-caterpillars. Return to text.
- Lightner, J.K., Finch beaks point to a Creator who provides, J. Creation 26(2):8–10, 2012; creation.com/finch-beaks. Return to text.