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Creation 24(2):16–19, March 2002

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Credit stock.xchng train a-comin

The evolution train’s a-comin’

(Sorry, a-goin’—in the wrong direction)


The atmosphere in the crowded lecture theatre foyer was alive with curious anticipation. It was the late 1970s, the heady early days of the creation movement in South Australia. The creation/evolution debate I was about to take part in, before some 40 science teachers and involving a prominent academic evolutionist, was a first for the region.

As the words of an animated conversation drifted across to me, I realized that my opponent-to-be was only a few metres to my left. A senior lecturer (associate professor in US terms) in population biology, he was holding forth to a small group of supporters, clearly unaware that his creationist protagonist was within earshot.

“This is really frustrating”, I heard him say. “I feel like an astronaut who’s come back from the moon, seen the spherical Earth, and now he’s supposed to debate with someone who tries to tell people it’s flat. In my job we see evolution happening in front of our eyes.”

Back then, before creationist arguments had had a good airing, it was understandable for him to think like that. Biology teachers could perhaps be excused for perpetuating such a naïve belief. They simply assumed that the easily observable genetic changes in many types of living populations were an obvious demonstration that evolution from microbes to man was fact. Just give it enough time, and voilà, such ‘micro’ changes would accumulate, continually filtered and guided by natural selection. It seemed obvious and logical to expect these ‘little steps’ to keep adding up so as to lead to the ‘macro’ changes—the really big jumps, frog-to-prince, fish-to-philosopher, that type of thing. (As we will show later in this article, though, the very opposite is true.)

In that light, this biology lecturer’s perplexed frustration can be readily understood, because he thought that he was often seeing a small bit of what would in time become a large chunk of change. We need to understand that most evolutionists, even today, still think this way. Which is, frankly, why the usual answers given by most Bible-believers, when challenged on the subject of biological change, are inadequate.

For instance, a challenger might say, “Mosquitoes have evolved resistance to DDT in just 40 years. If that’s not evolution happening before our eyes, what is?” Most Christian responses focus on the amount of change. For instance, they will say, “Well, that’s just variation within a kind.” Or they reply, “But the mosquito’s still a mosquito, isn’t it? It hasn’t turned into anything else.”

It is not just that the train has not gone far enough, but that it is headed in the wrong direction.

Both of these replies are true. But they are inadequate and seldom impress the challenger, who thinks, “Well, that’s just a copout for the Christians. Evolution takes millions of years, and here we have all this change in only 40 years. So, give it a million years and imagine what sort of change we’ll have then!”

The analogy I have for many years used in explaining this in public lectures is that of a railway train. Imagine you see a train pulling out of a station in, say, Miami, Florida, headed north to Chicago.1 The distance you see it travel is only a few hundred metres. But you can reasonably presume that, given enough time, it will end up in Chicago. You have seen sound evidence to indicate that it is in principle capable of making the whole journey, you don’t need to see it make the whole trip. This is just how evolutionists see the little changes (often called ‘microevolution’, but see aside below) happening all around us. If a mosquito has changed a little in 40 years, you don’t need to see it turning into an elephant—it has shown that it is in principle capable of making a similarly radical journey.

What we need to be aware of, and focus on in our answers, I tell audiences, is not the amount of change, but the type or direction of change. It is not just that the train has not gone far enough, but that it is headed in the wrong direction. The types of changes observed today, though they can be accommodated within an evolutionary framework, are, we will see, precisely and demonstrably the opposite of the ones which evolutionists really need in order to give some semblance of credibility to their belief system.

So while you may be seeing the train pulling out of the station at Miami, if the reality is that it is not heading north, up to Chicago, but is headed in the opposite direction, downwards to where the line (if there was one) would end in the deep blue ocean, then it will never get to Chicago. Time will not solve the problem, since it is in principle an impossibility to reach Chicago by train in that downward direction. Just so, once we can point out to people that the ‘evolution train’ (really the train of biological change) is headed downwards, not upwards, then the more time there is, the less likely the whole evolution scenario becomes.

Though his intention is to mock creationists, he unwittingly provides a great opportunity to show how misplaced this common reasoning is.

Before explaining what I mean by biological changes having a ‘direction’, I will share what triggered this article. It was a book review2 by well-known evolutionary biologist Dr Jerry Coyne, of the University of Chicago, who could not resist an opportunity to lash out at the creationists.3 Amazingly, Coyne uses the train journey analogy himself, reinforcing my point of how evolutionists see the issue. Though his intention is to mock creationists, he unwittingly provides a great opportunity to show how misplaced this common reasoning is.

The book he was reviewing4 uses familiar examples of rapid human-induced biological changes (antibiotic resistance in bacteria, pesticide resistance in insects, changes in growth rate of fish from overfishing) to get people to ‘consent’ to the bigger idea of microbes-to-man evolution.

Coyne deplores the fact that the book’s examples will probably not change the minds of creationist advocates, who have already accepted such changes as ‘adaptation within a species’ (‘variation within a kind’ would have been more precise). He says that creationists argue that “such small changes cannot explain the evolution of new groups of plants and animals”, and goes on to say: “This argument defies common sense. When, after a Christmas visit, we [presumably his family in Chicago—CW] watch grandma leave on the train to Miami, we assume that the rest of her journey will be an extrapolation of that quarter-mile.” Thus, says Coyne, a “creationist unwilling to extrapolate from micro- to macroevolution” is being ‘irrational’.

Reason vs rhetoric

Why can one say with confidence, concerning the biological changes observable today (man-induced or otherwise) that the train is headed in the wrong direction? Why is it that when evolutionists use this ‘grandma’s train’ extrapolation argument, it can be turned around to make the opposite point? Because the real issue in biological change is all about what happens at the DNA level, which concerns information.5 The information carried on the DNA, the molecule of heredity, is like a recipe, a set of instructions for the manufacture of certain items.

Evolutionists teach that one-celled organisms6 (e.g. protozoa) have given rise to pelicans, pomegranates, people and ponies. In each case, the DNA ‘recipe’ has had to undergo a massive net increase of information during the alleged millions of years. A one-celled organism does not have the instructions for how to manufacture eyes, ears, blood, skin, hooves, brains, etc. which ponies need. So for protozoa to have given rise to ponies, there would have to be some mechanism that gives rise to new information.

Evolutionists hail natural selection as if it were a creative goddess, but the reality (which they invariably concede when pressed) is that selection on its own always gets rid of information, never the opposite.7 To have a way to add information, the ‘only game in town’ for evolution’s true believers is genetic copying mistakes or accidents, i.e. random mutations (which can then be ‘filtered’ by selection).8 However, the problem is that if mutations were capable of adding the information required, we should see hundreds of examples all around us, considering that there are many thousands of mutations happening continually. But whenever we study mutations, they invariably turn out to have lost or degraded the information. This is so even in those rare instances when the mutational defect gives a survival advantage—e.g. the loss of wings on beetles on windy islands.9

What’s in a word? Micro vs macro

Many creationists will say, ‘We accept microevolution, but not macroevolution.’ As our main article points out, the ‘micro’ changes (i.e. observed genetic variation) are not capable of accumulating into macro ones, anyway.

We suggest, however, that it would be wiser to avoid the use of the term ‘microevolution’. To most people, it sounds as if you are conceding that there is a ‘little bit of evolution’ going on. I.e. a little bit of the same process that, given enough time, will turn microbes into millipedes, magnolias and microbiologists. Thus, you will be seen as churlish or, as in Dr Coyne’s inverted ‘train’ example, as irrational for putting what they see as an arbitrary distinction between the ‘micro’ and ‘macro’.

If the use of such potentially misleading terminology is unavoidable, always take the opportunity to point out that the changes often labelled ‘microevolution’ cannot be the same process as the hypothetical ‘goo-to-you’ belief. They are all information-losing processes, which thus depend on there being a store of information to begin with.

As creatures diversify, gene pools become increasingly thinned out. The more organisms adapt to their surroundings by selection, i.e. the more specialized they become, the smaller the fraction they carry of the original storehouse of created information for their kind. Thus, there is less information available on which natural selection can act in the future to ‘readapt’ the population should circumstances change. Less flexible, less adaptable populations are obviously heading closer to extinction, not evolving.

We see that, just like with the train pulling out from Miami and headed south, if the sorts of changes we see today are extrapolated over time, they lead to extinction, not onwards evolution.

Remember, evolutionary belief teaches that once upon a time, there were living things, but no lungs—lungs had not evolved yet, so there was no DNA information coding for lung manufacture. Somehow this program had to be written. New information had to arise that did not previously exist, anywhere.

Later, there were lungs, but no feathers anywhere in the world, thus no genetic information for feathers. Real-world observation has overwhelmingly shown mutation to be totally unable to feed the required new information into the system.10 In fact, mutations overall hasten the downward trend by adding genetic load in the form of harmful mutations, of which we have all accumulated hundreds over the generations of our ancestry.11

In other words, populations can change and adapt because they have a lot of information (variety) in their DNA ‘recipe’. But unless mutations can feed in new information, each time there is variation/adaptation, the total information decreases (as selection gets rid of the unadapted portions of the population, some information is lost in that population). Thus, given a fixed amount of information, the more adaptation we see, the less the potential for future adaptation. The train is definitely headed downhill, destined to fall off the jetty of extinction.

The supreme irony is that, of all the examples lauded by Dr Coyne as ‘evolution’, whether antibiotic resistance12 or changes in fish growth rates, not one single one supports his ‘train’ analogy, but rather the reverse. Not one involves a gain of information; all show the opposite, a net loss. Pondering all this, I feel a sense of the same sort of frustration (only in reverse) that my evolutionist opponent was airing all those years ago, which he could have paraphrased as: “Why can’t they see it? It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Who knows, perhaps somehow this article will get into Dr Coyne’s hands. Maybe it will give him, and some other evolutionist apologists, food for thought the next time they put one of their grandmothers on a train.

References and notes

  1. I normally use Australian cities as examples, of course, but these will be more recognizable to readers worldwide, and fit nicely with the evolutionist Coyne’s comments later in the article. Return to text.
  2. Coyne, J., The case of the missing carpaccio, Nature 412(6847):586, 9 August 2001 | doi:10.1038/35088111. Return to text.
  3. Dr Coyne was cited in our article about the peppered moth fraud (Creation 21(3):56, 1999). He said that finding out that this ‘prize horse in our [evolutionists’] stable’ had to be thrown out gave him the same feeling as when he found out that Santa Claus was not real. Return to text.
  4. Palumbi, S.R., The Evolution Explosion: How Humans Cause Rapid Evolutionary Change, W.W. Norton, New York, 2001. Return to text.
  5. Specified complexity is another way of referring to the sort of information carried in written text, or DNA. See Thaxton, C.B., Bradley, W.L. and Olsen, R.L., The Mystery of Life’s Origin, chapter 8, Lewis and Stanley, Dallas, Texas, 1984. Return to text.
  6. Even the ‘simplest’ life-forms we know of have massive amounts of information, equivalent to more than half a million ‘letters’. Return to text.
  7. Wieland, C., Muddy waters, Creation 23(3):26–29, 2001. Return to text.
  8. Hybridization is simply mingling two sets of pre-existing information, and chromosome duplication (e.g. polyploidy) creates no new information. Return to text.
  9. Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers, Creation 19(3):30, 1997. Return to text.
  10. Spetner, L.M., Not by chance!, The Judaica Press Inc., New York, 1997. Return to text.
  11. Many of these mutations are harmful only if you inherit the same one from both parents. That is why today intermarriage of close relatives can cause biological deformities in the offspring, since there is a higher possibility of inheriting the same mistake from each parent than if we marry someone more distantly related (all are related), who will have a different set of mistakes. But the further back in history, the less time there has been for such mistakes to accumulate, thus pointing to a time when close intermarriage would not have caused such problems (Batten, D. Ed., The Creation Answers Book, Brisbane, Australia, ‘Cain’s wife—who was she?’, chapter 8, 1999). Return to text.
  12. Wieland, C., Superbugs—not super after all, Creation 20(1):10–13, 1997. Return to text.

Readers’ comments

Shawn M.
While I do agree with your analogy, what evidence can we bring to show the evolutionist that a mutation is downhill? There is a recent Creation article that expounds upon mutation's potential role in adaptation. I can see the evolutionist saying, see, there is evolution at work though I would say that directed mutations are actual evidence of design. Without knowing the genetic details of the mutation I would be hard pressed to convince someone that a mutation is downhill.
Warren Nunn
Search for "mutations downhill" on creation.com to find lots of articles discussing this issue.
Bernard B.
Dr Wieland writes nostalgically about happenings in "the late 1970s, the heady early days of the creation movement in South Australia." But I can assure Carl and others that there was a creation witness at Adelaide University before his courageous debate.
Way back in 1945 I was a timid freshman medical student, aged a mere 16 years. One day I was immersed in a botany lab, under the instruction of intimidating lecturer Patricia Mawson, daughter of famous Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. Her lecturing had always presented botanic data within an emphatic Darwinian context. And that had bothered me, coming out of Bible-respecting years in highschool.
As we students peered into our microscopes this day, Miss Mawson stalked around behind us, checking our pencilled sketches. And she paused behind me and asked firmly: "Seeing everything, Brandstater?" Well yes, I was seeing those chloroplasts. But in a reckless moment, without a fear for contradicting a powerful professor, I blurted out: "O yes.....but I'm not so sure of all this evolution stuff." There was silence for a moment. Then this tall, stern redhead, with authority to fail my course in botany, bent down to my head level and in a quiet voice said: "Yes, it is ridiculous, isn't it!"
I knew nothing about Miss Mawson's private life, and she never spoke with me again. But boosted by her affirmation, I vowed from that day to never shrink from expressing my convictions openly. I can never know when my words may give new courage to another soul. Especially in South Australia , Carl!

Philip R.
This is one of CMI's key articles, and I'm surprised that it (apparently) hasn't been featured on the front page before.
And as a train-nut/gunzel/rail-enthusiast, I've always had a second reason for liking this article. The magazine version featured a stock photo of the preserved (U.S.) Southern Railway's Mikado MS class leader 4501, and I see that the stock photo in this web version is the preserved N.S.W. Pacific 38-class leader 3801. Also, there is a picture on the web of 4501 working out of Chicago, and of course 3801 worked out of Sydney, and I'm sure I've heard Carl give his talk using Melbourne and Sydney as the example cities!

Anyway, back to more important matters. gabriel S. wonders why Carl didn't reference Werner Gitt. Although this article first appeared in 2002, as Carl says, he'd been using this illustration for many years, and Gitt's In the Beginning was Information only came out in 1997 (in English; 1994 in German). I would suggest that the information concept in this article possibly owes more to the late Dr. Arthur Wilder-Smith (from whom I first learned the concept of biological information around 1987). (And for what it's worth, Carl was one of those who proofread the English translation of In the Beginning for Gitt.)

As for the irrationalwiki article... in part it's a response to my picture and 'Information' article on AStorehouseOfKnowledge.info.

Hendrik V. is right to point out that getting the train from Chicago to Miami requires intelligent input, but given that I schedule trains for a living, I'll point out that it's not just the driver ('engineer' in North American parlance) who is involved (he drives it, he doesn't steer it)—there are also the schedulers, the controllers, and the signalmen (who 'guide' it). Lots of intelligent input!
Hendrik V.
It should also be stated that the train analogy will not help Dr. Coyne or any other evolutionist at all. Let's not forget that in the real world there are engineers guiding the train on the right path from Chicago to Miami to ensure that the train gets to the right destination. However, with the evolutionary process no outside guiding intelligence is allowed but only blind and random chance bringing the evolutionary train from microbes to man.
Michael M.
Extrapolation is not good practice. A limited amount is ok, with caution, but the example of the train from Florida to Chicago is unreasonable.
Joe B.
If my grandmother boarded a train and headed to Miami (or where ever), even if she was accompanied by a group of trust worthy companions, I would not trust that she arrived safely until I received a call that claiming all is well. Is not this what most of us do anyway?

It not so much that I do not trust the train, or even the system, its that I need verification that nothing went wrong. Well that is always how I viewed scientific pronouncements, I needed verification that the theory corresponded to the facts. If today's students really cared about what they were learning and scientist really cared about what they were studying, they might just need to see of that evolutionary train could actually get to its destination, it's just commons sense!

Unfortunately it is the 'willfully' blind leading the carefree sheep to the wrong train.

May the Lord continue to Bless your work.

Robert M.
This idea that all of observational Biology/Genetics shows the Evolution "Train" moving in the wrong direction should be on the cover of every school textbook and the headline of every newspaper. It is simple, true, and profoundly alters education on multiple levels.
Christian R.
Thank you, Dr. Wieland. You bring up some good points in this article and have given me something to think about. In "debates" I have with people, I usually prioritize the "variation within created kinds" principle rather than emphasizing the fact that the types of changes we see in living animals and plants are reductions in genetic information. I will certainly remember this next time I discuss the topic with a skeptic.
Preston C.
What an awesome article. thanks for always making it clear and easy to understand the real issues and how to face them. thanks again and God bless your ministry.
To carry the train example only a step further, if Grandma's train left Chicago headed north, it might by extreme chance still happen to get to Miami. Yet, as Dr. Wieland implies, if it is loosing information along the way, then it will very likely loose Grandma's car along the way, and whether the engine reaches Miami or not, it will not be the train that left Chicago, but a deformed, mutated misrepresentative of a descendant. Not a forward moving/evolving more complicated species.
peter M.
Coyne's email info is online.
I forwarded your article to him.
God willing he will respond.
gabriel S.
thank you dr wieland,
your article immediately reminded me of the important findings of dr werner gitt regarding information theory. what i find interesting is that your article manages to exclude any [direct] reference to dr gitt's arguments regarding the continual loss of information in a system.
here i must confess that mathematics is not my forte, although rational thought and common sense i can associate with.
it seems that using the 'loss of information' argument is one of the best ways of pulling the rag from under the evolutionist. although there have been many attacks on the latter argument by inter alia shannon and dawkins [especially in a wikirational dot org article].
the latter article is mainly focused on discrediting werner gitt, leading to the conclusion that gitt must have been stomping on some exposed evolutionist toes...
in Christ
gabriel smit
Steven T.
How would you tell if organism A's genome contained more information than organism B's? Can you tell simply by sequencing the genomes and comparing them, or do you need (at least at our current levels of understanding) to examine the organisms themselves?

Known sorts of mutation include single nucleotide substitutions, insertions or deletions of one or more nucleotides, duplications of strings of nucleotides (up to the entire genome in cases of polyploidy), translocation of strings of nucleotides, and retroviral insertions. If the right sort of mutations could occur in the right sequence, any genome could be transformed into any other (and indeed, multiple strings of mutations could accomplish this for any two genomes).

The obvious objection draws an analogy to changing one word into another: if I can add, subtract, or change any one letter per turn, I can obviously turn any word into any other word. But if I'm required to make a valid word at each step, I may not be able to do this.

Likewise, if every mutational step is required to produce a viable and fit organism, there may be thousands of possible paths through genetic space between two genomes, and yet none of them be traversible by natural selection.

But simply pontificating about "information" does not demonstrate this point. You speak as though there were some easily recognizable thing called "genetic information," but do not define it or say how to recognize it.
Joseph M.
A further twist can be put on the train example and it is as follows.

Chemical laws are deterministic and not voluntary rules. Chemicals should not take millions of years to form if all the chemicals are present in the right quantities. Evolutionary scientists do laboratory experiments to over-ride the millions of years (ironically refuting their position that it takes millions of years!). All the chemicals are available today which constitutes the makeup of life.

So, why don't codes, decoders and a language (i.e. information) form, that did not previously exist, anywhere, at the basic level when all the physical chemicals are put together today?

The answer is inherent in chemical properties. (Creation train line): Codes and language are voluntary abstract/immaterial rules always constructed by living/immaterial things; but (evolution train line): chemicals are deterministic inanimate physical/material things. Natural selection and mutations are useless here because they know nothing about constructing abstract voluntary rules i.e. why should c follow u? That's why natural selection always gets rid of information.

In this instance it is not the direction of change but the category of change. The category of change is between the physical and non-physical world. It is not just that the 'evolution' train that grandma is on has not gone far enough, but that it is on the wrong train line.

It is in principle an impossibility to reach Chicago by train on the wrong train line even if the train was going in the right direction. Ironically for Dr Coyne a rational mind is an immaterial abstract mind.
Dean R.
This is an illustration I composed in light of the article, dont know if I have captured it fully.

Use it if you wish or if not I hope you appreciate it anyway.

train illustration

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