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Do whales have leg ‘genes’

Joshua S. wrote to us asking if it is true that whales have ‘leg genes’.


Hats off to your work in showing the flaws of evolution! I wanted to ask: Is there any truth to the claim that whales possess genes for hind legs but are not expressed or are dormant in whales. If this is true how would the creation model explain such a fact? I know that supposed vestigial bones have been shown to be functional but i am asking about supposed leg *genes* here. Thank You

CMI’s Joel Tay replies:

Dear Joshua S.,

Thank you for writing in.

First, the short dry answer: No, whales do not have ‘leg’ genes.

Before I get into more detail on ‘leg genes’ in whales, I assume that you are already familiar with some of our other articles dealing with the claim that some whales have legs. See: The strange tale of the leg on the whale; and Chapter 5 of Refuting Evolution.

Now for a more nuanced answer. Here are a few things to consider.

First, we have to get rid of the idea that one gene codes for one protein. The genome is highly complex and often contains information in at least four overlapping dimensions. Changes in one dimension in the genome will affect the other three dimensions. This makes it impossible for evolution to occur. Humans have about 23,000 genes (I am using the word ‘gene’ loosely), but they are able to produce ~200,000 proteins. Why? One reason is that the genome is designed with instructions to splice and rearrange the same stretch of DNA to produce a vast array of different proteins. How could we speak of a ‘leg’ gene, if the same stretch of DNA is also used to code for many other things? Humans have no “leg genes”. Do we say that whales have leg genes if it matches a somewhat similar-looking stretch of DNA in humans that does something in legs? What if that stretch of DNA is not used for legs in whales but is there for a completely different function in whales?

A multitude of different biological processes and systems must come together to form a leg. If it has just one of many other genes used for leg development, is that a ‘leg’ gene? Or is it only considered a leg gene if it has every component for forming a leg and is coded in whales? To use an analogy, my chainsaw has a nut that is also used in my car’s engine. Can I say that my chainsaw has a car engine? But this is essentially what we are dealing with here when we ask if a whale has ‘leg’ genes.

What if the gene is used to help produce the reduced pelvic structure seen in whales? What if it forms the attachment site for muscles related to reproduction or swimming locomotion? Would you consider a stretch of similar DNA to be a ‘leg’ gene even if it has nothing to do with legs, except for its presence in legged creatures? Whales do not have all the various ‘genes’ needed for making a leg. What if one of these so-called ‘genes’ that is involved in leg development is also found in a banana? Bananas, are after all, estimated to share 50% of our DNA. Do bananas have legs? So why do evolutionists only speak of leg ‘genes’ in whales and not bananas? Could the unspoken assumption that whales evolved from land animals be the reason?

Third: What if God designed creatures with the same basic body plan and the resulting similarities are not because they evolved, but because they have the same designer? Homology is problematic for evolution but fits well with the creation model. You might also want to read chapter 6 of Dr Jonathan Sarfati’s, The Greatest Hoax on Earth where he deals with homology in greater detail. Hox genes in particular, are genes involved in controlling the development of body plans. Changes made to hox genes in the laboratory can result in great monstrosities. E.g. playing around with these genes, scientists are able to get flies to grow legs where their antennae should be. These genes are similar across different animal types, and in mammals in particular, but each type has a slightly different set of these genes. But similarities in these areas do not indicate a common ancestor because changing them invariably produces disastrous results. They are best explained as being similar because they have a common designer. Please read this article, Developmental gene regulatory networks—an insurmountable impediment to evolution, and in particular, the section titled, “Saltationist hyper-evolution in creation science?”

Lastly, based on homology, evolutionists have typically claimed that whales evolved from mesonychians, an extinct group of land-dwelling carnivores, but genetically, they are closer to even-toed hoof animals (such as the hippopotamuses, camels, deer, and giraffes). Even then, there is no good reason to think that whales have the complete suite of genes required for making legs, nor is there any evidence of this.

Published: 27 June 2020

Helpful Resources

The Greatest Hoax on Earth?
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $16.00
Soft cover
Refuting Evolution 2
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $10.00
Soft cover