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Science does NOT confirm a Genesis “sudden creation” concept

June 17, 2018

[An interestingly powerful article by Bryan Fisher gave a strong conclusion regarding why he disregarded the possibility of evolution based on new DNA studies. I sent his article to a Christian brother I know who studied science to the PhD level. Though he believes in the Creator, and in the Bible, he does not believe that the Bible necessarily teaches that God created everything AS IS, but more in the evolutionary process – he is unwavering in His faith in God´s Word and in Christ´s redemption.]

Dear brother,

 I want to thank you for sharing this Bryan Fischer article with me. Since 2006, I’ve been trying to keep up with and understand both sides of the creation-evolution debate. My time is limited, and I don’t always know where to focus. Furthermore, I must admit that I graduated 25 years ago, and I did not pursue academia and research; [….]

I have followed up with your article by Bryan Fischer and tracked down his source material, and I have also read or skimmed through a good number of additional research articles on the topic of Fischer’s source material, that topic being the use of mitochondrial DNA in understanding how the process of speciation unfolded. The bottom line (according to my humble and quick analysis, which may not be trustworthy) is that Fischer does not know what he’s talking about.

His presentation displays his misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and misrepresentation of the findings of the research paper from which he quotes. I will begin my response to your inquiry by presenting a couple of previous cases of similar thinking which came to mind (although I know there are many many more cases out there).

 Case #1 – Dr. Michael Behe, Intelligent Design spokesperson

In the 1990’s the Intelligent Design proponents (namely Michael Behe) announced that macro-evolution was not possible because in nature there are very complex biochemical machines (such as the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting cascade and many others) which have numerous interrelated parts that could not have all been positioned by gradual change over time via Darwinian processes. A few short years later they were proven wrong. But their focus was also wrong; they were focused on two of the proposed mechanisms of Darwinian evolution—mutation and natural selection. They failed to recognize that there is an overwhelming weight of scientific evidence for common descent (that all organisms descended over a long period of time with modification from a common ancestor) regardless of whatever kind of mechanisms could be identified or even refuted.

 Case #2 – Dr. Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe

 In 2014 a group of American scientists at the Scripps Institute created a living organism with synthetic DNA that has a genetic code quite different from that of natural organisms, and it was able to carry and transmit to succeeding generations its new genetic code. Shortly after this research was published, Dr. Fazale Rana of the Intelligent Design research and apologetics organization called Reasons to Believe published a response to the Scripps Institute’s announcement. Rana emphasized that this creation of the first living organism to carry and pass down to future generations an expanded genetic code “required ingenuity on the part of the investigators, who based their research strategy on decades of accrued knowledge and understanding of biochemistry.” Thus, Rana’s view is that these kinds of research breakthroughs “point to the necessary role of a Creator” (implying that the role of a Creator and the role of biological evolution are mutually exclusive) because “the direct intervention of intelligent agents” is needed. Once again, the Intelligent Design community failed to recognize the obvious import of the Scripps Institute findings.

In order to understand the importance of the Scripps Institute findings, let me explain. There is a universal genetic code for all species (with very few simple and minor variations). A universal genetic code points to the fundamental unity of life and strongly under-girds the notion that all living organisms with all their vast differences have descended from a single common ancestor in the very distant past. “In the absence of the theory of common descent (i.e. evolution), it is quite possible that every species could have a very different genetic code, specific to it only, since there are 1.4 x 1070 informationally equivalent genetic codes, all of which use the same codons and amino acids of the standard genetic code.

This possibility could be extremely useful for organisms, as it would preclude interspecific viral infections, for example. However, this has not been observed, and the theory of common descent effectively prohibits such an observation” (quoted from Dr. Theobald). The crucial point to be gained from the Scripps Institute research is the demonstration that the universal genetic code is not essential for all life, and that if all the species on the earth were not fundamentally related by their genetical document, then we would expect to find, among the millions of species, different genetic codes. But, to the contrary, all living organisms have virtually the same genetic code.

 Case #3 – Bryan Fischer

             Now I believe the Bryan Fischer article to be yet another case of misunderstanding the biological evolution argument, not understanding that there is an overwhelming weight of scientific evidence for common descent (common descent is NOT what is in question) and misrepresenting the findings of the scientists who published the source article entitled “Why should mitochondria define species?” from which Fischer quotes. I’ve boiled down Bryan Fischer’s article into his three main points, followed by a few of my comments:

 (1) Fischer: Nine out of 10 species on earth today, including humans, came into being 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. If this study is valid, evolution cannot possibly be true, because evolution seeks to convince us that all living things came into being through a tedious process that took millions and millions of years and consisted of tiny little incremental advances in animal life produced by beneficial genetic mutations, which are virtually unheard of in the natural world.

 Me: Bryan Fischer was quoting from an article entitled “Why should mitochondria define species?” (Incidentally, this article has not yet been peer-reviewed, but is a pre-print awaiting review). Firstly, let me point out that the authors did NOT say, “Nine out of 10 species on earth today,” but rather they said, “90% in the best characterized groups.”

These “groups,” they say, are in four major animal phyla (out of 27 total animal phyla—and not including any plants). Secondly, let me also point out that the authors of this source article certainly do not believe or imply that their data calls into question the matter of common descent. Rather, they (and other researchers who study speciation using mitochondrial DNA, versus nuclear DNA) suggest that something may have happened in the environment 100,000 to 200,000 years ago which caused not only the species Homo sapiens to evolve from its progenitor species, but many other speciation events to occur during the same time period, and many of these species are still around today.

Some researchers point out that 200,000 years ago was the Pleistocene, a period of time when the earth was going in and out of glaciations. Because respiration and energy production are tied to mitochondria (organelles inside the cells of organisms) and are also affected by climate, and mitochondrial DNA is tied to nuclear DNA, the thought is that change in mitochondrial DNA will automatically and quickly cause speciation (a lot more explanation is needed here, I know). Furthermore, a change that facilitated adaptation in the mitochondrial DNA of a single individual during the climate collapse would likely cause the genome of that individual to sweep through its entire species and become the predominant, if not the only, mitochondrial DNA variant for the species at that time.

The authors of the source article actually mention that conditions that favor the kind of genetic uniformity observed in their study are frequent in biology. It is interesting to note that while these authors speculate about special environmental conditions that may have invoked numerous simultaneous speciation events, other researchers have published, utilizing quantitative genetics models, that the current biological evidence is consistent with speciation during this same time period being a lengthy and slower process.

Bryan Fischer is both misunderstanding, misinterpreting, and misrepresenting the information in this article in order to convince his audience that the theory of evolution is in jeopardy. He says that the findings of this study “should shake the theory of evolution to its roots”; he refers to “the hoax of Darwinian evolution”; he says, “If this study is valid, evolution cannot possibly be true”; and he says that something is revealed in this study that “is fatal for the theory of evolution.”

These kinds of statements are probably not made maliciously, but rather, I believe they are made out of a true lack of understanding and perhaps out of an earnest concern for Christians who may be stumbled by something which Fischer (and others) perceives to be incompatible with the Bible. The purpose of my book, as you know, is to demonstrate that evolution is absolutely compatible with the Bible.

            Bryan Fischer also made the statement here that “beneficial genetic mutations are virtually unheard of in the natural world.” This also is simply not true. In fact, in my book, in the section entitled “Nonrandom Evolution,” I cite numerous examples of beneficial mutations even induced by the environment.

 (2) Fischer: While Darwinian evolution requires an untold number of transitional forms, forms that are somewhere between one life form and another, the fossil record has no transitional fossils for which a credible case can be made, not one.

 Me: To the contrary, there are plenty of transitional fossils – see Dr. Theobald’s website (http://talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section1.html#pred4). The source article from which Fischer quotes does have the phrase “intermediates are not found” on page 9. The authors, however, were not at all referring to the fossil record. They were referring to the non-overlapping clusters of genetic “barcodes.” The genetic “barcodes” were taken from clearly identified species, which, by definition, are genetically isolated entities. In fact, the authors point out that the utility of their genetic barcode technique broke down when applied to organism groups that were not clearly identified species.

 (3) Fischer: Species have very clear genetic boundaries, and there’s nothing much in between. There are fixed genetic boundaries between one life form and another and between one species and another, and absolutely no genetic evidence whatsoever of any so-called “missing links.”

 Me: Of course! species have very clear genetic boundaries; that is part of the definition of species: they are discrete, genetically isolated entities. Nevertheless, a population of a species can get out of range of gene flow from other populations of the same species, and then, due to the accumulation of mutations and different selection pressures, that population may diverge genetically from the other populations of the same species to the point that it’s individuals can no longer interbreed with individuals of the other populations if they were to later come into contact again. This is the process of speciation. In my book (3rd edition) I have included examples of speciation in process before our eyes.

 Conclusion:

 Well, brother, I hope this analysis of mine helps.[…] Whether or not evolution is the way that God produced all the biological life forms on the earth remains to be seen: I suppose that it will not be until we meet Him face-to-face that we will know for sure! But at least for now it seems that many students […] have been helped (and even relieved) to know that it is very possible that the scientific perspective of evolution does not at all contradict the Bible, and based on this realization, they have been able to lay to rest any doubts about pursuing the Lord with all boldness. May it be so with many others who are being stumbled by evolution!

Sincerely in Christ,
Your brother

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