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Lizards Losing Limbs Case For Evolution in Action

on November 15, 2008
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LiveScience: “Evolution in Action: Lizards Losing Limbs” Once again, it’s “evolution in action.” Once again, it isn’t.

Long-time followers of the creation/evolution debate know that, from time to time, evolutionists claim to have observed evolution in action—or to have deduced it from the fossil record. Unsurprisingly, each of these times, creationists have found the “evolution” in question to be entirely in evolutionists’ imaginations.

In this week’s case, LiveScience reports on a type of Australian lizard, the skink, which has “gone from being five-fingered to legless (like most snakes) in just 3.6 million years.” So is this evolution? And did it happen in the “blink of an eye” in geologic time, as the report asserts?

Natural selection favors skinks with mutations that corrupt their limb-building genes.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide report that skinks of the genus Lerista sometimes have five fingers, sometimes have four, and sometimes have no fingers whatsoever and only tiny limbs—hence, the “evolution.” The researchers concluded, based on genetic sequencing and evolutionary interpretations of the fossil record, that the change from five-fingered to limbless occurred in “only” 3.6 million years.

The researchers report that skinks are losing their limbs because they spend most of their lives “swimming” through sand or soil, and their limbs can actually be a hindrance. In other words, natural selection favors skinks with mutations that corrupt their limb-building genes.

So, is this evolution? It all depends on how you define “evolution.” If all you mean is “change”—any change—within a population, then this is a perfect example of evolution. Of course, by this definition, everyone who works at Answers in Genesis could accurately call themselves “evolutionists,” since change within populations—driven by natural selection—is compatible with Scripture, observationally supported (as with this study), and described long before Darwin.

On the other hand, if you define “evolution” to mean the ability of organisms to generate new genetic information (something scientists have never observed) and evolve into entirely new kinds of animals (like fish evolving into tetrapods, or tree shrews into apes), then this study in no way supports evolution. After all, the skinks are losing genetic information, not gaining it—and that’s the opposite of what “molecules-to-man” evolution requires. LiveScience backs us up on this point (inadvertently, of course):

Skinner and his colleagues found that the evolution of a snake-like body form in Lerista skinks has occurred not only repeatedly but without any evidence of reversals (that is, fingers or limbs being added back).

The report also notes that 53 lineages of lizards and snakes have undergone “limb reduction” as well—but how many have scientists observed gaining functioning limbs? And of course, the 3.6 million year estimate ultimately comes from old-age interpretations of the fossil record. We, however, wouldn’t be surprised if skink populations have lost fingers or even limbs within the past century.


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