2.8 Mutation-Selection in Biblical Perspective

Darwin and Biologic Change

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Hold it! Mutation-selection in biblical perspective? Isn’t that some sort of contradiction in terms? Not at all. Like thousands of other scientists (including many evolutionists), I think the scientific evidence is quite clear: Evolution demands an increase in the quantity and quality of genetic information, and mutation-selection, no matter how long you wait, cannot provide it. But, both mutation and selection are very real, observable processes going on around us every day. Evolution, no, but mutation-selection, yes!

They don’t produce evolutionary changes, but mutation and selection do indeed produce changes. Mutations are no real help in explaining the origin of species, but they are great for explaining the origin of disease, disease organisms, and birth defects. Natural selection is no real help in explaining the origin of really new species, but it’s great for explaining how and where different specialized subtypes of the various created kinds “multiplied and filled the earth” after death corrupted the creation and, again, after the Flood.

I’ve already told you that I’m an evolutionist turned creationist, so this may surprise you: I don’t believe we live in the world God created! Or, at least, we don’t live in the world as God created it. I’ve also told you I’m now the “worst kind” of creationist, a “biblical creationist.” One reason is my answer to the same problem that puzzled Darwin: How could there be so much pain, suffering, disease, death, and disaster in a world created by an all-powerful, all-loving God?

According to the Bible, God did not create the world full of pain and death. Instead, it was the self-centered, arrogant wickedness of human beings that ruined the world of perfect peace and harmony that God had created. In the words of Romans 8:19–21, because of man’s evil, the creation was “subjected to futility . . . and a bondage to corruption.” Remember, there are four “Cs” in the biblical outline. The first, creation, was followed by the second, corruption.

The Bible seems clearly to be “telling it like it is.” Our world is full of far too much evidence of design, beauty, plan, and purpose to be a product of the blind processes of time, chance, struggle, and death. Our world is also full of too much pain, suffering, imperfection, and decay to be the work of a kindly “Mother Nature.” “Nature lovers” may wish to preserve the whale and the wolf, but few are willing to push for saving the tapeworm or the AIDS virus! The rose has thorns! “Mother Nature” can be, and often is, a “wicked old witch.” Our world really looks like a “corrupted creation.” If you already have genes working together in coordinated sets (creation), then random changes like mutations can produce disease, death, and other defects in design (corruption).

What about viruses? Viruses have the DNA-protein (triplet base-R) coding relationship that suggests they were deliberately created. Viruses also have “docking proteins” that must attach to corresponding receptor proteins on a cell’s membrane before they can enter that cell. You never got a virus infection that you didn’t invite into your cells! That’s why a virus will affect one organ system and not others, and why, for example, dogs get some viral diseases that don’t affect humans, and vice versa. Some people may even be resistant to the AIDS virus because they don’t have the receptor protein it needs to get into their cells.

It seems to me that in God’s originally perfect creation, the interlocking of docking and receptor proteins was designed to allow viruses to insert their DNA (or RNA) into only those cells in which gene transfer would be beneficial. In properly programmed receptor cells, some viruses can splice their DNA into the cell’s genome, and the added (pre-existent, pre-programmed!) genetic information multiplies along with the cell. In genetic engineering labs today, scientists use viruses as carriers and splicers of genetic information. Perhaps God, the ultimate Genetic Engineer, designed viruses as gene carriers, especially for bacteria, which are incredibly streamlined for genetic efficiency and rapid response to environmental stimuli.

Then with the corruption of creation came mutations affecting both viral docking and cellular receptor proteins. Now mutated viruses inject genetic information into the wrong cells, where it causes havoc and disease. Time, chance, struggle, and death reward the immediate victors in Darwin’s war of nature, but they ruin a relationship God had originally created for the benefit of life on earth.

Evolutionists often taunt proponents of intelligent design (ID), as I once would have, by saying such things as “Great job your intelligent Designer did with the AIDS virus! He/she/it must really be proud of the malarial parasite, too, and bubonic plague bacteria were a real masterpiece of intelligent design.”

I do think the 4 Cs of biblical history (creation, corruption, catastrophe, Christ) provide far richer and deeper scientific explanations for real world observations than intelligent design, especially when it comes to billions of dead things buried in rock layers (fossils) and to imperfections (defects, disease, death, and disaster) in our present fallen world.

ID scientists who want to avoid any reference to the Bible can give at least a partial answer to the problem of imperfection. After all, essentially all of the examples of imperfection used to taunt intelligent design—viruses, mutations, diseases, birth defects, so-called “vestigial” (functionless) organs, etc.—are examples of breakdowns in previously well-designed systems. Mutations, for example, only damage genes that previously had a beneficial function, and such damage may cause birth defects, viral and bacterial disease, and even loss of organ function. But the design came first.

A car breaking down on the highway certainly does not prove that no intelligent design was involved in making the car originally. Imperfections in systems previously designed are a challenge, not to ID scientists, but to evolutionists. To support their theory, evolutionists don’t need examples of designed systems breaking down; they need examples of incomplete parts coming together to produce new and improved structures and functions. The world is still waiting for the first example of that kind of evolutionary progress.

Meantime, DNA defects are also responsible for a host of hereditary diseases, some fatal and many debilitating: sickle-cell anemia, galactosemia, PKU, Tay-Sachs disease, hemophilia A, and a few thousand others, and gene defects are responsible for some cancers and perhaps for some aspects of the aging process.

Time, the usual hero of the evolutionary plot, only makes matters worse. The more time that goes by, the greater the genetic burden or genetic corruption. Natural selection can’t save us from this genetic decay, since most mutations are recessive and can sneak through a population hidden in carriers, only rarely showing up as the double recessive which can be “attacked” by natural selection. Even leading evolutionists admit that, as time goes by, accumulating genetic decay threatens the very survival of plant, animal, and human populations.

In the last chapter of their classic textbook Evolving: The Theory and Processes of Organic Evolution,1 leading evolutionists Ayala and Valentine asked the question, “What does the future hold?” When I was an evolutionist, I would have expected that chapter to be full of bright prospects: higher IQs, greater mathematical and musical genius, faster runners and higher jumpers, nutritious and delicious foods in abundance, the conquest of disease. Instead, Ayala seemed despondently concerned with basic survival: How can we save ourselves from mutations? He saw decay in genetic quality in plant, animal, and human species everywhere. He even wondered if the government might have to step in and license human reproduction, allowing couples to have children only after they pass extensive genetic tests.

What can natural selection, the evolutionist’s substitute for God, do to save us from this mutational corruption? Not enough. By eliminating the worst mutations as they come to visible expression, natural selection can slow the process of genetic decay, but that’s something like giving aspirin to a cancer patient to slow the rate of dying. Since natural selection can select only among combinations of genes that already exist or their mutational alleles, selection can no more lift us out of the quagmire of genetic decay than flapping our arms would lift us off the ground.

Darwin was certainly right about one thing: there is a struggle for survival! That comes as no surprise, of course, to a Bible student. We read about it almost right away, in the third chapter of the first book, Genesis. The first two chapters describe the perfect peace of paradise as God created it. The third chapter describes how human self-centeredness and arrogance corrupted God’s creation, bringing thorns and thistles, pain, struggle, and death. Our hope is also right there in Genesis: the first promise of the salvation and restoration to new and abundant life that we have in Jesus Christ (Gen. 3:15).

Understanding the evolutionary process of mutation-selection forced me to give up the popular views called theistic evolution and progressive creation. Like most people, I grew up learning only evolution. When I became a Christian, it seemed only natural to put evolution and the Bible together. “Evolution is just God’s means of creation,” I told myself triumphantly. Besides that, I don’t like to fight. So when I heard creationists and evolutionists arguing, I was only too happy to step in as the great peacemaker: “Calm down. You’re both right. The Bible tells us that God created. Evolution tells us how He did it.”

That’s certainly an extremely popular view, and it’s a temptingly easy solution, but I think many people who opt for theistic evolution or progressive creation have the same mistaken, highly romanticized concept of the evolutionary process I once had. We tend to think of evolution as just step-by-step, upward-onward progress, and that sounds like something God might do. By contrast, remember how Charles Darwin described the evolutionary process in the closing paragraphs of his Origin of Species:

. . . thus, from the war of nature, famine and death, the production of higher animals directly follows.

The “war of nature, famine and death.” Evolution is a gruesome cycle of millions of years of struggle and death. Unless carriers of part of a species’ gene pool die, there can be no evolutionary change. Even the evolution of altruism or cooperation can proceed only over the dead bodies of all those who don’t cooperate.

That’s what evolutionists still believe today. Describing human origins, the late Carl Sagan,2 whose TV series Cosmos continues to preach evolution worldwide, put it this way:

Only through an immense number of deaths of slightly maladapted organisms are you and I—brains and all—here today.

Again, death and accident, death and accident, over countless generations. That’s what the evolutionary process is all about. Could that be the way God created the world that He called “all very good” (Gen. 1:31)?

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered, “How could evolution be God’s means of creation?” God even tells us that He was “grieved to His heart” at the “violence and corruption” that filled the earth after people turned away from Him (Gen. 6:5–11). If God was grieved by violence and corruption, how could He use it as His means of creation, or endorse it as part of a “good creation” before man ruined it? Jacques Monod, famous atheist and biochemist, once said that he was surprised that any Christian would believe that God would use such a cruel, wasteful, and inefficient process as evolution for His means of creation.

We need to do a much better job of teaching evolution! I really think that if more people understood the evidence and how evolution is supposed to work, far fewer people would believe it. Certainly there should be far, far fewer Christians willing to compromise the biblical message of new life in Christ with evolution’s millions of years of struggle and death.

Why would Christ come to conquer death and to raise us to newness of life if God’s plan for step-by-step improvement were based on time, chance, struggle, and death? Evolution is not just at odds with a verse or two in the Bible, or with someone’s interpretation of the word “day.” Evolution is the opposite of the whole gospel message—the good news that death is the loser, and rich and abundant life the winner, through Jesus Christ, the Author of life as Creator, and the Redeemer of life as our Savior!3

I haven’t given up “believing in” mutation-selection! When I’m explaining how the generalized created kinds multiplied and filled the earth with variously specialized sub-types after death entered, and again after the Flood, I use natural selection (and genetic drift, gene migration, and reproductive isolation) as freely and easily as any evolutionist. When I’m explaining the origin of disease, disease agents, and aging, I freely and easily appeal to the effects of mutations. Mutations and selection have major roles to play in the history of our planet, not in its origin, but between its corruption and its restoration in Christ.

In fact, in an attempt to be as “nice” as possible, I used to say I accepted “microevolution,” a term often given to mutation-selection working together to change the percentages of genes in a population, but then a friend told me that could be confusing. Saying I accept microevolution, a “little evolution,” might make some think that if only I believed in enough time, a little evolution (“microevolution”) would lead to a lot of evolution (“macroevolution”). Nothing could be further from the truth. Even leading evolutionists now recognize that “micro” and “macro” evolution are “de-coupled,” and that great variation within kind (“micro”) by itself could never, even in infinite time, lead to macroevolution. More time would just let microevolution produce more little changes, but never a “macro” change—like shooting more arrows for more time would hit more targets, but never hit the moon.

After I explained some of these things to a hostile radio interviewer one time, he snapped, “You mean evolution explains the bad changes and creation explains the good changes.” With a smile he did not find appealing, I replied: “Yes! You’ve got it!”

Let me add one more thing. After a lecture in which I was describing the depressing decline in genetic quality resulting from the continuous build-up of harmful mutations, someone asked plaintively, “Isn’t there some good news in all these gene combinations?” There is. With God, as with us created in His image, “variety is the spice of life.” God seems to have endowed the first of each created kind with dazzling genetic variability, and the Hardy-Weinberg law, the fundamental law of population genetics, acts to conserve that created variability. God created just two people, for example, with all the genes needed to produce children dark and light, tall and short, bass and soprano, etc.!

That means each child is an absolutely unique, never-to-be repeated combination of traits. There’s a children’s song, “God made me special; I’m the only one of my kind.” And that is true!! Each person is a treasure, with a place in God’s plan that no one else can take.

That’s not all. To the extent that these things depend on gene combinations, we may not yet have seen the greatest mathematical or musical genius, the fastest runner or highest jumper, the most skilled artist or craftsman. God’s plan at creation is still unfolding before our very eyes. That’s not evolution (adding something that was not there before); that’s “entelechy”the unfolding of creativity written ahead of time in the fabulous genetic code of DNA! Maybe it’s time we treated each other as the miraculous marvels we are! THINK ABOUT IT!

Creation: Facts of Life

Dr. Parker, a leading creation scientist and former AiG speaker, presents the classic arguments for evolution used in public schools, universities, and the media, and refutes them in an entertaining and easy-to-read style. A must for students and teachers alike! This is a great book to give to a non-Christian as a witnessing tool.

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Footnotes

  1. Francisco Ayala and James W. Valentine, Evolving: The Theory and Processes of Organic Evolution (Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin-Cummins Publishing Company, 1979).
  2. Carl Sagan, “A Gift for Vividness,” as quoted in Time (October 20, 1980): p. 68.
  3. Ken Ham, The Lie: Evolution (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1987).

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