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Both mutation and selection are very real, observable processes going on around us every day.
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 sub-types 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 “C’s” in the Biblical framework. 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, and the struggle for survival. But 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, cruel and heartless.
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). Like it or not, for example, our intestines are full of all kinds of bacteria. One kind makes vitamin K that assists our blood-clotting process. Many help us with digestion. In fact, if our taking antibiotics kills too many of these “good-guy” bacteria, we may suffer “intestinal distress.” The cure is buttermilk or yogurt, which are nearly living things. A divspoon of either is seething with millions of bacteria that can “re-seed” our intestines!
But what happens if radiation or a chemical accident knocks out just one of the genes in just one of these “good-guy” intestinal bacteria. That defective gene may produce a defective protein enzyme, one which is unable to complete the breakdown of some chemical. As a result of this defect, the partially broken-down chemical may be excreted by the bacterium and absorbed by the body, where it may act as a poison or toxin. You get sick, and the bacterium suffers as well (especially if you get too sick, or die and cut off its food supply!). One mutation has corrupted a created “good-guy” bacterium, turning it into a disease agent. Both host and parasite suffer, but so long as each can reproduce, life goes limping along.
“One gene-one protein” 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, etc. 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.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,30 leading evolutionists Ayala and Valentine ask 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 IQ’s, greater mathematical and musical genius, faster runners and higher jumpers, nutritious and delicious foods in abundance, the conquest of disease. Instead, Ayala seems despondently concerned with basic survival: how can we save ourselves from mutations? He sees decay in genetic quality in plant, animal, and human species everywhere. He even wonders 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. But 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 (Genesis 3:15).
Understanding the nature of mutation-selection forced me to give up the popular view called either “theistic evolution” or “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. But here’s 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 struggle-and-death, struggle-and-death. Unless carriers of part of a species’ gene pool die, there can be no evolutionary change. Even the evolution of 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, Carl Sagan,31 presently the world’s leading spokesman for evolution, [ed. note: now deceased] 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 “
very good” (Genesis 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 (Genesis 6:5–6). 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.
And 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 struggle, accident, 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!
But 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. And 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, 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 “micro-evolution,” a term often given to mutation-selection working together to change the percentages of genes in a population. But then a friend cautioned me that that could be confusing. Saying I accept micro-evolution, a “little evolution,” might make some think that if only I believed in enough time, a little evolution (“micro-evolution”) would lead to a lot of evolution (“macro-evolution”). 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 macro-evolution.
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!”
But 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?” And 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.
And 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 not there before), that’s “entelechy”— 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!
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.