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Warp Factor Evolution, Lieutenant

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on January 7, 2012
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Alaska Dispatch: “Wild fish raised in hatcheries experience 'evolution at warp speed'Bulletin: salmon evolve at warp speed . . . into salmon!

An analysis of salmon from 19 years of Hood River hatchery experience has revealed that hatchery-adapted salmon do not survive and reproduce as well in the wild as wild salmon. The study, published in the December 14, 2011, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that a single generation in captivity selects for traits that “are beneficial in captivity but severely maladaptive in the wild.”1 Headlines quickly announced “evolution at warp speed.”

“We've known for some time that hatchery-born fish are less successful at survival and reproduction in the wild. However, until now, it wasn't clear why.”

Oregon zoologist Michael Blouin commented, “We've known for some time that hatchery-born fish are less successful at survival and reproduction in the wild. However, until now, it wasn't clear why.” The study did not identify what traits were being selected for by hatchery life, but determining those traits is the next step if hatchery fish are to replenish wild populations. “What this study shows,” Blouin said, “is that intense evolutionary pressures in the hatchery rapidly select for fish that excel there, at the expense of their reproductive success in the wild.” (emphasis ours)

Lead author Mark Christie, added, “We expected to see some of these changes after multiple generations. To see these changes happen in a single generation was amazing. Evolutionary change doesn't always take thousands of years.” (emphasis ours)

The study, of course, demonstrated natural selection in action. There is no reason the authors should express such astonishment that natural selection quickly produced a domesticated population of fish, since ordinary “survival of the fittest” genetics operated on the fish population. But all the salmon remained salmon.

The researchers’ statements equate the ordinary processes of domestication and animal husbandry with “evolutionary change” that could take “thousands of years.” (Of course, just what kind of evolution that could be is hard to say. Animal populations don’t generally require “thousands of years” to domesticate, else there would be no profit in purposely domesticating them. And because evolution of new kinds of organisms has never been demonstrated, evolutionists declare it must have happened over millions of years. “Thousands” is a bit of linguistic gray zone.) In any case, this sort of ambiguous language leads the gullible to think that the same process is involved in natural selection as that in molecules-to-man evolution. Natural selection, however, merely involves the survival and reproduction of those individuals already possessing the traits favoring survival or reproductive fitness in a given situation.

Creationists don’t deny natural selection and speciation occur. Mankind has long taken advantage of the genetics to artificially select for desired traits in animal and plant populations. In this case, those traits compatible with healthy hatchery living are selected simply by living in the hatchery, even though those traits are not the ones desired by people trying to replenish wild populations. On a hopeful note, those traits inadvertently bred out of the fish population so rapidly—once identified—may respond just as quickly to new hatchery conditions favorable to those traits. Hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest are involved not only with producing fish for food but also with building up endangered wild fish populations.

When we as creationists hear such ambiguous language, we need to be alert to those who assume that ordinary natural selection is just “evolution of new kinds” writ small.

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Footnotes

  1. www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/12/14/1111073109

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