Evolution: The Big and Small of it.

In my last blog I wrote about an article found in the Skeptical Inquirer regarding the effects education has on belief in evolution. I found a couple other articles worth commenting on, and this one was titled, Evolution: The Big and the Small of it.

The main thrust of the article was to reject the creationist idea that there’s any distinction between microevolution and macroevolution, and to rebut the creationist denial of macroevolution.

The terms micro and macro evolution are important to understand, but there’s plenty of confusion surrounding these terms; some creationists like myself prefer to avoid them because they muddy the water. Using these terms implies that evolution is possible at all. Instead, it may be better to use terms like speciation, adaptation or natural selection. But for the purpose of this article, microevolution would refer to existing genetic traits passed on to an organism’s offspring, such as fur thickness, eye color and blood type. It accounts for traits that produce feathers in birds, hair in mammals, or scales in fish, as well as other types of changes like mutations and gene transfer. Macroevolution would refer to an organism “evolving” novel genetic traits that don’t exist in previous generations- such as feathers from a featherless ancestor- as a result of the various aforementioned processes.

The writers of this article, Edouard Harris and Jeremie Harris, question if macro and micro evolution are two different processes, and they immediately conclude that they’re not. They claim they’re one and the same process, and those biologists that are “religiously” inclined are committing a cardinal sin because the distinction between these two processes are “drawn without a difference”.

Due to the confusion that inherently arises in these terms, I understand why they might think that, but I disagree with their overall point. I think it’s clear the writers don’t understand the differences they’re writing about. If they did, they wouldn’t dismiss it so lightly. For example, they refuse to consider the distinction of terms defined by young earth creationists because this group of creationists supposedly believes that the universe is too young for any meaningful evolution to have taken place. However such a representation is untrue. Young earth creationists don’t believe that evolution (macroevolution) is possible at all! And I think that’s one of the pitfalls that these two writers have fallen in to. Young earth creationists, like myself, draw a consistent, real distinction between the terms. So it’s a shame that the writers would purposely ignore those who do provide a real distinction while taking aim at those creationists who don’t- and then claim victory for that very reason. That’s a very self-serving way to prove one’s point, and it may fool many of their readers.

The writers consider microevolution to mean that small changes can take place in a species over generations, and I’d agree- although I’d add that both small and large changes can take place within a single generation. But they then consider macroevolution to mean that creationists deny the possibility of larger changes. Of course that’s just false. It’s the TYPE of change that’s important, not just that it’s a large change. A fish with eyes giving birth to fish without eyes would be an example of large change, but that wouldn’t be macroevolution at all. What creationists would deny the possibility of is that an organism without the genetic coding for feathers, such as a dinosaur, having offspring that eventually develop feathers and evolve into flying birds. That’s the difference these writers fail to grasp. An organism that loses a genetic trait isn’t an example of evolution (although that’s how an evolutionist would define it). That’s simply a loss of genetic information explained by natural selection and is no different than human parents with brown eyes giving birth to six children with only blue eyes; their children didn’t evolve blue eyes- they just expressed them based on the inherited DNA.

So the writers criticize creationists for not believing that a large number of small changes could result in large changes. But even that line of thinking is flawed. This suggests that evolution is guided or goal oriented towards complexity. Yet many evolutionists deny there’s any upward progression from simple to complex and deny that evolution is expected. They may accept that evolution is guided by naturalistic processes, like natural selection, but they can’t have it both ways- unless evolution is so elastic that it means anything and everything.

Consider for a moment, if a dinosaur without the genetic blueprint for feathers was to give rise to birds (as evolutionists believe happened), we shouldn’t expect a smooth, step-by-step process whereby each successive generation adds incremental traits that are built upon generation after generation until the dinosaur is no longer a dinosaur but a bird. No, we wouldn’t necessarily expect any evolution to occur at all, even though the writers imply it’s inevitable. In such an evolutionary scenario, we’d need lots and lots of small changes, and lots and lots of mutations so that natural selection could go to work, preserving those mutations that somehow provided some kind of survival advantage, and then hope that all those small changes are somehow rearranged to radically change the entire body structure of the dinosaur, even transforming scales into feathers. Bones, skin and arteries are part of the anatomy already, so evolutionists imagine that these body parts will eventually find themselves in different positions, and if natural selection finds them useful, they’ll be retained until the next useful body part fits into the right place, and voila, we have a wing! But one of the problems here is that an organism’s DNA has a built-in repair shop to prevent all these mutations in the first place. Mistakes in DNA aren’t helpful, unless the evolutionist needs it to transform a dinosaur into a bird. Further, random factors, such as environmental pressures, would be necessary to drive those changes that the evolving dinosaur would favor, and it would have to happen very quickly to avoid extinction. But not every generation would move closer to being a bird. Still, there’s no guarantee that modern day feathers would be the result. It would take millions of years of radical change for the entire organism to reshape the lungs and bones before these improbable small changes could build upon the other, and that’s assuming that the changes provided some kind of survival advantage, or that the previous design of that organism had become obsolete and detrimental. Keep in mind that those deformed offspring without survival advantages would die off, while the deformed offspring that were more birdlike and possessed a survival advantage would reproduce. Eventually all these new structures would culminate in a radically new organism, and the genetic code would now contain the information for feathers and flight. Never mind that we don’t see anything like this happening today in lizards and snakes. It’s far easier for the evolutionist to imagine that, given enough time, each new generation of offspring must have preserved the information via natural selection until the dinosaur became a bird. For the evolutionist, their imagination provides a simple, elegant survival of the fittest moment.

But that’s part of the problem these evolutionists face. Evolution isn’t the simple process they imagine. Evolutionists have always tried to simplify life down to just a blob of goo that naturally happens, but that’s not the case. And just because one can imagine such an evolutionary scenario happening doesn’t mean it ever happened. Evolutionists want us to think that if we can imagine a scenario, then that should be accepted as evidence for evolution. However such an imagination isn’t evidence for evolution. It just means they have vivid imaginations.

Another criticism they throw out is that intelligent design advocates don’t agree where the line should be drawn between the large and small changes. That may be true, but that’s another area where young earth creationists have an advantage. There’s not a perfect line because we simply don’t understand the entire genome of any particular organism and what kind of variation is possible. But we do know that variation has limits, and if an organism doesn’t have the genetic makeup for a particular trait, it simply can’t acquire it by naturalistic means and become a different kind of organism. Some microscopic organisms do transfer genes, and mutations do occur, but these types of changes never lead to major new traits that produce a new kind of organism. It may lead to speciation in some cases, but never another kind. Bacteria is always bacteria and doesn’t evolve into a virus.

The writers say that ID advocates agree that significant enough change to beget a new species could be considered macroevolution, but I’d disagree. Even if ID advocates believed this, that falsifies the article’s earlier premise that religious scientists deny macroevolution. Anyway, microevolution is any kind of change that can be observed, and it can be confirmed if offspring can be produced by the different species. But macroevolution (by definition) is something that’s never observed.

Creationists are being accused of ignoring the role of natural selection in the evolutionary process. But that’s not true. Creationists understand the role of natural selection quite well, and natural selection cannot select for traits that don’t exist. The genome also won’t waste energy maintaining traits that don’t provide an advantage. Evolutionists are relying on successive generations adding incremental pieces to the puzzle, believing that each of those new mutations will be beneficial in some kind of way so that they become incorporated into that organism’s genome. But what evolutionists are ignoring is that most mutations are harmful, and many that are considered beneficial end up being a loss of information.

The writers explain that evolution isn’t entirely random because natural selection acts by favoring one DNA sequence over another. This may be so, but mutations are still random, and it’s not until a random mutation occurs that natural selection can preserve a trait that is useful in some way.

Another odd assertion is that the property of a population that allows it to sample possible wing designs is its diversity. I’m not sure what this means, because apes, hippos, cats and dogs don’t sample wing design. Natural selection cannot retain a wing design in these animals that provides a survival advantage because they don’t have wings. If they had mutations that went in the direction of wings, they’d be at a survival disadvantage, and would be selected against! Therefore the writers must assume that somehow dinosaurs must have bypassed the disadvantages that such mutations would confer while on the long road to developing wings. Muscles, bones and arteries would have to be rearranged, and evolutionists must imagine that this is some kind of great benefit, even though what we observe in the animal kingdom is that those organisms don’t last very long.

The writers conclude that there’s a flaw in the macro/ micro evolution premise, and that’s that small changes don’t happen at random, but lead to incremental improvements. But as we can see, that’s a very deceptive way of looking at the process. It assumes that those small, incremental changes will lead to major changes, and that’s not true. It will certainly lead to minor changes, but natural selection will only select those changes available, and won’t deviate radically. An organism’s genome works to prevent mutations because they’re usually detrimental. Some mutations may be neutral, but there’s not enough information to create a new complex trait that doesn’t exist. These big changes aren’t dismissed by creationists on the basis of total randomness as accused by these writers, but on the basis of information. The information doesn’t exist, the genome works against radical changes, and we don’t observe this happening anywhere in the animal kingdom today. There is nothing random about an organism preserving its genome. It’s necessary for survival.

So while these two evolutionists pretend micro and macro evolution are one and the same process, they show that they’re not the same by articulating a difference; they claim that macroevolution is possible when natural selection acts through microevolution. They say that big changes are “plausible when interpreted as the cumulative effect of small changes”. So essentially they admit micro and macro evolution do have a distinction, even though they deny it. In my opinion they’ve completely failed to make a valid argument for their claims.

One thought on “Evolution: The Big and Small of it.

  1. Pingback: Some things I have read on the internet | clydeherrin

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