The Rapid Evolution of the Stickleback Fish

Stories about rapid evolution always pique my interest, and here’s one from Phys Org introducing a new species of fish that has evolved rapidly following an Alaskan earthquake in 1964.

The earthquake was the second highest recorded, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale. This epic geologic event stranded marine fish in freshwater ponds, forcing them to adapt or die. Scientists have documented changes in the fish’s genes, eyes, shape, color, bone size and body armor.

The article highlights several issues I have with evolution. First, it acknowledges that people usually think of evolution happening over long periods of time, and then it concedes that it can also happen very quickly. In fact University of Oregon biologist William Cresko says they’ve now “moved the timescale of the evolution of stickleback fish to decades, and it may even be sooner than that.” He continued, saying, “In some of the populations that we studied we found evidence of changes in fewer than even 10 years. For the field, it indicates that evolutionary change can happen quickly, and this likely has been happening with other organisms as well.”

These statements capture an inherent problem with evolution- namely that it’s two completely different things at the same time. On one hand it takes evolution millions of years for organisms to evolve new structures and traits like arms, hearts, blood, feathers, hair, bone, flight, and immune systems as they become entirely new organisms. But on the other hand evolution also happens within a decade so that a population of fish has eyes that are shaped differently than their ancestors. So it’s reasonable to ask: are these processes both the same thing, or are they different?

If we examine the evidence, then it becomes apparent that they are different processes. In the case of millions of years, one organism, such as a fish, is assumed to have developed new traits that don’t exist in the current or previous populations: fins used for swimming evolve into legs useful for walking on land; the fish becomes an amphibian, complete with a radically new set of lungs suitable for breathing air on land. These completely novel traits and structures are the key to evolution. But note that such evolution is assumed and has not been substantiated by scientific evidence. By this I mean there’s no experiment that can confirm a fish ever evolved into an amphibian in the distant past. Such a conclusion must be believed by faith.

On the other hand, there are experiments that can be performed to verify the conclusions made by the University of Oregon. One could simply capture oceanic sticklebacks and introduce them to a freshwater pond and observe their changes over time in a controlled environment. But remember that there’s no new genetic information. All the changes measured in the new species were present in the genes of their ancestors. It’s simply that the genes preserved in the oceanic species are now manifested in the freshwater population, and those traits that allowed the offspring to better survive and reproduce in their new environment are sustained and passed along to subsequent generations.

In essence there are two kinds of evolution presented in this article, and they represent a kind of bait-and-switch because there’s no distinction between the two. One can be observed, while the other is merely assumed.

Now of course I don’t believe in evolution. But when I say this, what I mean is that I don’t believe a fish ever evolved into an amphibian, or that dinosaurs evolved into birds, or apes evolved into humans. I do acknowledge that one species of fish can produce offspring that will eventually be recognized as a new species; this, however, is not evolution. Scientists may loosely call it evolution because that’s how they understand it, but they’re not distinguishing between two very different processes. A better term to use is speciation, adaptation or natural selection. These terms provide a much better description of what is being described in the stickleback. A fish with eyes can easily produce offspring with different shaped eyes depending on the environment. But that doesn’t mean an organism without the genetic code for eyes could ever evolve eyes, or that a featherless organism could ever evolve feathers.

So depending on how evolution is defined, I could truthfully say that I do believe in evolution, or that I don’t believe in evolution. It really depends on the specific evolutionary concept being discussed. But in the case of the stickleback, I would maintain that there’s really no evolution occurring.

Here are some other points that stood out to me in this article. Cresko said their findings are important for helping them understand the impact of sudden environmental changes on organisms. And I would agree. Of course sudden environmental changes will have a tremendous impact on any given organism’s survival. If that organism doesn’t adapt to their new environment, they’ll inevitably become extinct- as did the dinosaurs. If, on the other hand, an organism does change, and the offspring possesses traits that aid its survival, then they may not only survive, but thrive in its new environment.

Cresko was correct when he suggested that such changes have likely happened with other organisms besides the stickleback. I’ve written about a number of them, including the pupfish, bedbugs, mice, sea slugs, dogs, antibiotic resistance, E-coli and cliff swallows.

The article also introduced me to a new technology called rapid genome-sequencing technology (RAD-seq), which demonstrates that the stickleback’s genome is “honed for either freshwater or marine life.” This conclusion shows how there was really nothing to evolve. It was simply a matter of an organism’s biology adapting to a new environment, and Cresko calls it “hidden genetic diversity” waiting for its chance. As a matter of fact, researchers found similar changes in separate stickleback populations trapped in freshwater over the course of time.

A different article in Phys Org showed that some of the genetic changes in the freshwater stickleback include a loss of lateral plates. This further supports the notion that the freshwater fish didn’t “evolve” anything. The genetic information existed in the parent population, but is absent in subsequent generations, yet this is referred to as “evolution”. But it’s not. Evolution can’t be two completely opposite things. It can’t be something that adds genetic information to a genome and also something that removes genetic information from the genome. Therefore, a loss of genetic information, such as the stickleback’s lateral plates, cannot be evolution.

Evolutionists, however, do claim that both are evolution. But if that’s their claim, then evolution isn’t a very good explanatory method at all; the word evolution has become so malleable that it’s used to encompass anything and everything, and I think that’s the problem. So many people accept it without question because it can theoretically explain everything in very broad, sweeping terms. It’s only when we examine the specifics that we begin to see it can’t be everything it claims.

As you can see, the claim of rapid evolution is misleading. Instead what we see is exactly what we’d expect when an organism is introduced into a new environment- and that’s speciation.

Further, this is exactly what would have happened at an unprecedented rate following Noah’s flood. Every organism on the planet would be forced into new habitats, and only those able to adapt to a new environment would survive… while those unable to adapt would go extinct. I’ve had others tell me there wouldn’t have been enough time for all the animals we see today to diversify within a Biblical timeframe, but these scientific studies of “rapid evolution” actually support the speciation we see today.

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3 thoughts on “The Rapid Evolution of the Stickleback Fish

  1. Pingback: Things I have read on the internet – 9 | clydeherrin

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