Despite the incredible variety of nature, there are similarities between groups of plants, insects, birds, mammals etc. However, do such similarities point towards a common origin or a common designer?
Biological diversity can occur through processes such as sexual reproduction where genes from two individuals combine to make a new individual and through processes such as mutation and adaptation. Selection can then be involved in choosing a successful organism within a specific environment. However, whilst these processes do lead to biological variation and the limited ability of organisms to change in response to environmental conditions, they do not lead to one species becoming a totally different species, as we will explore below.
"Evolution has gone wrong by exaggerating the ability of a creature to make tall, short, green, red copies of itself into beliefs that chemicals turn into cells" (Mackay, 2000).
What many people confuse with Evolution is the genetic variability of plants and animals, the limited ability of organisms to adapt to their environment and the survival of the fittest within pre-existing species.
MUTATION - Mutation occurs when DNA makes a mistake when making an identical copy of itself (see links page for more details on mutation). Such mistakes are rare and in most cases to the detriment of the organism (see Bacteria below). One only has to consider the harmful affects of radiation following nuclear fallout on subsequent babies born to women exposed to the radiation, to realise that mutation is normally harmful, not beneficial (radiation damages DNA).
As an example to the precision with with DNA normally makes copies of itself, compare some living fossils with their dead fossil ancestors. For example, the coleocanth has been dated at 400 million years old (see "The fish out of time, links page"), yet it is still alive today identical to its fossil ancestors. If dating teqniques are correct (see Old Earth?), then the DNA of the coleocanth (and other living fossils) has made identical copies of itself for 400 million years! If DNA can be so incredibly accurate in its replication, how can it be so inaccurate as to turn simple cells into every living plant, insect, fish, bird, reptile, mammal etc. alive today by chance mutations and selection!
Not only is it difficult to envisage how chance mutations and selection could produce the rich complexity of life on Earth, but there is no fossil evidence (I have heard of) that shows evidence of extreme abnormalities that must have occurred if mutations are responsible for all the variety of life on Earth. Such abnormalities, on a pure probability basis, should surely be more common that perfectly formed new organisms?
Another problem with the mutation theory is how about 4,000,000 million nucleotides necessary to code for a so called simple celled bacteria eventually become 3,000,000,000 nucleotides required for humans (see Origin of man and Simple cells).
ADAPTATION - Adaptation can take two forms, involving either the organism adapting its behavior to respond to its environment or the organism in some way adapting its biological make up in response to its environment.
BEHAVIOURAL ADAPTATION - Many living creatures have sufficient intelligence to learn new behavior patterns. Dogs, monkeys and dolphins are all examples of intelligent animals capable of learning new behavior patterns. If a particular learn't behavior pattern helps a given species of animal to survive, then this behavior pattern may be passed on to future generations. It could be said that the animal had adapted to its environment. However, this has not led to that animal becoming totally different organism, although possible in time it could be classed as a different sub-species of the original (no examples known). The animal has used the intelligence it already had to respond to its environment. Man is the most successful in using his intelligence to adapt to different environments, but this success, rather than leading to new species is actually resulting in the decimation of species at an alarming rate!
BIOLOGICAL ADAPTATION - A well known example of biological adaptation is that of the peppered moth (Baker, 1996). In the 1860's the moth was pale in colour, although a rare dark form was known to exist. During the next 100 years, the dark form became more and more common until eventually the light form was rare. Evolutionists could say this is a classic case of Evolution. The reason for the change was pollution. Originally the dark form showed up well against trees with lichen on, so it was easy prey for predators. However, as pollution reduced lichen on trees the light version became more visible and hence was reduced in numbers by predators whilst the dark moth was now better camouflaged. The above scenario is natural selection, but rather than Evolution, it is selection of what was already there.
SELECTION - Selection occurs when environmental or other conditions select one species or one type of a species in favour of others as in the case of the moth above. To give other examples, if you add antibiotic to a culture of bacteria, then the antibiotic will select for only those bacteria that are resistant to it. If you kill all butterflies with insecticide except certain resistant strains, then you have selected for resistant butterflies. In both the above cases, you have only selected what was already there. Nothing new has been made! At the moment on planet Earth, we are living in such a way that we are selecting predominantly for humans. However, this is resulting in an alarming loss of other species. Selection is not the agent of Evolution. It may be the agent for survival of the fittest, but it can give rise to loss of species under adverse conditions where one species out competes others.
Selection is so often seen as part of the evolution story, but could it not be an inbuilt mechanism for organisms to maintain their complex genetic code (e.g. most mutant forms don't survive as they are generally not as good as the origonal), rather than the mechanism for simpler organisms to become more complex?
A couple of examples of genetic variability
BACTERIA - All life according to the theory of Evolution is supposed to have evolved from simple single celled organisms. As bacteria are the simplest single celled organisms on the planet today (that can replicate outside living cells) it is worth considering them and their ability to change.
As bacteria are so small and as some such as Escherichia coli can divide every 20 minutes or so, it is possible to study billions of bacteria for thousands of of generations in a short period of time. Although bacteria are able to gain genes (such as those coding for antibiotic resistance) through processes similar to sexual reproduction, there is no evidence of bacteria ever producing anything else but bacteria.
Bacteria undergo mutation at a rate of about 1:10,000,000 to 1:1000,000,000. This mutation rate can be increased by subjecting bacteria to certain chemicals or to irradiation. However, many of these mutations will actually harm the bacteria in some way. Even if they do gain resistance to some chemical substance, it will often be at a cost to the general well being of the bacteria (Saunders, 1984). It should be noted that bacteria (and other living organisms) can only undergo limited mutation. Extensive disruption of the complex genetic code of any living organism will either lead to a horribly mis-formed organism or to a non-viable organism. Whilst genetic engineering is able to introduce genes from one organism to another, this is a complex process done under carefully controlled conditions and is not the result of chance mutations.
Thus bacteria can undergo limited non-lethal mutation, they can adapt to a limited extent to new environments (e.g. where there are antibiotics) and new environments (e.g. antibiotics) can select for specific strains (e.g. antibiotic resistant strains). However, no mutation process has ever been shown in which any bacteria changes from one genera of bacteria to another, let alone to a higher organism such as a protozoa. With respect to antibiotic resistance, there is evidence that antibiotic resistant bacteria existed before antibiotics were used by humans (Saunders, 1984). The use of antibiotics by humans just made these antibiotic resistant strains more common.
DOGS - Dogs are a wonderful example of genetic variability. There are numerous pedigree breeds ranging from miniature breeds to Great Danes. The incredible variety of dogs is extended by virtue of the fact that all dogs can breed with each other. However, once again this variety represents the genes that already exist. There is no evidence for dogs ever producing anything but different (or similar) types of dogs. Selective breeding may give rise to new breeds of dogs, but not to anything but dogs.
The above examples of genetic variability, the limited ability to adapt and the selection of the fittest within a pre-existing gene pool can be applied to all living organisms. However, there is no evidence for one species ever adapting into a totally new one. Genetic variability may lead to new sub-species (e.g. as in breeds of dogs, breeds of plants), but not to a totally different organism. At present on planet earth, the survival of the fittest (man?) is resulting in the loss (not Evolution) of species.
Darwin's Black box. The Biochemical challenge to Evolution, by M. J. Behe.
Darwin's Leap of Faith, by John Ankerberg and John Weldon.
The Collapse of Evolution, by Huse.
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The world of living fossils, Origin of the races, The education debate
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