Citizen Magazine, August , 2000

The End of Creationism?

The Human Genome Project poses a threat, all right, but not the way Darwinists have it figured.


By Mark Hartwig

Imagine that you are a Nobel-winning scientist. The government and Celera Genomics Corp. are about to announce that the human genome--the sum total of our DNA--has been transcribed, and you're writing an article for The New York Times on the significance of this breakthrough.

What would you say?

When Nobel laureate David Baltimore was given that chance, one thing he said was that the breakthrough "confirms something obvious and expected, yet controversial: Our genes look much like those of fruit flies, worms and even plants. Should there be any doubt . the genome shows that we all descended from the same humble beginnings and that the connections are written in our genes. That should be, but won't be, the end of creationism."

Baltimore's remarks, echoed by other commentators and scientists, show why evolution continues to be controversial: the rhetoric doesn't square with reality. Far from refuting creationism, genome research has raised vexing problems for contemporary evolutionary theory.

The key claim that's been repeated since the genome breakthrough is that similarities between humans and other organisms confirm their common ancestry. That claim, however, has problems before it even enters the lab.

Phillip Johnson, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a noted critic of Darwinism, points out that the most fundamental problem is a logical one.

"Darwinists consistently confuse the existence of a pattern with the process that produced it--namely, common descent guided by natural selection," said Johnson. "Whenever they see anything that seems to confirm the existence of the pattern, they think that it confirms their specific theory about how the pattern came about. Of course, it doesn't."

The only way genetic similarities prove anything is if other options, including an intelligent designer, have been ruled out--in which case the decisive element is not similarity, but other evidence.

"Whether common physical descent is the explanation for the similarities has to be decided by experimental evidence, and that's always been a problem," Johnson said. "The fossil record isn't consistent with Darwinism, and the claim that natural selection can create all the kinds of things we see in biology is completely unsupported."

Indeed, genetic research has added to this problem, since some of the similarities it found were in the wrong places.

According to embryologist Jonathan Wells, author of the forthcoming book Icons of Evolution, one such place is in the genes that control embryonic development.

In Darwinian theory, Wells said, every organism is supposedly produced by a genetic program in the embryo. As this program is passed from one generation to the next, it changes due to genetic mutations and the effects of natural selection--the faster gazelle outraces the cheetah, for example, and lives to procreate, passing along its genes. These changes in turn alter the descendant's physical features. The more the genes change, the more the organism changes.

As a result, Wells said, "different kinds of organisms should have different genetic programs--and for years, this is what neo-Darwinists predicted."

But that's not what genetic researchers found. To the contrary, "the genes that have major effects in early development turn out to be strikingly similar across a wide range of phyla."

To appreciate what this means, a phylum (pl. phyla) is an extremely broad biological category. The phylum that contains humans also contains lizards, birds, fish and snakes. The differences between phyla are even wilder. As much as humans and birds differ from each other, they differ even more radically from slugs, crabs and sponges.

This is the range across which these genes work. Scientists have found, for example, that the gene controlling the development of limbs in fruit flies is very similar to the genes controlling the development of limbs in mice, tube-feet in sea urchins and spines in spiny worms.

In fact, the genes are so similar, Wells said, "that developmental genes from mice--and even humans--can replace their counterparts in flies."

What's more, such crossovers are legion. Indeed, many organisms seem to share not just one gene, but an entire suite of genes. And researchers say this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

If you believe that living organisms were designed by a creative intelligence, these findings make sense. Just as humans use dipswitches in a variety of electronic devices, a designer could use genetic switches in a variety of organisms.

For Darwinists, however, these findings spell trouble.

"According to Darwinism, the reason these genes are so widespread is that they came from a common ancestor," Wells said. "But the evidence indicates that the common ancestor lacked the features that these genes now control. That's a serious problem."

In the Darwinist view, complex genes arise through the slow accumulation of advantageous mutations. But what's the advantage of evolving a gene if the feature it controls doesn't exist?

One could reply that the gene controlled some unknown feature in the ancestral organism. But that's little more than wishful thinking--and a tacit admission that these findings are not an asset to Darwinism, but a problem to be explained away.

In the years ahead, such problems will only multiply. That should be, but probably won't be, the end of Darwinism.

Mark Hartwig, Ph.D., is editor of Teachers in Focus magazine.