What does it mean to evolve? What is natural selection? Where did the genetic variation come from that allows evolution to happen? Why are there so many species of animals today? What can mutations do? These are some of the questions that Answers in Genesis speaker Bryan Osborne addressed at public talks given at the young-earth creationist’ Creation Museum in Kentucky this month. The opening of the Ark Encounter has brought the YECs views on the origin of biological diversity to a larger audience Knowing that their post-flood rapid speciation hypothesis will be new to many of their patrons, Answers in Genesis has published a series of articles that outline how their understanding of the origin of biological diversity differs from mainstream evolutionary theory. These articles, some books and now seminars at the Creation Museum are part of the process of defining (or re-defining?) a modern young-earth view of how animals can adapt and change over time.
Despite their presentation of rapid-speciation from common ancestors as fact at the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, I call the YEC model of rapid speciation a hypothesis because it is simply a set of ideas that make up a possible explanation for modern biological diversity. The proposed mechanisms for how hundreds of thousands of species might evolve over just a few thousand years from a set of common ancestors (kinds) remains to be tested in any meaningful way. More importantly, as we will see here, their hypothesized massive and recent speciation also lacks observational support.
Today I provide some reactions to a talk given at the Creation Museum within the last week and posted on the Answers in Genesis Facebook page on August 1oth. The speaker is a relatively new employee of Answers in Genesis, Bryan Osborne. Osborne has a master’s degree in Education from a Christian college and was a bible teacher prior to coming to Answers in Genesis. He has no formal training in science. I heard Bryan Osborne speak at an AiG conference last year in Ohio. He spoke on the topics of dinosaurs and evolution to elementary and high school kids. I have shared a few thoughts on his dinosaur talk here: Comparing Dinosaur Talks for Kids: Dr. Jack Horner and Bryan Osborne. Those talks appear to have been scripted by AiG staff. They were 75% identical, down to the same jokes, to ones I have heard Ken Ham and other AiG speakers give. This talk on animal evolution I have not seen before so it might have more design input from Osborne but the ideas are very much formed by the AiG staff as a whole. It is important to remember that Osborne is a professional speaker but not an expert on the topics he speaks about. My critique of his talk is therefore a critique not as much of Osborne’s discourse as it is of the group that is responsible for the content of his talk.
In case you can’t make it to the bottom of this post here is my primary takeaway: Yes animals evolve – but within the limitations of “kinds.” The most curious thing to me about Osborne’s message was his repetition of the statement that the Bible teaches variation within kinds and that the Bible teaches speciation. But he never demonstrates that speciation actually happens or provides a single example where it has been observed either in the present or from historical eye-witness testimony. Most importantly he never showed any place in the Bible that reports a speciation event. How do organisms change over time? Natural selection working on genetic information that was already present in the ancestors of all species alive today. Today, we are looking at the remains of what were once perfect animals that have divided into small subsets of genetic information (species) which have been further tarnished by mutations which can do nothing but damage the original created order.
Below I take you through some of the slides, not necessarily in order, of Osborne’s presentation as they relate to the question: Do animals evolve? All of the images below are screenshots that I made from the video posted on Facebook by Answers in Genesis. This talk was given very recently at the Creation Museum. You can watch the presentation here to check my interpretation and transcription of his words.
The first 15 minutes of the talk were used to dismiss other forms of “evolution” before turning attention to where today’s species of animals come from. As you can see here, all forms of “evolution” are described as “faith-based” beliefs except for “micro-evolution” which is an observed process. True to the “where you there” theme of most AiG seminars, observations are equated to reality whereas inference from data is dismissed as speculation. Later, Osborne will refer to micro-evolution/speciation as being taught in the Bible. For those not familiar with “kinds” we aren’t just talking about genetic changes in populations within a species, the usual definition of micro-evolution, but rather Osborne and AiG have in mind here speciation of a common ancestor into thousands of species. Interestingly, Osborne doesn’t provide any examples of observed speciation but rather only provided examples of changes in populations which is what evolutionary biologists call micro-evolution. He then infers and implies that speciation must have happened.
Osborne admits that everyone accepts that organisms change over time (it would have been more accurate to say that populations change since individual organisms do not but this is common language for a general audience). The question if how much change can happen and how does that change occur? Those are good questions. He then states that evolution requires natural selection and mutations to create information. Again this isn’t an accurate statement but the gist of it is that genetic variation is needed to change organisms over time.
This is a central thesis of the young-earth view of biological change over time. Kinds can’t become other kinds. And one of the reasons is that they believe new information must be created for this to happen. In this particular part of the talk, that point is rather irrelevant. Here we see that this can’t happen because no new genetic information is added by natural selection. He is right, natural selection does not add new variation to an organism. Osborne made this sound like it was a big revelation but this was already true. Natural selection does not create variation. Natural selection is one mechanism which may cause one particular variations may become more or less frequent in future generation. Osborne can’t get excited about natural selection being unable to do something that modern evolutionary theory doesn’t claim it can do in the first place.
Osborne uses what is crowd-friendly but completely nonsensical characterization of what evolutionists expect to find in the fossil record if there were intermediates between “kinds.” Any junior level biology major should hopefully have enough sense to identify the misconceptions of evolutionary theory on display here. However, it is low-hanging comic relief for the YEC audience because they already think this is what evolutionists predict has or should happen.
Ok, now we get to the first of what will be many egregious uses of quotes to make the YEC case. All of these quotes make for great seminar fodder and are used very skillfully by AiG speakers. Most of these speakers, like Osborne, probably have no clue what the original context of these quotes are. They are passed down generation to generation of YEC with little awareness of their original source. It is unlikely that Osborne has read Paterson’s book nor has he read the full letter from which this quote was taken. He uses the quote to prove to his audience that “secular” scientists admit there are no transition fossils. Ironically in the first 15 minutes of his talk Osborne makes a big deal about defining terms so that it is clear what everyone is talking about. But he doesn’t understand what Paterson means by “transition fossil.” Patterson has even clarified his meaning in response to this quote being used by YECs and so Osborne should know what he means. His use of the quote then can only be understood as an intent to lead his audience to think that transitions fossils are something else instead. For more about this quote and its misuse you can read a bit of the back story here.
Osborne follows up some discussion about transition fossils with a funny example of “missing links” by wondering about the evolution of the fork. He talked about millions of years to change a knife into a spook and then a fork with the missing like being the spork. It was meant to make light of evolutionists drawing connections between living kinds. The analogy likely made sense to many in the audience but any biologists would have trouble parsing how this could have anything to do with speciation since it is exhibits very common misconceptions about phylogeny and common ancestors.
Osborne observes that while selection really does work to select characteristics of organisms there are limits to how far those changes can go. He uses the examples of selection of pigs for a larger size and then says that pigs can never be selected to get as large as Texas. Hyperbole aside, his point was that we can stretch and pull species but there are limits to how far there characteristics can stretched. That is a fair point though his example is from artificial selection and selection of any particular character will always have limits because selection on another character will eventually counteract the negative effects of another character.
Osborne uses some basic Mendelian genetics to illustrate how natural selection can take variation that exists in a species and create different combination which may then be subject to natural or artificial selection.
Animals do evolve by this means of micro-evolution. Different variations are selected for in different environments. This is a fair portrayal of what can happen at an individual gene locus providing the genes exhibit incomplete dominance.
After the Noahic Flood Osborn suggests that as populations grew the variation in the original pair of dogs was then divided into different population groups. It was implied that these populations would then become new species of canines. How he thinks all this variation could have been preserved in just a few animals on Noah’s Ark is still a huge mystery to me and everyone else that follows this YEC version of rapid post-flood speciation (see: The Great Genetic Bottleneck Problem).
After showing how some traits can be selected for by natural selection Osborne proceeded to show multiple domestic dogs and say they are all still dogs. The implication was that we know that these domestic dogs were all created by selection on ancestral wolves and thus natural selection really does work and can change animals – within limits of course. But then he proceeds to show multiple canine and fox (vulpine) species. He equates the changes that made domestic dogs with how all of these species could have easily have been formed since departing Noah’s Ark.
Most of the audience won’t realize they have just experienced a bait-and-switch. Domesticated dog breed formation has been observed but none of these are new species. There are no eye-witness accounts of species of canines and foxes forming. To the contrary, there are fossils of most of the 30+ species of canines and foxes that are thousands and even hundreds of thousands of years old. For example, the red fox alone is found over much of the world and lives in hot, cold, wet and dry environments and fossils are even found in the Middle East. Consider too that the Bible describes a canine that was as much a red fox then and those that live there today. Why is the red fox still a red fox in all of these environments and over all of this time if rapid speciation is constantly occurring? Where is the evidence that canines have been speciating during human history?
Morphological, genetically and behaviorally there are significant differences between canine species. There are NO historical records which recount the origin of any of these species. Osborne makes fun of evolutionary theory for being a “faith-based” science but then says the Bible teaches speciation but there is no eye-witness evidence to support this claim.**
Earlier, Osborne had equated the assumed speciation of canines to other “kinds” showing how speciation occurred after Creation and after the Flood. Again, I want to stress that Osborne talked a lot about species happening within kinds but he provided no observations of it actually happening. I find it ironic that he doesn’t provide any examples of speciation but he wants his audience to take it on faith that thousand of unobserved instances of speciation have happened.
All he did was show how populations can change over time by natural selection and then infer that these changes could add up to large enough differences to result in the formation of a new species. Therefore many species it could be inferred could form from a common ancestor. But, that is exactly what evolutionary theory calls macro-evolution except that he insists that this is just micro-evolution.
But there is more to the story than just natural selection and Osborne was right to point out that natural selection itself can’t do anything without variation first existing. So, how then did this vast amount of un-observed speciation come about? Natural selection of pre-exisisting genetic variation is Osborne’s answer.
That brings us to the all important question of where the tremendous variation we see in species today came from. The answer to this question highlights one of the most significant differences in the young-earth view of speciation and the standard evolutionary view.
Osborne has to address mutations because in evolutionary theory it is not natural selection that creates variation (I believe Osborne accidentally misspoke earlier in his talk when he said natural selection and mutations are the “two main things that cause variations in our fallen world”). Mutations are the raw resource of genetic variation that natural selection operates upon. Osborne quickly cements in the minds of his audience that mutations are very bad things that no one would want to have. He uses an unusual definition that includes damaging information and then implies that most if not all mutations are harmful. I am sure he believes this to be true because he then pulls out the quotation below as his evidence.
Sounds like a damning quote. If well over 99% of all mutations are harmful but evolution is supposed to be increasing complexity and moving in a positive direction, both of which are misconceptions, then how can evolution possibly make successful organisms?
Please look at the date of the quote. That date, 1950, was before the discovery of the structure of DNA. Muller didn’t know what a genetic mutation looked like at the DNA level. He worked with ionizing radiation. He bombarded organisms with radiation and observed its ill effects on the morphology. He had no idea that the vast majority of mutations – changes in the DNA code – of an organism are not lethal or even very bad. Rather most are neutral or only slightly deleterious. All he saw was every physical change in the organism seemed to be bad not realizing that thousands of mutations were occurring that had little or no effect at all.
Osborne then asked the audience to think about their ordinary lives and when accidents happen to their kids “does that tend to make things more organized or less organized?” In that light it sounds obvious that mutations must be bad and they couldn’t make anything more complex. However, it is natural selection that determines if a mutation is positive, negative or neutral. It is true that most mutations are not positive (ie. don’t contribute in a positive way to fitness) but this is not necessarily a problem nor does it mean that the might not contribute in a positive way in the future if the conditions change. Any evolutionary biology textbook devotes a chapter or two to describing mutations and their effects and how organisms respond to those. Estimates of mutation rates, measurements of the fitness values of mutations and observations of new alleles in populations and their fate over time have all been made and reported many times. Muller’s quote needs to be evaluated in light of 66 years of additional evidence and Osborne has made that evaluation.
This next quote again makes mutations sound quite useless. The implication is that they have no power to produce anything new. The statement is not totally wrong but its use is certainly deceptive. Mutations don’t produce a new species directly but are rather the raw resource for selection and drift which will determine which mutations eventually define a new species. But another aspect of the quotation is quite fascinating. Who is Pierre-Paul Grasse really? This is another old quote and this time it is from a professor in France that if you do a bit of research you will find out is anti-Darwinian. He isn’t a creationist but rather he was one of the last holdouts of a Lamarkian view or organismal change. In other words he was opposed to Darwinian evolution and didn’t believe that natural selection was a viable explanation for the origin of species. He published ideas that gained no traction in the scientific arena and was heavily criticized for providing no evidence for views such as the one he expresses in this quote. No one in the Creation Museum audience would believe this was an anti-evolutionist quote because they were led to believe this was a secular evolutionist. It is a bit sad that YECs have to dredge up fringe scientists to find quotes they think support for their presuppositions and that they leave their audience in the dark about the biases of the authors of these quotes. This is not putting the best face on your opponent when you have to quote people who don’t represent the conventional view but you are attacking the conventional theory.
Here is another quote that Osborne introduced with “this secularist scientists says, no” referencing the question of whether information can be gained by mutations. Who do you think the YEC audience thinks Dr. Spetner is? They probably think he is the average atheistic evolutionists and represents the conventional evolutionary thinking. But here again we have Osborne using quotes from people who in no way represent the general evolutionary biology community. Dr. Spenter has been called the Jewish creationist and so I am not sure calling him a secularist is correct. He is no friend of conventional evolutionary biology though he has his own ideas of how organisms can change by directed mutation. So it is not surprising that since he thinks mutations are directed by design that he would be critical of random mutations as a mechanism of introducing variation into organisms. His definition of mutation would differ from what either an evolutionist or YEC might use. So, I am not sure how this quote furthers Osborne’s point but his YEC audience doesn’t know that this quote doesn’t really carry any weight. Honestly, I doubt that Osborne knows this is the case either since he probably gathered his info from other YEC books or had this portion of the talk written for him.
Osborne tried to illustrate Spetner’s point about information not being added by mutation with a word scramble. This made no biological sense but again it was probably an effective slide for his audience. He was trying to say that you can lose letters from the word Christmas and you can rearrange them and end up with simpler words – ie. less information than the original. But you couldn’t change Christmas into something new like Xerox or Zebra. That is a poor analogy to DNA since the idea of a mutation is a change in the code from one letter to a different one. Three letters could change to other letters of the alphabet and then they could make new words so it didn’t seem to make his point at all and if anything worked against him.
Another Dr. Spetner quote. Osborne used it to imply that all evolution of antibiotic resistance involves losing portions of a genome rather than any mutations that might be beneficial and therefore become part of a population.
Osborne introduced the quote above by saying: “I love this quote from this secular scientist..” Again, another Dr. Spetner quote that includes misconceptions of how natural selection, genetic drift and mutation actually work in populations. Quoting Spetner is a bit like me lecturing to a group of scientists about the meaning of an Old Testament and quoting Joel Osteen as my source of Biblical scholarship. If the audience doesn’t know who Joel Osteen is they will assume that I am presenting them with the best available understanding of OT theology but in reality they will walk away with a very poor understanding of meaning of the text.
Another push for the lack of observational evidence that YEC-defined macroevolution. A lot of assumptions here which would take too long to get into at the moment so I just leave this slide here as a FYI.
Here is the big picture: The variation in all species today already existed from the beginning and so natural selection is nothing but a fancy genetic sorting machine that eventually causes the loss of information. Mutations are all bad and so they cause nothing but the decay of information over time. Osborne claims that evolution requires the opposite and therefore can’t happen.
The most curious thing to me about Osborne’s message was his repetition of the statement that the Bible teaches variation within kinds and that the Bible teaches speciation. But he never showed that speciation actually happens either in the present or from historical evidence and most importantly he never showed any place in the Bible that reports a speciation event.
Like other YECs he infers that it must have happened because he assumes that a kind includes many species. He appears to further assumes (see slide above showing each kind starting with one line at creation) that God would not have created multiple species in a kind at the beginning and therefore concludes they must have speciated. Toward the end, Osborne says about defining terms that if you are talking about “micro-evolution, adaptation, speciation, that is what the Bible teaches, it is what we observe.” His only evidence: The Bible says that animals reproduce after their own kind? Where in that phrase does it say they change, adapt or speciate must be the result of reproducing? The Bible does not teach any of these concepts. We may infer that none of these concepts are in contradiction with God’s Word. We can infer that adapation is part of God’s provision for species but the Bible does not explicitly state these things to be true. Osborne is adding to God’s word by laying on his beliefs about hyper-evolution and telling his audience that this is what God teaches.
Summary: AiG employs some very effective speakers. But the talks are really only as good as the information content that a very small core of staff scientists are creating for them. In this case, the talk was very powerful and probably very persuasive to many in the audience. But because the the content suffers from many misconceptions and incorrect statements any truth that was really presented is diluted by the baggage of bad information that came along with it. I liken it to listening to a Joel Osteen lecture – I can’t call them sermons. There are bits of truth in some of his words but there is so much there that is wrong that it really isn’t worth listening to on the whole.
** I am not arguing that speciation of canines has not occurred. I do think that wolves and coyotes have a common ancestor. What I am doing is holding YECs accountable to their own standards of observational evidence. They should not be able to make the argument that macro-evolution hasn’t been observed so therefore is just speculation and then turn around and say that all canines speciated from a common ancestor when they have not observed that either.