Defining Evolution 6: Creating New Genes

Sweet relief! Another Thursday in the salt mines has passed and that means it is time for me to conduct the transportation of my person across the face of our planet toward the blessed grounds of Danny’s Bar, Grill, and House of Rabblerousing. It is on each Thursday night that my friends and I meet to join forces against a plate of Nachos so large that the “N” in Nachos must be capitalized. It is rare that our group has not waved the white flag, as it were, to the Nachos. Also, if too many people order one on the same night, it can adversely affect the weather for days to follow. It’s not just the jalapenos that make those Nachos great- it’s also the slight taste of danger.NACHOS logo

The friends with whom I meet are Carl, Tom, Blue Beard, and Bill. As a Young earth Creationist who rejects Darwinian Evolution on both Scriptural and scientific grounds, I frequently have people coming to tell me how dumb I am for rejecting evolution which they insist is a fact of science. Carl is one such person. But when asked to define what they mean by “evolution” these people (including Carl) seem to have no idea what the word means, and often get angry at me for asking them to define it. But I would not be a Rent-A-Friend if I left these poor souls in need. Thus, in order to help out everyone in the western world, I have created what might be the world’s first useful definition for “Evolution.” It goes like this:

Evolution is an unguided, Natural process which increases the genetic information in an organism; Creating new Genes which did not previously exist.
These new genes then cause an increase in physical complexity and associated behavior, Both of which increase the organism’s ability to survive and pass on these traits to offspring.

On this particular night, we would discuss why this definition says “which increases the genetic information in an organism; Creating new Genes which did not previously exist.”

My friends had just received their first of many root beers of the night from our lovely red haired waitress, Wendy, and as they drank deep the sweet libations, I took the opportunity to remind them of the conversation as it stood per last week’s shallow dive into my wonderful and ground breaking definition. “To begin with,” I said to my friends around the round table, “we must remember the story evolution intends to tell. It begins with bacteria (And we’ll just be glossing over the obvious question of how we got something as complex and full of information as a self replicating bacteria) and the bacteria population somehow gained the genes to become worms, and the worm population somehow gained the genes to become fish, and the fish population somehow gained the genes to become lizards, which became rodents, which became primates which became bloggers, one of which became a Rent-A-Friend.”evolutionary history to shatner2 copy

“A Gentleman and a scholar at a very reasonable hourly rate,” said Blue Beard.

“I think you said that last week,” said Tom.

“Maybe so, but it were worth saying again.”

“Every step along the way,” I continued, “you will see the need for new genetic information.”

“Do we?” asked Carl. “I don’t know about that. Why does there need to be NEW genetic information in every step?”

“This is why I reminded us of the tree,” I said, producing one of the illustrations of the Evolutionary Tree of life. “We’re talking about the steps which take one kind to another. We’re not talking about a variety of dog giving rise to another variety of dog.”

“Why not? When wolves disseminated into four hundred kinds of pet shop dogs, that was evolution happening,” Carl insisted.

“We discussed this a few weeks ago,” Bill reminded Carl. “We agreed that since the evolutionary story is told in the tree of life, that we would base the definition on that tree. Also, Rent-A-Friend explained how the dissemination of wolves into dogs is basically dogs into other dogs, which is part of the Creation model.”

“And if yer evolution model doesn’t differ from ‘is Creation model,” added Blue Beard, “then what good is it?”

“So you’re focusing on the transitions between kinds up the tree,” asked Tom, “because it’s a primary difference between the evolution model and the creation model?”

“Not only because it differentiates them,” I replied, “but because it is a necessary part of the Evolution story. If Darwinian Evolution only allows dogs to make more dogs and doesn’t allow fish to make lizards which make rodents which make dogs, then it’s not going to make the tree of life which supposes to be the history of life on earth.”

“That makes sense to me,” said Tom. And since Carl offered no further argument on the point, I went on.

“A bacteria does not have the genes it takes to make a worm,” I replied. “A worm does not have the genes it takes to make a fish. A fish does not have the genes it takes to make a lizard. Etc. Each new KIND takes NEW genes that DID NOT EXIST in the previous kind.”

“I think the point Rent-A-Friend is making,” said Bill, “is that there are only so many options.
1. The genes to make a fish always existed in the bacteria and the worms, so the arisal of fish doesn’t demand new genes to come into existence.
2. The genes to make a fish did NOT exist in bacteria, so somewhere along the line those genes needed to come into being.
“If you choose option one,” he continued, “then you are literally saying that bacteria and worms all had the genes to make eyes and gills and fins and swim bladders, and all of the other parts required to make a fish. Scientifically, you see, this concept is what ichthyologists and geneticists would refer to as “Stupid.” Neither bacteria nor worms have the genes required to make gills or fins or other fish parts. Similarly, fish do not have the genes to make lungs and legs and toes and other lizard parts.”

“If you choose option 2,” said Blue Beard with enthusiasm, “because, as you recall, option 1 is Stupid, then ya must agree tha’ the genome of the previous kind of life must have genes added to it. S’basic math.”

“Now, to clarify,” I said, anticipating what the look on Carl’s face probably meant, “there may be genes lost. Fish have gills, and thus the genes to make them. Lizards do not. So, the story must assume that the genes for gills can get lost along the way. This definition is not arguing that the TOTAL AMOUNT of DNA must increase at every step up the tree.”

“I think that sounds fair,” added Bill. “We do not have to believe that fish must have more DNA nucleotide base pairs than worms. We must only believe that, in order for worms to evolve into fish, they have to have the genes for fish parts added to their total collection of DNA.”

“Exactly,” I said. “THIS is what is meant by increases the genetic information in an organism, not that they have more numerically, but that they have gained genes which their ancestors did not have, or as I said, “new Genes which did not previously exist.”

Before Carl could add his two cents, Blue Beard added his. “Seriously, EVERYONE better be on the same page here. If you tell me that worms always DID have the genes for gills, eyes and fins, then I am going to label you “Coo coo.” I’ll be all, “GO SELL CRAZY SOMEWHERE ELSE! We’re ALL stocked up here!”

Carl did not argue, but he did roll his eyes with a bit more gusto than usual.

“If I can make an analogy,” offered Tom, “we can think of a living thing like a factory. Say, worms are a factory that makes cars.”

“I don’t think you know anything about worms, Tom!” roared Blue Beard with laughter.

“It’s a metaphor,” Tom replied dryly. “I know worms don’t make cars.”

“Oh, all right. I was gonna be worried about ya,” Blue Beard said, still chuckling. “Continue, lad.”

“For a car factory to make cars, they have to have the blue prints which tell them how to build it. So, if we think of worms as cars with no radio, and we think of fish as cars with a radio, then we can think there has to be an addition to the blue print in order for the new kind of cars to begin rolling off the assembly line. Right?”

“Yes, that’s exactly the point,” I replied. “Well spoken, Tom! And that actually brings us to the next part of my definition. It says “These new genes then cause an increase in physical complexity and associated behavior.” If I can follow Tom’s metaphor, let’s say that sales is the metaphor equivalent of survival.”

“So, the car sales of the fittest?” suggested Blue Beard.

“Something like that,” I replied. “Multiple versions of the automobile are out there. If no one buys a variety, it stops getting made. It goes extinct. If lots of people buy it, more will be made.
“So to follow the metaphor, it does no good to have the plans for a radio in new blue prints if the factory doesn’t actually make any cars with radios in it. The factory can have all the exciting new blue prints it can hold, but until those prints result in actual cars, then it won’t affect sales at all.”

“I get it,” said Bill. “The new genes need to cause an increase in physical complexity and associated behavior, because if they do not result in any new physical trait then Natural Selection has no way of acting on those individuals. That’s what Chuck D. meant by “Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection.”

“Hold on,” said Carl. “Chuck D said what?”

“Sorry,” said Bill. “Let me pull it up.” He pushed the appropriate buttons on his personal electronic device and read for us,

“..individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and procreating their kind[.] On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection..”
-Charles “Chuck D” Darwin, On Origin of Species, 4th chapter, sixth edition.”

“Well, well,” said Carl. “I didn’t think any of you guys had ever cracked the cover of Darwin’s book. I figured you were just rejecting a book whose pages you’ve never seen.”

“Like you do with the Bible?” said Blue Beard behind a smirk.

Before Carl could retort, Bill continued making his point. “If a worm somehow gained the genes to make eyes, but didn’t actually HAVE eyes, then he has no advantage over other worms. It is possible for genes to be inactive, you see. There are fish in caves who are blind; they do not have eyes at all, whereas their ancestors did have eyes. Those fish do carry the genes for eyes, but the genes are “switched off.”
“If the cave contains eyeless fish, some of which HAVE the genes to make eyes (Switched off) and others do not have the genes to make eyes, then the having or not having will make no difference to their ability to survive. Take all of those fish out of the cave and into a normal, lighted environment, and nothing changes until those genes for eyes get expressed by making eyes. Merely HAVING the genes gives no advantage.”

“What maybe you guys don’t realize,” said Carl smugly, “is that this line of arguing assumes Natural Selection to be a fact of Nature. Which, means you are accepting Evolution as true.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Carl,” grumbled Blue Beard. “You don’t listen or think at all, do you?”

“They are assuming Natural Selection to be true!” Carl retorted. “Nature acting on varieties to preserve some and destroy others is right out of Darwin’s book! Bill just read it to us!”

“It is from Darwin’s book,” admitted Bill, “but it wasn’t invented or discovered by Darwin. Darwin probably learned about it by reading the work of Creationist Edward Blyth, who wrote on Natural Selection years before Darwin published.”

“And if you check your handy 3 x5 note card,” I said, “you’ll see that evolution requires an addition of genes to a population, where as Natural Selection merely removes genes. Thus, NOT evolution.”

“Of course it’s evolution!” barked Carl. “It’s in the title of Darwin’s book! Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection!”

“Carl,” said Bill in his hypnotically calming voice, “do you not agree that turning a worm into a fish must require the addition of new genes- genes which the worms did not previously have.”

“Well, sure. I suppose.”

“And when Natural Selection causes a variety with what Darwin called injurious traits to die out, does that add or remove genes from the population?”

“It removes genes, obviously. But that allows the fit to survive. As Darwin said, it preserves the superior, beneficial genes.”

“And when Natural Selection preserves beneficial genes, is it making new genes which previously did not exist, or is it keeping existing genes in the gene pool?”

“It’s keeping existing genes. You can’t preserve something which doesn’t exist. I know that.”

“Then Natural Selection doesn’t make any new genes, does it?”

“No.”

“And by definition, Darwinian Evolution needs to make new genes which did not previously exist.”

“By HIS definition,” Carl said, pointing at me.

“Carl,” I said. “If you don’t like my definition, then just explain to us how you get a worm to evolve into a fish without making any new genes, like the genes for fins, eyes, and gills.”

Carl just crossed his arms and looked offended, so it seemed the matter was dropped for the time being. I strongly suspect Blue Beard would have taken the opportunity to get a rise out of Carl due to his having to concede a point were he not distracted by the arrival of our mountain of Nachos. Whatever differences we may have are set aside when we must join forces in order to take on the Nachos.

Happy Nachos! And thanks for letting me be your Rent-A-Friend.

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