Discovering Religion: Episode 14 – Micro and Macroevolution
When God gave man dominion over all the animals in Genesis Chapter 1 verse 26, he failed to mention the smallest forms of life actually have dominion over us. During early human history disease and pestilence were commonly been attributed to a supernatural source. In fact, the Bible mentions the use of plagues as a form of divine punishment throughout the Old Testament. Until the late 19th century the cause of disease was neither understood by the general public nor by medical science. During this time it was standard practice for physicians to perform surgery on one patient, then attend the next room to deliver a baby without first stopping to wash their hands.
As you can imagine, it was very common for the expecting mother to become infected and die within the very hospital charged to deliver her child. It was not until the 1860′s when French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasture designed and carried out the first experiments that clearly showed the correlation of micro-organisms and disease, helping to solidify what we today call “Germ Theory” as well as contributing to a greater understanding of both mirco and macroevolution.
Throughout the 20th century many discoveries were made about germs, or rather bacteria, and a great deal of investigation was conducted on the methods by which to kill these organisms and cure disease. The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in 1928 was heralded as one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of all time. Research and development of Fleming’s discovery yielded several antibiotics that were able to be mass produced and given to the public. In 1959 Methicillin was introduced as a drug to fight Staphylococcus aureus, which is implicated in the development of many serious diseases.
Penicillins, along with a host of other drugs (Cephalosporins, Carbapenems, Monobactams), are known as beta-lactam antibiotics due to the similar structure these antibiotics share — that is, the ß-lactam ring at the center of the ß-lactam molecule. For a time Methicillin was very efficient at fighting bacterial infections; however, within a few years it became apparent the drug was starting to lose it effectiveness. This resistance is due to an enzyme known as Beta-lactamase, which cleaves the beta-lactam ring. Previously, the majority of Staph aureus strains did not express this enzyme; however, over time, and with repeated exposure to ß-lactam antibiotics, the ß-lactamase enzyme became prevalent within all Staph aureus strains. But listen to what anti-evolutionists have to say about genetic mutations and the effect to a bacterium’s overall fitness:
Although this might be true in certain, controlled laboratory studies, it is certainly not the case in nature, as evidenced by the development of Methicillin resistance by Staph aureus. Since the 1960′s Methicillin has been retired as a drug intended for public use because every single strain of Staph aureus is now completely resistant. In fact, Staph aureus is medically referred to as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA for short. Therefore, not only has this strain remained healthy and able to replicated outside a controlled setting, it has completely taken over the natural environment where its parent strain once dominated.
Here are just a few examples of other bacteria that have also become completely resistant to certain types of antibiotics, yet have not lost their overall fitness:
Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus
Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis
Penicillin-resistant pneumonia (pneumococcus)
Clindamycin-resistant C. difficile
Dr. Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow at the notorious “Discovery Institute”, is a perfect example of how creationists willfully manipulate scientific evidence in order to reconfirm their personal opinions. But facts always speak for themselves, as new species of bacteria can and do evolve — the most notable example is that of Nylon-Eating bacteria.
In 1975 a team of Japanese scientists discovered a strain of Flavobacterium thriving in ponds where a nearby nylon factory had been dumping its water waste. This particular strain of bacteria was capable of digesting byproducts from the manufacture of nylon 6, a substance that did not exist anywhere on Earth prior to the invention of nylon in 1935.
Further investigation showed the 3 enzymes being used to digest the nylon byproducts were much different than the enzymes produced by other Flavobacterium, or any bacterial strains for that matter, and these enzymes were not effective on any sources of energy other than the manmade nylon byproducts.
We have tangible, directly observable evidence that bacteria can adapt to certain stressors within a natural environment leading to the acquisition of abilities far different than those of its predictors, demonstrating mutations can create new and beneficial variations in the genome. These variations within a species are collectively known as micro evolution.
We have also have tangible, directly observable evidence that related animal species can interbreed, such a Zebra stallion and a Horse mare, producing a hybrid animal known as a Zorse. However, due the large number of genetic variations that exist between the alleles of Zebras and Horses, their offspring themselves are infertile. The inability of two closely related animals to produce viable offspring is sound evidence of speciation, and when variations have accumulated to such an extent as to produce different species, it is know as macroevolution.
It is difficult to understand exactly what kind of evidence skeptics are expecting to see when they claim macroevolution does not occur because we have never observed it happening. Perhaps Creationists are waiting for the second emergence of an archaeopteryx-like creature before they are finally willing to accept the reality of animal speciation. But the vast sequential array of random events required to take place in order to turn your pet iguana into an animal that resembles something like your pet cockatoo will never and can never be directly observed.
It takes an incredible amount of stress over a vast expanse of time for an entire animal population to gradually accumulate enough genetic variations to the point where they can be considered different species. Even the sequence of events leading to human evolution would be utterly impossible to replicate in a controlled setting. Remember, if it were not for the collision of India with Asia, producing the Himalayas, the rains would have continued to fall in Africa and the savannah grass-lands would have never formed. Therefore, our ancestors would have comfortably remained in the trees, having never been forced to walk upright.
Humans have evolved in unison with all life on this planet, and the few hundred thousand years man has existed in his modern form, the Earth has been a relatively stable place to live. We must understand although life is very robust and responsive to the environment, it is not actively “trying” to evolve and Without a forceful push to evolve, life will comfortably remain the same.
The historical occurrence of evolution can be equated to a crime for which there is no witness. For a moment, image you are a detective investigating a murder, and at the scene you discover the following: the murder weapon, bloody finger prints, The defendant’s DNA, as well as the victim’s body.
All evidences points to a scientifically verifiable culprit, and it would be a walk in the park for any district attorney to convince a jury of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt — even though no one may have actually been witness to the act of murder itself. And the same holds for evolution. Although we can never travel back in time to physically witness evolution in person, with every passing year the mountains of forensic evidence in support of evolution’s past occurrence continues to grow.
Creationists do not accept the process of macroevolution and animal speciation because they claim we have never directly witnessed it happening. But that would be like a court overturning our homicide investigation, which includes the Defendant’s DNA, the victim’s skeletal remains, and the murder weapon simply because the judge himself was not there to witness the crime.
But better yet, would a judge dismiss the hard work of countless homicide investigators, blood splatter analysts, forensic pathologists, and other scientific experts solely on the basis of the defendant’s contradictory testimony? Of course not. Our judicial system, police force, and indeed society at large, places such confidence in the accuracy of forensic and DNA evidence that the prudery of a lying defendant cannot sway a jury from objectively examining the facts and ultimately handing down an appropriate verdict of “guilt as charged”. And so we too must be the judge and jury, objectively examining the mountains of cold, hard forensic evidence pointing a guilty finger at evolution in contrast to the false testimony of creation, found in Genesis.