Archive for the ‘Creation/Evolution’ category

More Thoughts on Furthering the Dialogue on Creation

February 14, 2015
Appearances can be deceiving. How old do you think this canyon is? How long did it take to form the layers that were carved out? If I told you the majority of what you see took less than 5 years to form, would you call me a liar?

Appearances can be deceiving. How old do you think this canyon is? How long did it take to form the layers that were carved out? If I told you the majority of what you see took less than 5 years to form, would you brush that off as a pleasant fiction?

It’s been my pleasure to read some recent posts by Doug Wilson and Gavin Ortlund regarding Creation and Earth history. Doug started with this post, to which Gavin responded here with 4 points. Wilson then responded here, to all but Gavin’s 4th point. Wilson wisely left point 4 unanswered, suggesting that someone should respond who has more of a science background. And, while I’m more at home swimming with whales in the open ocean than writing blog posts, I felt compelled to respond. So, here goes this scientist’s attempt to further the dialogue on Creation.

Before I start, I want to say that I really appreciate Gavin’s effort to make a “friendly appeal” towards dialogue on Creation. Well done, and I hope to follow his lead with some friendly iron sharpening of my own.

Discern Between Scientific and Historic Research

Gavin’s point 4, the one Wilson left unanswered, was a call for young earth creationists to get “specific with the scientific evidence.” But this has been done, and is being done, in a thousand different ways (see below).

More importantly, the “scientific evidence” is not the problem at all. The problem is the interpretation of the evidence, which leads to another big issue. If anyone, young-earth, old-earth, or other, is truly interested in furthering the dialogue on Creation, they will put a greater effort into discerning between scientific research and natural history research. Scientific research is testable, repeatable, and verifiable. Natural history research involves drawing unverifiable conclusions from data. Natural history research is about interpreting unobserved past events.

In my opinion, a more scholarly approach to the Creation dialogue involves making a clear distinction between a scientific thing and a historic thing.  It’s been over a decade now since the call was made to move beyond scientific creationism, so young-earthers and old-earthers alike should be putting more effort into properly discerning between the two.

You don’t have to be a scientist to discern between the two types of research. You just need to know how to read a recipe. If you cannot, or just refuse to, acknowledge the difference between scientific research and natural history research, then you are not furthering the dialogue on Creation.

Energy or time?

Gavin wrote that “one step that will greatly help the dialogue about creation in the church is for young-earth creationists to pay more attention to the specifics and particulars of the evidence for an older earth and universe.”

If any Christian writes, speaks, or preaches like they have no clue of the vast amount of material published by young earth creationists regarding “specifics and particulars of the evidence,” then they are not furthering the dialogue on Creation. I am trying to say this in as friendly a way as possible, but a statement like that shows a lack of effort to research a matter before writing about it. It is the glory of kings to search a matter out (Proverbs 25:2), so act like a king.

Remember also, we are talking mainly about history here, and conclusions about the unobserved past depend on interpretation. For Christians, the biggest differences between old and young earth views stem from our presuppositions. Were high-energy, short term events the dominant shapers of earth’s surface? Or was it low-energy, slow, and gradual? The interpretive differences result mainly from how much emphasis the researcher places on catastrophism (high energy, short duration) versus gradualism (low energy, long duration).

Do you want to learn about what creation researchers are saying about the Grand Canyon? Starlight and time? Ice layering, etc? Then click here, or here, or here, or here, or many other places. If you would like, you can also read about some of my natural history research. I conducted an age-calibration experiment of the Ar-Ar radiometric dating method, and found that method overestimated the age of my sample by a factor of 55,000.

Read, and you will find that there are many reasons, good reasons, to be skeptical of the methods and models used to speculate about billions of years of earth age.

Here’s some advice for old-earthers who are serious about furthering the dialogue on Creation. It’s the same advice my advisor gave me when I turned in the first draft of my PhD research proposal. Across the top of the proposal in big red letters was the word READ. Read young earth creation research. Search the matter out.

And to that I would add, PRAY. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment to further this dialogue in the best possible way, which is the one that will bring Him the most glory.

Unsettle the (Secular) History, Burn the “Fictitious History” Strawman

As Doug mentioned, “the science is always settled until somebody unsettles it,” and this is true. But, keeping on track with discerning the scientific from the historic, it might be better to say, regarding earth age, that “the history is always settled until somebody revises it.”

In Gavin’s post, he quotes Robert Newman, who said “In harmonizing the revelation God has provided us in his Word, the Bible, and in his world, the universe, it seems to me that it is much preferable to spend our efforts on models that do not require us to believe that God has given us fictitious history.”

Newman’s argument is a logical fallacy. He sets up a straw man by portraying young earth creationists as a group that sees a lack of harmony between His word and His works, and seeks to harmonize the two with fictitious models. If Christians are truly interested in furthering the dialogue on Creation, then they need to rain burning sulfur down on the “fictitious history” strawman.

Personally, I think most young and old earth Christians are honestly searching for truth. In that search, we all need to be curious and open minded, not “settled,” having a healthy skepticism of any manmade models that speculate about earth’s past. Are you putting too much faith in the models of men? If so, consider that you may be closing the door on adventure and exploration, and stifling the curiosity of the next generation. I don’t want to be the one responsible for closing that door, do you?

I am not exactly sure what it is in our human nature, maybe pride, but it seems like there is a desire among some that, before they die, they are required to come up with their own personal “theory of the universe”. For the vast majority of old earth creationists, I think one reason they are unaware of young earth arguments is because they believe the history about the unobserved past is settled history. The big bang is their cosmology, and they have probably never thought to search out alternative models. They are probably unaware of the assumptions behind the big bang model, like the universe is homogenous, and no one place is more special than another.

But what if that’s not true? Are we really so arrogant to believe that here, in the 21st Century, we have all of history figured out? A 6,000+ year old universe sounds like a really, really old universe to me, but if you think it’s billions, not thousands, then it seems you should be more, not less skeptical that your model is valid. You have a lot more history to explain than I do!

Are you familiar with the big bang model? Could you list 4 other models of cosmology? Have you heard of Einstein’s metrics? If your answer to the last two questions was “no”, then it would be a wise move on your part to do a lot of research before you write any more about why we need to doubt the creation days were 24 hour periods, like Justin Taylor did recently.

Don’t hamstring the dialogue on Creation like a wolf on an elk calf, leaving it hobbled and helpless. Find ways to nurture it instead. Understand at least something about the young earth position. One presupposition of a young earth creationist is that, regarding history, God’s word is authoritative. It is an axiom to build our understanding of all history on, including natural history.

Like Justin Taylor’s article, it seems the most common theme among old earthers is they place too much emphasis on doubting biblical history. Not enough emphasis is placed on doubting manmade models like the big bang, plate tectonics, gradualism, etc. I find that old earth Christians are often enthusiastic about doubting evolutionism, which is wonderful. But the same people who rightfully acknowledge problems with evolutionism, like the lack of transitional fossils, at the same time fail to acknowledge the fact that the majority of those fossils are buried in water-deposited sedimentary rock found almost everywhere on earth’s surface, and averaging one mile thick. But where is the doubt about the old earth assumptions of all that rock being formed slowly and gradually over millions of years? Why not show a little skepticism about that, too? After all, rapidly-buried creatures preserved in thick, water-deposited rock layers all over the earth sounds very much like something we would expect from a worldwide cataclysm like the Genesis Flood.

In the 1900’s, J. Harlan Bretz was skeptical that the Channeled Scablands were formed slowly and gradually. He was able to show how they formed rapidly from floodwaters released as late-Ice Age dams burst. Or take the photo above, which shows where the River Lethe carves through layered deposits from the 1912 Novarupta volcano. By the time Robert Griggs explored the area in 1917, the canyon was already carved through all that material!

Sometimes, what may sound like just a pleasant fiction, turns out to be reality after all. Acknowledging that our eyes and our minds often deceive us will do much to further the dialogue on Creation.

Avoiding Endless Genealogies

In I Timothy 1:4, Paul warned Timothy to avoid “endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Think about the book of Genesis. Think about the genealogies in other places in the Old Testament, or in Matthew and Luke. Think also about the unfolding story of God’s relationship with man in Scripture. And think about your own family’s genealogy. When pondering your own family tree, you would think it strange to insert a million+ year gap in the middle of it. The main message from any genealogy is a message of continuity.

Continuity is also at the heart of the idea of covenant. A covenant is about an agreement, a relationship. A wise pastor I know described covenant in Scripture like this:

The gospel set forth in the context of God’s eternal plan of communication with His people as it unfolds in the historical outworking of the redemptive plan of God. Covenant theology is central to the message of the Scriptures, which testify to God’s redemption of His people in and through the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Christian, what do you believe? Is God’s plan of redemption, as revealed in Scripture, continuous and covenantal, or broken and discontinuous?  If it is broken and filled with gaps, what will you put in those gaps? How long were they? Do your beliefs about history promote speculation of God’s word more than they do speculation of man’s word?

In my opinion, furthering the dialogue on Creation means that some pastors and theologians need to take more care to avoid endless genealogies and the speculations they promote. I’m praying more teachers of the Word will focus on encouraging Christians to be scientists and engineers and doctors, developing new technologies and other things by using what God made to serve Him and serve others. Furthering the dialogue on Creation will mean spending a little more time focusing on what God called us to do in Genesis 1:26-28, and a little less time on what God meant by “day”, filling in the supposed gaps with an endless supply of speculative claims.

Build a Better Engine

April 17, 2014

Over the last few years, I have talked to a lot of people who spew propaganda claiming Bible-believing Christians are “anti-science.” Because people like me are skeptical of the history claims of evolutionists and futurology claims of global warming alarmists, we are labeled “anti-science.” Fortunately, discerning between what is and is not a scientific claim is as easy as understanding a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Unfortunately, some refuse to acknowledge the differences, using the “Christians are anti-science” fallacy to create political division. For others,  it’s just another excuse to hate their neighbor.

One pattern I’ve noticed among the “Christians are anti-science” crowd is that the most outspoken individuals tend to have little or no background in science or engineering. When God gives me an opportunity to talk to unbelievers that promote this agenda, I have learned to 1) let them know Christians like me are most assuredly pro-science, 2) present the Gospel, and 3) encourage them to stop doing what they are doing and get into a science and engineering field.

Something I have encouraged more than one unbeliever to do is “build me a better engine.” Promoting the idea that fossil fuels are causing catastrophic global warming is foolish. In spite of increased atmospheric CO2 levels, there has been no warming for 17 years and 8 months now. If, instead of promoting unscientific future climate ideas and labeling those who disagree as “anti-science,” why not do something meaningful?  Why not be actively involved in designing less expensive, more fuel efficient engines, ones that could reduce air pollution and provide better lives for the poor? Wouldn’t a pro-science, love-your-neighbor mindset be better than an unscientific, hate-your-neighbor one? Well, of course it would, but the former is a difficult concept for those who don’t believe the foolishness of God is wiser than men (I Corinthians 1:25).

Unless God changes their hearts and they repent and turn to Christ, foolish actions are to be expected from unbelievers (Psalm 14:1). Fortunately, there are young Christian men and women out there who love God and His creation, and want to “build a better engine” for His glory. Listen to this testimony from David K., a homeschooling senior that is currently using our DIVE Calculus course (bold emphasis mine):

“Thank you also for all the work you have put into the DIVE CDs. Your teaching is clear, easy to understand, and you explain everything really well. Your lectures have helped me immensely, and I don’t know where I would be in math with out them. I definitely agree with you, in that God has allowed us to understand math so that we can get to know Him better. I love looking in Creation and seeing God Himself! I am a senior in high-school, and I plan to go to college to study Engineering Physics, with mechanical emphasis. I want to eventually perform engine research to produce a more financially feasible engine. I would do this by creating a new energy conversion process that does more work per unit of fuel than engines today. I have always had a love for science and math, and I really look up to people like you who know so much and use it for the glory of God. Thank you for being a great example for me to follow.” 

While David K’s words are incredibly kind and humbling to me, I hope they are an encouragement to you! A lot of people are surrounded by hopelessness and despair, but there’s also a lot of hope out there, too!

Are you a young person like David K who loves the Lord and wants to take what God has made and use it to design things that will serve others? Are you currently an unbeliever? Whoever you are, it is important to be intellectually honest and spread the word that Christians are pro-science. History proclaims this truth, as do present actions of humans all over the world.  So, enough of this blog post, get out there and build a better engine!

Foundations in Genesis

February 26, 2014

Student Workbook Cover, Foundations in Genesis

I made this student workbook (Russian) and teacher’s manual (English) to use in seminary classes I’ll teach in March 2014 at the Biblical Theological Seminary of St. Petersburg, Russia. The seminary is the educational wing of the Slavic Reformation Society.

Foundations in Genesis, Student Workbook (Russian)

Foundations in Genesis, Teacher’s Manual (English)

I snapped the cover photo in 2009 at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, a world-famous grizzly bear viewing area. And speaking of grizzlies, if you would rather just read about them instead of all this deep theology stuff, click here.

Acknowledgements

The workbook includes a section for students to take notes during lectures, plus selected reading assignments. The two main sources for reading materials already translated into Russian include Chapters 1-3 of my book, Exchange of Truth (translated in 2008), and Creation Ministries International’s Russian page, currently with 134 articles translated into Russian. Praise God for this incredible resource from CMI!

I would also like to acknowledge the following individuals and organizations, and their awesome sermons, films, presentations and papers that are part of this course:

Dr. John K. Reed et. al. and research papers on understanding naturalism here and here.

Pastor Fred Greco and sermons/lessons on Genesis and covenant theology.

Dr. George Grant’s sermon audio on The Cultural Mandate.

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner and The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

Dr. Jonathan Wells and his chapter on Soviet Darwinism (Lysenkoism) in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design.

Mr. Mark Amunrud, instructor at Montana Bible College, and presentations on the main point of Genesis.

Rousas J. Rushdoony’s book on Genesis, and particularly Chapter 7 on marriage.

Living Waters Ministry and 180 Movie.

American Vision and How to Answer The Fool.

179 Logical Fallacies and the Ham vs. Nye debate

February 2, 2014

A Twitter Battle

And all I did was Tweet “#Design of a biochemical circuit” in response to a paper on design in yeast cells. Okay, so I also included two anti-creationism hysteria groups, TFN and NCSE, in the Tweet, but, even for followers of irrational groups like these, I was a bit surprised at the sheer number of logical fallacies that followed for the next month and a half.

My original Tweet was back in October, 2013. The first to respond was one of the paper’s co-authors, Volkan Sevim, who Tweeted “This is not the kind of #Design you have in mind.” So, right at the start, the “Twitter battle” began with the ambiguity logical fallacy.  Something expected of politicians, not scientists, Volkan pretended that design in a biochemical circuit could mean something other than “to devise for a specific function or end.”

After Volkan’s tweet, atheists and secular humanists picked up on the thread. People with Twitter handles like “Debunking Stupidity,” “Logical Lass,” “God Free World,” etc., started to engage. And not with weapons of logic, but with a maelstrom of logical fallacies. The following is a ranking of the types of logical fallacies used. And 179 is a conservative estimate of the actual number of logical errors released from ASH’s quiver (ASH = Atheist Secular Humanist):

  1. Ambiguity (67). Equating science with history, rather than clearly distinguishing scientific research from natural history research.
  2. Strawman (59). Primarily “Creationists are against science,” and/or “science deniers.”
  3. Ad hominem (25). Cursing, but also threats of murder, including mass murder of Christians.
  4. Genetic (12). Even though someone has a PhD in science, their research “doesn’t count” if they are a biblical creationist.
  5. Appeal to authority (6). Several appeals to “scientific consensus,” even though that’s not how science is done.
  6. Circular reasoning (2).
  7. Law of non-contradiction (2).
  8. Bandwagon (1).
  9. Black or white (1).
  10. Tu quoque (1).
  11. Moving the goalposts (1). One commenter said that if the earth is young, why haven’t we found dinosaur DNA? When I showed him we have, he conveniently “moved the goalposts.”
  12. Loaded question (1).
  13. False cause (1).

I really shouldn’t have been surprised by atheists and humanists attempting to “prove” themselves using foolish statements, because that is exactly what Scripture says will happen in Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:18-26, I Corinthians 2:14, and many other places.

The Ham vs. Nye Origins Debate

So what does this have to do with the upcoming origins debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye?  Well, my recent “Twitter battle” provides a glimpse into how Bill Nye, a secular humanist, will debate. Many media outlets have reported on the debate already, and Mr. Nye has portrayed himself as the debate’s “reasonable man.” But rather than using reason, Mr. Nye will attempt to “prove” his version of history with a gusher of logical fallacies. He will try to claim that Christians are against science, confusing scientific research with natural history research. He will fail (or be willfully ignorant of) to see the obvious fact that everyone has access to the same scientific data, so this can’t possibly be a debate about science vs. anti-science. It is a debate about origins, which means it is a debate about how to interpret history. Nye thinks he is battling against anti-science zealots. What I hope Mr. Ham makes crystal clear for viewers though, is the fact that Mr. Nye is debating a straw man, not Mr. Ham.

Pray that God will use this debate to turn the hearts of unbelievers like Bill Nye to Jesus Christ. It is easier to argue using logical fallacies when hiding behind a Twitter handle, YouTube video, etc., but much more difficult to do in a live debate.  Pray also for Christians who are confused by naturalism, or who attempt to unwisely mingle Christianity with naturalism, committing the “middle ground” fallacy.

A Profound Theological Statement

December 30, 2013

In his new book, Rocks Aren’t Clocks, PhD geologist John K. Reed writes:

“Today’s geology assumes the truth of secular naturalism as a matter of course. That emphasizes the need to examine the philosophical and theological issues. For example, people ask if the Bible is a reliable historical source. That’s not a question of science, but it is a question that has profound implications for geology. If we answer in the negative, we have made a profound theological statement; if we answer in the affirmative, then prehistory is precluded and the atheistic geological history that most of us learned in school is false.”

So here is one man who says that we are making a profound theological statement when we ask if the Bible is a reliable historical source.  But then other Christians answer the question in a more agnostic, “I don’t know” fashion.  And still other Christians agree with the atheists, thinking that answering in the affirmative is “embarrassing.”  But, do the agnostic or “embarrassed” believers, as well as the unbelievers realize what a profound theological statement they are making? And do they realize, as Dr. Reed points out, that the earth age question is not primarily a question of science, but of history?

Should any Christian be agnostic or embarrassed about whether the Bible is a reliable historical source? Well, no. Think about the detailed genealogical records in Scripture. Those are in the Bible to remind us of God’s unbroken covenant of grace with mankind throughout history.  Beginning with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, God’s covenant of grace unfolds through history, going from Adam to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to David, and finally to Christ.

Also, looking at Scriptures like Romans 1:20, or Matthew 19:4, or Mark 10:6, there is no good reason to interpret those any other way except that mankind was present from Day 6 on.  Personally, I don’t know exactly how old the earth is, but it is reasonable to conclude from Scripture that it is around 6,000 years old, and mankind has been there since the beginning.

If you are a Christian who is currently “agnostic” or “embarrassed” about the earth age question, I encourage you to read Rocks Aren’t Clocks. You will quickly understand that there isn’t a science vs. Scripture battle, but there is most definitely a battle between the worldviews of Christianity and naturalism. The battle is over how to interpret history, not whether Christians are debating the existence of gravity, DNA, etc. If, on the other hand, you are an unbeliever who thinks Christianity is foolishness, then I pray that God will change your heart, because all the evidence in the world won’t save you. Jesus saves.

Do we need the Endangered Species Act?

April 30, 2012

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A complex story about trout and people

My first experience catching cutthroat trout was in 1989 while fishing in Grand Teton National Park.

Snake River Finespotted Cutthroat trout, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, 1989. Note the golden color, typical of cutthroats, along with the lack of spots in the middle (medial region), but increasing towards the tail (caudal region).

Since then, I’ve been blessed with opportunities to fish for trout as far away as Eastern Russia, and as close to home as our family’s pond.

Hatchery rainbow trout from Crystal Lake Fisheries in Ava Missouri, stocked in my pond in Texas for the winter of 2006-07. These are “Emerson strain” rainbow trout, registered with the National Trout Registry. Note the more concentrated spots in the caudal region, similar to the finespotted cutthroat pictured above.

Because trout are both fun to catch and good to eat, they are pursued with passion in the United States and elsewhere.  So much passion in fact, that over the last 150+ years, populations of native species, particularly  the so-called “subspecies” of cutthroat trout (referred to after this as “native” trout), suffered major declines and even extinction. The decline of cutthroats native to certain regions of the western and eastern slopes of the Rockies has been a classic example of the “tragedy of the commons”, where demand for a thing greatly exceeds what nature can supply.

In an effort to meet the demand for trout-filled streams and lakes at the turn of the 20th century, private, state, and federal agencies started building fish hatcheries. Today, virtually everywhere in the United States with trout habitat, you will find a hatchery nearby, ready to add more fish to streams and lakes on a “put and take” basis.

So native trout populations in the American West were first reduced primarily through overfishing, but also from habitat destruction. Today, the major threat to native trout populations comes from stocking nonnative trout, primarily brown trout and brook trout which tend to drive out the cutts, but also rainbow trout, with which cutts readily hybridize.

Brown trout from the Jemez River, New Mexico, 2012. The Jemez River is former habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout, which now occupy only about 10% of their historic range. Eastern Russia’s lenok trout (see photo below) lack the red spots of the brown trout, and brown trout lack the “cut”, but the two species do share similarities in color and shape with each other and with many other trout populations across Eurasia.

State and federal fisheries managers want to satisfy the great economic incentive of having trout-filled streams and lakes. For example, the value of trout stockings by the Leadville Fish Hatchery in Colorado is estimated at $2.75 million annually. And while many Rocky Mountain hatcheries are moving towards production of native trout, they also feel compelled to satisfy the desire of folks to just catch a trout, especially the highly esteemed (overesteemed?) rainbow. Originally from the McCloud River, a tributary of California’s Sacramento River, rainbow trout have probably been introduced to more places worldwide than any other fish species. They have misplaced and reduced native species time and again. And about the same time Hitler and his army of fools were applying social Darwinism, miles and miles of American streams were being poisoned to remove “inferior” species, replacing them with the “superior” rainbow. An excellent account of the history of rainbow trout stocking can be found in Anders Halverson’s An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World.

Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Leadville National Fish Hatchery, Colorado, 2010. Note the bright pink-red patch over the gill and along the side, similar to the Alaskan rainbows(see photos below). The Leadville Hatchery stocks rainbow trout, as well as Snake River and Greenback cutthroat trout.

So while native populations are making a comeback in places, their progress is stymied when government agencies set tight regulations and catch limits on nonnative trout, in effect protecting something that maybe doesn’t need so much protection. But in America, governments are designed to be run by the citizens, so if we want our government to change the regulations, we need to change our thinking about what we want. Do we want to simply catch a trout and have a successful trip and a tasty meal? Or do we want to have a fishing experience unique to a particular area’s natural history and culture? We should want both, but it is obvious enough that we could do more regarding the latter. Communities should work harder to patiently remove nonnative trout and reestablish native trout species. This can be done in a way that also satisfies the desire to simply catch and eat trout, regardless of species.

What is a species?

But what in the world is a “species” anyways? According to the1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA), the term ‘‘endangered species’’ means any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. And the term ‘‘species’’ includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature. All species classifications are ultimately based on human decisions, driven by our desire to group things using a system that organizes first by kingdoms, then phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. Species are often broken down into subspecies, as is the case with cutthroats.

Clumpers versus splitters

One problem with the ESA’s definition of species is that it pretty-much ignores the idea of Biblical kinds, while introducing the false concept of “fixity of species”, first introduced by Aristotle. The Biblical kinds, also known as “baramins”, are actually a better, yet still imperfect, way to think about living organisms. Populations that readily hybridize, especially naturally, suggest (but do not prove) common ancestry, while those that don’t readily hybridize may be from different baramins. Thinking of life’s diversity in terms of baramins allows us to account for unity while acknowledging that some genetic and epigentic changes are inevitable as time passes.

Taxonomists are usually either “clumpers” or “splitters”. Clumpers think more in terms of baramins, while splitters think more along the lines of how the ESA defines a species. Sometimes “clumpers rule”, while other times it’s the splitters. For example, at the turn of the 20th century, taxonomists had convinced themselves that over 80 sub-species of grizzly bear (Ursos arctos) existed. Today, there are only 2 subspecies, so as far as grizzly taxonomy is concerned, “clumpers rule” (NOTE: Grizzlies hybridize with polar bears, forming “pizzly” bears!)

It is unfortunate that, regarding the ESA, “splitters rule”. By defining a species as a “distinct population segment”, ESA listings slap a false fixity on populations.  But populations are not designed to stay “distinct” forever, so the ESA is actually promoting an impossible dream rather than anything that resembles reality. And for evolutionists who believe there are almost no limits to how much a thing can change, the logical conclusion for them is that all current populations are in danger of extinction!

Of course, neither the ESA’s “splitter” definition of species, or the evolutionist’s reasoning about life’s diversity, are helpful in describing reality. The reality is that organisms are designed to adapt and diversify, within limits, by naturally aquiring some genetic and epigenetic changes over time. This is what both Scripture and science confirm. 

Cutthroats are a prime example of how slight genetic and epigenetic changes over time can result in visibly distinct populations. Scientists have found that of the 16 so-called subspecies of cutts, their genetic diversity suggests they are virtually all identical, with westslope cutthroat populations sharing more in common with rainbow trout than with other cutts (Allendorf and Leary, 1988). In spite of their incredible similarities, 3 are currently listed as “threatened” under the ESA, one may make the list in 2014 (Rio Grande cutt), and the rest are either extinct (two subspecies) or considered to be of conservation concern (Pritchard et al, 2007).

How can this be? If genetics is the key to distinguishing between species, then it says these are all basically the same “kind”, with differences occurring at a few DNA base pairs here and there. To make matters even more confusing, Pritchard et al found that Rio Grande cutts in headwater streams above natural barriers were statistically less genetically diverse than their downstream cousins. So for “splitters”, not only do we have subspecies, we have sub-subspecies! Where will it end? The genetic tools we have for identifying differences in populations are truly amazing, but the information acquired can potentially make things much more complex than necessary, especially if you’re a “splitter” and feel compelled to classify cutthroats as sub-species, and then some.

Genetic drift happens

Salmonids are known to rapidly diversify, in less than 10 generations, into reproductively isolated populations. Applying this fact to the ESA’s species definition of “distinct population segments”, in 50 years or less, and assuming “splitters rule”, we could have dozens and dozens of new candidates for the ESA, possibly resulting in more and more restrictions on habitat use by humans. And then what will we do to maintain partitioning of these new and “distinct population segments”, create manmade barriers to prevent them from interbreeding with other segments? I would hope not! As far as trout diversity is concerned, it would be wise to get back to letting the “clumpers rule”, lest we end up overwhelming ourselves with more classifications, regulations, restrictions, and taxes to pay for the mess we’ve made.

No biologist, whether they are creationists or evolutionists, believe in fixity of species, but here we have the ESA anyways, trying desperately to prevent the natural fact that genetic drift happens.

Prior to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, fisheries managers across the West sacrificed diversity for the sake of unity, stocking the “superior” rainbow everywhere. But now with the ESA, we have a complete reversal, with unity (trout are one big family) sacrificed for diversity ( “subspecies” and “distinct population segments”). There has to be a better way.

Imagine no ESA

So do we need the ESA? No. What Americans need to do instead is stop waiting for handouts from the federal government via ESA listings, and instead encourage communities to responsibly restore and preserve the natural history in their region. And in the case of native trout, we need to work towards stocking them more and nonnative trout less.

Consider the Rio Grande cutthroat, for example. Organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity proudly exclaim that their work resulted in Rio Grande cutts being eligible for the Endangered Species list in 2014. But all this really means is more regulations, taxes, and “takings” of property by the federal government to protect a population that apparently already has many “distinct population segments”, and may have dozens more in 100 years. Instead of waiting around for an Endangered Species listing, what if instead local private and public groups made an effort to remove nonnative trout while also propagating Rio Grande cutts for reintroduction? This could be done slowly and patiently, one stream at a time, all without the help of the ESA.

We also know that all cutthroat subspecies will hybridize with each other, as well as with rainbow trout. And since rainbow trout are so genetically similar to cutts, we shouldn’t get too worked up about them interbreeding and waste tax dollars with over-hyped eradication programs. We just need to adjust the rules and get Rocky Mountain fishermen educated and involved in harvesting more rainbows, plus browns and brookies, while simultaneously restocking with native trout.  And for those interested in catching native rainbows, they should head to Alaska, Canada, or Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, where native ‘bows are plentiful.

Native Rainbow Trout from Lake Creek, Alaska, 2005. Note the reddish-pink patch on its gill cover, typical of lower Lake Creek Rainbows.

Native Rainbow Trout, American Creek, Alaska. 2007. Note the bright red-pink cheek and side, similar to the Lake Creek Rainbow, but also similar to the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Sometimes, these rainbows have a faint “cut” under their lower jaw, similar to other cutthroat trout.

And speaking of Russia, all the way across the Pacific, near Vladivostok, I have caught lenok trout that display a distinctive “cut” on their throat, and in a way seem similar to both brown and cutthroat trout. It seems that trout really are just one big family, or baramin, containing both unity and diversity.

Closeup of the Lenok trout’s “cut”. Although not as bright as the cut found on many cutthroats, it is a cut nevertheless, and a key identifying trait of all cutthroats.

Lenok trout from stream near Vladivostok, Russia, 2010. Note the golden coloration and large spots, similar to patterns on many cutthroat sub-species.

What is a gene?

Trout were first classified based on phenotype (what they look like on the outside). But now that we also know their genotypes (what their genes look like), we can more readily discern whether a population of cutts has hybridized with rainbows, even if we cannot tell by phenotype alone. But for the people who are most interested in their preservation and restoration, namely fishermen, there is little interest in how much or how little they differ at a few microsatellites (small pieces of DNA a few base pairs in length that are used to distinguish between populations). So now that species and subspecies are being determined by genetic markers, the question of “what is a species?” should be followed with “what is a gene?”

Not surprisingly, scientists are having an equally hard time answering that question, as new information about cell complexity continues to gush forth like water over Yellowstone Falls. Long gone is the simplistic view of genes as neatly arranged beads on a string of DNA. So too is the “one gene makes one protein” idea, as we now know that one gene can code for tens, and in some cases hundreds of different proteins. Not only that, scientists are learning more about epigenetics and things like methyl tags that turn genes on and off. In The Mysterious Epigenome, Woodward and Gills provide a helpful analogy, describing the genes as ships and epigenetics as the captains. Without the captain’s direction, the ship does nothing. But the question remains, from where did the captain get his orders? The self-evident answer is that a Designer gave the orders (Romans 1:20).

And so it seems, the more we learn about cell complexity and epigenetics, the more difficult it becomes to truly define separate trout species based on genetic markers. Genetic markers alone do not tell the whole story of the unity and diversity we see in the trout family. Oncorhynchus mykiss (rainbow trout) and Oncorhynchus clarkii (cutthroat trout) are classified as different species based on pre-Civil War observations of phenotype alone. Today though, 21st Century genetics research and observations of natural hybridization tell us the two are nearly identical. With each passing day, the Biblical idea of a “trout baramin” becomes more appealing. While science can change with time, truth does not.

Trout live in worlds of extremes, of swift currents and lazy pools, flooding spring meltwaters and drought-like autumns, miniscule headwater streams and deep, wide rivers. It is obvious trout were designed to rapidly adapt, as opposed to the neo-Darwinian idea that they were sitting around for millions of years hoping for a gene with a novel function to randomly appear to advance them down the road of evolutionary progress. It seems instead that like other baramins, the trout baramin came pre-programmed with what they need to survive and adapt.

Trout come in many flavors

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout from Cascade Creek in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 2012.

So what is going on with trout? What scientists are finding is that very slight genetic and epigenetic changes in isolated populations have led to amazing and beautiful differences in phenotype, giving each region a particular “flavor” of trout. One conclusion is that the adaptive radiation we see in trout is partly a result of changes in climate and topography that occurred in the recent past. We’ve already discussed how rainbows readily hybridize with cutts, but by continuing the stocking of rainbows outside their normal range, we are, in essence, driving the formation of new breeds of trout. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but just because it is not inherently wrong, it doesn’t mean it is the best thing to do either. Restoring native trout to their historic ranges is a good idea, but we shouldn’t be “trout racists” either by overreacting to introduced populations. They’re all one big family anyways, right?

Preserving trout’s many flavors

Restoring historic ranges of native trout does not require the Endangered Species Act. In fact, the ESA could be repealed, or simply ignored, and reintroduction efforts could still move along beautifully. As mentioned earlier, the ESA is unhelpful because it promotes a false idea of species fixity, sacrificing unity for the sake of diversity. The best solution is one that seeks both unity (trout are one big family) and diversity (restoring native trout to their historic ranges). Instead of wasting time with the ESA, local communities should do the work needed to restore and preserve the natural history around them, while also managing it in a way that maximizes people’s enjoyment and use of available resources. Restoration can advance through level-headed efforts aimed at removing nonnative trout, while simultaneously restocking with native breeds.

We are learning more about how to maintain genetic diversity in hatchery brood stocks, and this information can be applied to propagate a breed that is unique to a given area, thereby preserving some of the natural history. In Appendix 51: Westslope Cutthroat Trout Hatchery Brood Stock Histories, a procedure is described where, in order to incorporate genetic diversity into the hatchery brood stock, fish are collected from a number of streams.

The native hatchery fish should probably be stocked in areas downstream of natural barriers.This would aid in preventing at least some intermingling with upstream populations, thereby encouraging genetic diversity. Fishing on stretches of headwater streams should be more restricted than on higher order streams, where primary productivity is usually greater and trout populations are naturally higher.

As we work toward better management of native American trout populations, we must realize that genetic drift is inevitable. And regardless of the level of human involvement, the so-called subspecies of cutthroats of 2112 may not look like the cutthroats of 2012, but that’s okay!

Managing natural resources

Human beings are not just part of nature, we are nature’s managers (Genesis 1:26-28). This also means we are part of  the story of natural history. And 100 years from now, I hope my great-great grandchildren will be able to look back and see that our efforts to manage nature paid off in a way that celebrates the unity and diversity He so obviously put into His creation. And I pray that future leaders will not try to discourage unity and diversity through the ESA and its adherence to the fallacy of species fixity, but will instead get local communities involved with restoring and preserving native trout to their historic ranges.

Perhaps in the future, instead of going to New Mexico to fish for rainbows and browns, Colorado to fish for rainbows and browns, Wyoming to fish for rainbows and browns, etc., future generations will live in a world filled with trout that are unique to each region, while understanding the native forms are part of a bigger trout family, just as the evidence from His word and works confirms.

Adaptation

October 13, 2011

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Life does not evolve, it adapts. Watch my YouTube video, Adaptation, and learn more about what 21st Century science is revealing regarding epigenetics, and what God’s word and works have always revealed. The only reason evolutionism exists is because some people think God is a liar. I say let God be true, and every man a liar (Romans 3:4)!

One thing I mention in Adaptation is that genetic mutations have never been observed to create new information. In this article by Dr. Rob Carter, he states that our increased understanding of cell complexity means “We have to make a distinction between mutation and ‘designed variation’.” Dr. Carter understands cell complexity better than most (including me!), and he argues that our genomes contain some ability to generate “new” information via genetic change. In other words, there is some built-in variation via genetic change that may seem to create “new” information to us, but in reality God designed it in. In my book, Exchange of Truth, I use the word “genoversity” to describe the diversity within a genome. When God said He created different kinds of things, he meant it, and now more than ever our understanding of cell complexity is revealing to us the limited flexibility He programmed into each genome for each original created kind. Diversity within a created kind is an attribute of God (Romans 12:4-5), allowing organisms to adapt, within limits, as their environments change.