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Mutations don't produce new features (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Mutations don't produce new features (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CB101.2:

Mutations only vary traits that are already there. They do not produce anything new.

Source:

  • Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. 1985. Life--How Did It Get Here? Brooklyn, NY, p. 103.
  • Morris, Henry M. 1985. Scientific Creationism. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 51.

CreationWiki response: (Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. Variation of traits is production of novelty, especially where there was no variation before. The accumulation of slight modifications is a basis of evolution.

This claim accepts the level of novelty claimed by Talk Origins. The claim is that mutations cannot produce novelty beyond the potential for variation incorporated in existing traits, so that accumulation of slight modifications can only go so far. However, mutations cannot produce new structures where they did not already exist. For example no accumulation of mutations will produce a leg on a legless creature or produce legs from fins or wings from arms.

Talk Origins is using a Straw Man argument because they are misrepresenting what Creationists are actually saying.

2. Documentation of mutations producing new features includes the following:

  • the ability of a bacterium to digest nylon;
  • adaptation in yeast to a low-phosphate environment;
  • the ability of E. coli to hydrolyze galactosylarabinose;

These first three are probably examples of Natural Genetic Engineering rather than mutations, but still in each case they clearly represent modifications of existing cell functions to adapt to new environmental conditions, creationism predicts this type of change. They are still within the degree of novelty allowed by the real claim.

This is nothing of the kind. The formation of colonies of single cell organisms is nothing new, and that is all that is illustrated here. The data is consistent with a preexisting ability of this unicellular green alga to form colonies when it aids their survival. No genetic comparison was done between the colonies and the separate cells to show a mutation, it is simply assumed.

  • modification of E. coli's fucose pathway to metabolize propanediol;
  • evolution in Klebsiella bacteria of a new metabolic pathway for metabolizing 5-carbon sugars;

These two are probably examples of Natural Genetic Engineering rather than mutations, but in each case they clearly represent modifications of existing cell functions to adapt to new environmental conditions. The new metabolic pathway would still be based on existing metabolic pathways. They are still within the degree of novelty allowed by the Creationist claim.

There is evidence for mutations producing other novel proteins:

  • Proteins in the histidine biosynthesis pathway consist of beta/alpha barrels with a twofold repeat pattern. These apparently evolved from the duplication and fusion of genes from a half-barrel ancestor (Lang et al. 2000).

This is nothing but speculation based on the assumption of evolution. It is not based on a real half-barrel biosynthesis pathway.

Laboratory experiments with directed evolution indicate that the evolution of a new function often begins with mutations that have little effect on a gene's original function but a large effect on a second function. Gene duplication and divergence can then allow the new function to be refined. (Aharoni et al. 2004)

In this case what are being called mutations is actually Natural Genetic Engineering in action. What has been observed in this case are variations in traits that are already there. This is still within the degree of novelty allowed by the creationist claim.

3. For evolution to operate, the source of variation does not matter; all that matters is that heritable variation occurs.

This may be true of Microevolution but not Macroevolution. Macroevolution requires a source of variation that can produces radically novel features, such as bones, fins, legs, wings, eyes, hearts, lungs, kidneys, and so on. You cannot go from a single cell organism to humans without such a source of variation and no such source can be shown to exist.

Such variation is shown by the fact that selective breeding has produced novel features in many species, including cats, dogs, pigeons, goldfish, cabbage, and geraniums. Some of the features may have been preexisting in the population originally, but not all of them were, especially considering the creationists' view that the animals originated from a single pair.

While some of the traits found in the varieties within species are undoubtedly a result of mutation, they represent a loss of information and not anything truly new. In fact many of the various breeds of cats and dogs need constant medical care to stay alive, and even more of them would never survive in nature. To see this for yourself, just compare a chihuahua to a wolf or even a mutt and it becomes clear that chihuahuas have lost some genetic information in the selective breeding process.

Furthermore Talk Origins is grossly underestimating the genetic potential of a single pair even today and they are totally ignoring the fact that the animals that came off the Noah’s Ark would have had few mutations; they probably had more genetic potential than any pair now living. Even without mutations the variety potential of a single pair is quite large. Through Genetic recombination, a single pair of humans could potentially have more children (102017) than there are atoms in the universe (1080), with no two looking alike. So a single couple even now has the genetic potential to produce the observed degree of variety among both humans and animals.