Sunday, May 01, 2005
What Scientific Advances Have Resulted From Creationism? GENETICS
These are all very valid arguments for many of history's scientists (although some will argue that Christianity, while not necessarily creationism, is what led to science in the first place).
However, there is at least one scientist, and one very influential theory, that is likely the result of using creation as a starting point for scientific inquiry. What is it?
Mendel, and the field of Genetics.
What? Isn't genetics the foundation of evolution? No. In fact, it took 70 years for evolutionists to manage to modify evolution enough to fit genetics in. In fact, Mendel's genetics was a direct rebuttal of the evolutionary ideas of his day.
Although Darwin's specific theory of evolution (i.e. natural selection) had not occurred when Mendel was doing his experiments, the general idea of transformism (a soft form of universal common ancestry) was a popular concept. Lamarck had already come up with his ideas of evolution, though his theory was rejected in favor of Darwin's. Transformism was a popular and powerful concept which was taking root in biology. However, Mendel's experiments were a rebuttal to transformism. The general argument was like this: breeders are able to create new species, therefore, we should expect that all of the species we see today are the result of permanent transforms over time.
Mendel's rebuttal is th at heritable characteristics are available as discrete units. He was able to show that these transformations by breeders were not permanent, because the original species could always be brought back in by rebreeding with animals in the original population. Because these traits are discrete, there can be no permanent transforming of one species into another.
Here is the relevant section from Mendel's paper:
Gärtner, by the results of these transformation experiments, was led to oppose the opinion of those naturalists who dispute the stability of plant species and believe in a continuous evolution of vegetation. He perceives in the complete transformation of one species into another an indubitable proof that species are fixed with limits beyond which they cannot change. Although this opinion cannot be unconditionally accepted we find on the other hand in Gärtner's experiments a noteworthy confirmation of that supposition regarding variability of cultivated plants which has already been expressed.
So, (1) we can change one species into another and back, (2) many traits are discrete characteristics, therefore there are limits to the amount of transformation possible (since all hybrids come from a cross of discrete characteristics already present in animals that are able to hybridize).
While genetics has advanced beyond just mendellian genetics, and mutations show that the genes can be modified, neither of these has been able to get past Mendel's conclusions. Why?
* The original idea of mutations from which the integration of genetics and evolution suggested was that these mutations could happen rather quickly. Now that we know just how many change it takes to modify one gene coding for a protein into another, this becomes much more difficult than originally proposed, and we have few if any examples of this happening (a possible exception is the nylon bug which I will hopefully have time to address soon).
* We have much evidence that for most vertebrates, hybridization is possible within the family level, but not outside. There are clear discontinuities past that point. This indicates that most change in the past has been bounded.
* Mutation loads are usually dangerous, not helpful. Otherwise, we wouldn't see so many birth defects from incestual relationships.
Anyway, so what does this have to do with creationism?
The fact is that Mendel was a Catholic monk. Specifically, he was a Catholic monk arguing against evolution. Would that not put him in the creationist camp? What his specific motivations were are subject to speculation (yes, we are speculating to a degree here, but I don't think that any of this is unreasonable). There are reports that there is a copy of Origin of the Species in his monestary with margin notes in his handwriting. However, I haven't found any reports as to what these notes actually say.
Here is another good essay regarding Mendel and creationism.
AiG's One Blood: The Biblical Answer to Racism video has some excellent material on this. In fact, I can't hardly keep the video on my shelf I have so many requests to watch it. The book is available online, and chapter 2 discusses speciation with Mendellian Genetics (though it doesn't say much about Mendel himself).