Natural selection is the opposite of Darwinian evolution
This post comes from Dr Jason Lisle of the Biblical Science Institute.
Natural selection is often claimed to be the mechanism by which Darwinian evolution occurs. And yet the scientific evidence shows that natural selection is actually the opposite of evolution.
What is Natural Selection?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines natural selection as “a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment.” Other dictionaries and biology textbooks also support this definition. Basically, natural selection is the principle that organisms that have traits well-suited to their environment tend to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than organisms with traits that are not well-suited to their environment. In extreme cases, the organisms that are less suited to their environment are driven to extinction.
For example, imagine a plant that is well-suited to a tropical climate, and another plant that is well-suited to a very cold climate. If seeds from each of these are planted in a tropical climate, the tropical plant will be more likely to survive than the other. Conversely, if seeds from each of these are planted in a cold environment, the plant with traits well-suited to a cold environment will be more likely to survive than the tropical plant. We know from experience that this is true. You can do an experiment yourself to confirm the truth of natural selection. Notice that natural selection in itself has absolutely nothing to do with evolution in the Darwinian sense. In experiments such as the above, neither plant changes in any way. There is no evolution: only survival or extinction.
Natural selection is an analytic truth. An analytic truth is a principle that can be proven to be true by the definitions of the words without having to perform an experiment. For example, consider the claim, “water is wet.” Do we need to do an experiment to test this claim? We could, but it would be unnecessary. We know that the claim must be true because of the definitions. ‘Wet’ is defined as “consisting of, containing, covered with, or soaked with liquid (such as water).” Water, by its very nature consists of liquid, and is therefore wet by definition. Of course, we could do an experiment to verify this. But we already know what the outcome will be. Since the criterion by which we measure “wetness” (consisting of liquid) is the same as the criterion for water (liquid H2O), any experiment must confirm that water is always wet.
Likewise, natural selection can be proven to be true by the definition of the words. Namely, natural selection is the principle that organisms with traits best suited to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than those organisms that have traits not suited to their environment. But what constitutes traits that are well-suited to the environment? Obviously, traits that help an organism survive and reproduce in a given environment are traits well-suited to that environment.
So how do we measure whether an organism has suitable traits? We see whether or not it is able to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than its competitors. And natural selection is the claim that those organisms with suitable traits survive and reproduce in greater numbers. We could perform an experiment to see if indeed those organisms with suitable traits multiply in greater numbers than their competitors. But we already know what the outcome of that experiment would be. The criterion by which we measure suitable traits (survival and reproduction in greater numbers) is exactly the same criterion by which we measure survival and reproduction in greater numbers. Therefore, to deny natural selection would be the same as denying that water is wet. It would be absurd.
The Opposite of Evolution
Those who understand natural selection recognize that it cannot drive evolution and in fact is the opposite of Darwinian evolution. According to Darwinism, all life on earth is descended from a single-celled microbe. As this microbe reproduced, errors in the genetic code gave rise to different versions, which gave rise to further differences, eventually resulting in the wide variety of organisms we observe today. The genetic instructions humans have to produce eyes, bones, skin, and so on are not present in microbes such as bacteria which is why bacteria cannot produce such traits. So, evolution requires (among other things) a vast increase in the genetic information if single-celled microbes are ever to give rise to plants, animals, and people. Evolution requires a vast increase in genetic information.
But natural selection by itself can only involve a decrease in genetic information. Consider those two plants mentioned above: one with traits suited for a cold climate and the other with traits suited for a warm climate. The reason plants have such traits is because they have genetic information in their DNA to produce such traits. So, when the two plants are placed in a cold climate, the plant with genes (and hence traits) for a tropical environment dies and therefore cannot pass on its genes. In that environment, the genes for traits suitable to a tropical climate are eliminated, and hence that genetic information is lost. The other plant has no more genetic information than it had to begin with.
Conversely, if we take the two plants and put them in a tropical environment, the plant with traits suitable for the cold will not compete well against the native tropical plants and will likely die. In that event, it cannot pass on its genes, and the genetic information is again reduced. This is a great example of natural selection because in each case the plants with traits suitable to their environment survived, and those plants with unsuitable traits perished. But this cannot be evolution in the Darwinian sense because no new genetic information was acquired. On the contrary, substantial genetic information was lost. Natural selection is the opposite of Darwinian evolution in principle. It cannot possibly drive evolution anymore than you can make money by constantly losing it.
How do evolutionists explain the vast quantity of information in the genes of humans, plants, and animals, if all these are descended from microbes? The answer is mutations. A mutation is a mistake in the genome. It can occur as the genome is being copied when cells replicate. This causes a damaged gene to manifest in the offspring. And since genes control traits, the offspring can suffer a damaged trait due to mutations. Clearly, the vast majority of mutations are harmful (or neutral at best) because they randomly scramble the genetic instructions that control trait production and maintenance. But might a mutation occasionally result in an error that actually results in an improved trait?
This is where natural selection comes in. Modern evolutionists believe that, while most mutations are not helpful, natural selection will tend to eliminate harmful ones since they often result in traits that are not conducive to survival. The rare helpful mutations will likely be preserved in the given environment since they help the organism survive. Hence, natural selection is said to “guide” evolution.
It sounds reasonable until you stop and think about it. There are many obstacles that would prevent mutations from ever turning one kind of organism into a fundamentally different kind. For one, we have never observed mutations adding copious amounts of brand-new information to the genetic code – and yet this is exactly what evolution needs to proceed. But the point here is that mutations – not natural selection – are supposed to be responsible for the variety of genetic instructions we find in the modern world. Natural selection cannot produce any new traits at all. It merely refers to the differential reproduction of organisms that already have the given traits. Hence, it is opposite in principle to Darwinian evolution.
Biblical Examples of Natural Selection
The Bible contains a number of examples of natural selection. We won’t find the phrase ‘natural selection’ in the text of Scripture because the Bible was translated into English centuries before the term ‘natural selection’ was coined. But the concept is definitely found in Scripture. That is, there are many examples in Scripture where an organism with traits well-suited to its environment survives while an organism with traits unsuitable to that same environment perishes.
Consider the global flood as described in Genesis 6-8. According to Scripture God brought two of every air breathing land animal (and seven of some) aboard the ark to preserve life (Gen. 6:19-20, 7:2-3). All air-breathing land animals outside the ark perished during the flood (Gen. 6:17, 7:21-23). Why did the land animals outside the ark perish during the flood, while the land animals aboard the ark survived? If you understand natural selection, you know the answer. Land animals are not well-suited to an aquatic environment and hence perished in the water. But land animals survived on board Noah’s ark because they were well-suited to that environment.
Likewise, why did God refrain from bringing whales, fish, and other aquatic creatures aboard the ark? If you understand natural selection, the answer is obvious. Aquatic animals are well-suited to the watery conditions of the flood, and are not well-suited to the terrestrial conditions aboard Noah’s ark. The animals that perished during the flood did so because they were not well-suited to the environment in which they existed. Those that survived were well-suited to their conditions. Hence, they were able to reproduce in greater numbers than those that perished. This is the dictionary definition of natural selection.
Jesus Himself gave another example of natural selection in one of His parables found in Lk. 8:5-8, Mt. 13:3-8, and Mk. 4:3-8. Two types of plants are mentioned in this parable: the plant that the person was sowing and thorns. Four different environments are mentioned: beside the road, rocky soil, ground with thorns, and ground with good soil. According to natural selection, plants well-suited to their environment survive and multiply in greater numbers than those with traits not well-suited to their environment. Is this what we find in the parable?
The seeds planted along the road perish; they are trampled on and eaten by birds (Lk. 8:5). These plants are not designed for such an environment and therefore perish. The seeds that fell on rocky soil were unable to obtain sufficient moisture, and perished (Lk. 8:6). These were not desert plants and were not suited to a low-moisture environment. The seeds that fell among thorns were choked out by the thorns (Lk. 8:7). In this instance, the thorns were better suited to that environment than these other plants, and hence the thorns survived while the other plants perished. Finally, the seeds that fell in good soil grew and multiplied (Lk. 8:8). These plants were well-suited to the soil, and multiplied in greater numbers.
Note that Jesus here is not attempting to prove the principle of natural selection. He was speaking to people in an agrarian society and they understood that certain plants thrive only in certain environments. Rather, Jesus is using the principle of natural selection to explain a Kingdom principle. Jesus assumes that natural selection is true, and then uses this principle to explain how the Gospel will thrive only in certain spiritual environments. This is one of the few parables where Jesus explicitly explains what it means (Lk. 8:11-15), so there can be no doubt. Hence, if natural selection were not true, then Christ’s reasoning here would be fallacious.
Given that the Bible contains examples of natural selection, we can see why a secularist might be inclined to deny this principle. After all, our observations of natural selection confirm that the Bible is true. And natural selection is the opposite of evolution in terms of genetic information.
Conversely, Christians should embrace what the Bible teaches, including its examples of organisms surviving in environments for which they are well-suited and reproducing in greater numbers than those that perish in environments for which they are not well-suited – the definition of natural selection.
Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution, nor of natural selection. Rather, he attempted to link the two together. Basically, Darwin attempted to convince people that natural selection was part of the mechanism of evolution – that it could guide the process. He tried to get people to think that natural selection inevitably leads to evolution. That way, when he showed them evidence of natural selection (which is easily observed), they would believe in evolution too. It is a clever trap: to persuade someone of something that is false by linking it to something that is true.
Darwin’s trap worked. Many people were fooled into believing in evolution by falsely thinking that it was the same thing as (or at least a logical consequence of) natural selection. But as we have seen above, they are opposites. This is the same technique that modern evolutionists use with dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are linked with evolution – always taught from an evolutionary point of view. Hence, if you can show people the obvious evidence that dinosaurs existed, then they will tend to assume that evolution is true.
Many people have been fooled by these kinds of traps.
What natural selection does
Evolutionists claim that natural selection guides the evolution of one kind of organism into another. They claim that mutations accumulate as organisms multiply and that natural selection weeds out those that are not suited to the environment, eventually allowing one kind of organism to evolve into another. Although creationists would agree that mutations occur and that natural selection weeds out some of them, we deny that this process could ever result in one kind of organism becoming another.
Natural selection was not invented by Charles Darwin. We have already seen that the concept is found in Scripture, and therefore predates Darwin by millennia. Furthermore, a scholarly treatment of the concept of natural selection was written by Edward Blyth in 1835 – and he was a creationist.
Indeed, when we examine Blyth’s writings from 1835-1837 we see all of the elements of natural selection, decades before the publication of Darwin’s “Origin of Species” in 1859 and all from a creationist perspective. For example, Blyth recognized that species had the capacity to diversify such that offspring are not identical to the parents. Yet, those individuals with traits best suited to their environment (which Blyth calls the “most typical and perfect individuals”) were most likely to survive and reproduce in greater numbers. He states the following:
“There would almost seem, in some species, to be a tendency, in every separate family, to some particular kind of deviation; which is only counteracted by the various crossings which, in a state of nature, must take place, and by the above-mentioned law, which causes each race to be chiefly propagated by the most typical and perfect individuals.” (Blyth, 1835)
But does natural selection drive kinds of animals to constantly evolve? No. Blyth saw it as a conservative principle, one that would tend to preserve animals and disallow extreme deviations. He states, “The original form of a species is unquestionably better adapted to its natural habits than any modification of that form; …and the stronger must always prevail over the weaker, the latter, in a state of nature, is allowed but few opportunities of continuing its race. (Blyth 1835, italics in the original)
Blyth then gives a specific example:
“In a large herd of cattle, the strongest bull drives from him all the younger and weaker individuals of his own sex, and remains sole master of the herd; so that all the young which are produced must have had their origin from one which possessed the maximum of power and physical strength; and which, consequently, in the struggle for existence, was the best able to maintain his ground, and defend himself from every enemy.” (Blyth 1835)
Blyth saw the principle of natural selection as an act of Divine Providence that maintained life by preserving the typical traits which are best suited to the environment. And he recognized that this principle could be harnessed by man (via artificial selection) to produce different varieties. He states:
“In like manner, among animals which procure their food by means of their agility, strength, or delicacy of sense, the one best organized must always obtain the greatest quantity; and must, therefore, become physically the strongest, and be thus enabled, by routing its opponents, to transmit its superior qualities to a greater number of offspring. The same law which was intended by Providence to keep up the typical qualities of a species, can be easily converted by man into a means of raising different varieties” (Blyth 1835 underline added).
Blyth recognized that the variations in organisms most likely to be preserved would depend on the environment – the particular localities. This is an important aspect of natural selection. But since he saw it as a conservative principle rather than an evolutionary one, Blyth absolutely denied that natural selection could drive evolution because he believed (and rightly so) that variation had natural limits. He states that organisms may change,
“but still retaining, to the very ultimate limits, certain fixed and constant distinctive characters, by which the true affinities of species may be always known; the modifications of each successive type being always in direct relation to particular localities, or to peculiar modes of procuring sustenance; in short, to the particular circumstances under which a species was appointed to exist in the locality which it indigenously inhabits.” (Blyth 1836 B)
It is clear from these writings that Edward Blyth was a creationist who affirmed God as the Creator. He refers to God as the awesome “Being who first awakened man into existence, in common with the meanest atom, who appointed his destiny upon earth to be so diverse from that of His other creatures, who endowed him alone with a capacity to reflect upon his Maker’s goodness and power” (Blyth 1836 A).
Clearly, the concept of natural selection was not Darwin’s idea. The principles were articulated by a creationist; this was decades earlier and without any connection to evolution. Those who claim that natural selection is Darwin’s idea simply do not know history. Hence, if you hear someone using a phrase such as “Darwinian natural selection,” this is a clear indication that the individual does not know what he or she is talking about.
We have seen that natural selection is (1) a biblical principle, (2) an analytic truth, (3) scientifically observable, and (4) a creationist concept.
Evolution requires a vast increase in genetic information over time. But natural selection by itself can only involve a decrease in genetic information. So, natural selection is the opposite of Darwinian evolution.
The only naturalistic means of achieving a vast increase in genetic information is mutations. But we have never observed mutations adding copious amounts of brand-new information to the genetic code!
Darwinian evolution is a clever trap to persuade someone of something that is false (biological evolution) by linking it to something that is true (natural selection).
Blyth, Edward, “An attempt to classify the ‘varieties’ of animals with observations on the marked seasonal and other changes which naturally take place in various British species, and which do not constitute varieties”, The Magazine of Natural History Vol. 8, No. 1. January, 1835. pp.40-53.
Blyth, Edward, “Observations on the various seasonal and other external changes which regularly take place in birds”, The Magazine of Natural History Vol. 9. 1836 A.
Blyth, Edward, “Seasonal and other changes in birds – Part 2”, The Magazine of Natural History Vol. 9. 1836 B.
This post comes from an article, Natural Selection – Part 1, by Dr Jason Lisle of the Biblical Science Institute.
Posted, May 2022