In the previous two articles, we have examined the principle of natural selection – the observation that organisms better suited to their environment will tend to survive and reproduce more successfully than those organisms less suited.  We explored several examples of this principle in the Bible, along with an early scholarly creationist examination of natural selection.  We also covered Darwin’s misappropriation of the principle in defense of his evolutionary scenario. 

We have also explored fallacious arguments that some people use to argue against the biblical principle of natural selection.  In particular, our previous article explored a claim called “continuous environmental tracking” – a version of Lamarckian evolution in which organisms continuously self-adjust to their environment and pass on those adaptations to offspring.  This idea was proposed as an alternative to natural selection as the mechanism of adaptation and speciation.  However, we saw that this speculation confuses the non-heritable physiological adaptation of an individual organism with the heritable genetic adaptation of a group of organisms: two very different processes with different causes.  In this third installment we will contrast the claims of “continuous environmental tracking” with what the Bible teaches concerning adaptation. 

The Anti-Biblical Nature of “Continuous Environmental Tracking”

Of course, any speculation that is contrary to Scripture is necessarily false.  The Bible, while not a biology textbook, is the Word of God.  So, when it touches on biology, it is right.  And the Bible does have some things to say about the limits of adaptation.  While organisms do have a limited ability to adapt to certain situations, according to the Bible they cannot continuously track any given environment. 

As one example, people native to Ethiopia tend to have very dark skin.  Their genome has instructions to produce a high density of melanin in the skin.  This dark pigment protects the skin against dangerous ultraviolet light from the sun, which is a very helpful trait in a tropical environment.  If a native Ethiopian relocates to a high latitude that is often cloudy and receives little sunlight, his or her dark skin is no longer helpful to survival.  In fact, it is a disadvantage in that climate because ultraviolet light from the sun is essential for the production of vitamin D in the skin.  But melanin blocks that ultraviolet light.  So, people with dark skin who live in a climate with little sunlight are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to bone and muscle weakness, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and even cancer. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if “continuous environmental tracking” were true?  The dark-skinned individual in a low-sunshine climate would simply self-adjust to have light skin, and pass on that trait to the next generation.  But is that what happens?

Likewise, a leopard has spots that give it camouflage in its native habitat.  But what if the leopard were placed in a very different climate where its spots would stand out and be very noticeable.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the leopard could simply self-adjust to that environment?  If it could give up its spots, it would blend in perfectly.  But is this what happens?   What does the Bible say? 

In Jeremiah 13:23 the Lord says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (NIV84).  The Lord here is asking a rhetorical question, the answer to which is “of course not!”  The Ethiopian cannot change his skin, nor the leopard its spots, even if such a change were crucial to survival.  The Bible indicates that some traits are not adjustable, and therefore organisms cannot continuously modify themselves to match any environment, even if it would be very helpful.

Note that God is not concluding that “continuous environmental tracking” is false in Jeremiah 13:23.  Rather, the Lord is presupposing that the Israelites already knew that “continuous environmental tracking” is false, and is using that fact to prove something else: that wicked people cannot become good without a miracle from God.  The Lord is using a biological truth (that some traits are not modifiable) to illustrate a spiritual truth (that wicked people cannot become good of their own volition).[1]  If “continuous environmental tracking” were true, then God made a very bad argument! 

The Assumption that God is Limited to Human Means

The entire approach advanced by natural-selection-deniers seems based on the assumption that God is limited to manmade “engineering principles.”  As such, God apparently does not control the environment, and therefore cannot use the environment to accomplish His will.  He must work in the same way that human engineers work, anticipating possible environmental encounters and planning appropriately.  Indeed, the person advancing “continuous environmental tracking” summarizes his philosophy this way:

“Start with an observation. In this case, as environments change, creatures are soon observed exhibiting suitable self-adjustments. It seems like creatures can track environmental changes. Then look for a corresponding human-engineered mechanism that may explain the observation.”  He also asserts (without any rational support), “Organisms self-adjust by the same principles underlying how human-designed things self-adjust to changing environments.”

The worldview of the advocate of “continuous environmental tracking” is man-centric.  It assumes that God must do things the way humans do; that God is limited to human “engineering principles.”  Basically, if you want to understand how God works, you must think like a 21st century human engineer.  Too bad for all those people in the past 6000 years who lacked such an education so as to properly understand God’s work! 

In reality, God is not a human engineer and is not limited to human conventions.  Isaiah 55:8-9 states, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.’”  So, according to Scripture, we should not assume that God must do things the way we do.  On the contrary, engineers who think biblically do the exact opposite.  Instead, they attempt to pattern their thoughts after God, learning from His designs rather than insisting that God must follow our designs.

Is God Sovereign?

Many theological errors stem from a false view of God.  I suggest that the person who denies natural selection may do so because he or she also implicitly denies the sovereignty of God.  God’s sovereignty means that He is ultimately in control of everything that happens (Isaiah 46:10).  Nothing is outside of His plan (Isaiah 46:11).  Although God gives human beings freedom of choice, and does not always approve of their actions, He nonetheless is never surprised by them and uses all events (even wicked ones) to accomplish His plan (Acts 2:23, Romans 8:28).

The person who embraces the sovereignty of God recognizes that all of nature is under God’s control.  God is free to do whatsoever He pleases.  He often upholds His creation in a consistent and regular way for our benefit.  He normally works through means.  Hence, we can write down equations (such as F=ma) that describe the predictable and consistent way God upholds His creation.  We call these natural laws, because they refer to the way God normally controls his universe.  But God is not bound by such laws and is free to go beyond them, which we refer to as a supernatural act.

However, those who reject God’s sovereignty see nature as autonomous – something that God (perhaps) created, but that runs automatically without any help from Him.  Deists hold this view.  By contrast, a biblical creationist sees natural selection as one of the ways in which God exercises His power over creation.  But a deist would say, “‘Natural’ indicates that God is not the source of this power” because the deist sees nature as autonomous and not under God’s control.  Natural-selection-deniers exhibit this kind of reasoning.  Indeed, the previous quotation was from a professing creationist arguing that natural selection doesn’t exist.  Furthermore, the argument we examined in a previous article (that natural selection cannot be real because there is no selector) presupposes that God cannot be the selector.  It implicitly denies His sovereignty.

But there are two additional ways in which an implicit denial of God’s sovereignty is evident in the claims of those who deny natural selection.  First, we see the claim that God is to be blamed when His designs sometimes allegedly fail.  The assumption is that God is like a human engineer who desires for his created organisms to succeed in whatever environment they are likely to encounter.  But not all organisms survive.  Has God failed?  Second, we have the claim that God cannot use the environment in any way to accomplish adaptation in organisms – because human engineers have no control over their environment.  Let’s examine each of these issues in turn.

Has God Failed?

Bad theology begets bad theology.  Once someone concedes that God might not truly be sovereign, it follows that God might sometimes fail to accomplish His goal.  We see this in the writings of the natural-selection-deniers.

The advocate of “continuous environmental tracking” likens the survival of organisms to solving a problem.  He claims “Designs either succeed or fail to solve problems. But environments never succeed or fail because they aren’t trying to do anything. In all cases, credit or blame resides with designers, not the exposures.”  So, the designer must anticipate the environmental conditions that his machine is likely to encounter, and equip it to deal with those.  If the machine succeeds, credit is given to the designer.  And if the machine fails, the designer is to be blamed.  After all, “credit or blame resides with designers.”

But does this apply to God?  The advocate of “continuous environmental tracking” argues that it must since “Organisms self-adjust by the same principles underlying how human-designed things self-adjust to changing environments.”  Hence, if one of God’s organisms survives, if it succeeds in solving its environmental challenge, then God deserves credit.  However, if the organism perishes, if it fails to overcome the environmental challenge, then God is to be blamed!  But is that really a legitimate way of reasoning?  After all, organisms perish every day.  Is God to be blamed for this?  Did God fail to anticipate the “environmental challenge” they would encounter? 

Such reasoning implies open theism – the heretical view that God does not know the future.  After all, if God knew the future perfectly, He should have been able to anticipate any environmental challenge that any organism would face and equip it to overcome that challenge.  But many do not.  Did God’s plan fail?  Did he know the organism would perish but was unable to prevent it?  This heretical conclusion is the inevitable result of insisting that we must use “engineering principles” in order to understand biological adaptation.

God does not fail, and He is not to be blamed when an organism dies.  It doesn’t seem to occur to the natural-selection-denier that God’s plan might include the death of some organisms.  In fact, God instituted death of living (nephesh נֶ֣פֶשׁ) creatures as part of the punishment for Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:19, Romans 5:12).  And presumably microbes and plants had a cycle of functionality even before sin since they are not alive in the biblical (nephesh) sense.

Biblically, if an organism survives, it is by God’s design and plan.  And if an organism perishes, it is by God’s design and plan.  In either case, God is to be praised – not blamed.  If a manmade machine ceases to function, it may be that the designer made a mistake.  But this is not possible for God.  God is not limited to engineering principles.  If one of God’s organisms ceases to function, it is because this is exactly what God planned!  God accomplishes all His good pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).

Didn’t God Create the Environment Too?

Another serious theological error of the “continuous environmental tracking” view is that it assumes that God is not able to use the environment as part of the means of adapting organisms.  This error follows logically from the error of assuming that God must do things the same way human engineers do.  After all, “Engineers are rarely able to redesign external exposures. Conditions like wind, waves, and geology aren’t economically feasible to control. It is the traits and features designed into entities that are controllable.”  So, we are told we must also assume this of God since we must assume “engineering principles” to understand biological adaptation. 

The natural-selection-denier asserts that “environmental factors are just collections of conditions to which organisms are exposed. Credit or blame resides with the designer of any trait’s attributes for it to either succeed or fail in overcoming environmental challenges.”  Can there be any doubt that this person believes that God is to be blamed when one of His organisms fails to adapt?  But is this biblical?

Is it true that it is not “economically feasible” for God to control the environment to which organisms are exposed?  Is God to be blamed when an organism fails to overcome an environmental challenge?  Of course, not.  God not only designed organisms, He also designed the environment.  It is not merely “collections of conditions to which organisms are exposed” but is the creation of God and is under His sovereign control (John 1:3, Hebrews 1:3).  One dramatic example of Jesus controlling the environment is shown when He calms the storm in Mark 4:39.  It wasn’t difficult for Him.  God controls the weather.  He is the one who causes the rain to fall (Matthew 5:45).  God is in control of all nature – not just organisms, but the environment too. 

In fact, God once used the environment to destroy the very organisms He created.  That was the mechanism of the global flood.  In Genesis 6:17, the Lord says, “And behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.”  According to the denier of natural selection, God failed to anticipate the conditions of the flood, failed to design land-dwelling organisms to cope with it, and thus God is to be blamed for the death of all those land-dwelling air breathing animals since His plan failed.  But according to the Bible, God sovereignly controlled the environment for the purpose of destroying life on earth.  Indeed, it was God’s plan that those air-breathing land animals outside the ark would perish.  God is not to be blamed as if His plan failed.  He succeeded in accomplishing His goal.

By assuming that God is limited to designing organisms and has no control over the environment, the natural-selection-denier is led to believe that the environment is irrelevant to survival.  He says, “It is an entity’s traits—not its exposures—that determine its design success or failure.”  However, this is contrary to what Jesus says in Luke 8:6.  In the parable of the seeds, some seeds fell on rocky soil.  The plant started to grow, but then “withered away, because it had no moisture.”  Note that Jesus attributes the cause of the plant’s death to the environment – a lack of moisture – and not the plant’s traits.  According to “continuous environmental tracking,” Jesus was wrong! 

In fact, when organisms physiologically adapt to an environment, the environmental conditions are always a causal factor.  In other words, the adaptation won’t happen apart from the environment.  Those who think biblically do not limit God’s design to organisms.  The biblical creationist recognizes that God created and sovereignly rules over both organisms and the environment.  He is not limited in the way that humans are.  God is not an engineer (Numbers 23:19).  He is God!  (Isaiah 55:8-9).

A Few Closing Remarks

These articles have refuted only a few of the errors observed in the published articles of the natural-selection-deniers.   Many others could be cited, and have been in other publications.  But those listed above should suffice to illustrate the irrational, anti-scientific, and anti-biblical nature of the denial of the biblical principle of natural selection.  If you would like to explore additional errors of the denial of natural selection or the errors of “continuous environmental tracking,” please read this in-depth, peer-reviewed article: Refuting Dubious Claims Regarding Natural Selection.

You may be wondering, “how did such severe errors end up in creationist literature?  Why were they not dealt with at the peer-review stage?  Aren’t these publications vetted by experts?  And why are they continuing to be published?”  I cannot say for certain.  Some people are simply enamored with a “new” and different view simply by virtue of the fact that it is new and different regardless of scientific accuracy or biblical fidelity (e.g. Acts 17:21).  Of course, we have seen that “continuous environmental tracking” isn’t really new at all, but is simply Lamarckism. 

Evidential thinking may also play a role.  The presuppositionalist recognizes that all evidence is interpreted in light of a person’s worldview, and hence evolutionists draw incorrect interpretations from perfectly good data.  The evidentialist, however, is inclined to think that “evidence speaks for itself” and therefore they tend to reject evidence that evolutionists have misinterpreted, rather than re-examining the evidence in light of biblical presuppositions.  The evidentialist thinks the solution is to find more evidence, rather than correctly analyzing existing evidence.  In any case, the many errors present in the assertions of natural-selection-deniers reveal a very serious lack of discernment within the Church.  We need more training in the basics of logic, science, and theology. 

Furthermore, many Christians are willing to give up truth and rationality for something that makes them feel that they have secret knowledge that others have missed.  We see this in the flat-earth movement.  It is perhaps fun to think that you are one of only a handful of people smart enough to see through the vast conspiracy trying to convince you that the world is round or that natural selection is true.  So eager to not be fooled by others, they fool themselves in the most absurd ways.  The Bible warns against such Gnosticism in passage liked 1 Timothy 6:20.

As with the article refuting the flat earth, these articles are not intended for those people who are so entrenched in anti-selection rhetoric that they are unwilling to consider a rational argument.  Such people cannot be reasoned with.  Rather, this article is meant for those who desire to be faithful to Christ, who have heard rhetoric against natural selection, perhaps even from a creationist source, and are wondering if such ideas have any merit.  We have seen that they do not.  And should such errors continue to be published, we at the Biblical Science Institute stand ready to publish detailed refutations of anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Many Christians want to contribute new research to the field of creation science, and this is commendable.  But few are willing to do the hard work that it takes to obtain the education and experience necessary to advance science in a biblically faithful way.  Research is not simply reading some books and then asserting opinions.  Rather, scientific research involves careful experimentation in which a hypothesis makes predictions contrary to the accepted position (to avoid confirmation bias), documentation of the methods and materials used, control groups, and so forth.  An ethical researcher publishes the results of his or her experiments in peer-reviewed literature to be vetted by experts in the field and listens and responds to any criticisms (Proverbs 1:5, 12:15, 19:20).  Only if the hypothesis passes all these steps and gains a significant support from people knowledgeable in the field would an ethical person then consider sharing the hypothesis with laymen. 

Fortunately, there are many creationist Ph.D. biologists who work together to do genuine scientific research in a biblically faithful way.  These scientists study adaptation using the tools of science: experimentation and observation, rather than simply wishful thinking.  They publish their results in peer-reviewed creationist technical literature so that the results can be vetted by experts in the field, thereby greatly reducing the possibility of error.  They study physiological adaptation, genetics, mutations, and epigenetics from a biblical perspective and are not afraid of the biblical principle of natural selection.  Please familiarize yourself with these publications[2] so that you can distinguish truth from error.  And for those who have been trapped into anti-selection errors or flat-earth errors, pray for them, that God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. 

[1] The biblical argument here does not preclude the reality that organisms can adjust certain traits within certain limits.  The Israelites were generally light-skinned, and were well-aware that their skin would tan in response to exposure to sunlight.  But there are limits.  Apparently, genetics alone determines the base-level of melanin production.  The Bible is not against adaptation in general, only against the particular version advocated in “continuous environmental tracking.”

[2] We listed several such publications in the first article of this series along with hyperlinks.