Change in Species – Biblical or Not?

Many kinds of animals appear designed for predation and violence, in contrast to what one would expect based on the biblical description of Edenic peace. It seems that animal species must have changed in major ways since the creation, but is this idea compatible with biblical teachings? Many people have asked this question, wondering whether changes in species point to evolution rather than creation. I will show here that change in species is a part of the biblical story and does not imply the general theory of evolution.

When God completed His work of creation at the end of the sixth day of that first week,[1] He declared that everything was very good. Plants were provided as food for the animals, so there was no need for predation, violence and suffering. This picture of an original peaceful kingdom contrasts sharply with what we observe in our world today, where every kind of animal seems engaged in a struggle for existence, resulting in conflict, injury, starvation, disease and death. Creationists have discussed this question for hundreds of years, and have proposed a reasonable general explanation.

As scientists have studied the mechanisms of inheritance in organisms, they have discovered that the genome seems designed to allow genetic variation. Biologists have tended to focus on mistakes in copying of genetic information, called mutations, to explain genetic variation. There is no question that mutations occur. However, calculations of the frequency of mutation, the proportion of beneficial mutations, and the probabilities of a beneficial mutation being preserved strongly suggest that mutations are an entirely inadequate explanation for the variation seen among organisms.[2] Some other mechanisms must be involved.

In recent decades, molecular biologists have discovered that genes are not, as was once believed, merely a simple sequence of nucleotides in a strand of DNA. Instead, genes are made up of subunits, called exons, that can be combined in different ways to produce different genes –  a process known as exon shuffling. A DNA sequence may interact with other sequences on the same or different chromosome. Reserve copies of genetic information may be used to correct errors when they do arise. Some evidence suggests that environmental signals may trigger gene interactions that result in beneficial genetic  changes. While some genetic changes appear to be random, others appear to be designed to be helpful to the survival of the species.

These advances in science have enabled creationists to come to a better understanding of how creatures that were originally designed for a peaceful environment could adjust and survive in a world where violence and predation are ubiquitous. Mechanisms for non-random, beneficial genetic changes suggest pre-planning and intelligent design, consistent with the biblical record of earth history. Such changes have enabled species to survive through environmental changes, but the mechanisms that enable helpful changes also make possible changes that result in violence and suffering.

Some creationists have objected to the idea that species might have changed significantly since the creation. One objection is that the Bible speaks of different “kinds” of animals, each of which should “reproduce after their own kind.” Indeed, the Bible does speak of different kinds of plants and animals. The account of creation day three indicates that different kinds of plants were created on that day. Likewise, the accounts of creation days five and six indicate that numerous kinds of organisms were created – filling the seas and sky with diverse kinds of creatures on the fifth day, and filling the land with diversity on the sixth day. However, the phrase “after their kind” is not referring to reproduction at all, but to creation – indicating a diversity of kinds that were created together. For example, the creation statement for the land animals is “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind” (Genesis 1:24). This is a statement about creation, not reproduction. The statement says nothing about whether the animals would or would not change. The point that is important in this discussion is that diversity was already present from the beginning of creation. It did not derive from long ages of cumulative changes in species.

People have always known that individuals of a species differ from each other, and can infer that this variation reflects differences based on changes from the parents of the individuals. However, the idea that such changes are not significant comes from Greek philosophy, not from the Bible. The Bible states that significant changes occurred as a result of sin. Among these changes are production of thorns and thistles and loss of limbs in snakes (Genesis 3). According to Romans 8,[3] the entire creation groans under the curse and is subject to decay, waiting for restoration.

Although some changes in species have resulted in violence and suffering, other changes have been beneficial. As animals dispersed across the surface of the earth after the flood, they would unavoidably encounter diverse habitats. In order to spread out across the earth’s surface, they must necessarily be able to adapt to different environmental conditions. Changes that facilitated such dispersal and adaptation to local environments would be beneficial changes. We see the results of this type of change in the different species of dogs, bears, cattle, mice and other types of creatures that are clearly closely related but live in different habitats. The process of change is beneficial in general, despite the distortion that sometimes resulted in violence.

There is nothing unbiblical about the idea that species have changed in significant ways. What is unbiblical is the notion that such changes are responsible for creating all the various kinds of plants and animals that populate our world. It seems clear that the major groups of organisms have separate origins, and have not evolved from a common ancestor. However, this does not mean that species have not changed significantly since the creation. We should re-examine the phrase “after its kind” and recognize that it refers to the creation of many different kinds of organisms during creation week, but does not address the question of whether they change or not. This biblical teaching of created diversity, followed by corruption due to sin, is incompatible with the general theory of evolution, but it does help explain how the diverse kinds of creatures that God created for a world without predation, violence and suffering could survive and provide the diversity of living organisms we all observe in our present world of violence and death.

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L. James Gibson

Geoscience Research Institute

March 17, 2014

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[1] Genesis 1:31-2:1.

[2] Sanford, J. Genetic Entropy. Lima, NY: Elim Publishing, 2005.

[3] Romans 8:20-22.

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