email - June 2002

Individual Evolution

“Individuals do not evolve, but populations do.”

Sometimes confusion results when two sides say the same thing but mean something entirely different. We received an email from Shawn which included this paragraph.

Also in your article you stated that creatures do not evolve. I agree with you 100% on that issue, BUT, I believe it was Darwin who said, (and I could be wrong), "Individuals do not evolve, populations do," it just seems to me that you and Darwin are arguing over the same thing and the funny thing is that you both are saying the same thing but you are calling Darwin wrong. Explain this to me if you could. I feel like a little child listening to two parents saying the same thing but calling each other a liar.

If Darwin said that, he didn’t say it in Origin of Species. But we don’t really want to argue that point because there certainly are evolutionists who believe that populations, not individuals, evolve. All we want to do is explain what creationists mean by that, and how it differs from the usual position of evolutionists.

Since one definition of evolution is simply “change,” one could argue that individuals do actually evolve. Tadpoles evolve into frogs, and caterpillars evolve into butterflies. But most creationists and evolutionists agree that these changes are really better referred to as “maturity” rather than “evolution.” Tadpoles and frogs are the same species at different stages of development, so no evolution (in the usual sense) occurs when a tadpole changes into a frog.

Evolutionists and creationists generally agree that once an individual is born, it remains that same species for the rest of its life. That’s what we all mean when we say that individuals don’t evolve. They may change form dramatically as they mature, as is the case with caterpillars, but they don’t evolve.

But we mean something very different when we say that populations evolve. The classic example involves a population of peppered moths which initially has a mixture light and dark individuals. If a predator finds it easier to find and eat the darker individuals, the population will evolve into one of primarily of light individuals. As the percentage of dark to light individuals decreases, we would say that the population evolves from a population that is primarily dark to one that is primarily light.

Evolutionists, when they use the term, mean that populations develop new characteristics not previously found in any individual. In this way, they claim, a population of fish might evolve into a population of amphibians because each generation is less fishlike and more like an amphibian. That is where we disagree because there is no scientific evidence that a population containing individuals of one species will turn into a population of another species after a sufficient number of generations.

The closest evolutionists can come to producing any evidence for this evolution of populations is the example of Darwin’s finches. There are some problems with their evidence, however. First, there is some argument as to whether or not all the different species of Darwin’s finches are really different species. The usual (but sometimes unreliable) method for determining if two critters are the same species or not is to see if they can mate and produce fertile offspring. Although the various kinds of Darwin’s finches apparently prefer not to interbreed in the wild, it may be the case that they are fertile when they are forced to breed by human intervention or natural necessity. So, it might be that all of Darwin’s finches are slightly different variations of a single species, just as all the human races are members of the same species but with slightly different outward appearance.

Second, it may be that at least some of Darwin’s finches really are different species that look very much alike. How does one know that they had a common ancestor? Perhaps they are all descendants of different kinds of finches which happened to bear a superficial resemblance.

Him or me? Sometimes you can pick brothers and sisters out of a crowd because of a family resemblance. Physical resemblance is often the result of a common parent. People sometimes tell me that I look a lot like Steven Spielberg. Actually, it would be more correct to say that Steven Spielberg looks a lot like me (especially when I let my hair grow a little bit longer). But, as far as I know, we have had no common ancestors for many generations. The resemblance is purely accidental.

Even if all of Darwin’s finches came from a single breeding pair, they have not evolved. As Duane Gish likes to say, “They are not only all birds--they are all finches!” If the theory of evolution is true, there should be some evidence that one kind of creature evolved into a different kind of creature. In other words, there should be some evidence that a reptile evolved into a mammal. That evidence is lacking.

So, when we say that populations evolve, we mean that the frequency of different genes in an existing gene pool changes, resulting in a greater or lesser number of individuals who have certain physical characteristics. Or, to put it another way, we acknowledge that demographics sometimes change. The U.S. census is proof that populations evolve (in our sense of the term). The racial makeup of many cities change during each ten-year period. That doesn’t mean that white people are evolving into black people, or vice versa. It merely means that the relative numbers are changing.

When evolutionists say that populations evolve, they generally mean that a population of one species eventually produces a population of another species. That is an entirely different thing. The U.S. census does not prove that one race evolves into another. Nor is there any historical data to indicate that humans are now any more or less human than they were thousands of years ago.

There has been confusion on this point because evolutionists have observed that populations of bacteria have evolved to become resistant to antibiotics. What has happened is that a population of bacteria, containing some who are resistant to antibiotics, have been exposed to antibiotics, leaving only the individuals who have the resistance. These individuals reproduce, so that nearly the entire population is resistant to antibiotics.

There was a time when Jewish people were ruthlessly exterminated in Germany. As a result, the racial makeup of the German population evolved. No reasonable person would say that Hitler caused Jews to evolve into Nazis. It is just as unreasonable to claim that bacteria evolve into resistant bacteria in the presence of antibiotics; but that claim was made on the PBS “Evolution” special, and is commonly sited as absolute proof of evolution by amateur evolutionists who send emails to us.

So, this isn’t a case of parents saying the same thing and calling each other liars. It is a case of two sides using the same words to describe entirely different phenomena.

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