Does Epigenetics Support Neo-Darwinian Evolution?
Neo-Darwinian evolution, the popular version of evolution today, asserts that mutations provide the mechanism for the change required to evolve a single-celled organism into a human over time. Upon examination of the evidence, however, it is clear that mutations cannot provide the genetic information required for such change.1 If mutations cannot provide the mechanism for the change required by neo-Darwinian evolution, what can? A recent area of study that some evolutionists are hopeful will provide an answer to that question is epigenetics.2 Epigenetics is the term used to describe the mechanism whereby genetic traits are inherited—passed on to offspring—not from the DNA itself, like we usually think of inheritance, but rather, from “over and above”3 DNA (e.g., from our environment4).
A recent study on mice provides an example of epigenetic inheritance in action. In a study published by Nature Neuroscience, scientists trained mice to fear the odor of cherry blossoms by shocking their feet.5 They then studied the offspring of the mice and found that they were also afraid of the cherry blossom smell, without any shock training. In fact, they responded to even smaller amounts of odor than their parents, implying that the offspring were even more sensitive to the odor than their parents. Such examples of inheritance are epigenetic—the expression of genes is affected without an actual DNA change. Due to epigenetic inheritance, the evolutionist argues that evolution has occurred: positive change that is passed on to ancestors.6
In response, keep in mind first, that while the mice study is an example of evolution—change, in the general sense—it is not evidence of Darwin’s “molecules-to-man evolution” or macroevolution. Rather, it would better fit under the category we might call microevolutionary change—horizontal evolution, rather than vertical. The offspring are still mice, for example. To conclude from such a study, “Therefore, humans could evolve from a single-celled organism,” would be to blindly leap well beyond the actual evidence.
Second, the change that was found to occur appears to be temporary—only shown to last to the “grandmice” of the original mice. Thus, the change is not the permanent change required by the evolutionary model. Evolution requires changes that are fixed, not temporary. We are not temporarily humans, for example. We are humans “for the long run.” In other words, epigenetic changes appear to affect more than one generation, but they ultimately reset.
Also notice that this epigenetic example does not fit the evolutionary paradigm in a fundamental way. A fundamental plank of Darwinian evolution is that evolution is random: nothing or no one guides the process. It is random change, coupled with natural selection filtering out the random changes that do not result in the best options. But notice that the mouse epigenetic inheritance example is far from being random. It is directed change.
And finally, keep in mind that epigenetics involves the switching on or off of already existing genes in response to environmental factors. New genes are not being created in epigenetic inheritance—i.e., no new information is being added to the genome. Epigenetics only involves how existing genes are expressed. So they have to exist already. Blind cave fish, for example, still have their eye genes intact. Their eyesight is merely epigenetically “turned off.” They did not become blind because of genetic mutation.7
In his book Epigenetic Principles of Evolution, Nelson Cabej of the University of Tirana states,
[I]n 1973 Sadoglu came to the conclusion that the loss of eyes in cavefish was caused by mutations in genes responsible for eye development and that the number of degenerative mutations determines the degree of reduction or the loss of eyes. Now we know that no loss or mutations in genes involved in the loss of eyes has occurred in the blind hypogean form of A. fasciatus mexicanus [cave fish—JM]…. In cavefish, investigators found that all of oculogenic genes are functional, and all of them are expressed normally.8
William Jeffery of the University of Maryland, who conducted the study that discovered that cave fish still have their eye genes intact, noted that while some evolutionists believed that “neural mutation” was responsible for the loss of sight by cave fish, “little or no experimental evidence has been presented to support or reject” that theory.9 The eye genes of blind cavefish are still intact, but the expression of those genes appears to be affected by their environment.
Epigenetics does not provide the hoped for mechanism for molecules-to-man evolution, which requires the creation of libraries upon libraries of new genetic information. Notice that in epigenetics, like the mouse study example, creatures, through inheritance, are able to pre-adapt to their environments.
Parents are able to pass on information to offspring without a word, giving them important instruction (though not always necessarily good information). This is an example of forward thinking and pre-planning. Thinking and planning—pre-programming—without exception, is always evidence that a mind ultimately generated the program and information that is being conveyed. That is solid evidence of design, not random accidents and evolution.10
1 Jeff Miller (2014), “God and the Laws of Science: Genetics vs. Evolution [Part I],” Reason & Revelation, 34:2-10.
2 Kat Arney (2015), “Epigenetics: Your Lifestyle Can Change Your Genes,” New Scientist, 228:39; Kevin Laland (2016), “Evolution Evolves,” New Scientist, 231:42-43, September 24; Peter Bowler (2016), “Evolution (Part Two): Darwin and DNA,” New Scientist, 231:43.
4 Helen Thomson (2016), “Health Depends On Dad’s Sperm,” New Scientist, 230:8-9.
5 Brian G. Dias and Kerry J. Ressler (2014), “Parental Olfactory Experience Influences Behavior and Neural Structure in Subsequent Generations,” Nature Neuroscience, 17:89-96; cf. Mariette Le Roux (2013), “Mice Can ‘Warn’ Sons, Grandsons of Dangers Via Sperm,” Medical Xpress, December 1, http://medicalxpress.com/news/2013-12-mice-sons-grandsons-dangers-sperm.html.
6 Arney, 2015.
7 Nelson R. Cabej (2012), Epigenetic Principles of Evolution (London: Elsevier), pp. 330-331; W.R. Jeffery (2005), “Adaptive Evolution of Eye Degeneration in the Mexican Blind Cavefish,” Journal of Heredity, 96:185-196, May/June.
8 Cabej, pp. 330-331,598, emp. added.
9 p. 185.
10 Special thanks to biochemist Dr. Joe Deweese for reviewing this article and offering helpful suggestions.