Without a doubt, humans, chimpanzees, and other organisms share some very similar features. One explanation for the origin of these features is that they reflect similar designs that serve similar purposes. The common design inference is quite intuitive since components of complicated human-designed systems are all directly analogous to other creature’s features for similar purposes, such as their structural frameworks, pumps, sensors, and data processors.
People willing to hypothesize that God’s supernatural design and creativity caused the great diversity of life on Earth have, for millennia, acknowledged the plausibility of the common-design explanation.
Another approach some people use to explain all phenomena is naturalism, which closes off any appeal to supernatural intelligence or power and rather presupposes that nature’s matter and forces alone are sufficient causes of the origin of the universe and life itself. But naturalism has to appeal to mystical mechanisms since people have never observed anything design and create itself by mechanisms known to have originated purely by nature’s matter and forces.
After all, a heart pumping blood through vessels seems to correspond very well in purpose and design to human-made fluid-pumping systems. Should anyone believe that some purposeless, undetectable mystical intelligence of nature shaped the exquisite details of cardiovascular systems over eons? But a dogmatic commitment to naturalism forces naturalists to construct explanations that are “counterintuitive” and “mystifying to the uninitiated,” according to renowned Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin.1
Upcoming issues of Acts & Facts will feature several articles that compare some of those counterintuitive naturalistic explanations to actual discoveries. This comparison will focus attention on the largely suppressed but disappointing track record of naturalism’s dubious notions that have been taught as factual evidence only to later be revealed as total blunders.
For instance, we know that similarity among creatures extends past body parts to their underlying genetics. Decades in advance of current detailed genetic analysis techniques, creationists and evolutionists alike published expectations based on either intelligent design or evolution, respectively. One test of the accuracy of a scientific model is its ability to make accurate predictions of future research results. These published expectations can now be examined in light of new genetic information.
In 1975, prior to any detailed genetic analysis, ICR founder Dr. Henry Morris asserted there would be common underlying design patterns to explain similar structure. He said:
The creative process would have designed similar structures for similar functions and different structures for different functions.…In the creation model, the same similarities are predicted on the basis of a common purposive designer.2
Thus, knowing that organisms, per their kind, must have traits to thrive on the same planet but occupy diverse niches, advocates for design-based explanations expected that 1) similar features needed to fulfill similar purposes would be based on similar information, and 2) extreme multistep specified regulation over thousands of details produces unique organisms that may yet have similar overall plans.
Virtually all prominent evolutionists rejected basic common designs, but their rationale differed. Darwin, for theological reasons, doubted “that it has pleased the Creator to construct all the animals and plants in each great class on a uniform plan” and derided the concept of underlying common information as “not a scientific explanation.”3
In 1963, Harvard’s leading evolutionary theorist Ernst Mayr predicted that looking for similar DNA between very diverse organisms would be pointless. He claimed that random genetic changes over millions of years explained the differences in creature’s traits and that those many changes would have obliterated genetic similarities.
Much that has been learned about gene physiology makes it evident that the search for homologous genes [similar codes due to common ancestry] is quite futile except in very close relatives. If there is only one efficient solution for a certain functional demand, very different gene complexes will come up with the same solution, no matter how different the pathway by which it is achieved. The saying “Many roads lead to Rome” is as true in evolution as in daily affairs.4
New evolutionary explanations do not explain similarities in organisms whose ancestors supposedly “diverged” eons ago. Convergent evolution is a frequently invoked ancillary explanation, as denoted in Mayr’s “Many roads lead to Rome” affirmation. For example, how did naturalists explain diverse creatures possessing eyes made up of similar parts? They claimed that similar environments constrained them to “converge” on comparable complex features—independently at least 40 times—and probably as many as 65 times.5
This explanation, steeped in evolutionary naturalism, counterintuitively claims that millions of years of genetic tinkering somehow propelled organisms to diverge into increasingly different classes while simultaneously cobbling their traits to converge upon “the same solution” to problems.
Creationists, a vocal subgroup of Lewontin’s “uninitiated,” remained skeptical that similar highly complex structures evolved independently over and over again, but maintained their expectation of finding a similar feature-to-genetic information link.
Evolutionary Predictions Spectacularly Wrong
Landmark discoveries between 1978 and 1984 showed the reality of a common genetic basis prescribing how similar structures could be built across diverse groups of organisms.6 Genes with regulatory and developmental functions responsible for core basic-design patterns in developing embryos are called Hox genes (a contraction of longer descriptive words, homeotic and homeobox). This astounding finding was so opposite to the evolutionists’ notions that it clearly constitutes a spectacular blunder on their part. Evolutionary developmental biologist Sean Carroll describes the implications of the stunning details:
When the sequence of these homeoboxes were examined in detail, the similarities among species were astounding. Over the 60 amino acids of the homeodomain, some mice and frog proteins were identical to the fly sequences at up to 59 out of 60 positions. Such sequence similarity was just stunning. The evolutionary lines that led to flies and mice diverged more than 500 million years ago, before the famous Cambrian Explosion that gave rise to most animal types. No biologist had even the foggiest notion that such similarities could exist between genes of such different animals. The Hox genes were so important that their sequences had been preserved throughout this enormous span of animal evolution.7
The discovery that the same sets of genes control the formation and pattern of body regions and body parts with similar functions (but very different designs) in insects, vertebrates, and other animals has forced a complete rethinking of animal history, the origins of structures, and the nature of diversity. Comparative and evolutionary biologists had long assumed that different groups of animals, separated by vast amounts of evolutionary time, were constructed and had evolved by entirely different means.8
Yet evolutionists remain closed-minded to an explanation of the Hox genes’ origination by a common designer. They need not concede they were greatly mistaken in their predictions, they were merely “stunned” at the appearance of new, unexpected evidence for evolution (in their reworked, conveniently fluid evolutionary story, that is).
Yet, the only “evidence” that Hox genes can be “preserved throughout this enormous span of animal evolution” is the belief that life evolved from a common ancestor. All of the stories about convergence get promptly scrapped. Firmly held prior accounts like convergent evolution are run through the magic tunnel of evolutionary belief, and, voila, Hox genes somehow instantly turn into “preserved” ancient DNA, which is now used—with equivalent certainty—as evidence of common ancestry.
Design-Based Expectations Confirmed
Now it is factually confirmed that similar genetic regulatory information is common to many classes of organisms and aids in helping achieve similar function—many with remarkably similar designs. Sean Carroll again relates the confounding weight of this finding.
It was inescapable. Clusters of Hox genes shaped the development of animals as different as flies and mice, and now we know that includes just about every animal in the kingdom, including humans and elephants. Not even the most ardent advocate of fruit fly research predicted the universal distribution and importance of Hox genes. The implications were stunning. Disparate animals were built using not just the same kinds of tools, but indeed, the very same genes!9
What about the teaching of 40 independent occurrences of eye evolution? That manifested as another incredible evolutionary blunder and validation of creationists’ design-based expectations. As Carroll candidly continues, “Natural selection has not forged many eyes completely from scratch; there is a common genetic ingredient to making each eye type, as well as to the many types of appendages, hearts, etc.”10
Is Common Design More Plausible than Common Ancestry?
Could it be that Hox genes are the “smoking gun” of common design expected by supporters of intelligent design for decades? Consider this—if engineers were tasked to investigate for common design in any other area, how would they proceed? They would study various sets of plans and specifications, identify any common features, and verify if there was, in fact, common underlying information. Genetic research has identified this common information across diverse groups of organisms prescribing traits with the same general function. In other areas of research, this fact would be ascribed to common engineering instructions.
Evolutionary theory predicted the complete opposite of common underlying information for similar traits. The fact that it was dogmatically taught as evidence for evolution and later found to be profoundly wrong catalogs it as a spectacular blunder and makes its teaching misguided at best. This repressed prediction-evidence mismatch is connected to ever-changing evolutionary explanations like “convergence” or “conservation/common ancestry.” These come across scientifically as a mishmash of improvised, after-the-fact stories aimed at forcing observations into an evolutionary paradigm.
Creationists can say with credibility that in creatures as diverse as bacteria, insects, and humans the same genetic information controls the formation and utilization of many key anatomical or molecular structures observed to be performing broadly similar functions.
Applying organism-focused, design-based analysis to biological phenomena brings great clarity to our understanding of life. A compelling case is made that these are clearly the common designs creationists have been looking for the last 200 years.
- Lewontin, R. 1997. Billions and Billions of Demons. The New York Review of Books. 44 (1): 31.
- Morris, H. 1975. The Troubled Waters of Evolution. San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers, 84-85.
- Darwin, C. 1872. The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, 6th ed. London: John Murray, 383.
- Mayr, E. 1963. Animal Species and Evolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 609.
- Land, M. F. and R. D. Fernald. 1992. The Evolution of Eyes. Annual Review of Neuroscience. 15:1-2, referencing Salvini-Plawen, L. von and E. Mayr. 1977. On the evolution of photoreceptors and eyes. Evolutionary Biology. 10: 207-263.
- Lewis, E. B. 1978. A gene complex controlling segmentation in Drosophila. Nature. 276 (5688): 565–570; Wakimoto, B. T. and T. C. Kaufman. 1981. Analysis of larval segmentation in lethal genotypes associated with the Antennapedia gene complex in Drosophila melanogaster. Developmental Biology. 81 (1): 51-64; Scott, M. P. and A. J. Weiner. 1984. Structural relationships among genes that control development: sequence homology between the Antennapedia, Ultrabithorax, and fushi tarazu loci of Drosophila. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 81 (13): 4115-4119; Slack, J. 1984. Developmental biology: A Rosetta stone for pattern formation in animals? Nature. 310 (5976): 364-365.
- Carroll, S. B. 2005. Endless Forms Most Beautiful. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 64.
- Ibid, 71.
- Ibid, 65.
- Ibid, 72.
* Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative.