Exploring Adaptation from an Engineering Perspective | The Institute for Creation Research

Exploring Adaptation from an Engineering Perspective
For more than a century, biologists have appealed to Darwinian natural selection to explain how living organisms adapt to different environments. But research over the last several decades has consistently dethroned Darwin’s view of natural selection. Rather than corroborating the concept that environments mold creatures through “survival of the fittest,” the research supports the astonishing idea that to a great extent creatures actively sense their environments and adapt accordingly.

Recent discoveries indicate that something radical and impressive is happening. Adaptation is a result of brilliant biological engineering rather than trial-and-error death and survival, which flips the mechanism of adaptation completely on its head. This approach views biological adaptation as primarily occurring through internal mechanisms (the ability to actively sense the environment and adapt) rather than external influence (the environment molds creatures through Darwinian natural selection).

Abundant evidence can be found that creatures actively sense their environments and responsively adapt. Many such adaptations occur within one generation or less, which is far too rapid for Darwin’s notion of trial-and-error natural selection. Here are only a few examples of what studies have shown:

• Darwin’s famous finches rapidly adapted their beak shapes by sensing the environment rather than strictly through inherited genetic changes.1
• A species of carp expeditiously changed its morphology in the presence of predators. These changes made the carps’ bodies more difficult to devour and increased their speed and acceleration.2
• A study of over 1,000 pythons and boas demonstrated that they expressed similar traits to adapt to their environments, with no recorded mutations.3
• Certain populations of mice vary their tail lengths in response to eastern or western prairies and forests. This appears to happen by specific genetic mechanisms—not mutations.4
• Clutches of eggs for various reptiles sense environmental temperature and sand content and produce different ratios of male and female. The changes occur after the eggs are laid and are not a result of mutations. Specific sensors for this process were discovered in 2015.5
• When a certain species of sighted river fish lays eggs in a cave environment, the larvae indirectly sense the cave environment and produce fish with greater eye and orbit size variations. No inactivating mutation in regulatory genes have been identified.6

Many evolutionary scientists significantly disagree over the challenge this “warp-speed evolution” presents to Darwinism.7 Nature magazine published a 2014 point-counterpoint article on the issue titled “Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?”8 In sharp contrast with traditional Darwinian thought, attendees of an April 2016 conference at the University of Pittsburgh explored the possibility of examining biology in the light of engineering principles.9 In November 2016, the United Kingdom’s Royal Society hosted a conference in which advocates of traditional “externalist” Darwinian mechanisms debated critics within their own camp who supported a more “internalist” revision of evolutionary theory that aligns with new research.10 As the Nature article authors phrased it, “This is no storm in an academic tearoom, it is a struggle for the very soul of the discipline.”11

In light of recent discoveries, ICR’s Dr. Randy Guliuzza has incorporated the newest research into a pioneering, design-based, organism-focused method of interpreting biological adaptation. So far, critiques of Darwinism have focused on the inadequacies of its mechanisms or the insurmountable hurdles it would need to overcome to actually work. But this criticism offers little alternative. As both a medical doctor and a registered Professional Engineer, Dr. Guliuzza has the education and experience to provide a solution with unique insights in the area of biological engineering.12

Over the last few years, Dr. Guliuzza has worked on a theory of design that not only exposes Darwinism’s inadequacy but replaces it with a better, engineering-focused theory—the continuous environmental tracking (CET) model. This model proposes that we evaluate biological organisms using the same engineering principles found in man-made devices. CET’s core principle is that creatures have an interface system that actively senses environments in a way similar to how human-designed machines sense surroundings. Such interface systems require 1) input sensors to gather data from surroundings, 2) internal programming that responds to the input data, and 3) output actuators to execute responses.13 Sensors and interface systems have already been observed at work in many organisms. CET proposes that scientists closely examine these systems using engineering principles as guides for research.14

ICR CEO Dr. Henry M. Morris III is encouraged by the response to Dr. Guliuzza’s work, saying, “Dr. Guliuzza’s publications and excellent presentations on this subject have established strong support for the CET model.” Other members of ICR’s research team are excited about the future of the CET project. Geneticist Dr. Jeffrey Tomkins calls Dr. Guliuzza’s research “refreshing,” “exciting,” and “foundational to understanding the built-in adaptive designs of living things.” Paleobiochemist Dr. Brian Thomas says, “Dr. Randy Guliuzza’s research has bravely re-evaluated old ideas about the way animals adjust their biology.” Nuclear physicist Vernon Cupps, author of the recent book Rethinking Radiometric Dating, says, “Creationists in general and ICR in particular can look forward to a bright future in the study of biological engineering thanks to the work of Dr. Guliuzza.” Their full comments are available at the end of this article.

As research advances, ICR scientists are discovering more evidence of God’s brilliant engineering. This should come as no surprise to Christian believers. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Dr. Guliuzza’s CET project will provide further insight into these attributes as he explores new areas of creation evidence and highlights the depth of God’s wisdom as revealed in His handiwork.

1. Cabej, N. R. 2013. Building the Most Complex Structure on Earth: An Epigenetic Narrative of Development and Evolution of Animals. New York: Elsevier Publishing, 200; McNew, S. M. et al. 2017. Epigenetic variation between urban and rural populations of Darwin’s finches. BMC Evolutionary Biology. 17: 183; Skinner, M. K. et al. 2014. Epigenetics and the Evolution of Darwin’s Finches. Genome Biology and Evolution. 6 (8): 1972-1989.
2. Stabell, O. B. and M. S. Lwin. 1997. Predator-induced phenotypic changes in crucian carp are caused by chemical signals for conspecifics. Environmental Biology of Fishes. 49 (1): 139-144.
3. Esquerré, D. and J. S. Keogh. 2016. Parallel selective pressures drive convergent diversification of phenotypes in pythons and boas. Ecology Letters. 19 (7): 800-809.
4. Kingsley, E. P. et al. 2017. The ultimate and proximate mechanisms driving the evolution of long tails in forest deer mice. Evolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution. 71 (2): 261-273.
5. Yatsu, R. et al. 2015. TRPV4 associates environmental temperature and sex determination in the American alligator. Science Reports. 5: 18581.
6. Rohner, N. et al. 2013. Cryptic Variation in Morphological Evolution: HSP90 as a Capacitor for Loss of Eyes in Cavefish. Science. 342 (6164): 1372-1375; Gore, A. V. et al. 2018. An epigenetic mechanism for cavefish eye degeneration. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2 (7): 1155-1160.
7. Lallensack, R. How warp-speed evolution is transforming ecology: Darwin thought evolution was too slow to change the environment on observable timescales. Ecologists are discovering that he was wrong. Nature News. Posted on nature.com January 31, 2018, accessed February 2, 2018.
8. Laland, K. et al. 2014. Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? Nature. 514 (7521): 161–164.
9. (Re)Engineering Biology: The Emerging Engineering Paradigm in Biomedical Engineering, Systems Biology, and Synthetic Biology. Center for Philosophy of Science conference held April 15-16, 2016, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
10. New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives. The Royal Society conference held November 7-9, 2016, in London, UK.
11. Laland, Does evolutionary theory need a rethink?
12. Randy Guliuzza has a B.S. in Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, a B.A. in theology from Moody Bible Institute, an M.D. from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Public Health from Harvard University. He also served nine years in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps.
13. Guliuzza, R. J. 2017. Engineered Adaptability: Arriving at a Design-Based Framework for Adaptability. Acts & Facts. 46 (8): 17-19; Guliuzza, R. J. and P. B. Gaskill. 2018. Continuous environmental tracking: An engineering framework to understand adaptation and diversification. In Proceedings of the Eighth International Conference on Creationism. J. H. Whitmore, ed. Pittsburgh, PA: Creation Science Fellowship, 158–184.
14. Dr. Guliuzza’s Engineered Adaptability article series on ICR.org offers a more in-depth explanation of the continuous environmental tracking model.

ICR’s CEO on the Beginnings and Progress of Randy Guliuzza’s Research

Henry M. Morris III, D.Min.: Very soon after Dr. Randy Guliuzza joined ICR in 2008, he and I discussed his concern that the creationist community was not adequately addressing the way in which natural selection is personified and deified as the guiding “force” behind evolutionary progress over deep time. Dr. Guliuzza’s particular qualifications as both medical doctor and engineer uniquely equipped him to take the lead in researching an alternative design-based model for creature adaptation.

I knew any shift in majority thinking would require years—at least a decade—for real change to come about in the perceived role of natural selection. I was surprised, however, at the resistance from some within the creationist community, since the scientific and theological evidence seem so supportive of the model. Those who have resisted or opposed the model have unfortunately tended to express their opposition in personal rather than scientific terms. As with any shift in foundational thinking, the proper process for addressing a new theory of adaptation is to analyze the research, data, and conclusions based on their scientific merits.

With few exceptions, Dr. Guliuzza’s publications and excellent presentations on this subject have established strong support for the CET model. ICR is pleased to endorse Dr. Guliuzza’s work, and we’re encouraged by the many people who are responding to his stellar research and outstanding articles, books, and public engagements.

Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research. He holds four earned degrees, including a D.Min. from Luther Rice Seminary and an MBA from Pepperdine University.

ICR Scientists on the Value and Impact of Randy Guliuzza’s Research

Jeffrey Tomkins, Ph.D.: Dr. Randy Guliuzza’s research in CET is foundational to understanding the built-in adaptive designs of living things. All creatures have been created and engineered with amazingly complex systems that continuously monitor, track, and respond to their environments with incredible precision and resiliency. While these systems have principles that correlate to human-engineered designs, they are exceedingly more complex, and we are only just beginning to appreciate their ingenuity. Dr. Guliuzza is bringing the newest discoveries of these amazing adaptive systems to the public forefront and building the creation model of intelligent design in a refreshing and exciting way that glorifies our mighty Creator.

Dr. Tomkins is Director of Life Sciences at the Institute for Creation Research and earned his Ph.D. in genetics from Clemson University.

Brian Thomas, Ph.D.: Dr. Randy Guliuzza’s research has bravely re-evaluated old ideas about the way animals adjust their biology. Neo-Darwinism relies on natural selection of mutants. Classic creation teaching, including that of ICR’s founders, decried the total inadequacy of Neo-Darwinism in generating the diversity of life. It rightly argued that mutations destroy and that natural selection can only select what’s left alive. Dr. Guliuzza is taking this challenge to another level. He joins a small group of insightful evolutionists who have criticized their own colleagues’ notions of natural selection. Differential survival happens, we all agree, but who has detected or measured natural selection as its cause? This enormous shift in thought shines a new spotlight away from nature as a substitute creator and onto an ingenious Creator God who deserves more credit for engineering creature feature adjustment systems. The future looks bright for ICR research into the biological programming behind the ways that living things adjust to their surroundings. It’s no longer “adapt or die,” but instead “adapt to thrive.”

Dr. Thomas is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and earned his Ph.D. in paleobiochemistry from the University of Liverpool.

Vernon Cupps, Ph.D.: Over the last decade or so there has been much debate over the topic of natural selection, some of it heated and very inappropriate for Christians to engage in. The phrase natural selection first came into use in a joint presentation of papers by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in 1858, and was later elaborated on by Darwin in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. He viewed it as one of the key mechanisms of Darwinian evolution. In 1864, Herbert Spencer used the phrases “natural selection” and “survival of the fittest” interchangeably in his book Principles of Biology. Apparently, Darwin preferred “natural selection” over “artificial selection” because in his view the latter phrase had the connotation of intentional or directed selection whereas the former phrase connoted a more random process. Clearly Darwin, Charles Lyell, Wallace, and Spencer all understood natural selection as a random process acting on a given population to produce genetic change in that population.

In modern times the definition of natural selection has evolved to be understood as the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and reproduce. This is still a rather ambiguous definition since the process is not described. It would seem to me that, as creationists, we would understand that random natural processes cannot be put in place of the stable created order that God has endowed us with.

In several discussions with Dr. Randy Guliuzza, I have found that he understands that natural selection (as portrayed by many creationists and evolutionists) puts nature in the place of God, thus robbing God of His glory. He understands that the changes that are observed in living organisms come from features built into those organisms and not from some esoteric outside influence. Living organisms have built-in systems to monitor, process, and respond appropriately to their natural habitats. In a very general sense, these systems function much like human engineering designs with sensors, processors, and output data, except that they are exceedingly more complex. We are just now beginning to understand the wonderful complexity of living organisms due in large part to the work Dr. Guliuzza has done. Creationists in general and ICR in particular can look forward to a bright future in the study of biological engineering thanks to the work of Dr. Guliuzza.

Dr. Cupps is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research and earned his Ph.D. in nuclear physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. Article posted on October 29, 2019.

Article posted October 29, 2019.
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