Some Thoughts on Cat Evolution

Evolution and Creation Contrasted

According to the evolution story, all of today’s cats are descended from a single ancestral cat species. This ancestral species itself ultimately arose from some other fundamentally different kind of animal. That is to say, through the long process of natural selection operating on random mutations to this creature’s genetic code, an ancestral cat was produced which eventually gave rise to all the varieties of cats we see in the world today.

The Bible on the other hand tells a very different story. According to it, God created the original cat kind some 6,000 years ago and no doubt programmed it with the genetic potential for adaptive change. On this view, cats had the genetic information to allow for natural selection to segregate particular gene types, thus allowing certain varieties of cats to survive and thrive in certain environments. After God judged the world with the Genesis Flood some 4,500 years ago, animals migrated all over the world, later finding themselves isolated in a variety of environments. Hedged in by natural barriers, natural selection went to work and segregation of certain gene types specific to particular environments took place. Over the next few thousand years this segregation of particular gene types produced the amazing variety of cats we see today.

Which View is True?

If we follow the dictum of Lyell and Darwin, we need to be looking at forces now in operation which are known to produce whatever effect is in question.1 In this case, the amazing variety within the cat kind is under consideration. Can random mutation and natural selection alone account for the diversity we see within the cat kind? Further, can these proposed mechanisms account for the rise of the alleged ancestral cat, or the creature from which this ancestral cat supposedly evolved?
Random mutations can indeed produce new varieties within certain kinds of plants or animals, and it must be admitted that such mutations have been seen to confer selective advantage to these creatures within certain environments. The question of course is whether or not one can reasonably maintain, based upon observation, that the process of mutation and natural selection could give rise to a fundamentally different kind of creature. In other words, can mutation and natural selection operating together produce the genetic information necessary to create the ancestral cat, bestowing upon it the qualities necessary for its divergence into the cat varieties we see today? The answer must be “no.” Mutations are, as far as I’m aware, almost always deleterious in nature. Even in cases where selective advantage is conferred, it is because a mutation has deactivated some aspect of the cell’s molecular machinery.2 This type of change can hardly be called upon to explain how the information to build the ancestral cat arose. On the other hand, there are two forces in operation right now known to produce the effect in question. That is, 1) intelligent design, and 2) selective breeding experiments.

Intelligent Design

The cat’s DNA is, like the DNA of all living systems, coded information expressed chemically. To date there is no known naturalistic cause for coded information storage and retrieval systems.3 However, there is one cause for such systems that has been observed, namely, intelligent agency. We have uniform and repeated experience of human beings designing and creating coded information systems.4 Again, using Lyell and Darwin as our guides to reasoning about the past, we may confidently (and ironically!) conclude that intelligent design is the best available explanation for the coded information found in living things.

Selective Breeding Experiments 

By selectively breeding animals possessing certain desired traits, we have managed to segregate particular gene types and as a result, produce amazing new varieties of a number of different kinds of animals. Some of these new varieties look so different from their original ancestral stock that one might suppose that such a process, given enough time, might indeed produce a fundamentally different kind of animal. Such a supposition however would be false. The breeding experiments which man has conducted over the last several hundred years have succeeded only in segregating particular gene types and thus expressing genetic information already present within a give kind of animal. In other words, breeding experiments allow us to see what kind of potential for adaptive change a particular animal kind is already endowed with. The selective breeding process may give us interesting new varieties of a particular animal but, genetically speaking, such experiments don’t really add anything new to the creature’s genome.5

Considering Cats: The Cheetah

The cheetah’s amazing body design was highlighted at the Calgary Zoo, 2009:

 

Cheeta Amazing body design was highlighted at the Calgary Zoo

According to the evolution story – contrary to what is actually observed – random mutations have added useful genetic information to the genomes of countless creatures over hundreds of millions of years, thereby conferring on them selective advantage and thus ensuring their survival. According to this story, this is precisely the process by which the information necessary to produce a cheetah arose. Of course the creationist denies this. Using the Bible as our guide, we believe that cats (along with all animals) were designed by God to reproduce according to their kind. As noted above, this view squares well with what is actually observed. New varieties within a kind may arise, but not because new genetic information was added, but because old genes are recombined in new ways. In fact, the process by which new traits arise entails that certain genetic information is selected against. This means that as new and interesting traits arise, genetic information is actually lost. So while an animal kind may indeed undergo adaptive change, it is not the kind of change that can accommodate evolution in a Darwinian sense. Such a process is actually evolution in reverse. That is, with each adaptation (whereby only certain genes are selected for), the animal has less genetic information for further adaptive change.

Near this diagram of the cheetah’s amazing body plan was a sign describing the cheetah’s endangered status:

Sign describing the cheetah's endangered status

Now this is a startling confession I think. Of all the factors endangering the cheetah’s survival, it is its low genetic potential for adaptive change that poses the greatest threat. This situation squares well with the biblical creation view, but seems a little incongruent with the evolution story. Recall that on evolution, new genetic information is added to an animal’s genome through random mutation. If this is so, then why are we so concerned about the cheetah’s survival? Why not just wait and let nature add the necessary genetic information for adaptive change to its genome? Better yet, why not speed up this process by bombarding a population of cheetah’s with appropriate chemicals and/or radiation to produce an abundance of mutations? The reason of course is that our experience tells us better.6

While at the Kansas City Zoo in May, 2012, I found signage that said much the same thing as that in the Calgary Zoo:

Kansas City Zoo 2012 Sign that said much the same thing as Calgary Zoo

We are told that “massive extinction events” caused inbreeding, thereby severely limiting the cheetah’s ability to undergo further adaptive change. Again, this kind of inbreeding can be seen to accentuate certain physical features to a degree unseen in the original cat stock, nevertheless, this unfolding of genetic potential cannot be considered a legitimate mechanism by which one kind of animal can become something fundamentally different over time. As the zoo signage attests, such a change, though perhaps adaptive to a particular environment, severely limits any possibility of further adaptive change. Again, none of this is contrary to the biblical view of cats. After the flood, two ancestral cats left Noah’s ark and began to reproduce and spread out over the world. As these cats became isolated from each other, traits which conferred survival advantage were selected for naturally, while others were selected against. In this way particular genes were lost in certain cat populations. Interesting new varieties of cats, like the cheetah, were produced from just such gene segregation. But how did the information to produce all this variety arise in the first place? Another sign reads:

Another Sign

This is a truly remarkable claim. We are told that the cheetah (of all things!) is the ancestral cat to all the interesting varieties of big cats in the world today. Millions of years ago, presumably, this creature was endowed with the genetic information to account for a wide variety of physical characteristics. Interestingly, 10,000 years ago “extinction events” caused some sort of genetic bottleneck in which only one species of cheetah survived. Two thoughts about this immediately come to mind.

First, we must find it truly incredible to suggest that the cheetah is the ancestral cat to all of today’s big cats. How can it be seriously maintained that an animal with the genetic potential to produce all the varieties of big cats we see in the world today can be described as a cheetah – an animal known for its low genetic potential? One begins to think that such a claim is being advanced for no other reason than to bolster support for today’s conservation efforts. After all, how can we let the beloved cheetah go extinct, seeing as all other varieties of magnificent big cats derive their very existence from it? While I personally applaud the conservation efforts in place to save these beautiful animals, I see no reason to call in a nature myth (read, the evolution story) to do it.

Secondly, this story about sudden climate change and inbreeding roughly 10,000 years ago squares well with the biblical picture of creation roughly 6,000 years ago, and a flood some 4,500 years ago. The flood itself no doubt caused the eradication of some cat varieties. Post flood catastrophism, most notably the ice age, would further contribute to the elimination of particular gene types in certain environments. So the popular picture that we have of the cheetah’s emergence based on scientific evidence is not all that different than what we would expect given a serious reading of the biblical record.

Conclusion:

The story of big cat development as promulgated by the evolutionist finds similarity with the biblical account in just those places where support comes from processes observed in the present. That is to say, both the creationist and the evolutionist see the rise of today’s cheetah populations as a result of inbreeding caused by catastrophic events in the relatively recent past. Such a claim squares well with what is actually observed in breeding experiments. Conversely, the two accounts seriously diverge where unsubstantiated claims are called upon (i.e. an ancestral cat that evolved from a creature that was a non-cat, and that cat history extends into the past millions of years).

 

 

By John Feakes

 

Notes and References

1. The subtitle of Lyell’s “ The Principles of Geology” highlights his central methodological principle: “Being an Attempt to Explain Former Changes of the Earth’s Surface, by Reference to Causes Now in Operation.”

2. Several examples can be cited. Some antibiotic resistance in bacteria is brought about by deleterious mutations affecting the cell’s regulatory system. In this case, an over production of a particular chemical which counters the effects of penicillin, results. In “normal” environments bacteria with such a mutation would be at a disadvantage seeing as they are making poor use of their chemical resources. Only in environments where penicillin is present would such a mutation be seen as “beneficial.”

A second example is the flightless beetle. Beetles living on windy islands benefit from a mutation which renders their wings useless. In this case, beetles that can no longer fly are at now risk of perishing by being blown out to sea.

A third, oft-cited example of a beneficial mutation involves the newly “evolved” ability of E coli bacteria to digest citrate. Again, this is a mutation unlike the information-adding variety that surely must occur for evolution from one kind of animal into another to take place. In the case of E coli, the bacteria were already capable of digesting citrate in anaerobic conditions. The mutation that crept into the population enabled the bacteria to digest citrate in aerobic conditions, but was nonetheless deleterious in that it destroyed specificity.

These and many more examples are more fully explained and documented at www.answeringenesis.org.

3. Steven Meyer, “Signature in the Cell: DNA And The Evidence For Intelligent Design”, Harper Collins, 2009

4. Computers are the most obvious example. Even the ardent atheist Richard Dawkins admitted that “The machine code in genes is uncannily computer-like.” He went on to say that, “Apart from differences in jargon, the pages of a molecular-biology journal might be interchanged with those of a computer-engineering journal.” Richard Dawkins, “River Out of Eden”, p. 17

5. “All competent biologists acknowledge the limited nature of the variation breeders can produce, although they do not like to discuss it much when grinding the evolutionary axe.” William R. Fix, “The Bone Peddlers: Selling Evolution”, New York, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984, pp.184-185

  • “A rule that all breeders recognise is that there are fixed limits to the amount of change that can be produced.” Lane P. Lester and Raymond H. bohlin, “The Natural Limits to Biological Change”, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1984, p.96

6. “Even if we didn’t have a great deal of data on this point, we could still be quite sure on theoretical grounds that mutants would usually be detrimental. For a mutation is a random change of a highly organized, reasonably smoothly functioning living body. A random change in the highly integrated system of chemical processes which constitute life is almost certain to impair it – just as a random interchange of connection in a television set is not likely to improve the picture.” James Crow, (Professor of Genetics, University of Wisconson), “Genetic Effects of Radiation”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 14, January, 1958, pp. 19-20

  • “Mutations cannot transform an original species of plant or animal into an entirely new one. this conclusion agrees with all the research of the 20th century taken together as well as with the laws of probability. Thus the law of recurrent variation implies that genetically properly defined species have real boundaries that cannot be abolished or transgressed by accidental mutations.” Wolf-Ekkehard Lonnig, a scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Germany, his conclusions were drawn from 70 years of mutation breeding. See http://www.weloennig.de/Giraffe.pdf
  • “The vast number of genetic experiments with plants and animals carried on since DeVries studies have shown that mutations do occur constantly and that the changes in phenotype produced by such mutations may rarely be of adaptive value and contribute to the survival of the organism. Instead, such mutations are more likely to have a deleterious or even disastrous effect. A random change in a computer chip or even a computer program is hardly likely to improve it. Mutations are random changes in nucleic acids and usually represent not merely alteration but an actual loss in genetic information. When we consider the complexity of living things, the wonder is not that mutations are usually harmful, but that any mutation is ever advantageous.” “Biology”, Claude A. Villee, Elder Pearl, P. William Davis, Saunders College Publishing, 1985, p.988
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