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Most mutations are harmful (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Most mutations are harmful (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CB101:

Most mutations are harmful, so the overall effect of mutations is harmful.


  • Morris, Henry M. 1985. Scientific Creationism. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, pp. 55-57.
  • Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. 1985. Life--How Did It Get Here? Brooklyn, NY, pg. 100.

CreationWiki response:

This is a case where Creationists and Evolutionists mean different things by the same terms.

When Creationists speak of the harm, neutrality or benefit of mutations, it is a reference to general harm, neutrality or benefit. Being random, mutations represent a loss of genetic information and they often result in a loss of specialization. Such mutations actually produce an organism that is generally weaker than the non-mutant, but in some cases a mutation happens to allow the mutant to survive an unusual situation because the mutants have lost something the situation targets for destruction.

When Evolutionists speak of the harm, neutrality or benefit of mutations, they refer to specific harm, neutrality or benefit. A claim that some mutations are beneficial, neutral or harmful to an organism is always environment specific. They see no absolute benefit or harm, but see it as relative to a specific environment.

Furthermore Evolutionists see all genetic variation as coming from mutations. They often ignore other sources of genetic variation such as Genetic recombination, Natural Genetic Engineering and Gene transference

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. Most mutations are neutral. Nachman and Crowell estimate around 3 deleterious mutations out of 175 per generation in humans (2000). Of those that have significant effect, most are harmful, but a significant fraction are beneficial. The harmful mutations do not survive long, and the beneficial mutations survive much longer, so when you consider only surviving mutations, most are beneficial.

What Talk Origins does not tell you is that this study did not measure actual mutations in human beings. As with a number of other studies, Nachman and Crowell did a comparison of Human and Chimpanzee DNA; they then used the totally Evolutionary assumption that Humans and Chimpanzees had a common ancestor that lived about 5 million years ago. Their estimate of 3 deleterious mutations per generation had the same basis.

As a result this study has no basis in reality.

2. Beneficial mutations are commonly observed. They are common enough to be problems in the cases of antibiotic resistance in disease-causing organisms and pesticide resistance in agricultural pests (e.g., Newcomb et al. 1997; these are not merely selection of pre-existing variation.) They can be repeatedly observed in laboratory populations (Wichman et al. 1999). Other examples include the following:

These are actually cases of Natural Genetic Engineering not random mutations. In these cases the genetic change is too convenient and repeatable to be a result of random mutations. In these and similar cases the evidence suggests that the organisms deliberately reprogrammed their DNA in response to environmental conditions. This adds a level of complexity that is more consistent with the actions of an intelligent designer than with natural process.

  • Plant breeders have used mutation breeding to induce mutations and select the beneficial ones (FAO/IAEA 1977).

The first question is beneficial to whom? To the plant or to human needs for food. This is a case where intelligent agents (humans) select by deliberate choice those traits that benefit their own needs rather than the plant's.

While the data needed for certainty is not available, it is likely that these plants lose something in the process, such as the ability to survive without human care. For example, the same trait or lack of a trait that keeps away pests may keep away fertilizing insects as well.

Certain mutations in humans confer resistance to AIDS (Dean et al. 1996; Sullivan et al. 2001)

In these cases the resistance to AIDS results from a genetic deletion, and thus is unquestionably a loss of information. The resistance to AIDS results from that person's lacking an enzyme that is used by the AIDS virus. This type of mutation is expected under the Creation model.

or to heart disease.

Creationists do not claim that mutations never produce positive side effects, but that they are harmful over all. For example, a mutation might prevent a person from forming the platelets that causes blood to clot. Such a mutation would have the positive side effect of all but eliminating the chances of having a stroke or heart attack, but someone with such a condition is likely to bleed to death from a minor cut.

If this is a mutation, it is likely that there are negative side affects that the researchers missed simply because they did not look for them.

Finally, since the gene in question existed long before being discovered, it is possible that that gene could be the original and the “normal” gene of the mutation.

These people have a genetic disease that causes deformities in the mouth, which probably make eating difficult. While one effect is increased bone density, the fact that the mutation also causes deformities in the mandible (lower jaw) makes it likely that the higher bone density is at least partly responsible for the deformities. To call this a beneficial mutation, without saying anything about the deformities, is at best poor scholarship and at worst deliberate fraud.

  • Transposons are common, especially in plants, and help to provide beneficial diversity (Moffat 2000).

Transposons are not mutations but Mobile genetic elements. They are segments of DNA that cut and paste or copy and paste themselves into other segments of DNA. While they can cause mutations in the process, transposons are a way for a cell to move genetic material around. This process can create new varieties within a created kind, by reusing existing genetic information.

  • In vitro mutation and selection can be used to evolve substantially improved function of RNA molecules, such as a ribozyme (Wright and Joyce 1997).

The processes involved in this experiment were purely chemical in nature. The improved function of the RNA was in the form of faster catalytic and amplification rates. As such it has no bearing on the question of beneficial mutations.

3. Whether a mutation is beneficial or not depends on environment. A mutation that helps the organism in one circumstance could harm it in another. When the environment changes, variations that once were counteradaptive suddenly become favored. Since environments are constantly changing, variation helps populations survive, even if some of those variations do not do as well as others. When beneficial mutations occur in a changed environment, they generally sweep through the population rapidly.

Defining beneficial mutations in this manner allows any non-fatal mutation to be potentially beneficial, thus making the concept untestable. The simple fact is that with a little imagination a situation can be found were even the most degenerative mutations could have a survival advantage. Here are a few examples:

  • A mutation in a bird that prevents its wings from developing, thus rendering it flightless, would protect that bird from being hit by a plane or being sucked into a jet engine. According to Talk Origins’ definition this would make it a beneficial mutation.
  • A deer born without legs would be unable to cross a road. Such a mutation would protect that deer from being hit by a car. According to Talk Origins’ definition this would make it a beneficial mutation.
  • Chihuahuas are basically degenerative mutant dogs, particularly when compared to wolves. Lock a dozen wolves and chihuahuas in a room; give them water but no food. In a week you will only have wolves, because they would have eaten the chihuahuas. Now let’s redo this experiment by mounting a bunch of remote controlled machine guns around the room at about 2 feet high. Within seconds of turning on the guns the only living dogs in the room will be the chihuahuas. All the wolves would have been shot. According to Talk Origins’ definition, the chihuahuas would be a beneficial mutation when the machine guns are on.

In all three cases the mutants are clearly inferior to and less likely to survive in nature than the non-mutants, yet their degenerative mutant state prevents them from being exposed to something that will kill the non-mutants.

When Creationists say that there are no beneficial mutations, they mean mutations that are generally beneficial to the organism and not the odd case where the degenerative condition prevents them from being exposed to some source of harm. This type of mutation would require producing new information, which is impossible for a random event such as a mutation.

4. High mutation rates are advantageous in some environments. Hypermutable strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa are found more commonly in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, where antibiotics and other stresses increase selection pressure and variability, than in patients without cystic fibrosis.

Are they high mutation rates or actually high Natural genetic engineering rates? It makes sense that bacteria with high Natural Genetic Engineering rates would do better in high stress environments than low stress environments.

5. Note that the existence of any beneficial mutations is a falsification of the young-earth creationism model (Morris 1985, 13).

Finding mutations that are beneficial in an absolute sense would be a failed prediction of the creation model, but this does not apply to the relative beneficial mutations that Talk Origins refers to. Falsification of the Creation model for mutations would require random mutations that actually generate information rather than destroy it as random mutations actually do.