ICR: But They’re Still Fruit Flies!

What is it with creationists and fruit flies? Last year we posted Klinghoffer: “But They’re Still Fruit Flies!” Now we have another such item, but this time it’s from a different bunch of creationists.

The granddaddy of all creationist outfits, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), is the fountainhead of young-earth creationist wisdom. They have this new post at their website: Do Hairless Fruit Fly Larvae Spell “Evolution”? Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us. It begins with a rhetorical question:

Does it matter whether the larvae of one fruit fly species have hairy backs while those of another are smooth?

Of course it matters! We would remind ICR’s creation scientist of what is written in the Good Book, Genesis 27:11, King James version:

And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.

Please ignore that digression. Let’s read on:

Well, for scientists who believe both species descended from the same ancestor population, it could perhaps be taken as an example of evolution in action. The genetic causes for these particular differences, however, clearly show that no Darwinian processes were involved.

No Darwinian processes were involved? The creation scientist is talking about an article in Nature, and although he doesn’t provide a link to it, we will: Morphological evolution caused by many subtle-effect substitutions in regulatory DNA. You’ll need a subscription to read that article, but the abstract appears to contradict ICR. Its last sentence says:

These data provide unprecedented resolution of the phenotypic effects of substitutions and show how individual nucleotide changes in a transcriptional enhancer have caused morphological evolution.

Never mind what the researchers concluded. What’s important to us is what ICR says, so we continue:

An international team of biologists has teased out the genetic underpinnings of fruit fly larval hairs. The researchers found that the presence or absence of hairs resulted from “many subtle-effect substitutions in regulatory DNA,” not in genes. These minor changes were labeled “evolution in action,” but the study results actually show just the opposite. The variations in larvae hairs show at least two genetic features that only make sense if they were purposefully designed creations.


First, the researchers found that reducing the production of these tiny hairs only required the subtle alteration of a handful of DNA sequences that were not genes but were regulatory DNA called “enhancers.”

Ah — the DNA changes weren’t in genes but in another part of the genome. That means they were purposefully designed! Here’s more:

The researchers referred to these differences as “mutations,” but by definition, mutations are supposed to be randomly introduced genetic errors. Random differences should therefore be distributed randomly in the genome, not concentrated in a “focal region” that experiences DNA alteration rates “4.8 times higher” than nearby DNA sequences.

Hey — if they’re not randomly distributed, they’re not mutations. Bet you didn’t know that! Moving along:

Why are there so many differences in just one region and so few elsewhere? The authors speculated that the focal region “has evolved under positive selection, or relaxed constraints, or both.” It sounds as though they don’t really know.

We don’t know either, but we can guess. Maybe the researchers were working with a very select sample, and they didn’t observe other mutations occurring in the wild. Or maybe there were mutations affecting other regions of the genome, but those flies don’t survive to be observed. The region under study may have only a trivial effect on the organism, like producing larval hair, so such mutations cause no survival problems. This isn’t terribly difficult, and it seems a bit … ah, gratuitous to proclaim the “intentional design” conclusion.

Here’s another excerpt, and this is where the fun starts:

How could natural selection decide, so to speak, to act on one region of a genome when it can only kill off whole individuals if they prove to be “unfit”? And how does nature act at all, since it has no mind?

Powerful questions! The creation scientist provides a footnote for that, with a link to an ICR publication. We’ll ignore it. On with the article:

Yes, changes have occurred in fruit fly genomes. But since they’re all still fruit flies, and since the changes are non-random and therefore are controlled by intelligent genetic programming, these changes do not equal “evolution.”

And now we come to the end with its Darwin-destroying conclusion:

Clearly, the facts that only subtle DNA changes are needed to produce relevant body alterations, that the DNA changes did not occur in the genes (which would have corrupted vital code), and that the DNA changes occurred in a small and specific region, all add up to spell “Creator.”

Come on, dear reader — we know you’re impressed. Don’t be ashamed to admit it.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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14 responses to “ICR: But They’re Still Fruit Flies!

  1. Unfortunately Mr. Thomas did not go on to describe exactly why the creator was messing around with tiny hairs on fruit flies. Does God have too much time on his hands? After all, these changes effect nothing, unlike updating the code in disease causing viruses and bacteria to stay ahead of human efforts to eradicate them. Maybe he was just taking a bit of time off from the more important work.

    I would respond to the ICR that changes in fruit fly hirsuteness resulting from subtile changes in the genome, achievable by random mutation, with no obvious design goal, spells “evolution”.

  2. What is it with creationists and fruit flies?

    I think I may be able to shed some light here; I’ve encountered this tactic before in (pointless, ultimately futile) debates with dyed-in-the-wool creationists. “He studied fruit flies” is creationist “code” – their simpleminded, typically one sentence soundbite method of dismissing Darwin and/or invalidating evolution. They’re trying to imply that the research Darwin devoted his life to is of meaningless significance to human biology. A jaw-droppingly stupid attitude that reveals an ignorance of both history and scientific method – but what else is new? Ignorance springs eternal in these simple folks. Logic is useless.

  3. magpie61 said:

    Ignorance springs eternal in these simple folks.

    I’m gonna have to correct you. “Ignorance” is simply a lack of knowledge. “Stupidity” is the inability to make informed decisions on the basis of evidence and reason. In my book, that makes them stupid, not ignorant.

  4. Tomato Addict

    In my book, that makes them stupid, not ignorant.

    I’m going to go with amazingly stupid AND willfully ignorant.

  5. Brian Thomas, M.S., is also the guy who gave us Antibiotic Resistance in Bacteria Did Not Evolve. Clearly God hates patients in hospitals where MRSA occurs:

    It looks as though the RlmN enzyme was created with adaptive programming to “fine tune” its application, yet without disrupting its core function. Thus, adaptive programming, not evolution, is responsible for the ability of this strain of bacteria to survive in methicillin. If verified by further research, the origin of this spectacular adaptive design would only be explainable by an ingenious Creator.

    That “ingenious Creator” should be “malicious Creator.”

  6. RBH says:

    That “ingenious Creator” should be “malicious Creator.”

    Cease your blasphemy! Such things are the just result of sin in the Garden.

  7. I’m going to go with amazingly stupid AND willfully ignorant.

    I stand corrected, Gary and Tomato. One thing you can be sure of – as soon as a new rallying cry receives sufficient approval from the creationist community (i.e: “Were you there?”), it quickly spreads as if by osmosis and they all begin parroting it verbatim, like those weird alien kids in “Village of the Damned”. It’s uncanny.

    The fruit flies dodge, or mantra, or whatever you want to call it, is meant to accomplish two goals simultaneously: a) convey contempt, and b) end all further debate instantly – without resorting to any actual research or expending undue stress upon the intellect. You may as well be debating a Stop sign.

  8. magpie61 says:

    You may as well be debating a Stop sign.

    It’s funny you say that. When I was in college, I saw a drunk guy in Atlanta do that very thing. Frankly, I’m not sure who won.

  9. Wow, I’m bowled over by ICR’s insight.

    How could natural selection decide, so to speak, to act on one region of a genome when it can only kill off whole individuals if they prove to be “unfit”? And how does nature act at all, since it has no mind?

    But something occured to me. Perhaps we should accede to a “designer”. Nature certainly designed the fruit fly’s hirsuteness. Can we give Nature a personage? Lots of people think Nature=God. ICR just admitted it right here, Nature has no mind,
    Maybe we can turn their claims around and slowly get rid of the word “intelligent”.

    I’m not sure this is making the sense I hoped when my thoughts first formed. It is late and I really need some sleep :-).

  10. Dammit! I missed that Jacob thing…. 😀
    Is it only me that thinks that when he talks about “intelligent genetic programming” and similar, B.T. is implying that he supports Lamarckism?

  11. If I may go a bit off topic, since you mention both David Klinghoffer and ICR in the same post, and I was pretty sure that DK is not a YEC, I googled to find where I got that impression. It’s probably not the same article I read before, but DK wrote in 2005:

    “Intelligent Design, as most readers must be aware, is not creationism. It fully accepts that what we know of the earth’s great antiquity and of the interrelationship of species can’t be squared with a literal reading of the Genesis creation account.”

    As you know, I’m no fan of ICR or DK, and consider the latter as quickly becoming the central figure in the anti-evolution movement. What fascinates me about DK’s statement is not just the “ID is not creationism” nonsense, but a rare attempt to back it up. While he could be playing word games with “interrelationship” it sure reads like he accepts common descent. That’s what I recall from before, i.e. a Behe-like position whereby species supposedly often change by something other than “RM + NS.” If so he goes even further than Behe by claiming that “ID itself,” not just some of its proponents, fully accepts an old earth and common descent.

  12. early_cuyler

    Somebody let Jerry Coyne know when he gets back from Russia that ICR is on the way to showing the TRUTHS about his beloved Drosophila. Bad enough that PZ is dissing the kittehs!

  13. skmarshall

    “How could natural selection decide, so to speak, to act on one region of a genome when it can only kill off whole individuals if they prove to be “unfit”?”

    This underscores the ICR nitwit’s complete lack of understanding of the natural selection process, as natural selection only rewards reproductive success and doesn’t “kill off” anything. It’s no wonder they are confused by the fact that there are “still monkeys”.

  14. Wait and see Jonathan Wells, argue it is more evidence against Junk DNA.