Lenski’s E. coli Experiment Proves Creationism

You’re probably aware of Richard Lenski’s E. coli long-term evolution experiment. Wikipedia says it’s:

… an ongoing study in experimental evolution led by Richard Lenski that has been tracking genetic changes in 12 initially identical populations of asexual Escherichia coli bacteria since 24 February 1988. The populations reached the milestone of 50,000 generations in February 2010 and 66,000 in November 2016. …

Over the course of the experiment, Lenski and his colleagues have reported a wide array of phenotypic and genotypic changes in the evolving populations. These have included changes that have occurred in all 12 populations and others that have only appeared in one or a few populations. For example, all 12 populations showed a similar pattern of rapid improvement in fitness that decelerated over time, faster growth rates, and increased cell size. Half of the populations have evolved defects in DNA repair that have caused mutator phenotypes marked by elevated mutation rates. The most striking adaptation reported so far is the evolution of aerobic growth on citrate, which is unusual in E. coli, in one population at some point between generations 31,000 and 31,500.

Creationists either ignore Lenki’s work, or else they claim it’s only micro-evolution. They’re always screaming that no one has literally seen a monkey evolve into a man, or a dog into a cat, or a crock into a duck. The latest such declaration is from Answers in Genesis (AIG) — the creationist ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the Australian entrepreneur who has become the ayatollah of Appalachia.

Their title is Celebrating Over 60,000 Generations of Creation Science by an Evolutionist. It was written by Andrew Fabich. AIG provides some information about him here. They say he has a PhD in microbiology, and he has taught that subject at Liberty University. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

When people discuss evidence for evolution, they often cite the work of Richard Lenski at Michigan State University. He has been growing E. coli in the lab for nearly 30 years. Lenski’s work is phenomenal and worth a look, but from a creationist perspective. The biggest problem with Lenski’s work is not the work itself, but the interpretation of it. … When studied with the correct biblical worldview, Lenski’s E. coli demonstrate an amazingly complex showcase for design by an all-knowing Creator. … Upon closer inspection of what Lenski is actually doing, we can see that his experiments support a biblical worldview and demonstrate the flexibility of God’s creation over time.

Yes, Lenski has the wrong perspective. But Fabich is surprisingly respectful of Lenski. He says:

First, there is no reason to doubt the honesty and integrity with which Lenski is handling his bacteria. Lenski is a member of the National Academy of Science because he knows how to do science well, and we should treat him with respect. … With Lenski’s latest observations, we must first acknowledge that we trust what Lenski is doing and that his results are real. However, we disagree with Lenski’s interpretation of his recent observations. The kind of science that Lenski is doing is called historical science, which is different from empirical science.

[*Groan*] That again. It’s the false distinction made by Hambo’s creationists between “Operational” (or “Observational”) science and “Historical” science. We’ve written about it several times, originally in Creationism and Science, and most recently in ‘Historical Science’ Validated Again. Fabich tells us:

Each day, Lenski reports getting about 6.6 generations of bacteria. So in one day, Lenski’s E. coli see the calculated equivalent of approximately 132 years of human elapsed time. This number becomes impressive when he has observed 60,000 bacterial generations, which are then claimed by some to be the equivalent of 1,200,000 years of human evolution. But is that number all that significant?

He explains why it’s not significant:

Since there are significant differences between the bacterial and human mutation rates, then there is not a good correlation between their number of generations. Comparing bacterial generations to human generations is worse than comparing apples to oranges; it’s more like comparing apples to rocks. Furthermore, even if you could say that these generations were equal, Lenski’s cultures would have only demonstrated evolution through the most recent Ice Age by their reckoning. That is hardly any significant evidence of evolutionary change happening because the bacteria are still bacteria. Never mind the fact that we have been growing E. coli in the lab for over 100 years, and it still remains E. coli — no real evolution has happened to the E. coli since its original description.

Hey, he’s right — the bacteria are still bacteria! Let’s read on:

Of all the mutations that Lenski has observed over the 60,000 generations, the most interesting one has been the mutation for the citT gene. This mutation is interesting because this gene is normally turned off during aerobic growth conditions. However, Lenski observed that this gene was switched on during aerobic growth conditions. This citT mutation is significant because E. coli is traditionally defined as being citrate negative under aerobic conditions, but this mutation causes E. coli to become citrate positive. As a result, Lenski argues that his E. coli have evolved into a new species because of their newfound ability to utilize citrate under aerobic conditions. However, there are several serious problems associated with this kind of thinking:

We’ll skip his reasons. You can read them if you like. We’ll jump to his final paragraph:

At the end of the day, Lenski’s E. coli are a remarkable showcase for design in nature. God created bacteria with the ability to adapt to their surroundings, and Lenski’s observations are no different. The big problem with Lenski’s work is not Lenski himself, but those who use Lenski’s work to cite this E. coli growth as proof of evolution.

But those people are fools! Fabich explains:

In fact, the famous evolutionist and atheist Jerry Coyne (former professor at Cornell University) has famously said that “you can get these complex traits evolving by a combination of unlikely events. That’s just what creationists say can’t happen.”

That’s what the famous evolutionist famously said. But what does Fabich say? Here it comes:

After reviewing all the literature for Lenski’s bacteria, I have to admit that I’m a creationist who now says that it can and does happen because God designed microbes with amazing complexity.

Ah yes, that’s a much better explanation. And now we come to the end:

Lenski’s work is not a threat to creationists, but a welcome piece of evidence. It is important that we give Lenski credit for his hard work, but also that we correctly interpret it: God deserves the credit for creating such wonderful E. coli. Ultimately, some people base their worldview on work like Lenski’s; if so, their worldview needs to be re-evaluated. In particular, when we base our entire worldview on the Word of God, all of Lenski’s work falls into place.

So there you are AIG says that Lenski’s work is proof of creation. He’ll be thrilled to know that.

Copyright © 2018. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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18 responses to “Lenski’s E. coli Experiment Proves Creationism

  1. Michael Fugate

    Last time I looked Jerry Coyne was a professor at the University of Chicago…
    Making up things you don’t know and can’t bother to look up is par for AiG.

  2. When they talk about “historical science” they really mean hysterical science right?

  3. Derek Freyberg

    To be precise, Jerry Coyne is a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.
    But that doesn’t alter the validity of Michael Fugate’s comment above: AiG has little regard for the truth.

  4. And where does the Bible say anything about micro-evolution, about any barrier to evolution, in particular any barrier between other primates and humans? Where does the Bible say anything about kinds of bacteria?

  5. To study generations of bacteria in vitro, fastidiously archiving samples for genomic studies since 30 years is not empirical? “Empiric” must have a weird meaning in creationspeak.

    [EJB:] “When they talk about “historical science” they really mean hysterical science right?”

    It’s closer to “supernatural science” or “untestable science” or “dogmatic science”. They don’t mean it, but it’s what it is: a creationist’s delusion.

  6. After reviewing all the literature for Lenski’s bacteria, I have to admit that I’m a creationist who now says that [developing complex traits] can and does happen because God designed microbes with amazing complexity.

    Say Dr Fabich, do you want a set of wheels to help you move those goalposts?

  7. No regular of this blog should be surprised even a bit. Creacrap explains everything and anything.

  8. “At the end of the day, Lenski’s E. coli are a remarkable showcase for design in nature. God created bacteria with the ability to adapt to their surroundings, and Lenski’s observations are no different.”

    What? Has AiG suddenly adopted theistic evolution? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, since they’ve already adopted superfast adaptive evolutionary radiations (to economise on “kinds” in the Ark), and superfast plate tectonics (to solve the problem of how the waters covered the mountain tops; they were flatter back then)

  9. There is a history behind fundamentalism, going back to the early 19th century, of the philosophy of science of Frances Bacon. See the Wy article on Princeton theology. It is recognized universally today that Bacon’s “scientific method” is a distortion of science.

  10. I agree. Absolutists tend to put forward rigid versions of “THE scientific method”, based either on Baconian ideas of direct observation, or on the crude version of Popper’s falsifiability criterion.

    I seem to remember that it was you who drew my attention to Carol Cleland’s excellent work on the differences and similarities between historical and laboratory science. The punchline (brag time: I had reached this point independently myself) is that historical science has the edge. What happened happened, even if we can’t explain it. Examples; the ice ages, continental drift, and a Sun that had been putting out energy for many tens of millions of years, all of which when proposed were not explainable in terms of known physics.

  11. I don’t recall that refernce to Carol Cleland.
    I do recall reading someting from Lord Kelvin saying that the strength of science is in telling us about that which is not here and now.
    And the difference is not only by being distant in past time, but also inaccessable by spatial distance, or being too large or small, too fast or too slow, or indetectable to any of our senses,

  12. Rikki_Tikki_Taalik

    Upon closer inspection of what Lenski is actually doing, we can see that his experiments support a biblical worldview and demonstrate the flexibility of God’s creation over time.

    Not quite like the flexibility of talking snakes and donkeys who no longer have much to say, apparently.

  13. Curious that the bacteria in only exactly one flask exercised their God-given flexibility to become citrate-positive.

  14. Michael Fugate

    Was it new “information”?
    A couple of creationists have tried to show that Fisher’s fundamental theorem is wrong. Claiming that variation has to be front-loaded. I haven’t looked closely at their assumptions, but am skeptical.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29116373

  15. I suggest that one take a look at the 18th-century theory of preformatiom, the theory that was an alternative to reproduction. There are examples of the same arguments which are used by ID against evolution. For example, front-loaded.
    Preformation, however, was not just negative. There was a genuine theory of preformation.

  16. Ross Cameron

    ‘I’m a creationist who now says that it can and does happen because God designed microbes with amazing complexity.’ O.k., then explain why those microbes are EVOLVING into more dangerous species.

  17. To understand your problem requires a long attention span.

  18. Since there are significant differences between the bacterial and human mutation rates, then there is not a good correlation between their number of generations. Comparing bacterial generations to human generations is worse than comparing apples to oranges; it’s more like comparing apples to rocks. Furthermore, even if you could say that these generations were equal, Lenski’s cultures would have only demonstrated evolution through the most recent Ice Age by their reckoning. That is hardly any significant evidence of evolutionary change happening because the bacteria are still bacteria. Never mind the fact that we have been growing E. coli in the lab for over 100 years, and it still remains E. coli — no real evolution has happened to the E. coli since its original description.

    “Show me a microbe turning into a man.”

    And letting creationists define “real” evolution is an empty exercise; they’ll just keep adjusting their definition to exclude any unwelcome evidence.