Out on a limb. Way out.

Last week, I commented on Cornelius Hunter’s claim that the acquisition of antibiotic resistance by bacteria is not an example of evolution. This claim doesn’t just put him at odds with evolutionary biologists, though. It puts him at odds with many of his fellows at the Discovery Institute.

It puts him at odds with David Klinghoffer:

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria demonstrate evolution by breaking stuff…”

even though Klinghoffer is apparently a fan of the post in which Dr. Hunter claimed the opposite:


So which is it, Mr. Klinghoffer? Is it “not evolution,” (as Dr. Hunter says) or is it “evolution by breaking stuff” (as you say)? It can’t be both.

It puts him at odds with Michael Egnor [the emphasis in the following quotes was added by me]:

…the evolutionary change demonstrated in the experiment is the loss, not the gain, of function.

It puts him at odds with John G. West:

Certainly evolutionary theory offers interesting insights into a wide array of microevolutionary changes, such as the development of antibiotic resistance or changes in the size of finch beaks.

It puts him at odds with Kirk Durston:

Microevolution (variation) takes place through genetic drift, natural selection, mutations, insertions/deletions, gene transfer, and chromosomal crossover, all of which produce countless observed variations in plant or animal populations throughout history. Examples include variations of the peppered moth, Galapagos finch beaks, new strains of flu viruses, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and variations in stickleback armour.

And it puts him at odds with Casey Luskin, not only because Luskin considers antibiotic resistance a clear example of evolution:

Darwinian principles are useful at explaining why bacteria can acquire resistance to antibiotics.

But because Luskin denies that anyone in the intelligent design camp thinks otherwise. Here’s the previous quote in context:

Apart from the harsh rhetoric, the problem with [Chris] Mooney’s straw man is that no Darwin-skeptic is a “denier” that Darwinian principles are useful at explaining why bacteria can acquire resistance to antibiotics. This extreme example of small-scale evolution results in no new species and no net additions of novel biological information to the genome. But it does happen, and thus it provides a useful example of precisely what neo-Darwinian processes actually can produce.

Well, no Darwin skeptic except Cornelius Hunter. It’s not a straw man if some of the people you’re arguing with actually believe it. Luskin again:

…every ID-proponent I know agrees that antibiotic resistance is a real evolutionary phenomenon.

Maybe he doesn’t know Dr. Hunter? And again:

Of course, no ID-proponent doubts the reality that “evolution happens.” We all know that small-scale changes take place in populations, causing major problems like antibiotic drug resistance.

Oh, of course. No ID-proponent doubts that. None would ever say of antibiotic resistance

That is not evolution.

or that antibiotic resistance arising in microbial evolution experiments

contradicts evolution.

But Dr. Hunter did say these things. Not to worry, I’m sure one of his colleagues at the Discovery Institute, perhaps Casey Luskin or John G. West or Kirk Durston or Michael Egnor, will set him straight. I’m sure Casey Luskin will admit that some ID proponents do deny that “…Darwinian principles are useful at explaining why bacteria can acquire resistance to antibiotics.”

All sarcasm aside, Dr. Hunter’s denial that antibiotic resistance can evolve is seriously extreme. Even some hardcore creationists admit that antibiotic resistance evolves. We can watch it happen, and have watched it happen, in real time. We know, in many cases, the exact mutations that confer resistance and how and how quickly they increase in frequency in bacterial populations. We know that it happens through a combination of mutation and selection, which is exactly what adaptive evolution is.


  1. ShowMetheData says

    For me the word to describe the path of selection is # deaths and complete generations replaced.
    Huge amount of numbers and short life cycles (with mutation rates/Billion base-pairs) practically guarantee change under selection.

    For the 1st section of that growth medium:
    Section Depth 133.33mm
    Width 600 mm
    Height 11 mm
    e-Coli Vol (1mm3) 1,000,000,000.00 10 ^ 9
    Per Generation # of E-Coli 880,000,000,000,000.
    Ist Mutation #generations 150

    Total # of e-coli born and died before the 1st mutation 1.32E+17

    And that does not include the ‘partial’ mutations that made further, later, mutations possible.

    The creationist fantasy is that is one cell doing this.
    Nope – key word = population.

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