A confused mess, part 1

I follow Uncommon Descent to keep up with what the cdesign proponentsists are up to, even though I’ve been banned from commentingUncommon Descent pushes out about three times as many articles as Evolution News & Views, and it’s clear that less than a third as much thought goes into each one. Worse, the articles’ authorship is rarely identified, robbing me of my second favorite sport after fly fishing, pointing out creationists’ self-contradictions. For both of these reasons, I don’t comment on their posts nearly as often. But if you read this blog at all, you must know that I can’t pass on a video that 1) claims to provide evidence against evolution and 2) has Volvox in it.

A recent post includes (well, pretty much IS) the above video by Phillip Cunningham. The first two images in the video are of Volvox and Gonium swimming around while piano music plays in the background. That is, by far, the high point. For you, dear reader, I watched the whole miserable half hour.

It starts off talking about antibiotic resistance in bacteria, while showing video of swimming creatures that are decidedly not bacteria:

Many times Darwinists will claim that minor adaptations in bacteria, such as antibiotic resistance, are proof that Darwinian evolution is true. Yet, that simply is not the case. In fact, when examined in detail, we find that antibiotic resistance provides evidence against Darwinian claims.

The following video, at the 2:15 minute mark, shows that there is always a ‘fitness cost’ associated with bacteria gaining antibiotic resistance.

Investigating Evolution: Anti-Biotic Resistant Bacteria – video

In the following article, Casey Luskin states, ‘(an antibiotic resistant bacterium) reproduces slower than it did before it was changed. This effect is widely recognized, and is called the fitness cost of antibiotic resistance. It is the existence of these costs and other examples of the limits of evolution that call into question the neo-Darwinian story of macroevolution.

Ah, the eminent biologist Casey Luskin, who calls Michael Behe’s own definition of intelligent design a “false, straw-man version.” Here are the quotes he references:

Thank Goodness the NCSE Is Wrong: Fitness Costs Are Important to Evolutionary Microbiology
Excerpt: it (an antibiotic resistant bacterium) reproduces slower than it did before it was changed. This effect is widely recognized, and is called the fitness cost of antibiotic resistance. It is the existence of these costs and other examples of the limits of evolution that call into question the neo-Darwinian story of macroevolution.

Helping an Internet Debater Defend Intelligent Design
Excerpt: ,,, antibiotic resistant bacteria tend to “revert” to their prior forms after the antibacterial drug is removed. This is due to a “fitness cost,” which suggests that mutations that allow antibiotic resistance are breaking down the normal, efficient operations of a bacterial cell, and are less “advantageous.

But both of these things are true: antibiotic resistance often comes with a fitness cost, and antibiotic resistant bacteria will often lose their resistance if they’re cultured without the antibiotic. The interpretation, though, is totally wrongheaded. When an antibiotic is added to a bacterial culture, that’s a change in their environment. Over time, they will adapt to that environment by evolving resistance. If you remove the antibiotic, that changes their environment again. Because they’re now adapted to a different environment, they don’t do as well at first. Got that? Bacteria grown in one environment evolve to do better in that environment, and will often do worse in another environment.

There is no contradiction of evolutionary (or even ‘Darwinian’) principles here. The only reason it seems so to the cdesign proponentsists is that they cling to a progressivist view of evolution, in which organisms must get better in some absolute sense. That is not at all what natural selection is about. Organisms adapt to the environment they find themselves in at the time.

Not how this works

In 2016, a video was made of bacteria rapidly adapting to higher and higher doses of antibiotics and they claimed to have captured ‘evolution in action’

I wrote about this video, and the accompanying paper, in response to Cornelius Hunter’s self-contradictory claim that the bacteria adapted but did not evolve. Here’s the actual video:

Yet, the fact of the matter is that no new information was generated in the rapid adaptations. Moreover, Michael Behe noted that the “Antibiotic-resistant bacteria demonstrate evolution by breaking stuff, what we have here is devolution, not evolution, the opposite of what needs to be explained”

I’ve written about this, too (“Devolution isn’t a thing“):

The idea of devolution betrays a widely-held misconception about how evolution works. If devolution is evolution in the ‘wrong’ direction, then there must be a ‘right’ direction. There isn’t. Evolution is heritable change over time; it doesn’t have an inevitable, built-in direction. It does what works at the time.

‘Evolution by breaking stuff’ is still evolution. Cunningham again:

Moreover, the fact that antibiotic resistance was being gained so rapidly in the video, as well as being gained rapidly in nature, should have been a solid clue for Darwinists that adaptations to antibiotics are not being generated by random Darwinian processes as they assume they are, but that antibiotic resistance is already ‘programmed’ into bacteria.

First of all, ‘Darwinian processes’, which I take to mean natural selection, are not random; that’s an oft-repeated creationist straw man. More importantly, though, Cunningham has already contradicted himself (and we’re only three and a half minutes in). Is antibiotic resistance ‘programmed’ into bacteria, or does it result from ‘evolution by breaking stuff’? It can’t be both.

As well, instead of antibiotic resistant genes being something new, as Darwinists assume they are, it is now found that ‘those vexing (antibiotic resistance) genes turn up everywhere in nature that scientists look for them’.

Darwinists assume no such thing. I challenge Cunningham to find an evolutionary biologist who has claimed that antibiotic resistance must result from novel genes. Ugh, this is turning into a confused mess. To sort it out, I’ll have to translate from creation-ese:

  1. “Evolution by breaking stuff” – evolution by loss of function mutations, i.e. the inactivation of a gene by (for example) a frameshift mutation or premature stop codon.
  2. “Programmed into bacteria” – it’s not new: “And indeed, contrary to Darwinian thought, it is now found that antibiotic resistance, instead of being an ability that is new for bacteria, is an ability that is ancient.”
  3. “Antibiotic resistance genes” – there are a few things this could mean: it could mean ‘genes that produce a protein involved in antibiotic resistance’, or it could mean ‘genes that when inactivated (see 1) result in antibiotic resistance’. Following the link Cunningham provides, it’s clear that he’s talking about the former.

Regarding (1), yes, this is sometimes how evolution works. It’s not ‘devolution’; it’s the standard, Darwinian process of random mutations that increase or decrease in frequency due to selection (and no, I haven’t contradicted myself: mutations are random; selection is not). There is absolutely nothing surprising about the fact that evolution sometimes involves loss of function mutations. Calling it ‘devolution’ is just creationists contorting themselves into pretzels to avoid saying ‘evolution’. Saying ‘evolution’ makes them feel icky. Just look at the Casey Luskin quote above: “…before it was changed”? You mean “before it evolved.”

Regarding (2), this is almost certainly true. Some bacteria are, and probably have been for a very long time, resistant to some antibiotics. Checkmate for the creationists, right? Why would bacteria be resistant to antibiotics, when antibiotics weren’t invented until 1928?

Know what? I’m just going to let that hang for a while. This is already getting quite long, and I’m only four minutes in to the video. I’m leaving for the Volvox meeting tomorrow morning, and I need to pack camping gear, fishing gear, eclipse glasses, and (it wouldn’t do to forget) clothes. So this just became a multi-parter. Maybe by the time I have part 2 written up, someone will tell me in the comments why we evolutionary biologists shouldn’t just hang up our hats in light of pre-antibiotic antibiotic resistance.


  1. Bruce says

    This is amazing. To me, this proves that the creationists weren’t faking it. They REALLY don’t understand evolution. I had thought some of them were just playing dumb. But they’re not playing around.

  2. jazzlet says

    Do they really not know that antibiotics were initially found in other organisms? Organisms the bacteria will have encountered before? Urgh the bare-faced cheek of trying to talk about this stuff when you don’t even know the basics. We did that in school biology, maybe even before O level work started (so before fourteen).


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