Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

At Evolution News: Mammoth Support for Devolution


Michael Behe writes:

The more science progresses, the more hapless Darwin seems.

In my 2019 book Darwin Devolves I showed that random mutation and natural selection are powerful de-volutionary forces. That is, they quickly lead to the loss of genetic information. The reason is that, in many environmental circumstances, a species’ lot can be improved most quickly by breaking or blunting pre-existing genes. To get the point across, I used an analogy to a quick way to improve a car’s gas mileage — remove the hood, throw out the doors, get rid of any excess weight. That will help the car go further, but it also reduces the number of features of the car. And it sure doesn’t explain how any of those now-jettisoned parts got there in the first place.

Image credit: Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

The Bottom Line

The same goes for biology. Helpful mutations that arrive most quickly are very much more likely to degrade genetic features than to construct new ones. The featured illustration in Darwin Devolves was the polar bear, which has accumulated a number of beneficial mutations since it branched off from the brown bear a few hundred thousand years ago. Yet the large majority of those beneficial mutations were degradative — they broke or damaged pre-existing genes. For example, a gene involved in fur pigmentation was damaged, rendering the beast white — that helped; another gene involved in fat metabolism was degraded, allowing the animal to consume lots of seal blubber, its main food in the Arctic — that helped, too. Those mutations were good for the species in the moment — they did improve its chances of survival. But degradative mutations don’t explain how the functioning genes got there in the first place. Even worse, the relentless burning of genetic information to adapt to a changing environment will make a species evolutionarily brittle and more prone to extinction. The bottom line: Although random mutation and natural selection help a species adapt, Darwinian processes can’t account for the origins of sophisticated biological systems.

In Darwin Devolves, I also mentioned work on DNA extracted from frozen woolly mammoth carcasses that showcased devolution: “26 genes were shown to be seriously degraded, many of which (as with polar bear) were involved in fat metabolism, critical in the extremely cold environments that the mammoth roamed.” It turns out that was an underestimate. A new paper1 that has sequenced DNA from several more woolly mammoth remains says the true number is more than triple that — 87 genes broken compared to their elephant relatives. 

There’s Lots More

The point is that these gene losses aren’t side shows — they are the events that transformed an elephant into a mammoth, that adapted the animal to its changing environment. A job well done, yes, but now those genes are gone forever, unavailable to help with the next change of environment. Perhaps that contributed to eventual mammoth extinction.

As quoted above, the mammoth authors note that gene losses can be adaptive, and they cited a paper that I hadn’t seen before. I checked it out and it’s a wonderful laboratory evolution study of yeast.2 Helsen et al. (2020) used a collection of yeast strains in which one of each different gene in the genome had been knocked out. They grew the knockout yeast in a stressful environment and watched to see how the microbes evolved to handle it. Many of the yeast strains, with different genes initially knocked out, recovered, and some even surpassed the fitness of wild-type yeast under the circumstances. The authors emphasized the fact of the evolutionary recovery. However, they also clearly stated (but don’t seem to have noticed the importance of the fact) that all of the strains rebounded by breaking other genes, ones that had been intact at the beginning of the experiment. None built anything new, all of them devolved.

Well, Duh

That’s hardly a surprise. At least in retrospect, it’s easy to see that devolution must happen — for the simple reason that helpful degradative mutations are more plentiful than helpful constructive ones and thus arrive more quickly for natural selection to multiply. The more recent results recounted here just pile more evidence onto that gathered in Darwin Devolves showing Darwin’s mechanism is powerfully devolutionary. That simple realization neatly explains results ranging from the evolutionary behavior of yeast in a comfy modern laboratory, to the speciation of megafauna in raw nature millions of years ago, and almost certainly to everything in between.


  1. Van der Valk, Tom, et al. 2022. Evolutionary consequences of genomic deletions and insertions in the woolly mammoth genome. iScience 25, 104826.
  2. Helsen, J. et al. 2020. Gene loss predictably drives evolutionary adaptation. Molecular Biology and Evolution 37, 2989–3002.

Behe’s conclusions have significant implications: evolutionary adaptation seems to progress by breaking existing genes in such a way as to confer a survival advantage in a niche environment; the result is a more “brittle” species with fewer options for surviving further environmental stresses; the mystery of the origin of the original genes is in no way explained by natural means at any step in the process. Rather than Darwinian evolution providing a mechanism for the “origin of the species,” it more adequately explains the demise of species.

Or maybe his head exploded. -Q Querius
Looks like Paxx vanished! LOL -Q Querius
P.S. One knows one has won an argument when the other person resorts to abuse (i.e. ad hominem attacks). Paxx, How does whether I'm a weirdo affect the truth of what I posted? A Story One dark and stormy night, a man discovered while driving on a lonely road that he has a flat tire. "Oh great," he thought to himself as he pulled over onto the muddy shoulder in the driving rain. Luckily his spare wasn't also flat and he changed the flat, being careful to put the lug nuts on a piece of cardboard so he wouldn't lose them. However, while wrestling off the wheel, he accidentally kicked the cardboard sending the lug nuts flying into the mud. He could find none of them and despaired when he discovered that his cell phone was dead. Then he noticed a homeless man standing in the rain nearby watching him. The homeless man said, "I saw what happened. Why don't you just borrow a lug nut from each of the other wheels. That should be enough to get you a gas station in the next town." "Wow!" said the driver, "That's brilliant!" "The homeless guy replied, "Well, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid." -Q Querius
Querius, You're a weirdo. Shut up. Paxx
Paxx @523, I've researched the topic biblical topic with intensity and your leap to a conclusion was dead wrong. But you want short answers. Ok, here you go. According to the Bible . . . 1. Hell and the "lake of fire" are two different things. 2. You really, really don't want to go there. 3. God provided a way out. A question to ask yourself is
"IF GOD EXISTS and designed the overwhelming complexities of a living cell, of human physiology, and quantum mechanics, why would anyone think he's a complete moron and not be able to accurately judge every person's character, motives, and fully understand their complete history?"
Incidentally, did you know that a significant percentage of physicists believe there's about a 60% chance that we are living in a simulation? -Q Querius
Querius, you are free to post whatever you like. But, given your apparent answer is "yes" to my question, there's no need to do it on my account. I'll probably read it. But I'm not interested in tediuous, tortured apologetics for a simple question. I asked a question and got an answer. Paxx
Lieutenant Commander Data, Looks like Paxx is chickening out without finding out what I have to say. Seems like Paxx's mind is already made up and nothing will be allowed that might challenge his thinking. I can't say I'm surprised, though. AnimatedDust @520,
Peeps like Paxx think they know all there is to know about Divine Justice, and what God ought to be doing.
People think they have all the perfect excuses that will defend them from the Creator should they appear before him. But our lives and our simple thoughts are completely transparent to the Creator. I once had those same kind of thoughts as well, including how life was so unfair to me, and how God should be obligated to rectify those injustices, etc. A lot of people think of God as some kind of cosmic moron who wouldn't be able to tell whether someone is twisting the truth, cherry picking facts, or accusing the Being who designed DNA, the complex chemical cycles for vision and for energy, and who has great love for His creation, desiring to save as many people as possible for what He prepared for Satan and his angels. Again, Paxx has NO IDEA what I was going to present both mathematically and theologically, but only knows that whatever it might be, it would be totally unacceptable . . . sadly, a closed mind pretending to be open. -Q Querius
Querius The answer to my question is "yes", right? Nothing more to discuss. LCD Are you making the claim that God cannot annihiliate a person's conscious existence? If so, is that from the Bible? If not, I don't see the relevance of your scenario, and means your answer is effectively "yes", and thus nothing to discuss. Paxx
LCD above. Excellent point. Peeps like Paxx think they know all there is to know about Divine Justice, and what God ought to be doing. Unreal. AnimatedDust
Are you okay with a theology that posits the Creator torturing people forever (instead of annihilation) for not measuring up?
Let's suppose people on Earth are immortal and some like to torture babies . For how long do you keep them in jail? Being immortal you can't kill them but also you can't stop them to torture babies while are not in jail. Lieutenant Commander Data
Paxx @517, Thanks for the beer, but do you really have no response what Vivid and I provided to answer your previous questions? A simple "thank you" would be appreciated. :-) I don't know how many times I've answered your question @517 both theologically and mathematically. Let's see whether you're serious. If I were able to mathematically ***prove*** the presuppositions in your question to be incorrect, would you change your mind about God? But first, do you have any background in mathematics or statistics? -Q Querius
Well, Querius, if you and me were sitting around having a beer... Are you okay with a theology that posits the Creator torturing people forever (instead of annihilation) for not measuring up? That is a yes or no question. I gotta say, if the answer is yes, well, wow. Nothing really to say after that. Paxx
Vivid @515, While Paxx hasn't responded yet, I did want to mention that the same passage Paxx asked about has been discussed on the Biblical Hermeneutics site: https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/74030/romans-121-nor-were-thankful-or-give-thanks-how-do-we-interpret-this This is a good place to dig deeply into the original meanings with a variety of perspectives and insights (some more scholarly than others) as a result, especially to those who want to acquire more than a surface understanding. I'd say the same for Uncommon Descent. One often sees a lot of parroting, preaching, and pontificating on topics relating to intelligent design and evolution. Specifically regarding the apparent "devolution" of mammoths, the Darwinists have, as usual, contributed virtually nothing of substance, preferring simply to troll all reasonable scientific discussion of the topic. For example, Chuckdarwin @2 writes:
I don’t think that elephants “transformed” into mammoths. Elephants and mammoths diverged from a common ancestor 6 mya. There are two extant species, the African and Asian elephant. There’s no evidence that this so-called gene loss has had a detrimental impact on either species.
Notice that the comment is simply an assertion without ANY evidence at all! Isn't it odd that a self-proclaimed Darwinist should forget that reduced genetic diversity inevitably leads to EXTINCTION according to Darwinist beliefs? -Q Querius
Paxx “What exactly is “the truth” here that Paul is referring to?” Paul spells it out, did you read the following verses? Romans 1:19–23 (ESV): For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. “ Vivid vividbleau
Paxx @512, Yes, I care. Let me preface my answer by saying that to understand a 2,000+ year old document requires one to 1. Avoid preconceived ideology, prejudice, philosophy, or motives. 2. Read passages in full context rather than cherry picking quotes. 3. Understand the circumstances, the culture, and the audience. 4. Be aware of language translations and idioms, ancient Greek to English A Simple Answer 1. The teachings, mission, and sacrifice of Jesus (aka "the Gospel") is the truth. 2. People can tell what God is like through what God made. 3. God’s anger at people who obscure the above is manifested by their own, increasing depravity that results. My Paraphrase In Romans 1, Paul writes that he’s not ashamed to tell Gentiles about what Jesus taught: Jesus was giving everyone, not just Jews, the opportunity to have all their sins be forgiven by trusting that Jesus paid for their sins rather than in following religious rules or by worshiping idols. But some people want to protect their selfish life styles. They actively obscure the aforementioned truth (Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and there no other way to God) by insisting on religious rules and practices, or by denying that one God exists or would even care about his creation. People who mislead other people by means of religion or empty philosophies are subject to God’s special anger. They are punished by their being sucked into increasing depths of depravity. A reasonably good paraphrase of the passage is here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1&version=ERV -Q Querius
Contra Paul, “the truth” isn’t at all obvious, if Paul’s “truth” is the real truth. Shouldn’t it be communicatable in simple terms with simple words?
It's not light's fault because somebody keeps his eyes closed(voluntarily or not) and then says :"I see nothing !" . You admitted your ignorance regarding Christianity but somehow you have opinions about something you don't know ? ("Christian theology doesn’t seem consistent." ). Lieutenant Commander Data
Querius, Well, okay. My intention is a casual conversation. If it takes a lot of "apologetic work", that's a huge red flag that something is wrong with the theology. Which actually supports my position. Contra Paul, "the truth" isn't at all obvious, if Paul's "truth" is the real truth. Shouldn't it be communicatable in simple terms with simple words? Anyway, do you care to answer the simple questions @508? Paxx
Paxx @510, In @506, you made the following request:
I’m interesting in tightening up my understanding of how Christians think about their theology. Christian theology doesn’t seem consistent. I could be wrong. Which is why I ask questions.
I responded to that request and specifically about your observation that "Christian theology doesn't seem consistent." This is why I provided the categories above, to define "Christian," because there's no such thing as a universal "Christian theology." If you want answers to your specific questions, let me suggest posting them on https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/ You'll likely get a more satisfactory answer there rather than a topic originally about mammoths. -Q Querius
Querius, That post was in context to previous posts. Nothing you posted is specifically relevant. Answers to specific questions, such as @508, would be appreciated. Paxx
Paxx @506, I agree in general. Taking you at your word, I'd say that it's important to understand Christianity categorically as practiced. Very briefly and off the top of my head, this includes the following: A. Originalist Christianity - Looks to scriptural accounts in the Bible, both the Tanakh (aka "Old Testament") and the B'rit Chadashah (aka "New Covenant" or "New Testament"). May also reference Christian writings before about 300 CE. B. Traditionalist Christianity - Venerates and focuses on the historical practices of its adherents over the centuries. C. Cultural Christianity - Serves primarily as a social institution for fellowship, encouragement, and emotional support. D. Cultish Christianity - Includes a wide range of ideologies and leaders. E. Activist Christianity - Serves primarily as religious platform for social justice, religious feelings, positive karma, without specifically focusing on the life and teachings of the historical Yeshua ha'Machiach. E. Entrepreneurial Celebrity Christianity - A money-making venture that provides opportunities for people to salve their guilt with cash donations to religious celebrities. F. Philosophical Christianity - Provides a theologically and philosophically consistent framework upon which the Bible and Jesus are projected. Might be Theist or even Deist in worldview. G. Other categories that I've probably missed and combinations of categories. Hope this helps, -Q Querius
BA77, Fair enough. But I have asked two questions for clarification. Maybe someone else can answer them. What exactly is “the truth” here that Paul is referring to? What is “the wrath” that has been revealed? And where and when was it revealed? Paxx
Paxx, I referenced studies to back up my claim and you keep claiming that I am basing my claim on Paul's statement. I've corrected you on that (twice now, for instance see post 487). If empirical evidence means nothing to you, as apparently it doesn't, then there is really nothing left for me to say, either theologically or scientifically. Again, I might as well be arguing with Darwinian atheists since the empirical evidence means so little to you. This is the last I have to say on the subject. bornagain77
relatd, I'm interesting in tightening up my understanding of how Christians think about their theology. Christian theology doesn't seem consistent. I could be wrong. Which is why I ask questions. Paxx
Oh, I understand the issue. YOU want a declaration of insanity from US about Seversky and Satan. relatd
BA77, I think I need a clarification: Paul said, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" What exactly is "the truth" here that Paul is referring to? What is "the wrath" that has been revealed? And where and when was it revealed? Paxx
relatd, It seems to me you don't understand the issue. As for being fixated, I wouldn't say I'm fixated, but we'll all interested in what we're interested in. No explanation beyond that. Paxx
Paxx at 501, Why are you so fixated on this? How do YOU know anyone is insane? relatd
AnimatedDust, If someone knows the truth, as BA77 seems to be claiming about Seversky (based on Paul's claim), and rebels against the Creator, rejecting his offer of eternal bliss, knowing that he will end up in eternal torture, wouldn't you think that person insane? Related question: was Satan insane for rebelling against the Creator? Paxx
Paxx, my original assertion presumes that Seversky is sane and rational. The moment someone is incapable of reason and knowing right from wrong, he enters another category that a perfect judge would properly take into account. Your entire argument after that was kind of unnecessary. AnimatedDust
LCD: So you think that the Creator is unjust.
I certainly hope not. I think Paul’s assertion is wrong and contradicted by empirical evidence. I don’t consider him to be an authority in the first place.
:lol: If what you say is true then the Creator must hate people because He allowed that billions of people who lived before scientific revolution to die without knowing the truth. I wonder how a loving God would share the truth to humanity so all people who live/d on Earth to be informed about the truth and not only people who lived in the last centuries when science advanced? Maybe Paul was right . :) Lieutenant Commander Data
1 2 3 17

Leave a Reply