This last week, Loma Linda University was blessed to have Dr. John Sanford from Cornell University as a guest lecturer. One of the top geneticists in the world, he has written scores of papers and has many patents to his name, including the gene gun. He became a Biblical creationist when he realized that his research in genetics was not only pointing him to Intelligent Design, but also to a recent creation of life. His book Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome is one of the best exposés on evolutionary theory written. Here is a brief summary, though any summary will do this uncommonly concise book an injustice. Several points stand out as particularly important to his argument: 1. Random mutations are bad—this point is generally agreed upon and is entirely logical if one acknowledges the fact that genes contain information. A mutation is a loss of information.
2. Humans have a very high mutation rate—throughout his lectures, Dr. Sanford used a figure of 100 mutations/generation.
3. Selection can’t stave off deterioration—there are a number of reasons for this:
- Humans reproduce so slowly that, given our mutation rate, mutations accumulate much faster than mutated individuals can be selected away before reproducing.
- The actual connection between mutations and selection is cushioned by numerous intermediate processes, each of which creates noise in the system of selection. In this way, the signal to noise ratio is exceedingly small, rendering selection impotent. The signal is the individual mutation, while the noise would be other effects, such as nutrition.
- Selection works only on phenotype (your physical characteristics), which only very loosely correlates with genotype (your genetic code). Individual mutations are essentially imperceptible in the phenotype, because they are so small relative to the total information present.
- Most selection is random (death by wars, diseases, and such), as is most reproduction. Thus the selection that can actually work on genotypes is vanishingly small.
4. There is no way out—eugenics is insidious and misguided. There is no one trait or set of traits that can be selected to preserve the human race, because all of us are essentially equally mutated. Even if a good mutation popped up that made someone reproduce more, that good mutation would be tied to many bad mutations near it, and selecting for it would not stave off genetic meltdown and the extinction of the species.
One of the lectures Dr. Sanford gave for the Department of Earth and Biological Sciences focused on Mendel’s Accountant, a numerical simulation program that he and four others developed to model genetic change over time. When realistic parameters are plugged into the software, a genetic fitness decay curve appears that matches the life spans of the patriarchs from Noah remarkably well.
Many people have accused Dr. Sanford of being a doomsayer, but if we were actually in danger, wouldn’t it be essential to know? His message of our very literally corrupted nature should not be one of pessimism, but one of hope. We have excellent scientific reasons for believing that our race fell from perfection, and if we accept this, we ought to be looking forward to our redemption.