Jason Lisle, Natural Selection and ICR

Independent young-earth apologist Jason Lisle has published an extensive and stongly-worded rebuke of his former ICR colleague Randy Guliuzza’s erroneous understanding of natural selection. This is a battle that has been going on the the YEC literature for five years and this is the latest volley with Lisle defending Jeason’s critique of Guliuzza.

This is an interesting intramural debate for a couple of reasons:

  1. I think we can see from this response which must have been in the works for the past year a hint of why Lisle needed to depart from ICR. The two of them just were never going to be on the same page about how to defend a YEC view of speciation.
  2. This is one of the clearest defenses of the validity of natural selection in the YEC literature and Lisle has uncovered many logical and factual errors that are common place in the YEC literature.
  3. Most interesting for the PS community and the reason I am even writing about this is that Lisle spends quite a bit of time exploring what design means. In a section 2/3 into this very long critique entitled “Special Pleading Regarding the Environment vs. Organisms” he lays out Gulluizza’s argument but he also sprinkles in several interesting takes on a YEC view of design throughout.

"Consider the argument in his third article:

Creatures do fit their environments very well, environmental elements can be seen, so it was thought likely that some type of environmental force caused these remarkably suited adaptations. But “nature” is unthinking, while most features in organisms seem so perfectly designed. How can a human brain reconcile those incongruent facts? (Guliuzza 2011c)

So, what is the thrust of Guliuzza’s argument? Essentially, he is suggesting that the environment cannot be the cause of adaptation because nature is unthinking. Thus, Guliuzza concludes that the organisms are the cause—that they have “endogenous power to solve environmental problems.” Guliuzza’s reasoning seems to be this:

  1. The cause of adaptation is either the organism or the environment.
  2. The environment has no intelligence, and thus cannot be the cause of adaptation.
  3. Therefore, organisms are the cause of adaptation."

Continuing just a few paragraphs later:

Thus, one cannot rationally conclude that organisms and not the environment are the cause of adaptation on the basis that organisms are designed by God— because the environment was also designed by God . Why did Guliuzza overlook this consideration?

A particularly striking example of this inconsistent reasoning is displayed in Guliuzza’s fourth article (Guliuzza 2011d), in which he states,

When websites show a subterranean water table ‘selecting’ trees with longer roots (rather than recognizing that trees have an innate capacity to produce longer roots enabling them to live in areas with deeper water tables), astute atheists can see that intelligence-based power has been ascribed to the inanimate water table—so why not attribute it to some god?” (Guliuzza 2011d)

The inconsistency is clear: Guliuzza is upset that intelligence has been (allegedly) ascribed to the environment (water) rather than the organism (trees). But since when do trees have intelligence? Neither the trees nor the water table have any intelligence at all. And both were designed by intelligence. It is accurate for Guliuzza to say that some “trees have an innate capacity to produce longer roots enabling them to live in areas with deeper water tables”—even though they have no intelligence. Thus, it is equally accurate to say that the water table has the innate capacity to reach the trees with the longer roots—even though water table has no intelligence. By definition, natural selection has occurred in this instance. Yet neither the organism nor the environment has consciousness or volition. The intelligence behind this selection is God.


Creationists seem to stumble over the concept of phenotypic plasticity and natural selection. In the specific case of trees growing longer roots, that ability is found in the genetics of that species of tree. Environmental conditions can change gene regulation due to specific DNA sequences, and those specific DNA sequences are what evolved and are being shaped by natural selection.


I don’t see why that would be a problem. Trees are pre-adapted to be able to grow longer roots just in case the need should arise for longer roots. I would think creationists would be comfortable with that.


Trees have the evolved ability to grow longer roots in response to dry conditions. This was a trait that was selected for by natural selection.

Creationists seem to think that phenotypic plasticity negates natural selection. It doesn’t.


I find this article refreshing @Joel_Duff. There are YECs actually hashing out a real disagreement with each other and trying to end a bad argument against evolution.


I agree. This is a very helpful article and the whole series has been some of the best writing in the Answers Research journal. They need to do more of this to bring clarity to their positions and filter out the bad ideas.


Have you thought about writing a positive article about it on your blog? This sort of thing is a movement in the right direction.

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Agree. However, isn’t Lisle an astronomer? Perhaps he can come clean on the distance starlight problem that YECs have. And given that detection of Gravitational Wave traveling at the speed of light kills his Asymmetric Light Speed argument, it is time for Dr. Lisle to come clean on Cosmology.

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Baby steps @Patrick. Baby steps. It is more likely another scientist at AIG will come clean on his pet theory. Encourage that instead.

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To no one in particular:

All young trees have shallow roots, and the depth of the water table effects the ability of young trees to establish themselves and complete with other trees.
In the American west, native cottonwood trees are sometimes losing out to invasive Russian Olive trees. The Olives have deeper roots(???) and use a great deal of water, lowering the water table, and locking out young Cottonwoods.

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But perhaps they could be forgiven for thinking that pan-adaptationist thinking still thrives.

We tend to forgive them for all the other things they are wrong about, so what is one more?


both of these creationist thinkers have points. Figuring out how biology works is complicated and humans have not done it yet. Its more complicated then physics etc etc.
it should always start with gods design, common design, and then simply anything is possible. What changes bodyplans must be genes and so mechanisms to change genes is all you need.
its easy to see in the glory of biology hidden mechanisms that can change creatures when thresholds are crossed for some population to survive.