Answer by Diane Eager
Adaptation is any process that modifies the structure or function of a living thing so that it can cope with changes in its environment or changes in activity. Adaptations are occurring all the time in living organisms, including ourselves. A familiar example happens whenever we take up a new sport, or just increase our level of physical activity so that our muscles to become larger and stronger, and the increased physical forces impinging on bones and joints produces changes in the internal architecture of the bones. Increased physical activity also results in changes to the heart and lungs, and the activity of sweat glands. These are all real changes that can be measured, but they are limited in the amount of change they can bring about. Most importantly, they do not, and cannot, create new structures and functions that did not exist before. We often joke about discovering aching muscles we didn’t know we had before when we took on some new physically demanding task, but we know we are not actually acquiring new muscles. Furthermore, such gains are lost fairly quickly when the new activity ceases, because the body is programmed to not waste energy on stuff you don’t need. This means the ability to make such adaptive changes is actually programmed into our DNA before we ever need to ‘adapt’.
The word adaptation is derived from late Middle English and French adapter, which is derived from Latin adaptare, from ad– ‘to’ + aptare, which is derived from the word aptus meaning it is ‘apt’ or ‘fits’ well into its environment. This is the ‘fit-ness’ that early evolutionists were referring to when they coined the term “survival of the fittest,” and for this reason, adaptation has become synonymous with evolution. However, adaptation and evolution are not the same.
Adaptation is the ability to modify already existing characteristics within a living organism, and is limited in the amount of change it can produce. Evolution is the changing of one kind of living organism into another kind, and involves the addition of new characteristics that did not exist in the original organism. There is a great difference between these.
To help understand just how different they are, consider a characteristic that is considered to be an evolutionary adaptation for mammals – hair or fur. A furry coat helps mammals to maintain their body temperature, and cope with cold environments. Many mammals increase or decrease the thickness of their coat as seasons change, and mammals that live in cold climates have thicker coats than those that live in warm places. Such seasonal variation is an ‘adaptation’, and can result in a significant change. Ask any pet owner who has to vacuum the results from their carpets and furniture. However, such a change does not explain how these animals got their fur in the first place. There is no evolution involved.
The fact that animals are able to grow thick coats and can survive in cold climates is an example of survival of the fittest, but their ability to grow and maintain a thick coat means they were pre-fitted for any increasingly cold environment. They are not evolving at all. Without the genes that make fur, a non-furry animal is not going to grow fur even when it is placed in a cold environment. Therefore, it will die because it was unfit for this new environment. This is evidence for natural selection, but not for evolution.
Even in the most stable climate described in God’s first creation in Eden (as described in Genesis 1-3) the environment was never completely static. Across one day the temperature ranged from cool to warm and moist through to dry, so it should not surprise us that God created all living things able to cope with change. Genesis 1 also refers to seasons, although they would not have been as extreme as those we experience after Noah’s flood.
It also follows that an automatic consequence of any degenerate loss of ‘adaptability’ shows when the environment changes, resulting in either reduction in the living range of the creature or its extinction. Therefore, we should note carefully that adaptation never occurs because a creature evolves new abilities to cope with new challenges. Adaptation always and only results from inbuilt abilities to change in order to cope with change in the environment.
This built-in flexibility that enables living things to respond to changes in the environment is actually good evidence for forward planning. In fact, adaptive ability in the DNA is good evidence for purposeful creation, not chance random evolution.
So don’t be bluffed by the evolutionists’ misuse of plain English words. Adaptation is a real process of change, but the evolutionary biologists have taken this word and used it to mean any special feature an organism has supposedly evolved to make it able to live in a newly appeared environment. For a good example see the BBC Nature article entitled Animal and plant adaptations and behaviours at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/adaptations . The article begins: “Adaptations help organisms survive in their ecological niche or habitat; adaptations can be anatomical, behavioural or physiological.” It then describes a number of brilliant special features that plants and animals have, e.g. water storing stems, thick fur coats, prehensile tails, echolocation, which enable creatures to live in environments as diverse as deserts, arctic tundra, rainforests and dark caves. However, none of these features came into existence by the creature gaining these “adaptations” when they moved into these environments. Living things survived in such environments only because they already had the necessary abilities.
For some specific examples of claimed evolutionary adaptations that are really evidence for creation, including such intriguing items as giant camels, self-pollinating orchids and running vampires, go to the Creation Research Fact File and insert the word “adaptation” in the search box.
Image: excerpt from Ice Age Mural, by Steve Cardno
Were you helped by this answer? If so, consider making a donation so we can keep adding more answers.
For USA tax deductible donations click here.
For UK tax deductible donations click here.
For Australia and rest of world click here.