One of the more common ideas presented by evolutionists is the fact that some microbes can become resistant to antibiotics. While it is certainly true that microbes can become antibiotic resistant, is this evidence for evolution? This article will examine microbial antibiotic resistance and will also discuss whether this is, in fact, evidence for evolution.
Bacteria and other microbes are incredibly complex creatures. Most are unicellular and many are prokaryotic. For a brief overview of the prokaryotic cell, please see the article I published on that a while ago which I have linked to at the end of this article. Many of these unicellular organisms live in the human body naturally, while others are invasive. When the population of one of these organisms explodes, the body experiences a bacterial infection. The most common way to treat this, for the last century or so, has been to administer an antibiotic of some kind, originally penicillin, but more commonly others in recent years. This usually works. Antibiotics do damage to parts of bacteria which are lacking in human cells. The aforementioned penicillin prevents the formation of bacterial cell walls for example. Since human cells lack cell walls, the antibiotic causes no damage to human cells but prevents bacteria from forming new cells. This allows the immune system to catch up and eliminate the bacterial threat. Other antibiotics keep the bacterial cell from making products it needs internally and thus slowly starve it to death.
Some bacteria, however, are able to survive a dosage of antibiotic. This comes about in two different fashions. Sometimes this is due to a genetic mutation in the bacteria. Going back to our penicillin example, sometimes bacteria mutate so that they do not uptake the antibiotic when taking in nutrients. If the antibiotic is not absorbed, then the bacterial cell wall still forms, making the antibiotic ineffective. This is the essence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The bacteria is mutated in such a way that it cannot uptake nutrients as efficiently. This also prohibits the bacteria from taking in the antibiotic, turning the mutation which would harm it in normal circumstances, into a blessing. Some few bacteria have a natural resistance to antibiotics. This is generally found in the plasmids of prokaryotic bacteria. Since these can be passed freely from bacterium to bacterium without the need for binary fission, they can spread quickly and easily throughout a bacterial population.
Now that we understand how bacteria are resistant to antibiotics and why antibiotics are used, let us examine why this is an issue of the origins debate. Evolutionists rightly point out that antibiotics are becoming less effective because more bacteria are becoming resistant to them. They then point to this resistance and use it as evidence that evolution, by means of natural selection, is happening in the modern world. While no one disputes that bacteria are becoming more resistant to antibiotics, the reason behind this increase in resistance is less clear.
Antibiotic resistance to bacteria has come about for a number of reasons, the primary one being overuse of antibiotics. There are other reasons as well, but for the sake of brevity, they are irrelevant. This overuse has created populations of bacteria which are completely immune to antibiotics, or at least immune enough that the antibiotic dosage required to treat them would kill the patient. However, this is not evidence of evolution. This did not happen naturally, it was an accidental byproduct of mechanical selection. Essentially, man, in his attempt to cure disease, selected for the bacteria which were naturally resistant to the antibiotic. This caused them to take over the population, at least until the antibiotic is removed. Further, no information has been gained by the population. Some individual bacterium may have gained information via plasmid transfer, but the population as a whole has not gained information. Further, in most instances, information has actually been lost. Mutated bacteria, unable to uptake nutrients effectively, were almost completely out-competed for food in an un-medicated environment. However, the addition of the antibiotic killed off the competition but left the mutants unaffected. This loss of information was situationally beneficial, but, if left on a natural environment, these mutants would be outcompeted by the unmutated bacteria. No new kinds of organisms have been created by this mutation either. In fact, in most cases, no new species have emerged either.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are not evidence for evolution. While change is occurring, this is evidence of speciation, not evolution. No new kinds have formed. Bacteria remain bacteria. No new information has been added to the population’s genetic pool. In fact, in many cases, the mutated bacteria represent a loss of information. Further, the mutant bacteria are inferior to their non-mutated brethren when the antibiotic is not present. it would be far wiser to consider bacteria resistance to antibiotics as either something built into them by their Creator or a debilitating mutation made useful by mans foolish overuse of antibiotics.