Alice C. Linsley
Can the essence of entities change?
You have heard it said, "There is nothing new under the Sun." In this view no changes in the essence of entities occurs. The essence of humans is the same as it was at the dawn of human existence. The essence of trees is the same today as at the time of the appearance of the first tree. Plato believed that the eternal soul re-cognizes objects because they reflect the properties of the one eternal Form of which the soul has innate knowledge. We re-cognize the elm and the pine as trees because they reflect the one eternal form Tree. They embody "treeness" though these trees are quite different. Likewise, each human embodies the essence of humanness though there is a wide range of human features.
Plato's theory of Forms is an early brand of essentialism. Essentialism is the view that a specific entity (group of people, living creatures, or objects such as rocks) has a set of attributes or traits all of which are essential to its identity and function. Other essentialists include Aristotle, and Saul Kripke. Jacques Derrida expresses an essentialist view in his ontotheology. These would argue that the essence of an entity may fluctuate but does not change.
The essentialist makes a distinction between change and flux. For example, the essence of water is H2O. The form of water can change (flux) between a solid (ice), liquid, and vapor, but the essence remains H2O.
Non-Essentialism is the view that a specific entity does not have a set of attributes which are essential to its identity and function. Some non-essentialists include Heraclitus and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Clearly, great thinkers do not agree on the question of change. We often assign different meaning to the word "change." When we say the weather is changing are we speaking of a shift in the wind direction or in the transition from one season to another? When we say that modern humans represent a change from archaic humans are we speaking of essential change or anatomical change?
Archaic views of change
In the ancient world the order of creation was viewed as hierarchical and fixed. This was based on the observation of patterns in nature. In the time of Abraham's ancestors, the observation of the fixed movement of the heavenly bodies was done by priests. Plato, who studied in Egypt, stated that the Nilotic priests had been observing the stars and constellations for 10,000 years. They noted the constellations have a clocklike movement, the seasons are linked to the 12 lunar cycles, and the Sun directly overhead marks mid-day.
They perceived boundaries in the nature order. The boundaries were fixed between "kinds" arranged hierarchically. The Biblical "kind" is not synonymous with "species." Because of mutation and adaptation there are many more creatures than there are kinds. Kinds refers to the original pattern of a created entity. Creationists believe the original pattern never disappears. The Biblical "kind" represents an essentialist worldview.
If the biblical worldview is true, no discrepancy should exist between genetics and the biblical assertion that the order of creation is fixed with genetic boundaries between "kinds." Those who believe that the Bible presents a true view of reality must understand what is meant by "fixed order of creation" and "kinds." Because of a fixed order or pattern in nature we can count on the laws of physics and we are able to identify anomalies. Kind refers to a given living organism that reproduces itself.
What is often termed evolutionary "change" is really flux, a distinction many fail to make. Flux is expected within kinds and is certainly evident in biology. The theory of common ancestry for chimps and humans assumes the possibility of emergence of two kinds from a common kind. Humans reproduce only humans. Chimps reproduce only chimps. Humans and chimps cannot therefore represent flux within a fixed order. They represent different kinds, different, but similar essences.
The claim of universality of the DNA code as a prediction of common descent doesn't align with known variations that violate this prediction. At the same time there appear to be specific fixed boundaries within the DNA code. This explains why humans reproduce humans and not some other animal. Further, while the similarity of humans to primates may suggest a common origin, this common ancestor isn't known to have actually existed. It is the creation of artists who draw images for Biology books.
There are now enough fossils recovered in Hadar, Ethiopia and in Cameroon to reconstruct a picture of Lucy and her people. They were clearly human and not apes although the artists drawings persist in showing them as hairy and apelike. For example, complete fourth metatarsal of A. afarensis was discovered at Hadar that shows the deep, flat base and tarsal facets that "imply that its midfoot had no ape-like midtarsal break. These features show that the A. afarensis foot was functionally like that of modern humans."
It is ludicrous to assume that because nurse sharks and camels share an antigen receptor protein they are descended from a common ancestor. The DNA sequences that code for the proteins are different between sharks and camels.
This suggests that what are held to be examples of evolutionary changes are not really changes. The horse was once smaller and is now large. Yet the horse's essence has not changed. The earliest human fossils show a range of anatomical features yet all these features are found among humans today. The nearly complete skulls of people who lived 160,000 years ago are, in the words of paleontologist Tim White, "like modern-day humans in almost every feature."
When Jeremy DeSilva, a British anthropologist, compared the ankle joint, the tibia and the talus of fossil "hominins" between 4.12 million to 1.53 million years old, he discovered that all of the hominin ankle joints resembled those of modern humans rather than those of apes. 
Some of the australopithecine fossils dating between 700,000 and 2.4 million years are recognized as "early human fossils." Although classified as "ape of the South", some are recognized as having had human dentition, bipedalism and stone tools.
With DNA samples from 2400 individuals from more than 100 modern African populations, researchers have identified a panel of 1327 sites of genetic variation across the entire genome. Analysis of the data suggests that modern Africans are descended from 14 ancestral populations, which correlate with known linguistic groups. Comparative linguistics and genetics are moving to similar conclusions when it comes to the question of "change" among humans. The evidence in both fields indicates a limited amount of flux, but no essential change.
In other words, there is no evidence of essential change within "kinds", and no support for the macro-evolutionary worldview of change from one kind into another kind. Roux and others say, "Evolutionary convergence at the molecular level is presumed to be widespread, but is poorly documented." Convergent evolution is an interpretation, not an unbiased presentation of data.
Consider the work of Richard Lenski at Michigan State University. He has grown E. coli in the test-tube for more than 40,000 generations. The first generations showed little mutation. Then a “mutator” strain arose, after which new genetic varieties were present in all cells, resulting in more than 250 varieties. The total number of single changes is more than a thousand, yet Lenski has produced nothing fundamentally new.
It appears that God established an order in which there is flux within fixed boundaries, but no essential change from species to species. As Professor Scott Rae has written, "Scripture affirms that there is a fixed order that governs the natural physical world."
The Bible teaches that God created in an orderly fashion from the least complex creatures to humans, the most complex creatures. It teaches that each "kind" reproduces according to its own kind, and the mixing of kinds (even different fibers) is discouraged or forbidden.
The Bible teaches that violations of the order of creation represent sinful rebellion against the Creator. Eve's sin, as St. John Chrysostom points out, is a sin against the order of creation because she exchanged her glory as one made in the image of God for subservience to the serpent, a creature low in the order of creation. Onanism is a violation of the order of creation because, just as the seed of plants should fall to the earth to bring forth plants from the earth, so the seed of man should fall on his own kind (the womb), from which man comes forth.
In Jeremiah 33:25 we read: "Yahweh says this, 'If I have not created day and night and fixed the laws governing heaven and earth, why, then I shall reject the descendants of Jacob and of David my servant and cease to choose rulers from his descendants for the heirs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!'"
Jeremiah 31:35-36 says, "Yahweh who provides the sun to shine by day, who regulates moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs the sea, making its waves roar, he whose name is Yahweh Sabaoth, says this: 'Were this established order ever to pass away before me, Yahweh declares, then the race of Israel would also cease being a nation for ever before me!"
"The Lord spoke further to Jeremiah, 'I, Lord, make the following promise: I have made a covenant with the day and with the night that they will always come at their proper times. Only if you people could break that covenant could my covenant with my servant David and my covenant with the Levites ever be broken. So David will by all means always have a descendant to occupy his throne as king and the Levites will by all means always have priests who will minister before me. I will make the children who follow one another in the line of my servant David very numerous. I will also make the Levites who minister before me very numerous. I will make them all as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sands which are on the seashore.'" (Jeremiah 33:19-22)
We note in these passages that the fixed order of creation is linked to God's plan to choose rulers from among Abraham's people. Genesis reveals that the fixed nature of God's plan is expressed in the unchanging kinship pattern of Abraham's people. The kinship pattern of these people remains consistent from before the time of Abraham to the birth of Jesus Christ. This so that the Christ should appear according to God's ordained plan.
The constellations, the stars and planets move according to a fixed plan. That's why scientists can predict where to look and when to look there. That's how they can identify apparent singularities such as the Star of Bethlehem.
Progress in the sciences depends on the fixed order of creation. It assumes the consistency of the laws of nature. Geneticists recognize certain genetic patterns which form the basis for their research. Physicists' exploration of the material world is based on physical laws that do not change. Anthropologists find that humans are essentially the same regardless of their environments. The oldest known human skeletons show the same range of flux, the same essential nature as human skeletal structures today. Even technological "change" has been possible because of the fixed nature of mathematical and physical laws.
All this is to say that the hypothesis of randomness that is touted by the media is not supported by empirical evidence. Natural selection, with its appearance of randomness, may be about orderly transition or flux within kinds. If the order of creation is fixed, we may expect to reap what we sow. If I plant corn, I harvest corn, not apricots. If I sow wheat, I harvest wheat, not frogs. All languages can be classified because there is order in human language. All born of women are human because there is order in the human genome. Events in the heavens are predictable because the stars, planets and constellations move according to a fixed pattern. This is how astronomers know where and when to focus their telescopes on a specific region of space. Singularities or anomalies are evident because they stand in contrast to the patterns observed in the fixed order of creation.
The Clash of Worldviews
The Essentialist worldview and the non-Essentialist worldview are at odds. Genesis 1 presents an Essentialist view which is consistent with the thinking of people in the ancient world. Creationists have written volumes in defense of their interpretation of Genesis 1, but the text has a context, and a better understanding of that context is needed.
1. Read the report on the 160,000-year-old Ethiopian fossils here.
2. Chimpanzees flex their ankles 45 degrees from normal resting position. This makes it possible for apes to climb trees with great ease. While walking, humans flex their ankles a maximum of 20 degrees. The human ankle quite distinct from that of apes. Read more here.
3. Working from their convergent evolution framework, Richard, Mary and Louis Leakey named some fossils "Zinjanthropus" (now called Australopithecus boisei), others "Homo habilis", and Lucy and her community "Australopithecus". These are presented as divergence strains of hominids, including the extinct and extant humans and mammals. This classification has been revised several times because the criterion of classification of human and ape has not been consistently applied.
4. To read about the "out of Africa" gene study go here.
5. Roux et al. 1998 The identification of an unusual antigen receptor protein structure found in camels and nurse sharks is used to argue that these have a common ancestor. Kenneth Roux appears convinced, yet he admits that there is not enough written support for the convergence model. It is conversationally agreed upon among convergence ideologues, but not as well documented as Roux would hope.
6. Read excerpts from Scott B. Rae's book Moral Choices here.
Related reading: The Themes of Genesis 1-3; First People at Genetic Center; Biblical Anthropologists Discuss Darwin; The Science Guy Reveals His Ignorance