|Part 12 - The Final Frontier|
The final irony in this whole story is that even at the start of the 21st century, neither side of the evolution debate seems able to appreciate the full significance of Blyth's work.
Even Eiseley, because he remained a staunch evolutionist, and therefore naturally thought as an evolutionist, missed the point that Blyth was actually correct when he identified the conserving influence of natural selection as a major stumbling block to the possibility of truly indefinite radiation.
Many creationists, on the other hand, by continuing to preach total immutability, even at the species level, remove themselves from any sensible and realistic discussion of the facts.
Mayr, in his reference to Eiseley's original work on Blyth, argues that Blyth could not be thought of as a true precursor to Darwin's evolutionary hypothesis because Blyth viewed natural selection as a conservative influence, tending to preserve the status quo. Unfortunately, presumably by dint of his poor research, Mayr makes no mention of the fact that Eiseley had already raised and dealt with this objection in his book of 1979.
That is to say, Eiseley recognises the difference between Blyth's view and Darwin's view, and comes to the same conclusion - that this is one of the elements of Darwin's thinking which makes him such a great scientific figure.
But Darwin was wrong - hardly surprising since he knew nothing of genetics or the strengths and limitations of genetics. And Eiseley was wrong, and Mayr was wrong, because they saw things as they wished them to be rather than as the evidence shows them to be. Apart from anything else, as can be seen in the copies of Blyth's papers available on this site, Blyth himself was aware that natural selection could, under certain circumstances, foster a certain amount of change.
And that isn't the only controversy surrounding the process of 'natural selection', often (very misleadingly1) referred to as 'the survival of the fittest'. What people outside of the evolution debate seldom realise is that there are actually not one but two types of evolution: macro-evolution and micro-evolution.
The difference between the two is not only significant, it is clear-cut.
Micro-evolution is basically the process whereby a line of creatures or plants adapts to changing circumstances. It is essentially natural selection at work - the process of change through the accumulation of mutations within certain limits.
Macro-evolution is synonymous with the layman's definition of evolution - major changes over time resulting, it is believed, in ancestral lines that lead, for example, from crustasceans to dinosaurs to birds.
The controversy centers around the widely disputed relationship between macro-and micro-evolution.
Many creationists, especially those who have some scientific understanding, are quite happy to accept the reality of micro-evolution, but totally reject the notion that macro-evolution has ever occurred.
Most hard line evolutionists, especially the Ultra-Darwinist branch of the neo-Darwinists, believe that micro-evolution is the fundamental driver that enables macro-evolution, and reject the idea that the two processes can be separated in any sensible way.
Throughout the 20th Century, a second school of evolutionary thinking has emerged which rejects blind faith in any inherent link between micro- and macro-evolution.
Members of this last group argue that no amount of accumulation could have brought about all of the characteristics found in the vast diversity of life forms in the modern world.
Richard Goldschmidt, for example, invented a hypothetical class of creatures called 'hopeful monsters' which, he claimed, must have emerged from time to time when the normal, plodding process of natural selection was temporarily set aside to allow the emergence of a new species that was much more than simply 'the sum of its mutated parts', so to speak.
More recently, Niles Eldridge and Stephen Jay Gould jointly proposed a similar hiccup, which they christened "punctuated equilibria".
Despite major advances in our scientific knowledge - including a wealth of evidence that the process of natural selection is not sufficient to explain how macro-evolution occurs - faith in the essential rightness of Darwin's ideas remains very much the pre-dominant strain of evolutionary thinking.
That is the paradox we shall examine in this final part of Charles Darwin - The Truth?
Processes such as speciation and adaptation, natural selection, micro-evolution - by whatever names you choose to call them - are scientifically demonstrable facts. Macro-evolution, the process of indefinite speciation or adaptation needed to support the evolutionary hypothesis, has not been demonstrated, however. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence that there are natural boundaries which militate against indefinite speciation - through infertility and even death.
In short, the transforming power of the process known as natural selection appears to be strictly limited.
Let's look at real life example of natural selection in action to see how strong a foundation it provides for macro-evolution to take place:
According to many leading and influential evolutionists, one of the most unambiguous examples of evolution at work occurred at the very time that Darwin was so deeply engaged in the study of his "beloved barnacles".
"We should expect to find the most rapid evolutionary changes in populations suddenly exposed to new conditions. It is therefore natural that one of the most striking changes which has been observed in a wild population ... is the phenomenon of 'industrial melanism', the appearance and spread of dark forms of a number of species of moths.This claim, made here by Professor John Maynard Smith in 1966, has found many echoes over the years. To quote just a few, the editors of a certain wildlife encyclopaedia wrote, in 1970:
"Melanic forms were first reported in 1850 from Manchester in the Peppered Moth, Biston Betularia."2
"[the case of the peppered moths] is the most striking evolutionary change ever to be witnessed by man."3
Sir Gavin De Beer, writing in the somewhat more prestigeous Encyclopaedia Britannica, stated (1974):
"One of the most striking examples of observable evolution is the phenomenon known as industrial melanism."4
Richard Leakey, the renowned fossil collector agreed (1979):
"The peppered moth is a striking example of evolution in action. ... but, sadly for Darwin, no one knew it at the time. This is just the evidence he needed to show the effectiveness of natural selection."5
And so did Professor Stephen Jay Gould (1984):
"... we have abundant, direct, observational evidence of evolution in action [including] the famous populations of British moths that became black when industrial soot darkened the trees upon which the moths rest."6
To cut a long story short, many evolutionists believed that the change in the percentages of light and dark coloured moths was primarily due to the fact that, during the Industrial Revolution, some areas of Britain became heavily polluted by soot pouring out of factory chimneys, from industrial processes such as the Bessemer furnaces (invented in 1856) which produced huge quantities of steel, and so on. As the pollution increased, earning the Midlands the title of 'The Black Country', (so the story went) a change began to take place in the colour distribution within the peppered moth population:
"A black mutant of the peppered moth Biston betularia was found at Manchester in 1848. Until that time the prevalent form of this species was light grey with dark speckles."7
This final, rather longer, description is from the website of the Biology department of the University of Cincinnati's Clermont College. Although it is somewhat verbose I have left it unedited because I believe it constitutes a perfect example of a certain kind of intransigent Darwinist thinking:
"One of the best documented examples of natural selection in modern times is the English Peppered Moth. Typically, this moth is whitish with black speckles and spots all over its wings. During the daytime, Peppered moths are well-camouflaged as they rest on the speckled lichens on tree trunks. Occasionally a very few moths have a genetic mutation which causes them to be all black, so they are said to be melanistic. Black moths resting on light-colored, speckled lichens are not very well camouflaged, and so are easy prey for any moth-eating birds that happen by. Thus, these melanistic moths never get to reproduce and pass on their genes for black color.
However, an interesting thing happened to these moths in the 1800s. With the Industrial Revolution, many factories and homes in British cities started burning coal, both for heat and to power all those newly-invented machines. Coal does not burn cleanly, and creates a lot of black soot and pollution. Since lichens are extremely sensitive to air pollution, this caused all the lichens on city trees to die. Also, as the soot settled out everywhere, this turned the tree trunks (and everything else) black. This enabled the occasional black moths to be well-camouflaged so they could live long enough to reproduce, while the "normal" speckled moths were gobbled up.
Studies done in the earlier 1900s showed that while in the country, the speckled moths were still the predominant form, in the cities, they were almost non-existant. Nearly all the moths in the cities were the black form. It was evident to the researchers studying these moths that the black city moths were breeding primarily with other black city moths while speckled country moths were breeding primarily with other speckled country moths. Because of this, any new genetic mutations in one or the other of those populations would only be passed on within that population and not throughout the whole moth population. Additionally, because the city and country environments were different, there were different selective pressures on city vs. country moths that could potentially drive the evolution of these two populations of moths in different directions. The researchers pointed out that if this were to continue for a long enough time, the city and country moths could become so genetically different that they could no longer interbreed with each other, and thus would be considered distinct species. In this case, what actually happened is that the people of England decided they didn't like breathing and living in all that coal pollution, thus found ways to clean things up. As the air became cleaner, Lichens started growing on city trees again, thus the direction of the selective pressure (birds) was once again in favor of the speckled moths. By now, English cities, as well as countrysides, all have speckled moths, and all are interbreeding at random, thus were not separated for long enough to develop into separate species.8"
This information is presented by an Assistant Professor of Biology at Clermont College, who might be expected to know that the so-called mutants were actually shades of dark brown, rather than black, but no matter. What does matter is this rider, presumably added at the time of the update in November, 1999:
"However, an article in the 24 May 1999 issue of The Scientist 13(11) presents and discusses data which may refute this long-held idea."9
I was particularly struck by the tentative nature of the phrase "may refute" (my italics) in this sentence.
The article. in question, by Jonathan Wells, a postdoctoral biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and a fellow of the Discovery Institute, Seattle, is rather modestly entitled "Second Thoughts about Peppered Moths", and it carefully details studies as far back as 1973, through to as recently as 1998, which for many people effectively demolish the myth of the peppered moth as a living demonstration of natural selection in action. For example:
"Genetically, the difference between the light and the melanic forms [of the peppered moth] has been shown to be due to a single gene, the allele for melanism being dominant to that for lighter coloration."10
When interviewed for an article in the British broadsheet newspaper the Sunday Telegraph on this subject, self-styled Neo-Darwinist Richard Dawkins airily dismissed the whole matter in these words:
"The details of any experiments done 40 years ago are bound to be vulnerable to detailed criticism. But, in any case, nothing momentous hangs on these experiments." 11
Well, "momentous" might indeed be a bit strong, but it ain't mere trivia, either.
If "industrial melanism" was truly regarded by scientists as "one of the most striking examples of observable evolution" and "just the evidence [Darwin] needed to show the effectiveness of natural selection" - and given that there are few, if any, other such apparently clearcut examples of "observable evolution" - then Darwin's "natural selection" would appear to have suffered a substantial body blow, to say the least. Jonathan Wells, showing an admirable honesty and objectivity, ends his article thus:
"The fact that peppered moths do not normally rest on tree trunks invalidates Kettlewell's experiments and poses a serious problem for the classical explanation of industrial melanism in peppered moths. Although cryptic colouration and selective predation have not been ruled out, one recent review concludes that 'there is little persuasive evidence in the form of rigorous and replicated observations and experiments, to support this explanation at the present time.'12
"Yet textbooks continue to present the classical story of industrial melanism in peppered moths as an example of evolution in action. Clearly this is misleading. In particular, it is misleading to illustrate the story with photographs showing moths on tree trunks where they do not rest in the wild. Our students deserve better." 13
(Italics added for emphasis)
It is only fair to point out that Dr Wells' comments have also been subjected to criticism, and Professor Arthur S. Lodge carries details of this debate in the Industrial Melanism section of his website14.
In fact, earlier observations by T.G. Sargent, of the North American Cryptic Moth (phygalia titea (Cramer)15) do indeed cast further doubt on the effect of colouration and selective predation on the survival of different varieties with a species of moth, because they showed that darker individuals can rest on light-coloured backgrounds without suffering greater predation than the moths who settle on locations where their coloration acts as camouflage.
By the way, we did ask the author of the material on the Clermont College website why she used the phrase "may refute" (italics added). And guess what, it's because the textbooks don't yet mention any of the research cited in Mr Wells' article.
A number of learned journals, yes, but in the textbooks, no! Looks like Darwinism may be about the conservation of the status quo?
Now, some readers may have noticed that there is a second flaw in the argument for "industrialised moths" as evidence for evolution. And if you're one of those readers, well done. Because the error in question can only be spotted if you ignore just about any report on the appearance of new diseases - such as the current (February 2005) outbreak of "bird flu" in humans.
Bird flu, HIV, etc., etc., etc., are all, allegedly, due to evolving bacteria or viruses - populations of organisms in which mutations have arisen.
BUT, how do we know any mutation has taken place?
Because the scientists say so? Okay, so how do they know?
You cannot know that a mutation has taken place in the genetic make-up of any organism unless you study its DNA before the mutation takes place, and again, afterwards. So the question arises, who is keeping track of the DNA of every species on Earth for reference AFTER a mutation has entered the gene pool?
In case this isn't entirely clear, I am not disputing the standard scenario where a new antibiotic is introduced which kills off a large part of the population of a particular organism, thus leaving the ecological niche open to re-population by the survivors - the antibiotic-resistent survivors - and their offspring. What I am saying is that there is never any proof that the organisms that survive are in fact mutants.
In the case of the so-called industrialised moths, the assumption was that the appearance of the darker moths was due to natural selection favouring a mutant form of Biston betularia. BUT, we now know that this simply wasn't true. BOTH dark and light varieties of the peppered moth were naturally occurring forms. Let's agree, for the sake of the argument, that there was a substantial change in the numbers of light and dark coloured moths. BUT, so what? How could mere changes in the number of each naturally occurring variety (i.e. non-mutants) in a population account for the generation of new species, let alone new families, or new genera, or new phyla? As we shall see in the Epilogue, below, in practice evolutionists already know that simple "natural selection", no matter whose idea it was, does not explain how full-blown macro-evolution can occur.The Synthetic Secret
Which brings us to one of one of the strangest aspects of this whole discusssion - the fact that Darwin's work is basically completely outdated.
If we could go back to 1925, the year of the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee, we would find that the term "evolution" related, for the most part, to the work and ideas of Charles Darwin. Evolutionary studies consisted of not much more than fossil hunting and observing nature "in the wild." But the proverbial winds of change had already begun to blow through the halls of evolutionism, ushering in a recognition of the all important subject of genetics.
The study of genetics, as a scientific activity, really began with the work of a Czechoslovakian monk - Gregor Mendel - in the mid-19th century. Between 1856 and 1863, Mendel cultivated and selectively cross-bred thousands of pea plants in the monastery's gardens. In 1866 his paper on Experiments with Plant Hybrids described the essential features of his research and set forth two basic concepts which have become known as Mendel's Laws of Inheritance. And yet, despite its crucial relevance to Darwin's recently published work on the origin of species, with its heavy emphasis on the effects of breeding, Mendel's paper was more or less completely ignored, and spent the next 34 years collecting dust, so to speak. This was particularly ironic, in hindsight, given that Darwin's book was by today's standards, totally unscientific, with most of the 'facts' presented in anecdotal form, whereas Mendel's paper was a model of large-scale experimentation, systematic observation, detailed record-keeping and results which were subjected to statistical analysis.
Only in 1900 was Mendel's work "re-dicovered", by three separate researchers - Hugo de Vries (a Dutch biologist), Carl Correns (a German botonist) and Erich von Tschermak (an Austrian agronomist) - but even then its full significance was not realised. Indeed, when Sir Ronald Fisher first came to examine Mendal's research, some ten years later, he initially supposed that the results had been manipulated because the figures were so neat. On further investigation, however, Fisher concluded that Mendel's published results were genuine, and published his conclusions in the a paper on The Correlation Between Relatives on the Supposition of Mendelian Inheritance. It is Fisher's paper which is now regarded as the foundation stone of 'the modern synthesis' movement.
Even after Fisher had laid the ground work, the development of this "modern synthesis" version of evolution continued to move at a snail's pace for quite some time. Another key paper, in this case by Sewell "Genetic Drift" Wright - Evolution in Mendelian Populations - wasn't written until 1925, and didn't actually make it into print until 1931. By that time Fisher had published his first complete book on the subject, The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930).
The year after Sewell Wright "went public" another key text appeared, J.B.S. Haldane's ambitiously named Causes of Evolution (1932), the book which is credited with having re-established natural selection as the basic mechanism for evolutionary change by introducing mathematics into the equation, so to speak.
Our current "modern synthesis" view of evolution is therefore a product of work which really only got going in the 1930s and 1940s.
Most people today probably still think of as evolution as being whatever it was Darwin wrote about, back in the 19th century. Yet the truth of the matter, once we get past the "Darwin Myth" and the "brand imaging" I referred to earlier, "evolution" in the early 21st century is not really Darwinism at all, because Darwin knew nothing of genetics, DNA, etc., subjects which are at the very heart of evolution research, but topics which Darwin was totally unable to "explain" in any scientific sense. Moreover, even the original version of natural selection was, of course, one of the concepts outlined by Blyth long before Darwin climbed aboard the bandwagon.
In short, Darwin and Darwinism are, in actually topics of little scientific importance today, such that even the self-styled "neo-Darwinists" aren't really Darwinists at all, in any meaningful sense.
In the process of redrafting this paper, original written in 1981, I came across a book which threw crucial new light on the subject. This next quotation, for example, provided, what a succinct and appropriate lead into what is now the final final quotation in this epilogue:
"Here we face another curious consequence of Darwin's way of looking at life: despite the power of molecular genetics to reveal the hereditary essences of organisms, as we saw in a previous section, the large-scale aspects of evolution remain unexplained, including "the origin of species".
There is 'no clear evidence ... for the gradual emergence of any evolutionary novelty' says Ernst Mayr, one of the most eminent of contemporary evolutionary biologists. New types of organism simply appear on the evolutionary scene, persist for various periods of time, and then become extinct. So Darwin's assumption that the tree of life is a consequence of the gradual accumulation of small hereditary differences appears to be without significant support. Some other process is responsible for the emergent properties of life, those distinctive features that separate one group of organisms from another, such as fishes and amphibians, worms and insects, horsetails and grasses.
Clearly something is missing from biology. It appears that Darwin's theory works for the small-scale aspects of evolution: it can explain the variations and the adaptations within species that produce fine-tuning of varieties to different habitats. The large-scale differences of form between types of organism that are the foundation of biological classification systems seem to require a principle other than natural selection operating on small variations, some process that gives rise to distinctly different forms of organism. This is the problem of emergent order in evolution, the origins of novel structures in organisms that has always been a primary interest in biology."16
The author (Professor Brian Goodwin) goes on to review "new theories, themselves recently emerged within mathematics and physics, [which] offer significant insights into the origins of biological order and form."17. But the validity of his comments on the fundamental limitations of the Darwinian hypothesis (no doubt regarded by many as being close to scientific blasphemy) cannot be denied.
Away back in 1982, in the issue which marked the centenary of Darwin's death, the author of an editorial of the New Scientist magazine wrote:
"Unfortunately, the words [Darwin] wrote more than a century ago are in danger of exerting a stranglehold over thought every bit as powerful as the stranglehold of theology that Darwin helped to break."18
For many darwinists, the intervening years seem to have done little to loosen the stranglehold (see, for example, Professor John Davison's online article: What it means to be an AntiDarwinian at the University of Vermont).
It remains to be seen whether the next decade or two will see the triumph of genuine science over the pseudo-Darwinist ideology posing as science that is already long overdue.
It was believed, until quite recently, that things like age, physical strength, state of health, etc. - typical human measures of fitness - played a part in determining which animals fell prey to predators in an environment such as the South African veldt.
Practical research of predation by cheetahs, for example, has shown that proximity is a far more important factor. That is to say, the cheetah is most likely to go for the nearest animal, apparently in order to minimise the likely expenditure of energy needed to obtain a fresh supply of nutrition. The factors traditionally thought of as indicators of "fitness" appear to be very much secondary in the mind of the cheetah.
Also quoted in Genetics and Heredity, Arthur Robin, M.D. and F.H. Osborn. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago:1992. 15th ed. Macropaedia, Vol. 19. p.722.
The text quoted consists of a single paragraph in the original. It has been split in three simply in order to make it easier to read on a VDU.
Go to other sections
Part 0 - Introduction
Part 1 - Metaphors and Myths
Part 2 - The Mystery Begins
Part 3 - All At Sea
Part 4 - He Who Hesitates ...
Part 5 - Last Days
Part 6 - Without Reference ...
Part 7 - The Missing Link
Part 8 - Going Public, Maybe
Part 9 - ... Father to the Man
Part 10 - Mr Wallace, Mr Blyth ...
Part 11 - ... and 'Mr' Lyell
Appendices - The full text of Blyth's papers from 1835-37
Appendix A - The Varieties of Animals - Part 1
Appendix B - The Varieties of Animals - Part 2
Appendix C - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 1
Appendix D - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 2
Appendix E - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 3
Appendix F - Seasonal and Other Changes in Birds - Part 4
Appendix G - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 1
Appendix H - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 2
Appendix I - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 3
Appendix J - Psychological Distinctions Between Man and Other Animals - Part 4