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Zombie Watch: Debunked Finches Re-Emerge to Validate Darwin


Peter and Rosemary Grant are the Princeton pair who have spent their careers on the Galápagos Islands trying to tease out the slightest bits of evidence to support the iconic myth of Darwin’s finches. Having received the Royal Medal in Biology last summer, they’re at it again. That is despite having been soundly refuted by Jonathan Wells in his book Zombie Science. Now that the Grants are passing the baton to younger researchers, we will undoubtedly be treated to more parades of this zombie icon.

In “Rapid hybrid speciation in Darwin’s finches” in the journal Science, four other lead authors, accompanied by the Grants, try to sanctify neo-Darwinism with a melodrama about three “species” of finches that can all interbreed. Mind you, they are all finches. They are all Galápagos finches. They are all family.

Any differences among the groups are tiny changes in beak size and shape, and changes in the songs one group sings. Science Daily has a cartoon version of the story, complete with a lineage called “Big Bird”:

The arrival 36 years ago of a strange bird to a remote island in the Galapagos archipelago has provided direct genetic evidence of a novel way in which new species arise.

In this week’s issue of the journal Science, researchers from Princeton University and Uppsala University in Sweden report that the newcomer belonging to one species mated with a member of another species resident on the island, giving rise to a new species that today consists of roughly 30 individuals.

The study comes from work conducted on Darwin’s finches, which live on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The remote location has enabled researchers to study the evolution of biodiversity due to natural selection. [Emphasis added.]

The first question is obvious: If they can interbreed, how can they be called different species? Darwin’s book was about the Origin of Species, not the origin of varieties. As Wells points out, “If they continue to breed and exchange genes, they are usually regarded as varieties of the same species, even if they are morphologically different (as is the case with dog breeds)” (Zombie Science, p. 68).

The “strange bird” that showed up was a lone male who had a slightly different song. He found a mate, they had chicks, and the family decided to live in the same community away from the others. This is called “reproductive isolation” and is considered by Darwinians as a step toward speciation. But people do that. How many stories are told of a wayfaring stranger appearing from a far country, finding a bride, and, over the objections of her family, taking her to start a new life together in a different place? Are they now “reproductively isolated”? Are they emerging as a new species? As Wells says in his charitable way, “Indeed, it is far from obvious why we should consider them separate species at all.” He gives an example:

The Ainu people of northern Japan and the !Kung people of southern Africa are separated not only physically and linguistically, but also (for all practical purposes) reproductively. Are they therefore separate species? Or are they all human beings? Of course the Ainu and the !Kung are all members of the same species.

Since the Galapagos finches regularly interbreed, why should we call them separate species, other than to make them appear to be evidence for evolution?

The BBC News tries to have it both ways:

In the past, it was thought that two different species must be unable to produce fertile offspring in order to be defined as such. But in more recent years, it has been established that many birds and other animals that we consider to be unique species are in fact able to interbreed with others to produce fertile young.

They’d better not push that idea too far, or else they will be calling Japanese a different species from Germans. That’s no joke; to evolutionists, human beings fit in the category “other animals.”

The cartoon version accentuates the differences between the birds to make them look as different as possible. Science Daily continues:

The offspring were also reproductively isolated because their song, which is used to attract mates, was unusual and failed to attract females from the resident species. The offspring also differed from the resident species in beak size and shape, which is a major cue for mate choice. As a result, the offspring mated with members of their own lineage, strengthening the development of the new species.

Humans do this, too. Think of cases where an immigrant population kept to themselves, because they had their own culture and music. This affected their “mate choice,” as well.

The paper in Science makes a big deal of hybridization (see here about how rampant hybridization is scrambling Darwin’s tree). Science Daily explains:

A critical requirement for speciation to occur through hybridization of two distinct species is that the new lineage must be ecologically competitive — that is, good at competing for food and other resources with the other species — and this has been the case for the Big Bird lineage.

But again, the human analogy gives the lie to this idea. If an Ainu woman married a !Kung man, we wouldn’t, needless to say, call their children hybrids. In addition, human tribes in many places on Earth are reproductively isolated, yet successful. They can even be reproductively isolated in the same country, preferring to marry ones that have the same tastes or looks. The idea that they must be competitive comes from Malthus and Darwin, not from real life.

Here’s another glitch in the story not apparently noticed by the researchers:

Researchers previously assumed that the formation of a new species takes a very long time, but in the Big Bird lineage it happened in just two generations, according to observations made by the Grants in the field in combination with the genetic studies.

They sound delighted to find that speciation occurred fast, but think of what that means. Those islands have been isolated from the mainland for at least 8 million years — maybe 90 million. Unless the evolutionists believe the Big Bird incident was extremely rare or unique, such hybridizations should have been frequent. If so, wouldn’t the gene pool be scrambled beyond recognition? If rare, the story begins to look like a case of special pleading. Neither option is particularly helpful to Darwinian theory. The paper appeals to “rare and chance events” to explain Big Bird. Isn’t it odd that such a rare event happened while the Grants just happened to be watching? What’s the probability of that?

Why do the Darwinians make so much of so little? The reason: the Galápagos Islands are holy ground. Researchers will work for years to honor the founder of their worldview.

Photo: Medium ground finch, Galápagos Islands, by Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.