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Answering Simplistic Presentations of Darwinism


Every once in a while, popular science writers feel the need to re-educate their readers about the fact of evolution, lest the readers be swayed by certain fringe elements. It’s like the need for a booster shot against tetanus; just re-inoculate the public with the same medicine, and they will be safe for another year. The booster shot usually includes some of the following elements:

  1. Evolution is a fact. It’s obvious. Things change, don’t they?
  2. Charles Darwin was the greatest scientist who ever lived. He wrote the greatest book in the history of science.
  3. Darwin was wrong about some things, but those have all been corrected now.
  4. Natural selection is one of the best-tested laws of nature. It explains everything.
  5. The evidence for evolution is overwhelming: whales, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and human sexual behaviors.
  6. No serious scientist doubts evolution.
  7. Some fringe groups like those intelligent design rascals don’t understand evolution. They can be ignored, like creationists.
  8. Evolution is not against religion. You can be very religious and still accept the fact of evolution.
  9. Controversy? What controversy?

These talking points are so predictable, they seem to come from the same source every time. Perhaps the reporter consults TalkOrigins or the National Center for Science Education. The reporter feels no need to consult actual ID sources, because nobody should consult fake science from discredited groups. Just ask the NCSE.

A good example of this booster-shot reporting is Ker Than’s article for Live Science, “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution: Definition & Evidence.”

The theory of evolution by natural selection, first formulated in Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, is the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits. Changes that allow an organism to better adapt to its environment will help it survive and have more offspring.

Evolution by natural selection is one of the best substantiated theories in the history of science, supported by evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including paleontology, geology, genetics and developmental biology. [Emphasis added.]

The article uses all nine talking points plus a few others. It’s notable that most of the piece is not neo-Darwinian, but old-style Darwinism: universal common descent by natural selection on variations:

The theory has two main points, said Brian Richmond, curator of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “All life on Earth is connected and related to each other,” and this diversity of life is a product of “modifications of populations by natural selection, where some traits were favored in and environment over others,” he said.

More simply put, the theory can be described as “descent with modification,” said Briana Pobiner, an anthropologist and educator at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who specializes in the study of human origins.

The theory is sometimes described as “survival of the fittest,” but that can be misleading, Pobiner said. Here, “fitness” refers not to an organism’s strength or athletic ability, but rather the ability to survive and reproduce.

The article does not point out the meaninglessness of this formulation of natural selection. Norman Macbeth and Tom Bethell are among many observers who find a tautology here. When fitness is defined in terms of reproduction, then reproduction is a measure of fitness by definition. Such a vacuous thought can explain anything. There’s no way to test it. If it’s fit, it survives. If it survives, it’s fit.

For evidence, Mr. Than appeals to both microevolutionary and macroevolutionary change. He sees evolution in the common human dilemma of seeking to date an appropriate person. Yet surely he would never claim that those who do succeed in dating Mr. or Miss Right are evolving into a new species in the Darwinian sense.

The article’s biggest evidential appeal is to whale evolution. The whale sequence shown is comparable to the “Parade of Man” icon that has been roundly debunked by evolutionists. All that is needed to explain the sequence, Mr. Than implies, is natural selection. What we see in microevolution changing hair color or size can be extrapolated endlessly. Time is the hero of the plot:

But natural selection is also capable of much more. Given enough time and enough accumulated changes, natural selection can create entirely new species, known as “macroevolution.” It can turn dinosaurs into birds, amphibious mammals into whales and the ancestors of apes into humans.

In Living Waters, Richard Sternberg pointed out the need for coordinated mutations to arrive on time to make complex systems work. His calculations, using standard population genetics equations, show that getting just two coordinated mutations would require vastly more time than evolutionists think the entire alleged whale sequence occurred. Yet Live Science weaves a just-so story bordering on the magical, where coordinated mutations happen all over the place:

Random genetic changes resulted in at least one whale having its nostrils placed farther back on its head. Those animals with this adaptation would have been better suited to a marine lifestyle, since they would not have had to completely surface to breathe. Such animals would have been more successful and had more offspring. In later generations, more genetic changes occurred, moving the nose farther back on the head.

Other body parts of early whales also changed. Front legs became flippers. Back legs disappeared. Their bodies became more streamlined and they developed tail flukes to better propel themselves through water.

Moving a nostril farther back on the head overlooks numerous coordinated changes that would have to occur, so that the animal could breathe, swallow, and perform echolocation. Without the coordination, the animal would be less fit. The assertions in that second paragraph are more Lamarckian than Darwinian. The article overlooks all these problems.

But natural selection isn’t the only mechanism by which organisms evolve, she said. For example, genes can be transferred from one population to another when organisms migrate or immigrate, a process known as gene flow. And the frequency of certain genes can also change at random, which is called genetic drift.

All three of those processes, lateral transfer, gene flow, and genetic drift, have nothing to do with progressive evolution — the kind Darwin envisioned, where a four-footed animal becomes a whale. Random changes to complex systems degrade information. Mr. Than equivocates here, making “evolution” any kind of genetic change. With that kind of definition, the Darwinist can’t lose: a species going extinct becomes evidence for Darwinian evolution.

Brian Richmond of the American Museum of Natural History caps off the article with a prediction:

Evolution is well supported by many examples of changes in various species leading to the diversity of life seen today. “If someone could really demonstrate a better explanation than evolution and natural selection, [that person] would be the new Darwin,” Richmond said.

This implies that the scientific community would immediately jump on the new alternative with gusto. Would that were true, because intelligent design scientists have made a case that not only undermines Darwinism, but offers a more logical and evidence-based alternative. They have the advantage of not taking one side’s talking points on faith, because many of them were evolutionists before they began critically evaluating the theory.

Recently, Evolution News humorously advised scientists on how to write a first-class biology paper. Similar rules apply to writing science news stories for the popular media. They are sure to get published if the reporter follows the same rules for the Introduction, “Start by stating confidently that evolution is true,” and the Conclusion, “Evolution is true.”

For those who prefer a more balanced view of evolution, here are the most recent books where you will get a real debate looking at both sides: Heretic, by Matti Leisola; Undeniable, by Douglas Axe; Darwin’s House of Cards, by Tom Bethell, and Zombie Science, by Jonathan Wells.

Photo: Whale flukes, by Free-Photos, via Pixabay.