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Galápagos Finches and a Surprising Deletion

Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig
Photo: Geospiza fuliginosa, by Cayambe, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Author’s note: Are Darwin’s finches “a particularly compelling example of speciation” as well as “evolution in action”? In a series of posts, I offer some notes on the question of whether macroevolution is happening on the Galápagos Islands. Please find the full series here.

In a post yesterday, I discussed the book Science and Creationism, published by the National Academy of Sciences. I asked, “Are Galápagos Finches ‘Evolution in Action’?” In the next edition of the book (2008/2017), now called Science, Evolution and Creationism, I noted something utterly surprising. This “particularly compelling example of speciation,” the profound contributions of Peter and Rosemary Grant to our understanding of the evolutionary process, this example of evolution in action, all of it had now been completely deleted!

An Evolutionary Icon, Reconsidered

But why? How could the authors suddenly do this? Some of the following points may be considered, based on material from even years before 2008. See, for example, Lönnig 1993, pp. 196/1971; and Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution (2000), pp. 159-176. In 2017, Evolution News reported on the often limitless evolutionary extrapolation from the variation in the Geospizinae (the subfamily to which the Galápagos finches belong) to the origin of species and higher systematic categories in general. See, “Darwin’s Finches: An Icon Gets Retouched.”

The birds hybridize. No origin of species has occurred. The varieties of finches are “trapped in an unpredictable cycle of Sisyphean evolution,” according to McKay and Zink, quoted by Jonathan Wells in his new book Zombie Science (pp. 69-70).

Concerning hybridization in the Galápagos finches, see also an article from Science in 2018, “Rapid hybrid speciation in Darwin’s finches.” Evolution News goes on to say: 

This means that, like the old king Sisyphus of Greek mythology, condemned by the gods to roll a stone up a hill that always escapes and rolls back down, requiring him to repeat the cycle forever, Darwin’s finches are going nowhere.

So, here’s what we know in 2017 about Darwin’s finches, one of Jonathan Wells’ original ten Icons of Evolution. 

● Some finches wound up on the Galápagos Islands sometime.

● Darwin captured some on his visit, but never used them to promote his theory. 

The finches can freely hybridize.

● The only major difference between them is the size and shape of the beak.

When the weather is dry, bigger-beaked birds do better.

When the rain returns, smaller-beaked birds return to previous levels.

No speciation has occurred. (This is called “adaptive radiation.”)

● There exists a nebulous idea called “fitness,” measured by number of offspring.

● Fitness changes from year to year, as circumstances change.

● Varieties of finches exchange places as “fittest” from year to year.

● The first arriver gets priority, unless a fitter bird arrives later.

● Nobody can know in advance what bird will stay the fittest for how long.

● The NSF will let you use bacteria as a proxy for birds. 

Yes, “Adaptive radiation is an important evolutionary process,” just like the paper begins. Thanks for the money, NSF! 

In Zombie Science, Wells points out that in a 1999 pro-evolution booklet for schools, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences called Darwin’s finches “a particularly compelling example of speciation.” He also points out that after 17 years since he exposed the flaws in this evolutionary icon, the “zombie” keeps coming back from the dead, reviving and stalking in biology textbooks. Here, the zombie makes another appearance: research that goes nowhere, proves nothing, and yet pretends that Darwin’s finches, despite “some important caveats,” provide insight into the origin of species. 

It’s hard to kill a zombie when the Federal Government funds its handlers. [Emphasis added.]

See also Jonathan Wells (2016), “Darwin’s Finches: The Hype Continues”: 

Average beak size increased slightly during one drought, only to return to normal after the rains return. Then average beak size decreased slightly during another drought. A region of DNA is correlated with beak size. And somehow that tells us how finches evolved in the first place?

As Winston Churchill might say, “Never in the field of science was so much based by so many on so little.

Consider a podcast with Wells, “Galápagos Finches: A Failed Evolutionary Icon that Won’t Go Away.” You may also wish to consult his book Zombie Science (2017), pp. 67-71. 

Next, “On the ‘Sisyphean Evolution of Darwin’s Finches.”

Notes:

  1. http://www.weloennig.de/AesIV3.html.