History is not the sole discipline which faces trouble from screeds in which the facts are wrong. In fact, the history of the idea of biological evolution is rather rife with scientific and history hoaxes, and only a few of them are old. New hoaxes about evolution have formed a cottage industry since the science push of 1957 and 1958.
Recent news told of the research of Dr. Peter R. Grant of Princeton University. Grant and his wife, Dr. B. Rosemary Grant, have conducted groundbreaking studies on a few species of birds in the Galapagos Archipelago — long-term longitudinal studies in which they literally track every member of a species for several dozens of generations so far (the research continues). The Grants and their graduate students published more than a dozen papers on speciation, beginning in the middle 1970s.
Below the fold I reproduce an anti-evolution letter published in the Pasadena, California, Star-News on July 23. Below that I list my response, how I would respond were I a local reader of the paper with a chance of getting a letter published.
Dr. Peter R. Grant, left, and Dr. B. Rosemary Grant, right. Photos from Princeton University.
(Continued below the fold.)
If I didn’t know better, I’d regard the news article of July 14, “Evolution Exemplified,” a real joke.
The article says that the author of the report in Science journal, Peter Grant of Princeton University, “. . . has been studying Darwin’s finches for decades.”
It’s too bad that he hasn’t heard that the theory that changes in the observed finches’ beaks demonstrate confirmation of evolution is not universally accepted.
Other studies show that the observed changes he describes were reversed after drought conditions ended.
Even if you gave credence to his report, to conclude that the finch observation is a confirmation of the theory of evolution is really ludicrous.
The major problem with the theory is that a transitional fossil, or animal for that matter (e.g. a “missing link”), has never been found. Additionally, evolutionists have never satisfactorily explained the “Cambrian explosion” phenomenon, during which all major animal groups appear together in the fossil record fully formed, with no ancestral “evolving” fossil predecessors.
To contend that physically complex humans – with our cardiac, respiratory and other anatomical systems – have been developed from a single-cell organism or, worse, from some sort of protein matter that was initiated and developed in a pre-historic liquid “soup,” takes more faith than accepting the more plausible intelligent design theory.
I suggest that Dr. Grant’s sponsor, the National Science Foundation, save its money and study something that is more significant.
Evolution, by its own definition, requires the creation of new species – not just their beaks!
Eugene H. Lowe, Pasadena
My response: One of the tragedies of U.S. science education is that more Americans, like Mr. Lowe, do not “know better.” Peter and Rosemary Grant are among the giants of modern biology. Their decades-long project tracking species and speciation in the Galapagos sets a high standard for research. They are sought as speakers, they participate in the writing of AP biology textbooks. Anyone who studies the broader topic of evolution knows of them and their research. Mr. Lowe writes as though he’s never heard of them. That capsulizes the debate between science and evolution on one side, and the critics of science and evolution on the other. Science erects a mountain of facts and evidence and theory that lights the way for remarkable discoveries in agriculture and nutrition; critics run into the mountain, then pick themselves up and wander off as if nothing had happened.
It is absolutely certain that Dr. Peter Grant has heard of the kerfuffle that the beak changes are not evolution. You see, Peter and Rosemary Grant have been studying these same populations of birds since at least 1974. Any work published on those birds was published by the Grants, or their graduate students, under their direction. They have heard that odd, unsupported criticism, and they answered with a dozen papers presenting even better evidence of evolution over the past dozen years. Mr. Lowe and other critics, who have never seen the birds nor even read the papers, advise the Grants that they have it wrong. It takes a lot of brass to advise one of the great men of science that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Unfortunately, Mr. Lowe doesn’t give us his science background — were it a war of authority, I think the Drs. Grant would still have the upper hand.
Is the evidence the Grants present “not universally accepted?” Well, the Grants have more papers published in major science journals saying that evolution has been observed, than there are doubters, among scientists. There may be a dozen biologists on Earth who do not accept the Grants’ conclusions, but not one of them has ever seen the data (the Grants make their data available to other researchers to check; no creationist has ever bothered), nor has any doubter or anyone else ever written a serious paper contesting the results. The overwhelming consensus is that the Grants observed evolution in action, and they have written about it extensively. Other scientists agree. No universal acceptance? There are still people who think the Moon is made of green cheese, too, I’m sure. That’s not a convincing reason to doubt.
Beak size being reversed in the drought? Oh, but Mr. Lowe! That was the research of the Drs. Grant, as well. Your conclusion differs from theirs, and in this case I think I’ll take their view. Their view is backed up by direct observation of each and every individual in the population, for more than 30 years. They have the heritage of each bird plotted, they know what the birds ate, they know who the birds socialized with, mated with, and they know all the birds’ children. More, they have the sound recordings of the bird-calls showing the evolution, and they have blood samples from each, with DNA, that exactly confirms their conclusions.
Who has the contrary data, Mr. Lowe? Where is it?
Transitional species? Anti-evolution people refuse to recognize the data. The Drs. Grant have 30,000 transitional individuals documented. If Mr. Lowe lived close to the LaBrea Tar Pits, he could go see more transitional species almost in his own backyard. (What’s that? He doeslive close to LaBrea? Then there really is not excuse for his claim, is there.) Living and fossil, transitional species are all around. Some people appear to be blinded to them, but they could probably see them if they’d take their thumbs out of their eyes.
Cambrian “explosion?” We’re talking geologic time. It occurred “rapidly,” but over 10 million years, at least. And now, in 2006, we have fossil evidence of the ancestors of the Cambrian fossils. It is error to claim that the species showed up suddenly, without ancestors. They didn’t. Worse for the anti-evolution claim, there is a very solid chain of ancestry visible since the Cambrian. Were we to allow the claim that Cambrian-age animals showed up without having mommas, we’d have to note that, in the 400 million years since, there is plenty of evolution on display.
Mr. Lowe, a complex being by now, grew from one cell to the infant of the complex being he is now, in just about 281 days. Why should we doubt that it could have happened in 3.5 billion years, if it happens in less than one year, all over the world, today?
I suggest Mr. Lowe get down to the library and check out a copy of Jonathan Weiner’s book, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time. Mr. Weiner, a great writer, details the research of Peter and Rosemary Grant in the Galapagos, between 1974 and 1993. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1994 – so you know it’s a good read.
Evolution gives us treatments for diabetes, the hope of eradication of the cotton boll weevil, and treatments for HIV. We would be foolish to abandon such useful science for as-yet-untested, unthought-through stuff like “intelligent design,” at least until the advocates of intelligent design show some research results. To date, after 20 years of waiting, we have seen nothing of any use from any ID research. In fact, we have not seen any ID research. No brag, just history.
Peter Grant has been studying those finches for decades, true. He and his wife are the world authorities on them. They have shared their research with the world for 30 years at least – perhaps, just perhaps, they know what they are doing.
(Ecology and Evolution of Darwin’s Finches is available from your local bookseller.)
In all the debates and all the shouting, no one on either side has been convinced to change their opinion
I love this quote from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time
The story goes that a well-known scientist was giving a public lecture on astronomy. The talk went through the planets and how they orbit the sun and in turn the sun orbits our galaxy.When the scientist, who some say was Bertrand Russell, finished, a little old lady says to him: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”The professor surprised by such a remark wittily retorts: “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” says the lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
It goes to the heart of the Intelligent Design Debate. It is very hard to get people to change their view in the matter. When you believe it’s turtles….all the way down, no other argument, is going to really matter.
I can already hear the reply. I had this discussion with my fundamentalist niece about 20 years ago regarding a specific moth in the British Isles which was observed evolving to maintain camouflage. I don’t recall the species. My niece’s response to that fact? “God made that one little moth special so it would be able to do that and protect itself.”