Science magazine declared the 2005 scientific breakthrough of the year to be “Evolution in Action” (Culotta and Pennisi, 310:1878). With a bold cover image and a special write up that included an editorial by editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy, Science offered what they believed was a breakthrough that “should not disappoint” (Kennedy, 2005, 310:1869). But having read the accompanying articles (twice), and having digested the evidence therein, one is left to ask: Where is this evidence for “evolution in action”?
Elizabeth Culotta and Elizabeth Pennisi announce the breakthrough of the year noting: “The big breakthrough, of course, was the one Charles Darwin made a century and a half ago. By recognizing how natural selection shapes the diversity of life, he transformed how biologists view the world” (310:1878, italics in orig.). Had Culotta and Pennisi done their homework, they would have realized that Darwin was not the individual who originated the idea of natural selection. That honor belongs to Edward Blyth (1810-1873), a creationist zoologist/chemist who wrote about it in the years between 1835 and 1837—well before Darwin (Foard, 1996). Creationists have never objected to the idea of natural selection as a mechanism for eliminating the unfit, or non-adapted organisms. We do, however, have a problem with individuals who would assert that this is the mechanism for macroevolution!
One hundred years prior to this “breakthrough,” Hugo de Vries admitted: “Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest” (1905, pp. 825-826). Even the late evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould admitted as much when he observed: “The essence of Darwinism lies in a single phrase: Natural selection is the creative force of evolutionary change. No one denies that selection will play a negative role in eliminating the unfit. Darwinian theories require that it create the fit as well” (1977, 86:28, emp. added). As respected Swedish biologist Sören Lövtrup observed:
Micromutations do occur, but the theory that these alone can account for evolutionary change is either falsified, or else it is an unfalsifiable, hence metaphysical theory. I suppose that nobody will deny that it is a great misfortune if an entire branch of science becomes addicted to a false theory. But this is what has happened in biology.... I believe that one day the Darwinian myth will be ranked the greatest deceit in the history of science. When this happens, many will pose the question: How did this ever happen? (1987, p. 422, emp. added).
These facts, however, do not deter Culotta and Pennisi. They insist: “Today evolution is the foundation of all biology, so basic and all-pervasive that scientists sometimes take its importance for granted. At some level every discovery in biology and medicine rests on it, in much the same way that all terrestrial vertebrates can trace their ancestry back to the first bold fishes to explore land” (310:1878). Kennedy agrees, noting: “As the evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky once said: ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’” (310:1869). But do Cullotta and Pennisi offer any evidence that “all terrestrial vertebrates can trace their ancestry back to the first bold fishes to explore land?” No. It is assumed everyone is familiar with this “fact.” However, a quick search of the historical literature demonstrates that evolutionists are still trying to pin down exactly what came crawling out of the water onto land. For decades they pinned this feat on the front-lobed fins of the coelacanth. Yet, we know today that coelacanth are not shallow water fish, and they are very much alive today—making it difficult to believe these creatures gave rise to all land dwelling creatures millions of years ago. (For more information on the coelacanth, see Harrub, 2004). This observation has caused evolutionists to turn their attention to the lungfish or other creatures, in hopes of filling the void left behind by the coelacanth. Has it been established with scientific evidence that water-dwelling creatures gave rise to land animals? No. And if Culotta and Pennisi had focused more on the scientific facts, rather than sensationalizing this alleged “breakthrough,” they would never have included such erroneous material!
The Evidence of “Evolution in Action”
The authors admit that “this year some segments of American society fought to dilute the teaching of even the basic facts of evolution. With all this in mind, Science has decided to put Darwin in the spotlight by saluting several dramatic discoveries, each of which reveals the laws of evolution in action.” So exactly what are these “dramatic discoveries” that “reveal the laws of evolution in action”? The first example they give is the publication of the chimpanzee genome (for more details see Harrub, 2005). They proudly proclaim that humans differ from chimps by only about “1% in the nucleotide bases that can be aligned between our two species” (310:1878). They do go on to admit that there is a “surprisingly large chunk of noncoding material” which “is either inserted or deleted in the chimp as compared to the human, bringing the total difference in DNA between our two species to about 4%” (310:1878). In downplaying the significance of these differences, Culotta and Pennisi forgot to mention that scientists discovered 35 million single nucleotide substitutions and 5 million small insertions and deletions that were different between humans and chimps (see “The Chimpanzee Genome,” 2005).
Second, Culotta and Pennisi fail to recognize that homology does not prove common ancestry! Do we share a great deal of genetic information with chimpanzees? Definitely! But is there good reason? Of course! We share the same Earth, the same atmospheric conditions, many of the same internal organs, and we eat similar foods and need many of the same proteins to maintain homeostasis. Chris Gunter and Ritu Dhand cautioned scientists to keep the results in context—especially regarding the oft-quoted “96%-similar gene” figure (or more often misquoted as 98%). They remarked: “At a conservative estimate we share about 88% of our genes with rodents and 60% with chickens. Applying a more liberal definition of similarity, up to 80% of the sea squirt’s genes are found in humans in some form. So it’s no surprise we are still asking, ‘What makes us human?’” (2005, 437:47). If scientists were hoping to find the “smoking gun” of what makes us human, they did not find it in the chimp genome. Yet, this is their first piece of “evidence” of evolution in action?
The second piece of evidence is just as dismal for evolutionists. Culotta and Pennisi focus the readers’ attention on birds called European blackcaps. In discussing this point, Editor Donald Kennedy remarked:
Our scientist/journalist teams have compiled a splendid case for this exploding science. One of my favorites is the European blackcap, a species of warbler that spends the winter in two separate places but then reunites to breed, with birds selecting mates from those who shared the same wintering ground. Assortative mating of this kind can produce gradual differentiation of the two populations. Biologists have shown that new species can arise because of geographic barriers that separate subpopulations, but the divergent evolution shown in this case could result in new species arising within a single range (2005, 310:1869).
This is not a case of vertical macroevolution! Rather this is a simple case of horizontal microevolution. Just because scientists draw artificial lines and identify something as a new “species” does not mean these creatures are demonstrating amoeba-to-man evolution. Ironically, Culotta and Pennisi realize these changes do not represent a new species, as they lamented: “This difference in timing may one day drive two populations to become two species” (310:1879, emp. added). May one day drive? And yet, this example is used as a “dramatic discovery” that reveals the “laws of evolution”? Regardless of the breeding populations, these are still birds. Different? Perhaps. But the examples for microevolution abound. Take, for instance, the differences found in various breeds of dogs. Mating two different dogs may produce a third type—but it is still a dog. These European blackcaps did not evolve into a different organism. The authors follow up this example with two species of European corn borers—arguing that these two groups prefer different plants as they grow. Once again, they offer simply another excellent example of horizontal microevolution.
The third “dramatic discovery” involves the marine stickleback fish. Culotta and Pennisi observe: “In various places in the Northern Hemisphere, for example, marine stickleback fish were scattered among landlocked lakes as the last Ice Age ended. Today their descendants have evolved into dozens of different species, but each has independently lost the armor plates needed for protection from marine predators” (310:1879). They further comment that a rare “DNA defect affecting the signaling molecule involved in the development of dermal bones and teeth” is responsible. However, this mutation is not responsible for adding new genetic material. As Harvard-trained lawyer Norman MacBeth observed: “In the meantime, the educated public continues to believe that Darwin has provided all the relevant answers by the magic formula of random mutations plus natural selection—quite unaware of the fact that random mutations turned out to be irrelevant and natural selection a tautology” (1982, 2:18). Yet this deems the designation, “Breakthrough of the Year”?
The last point Culotta and Pennisi mention is that in 2005, “researchers stepped up to help defend against one of the world’s most urgent biomedical threats: avian influenza” (310:1879). They observe that molecular biologists used tissue from a body that had been frozen in the Alaskan permafrost for almost a century in order to sequence the three unknown genes from the 1918 flu virus. They noted:
After studying the genetic data, however, virologists concluded that the 1918 virus started out as a pure avian strain. A handful of mutations had enabled it to easily infect human hosts. The possible evolution of such an infectious ability in the bird flu now winging its way around the world is why officials worry about a pandemic today (310:1879, emp. added).
The “possible evolution”? I was under the impression that we were going to be reading about “dramatic discoveries” that would “reveal the laws of evolution in action.” Did Culotta and Pennisi describe the mechanism for this evolution from bird flu into the human strain? No. Instead, they speculated and added bird flu as a “dramatic discovery” for evolution. They conclude their article:
Darwin focused on the existence of evolution by natural selection; the mechanisms that drive the process were a complete mystery to him. But today his intellectual descendants include all the biologists—whether they study morphology, behavior, or genetics—whose research is helping reveal how evolution works (310:1879).
Did I miss something? The “Breakthrough of the Year” in the journal Science was on “Evolution in Action,” and yet the reader is left without any concrete proof of evolution in action. While the authors may proclaim that Darwin’s “intellectual descendants” are helping reveal how evolution works, the truth is that many are beginning to question whether his theory has a leg to stand on. After examining the irreducible complexities in living creatures, many scientists are realizing that Darwinism does not provide suitable answers. As such, 2005 was a banner year for court cases and media attention for the Intelligent Design movement. Donald Kennedy realized as much in his commentary when he remarked: “Wait a minute, I hear you cry. Hasn’t it been a trying year for evolution, considering the debates about teaching evolutionary theory in science classes in the United States and the headlines about Intelligent Design?” Kennedy goes on to reassure readers: “On the contrary, in the research community, it’s been a great year for understanding how evolution works, through both experiment and theory” (310:1869).
The fact of the matter is that huge strides were made in 2005 against the evolutionary theory. This declaration of the “Breakthrough of the Year” is simply a cheap publicity stunt (and smokescreen) hoping to shore up a failing theory. Thankfully, people are asking questions and taking a harder look at the problems with the evolutionary theory. No award or declaration will change the fact that evolution remains to be proven or even tested—and scientists have yet to create life from non-life, a necessity if organic evolution is true.
“The Chimpanzee Genome” (2005), Nature, 437, [On-line], URL: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v437/n7055/edsumm/e050901-01.html.
Culotta, Elizabeth and Elizabeth Pennisi (2005), “Evolution in Action,” Science, 310:1878-1879, December 23.
De Vries, Hugo (1905), Species and Varieties: Their Origin by Mutation, ed. Daniel Trembly MacDougal (Chicago, IL: Open Court).
Foard, James (1996), “Edward Blyth and Natural Selection,” from The Darwin Papers, [On-line], URL: http://www.thedarwinpapers.com/oldsite/Number2/Darwin2Html.htm
Gould, Stephen Jay (1977), “The Return of Hopeful Monsters,” Natural History, 86:22-30, June/July.
Gunter, Chris and Ritu Dhand (2005), “The Chimpanzee Genome,” Nature, 437:47, September 1.
Harrub, Brad (2004), “Evolutionists Just Can’t Admit to Getting Something Wrong!,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2106.
Harrub, Brad (2005), “Initial Sequence of Chimp Genome Reported,” [On-line], URL: http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/353.
Kennedy, Donald (2005), “Breakthrough of the Year,” Science, 310:1869, December 23.
Lövtrup, Sören (1987), Darwinism: The Refutation of a Myth (London: Croom and Helm).
MacBeth, Norman (1982), “Darwinism: A Time for Funerals,” Towards, 2, Spring.