Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Evidence of Evolution and Selection

The dull-toothed piranha of the Discovery Institute are at it again. A press release about Dog breeding and how evolution works and makes a disparaging comment about Creationism and Intelligent Design bring out a knee jerk reaction that misrepresents what the article said. They [The Discovery Institute] are so defensive!

The press release discusses how changes in the shape of St. Bernard's skull over the last 120 years were the result of selective breeding for certain specific desired characteristics. Here is the Discovery Institutes's take:

"And what is their evidence for “evolution and natural selection”? You have to see this to believe it: “over time … breeders selected dogs that had the desired physical attributes. … we can be confident that they have evolved purely through the selective considerations of breeders.” “Breeders selected” and “the selective considerations of breeders” sure sound a lot like intelligently-guided artificial selection, not natural selection. But these scientists don’t let little distinctions like that get in the way of finding support Darwinism. In fact, they claim their research demonstrates the grand Darwinian narrative: “this research once again demonstrates how selection - whether natural or, in this case, artificially influenced by man - is the fundamental driving force behind the evolution of life on the planet.” "
Our 'friends' at the DI obviously didn't get the point of the press release. Yes, there was no natural selection involved, that was readily admitted in the article. But there certainly was Evolution involved. The science of evolution predicted what would happen when you selectively breed for specific characteristics. Dog breeders have been doing it for year, as have any domesticated animal. You breed out unwanted characteristics and breed for specific ones. Sure Frank Purdue's large breasted chickens might look funny, but they taste delicious!

They trot out a quote from Explore Evolution: The Arguments For and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers, 2007). What they forget to mention is it is co-authored by three Discovery Institute members, Stephen C. Meyer, Scott Minnich and Paul A. Nelson, as well as illustrator and creationist author Jonathan Moneymaker and Kansas evolution hearings participant Ralph Seelke. Hill House Publishers Pty. Ltd. (London and Melbourne), headed by creationist and butterfly photographer Bernard d'Abrera, is the publisher of Explore Evolution.

So what we have is the replacement for "Of Pandas and People", the text that inadvertently helped make the case against Intelligent Design during the Dover Trial, being used by the same people who co-authored it to support their position. Talk about stacking the deck!

But the best part of the quote they use is: "Darwin’s theory requires that species have an immense capacity to change, but the evidence from breeding experiments shows that there are definite limits to how much a species can change, even when intelligent agents (the breeders) are doing the selection intentionally, trying to maximize certain traits. … Darwin’ theory requires that species exhibit a tremendous elasticity—or capacity to change." Any breeder will tell you that the change happens slowly over the course of generations. The theory of evolution doesn't say there is a 'tremendous elasticity', all it says is that if the characteristics are present, you can breed to emphasis them. Evolution says it and to dog breeders proved it. The Discovery Institute just didn't like it!

The DI tries to use this as support for Intelligent Design with this comment: "In the end, this study doesn’t demonstrate anything about natural selection. Rather, it demonstrates that some Darwinian scientists are following the evidence to Darwinism, even when it leads to intelligent design."

Of course there was intelligence behind the selection for the animals to breed, we know that just like we can point to a manufacturer of mouse traps! This in no way supports their pet idea that the universe was formed by an Intelligent Designer. If that was so the St. Bernard would have always had the characteristics that have been bred into them, something we know is not true. Purdue wouldn't have gone on to chicken fame and the breeding of race horses wouldn't be so lucrative.

I think what really drove the DI crazy was this line from the press release: "“Creationism is the belief that all living organisms were created according to Genesis in six days by ‘intelligent design’ and rejects the scientific theories of natural selection and evolution." Nothing seems to bring on a lame attack than tying Intelligent Design to Creationism. Gotta love knee-jerk reactions!

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