Were you taught in biology class that the changing lengths of finch beaks was a good proof of Darwinian evolution? Many students were… but is it true?
Jonathan Wells has an article about it at Evolution News.
When Charles Darwin visited the Galápagos Islands in 1835, he collected specimens of the local wildlife. These included some finches that he threw into bags, many of them mislabeled. Although the Galápagos finches had little impact on Darwin’s thinking (he doesn’t even mention them in The Origin of Species), biologists who studied them a century later called them “Darwin’s finches” and invented the myth that Darwin had correlated differences in the finches’ beaks with different food sources (he hadn’t). According to the myth, Darwin was inspired by the finches to formulate his theory of evolution, thoughaccording to historian of science Frank Sulloway “nothing could be further from the truth.”
In the 1970s, biologists studied a population of medium ground finches on one of the islands in great detail. When a severe drought left only large, hard-to-crack seeds, 85 percent of the birds perished. The survivors had beaks that were about 5 percent larger than the average beak size in the original population. The biologists estimated that if similar droughts occurred once every ten years, the population could become a new species in only 200 years. In a 1999 booklet defending evolution, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences called the finches “a particularly compelling example” of the origin of species.
But after the drought, birds with smaller beaks flourished again, and the average beak size of the population returned to normal. No net evolution had occurred. No matter; Darwin’s finches became an icon of evolution that is still featured in most biology textbooks.
In the 1980s, a population of large ground finches, with larger beaks than the medium ground finches, migrated to the island. When a drought in 2004-2005 again reduced the food supply, the medium and large ground finch populations both declined. But since even the largest beaks among the medium ground finches were no match for the beaks of the large ground finches, the latter pretty much monopolized the larger seeds and the former had to make do with smaller seeds. This time, the medium ground finches that survived the drought had beaks that were smaller than the average size in the original population. Biologists studying the finches argued that birds with smaller beaks were better able to eat the tiny seeds that were left after the large ground finches ate the big ones, and they concluded that this was again an example of “evolutionary change.”
[…]Wait a minute. 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?
There is an important distinction to make between micro-evolution and macro-evolution. Changes within a type is micro-evolution. Evolving a new organ type or body plan is macro-evolution. There is plenty of evidence for micro-evolution, but no evidence for macro-evolution.
What needs to be proven by the Darwinists is that the same process that results in different average beak size in a population of finches after a drought can create the finches in the first place. I think that Darwinists are credulous – they believe what they want to believe because they want to believe it, even if the evidence is incredibly weak. Darwinists must demonstrate that heritable variations can result in the generation of new organ types and body plans. Changes in average beak size is not interesting. What is needed is to show how the beaks, much less the wings, evolved in the first place.
Icons of Evolution
Jonathan has actually written about a number of misleading things that you may mind in Biology textbooks.
Here are the sections in his book “Icons of Evolution“:
- The Miller-Urey Experiment
- Darwin’s Tree of Life
- Homology in Vertebrate Limbs
- Haeckel’s Embroys
- Archaeopteryx–The Missing Link
- Peppered Moths
- Darwin’s Finches
- Four-Winged Fruit Flies
- Fossil Horses and Directed Evolution
- From Ape to Human: The Ultimate Icon
Dr. Wells holds a Ph.D in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley.