Tag Archives: Jonathan Wells

Did your science textbook teach that peppered moths prove evolution?

Here’s a post by Jonathan Wells at Evolution News, which re-caps the history of the peppered moths experiment.

Excerpt: (links removed)

The peppered moth story is familiar — even overly familiar — to most readers of ENV, so I will summarize it only briefly here. Before the industrial revolution, most peppered moths in England were light-colored; but after tree trunks around cities were darkened by pollution, a dark-colored (“melanic”) variety became much more common (a phenomenon known as “industrial melanism”). In the 1950s, British physician Bernard Kettlewell performed some experiments that seemed to show that the proportion of melanic moths had increased because they were better camouflaged on darkened tree trunks and thus less likely to be eaten by predatory birds.

Kettlewell’s evidence soon became the classic textbook demonstration of natural selection in action — commonly illustrated with photos of peppered moths resting on light- and dark-colored tree trunks.

By the 1990s, however, biologists had discovered several discrepancies in the classic story– not the least of which was that peppered moths in the wild do not usually rest on tree trunks. Most of the textbook photos had been staged.

In the 2000s the story began disappearing from the textbooks. British biologist Michael Majerus then did some studies that he felt supported the camouflage-predation explanation. But before he died of cancer in 2009, he only managed to publish a report of his study in the Darwin lobby’s in-house magazine Evolution: Education and Outreach. Now four other British biologists have presented his results posthumously in the Royal Society’s peer-reviewed Biology Letters. In an accompanying supplement, the authors presented their version of what they call “the peppered moth debacle.” And a debacle it certainly is, but not in the way they think.

According to Charles Darwin, natural selection has been “the most important” factor in the descent with modification of all living things from one or a few common ancestors, yet he had no actual evidence for it. All he could offer in The Origin of Species were “one or two imaginary illustrations.” It wasn’t until almost a century later that Kettlewell seemed to provide “Darwin’s missing evidence” by marking and releasing light- and dark-colored moths in polluted and unpolluted woodlands and recovering some of them the next day. Consistent with the camouflage-predation explanation, the proportion of better-camouflaged moths increased between their release and recapture.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, researchers reported various problems with the camouflage-predation explanation, and in 1998 University of Massachusetts biologist Theodore Sargent and two colleagues published an article in volume 30 of Evolutionary Biology concluding “there is little persuasive evidence, in the form of rigorous and replicated observations and experiments, to support this explanation at the present time.” (p. 318)

The same year, Michael Majerus published a book in which he concluded that evidence gathered in the forty years since Kettlewell’s work showed that “the basic peppered moth story is wrong, inaccurate, or incomplete, with respect to most of the story’s component parts.” (p. 116) In a review of Majerus’s book published in Nature, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne wrote: “From time to time, evolutionists re-examine a classic experimental study and find, to their horror, that it is flawed or downright wrong.” According to Coyne, the fact that peppered moths in the wild rarely rest on tree trunks “alone invalidates Kettlewell’s release-and-recapture experiments, as moths were released by placing them directly onto tree trunks.”

In 1999, I published an article in The Scientist summarizing these and other criticisms of the peppered moth story, and in 2000 I included a chapter on peppered moths in my book Icons of Evolution. Then, in 2002, journalist Judith Hooper published a book about the controversy titled Of Moths and Men. Hooper accused Kettlewell of fraud, though I never did; my criticism was directed primarily at textbook writers who ignored problems with the story and continued to use staged photos even after they were known to misrepresent natural conditions.

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.

Were you taught that black and white moths are evidence of evolution?

Here’s a post by Jonathan Wells at Evolution News, which re-caps the history of the peppered moths experiment.

Excerpt: (links removed)

The peppered moth story is familiar — even overly familiar — to most readers of ENV, so I will summarize it only briefly here. Before the industrial revolution, most peppered moths in England were light-colored; but after tree trunks around cities were darkened by pollution, a dark-colored (“melanic”) variety became much more common (a phenomenon known as “industrial melanism”). In the 1950s, British physician Bernard Kettlewell performed some experiments that seemed to show that the proportion of melanic moths had increased because they were better camouflaged on darkened tree trunks and thus less likely to be eaten by predatory birds.

Kettlewell’s evidence soon became the classic textbook demonstration of natural selection in action — commonly illustrated with photos of peppered moths resting on light- and dark-colored tree trunks.

By the 1990s, however, biologists had discovered several discrepancies in the classic story– not the least of which was that peppered moths in the wild do not usually rest on tree trunks. Most of the textbook photos had been staged.

In the 2000s the story began disappearing from the textbooks. British biologist Michael Majerus then did some studies that he felt supported the camouflage-predation explanation. But before he died of cancer in 2009, he only managed to publish a report of his study in the Darwin lobby’s in-house magazine Evolution: Education and Outreach. Now four other British biologists have presented his results posthumously in the Royal Society’s peer-reviewed Biology Letters. In an accompanying supplement, the authors presented their version of what they call “the peppered moth debacle.” And a debacle it certainly is, but not in the way they think.

According to Charles Darwin, natural selection has been “the most important” factor in the descent with modification of all living things from one or a few common ancestors, yet he had no actual evidence for it. All he could offer in The Origin of Species were “one or two imaginary illustrations.” It wasn’t until almost a century later that Kettlewell seemed to provide “Darwin’s missing evidence” by marking and releasing light- and dark-colored moths in polluted and unpolluted woodlands and recovering some of them the next day. Consistent with the camouflage-predation explanation, the proportion of better-camouflaged moths increased between their release and recapture.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, researchers reported various problems with the camouflage-predation explanation, and in 1998 University of Massachusetts biologist Theodore Sargent and two colleagues published an article in volume 30 of Evolutionary Biology concluding “there is little persuasive evidence, in the form of rigorous and replicated observations and experiments, to support this explanation at the present time.” (p. 318)

The same year, Michael Majerus published a book in which he concluded that evidence gathered in the forty years since Kettlewell’s work showed that “the basic peppered moth story is wrong, inaccurate, or incomplete, with respect to most of the story’s component parts.” (p. 116) In a review of Majerus’s book published in Nature, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne wrote: “From time to time, evolutionists re-examine a classic experimental study and find, to their horror, that it is flawed or downright wrong.” According to Coyne, the fact that peppered moths in the wild rarely rest on tree trunks “alone invalidates Kettlewell’s release-and-recapture experiments, as moths were released by placing them directly onto tree trunks.”

In 1999, I published an article in The Scientist summarizing these and other criticisms of the peppered moth story, and in 2000 I included a chapter on peppered moths in my book Icons of Evolution. Then, in 2002, journalist Judith Hooper published a book about the controversy titled Of Moths and Men. Hooper accused Kettlewell of fraud, though I never did; my criticism was directed primarily at textbook writers who ignored problems with the story and continued to use staged photos even after they were known to misrepresent natural conditions.

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

There’s also a documentary based on the book on Youtube.

Dr. Wells holds a Ph.D in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley.

Bad news for believers in naturalistic explanations of the Cambrian explosion

Before we see the new discovery, let’s review what the Cambrian explosion is all about.

Video 1:

Video 2:

Casey Luskin explains the new discovery at Evolution News.

Excerpt:

A recent article in Science begins by observing that the lack of evolutionary ancestors for the animal phyla that appear abruptly in the Cambrian explosion has been troubling to many evolutionary scientists:

Ever since Darwin there has been a disturbing void, both paleontological and psychological, at the base of the Phanerozoic eon. If his theory of gradualistic evolution be true, then surely the pre-Phanerozoic oceans must have swarmed with living animals — despite their conspicuous absence from the early fossil record.

(N. J. Butterfield, “Terminal Developments in Ediacaran Embryology,” Science, Vol. 334:1655-1656 (December 23, 2011).)

The articles goes on to explain that in 1998, tiny fossil animal embryos were reported that offered “palpable relief” to those evolutionary scientists worried about the lack of Precambrian ancestors.

However, new analyses of these microfossils now strongly suggest that they were not multicellular animals, and thus could not be Precambrian multicellular metazoa that have long been the holy grail for evolutionary paleontologists. Rather, they likely represent single-celled amoeba-like organisms.

[…]A Science Daily article on the study explains that many Darwinian scientists will be dismayed by the results of this study:

Professor Philip Donoghue said: “We were very surprised by our results — we’ve been convinced for so long that these fossils represented the embryos of the earliest animals — much of what has been written about the fossils for the last ten years is flat wrong. Our colleagues are not going to like the result.”

How did the investigators determine the nature of these ancient organisms? The fossils were exceptionally well preserved, such that, as the lead author on the paper stated, “the fossils are so amazing that even their nuclei have been preserved.” These allowed the authors to determine that these were in fact eukaryotic organisms, but not multicellular animals.

Casey goes on to answer the response by naturalists that “the fossil record is incomplete”.

I think it’s important, when deciding whether naturalistic evolution happened, to be aware of these problem areas. So often when discussing Darwinian evolution, people like journalists and philosophers and economists, etc. will just accept the theory because they trust in what experts tell them. There can be a lot of pressure in the university to not be seen as a dumb person, so that people will just go along with whatever their professor tells them to believe. And, that’s not necessarily a bad policy when time is short. However, that is taking evolution on blind faith. It’s a good thing, as we get older, to go back and revisit these things to see if they are really true.

For example, a really educated Darwinian should be able to finish a sentence like this: “People who doubt fully naturalistic evolution do so because of the following pieces of scientific evidence…” If you meet someone who cannot finish this statement, but who still espouses Darwinian evolution, then you know that you are dealing with someone who has jumped to the answer without really working through the problem by themselves. It can be very tempting, especially for artsy types, to just try to jump to the answer that all the smart people believe without really working through the problem. But that’s not a good way to decide what’s true. Everyone has to work through these problems themselves, and listening to the best people on both sides is the way to do that. People who question evolution nowadays don’t question that the universe is billions of years old or that scientific methods have to be used to answer scientific questions. By all means, let’s decide how we got here by appealing to science.

If you would like to see a nice hour-long video on the Cambrian explosion, then click here.

By the way, if you missed my previous post on the new discovery of oxygen in the early Earth’s environment, and the challenge it represents to naturalistic scenarios for the origin of life, then do check that out.

Paul Nelson and Jonathan Wells present their research at a biology conference

From Evolution News. (Written by Paul Nelson)

Excerpt:

Jonathan Wells and I presented our posters at the 2011 annual meeting of the Society for Developmental Biology this past weekend, and had a great time. For those who don’t know what a poster session is, the idea is simple: you summarize your data, experiment, hypothesis, whatever, in the space of a 6′ x 4′ panel, and then at a scheduled time (“poster session”), stand by your board and field questions from whoever stops by to talk. Jonathan presented his material on Saturday afternoon; you can download an abbreviated version of his poster as a pdf here. (The pdf is shorter than the poster itself because Jonathan omitted any copyrighted visuals.) I presented yesterday afternoon, and my full poster can be downloaded as a pdf here.

Neither of us faced any hostility, which (for Jonathan) was a refreshing change of atmosphere from the angry reception he received during his poster presentation at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. In fact, we met with friendly, open-ended questions, curiosity, and meaningful exchanges. One biologist at Jonathan’s session carefully read the main panels, then said to Jonathan, “Are you serious?” He and Jonathan then spent a long time going over the arguments and data in the poster — the opening question was an invitation for a detailed explanation.

This is good news. Maybe there is a gap between the Darwinian activists and the regular rank-and-file biologists, who are just interested in what’s true. It helps that Wells and Nelson are experts in this area of biology, so they can defend their views with authority.

Paul Chien interviewed on the Cambrian era fossils

Cambrian Explosion
Cambrian era fossils: Theory versus Data

From Leadership University. (H/T The Poached Egg)

Excerpt:

Dr. Paul Chien, chairman of the biology department at the University of San Francisco, recently accepted a unique invitation to travel to China to study fossils of the Cambrian era. What Chien found at the Chengjiang site, and what he has since learned about the Cambrian fauna, has changed the focus of his career. Today, Chien concentrates on further exploring and promoting the mysteries of the Cambrian explosion of life. Subsequently, Chien possesses the largest collection of Chinese Cambrian fossils in North America.

Chien attended Mere Creation, a conference last November sponsored by Christian Leadership, which was featured in the previous Real Issue. The following is an interview with Paul Chien.

RI: Dr. Chien, what is your interest in the evolution/creation debate?

Chien: Even before I became a Christian, I had doubts about evolution. During my college years I was really interested in finding answers, but I got very little help. For a while I lost interest because I thought, one way or the other, it wasn’t very important. But since I started teaching, many people ask me about that. In fact, I often speak at churches and youth groups and conferences, and I have been forced back to that question; it’s pretty much my hobby now.

RI: Until recently, you have focused on the effects of pollution on marine organisms. How then did you come to study the Cambrian “explosion of Life”?

Chien: In studying marine organisms, and mainly the invertebrate groups, I have a clear vision of the distinct characteristics of each phyla. The theory of evolution never [seemed to] apply well in my field of marine invertebrates. When the news broke concerning [the discovery of] an explosion of animal life, it really excited me because that [had been] my position for many years. Also, Phil Johnson’s chapter on fossils [Darwin on Trial, Intervarsity Press, 1991] really ignited my interest in that area.

When an opportunity came up to talk with Chinese paleontologists and to visit them and the original site of fossil discovery, it became something I had to do. So last March I organized an international group to make a visit there.

RI: So is the Chengjiang site a primary site for the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: Yes, it’s the site of the first marine animal found in the early Cambrian times we don’t count micro-organisms as animals.

RI: Are there other places in the world where you find the same organisms?

Chien: In some ways there are similarities between the China site and the other famous site, the Burgess Shale fauna in Canada. But it turns out that the China site is much older, and the preservation of the specimens is much, much finer. Even nerves, internal organs and other details can be seen that are not present in fossils in any other place.

RI: And I suppose many of these are probably soft-tissue marine-type animals?

Chien: Yes, including jellyfish-like organisms. They can even see water ducts in the jellyfish. They are all marine. That part of western China was under a shallow sea at the time.

RI: As you became more interested in this and discovered more about it, did you find it really was an “explosion of life”?

Chien: Yes. A simple way of putting it is that currently we have about 38 phyla of different groups of animals, but the total number of phyla discovered during that period of time (including those in China, Canada, and elsewhere) adds up to over 50 phyla. That means [there are] more phyla in the very, very beginning, where we found the first fossils [of animal life], than exist now.

Stephen J. Gould, [a Harvard University evolutionary biologist], has referred to this as the reverse cone of diversity. The theory of evolution implies that things get more and more complex and get more and more diverse from one single origin. But the whole thing turns out to be reversed we have more diverse groups in the very beginning, and in fact more and more of them die off over time, and we have less and less now.

RI: What information is the public hearing or not hearing about the Cambrian explosion?

Chien: The general impression people get is that we began with micro-organisms, then came lowly animals that don’t amount to much, and then came the birds, mammals and man. Scientists were looking at a very small branch of the whole animal kingdom, and they saw more complexity and advanced features in that group. But it turns out that this concept does not apply to the entire spectrum of animals or to the appearance or creation of different groups. Take all the different body plans of roundworms, flatworms, coral, jellyfish and whatever all those appeared at the very first instant.

Most textbooks will show a live tree of evolution with the groups evolving through a long period of time. If you take that tree and chop off 99 percent of it, [what is left] is closer to reality; it’s the true beginning of every group of animals, all represented at the very beginning.

Since the Cambrian period, we have only die-off and no new groups coming about, ever. There’s only one little exception cited the group known as bryozoans, which are found in the fossil record a little later. However, most people think we just haven’t found it yet; that group was probably also present in the Cambrian explosion.

Also, the animal explosion caught people’s attention when the Chinese confirmed they found a genus now called Yunnanzoon that was present in the very beginning. This genus is considered a chordate, and the phylum Chordata includes fish, mammals and man. An evolutionist would say the ancestor of humans was present then. Looked at more objectively, you could say the most complex animal group, the chordates, were represented at the beginning, and they did not go through a slow gradual evolution to become a chordate.

Someone posted an interesting documentary on Youtube about the Cambrian explosion.

Leadership University  is run by CLM, and features solid scholarship on a wide range of issues, including science.