The Beak of the Finch
The Bogus Logic of The Beak
People who have served in the Armed Forces may be familiar with the expression, “If you can’t dazzle then with your brilliance, baffle them with your baloney.” The Beak of the Finch uses such laughable logic, it is remarkable that anyone would believe it. The book does such a terrible job of presenting a case for evolution and history, that the only logical conclusion is that the book’s true intent is to disprove it.
Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. ISBN 0679400036.
“It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.” –Thoreau, Walden
This book claims to be about evolution, centered in the location made famous by Charles Darwin, the Galapagos Islands. I read this book on the recommendation of a good friend who knows I am interested in birds and thought I might get something out of it. Indeed, the few parts of the book actually about the Gouldian Finches of the Galapagos Islands are fascinating. The book records in detail some of the trials the Dr. Peter Grant family endured in studying these birds on a hot volcanic rock. However, the writers and editors of the book avoid simple logic and put a spin on history that is misleading. The facts and logic presented in The Beak of the Finch really make the book’s author out to be a closet creationist.
It just so happened that at the same time I read this book, I was reading The Storm Petrel and the Owl of Athena by Louis Halle. Half of The Storm Petrel is on the bird life of the Shetland Islands, another isolated natural system. Halle, though an evolutionist, devotes a whole chapter on how the Shetlands and other islands conserve species. (Halle. 1970, 155ff.) Where species have changed their habits, it is most often due to adaptation to humanity. He compares the wild starlings, house sparrows, and rock doves found on the Shetlands with the more domesticated versions of these birds found on the continents–and to some degree even in the main village of the Shetlands. The island birds are more like their original wild forebears. I mention this now because it will come back to haunt us later.
By the first thirty or so pages I had found two logical fallacies and at least one historical inaccuracy in The Beak of the Finch. The fallacies were significant. The historical point was minor, but could be misleading. The fallacies would continue through the book.
Page 10 says “Evolutionists are watching life evolve” on different islands. Well, not on the Shetlands, if Halle’s observations are accurate. One reason given is that islands are “a closed system.” I am not sure how closed any place on earth is any more; however, the Grants (the scientist couple doing the research reported by The Beak) were certainly careful to keep their little island as closed as possible. They washed themselves carefully, watched for any alien seeds they might bring, and so on. The great irony is that after twenty five years of observing, the net result is no change: Individual variation from year to year, surely, but nothing even remotely approaching one species turning into something else.
The Problem with Using Breeders for Analogies
Page 30 describes the “law of succession” (not plant or forest succession). This is adjunct to evolution. Is it truly a law? Can it be observed? Can it be repeated experimentally? Well, he says, Darwin showed that breeders can produce varieties of breeds of dogs and pigeons. Both Darwin and Weiner spend a lot of time on pigeons.
There are several problems with this. One, breeders are outside intelligent operators. They are not natural forces. Second, and what will prove to be most significant, they still breed pigeons. The pigeons never become another species, regardless of the exotic traits they display. They are still pigeons. Even Darwin backer Sir Charles Lyell noted, “There is no good evidence of spontaneous generation, and breeders know only too well that they cannot change one species into another.” (Ruse, 1979, 81)1
Now Darwin suggested that at some point perhaps species could become something else. He was speculating. He used pigeon fanciers as an analogy for the forces of nature. Page 30 says it was an analogy. There is a problem with using analogies for science. They can be useful to explain things, but analogy is not the scientific method (inductive reasoning). Darwin would write that “old Aristotle” was his “god.” (Loomis, 1943, xxxii) While Aristotle did write about logic, he mostly used analogy when observing nature. Here is one quick example: Winds shake the air, earthquakes shake the earth, therefore earthquakes are caused by underground winds. (Meteorology, 2.8.23ff) Whenever you argue from analogy, you must be certain that the two items being compared are truly comparable and that the similarity of one feature truly means a similarity in another.
We have a right to question whether pigeon breeders, or dog breeders, bean growers, etc. are behaving in a manner that nature does. We also must ask the question whether a visible similarity (Weiner’s definition of species) means common ancestry. I tell the story of when I caddied. There was another caddie who had red hair, a round face, and freckles like me. We were about the same height and had a similar build. Once when I was caddying, my golfer said to me, “I had your brother the last time I played golf.” Well, Chris Murphy was not my brother. We were not related at all. Just because we had some physical similarities did not mean we had a common ancestor. The argument by analogy continues for some time in the book. Yet these two questions about breeders and analogies are never addressed. The author also misses the obvious point–those fancy pigeons are still pigeons. This analogy hardly appears like a “law” of science.
Differences Among Individuals Not the Same as Transitional Forms
The book notes on page 40 that Darwin himself asked, “Why are there not transitional forms?” Darwin’s answer was that they had died off. The next question that follows logically is perhaps relevant here. Why are there not more fossils of transitional forms? That unanswerable question is why Niles Eldridge, Stephen Jay Gould, and others came up with the “punctuated equilibrium” theory (a.k.a. the “hopeful monster” theory) that there were sudden massive genetic changes which produced new species. Indeed, some fossils thought to be transitional have been proven otherwise. When I was in college we were taught that man evolved from Australopithecus. Now, if the Leakeys are to be believed, we find that Australopithecus and Homo were alive at the same time. The January 1998 issue of Scientific American describes an ongoing discussion of whether or not “Neanderthal Man” is a human ancestor. (Wong, 1998) Regular bird fossils have also been found at the same level as Archaeopteryx. As we shall see, the fossil record shows extinction rather than transition. And extinction is an argument against natural selection producing new species.
Time and time again the book tells of individual variation among finches. The average person would not notice these differences. The Grants noticed. Some of the subtle differences in bill thickness could mean the difference between survival and death. The Fortis finch, the main subject of the Grants’ study, with a slightly narrower bill had an advantage in good growing years because the more general bill could eat a variety of available seeds. One with a thicker bill would do better in dry seasons when the only available seeds were those survivors with thicker hulls that the smaller bill could not crack.
We note individual differences among humans, too. But just because there are individual differences does not mean that they evolve into something else. Individuals are just different. Let’s “celebrate diversity” and acknowledge individual differences.
Darwinism as Neither Proven Nor Scientific
Page 52 has another wild statement that challenges logic. “Darwin himself never tried to produce experimental confirmation of this particular point that individual variation led to changes into new species. It is at once extremely logical and extremely hard to prove.”
Hmm! I let that statement speak for itself. The author does not demonstrate the logic of it–probably not because it is hard, but because it is impossible. Perhaps, too, I am beginning to suspect that the author is not familiar with rules of logic.
Note two things about that statement. One, no experimentation. That means no scientific method. Therefore Darwin was not in the strict sense being scientific. Two, the logic on how natural selection causes new species is very difficult. In fact, the author does not even try to show it.
If There Is No Net Change, Doesn’t That Disprove Evolution?
For a number of pages in what is really the core of the book, the author describes how the Fortis Finches of the island specialize according to subtle differences in beak size during dry years. As a result, several strains appear. However, in wet years, the strains interbreed and the net result over a period of time is no change!
This, of course, is exactly the opposite of what the theory of evolution would predict. As a result, after about page 80 or 90, the rest of the book is devoted to a literary subterfuge to try to convince the reader otherwise in spite of the evidence. The kindest thing I can say is that the author is preaching to the converted. By page 81 the author says this is “evolution in action,” yet there is nothing about new species. The Gouldian Finches are still Gouldian Finches. Indeed the alternating natural forces keep them from changing. The author admits on page 106 that “reversals of fortune” are common. What does that mean? Change goes in various directions. Survivors in a recent generation can be more like a distant generation than the parental generation. What is the net result? No change, hence no evolution!
The author tells of the stratification of guppies according to the type of stream bed they are found in. Again, somehow this is supposed to show evolution, but instead it shows stabilization. The guppies are still guppies. There are individual variations, certainly, and some individuals have a better chance to survive in certain environments, but they do not become something else.
This demonstrates the “dirty secret” of natural selection. Natural selection is generally conservative. It preserves species, it does not make new ones. This has always been the scientific criticism of Darwin since he and Wallace first published their theories. The examples that The Beak of the Finch use really show the same thing–that natural selection is conservative. It does not speak of the origin of species as much as it does the preservation of species.
Darwin’s Logic in the First Half of His Title
Darwin’s book’s full title was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. If we look at the first clause of the title we can see that there are really three parts to Darwin’s logic. One is that species exist. Species are Darwin’s given. Second, Darwin tries to demonstrate that species adapt over time to changes in the environment. This is what he calls “natural selection.” Third, Darwin then tries to make the connection that these natural adaptations result in the formation of new, discrete species. Or as he put it in his title, species originate by means of this natural selection. There is also the uniformitarian implication that these changes are subtle and gradual and take a long time to have a visible effect. Hence, the earth is old, and Lyell’s “anti-diluvialism” or anti-catastrophism best explains the geological record. We will look at the second clause of the title later.
The Beak of the Finch is one of a number of studies which show that subtle changes within species can occur in just a few generations when environmental circumstances change. For the sake of argument we will call this “natural selection.” The next step in Darwin’s theory seems to be the most significant–that these changes will eventually result in new species. The results recorded in The Beak of the Finch appear to be saying just the opposite of this. The net change over time is nil or insignificant. And if there are any changes, they are conservative–they preserve the present species, they do not mutate the species into something else.
A Few More Questionable Quotations
I like this line on page 131: “The opposition to Darwinism arises, as Darwin himself observed, not from what reason dictates but from the limits of what the imagination can accept.” I will let that statement speak for itself. Reason and observation do not explain evolution. We can only imagine it. Is it unreasonable and imaginary?
Page 144 also states another problem. It explains that “Darwin’s thesis predicts the general absence of competition.” Yet the observations of the Grants in particular show lots of competition for space and food in the small island territory. In addition, the author explains, because there should be no competition, evolution will usually be unobserved! If it is unobserved then how do we know it happens? Science and the scientific method require observation.
At the very least, this means that Darwinian evolution will always be a theory. Indeed, after a quarter of a century on the Galapagos, the Grants’ evidence does demonstrate that actual evolution is not observed. Here the author is explaining why Darwinism cannot be proved, how the Grants’ observations show things that Darwin said would not happen, and yet the author still sounds like an advocate of Darwin. Doesn’t that sound like blind faith?
The Irrelevant Crossbill Experiment
Page 182 contains one experiment, but it has nothing to do with evolution. Perhaps its an example of analogy gone wild. The author describes experiments done with the bird known as a crossbill. Crossbills have crossed bills which enable them to reach into pine cones and extract the seeds. Someone took a group of crossbills and clipped the crossed portion of their bills so that they could no longer open pine cones. The birds could eat other seed put out for them. The bills grew back. Then they were able to eat pine seeds again. It makes sense, but does it have anything to do with evolution?
While it does show how bill shape determines a bird’s ability to eat certain foods, I still have not figured out what that has to do with evolution. There have been many other experiments where scientists removed or altered body parts of creatures. They could not function normally in most cases until that part grew back. All it tells us is that most body parts have a function. Perhaps it does illustrate the utility of bill structure, but there is nothing to do with heredity or genes in this one. The book states that this exercise with the crossbills refutes the anti-evolutionist book Darwin on Trial, but since the experiment has nothing to do with Darwinian heredity, it is impossible to see the relevance.
Ultimately, the author is stuck and he knows it. He wants to believe in evolution, yet all the evidence he has been presenting is really showing that natural selection is conservative. What can he do? Talk of finches, guppies, and crossbills: interesting but largely irrelevant.
Self-Contradiction and Laughable Logic
The author admits he is lost on page 192. This quotation sums up the shaky ground he has found himself on. The amazing illogic of it should be obvious even to a ten year old:
“Fortis has done a lot of evolving just to stay in place!”
As Shakespeare would say:
“That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 5.1.63)
I almost laughed out loud when I read that sentence. The finches changed so much that they didn’t change at all? Evolution is proven because it doesn’t happen?
A recent review in Scientific American complains that science in America on the decline because relativistic thinking has crept into science, that “science is a subjective human construction, like art or music.” (Morrison, 1997, 114) The article blames the influence of social science which does not take seriously “the ultimate importance of objective facts.” (Morrison, 1997, 117) Clearly, if the above passage reflects contemporary scientific thinking, then at least some of the blame is the responsibility of science itself, not just sociology.
I find it even more remarkable that a book which such nonsense as the above passage could win a nonfiction Pulitzer Prize. One of the three panelists which made the final selection is a writing teacher at a well-known technical university. Would he accept such stuff if one of his students wrote that in a paper? One of the other panelists is an editor of a well-known high-circulation magazine. Would she allow such thinking in an article that she edited? (“1995 Pulitzer Prizes,” 1997) Such a prize is usually given to the best in its field. If this is the best evolution can do, evolution is in sad shape. Even the old agnostic himself, T.H. Huxley, wrote:
“Science is simply common sense at its best; that is rigidly accurate in obervation and merciless to fllacy in logic.” (Gould, 16)
A few years ago in article in Natural History magazine, biogeographer and evolutionary apologist Jared Diamond wrote of a genetic study done of Jews. He noted that some genetic changes had taken place in the Jewish Diaspora of the last two thousand years in Europe. He also noted that some inherited traits such as fingerprints and certain blood antibodies had not changed. In many ways European Jews, in spite of their outward appearance, are genetically closer to Arabs in the Near East (where the Jews came from) than to Europeans with whom they have lived for two millennia or more. Diamond then very emphatically stated that this–along with the sainted peppered moths–proves that evolution is a fact his italics. (Diamond, 1993, 19) I am not sure how. After two thousand years and thousands of miles migrated, the genotypes of this population are still identifiable. Is it the same kind of logic–that they evolve by not changing?
I should really stop there. At first I thought the author just thought all his readers were dense. But I get the impression he really believes this stuff! One person I shared this with simply passed it off because Weiner was writing for a “popular audience.” Logic is not important for the mass of people? Is science the new priesthood which the “laity” must trust blindly? The aristocracy to which the serfs owe total allegiance?
“Natural Selection” Stabilizes, It Does Not Cause New Species
On page 227 the author even speaks of “stabilizing selection.” Ah! What is this? A scientific oxymoron? Not if you are a Darwinist. You see, that phrase illustrates precisely the main argument against Darwin from the beginning, before Huxley and Wilberforce turned the whole discussion into a sideshow. Natural selection stabilizes species, it does not change them.
The book even shares another little secret of evolution: “Evolutionists are forever dividing and subdividing into schismatic sects.” (231). This is what began to make me personally doubt evolution in college. The Anthropology, Biology, and Sociology classes all taught it, but they didn’t agree on much and even criticized the others’ interpretation of it. There was no common ground except a materialist bias. It did not strike me as very objective.
The author then describes a number of species with very short generations. Two that he focuses on are a type of fruit fly and the human intestinal bacteria. The most he can say about the fruit fly–introduced into areas where it was not native–is that it may be diverging into new species. (233) This is after he criticized the book Darwin on Trial for using the word may. (182) If it is good for the goose
Interestingly, the book documents one really long-term change among Gouldian Finches on page 240 and thereabouts. The Galapagos Islands are now densely populated in some places. Like the rock doves, house sparrows, and starlings of Eurasia and North America, they have adjusted to human habitation. They are learning to eat scraps and seeds from people. The various types of finches which before were distinguished by differences in bills are becoming “a hybrid swarm” in towns. They are changing, but this is not due to natural forces, but due to man–more like the pigeon fanciers. Even here, though, natural selection is working not to change the species, but preserve it. The various strains are coming together to survive. This is the same phenomenon Halle (1970) observed on the Shetlands as he compared the village starlings, sparrows, and rock doves with those in remote areas. This also is the same phenomenon observed among the Lake Victoria cichlids–traditionally seen as a model for evolution like the Galapagos finches. These fish display highly specialized races in this large but isolated African lake. Within ten years after the introductin of a predatory Nile perch species, we read that observers noticed “a kind of hybrid that seems to display a resistance to the perch.” (Trachtman, 119) This reviewer called this phenomenon an irony. Well, irony is wonderful in drama and literature–something unexpected happens. However, when an irony happens in a scientific model, it is time to re-examine that model.
The author refers in a few places to the peppered or speckled . I recall my high school text book used this to “prove” evolution. That text was first published in 1962 and was first American textbook at the high school level to present evolution as scientific fact. The moth was white with some dark morphs. It lived in white birches. As the industrial cities and white birches in England became more grimy, the dark morphs became predominant. That was in the 1960’s.
With anti-pollution laws, the cities today are less grimy, there is virtually no soot in the air and the birches are white again. So now, again, most of the moth morphs are white. This is clearly not evolution! They have gone back to what they were. And, indeed, they have always been speckled moths, whether white or black. (Just like people!) Again, if there is natural selection, it is conservative, preserving the species, not transforming it into something else.
New Evidence on the Peppered Moths
Since The Beak of the Finch came out, new evidence has emerged which appears to show that the Speckled Moth experiments were stacked. This is documented by M. E. N. Majerus in Melanism: Evolution in Action (Oxford, 1998). Majerus claims to believe in evolution, by the way. The moth experiments of Bernard Kettlewell in the 1950’s have not been verified by other observers. For one thing, neither morph of the moth spends any time on rocks or tree bark. Kettlewell’s associates admit that photographs were faked and moth specimens were glued onto a tree and photographed. This admission is comparable to the Piltdown Man hoax or W. E. LeGros Clark’s admission that he deiberately doctored his pictures of fossil primates to make them look like they were intermediate forms between apes and men.
Weimer can be forgiven for not knowing about the moth experiments, since this information came out after his book. However, this does not excuse his logic, even assuming the observations were valid. This moth business illlustrates not only poor logic but flawed scientific method. It appears as though the establishment will grasp at any straw uncritically when it has the appearance of supporting its world view. For reviews of this see Nature, 5 Nov. 1998, and Back to Genesis, Apr. 1999. See also Star Course, “Notes from Nature.”
The Second Part of Darwin’s Title
And, you know, that is precisely the language used by Darwin himself in the second part of the title of his Origin book: the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. What’s that word? Preservation. Here is a curious contradiction in the very title of the evolutionists’ holy writ. As we have seen, the first clause says that species originate via natural selection. The second clause says that races are preserved by the same process. They change without changing! So if I observe a species change, that proves evolution. If I see a species persevere, that is natural selection which also proves evolution. No wonder Weiner said Darwin’s logic was complicated! It is actually bogus logic. Can a statement and its negative can both be true at the same time? Even if both are “impossible” to observe?
More Problem Quotations
By page 280 the book describes people as causing their own genetic change: “We modified the hyoid bone.” Human evolution in the first person? HmmWhen I was a teenager I sure would have liked to have modified a few thing about my bone structure. Most teenagers would. I couldn’t. Could the author?
Page 284 “Species of finches cannot diversify on Cocos Island Pacific island owned by Costa Rica because the island is too small.” And I thought islands were “laboratories of evolution.” The island in the Galapagos archipelago that the Grants worked on was even smaller. Interestingly, this year a popular book on biology came out called The Song of the Dodo. One of its premises is that islands are laboratories of extinction, not evolution. While it is written from an evolutionary perspective, it admits that on islands, “speciation could be disregarded” as a factor in wildlife populations. (Quammen, 414)
Bacteria + Moths + Birds + Guppies + Flies = Preservation of the Species
The author tells of E. coli bacteria, the common human intestinal bacteria. These bacteria, we are told, have a generation that lasts about two hours. Strains appear and adjust due to environmental f…..actors. They change when a person gets a cold, comes in close contact with another person, or eats a certain food; and some strains develop resistance to antibiotics. These things, though, do not prove evolution. They demonstrate the opposite. Bacteria resistant to antibiotics or insects resistant to pesticides do not demonstrate evolution–they demonstrate that natural selection is conservative. They preserve the species; they do not change it into something else.
Similarly, those cotton-eating Heliothis moths which the book mentions are still eating cotton. They are still the same insect. Some individuals may resist insecticides, but this trait preserves the species, it does not change the creature into something else. And yet the author mocks the Bible-belt cotton farmers who disbelieve evolution. In fact, those farmers recognize perfectly well that the same kind of moth still eats their cotton.
The example of E. coli is an especially obvious refutation to evolution. With nearly six billion human laboratories carrying this bacteria on earth and with the bacteria reproducing every two hours, we would have the equivalent of millions of years of human or mammalian evolution observable just in our lifetime. Yet, while various strains of E. coli may appear or may become predominant in a certain environment, they do not become something else. They are still E. coli. Six billion people defecating every day, you’d think we’d notice if they had become something else!
The book lists a number of examples of natural selection in species: Gouldian Finches, guppies, cotton moths, fruit flies, sandpipers, (the crossbill experiment does not count since clipping bills does not change the genetic makeup of the population), speckled moths, and the very fecund E. coli. What do we observe over generations–in the case of E. coli, twelve per day? That the species do not change! Indeed, with the speckled moths, Gouldian finches, and bacteria at least, they will clearly revert to a past type. What does this show? It shows the precise opposite of what Darwin was attempting to prove. It shows that species do not change. Any individual variations which may be “selected” by nature preserve the species. The alternative is extinction. That is precisely what the fossil record and even the current natural record shows–not species changing into something else but species not changing and disappearing. In spite of a nearly a hundred and fifty years of Darwinistic indoctrination, when we think of “survival of the fittest,” we think of extinction, of the “unfit” that don’t survive. That is real. That is a fact. Change into another life form is still speculative at best.2
The Earliest Known Critique of Darwinism
A critique of Darwin and Wallace’s earliest publications on evolution (prior to The Origin) appeared in 1860 in an article in the Journal of the Geological Society of Dublin. This article notes that “the propagation of special varieties is simply a provision to guard against the destruction of the species by any, the least, change.”3 The only problem, the article said, with Darwin’s idea that the healthiest specimens of a group survive is “want of novelty.” (Brackman, 1980, 74) “If it means what it says, it is a truism; if it means anything more, it is contrary to fact.” (Brackman, 1980, 74)
Indeed, the only reason the article says that the publications of Darwin and Wallace were considered seriously at all is because of the social status of the Darwin family and the backing of publication by Lyell and Sir Joseph Hooker. “This speculation of Messrs. Darwin and Wallace would not be worthy of notice were it not for the weight of the authority of the names under whose auspices it has been brought forward.” (Brackman, 1980, 75) Darwin was from a prominent family and his wife from an even more prominent family. He and Wallace were published at the instigation of Lyell and Hooker. Both of these men were baronets and members of the Royal Society. Lyell, of course, had Principles of Geology to his credit. Hooker was a well-traveled botanist and curator of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Perhaps this rebuttal to the Darwin-Wallace hypothesis did not receive more attention because it came from Dublin. It did not have the aristocratic or social pedigree that Darwin and his Royal Society friends had. Of course, today it would be politically incorrect to snub someone because of his or her nationality, but it is academically acceptable to ridicule another type of person, one with a status similar to the Irish in nineteenth century England. We see The Beak of the Finch do this.
Who Are Contemporary Equivalent of the Irish in America Today?
The author, of course, wants to sell books. He wants approval from the academic establishment. Twenty years ago Harper’s ran an article on natural selection being conservative. (Bethell, 1976)4 It did not sell. The prize-winning Beak of the Finch will sell. Especially since it does include the obligatory elitist slam at “fundamentalists.” It is clear the author does not know what the word means since the one specific example he uses of a “fundamentalist” is a Jehovah’s Witness. One of the seven fundamentals of a Christian fundamentalist is that Jesus is God. While the Jehovah’s witnesses do believe in a special Creator, they deny that He is Jesus.
The author quotes Peter Grant that Creationists “have the appearance of closed minds.” Dr. Grant then admits he does not know any. He can be forgiven for that because he has spent most of the last two and a half decades on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean. He clearly is not aware of what has happened in American courts in the last twenty years. It has been the evolutionists who have effectively silenced the discussion of any opposition– not by logic, not by evidence, but by court order! If the creationists are closed-minded, then the evolutionists are censors.
The other ironic thing about that statement is that Dr. Grant himself may be the one with the closed mind. Here is all this evidence to show that natural selection does not make new species, and he can’t see it. Or maybe he can, he just is afraid of becoming an academic pariah. So he presents evidence refuting Darwinists all the while pretending he still is one. That is why I suspect that either Dr. Grant, the researcher, or Mr. Weiner, the author, is a closet creationist.
Why Did Darwin Drop Out?
While logic is the main problem of the book, there are two historical inaccuracies worthy of note in The Beak of the Finch. The author suggests that when Darwin left England for the Beagle that he was still a seminary student, and that it was the trip on the Beagle and reading Lyell’s Principles of Geology that changed him. If Darwin’s Autobiography is to be believed, that is not exactly what happened. Darwin dropped out of seminary because he no longer believed the Bible–the three things Darwin mentions specifically are the story of Noah, the Tower of Babel, and the doctrine eternal hell for the unbeliever.
Darwin’s father did not know what to do. His father is the one who sent him to seminary in the first place because being a minister seemed like a job that Charles was suited for. When Charles dropped out, his father recognized Charles’ interest in science, so he arranged for him to take the job a ship’s surgeon on the Beagle, where he could see some of the world and learn a suitable trade. One of Lyell’s original intentions was “to sink the diluvialists,” people who believed in the Genesis Flood and that that explained most geological sediments and fossils. (Gillispie, 1960, 299) It appears that Darwin and Lyell were kindred spirits since Darwin had admitted that the Genesis Flood was one of the teachings which kept him from Christianity.
The author’s misinformation on Darwin here is relatively minor. It perhaps suggests that the author wants his reader to convert from religious belief, too, but the detail itself is not that significant. Perhaps the author knows of evidence that I am unfamiliar with, though at least one other author interprets the account the way I do. (Gillispie, 1960, 348; cf. Darwin 1958, 85ff.) It really does not change the effect of the book much at all unless he is suggesting that Darwin is deceiving us in his autobiography. Indeed, one impression from reading Darwin’s autobiography is that even though he gradually changed from Christianity to universalism to deism to atheism, he remained a man of conscience.5
How The Beak Attempts to Rewrite History
The second historical misstatement in The Beak is downright misleading. In fact, it changes the whole nature of the argument of the book. It may show what really motivates many evolutionists. On page 298 the book claims that the idea that God designed the universe “no longer seemed compelling after Galileo and Newton discovered the celestial laws of motion.”
Where did Weiner come up with that idea? He clearly knows nothing about Newton and little about history. What did Newton devote his life to after he discovered and quantified the laws of motion? Theology! Most of his writings are theological. The order and design that he discovered led him to consider the One, as he put it, “who wound the watch.” Newton would write in his Principia:
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being…This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of His dominion he is wont to be called Lord God pantokrator, Universal Ruler.(Newton, 1687, 369, 370)6
This God no longer “seemed compelling” to Newton? Certainly we are not talking about the same Isaac Newton as is quoted here! Let’s at least be honest!
The scientific revolution which resulted in the acceptance of the scientific method went hand in hand with the Reformation. It was not that God had become irrelevant–He had become more relevant. The Reformation emphasized that the God of the Bible had created the universe. The scientific method worked because God was a God of order, not confusion. We could do inductive experiments and make observations and the results would not be random. Why? Because the universe is orderly.
One could go on and detail the history of the period of Galileo and Newton–no time in European and American history before or since has the Christian religion been such a critical issue as the period between 1520 and 1789. Most of the wars and many political movements resulted from it or in reaction to it. English-speaking North America was settled in most places for religious reasons. One of the main motivations of the American Revolutionaries was resistance to England’s attempts to make a uniform state religion of the Anglican Church in the colonies. The concept of God was hardly irrelevant during this era!7
Who Was Behind the Attack on Galileo?
OK, some say, what about Galileo? He got in trouble with the Pope. Well, the Pope was one of the reasons for the Reformation. The Roman Church in the Middle Ages had adopted Aristotle as a model for science, and even for a lot of theology. Luther in particular was very critical of this.8 The Pope’s opposition to Galileo was Aristotelian. It was Aristotle who taught differently than Galileo. (The Bible doesn’t have word about the planet Jupiter or its moons…) The Reformation succeeded in knocking Aristotle’s influence down a few notches, in the area of science as well as theology. Galileo had to take the rap for using the scientific method just as Luther had to for emphasizing the Bible. But if it had not been Galileo, it probably would have been someone else who was using the scientific method who might have gotten into trouble with authorities.
It is also important to note that Galileo actually had the support of Pope Paul V and the Jesuits, but the faculty at the Universities of Padua and Pisa hated his experiments and anti-Aristotelian views. He was sentenced by Pope Urban VIII, but the charges which brought him before the pope were filed by academics.
It appeared that the church’s major sin was capitulating to the pressure from the scientific community and Galileo’s enemies. Only as a result from much pressure from the secular establishment and Aristotelian philosophers did the church side against Galileo. (Bergman, 1995)
Even a general reference source acknowledges that:
Since the full publication of Galileo’s trial documents in the 1870’s, entire responsibility for Galileo’s condemnation has customarily been placed on the Roman catholic church. This conceals the role of the philosophy professors who first persuaded theologians to link Galileo’s science with heresy. (Drake, 1996)
It was not the church that led Galileo’s inquisition, it was academia. Today academia uses the secular courts rather than the ecclesiastical ones, but the result is the same, to try to silence the scientific opposition.
Darwin, Aristotle, and Spontaneous Generation
This leads into Darwin. As I mentioned earlier, Darwin called himself a disciple of Aristotle. I speak of Aristotelian science–the science of analogy. That is what evolution is–analogous traits in various species come from a common ancestor. Keep in mind that The Origin of Species was published in 1859. Most of Pasteur’s work was done in the 1870’s and 1880’s .People did not know of the significance of microbes. It was still common, for example, to say that malaria was caused by bad air. That is what the word malaria means. (Cf. Thoreau, 1854, 132) Though there were some experiments disproving it, it would still be possible to find intelligent men like Darwin who believed with Aristotle in spontaneous generation. For example, if you read Walden, published in 1854, it appears that Thoreau did. (Cf. Thoreau, 1854, 325ff.) The Origin of Species is an example of latent Aristotelian science. Some well-meaning scientists are still trying to spontaneously generate life out of chemicals. (If it could be done, we should be able to take a cadaver–which already has the chemicals–and bring it to life. We can’t even do that…) By the nineteenth century, Aristotelian science was pretty much a historical relic. Darwin brought it back from the dead and it is an unreasonable, self-contradictory monster.
The Beak of the Finch purports to be a book about the observation of “evolution in our time.” The actual observations recorded in the book, however, demonstrate the absence of evolution among the finches of the Galapagos Islands and other species like the peppered and cotton moths, intestinal bacteria, guppies, and fruit flies. The book uses a number of self-contradictory statements which illustrate the shaky logical foundation of Darwinian evolution. The conclusion from the evidence is that “natural selection” serves to preserve species, not alter them into something else. There are also some historical inaccuracies, including one which tells much more about the mindset of evolutionists than about history. When examined carefully, The Beak of the Finch shows how fragile and illogical the dogma of Darwinian evolution is. Since this book won a prestigious prize, it must have been considered one of the better works on the subject. If this is as good as can be done for evolution, it will not be long before evolution goes the way of Aristotle’s geocentricism. The book at its root can only be taken seriously as an anti-evolutionist tract.
The prize-winning book The Beak of the Finch purports to be a book about the observation of “evolution in our time.” The actual observations recorded in the book, however, demonstrate the absence of evolution among the finches of the Galapagos Islands and other species mentioned by the book such as the peppered and cotton moths, intestinal bacteria, guppies, and fruit flies. The book uses a number of self-contradictory statements which illustrate the shaky logical foundation of Darwinian evolution. The conclusion from the evidence is that “natural selection” serves to preserve species, not alter them into something else. There are also some historical inaccuracies, including one which tells much more about the mindset of evolutionists than about history. When examined carefully, The Beak of the Finch shows how fragile and illogical the dogma of Darwinian evolution is.
1 There is a potential problem of logic worth investigating in Darwins application of Lyells uniformitarianism. The “principle” of uniformitarianism is that geologically things continue in a gradual manner without any significant change. Significant changes would suggest “diluvialism” or catastrophism. To Darwin this meant simply that the earth was quite old. But Lyell believed that he was being consistent in applying uniformitarianism to the organic as well as inorganic world by saying that species do not change. Such a change would be more akin to catastrophism. See McKinney, 1972, 33 and 34.
2 This problem was recently illustrated in an article in American Scientist:
There are, arguably, arguably some two to ten million species on Earth. The fossil record shows that most species survive between three and five million years. In that case, we ought to be seeing small but significant numbers of originations and extinctions every decade.
Keith Stewart Thompson, “Natural Selection and Evolution’s Smoking Gun,” American Scientist, Nov./Dec. 1997: 516.
3 A summary of the Dublin article is found in Brackman, 1980, 74 , 75. Quotation is from page 75. Interestingly, Darwin mentions this article in his Autobiography. He does not speak of the logic of the article or that it caused him to reflect or reconsider but simply that if he were to persuade anyone, the issue was one of propagation rather than of truth or logic. “This shows,” he said of it, “how necessary it is that any new view should be explained at considerable length in order to arouse public attention.” Darwin, 1958, 122. It appears that The Beak of the Finch tried to employ the same method, that is, repeat the idea “at considerable length” so that people will begin to believe it, regardless of the logic or interpretation of the evidence.
4 In this article T. H. Morgan says, “Selection, then, has not produced anything new, but only more of certain kinds of individuals. Evolution, however, means producing new things, not more of what already exists.” (Bethell, 1976, 74) This is actually the underlying message of The Beak of the Finch, too.
5This assessment was my own from reading the autobiographies of Lyell, Darwin, and Wallace. There is no suggestion of any unscrupulous action on the part of Darwin, and he appeared to behave in a scrupulous manner, though consistent with his beliefs. (For example, he refused to allow Karl Marx dedicate Das Kapital to him. He was an opponent to slavery, and though he was no longer a Christian, he gave money to a Christian missionary group whose activities he approved of.)
Having said all that, nowadays, others are not quite so charitable in describing Darwin’s behavior towards Wallace. See, for example, Peter Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions, (New York: Scribner, 1996) 111ff. He details the work of a number of researchers which suggest Darwin plagiarized Wallace. Quammen writes, “Darwin had behaved weakly and selfishly at best.” (113)
Quammen’s book is also interesting in that, while it gives lip service to evolution, it emphasizes extinction, not adaptation. The biogeographic model that this book effectively presents is one of migration of species followed by isolation–the question of evolution is irrelevant. As he puts it, “Speciation could be disregarded.” (414)
6 This passage continues in a similar vein enumerating the attributes of God:
The true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being; and from his other perfections, that he is supreme or most perfect. He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. (Newton, 1687, 370)
This God hardly sounds like an irrelevant character!
A physics professor from California State University at Long Beach testified in a court case that Newton would not be recognized as a “credible scientist” if he “persisted in maintaining a creationist position as he did in Mathematica Principia.” (Vardiman, 1997) Who is “having the appearance of a closed mind”?
7The more I think about this, the more I am baffled. Even a cursory check of a high school European or American History text shows how important religion was in those three centuries or so. Even those who were opposed to religion (e.g., Voltaire) were very conscious of it and spent a lot of time and energy refuting it–and not because of any supposed scientific evidence. That really came with Huxley. I begin to wonder that the author, the publisher, many reviewers, and the Pulitzer committee can all be so ignorant of history. Is it deliberate? Are they all stupid or careless, or are they conscious that they are misinforming us? If they are honest and intelligent, then they must be anti-evolutionists trying to show how shaky the theory’s foundation is.
8 Luther’s strong words against Aristotelianism can be found in Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, 1520, in Three Treatises, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970, 92ff. (Proposition 25).
Note 186 on page 92 of this particular edition notes that Roger Bacon and Erasmus also criticized the emphasis on Aristotle in medieval education. Roger Bacon is usually credited with being the developer of the scientific method in the fourteenth century. A Franciscan monk, he spent between two and ten years in prison for heresy. The record is sketchy, but likely this was because of his non-Aristotelian and non-scholastic views. Though he remained a Catholic, Erasmus, a contemporary and sometime friend of Luther, called for reforms similar to Luther’s including more use of the Bible in the church.
Links may be subject to change, especially links to articles. Links from longer works are as close as possible to relevant material or quotations. Some on-line sources are different editions or translations from those used in this text so the wording may vary. Some on-line articles may be condensed.
Aristotle. c. 350. Meteorology. Trans. E. Webster. The Internet Classics Archive. 1997.
http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/.22.iipart8.html (29 Dec. 1997).
Bergman, Jerry. 1995. “The Galileo Affair Continues.” Contra Mundum. 1997.
http://www.wavefront.com/~contra_m/cm/features/cm15_galileo.html (28 Dec. 1997).
Bethell, Tom. 1976. “Darwins Mistake.” Harper’s, Feb. 1976: 70-75.
Brackman, Arnold C. 1980. A Delicate Arrangement: The Strange Case of
Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. New York: Times Books.
Darwin, Charles. 1958. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. Rpt.; New York:
W. W. Norton and Co., 1969. The date is not a mistake. Darwins heirs did not release his memoirs until 1958.
_______. 1859. The Origin of Species. 1997.
http://www.literature.org/Works/Charles-Darwin/origin/ (28 Dec. 1997).
Diamond, Jared. 1993. “Who Are the Jews?” Natural History, Nov. 1993: 12-19.
Drake, Stillman. 1996. “Galileo.” Microsoft Encarta, 1996 ed. CD-ROM.
Gillispie, Charles Coulston. 1960. The Edge of Objectivity. Princeton NJ:
Princeton Univ. Press.
Gould, Stephen Jay. 1993. “The First Unmasking of Nature.” Natural History: April 1993: 14, 16-21.
Halle, Louis J. 1970. The Storm Petrel and the Owl of Athena. Princeton NJ:
Princeton Univ. Press.
Loomis, Louis Ropes. 1943. Introduction. Aristotle. On Man in the Universe.
New York: Walter J. Black.
Luther, Martin. 1520. To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. Trans.
Charles M. Jacobs and James Atkinson, 1966. Three Treatises. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970.
See also http://iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/nblty-07.html.
Majerus, M. E. N. 1998. Melanism: Evolution in Action. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
McKinney, H. Lewis. 1972. Wallace and Natural Selection. New Haven CT:
Yale Univ. Press.
Morrison, Douglas R. O. 1997. “Bad Science, Bad Education.” Scientific
American, Nov. 1997: 114-118.
See also http://www.sciam.com/1197issue/1197review1.html.
Newton, Sir Isaac. 1687. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.
Trans. Andrew Motte and Florian Cajori, 1939. Great Books of the Western World. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952.
Quammen, Peter. The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of
Extinctions. New York: Scribner, 1996.
“The 1995 Pulitzer Prizes, General Nonfiction: Jurors.” 1997. The Pulitzer
Prizes. http://www.pulitzer.org/year/1995/general-non-fiction/jury/ (28 Dec. 1997).
Ruse, Michael. 1979. The Darwinian Revolution. Chicago: Univ. of
Shakespeare, William. c. 1598. A Midsummer Nights Dream. Ed. Barbara A.
Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993.
See also http://quarles.unbc.edu/midsummer/amnd5-1.html.
Thoreau, Henry David. 1854. Walden and Other Writings. Ed. Joseph Wood
Krutch. New York: Bantam, 1962.
See also http://dev.library.utoronto.ca/utel/nonfiction/thoreauh_wald/wald_ch1.html for malaria reference and http://dev.library.utoronto.ca/utel/nonfiction/thoreauh_wald/wald_ch17.html for chapter with references to spontaneous generation.
Trachtman, Paul. Book Reviews. Smithsonian, Aug. 1998: 118-121.
See also http://www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues98/aug98/bookreview_aug98.html#one
Vardiman, Larry. 1997. “Newtons Approach to Science.” Impact, 296: i-iv.
See also http://www.icr.org/research/lv/lv-r03.htm.
Wong, Kate. 1998. “Ancestral Quandary.” Scientific American, Jan. 1998: 30, 32.
See also http://www.sciam.com/1998/0198issue/0198scicit3.html.