Geneticist Michael Majerus has had a long-standing interest in melanism and specifically the peppered moth example of industrial melanism.
At a recent meeting of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology in Uppsala, he reported on experiments he has been carrying out since the year 2000 that were designed with a more rigorous methodology than was used by Bernard Kettlewell in the 1950s. "He released black or white moths into cylindrical cages on branches at dusk. Before dawn, he removed the cages and counted how many moths subsequently disappeared from their resting places. He showed that selection now favors pale moths, with 21% eaten by birds, compared with 29% of the black ones." It is possible to look critically at the methodology and at the statistics dealing with significance, but this only qualifies the conclusions. I am happy to accept that the evidence is now stronger that there is differential predation by birds. Where does this take us?
The concluding words of Majerus' lecture are these: "If the rise and fall of the peppered moth is one of the most visually impacting and easily understood examples of Darwinian evolution in action, it should be taught. It provides after all: The Proof of Evolution." This quote explains why the issue is still important: Darwinists have always sought to use the peppered moth story as a proof of Darwinian evolution. This is a burden that cannot be carried by the evidence. Even with Majerus' new improved methodology, we have an example of natural selection within the peppered moth population with differential predation being the causal mechanism. It is an extraordinary mental leap to go from this to the origin of novelty, complexity and new body plans - which remain the central challenges for any theory of evolutionary transformation.
According to the report, Majerus says that the new research will "conclusively rebut creationist claims." It is sad that Majerus and the Science reporter do not see this as an issue that must be faced by scientists. Is it scientifically defensible to find an example of natural selection within a population of an animal, and then use this as an evidence for evolutionary transformation from the first single cell to the extraordinary diversity of life that we find in the biosphere? When this simple question is answered with a negative, then we can have a more constructive dialogue. In the meantime, let's teach the peppered moth story, but without overloading it with Darwinian dogma. Kettlewell did make mistakes, and Majerus has made progress in correcting them. But Majerus has a long way to go before he addresses the real mistakes that still permeate our educational system.
Last Word on Moths
Science, 317, 7 September 2007, 1301.
A Cambridge University professor has completed a 6-year experiment with peppered moths that he says should conclusively rebut creationist claims. [snip].
Nelson, P. Michael Majerus: Peppered Moths DO Rest On Tree Trunks, And Incidentally, God Doesn't Exist
Uncommon Descent, 28 August 2007
Wells, J. Exhuming the Peppered Mummy, Discovery Institute, August 30, 2007
de Roode, J., Reclaiming the peppered moth for science, New Scientist, 08 December 2007.
Quotation from Fodor, J. Why Pigs Don't Have Wings, London Review of Books, 18 October 2007:
"It wouldn't be unreasonable for a biologist of the Darwinist persuasion to argue like this: 'Bother conceptual issues and bother those who raise them. We can't do without biology and biology can't do without Darwinism. So Darwinism must be true.' Darwinists do often argue this way; and the fear of hyperbole seems not to inhibit them. The biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky said that nothing in biology makes sense without Darwinism, and he is widely paraphrased. The philosopher Daniel Dennett says that 'in a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law.' (Phew!) Richard Dawkins says, 'If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilisation, is: "Have they discovered evolution yet?"' Shake a stick at a Darwinist treatise and you're sure to find, usually in the first chapter, claims for the indispensability of adaptationism. Well, if adaptationism really is the only game in town, if the rest of biology really does presuppose it, we had better cleave to it warts and all. What is indispensable therefore cannot be dispensed with, as Wittgenstein might have said. The breaking news, however, is that serious alternatives to adaptationism have begun to emerge; ones that preserve the essential claim that phenotypes evolve, but depart to one degree or other from Darwin's theory that natural selection is the mechanism by which they do."
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