Intelligent Design

Dog breeding – proof that Darwin was right? Hardly, says prof

Spread the love

In his review of ID biochemist Mike Behe’s Edge of Evolution, which caused many to wonder whether he had actually read the book he was reviewing, Richard Dawkins indulged in a long and seemingly irrelevant riff on dog breeding. He hoped to convince his readers that complex and fantastical intracellular machines come about by chance (and mind comes from mud) on account of the vast variety that humans can produce by selective breeding of dogs.

Correspondents have pointed out that Dawkins is counting on his readers’ ignorance of a fundamental fact about dog breeding- that is depends on existing traits and does not introduce new ones. One writes, for example,

The problem is that the variety of dogs obtained through breeding programs is an example of the variation possible within the dog genome, but (and this is a very big ‘but’) there are natural limits to variation.

Darwinism predicts that there are no taxonomic limits to variation. However, every breeding experiment of the last 100 years that attempts to see how far variation can go (E. coli, drosophila, etc.) always encounters limits beyond which further change is not possible. Thus, the fundamental prediction of Darwinian theory has been consistently falsified in a century’s worth of experimental testing. Dog breeding, itself, encounters these limits.
The bottom line is that dog breeding, and the observed limits to variation within dogs, falsifies the most important prediction of Darwinian theory.

What is he talking about?

Another correspondent, David A. DeWitt, author of Unraveling the Origins Controversy, enlightened me further,

Many of the traits for different dog breeds are examples of neoteny.

Neoteny refers to the maintaining of juvenile characteristics into adulthood. Mutations can prevent proper development and maturation. Even though particular traits might seem like they are novel, in such cases it is really a loss of information since the animal has stunted development in one trait.

This is why some breeds of dogs are so cute and look like puppies even though they are full grown (Jack Russel, Shitzu etc).

Well, that makes sense. The disgusting little freaky-poos that infest my neighbourhood are really just immature? Makes sense, all right.*

I wrote back to ask,

David, is there not also some distortion involved, maintained by selective breeding? I am thinking in particular of the Basset hound, the bulldog , and the dachsund. Do these distortions not shorten life in many cases?

Also, the single most important trait in domestic dogs is that the animal not be aggressive around humans. (That would be the fastest way for a dog to get himself a one-way trip to the vet’s office.) But that means selecting for a trait that would NOT aid survival in nature.

The breeds that are commonly trained to BE aggressive toward humans (intentionally) are wolfhounds like German Shepherds. But they have the most characteristics in common with wild animals like wolves.

In other words, domestic breeding not only does not employ natural selection, but it selects for traits that would not be chosen in any process that favoured survivability. Is that correct?  

He replied, with a long, careful answer:

Pure breed dogs often do have shorter lives than “mutts”. Presumably, this is because of severe inbreeding. The result is that mutations for particular diseases/defects become concentrated.

So when people have selected for those traits that comprise the poodle breed, they have also inadvertently selected several serious genetic defects. Certain breeds are prone to the same diseases and early causes of death.

Regarding the lack of aggression in dogs…this is also considered an example of a neotenous trait (juvenile traits that persist into adulthood).

When wolves are very very young, they are not so aggressive. Many of the behaviors of our dog breeds are also neotenous. There is plenty of information about this on the internet. The less a dog is physically like a wolf, the less aggressive the dog.

The most important thing to understand about dog breeding is that there is not new genetic information (from mutation) that is being supplied. Through breeding, humans are either shuffling genes that pre-exist in the population (like different poker hands from the same deck) or preserving mutations that amount to developmental defects.

While developmental defects can look like new traits (short stubby legs or a short snout for example or a Chihuahua that looks like an embryonic dog) they are not new at all since it is simply preservation of a previous stage.

Another example of a neotenous trait would be a mutation that leads to webbing between fingers in a human. During development, the cells between the fingers are supposed to go through a process of programmed cell death (apoptosis). If the cells do not die (because of a mutation), then the remaining tissue would be webbed fingers.

Since all human babies go through such a stage, it would not be a new trait even though it looks like it. It is preservation of a previous developmental stage because of a mutation in the normal developmental pathway. This highlights another aspect to the limits of Darwinian evolution.

Often, dogs are considered an exception because they are so “plastic”. In reality, it is just that we have been able to preserve a wider array of developmental defects. Dawkins pulled a real bait and switch trick when he criticized Behe’s Edge of Evolution using dog breeding. Dog breeds highlight the limits of evolutionary change, but Dawkins used the diversity of dogs (from developmental defects) to rebut this fact.

However, since most people do not understand the preservation of juvenile characteristics, they can be fooled into thinking that evolution really can produce new traits.

Hmmm. We hear plenty about Darwin’s natural selection, but almost nothing about neoteny. And, to the extent that Dawkins was counting on our ignorance of neoteny, why SHOULD he bother to read Edge of Evolution before discouraging others from reading it?

(*Thanks, Dr. DeWitt! I’ve been looking for years for a way to insult the local infestation of little canine swine without being cruel. Like, neighbours, please, if you’re going to have a dog, have a dog. Otherwise, be a cat person like me.)

Also, at the Post-Darwinist:

Former atheist Antony Flew to author book on God as designer

British sociologist Steve Fuller is prepared to give Darwin a decent burial.

O’Leary’s thoughts on “teaching the controversy”, riffing off Freeman Dyson

Anti-ID physicist on humans as pollution.

Another undead materialist myth: Copernicus “demoted” man from center of universe

Steve Weinberg flogs the “Christians believe in a flat earth” myth

10 Replies to “Dog breeding – proof that Darwin was right? Hardly, says prof

  1. 1
    Beast Rabban says:

    Interesting article and demolition of Dawkins’ assertions. Actually, I can remember reading several Creationist texts when I was younger which used dog breeding as a disproof of evolution. No matter how different dogs are, or how you breed ’em, a dog is still a dog.

    Now Freud or Jung once said that you become what you fear the most. In which case, by trying to use an argument from Creationism, it could be considered that Dawkins has morphed into a Creationist. As Dawkins is a fundie atheist, and I believe Philip Johnson in one of his books on Darwinism stated that Darwinism as a description of the evolutionary process is an empty term onto which various conceptions of evolution can be projected, as Creationism also supposedly is, this sounds about right.

  2. 2
    jimbo says:

    This is what perplexed me about the review: the fact of the limits to artificial breeding of dogs is a well-known debating point for creationists for years. I’m sure a little googling would find at least a few pages devoted to argumentation about why it doesn’t really mean a problem for Darwinism, etc. But Dawkins not only doesn’t refute the argument, he actually uses dogs as and argument FOR Darwin. I think Dawkins’ policy of avoiding creationist and ID debates has really impaired his judgement. He’s been preaching to the choir so long, he’s started to confuse his own assertions with actual facts.

  3. 3
    russ says:

    Great piece. I had never heard of neoteny.

    Maybe the second edition of Edge of Evolution could add a chapter or a forward on dog breeding.

  4. 4

    […] Contra Dawkins on dog breeding The problem is that the variety of dogs obtained through breeding programs is an example of the variation possible within the dog genome, but (and this is a very big ‘but’) there are natural limits to variation. […]

  5. 5

    Interestingly enough, I saw a show on dogs that was on PBS (I’m pretty sure). That show mentioned that Darwinism cannot explain the diversity of dogs. And it wasn’t in any way ID-friendly.

  6. 6

    Denyse, I’m sorry, but dogs are good, unqualifiedly good, and cat people, alas, have at least a kernel of Evil (notice the capital “E”) in them. All dogs go to Heaven, Denyse.

  7. 7
    jimmyjams says:

    This article is basically attacking a straw-man. It’s almost asserting that gene mutations are the only result of evolution, which is false. (Dawkins then says that the issue of mutation is discussed in Chapter 8, something I believe you might have conveniently ignored.)

    Evolution is also the systematic increase of particular genes that promote propagation/survival in the environment. Humans select genes that make dogs more visually appealing and systematically increase these genes through selective breeding to fit their aesthetic likings. This then increases the chance of them being bred further (propagation). The environment in this case is a man-made one,not a natural one so saying that dogs have shorter life spans is testament to the lack of evolutionary proof is invalid. In fact these dog breeders are breeding for aesthetics, not for longer lifespans.

    This chapter is mainly about how gene pools can be shaped in ways that fit the environment (not necessarily natural). It is not touted as absolute proof that evolution exists and does not discuss the mechanisms for natural selection (yet). These come further in the book.

  8. 8
    jimmyjams says:

    “Darwinism predicts that there are no taxonomic limits to variation” Where did this statement originate from, is there a source?

    And perhaps the reason why have not seen more variations is simply because…we are not able to see into the future? The E.Coli experiment showed many variations and could probably show more, in the future that is.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    jimmyjams, actually Dogs are an excellent example of ‘variation within kind’.

    podcast – On this episode of ID the Future, Casey Luskin talks with geneticist Dr. Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig about his recent article on the evolution of dogs. Casey and Dr. Lönnig evaluate the claim that dogs somehow demonstrate macroevolution.
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....1_14-08_00
    Part 2: Dog Breeds: Proof of Macroevolution?
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....7_07-08_00

    In fact, the entire spectrum of dog sub-species has been found to have less genetic diversity than the parent wolf species:

    ,,the mean sequence divergence in dogs, 2.06, was almost identical to the 2.10 (sequence divergence) found within wolves. (please note the sequence divergence is slightly smaller for the entire spectrum of dogs than for wolves)
    http://jhered.oxfordjournals.o.....0/1/71.pdf

    Genetic Evidence for an East Asian Origin of Domestic Dogs
    Abstract: The origin of the domestic dog from wolves has been established, but the number of founding events, as well as where and when these occurred, is not known. To address these questions, we examined the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence variation among 654 domestic dogs representing all major dog populations worldwide. Although our data indicate several maternal origins from wolf, >95% of all sequences belonged to three phylogenetic groups universally represented at similar frequencies, suggesting a common origin from a single gene pool for all dog populations. A larger genetic variation in East Asia than in other regions and the pattern of phylogeographic variation suggest an East Asian origin for the domestic dog, ?15,000 years ago.
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/298/5598/1610

    Caveman’s Best Friend, Evolution’s Newest Upset – October 2011
    Excerpt: Our view of domestication as a process has also begun to change, with recent research showing that, in dogs, alterations in only a small number of genes can have large effects in terms of size, shape and behavior.,,, It should be noted that dogs and wolves can interbreed,,,
    http://crev.info/content/20111.....est_friend

    In fact, Natural Selection (and Artificial Selection as in Dog Breeding), though repeatedly invoked by Darwinists as this ‘great creative engine’ for evolution that knows no bounds to its power, in reality, away from the Darwinian rhetoric and imagination, actually consistently reduces the genetic information of organisms.

    Natural Selection Reduces Genetic Information – No Beneficial Mutations – Spetner – Denton – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4036816

    EXPELLED – Natural Selection And Genetic Mutations – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4036840

    “…but Natural Selection reduces genetic information and we know this from all the Genetic Population studies that we have…”
    Maciej Marian Giertych – Population Geneticist – member of the European Parliament – EXPELLED

    Related note:

    A. L. Hughes’s New Non-Darwinian Mechanism of Adaption Was Discovered and Published in Detail by an ID Geneticist 25 Years Ago – Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig – December 2011
    Excerpt: The original species had a greater genetic potential to adapt to all possible environments. In the course of time this broad capacity for adaptation has been steadily reduced in the respective habitats by the accumulation of slightly deleterious alleles (as well as total losses of genetic functions redundant for a habitat), with the exception, of course, of that part which was necessary for coping with a species’ particular environment….By mutative reduction of the genetic potential, modifications became “heritable”. — As strange as it may at first sound, however, this has nothing to do with the inheritance of acquired characteristics. For the characteristics were not acquired evolutionarily, but existed from the very beginning due to the greater adaptability. In many species only the genetic functions necessary for coping with the corresponding environment have been preserved from this adaptability potential. The “remainder” has been lost by mutations (accumulation of slightly disadvantageous alleles) — in the formation of secondary species.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....53881.html

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    100 Years of Breed “Improvement” – Comparison photos of Pure Breds from 100 years ago to today – Sept. 2012
    Excerpt: “Several “pure bred” dogs are now so incredibly inbred they have many genetic problems that severely reduce their quality of life.” The dogs on the left are from the 1915 book, ‘Breeds of All Nations‘ by W.E. Mason. The examples on the right are modern examples from multiple sources (which show the progressive genetic deterioration of the pure breds).
    http://dogbehaviorscience.word.....provement/

Leave a Reply