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Wow! The peppered myth: A Darwin zombie rises again

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Peppered moth
Researchers created artificial moths to test camouflage

This time at the University of Exeter:

Scientists have revisited – and confirmed – one of the most famous textbook examples of evolution in action.

They showed that differences in the survival of pale and dark forms of the peppered moth (Biston betularia) are explained by how well camouflaged the moths are to birds in clean and polluted woodland.

“Industrial melanism” – the prevalence of darker varieties of animals in polluted areas – and the peppered moth provided a crucial early example supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, and has been a battleground between evolutionary biologists and creationists for decades.

The battle was over the claim that differing prevalence of the light and dark varieties is evidence of Darwinian evolution. With no permanent change occurring, it can’t be a serious demonstration. The fact that the moth is cited so often in textbooks is primarily due to an acute shortage of clear cases of Darwinian evolution (as opposed to reversible hybridization and such).

The common pale form of the moth is camouflaged against lichen growing on tree bark. During the Industrial Revolution – when pollution killed lichen and bark was darkened by soot – a darker-winged form emerged in the UK.

Later, clean air legislation reduced soot levels and allowed lichen to recover – causing a resurgence of pale peppered moths.

The example has been well supported by many studies, but nobody had ever tested how well camouflaged the moths were to the vision of their key predators – birds – and how their camouflage directly influenced survival.

Now scientists at the University of Exeter have shown that, to the vision of birds, pale moths are indeed more camouflaged against lichen-covered trees than dark moths – making pale moths less likely to be eaten by birds in unpolluted woodland and giving them an evolutionary advantage.

“This is one of the most iconic examples of evolution, used in biology textbooks around the world, yet fiercely attacked by creationists seeking to discredit evolution,” said Professor Martin Stevens, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Does the professor really believe that, should industrialism return to the area, the proportions would not be reversed over the decades, showing no evolution at all but simply shifting proportions of light vs. dark examples?

“Remarkably, no previous study has quantified the camouflage of peppered moths, or related this to survival against predators in controlled experiments.

“Using digital image analysis to simulate bird vision and field experiments in British woodland, we compared how easily birds can see pale and darker moths, and ultimately determine their predation risk.

“Our findings confirm the conventional story put forward by early evolutionary biologists – that changes in the frequency of dark and pale peppered moths were driven by changes in pollution and camouflage.” Study confirms truth behind ‘Darwin’s moth’” at Featured News

But no one doubted that. The controversy was over whether the shifting proportions can properly be called a form of “evolution.” Most people reasonably expect “evolution” to produce significant and probably irreversible changes, for example, turning dinosaurs into birds.

Biologist Wayne Rossiter, author of Shadow of Oz: Theistic Evolution and the Absent God, offers us some thoughts:

What I find amazing is how badly they want to rescue this story.

1) “the peppered moth provided a crucial early example supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, and has been a battleground between evolutionary biologists and creationists for decades.” Not really. I mean, even the most literal rendering of Genesis clearly allows for this to be possible. Seeing changes in proportions of variants in a population via natural selection is trivial. The problem we’ve all raised is, the story is wrong.

2) Look at the admissions: “nobody had ever tested how well camouflaged the moths were to the vision of their key predators – birds – and how their camouflage directly influenced survival.” Yet it’s textbook. The abstract of the paper even states, “Despite extensive work, a striking gap remains in that no study has ever objectively quantified their camouflage or related this directly to predation risk.”

What did they actually do? “Using museum specimens, including some of Kettlewell’s original collections, we used digital image analysis and models of avian vision to quantify the camouflage match for colour and luminance…”

Models and stuffed museum specimens. Not exactly a field demonstration. But, certainly, they did that right?

No.

“A widely used and powerful technique is use artificial prey items designed to resemble real animals to predator vision…for monitoring survival over time when presented with an edible component or pinned to natural backgrounds in the field….Artificial moths matching the appearance of typica and carbonaria forms with an edible pastry body were pinned to lichen covered tree trunks…”

And this, this, is their attempt at saving the icon of evolution.

Jonathan Wells, author of Zombie Science, also wrote to say,

Somebody call the Zombie Patrol!

Even if the classic peppered moth story were 100% true, it would not pose a problem for any form of creationism. Nor would it provide any evidence for DARWINIAN evolution. It would merely show a reversible shift in the proportions of two variants of the same species.

Most peppered moths in the wild do not rest on tree trunks. They rest where they can’t be seen, probably high in the canopies of trees. So tests of their visibility on tree trunks are irrelevant.

Incidentally, there HAVE been previous studies on bird vision and the visibility of peppered moths. The previous studies may not have been as comprehensive and rigorous as the latest one, but they’re all equally irrelevant.

The real story here is that the evidence for Darwinism is so bad that Darwinian propagandists keep trying to breathe life into corpses such as this one. (And, as is so often the case, they manage to con the government into wasting taxpayers’ money on them.)

In fairness, the researchers were using dead moths to produce the zombies, so they got at least that step right. We wrote back to ask Wells about that aspect of the study because it seemed decidedly odd:

To do this, they used museum specimens including some from the collections of Bernard Kettlewell, who conducted famous research on the evolution of the species in the 1950s.

The researchers also created artificial moths, baited them with food and observed predation rates in UK woodland, mostly in Cornwall. “Study confirms truth behind ‘Darwin’s moth’” at Featured News

We also asked Wells, given the assumption that lots of birds eat lots of moths, why couldn’t this test be done in vivo instead of “in zombie-o”? Or do so few moths rest on tree trunks that it is not time-efficient to try to persuade living specimens to behave that way?

He replied,

A paper published in 1977 listed data on 8,426 peppered moths caught in traps in southern Britain between 1952 and 1972. (Obviously, this would have been only a small percentage of the moths that actually lived in southern Britain during that period.) In 1998 peppered moth expert Michael Majerus published data on 47 moths found in natural resting positions in 32 years; of these, 6 were resting on exposed tree trunks.

Someone hoping to salvage this icon of evolution would have to be crazy to wait around for a moth to rest on a tree trunk.

The Exeter researchers report, “In the experiment using artificial moths, lighter models had a 21% higher chance of “surviving” (not being eaten by birds).” So their point seems to be that, if moths actually rested in open areas, they would be better off to be lighter models.

And to think that some people wonder why Darwinism is doubted…

But would anyone be surprised if this study becomes a sidebar in textbooks for high school as evidence for Darwinian evolution? It’s really becoming a social class thing at this point.

Note: Nature got sucker punched by this one.

See also: Claimed link between creationism and “conspiracism”

Wow. These authors must feel quite threatened. They are really reaching. Their two topics cannot even be equated as concepts: Creationism is a position on a specific subject (origin of life and the universe); conspiracism, which is more commonly called “conspiracy thinking,” is a tendency of thought (it’s all a Big Plot, you see…) which may be applied to any position on any subject.

and

How does the controversy over Darwinism affect the wider culture? Public understanding of science has been paying the price for the elite’s self-indulgence in looking down on their “Neanderthal” inferiors ever since the Scopes Trial, claiming a science basis. For example, arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins (of “selfish gene”) fame, was a professor of the Public Understanding of Science, when his notion of a “selfish gene” is essentially mystical and not historical.

16 Replies to “Wow! The peppered myth: A Darwin zombie rises again

  1. 1
    Nonlin.org says:

    That moth is pure racism. Can you believe these guys?
    http://nonlin.org/missing-evidence/

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    Does the professor really believe that, should industrialism return to the area, the proportions would not be reversed over the decades, showing no evolution at all but simply shifting proportions of light vs. dark examples?

    But that is evolution. Perhaps not impressive in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still evolution (by natural selection, no less).

  3. 3
    ET says:

    Bob- no one is debating mere evolution. Intelligent Design is NOT anti-evolution

    And no one knows if natural selection did it, Bob. That’s because no one can say if the variation arose by chance or not.

  4. 4
    asauber says:

    Perhaps not impressive in the grand scheme of things

    Schemes of things require design.

    Andrew

  5. 5
    News says:

    Bob O’H at 2: In any event, the moths don’t usually do what is being tested, which is why researchers have had to use dead moths or fakes.

    Maybe natural selection is indeed active here – the trait of sitting out there in broad daylight as snack food for birds does not get passed on.

    Sure, but that’s hardly something to build a theory on.

  6. 6
    Florabama says:

    The peppered moth is one of the greatest examples of the “E” word in action as in “Equivocation” on the word evolution, without which Darwinism could not exist.

    Can population numbers be affected by environmental changes? Duuuuuh! Does this support the fantastic claims of Neo-Darwinism? That would be an unequivocal, No! Not one iota.

    Interestingly, this was the thing that most convinced me to reject Darwinism. Not the peppered moth specifically, but the fact that when I realized that when it comes to evidence, there’s nothing there with Big E evolution. It’s all just story and narrative aka science fiction. It was a realization that hit me like a ton of bricks. It is the claim that because I can jump two feet, I can jump from New York to Los Angeles. I have Jonathan Wells to thank for that. Icons was without a doubt, the most influential book I’ve ever read on the topic.

  7. 7
    polistra says:

    There’s another piece of anti-life-ism and Pomeroy anti-purpose-ism in the standard model.

    It doesn’t give birds credit for having their own intelligence and adaptability. Birds do an OUTSTANDING job of seeing and smelling and probably hearing every insect, no matter how small or disguised. I see them catching nearly microscopic aphids all the time. If the moth changes its color, it won’t take the birds more than a day to figure it out.

  8. 8
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    But no one doubted that. The controversy was over whether the shifting proportions can properly be called a form of “evolution.” Most people reasonably expect “evolution” to produce significant and probably irreversible changes, for example, turning dinosaurs into birds.

    If this is true, then most people ought to learn what evolution means. Also, the evolution of non-bird dinosaurs into birds took a bit longer than the few decades it took for peppered moths to arise and dominate the population.

    Bob O’H at 2: In any event, the moths don’t usually do what is being tested, which is why researchers have had to use dead moths or fakes.

    They had to use fake moths because that’s the only way you could conceivably do a controlled experiment. But there is very strong evidence that natural selection drives the frequency of the different morphs, and indeed that moths spend plenty of time on tree trunks and branches during the day (http://rsbl.royalsocietypublis.....nt/8/4/609).

  9. 9
    ET says:

    Ambly:

    Also, the evolutionary of non-bird dinosaurs into birds took a bit longer than the few decades it took for peppered moths to

    Such a transformation is impossible via Darwinian processes, which can’t even produce eukaryotes. The skeleton changes as does the attachments points for muscles. It takes foresight and engineering to pull off such a thing.

    And again- Intelligent Design is NOT anti-evolution. It would be nice if our critics and opponents learned what was being debated.

  10. 10
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    Such a transformation is impossible via Darwinian processes, which can’t even produce eukaryotes…

    Well, if you say so. I guess we’ll wrap evolutionary biology as a discipline then?

  11. 11
    ET says:

    Ambly:

    Well, if you say so.

    It isn’t just me. And evolutionary biology does not rely on blind watchmaker evolution.

    Your equivocation exposes your agenda.

  12. 12
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note, the change in moths is most likely a “directed” mutation, not a random mutation: Which “suggests there are preprogrammed, directed adaptation mechanisms, already in place that are ready to respond to future, potential, environmental changes, which might never occur.
    Far from an evidence for evolution, this is evidence against evolution.”

    Peppered Moth: How Evolution’s Poster Child Became the Rebuttal – Cornelius Hunter – November 27, 2016
    Excerpt: research strongly suggests that the cause of the darkening, at the molecular level, is an enormous genetic insertion. In other words, rather than a nucleotide, in a gene, mutating to one of the other three nucleotides, as you learned in your high school biology class, instead what has been found is an insertion of a stretch of more than 20,000 nucleotides. That long inserted segment consists of a shorter segment (about 9,000 nucleotides) repeated about two and one-third times.
    Also, the insertion point is not in a DNA coding sequence, but in an intervening region (intron), which have been considered to be “junk DNA” in the past.
    This observed mutation (the insertion of a long sequence of DNA into an intron), is much more complicated than a single point mutation. First, there is no change in the gene’s protein product. The mutating of the protein sequence was the whole idea behind evolution: DNA mutations which lead to changes in a protein can lead to a phenotype change with fitness improvement, and there would be subject to natural selection.
    That is not what we are seeing in the much celebrated peppered moth example. The DNA mutation is much more complicated (~20,000 nucleotides inserted), and the fact it was inserted into an intron suggests that additional molecular and cellular mechanisms are required for the coloration change to occur.
    None of this fits evolutionary theory.
    For example, evolutionary theory requires that the needed random DNA mutational change is reasonably likely to occur. Given the moth’s effective population size, the moth’s generation time period, and the complexity of the mutation, the needed mutation is not likely to occur. Evolution would have to be inserting segments of DNA with (i) different sequences, at (ii) different locations, within the moth genome. This is an enormous space of mutational possibilities to search through.
    It doesn’t add up. Evolution does not have the resources in terms of time and effective population size to come anywhere close to searching this astronomical mutational space. It’s not going to happen.
    A much more likely explanation, and one that has been found to be true in so many other cases of adaptation (in spite of evolutionary pushback), is that the peppered moth coloration change was directed. The environmental change and challenge somehow caused the peppered moth to modify its color. This suggests there are preprogrammed, directed adaptation mechanisms, already in place that are ready to respond to future, potential, environmental changes, which might never occur.
    Far from an evidence for evolution, this is evidence against evolution.
    So there are at least two major problems with what is celebrated as a key evidence for evolution in action. First, it comes nowhere close to the type of change evolution needs, and the details of the change demonstrate that it is not evolutionary to begin with.
    https://evolutionnews.org/2016/11/peppered_moth_h/

    In further rebuttal to the Darwinian notion of ‘random’ mutations. Mutations are now, from multiple lines of evidence, overwhelmingly shown to NOT be random mutations but to be directed mutations:

    How life changes itself: the Read-Write (RW) genome. – 2013
    Excerpt: Research dating back to the 1930s has shown that genetic change is the result of cell-mediated processes, not simply accidents or damage to the DNA. This cell-active view of genome change applies to all scales of DNA sequence variation, from point mutations to large-scale genome rearrangements and whole genome duplications (WGDs). This conceptual change to active cell inscriptions controlling RW genome functions has profound implications for all areas of the life sciences.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23876611

    WHAT SCIENTIFIC IDEA IS READY FOR RETIREMENT? Fully Random Mutations – Kevin Kelly – 2014
    Excerpt: What is commonly called “random mutation” does not in fact occur in a mathematically random pattern. The process of genetic mutation is extremely complex, with multiple pathways, involving more than one system. Current research suggests most spontaneous mutations occur as errors in the repair process for damaged DNA. Neither the damage nor the errors in repair have been shown to be random in where they occur, how they occur, or when they occur. Rather, the idea that mutations are random is simply a widely held assumption by non-specialists and even many teachers of biology. There is no direct evidence for it.
    On the contrary, there’s much evidence that genetic mutation vary in patterns. For instance it is pretty much accepted that mutation rates increase or decrease as stress on the cells increases or decreases. These variable rates of mutation include mutations induced by stress from an organism’s predators and competition, and as well as increased mutations brought on by environmental and epigenetic factors. Mutations have also been shown to have a higher chance of occurring near a place in DNA where mutations have already occurred, creating mutation hotspot clusters—a non-random pattern.
    http://edge.org/response-detail/25264

    Duality in the human genome – November 28, 2014
    Excerpt: The results show that most genes can occur in many different forms within a population: On average, about 250 different forms of each gene exist. The researchers found around four million different gene forms just in the 400 or so genomes they analysed. This figure is certain to increase as more human genomes are examined. More than 85 percent of all genes have no predominant form which occurs in more than half of all individuals. This enormous diversity means that over half of all genes in an individual, around 9,000 of 17,500, occur uniquely in that one person – and are therefore individual in the truest sense of the word.
    The gene, as we imagined it, exists only in exceptional cases. “We need to fundamentally rethink the view of genes that every schoolchild has learned since Gregor Mendel’s time.,,,
    According to the researchers, mutations of genes are not randomly distributed between the parental chromosomes. They found that 60 percent of mutations affect the same chromosome set and 40 percent both sets. Scientists refer to these as cis and trans mutations, respectively. Evidently, an organism must have more cis mutations, where the second gene form remains intact. “It’s amazing how precisely the 60:40 ratio is maintained. It occurs in the genome of every individual – almost like a magic formula,” says Hoehe.
    http://medicalxpress.com/news/.....enome.html

    To continue on in the falsification of the Darwinian presupposition of ‘randomness’ within biology, it is now found that there is far less ‘randomness’ and/or ‘random thermodynamic jostling’ within molecular biology than was originally presupposed by Darwinists:

    At the 6:52 minute mark of the following video, Jim Al-Khalili states:

    “To paraphrase, (Erwin Schrödinger in his book “What Is Life”), he says at the molecular level living organisms have a certain order. A structure to them that’s very different from the random thermodynamic jostling of atoms and molecules in inanimate matter of the same complexity. In fact, living matter seems to behave in its order and its structure just like inanimate matter cooled down to near absolute zero. Where quantum effects play a very important role. There is something special about the structure, about the order, inside a living cell. So Schrodinger speculated that maybe quantum mechanics plays a role in life”.
    Jim Al-Khalili – Quantum biology – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOzCkeTPR3Q

    The following video goes over many lines of evidence from ‘quantum biology’ that have now falsified the Darwinian presupposition of ‘random thermodynamic jostling’ within molecular biology.

    Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology – video
    https://youtu.be/LHdD2Am1g5Y

    Besides falsifying the entire “random” theoretical foundation of Darwinian evolution, due to quantum non-locality, and the necessity to postulate a ‘beyond space and time’ cause in order to explain quantum entanglement within molecular biology, quantum biology also now offers empirical evidence for a “soul” that is capable of living beyond the death of our material bodies. As Stuart Hameroff stated:

    “Let’s say the heart stops beating. The blood stops flowing. The microtubules lose their quantum state. But the quantum information, which is in the microtubules, isn’t destroyed. It can’t be destroyed. It just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large. If a patient is resuscitated, revived, this quantum information can go back into the microtubules and the patient says, “I had a near death experience. I saw a white light. I saw a tunnel. I saw my dead relatives.,,” Now if they’re not revived and the patient dies, then it’s possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body. Perhaps indefinitely as a soul.”
    – Stuart Hameroff – Quantum Entangled Consciousness – Life After Death – video (5:00 minute mark)
    https://youtu.be/jjpEc98o_Oo?t=300

    Verses:

    Mark 8:37
    Is anything worth more than your soul?

    Psalm 139:13
    For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

    Matthew 22:37
    Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

  13. 13
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    That is not what we are seeing in the much celebrated peppered moth example. The DNA mutation is much more complicated (~20,000 nucleotides inserted), and the fact it was inserted into an intron suggests that additional molecular and cellular mechanisms are required for the coloration change to occur.

    Hunter might want to learn about transposons if he thinks inserting a chunk of the sequence into a genome is “complicated”. I have no idea why anyone would think a change in an intron could not alter a phenotype either.

  14. 14
    ET says:

    Ambly:

    Hunter might want to learn about transposons if he thinks inserting a chunk of the sequence into a genome is “complicated”.

    The transposon carries within its sequence the coding for two of the enzymes required for it to get cut-n-pasted. The length of this insertion adds to the complex nature of this editing event

    I have no idea why anyone would think a change in an intron could not alter a phenotype either.

    Perhaps due to the evolutionists who say that introns are part and parcel of the junk DNA

  15. 15
    Marfin says:

    Bob o H – At the start there we light and dark coloured moths,under certain condition light coloured moths did well
    and under different conditions dark coloured moths did well and in the end there were light and dark coloured moths.
    Wow is not the explanatory powers of Darwinian evolution amazing that under certain condition certain creatures may fare better than other creatures, and to think this is the best examples they have, good grief.
    If a certain neighbourhood in a given city has either white flight or gentrification is that evolution as a certain type of the same species, human, may proliferate in a given area due to certain conditions.

  16. 16
    Fiat Lux says:

    Alas, they started with a moth, and they ended with a moth….What Evolution, Where? Reproduction after its own kind….Moses vindicated….Genesis 1

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