Saturday, 16 May 2009

Of Charles Darwin & Finches' Beaks



When I was 14 I had a science teacher, a hairy (it was the 1970s!), aggressive and wiry little Lancastrian who, one of the older students told us, had once or twice played in the back line for the England XV. This teacher, Mr Butcher, was in the habit of shouting RUBBISH! whenever a student openly disagreed with him, and on not a few occasions he wrote RUBBISH! in the margin in red pen on my written assignments - in fact, I can still, thirty years later, hear him shouting RUBBISH! in his Northern accent as if it were only yesterday; funny the things that stay with you.

Mr Butcher was a dogmatic Darwinian, but his dogmatism was of the type that swallowed his master's thesis holus-bolus and was not interested in digesting anything else. So it was that we were exposed to the classic 19th C. theory as the final word on the subject in spite of the fact that Darwin's original thought had already undergone several revisions. This was already several years after Gould and Eldredge had published their thesis on punctuated equilibrium, which at least had the advantage over Darwin of being based on observation of the fossil record and what it appeared to reveal: periods of stasis punctuated by intense biological activity (just don't mention saltations) - but, being more a humanities than a sciences person, I was not to become aware of this development until some twenty years later (likewise, Mr Butcher taught us the solid state theory of the universe's existence that he had evidently learned at university, but that is another story). The upshot was that Mr Butcher made any explanation for life other than classic Darwinism seem impossible to our impressionable 14 year old minds, and confirmed many students in agnosticism, if not atheism, probably for the rest of their lives. Since then, however, each passing decade has actually stripped Darwinism of another layer of plausibility, such that it is now Darwinism itself that seems impossible to a growing number of people with open minds.

The following quote is from Prof. Stuart Burgess and appears in an interview transcribed on the blog of Guy Davies, the 'Exiled Preacher', where I quite often find interesting things. This quote from Prof. Burgess seems to me to be a masterpiece of concise rebuttal of the basic premise of Darwinism that natural selection explains speciation.

Click on the title to go to the full interview - and thanks to Guy Davies for publishing it.

Oh, and if only our teachers had taught us how to think instead of what to think the world would be a better place today!

"Do you agree with the ideas of Charles Darwin?
Darwin was correct to say that creatures like finches adapt to the environment by changing beak shape. However, he was wrong to then assume that creatures could undergo enormous changes (change into other types of creature) that are thousands of times greater than minor adaptations. Modern studies show that whilst birds adapt to the environment, they always remain birds. Adaptation can be illustrated by the shuffling of a pack of cards and randomly choosing a subset of cards from the pack. A pack of cards represents the gene pool between parents. Whilst shuffling the genes and choosing a new subset of cards can produce some adaptations, the amount of adaptation is limited by the cards available in the pack. No amount of shuffling can produce dramatic changes. This is why changes through adaptation are very limited."

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