Head Lice and Hippos—Distant Kin
But the fossil record does not show a horse turning into a giraffe! To quote the paleontologist Niles Eldredge,
By the way, in the middle of Genesis’s description of creation are the words, “God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth'” (Genesis 1:22), a fascinating statement in light of what Darwin called “the principle of geometrical increase” of life (Origin, 55).
Various efforts have been made over the years to restate Darwinian theory and mend its many failings, including Neo-Darwinism, but in the words of the English biologists Mae-Wan Ho and Peter Saunders, “It is now approximately half a century since the neo-Darwinian synthesis was formulated. A great deal of research has been carried on within the paradigm it defines. Yet the successes of the theory are limited to the minutiae of evolution, such as the adaptive change in coloration of moths; while it has remarkably little to say on the questions which interest us most, such as how there came to be moths in the first place” (Behe, 28).
It is one thing to claim that a creature adapts to its environment according to its built-in capacity to do so. It is quite another to claim that a creature can adapt such that something entirely new is produced. Without the latter, the development of life would be impossible, at least without intelligent intervention.
In arguing his case for what he called “Natural Selection,” Darwin could offer no clear observable examples from nature of what he was describing, so he argued by analogy in his chapter on “Variation under Domestication” (Origin, Chapter 1). The irony here is, of course, that he is arguing the case for unassisted natural descent by appealing to variation in plants and animals under the guiding hand of human beings over long periods of time. Beyond that, however, the variations he describes are possible only because the capacity is already present in the genetic makeup of the organisms in question, whether sheep or hyacinths. Nevertheless, even breeding guided by humans has its limits. A hyacinth cannot be turned into an orchid.
In the words of the French zoologist, Pierre Grassé, “In spite of the intense pressure generated by artificial selection… over whole millennia, no new species are born…. The fact is that selection gives tangible form to and gathers together all the varieties a genome is capable of producing, but does not constitute an innovative evolutionary process” (Johnson, 18).
Contrast the limited ability of natural selection just described with Darwin’s claims. By “natural selection” he is referring to nature’s ability to select from among numerous variations, preserving “favourable variations” and rejecting “injurious” ones. Moreover, he claims that Nature “can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life” (Origin, 71), thereby moving the process of evolution ever forward. “Over all these causes of Change I am convinced that the accumulative action of Selection… is by far the predominant Power” (38). After describing the millennia of human attempts at breeding superior plants and animals, he writes, “We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results…. But Natural Selection… is as immeasurably superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art” (53).
Darwin did not stop there, however, for he wrote, “It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life” (71). At the end of Origin he wrote, “And as natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection” (399).