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Friday, May 20, 2005

The Washington Post thinks it has discovered natural selection.

Apparently, 18 black Canadian squirrels were released at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. in the early 1900s. As anyone who has lived in Toronto would predict, they soon began to jostle the local gray squirrels at area bird feeders.

The Post writer announces,

That's because those 18 squirrels -- whose coats of lustrous black set them apart from the native animals -- were the beginning of a shift that has changed the complexion of Washington's backyard critters. Now, probably because of a slight evolutionary advantage conveyed with a black coat, the descendants of these squirrels have spread all the way into Rockville and Prince William County.

Seriously: Scientists say it's a real-life example of natural selection at work, which has rolled on for a century here without much public notice.

"It shows the spread of a gene within a population," said Richard W. Thorington Jr., a Smithsonian Institution researcher working on a book that includes a history of the District's black squirrels. "That is evolutionary change before your eyes."
Wow. Seriously? Evolutionary change before my eyes? But wait a minute ... The Post writer then goes on to say,

The story of Washington's black squirrels -- which scientists say are just a color variation within the common gray squirrel species -- still has its shades of mystery.

Yes, that’s right, folks. The grey and the black squirrels are actually two coat-type varieties of the same species. They are about as different genetically as black and white alley cats are from orange and white alley cats.

Here in Toronto, the two coat types have persisted together for many decades, doing a proportionate amount of damage to spring flower gardens and native bird feeders. But apparently in the Washington area a century ago, for some reason, only the greys were found, until a zookeeper acquired some of the black variety from Canada and let them go.

In a classic example of Darwinian just-so storytelling, we are informed, "Here's why some scientists believe the black squirrels were multiplying: In winter, their dark coats allowed them to retain heat from sunlight, leaving them less desperate for warmth than their lighter-colored cousins."

Well, if that is the case, why do the supposedly disadvantaged grey-coat type squirrels survive at all in cities like Toronto that can become much colder than Washington? Yet their relative proportion of the squirrel population here does not seem to have changed much over the decades.

In reality, the black squirrels are multiplying in Washington because that’s what squirrels do, given a chance. In Toronto, the black squirrels tend to be somewhat more numerous than the grey, but unlike the Darwinists, I am not going to offer a just-so story as to why that is so. A genome map might possibly demonstrate that black is the dominant colour, but I don’t know of any such map in existence now.

Oh, by the way, do the squirrels even care which coat type they are? One scientist explains,

"... the squirrels don't appear to treat each other differently because they are black or gray." "They don't seem to care," he said.

Personally, I can’t imagine why the squirrels would even know, let alone care.

The key thing to see here is that the Darwinist wants us to understand that the process that (he hopes) can explain why pesky black-coat-type squirrels can get established in the Washington area alongside grey members of the same species can also explain the entire history of life. But he never demonstrates that point, he merely assumes it as an article of faith. And he then expects the rest of us to take these utterly trivial instances of animals adapting to an environment as evidence for his thesis. No wonder they are restless over there in Kansas.

To find out more about my book on the intelligent design controversy, go to By Design or by Chance?

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New York Times weighs in on the Kansas evolution hearings, and stumbles

On May 17, 2005, the queen of legacy media, The New York Times weighed in on the Kansas evolution hearings, in “The Evolution of Creationism” (From such a lame title as that, you knew not to expect anything much, right?)

It gets better: “Students of these battles will recall that in 1999 the Kansas Board of Education, frustrated that the Supreme Court had made it impossible to force creationism into the science curriculum, took the opposite tack and eliminated all mention of evolution from the statewide science standards.”

Jonathan Wells comments that in the 1999 decision,

What actually happened was that the Kansas State School Board INCREASED the discussion of evolution in the state science standards -- in fact, if one goes simply by word-count the Board increased the treatment of evolution five-fold. The Darwinists, however, wanted it increased nine-fold, so they complained to the mainstream media that the Board had "de-emphasized" evolution.

Mere word count doesn't fully describe what happened, though. The five-fold increase dealt only with microevolution. The Board wanted to include an expanded treatment of macroevolution, as well, but wanted to temper it with some acknowledgement that there is a scientific controversy over this aspect of evolutionary theory. The Darwinists (then, as now) opposed any such acknowledgement, and the Board lacked the votes to include it, so they ended up eliminating references to macroevolution altogether.

In other words, the real controversy was that the Darwinists wanted Darwinism treated as the religion of the school system, and the board—showing remarkable courage in the face of a politically correct consensus—declined to do that.

The big danger today, according to the Times, is that the intelligent design proponents are now calling for “more emphasis on the limitations of evolution theory and the evidence supposedly contradicting it.” In other words, they don’t want Darwinism treated as a sacred scripture of science, above question. And why should it be?

I’ve thought a lot about how to understand legacy mainstream media today. It would have been no trouble for the New York Times to get the Kansas curriculum battle of 1999 right, but they see no need to bother. This, I think is principally because they have made one overriding assumption up front: Naturalism is true. There is nothing in the universe beyond matter and energy and anyone who thinks otherwise is merely deluding themselves, perhaps elaborately.

If you are certain that naturalism is true, the details of any controversy over intelligent design are not important, because design must be false in principle. So why bother with the facts? You just have to pump up your audience with rhetoric about the dangers of the “religious right.”
Now, if the legacy mainstream media were in sync with their readers on all this and if there were no alternative media sources, they might succeed in putting their view across convincingly. But they aren’t succeeding, and here is why: Most North Americans are not Darwinists or naturalists; for good reasons, they don’t believe that mind comes from mud.

Here is a 2004 poll result for The New York Times

Which statements reflect your views on the origin of human beings?
1. We evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process.
2. We evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, but God guided this process.
3. God created us in our present form.
Evolved w/o God 16% 9% 13%
Guided by God 28% 23% 27%
Created by God 51% 66% 55%
Unsure 5% 2% 5%

Source: CBS News/New York Times poll, Nov. 18-21, 2004
These figures have changed little for many decades, so the Times is preaching to the unconverted and probably unconvertible. And it is doing so at a time when alternative media, such as blogs, are now widespread and dirt cheap to operate.

To find out more about my book on the intelligent design controversy, go to By Design or by Chance?


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