How can you lose playing tic tac toe with a pigeon? Don't watch the board. (You can be sure he will.)
In "What Darwin should have learned from pigeons," (Evangelicals Now, August 2009) British physicist David Tyler writes,
Charles Darwin was fascinated by them. To help develop his thinking, he kept many different varieties and joined two local pigeon clubs to meet breeders. From one ancestral species, the rock-pigeon, hundreds of domestic breeds have been brought into existence. Darwin referred to the process as artificial selection: birds with desired characters are selected by the breeder for mating. Offspring with the strongest presence of desired characters are again selected for further breeding. By repeating the process, remarkable traits can be isolated, leading to characteristics that are novel and distinctive. Darwin wrote: ‘The diversity of the breeds is something astonishing’. However, his understanding of this diversity was seriously mistaken.
Breeder and environment
Crucial to Darwin’s thinking is that the ‘breed’ is just part of a continuum of variation. Beyond these are new species, new genera, new families, and so on. Apart from timescales, artificial selection was considered to be essentially the same as processes operating in the natural world. He wrote in his chapter on natural selection: ‘As man can produce and certainly has produced a great result by his methodical and unconscious means of selection, what may not nature effect?’ Instead of the breeder, we have the changing environment. Instead of intelligent and purposeful selection, we have unintelligent and unplanned processes that bring gradual changes to breeding populations of animals and plants.
To a large extent, this was Darwin’s direct evidence for evolutionary change (all the other evidences for his theory involved inferences from observation). With artificial selection, he could argue that his theory was supported by the routine practices of animal and plant breeders. Many have found these evidences very convincing. It is not unusual to find modern-day Darwinists pointing out that pigeons, or dogs (or some other animal group) provide us with real-time evidence of evolutionary transformation.
But Darwin was wrong - and so are his modern-day followers. Their appeal to ‘evidence’ is misleading. Even in Darwin’s day, the argument in the Origin was challengeable. Alfred Russel Wallace knew that domestic varieties tended to return to the wild type if they were released into the wild.
There has never been any good evidence that domestic breeding is in any way comparable to natural selection because, as Wallace correctly noted, natural selection usually results in a basic type of animal, not an infinite variety, because only the basic type can survive in nature.
Find out why there is an intelligent design controversy: