Re: Robert Matthews on the Peppered Moth

David J. Tyler (
Mon, 15 Mar 1999 17:28:44 GMT

Kevin O'Brien wrote on Mon, 15 Mar 1999

> This issue is a dead horse in the scientific community, but as Robert
> Matthews -- author of the piece -- predicted, creationists are continuing to
> whip it in the hope of getting some more mileage out of it before it
> collapses completely. Yet the poor beast has run its course and should be
> allowed to rest in peace, like any dead issue.

First - it should NOT be a dead horse, as there are some very
important lessons that should be learned from the whole issue.

Second, the Peppered Moth story is STILL being put before the public
by at least one prominent evolutionary scientist. It obviously is
NOT a dead horse for him!
According to Professor Steve Jones of University College, London:
"Evolution's best evidence is from a revolution; the Industrial
Revolution that polluted much of England. The nation's moths turned
black as birds ate those whose genes made them conspicuous against
sooty trees. With smoke control, the story worked in reverse, and now
the black moths are down to a fraction of what they once were."
Daily Telegraph, Feb 10, 1999, page 16.

> And as Dave himself quoted later in his post: "Prof Coyne insisted,
> however, that the moths are almost certainly an example of natural
> selection...." In other words, the moths still support evolution in general
> and natural selection in particular; it's just the exact cause that is now
> in question.

What do you mean by saying that the moths "support evolution"? There
are certainly natural variations taking place - but variation is
common to creationary and evolutionary theories. Why should you pick
out "evolution" and not "creation"?
What do you mean by saying that the moths "still support ... natural
selection in particular"? What are the selective forces? [hint: we
have no idea! - is that a disallowed argument from ignorance?] None
of Kettlewell's reports of birds selectively eating moths carry any
weight. What is the rational basis for saying that the moths give us
any knowledge of natural selective forces?

I had writtten:
> "The Dawkins comment is a massive understatement - bearing in mind that
> Kettlewell made so much of having obtained 'Darwin's missing evidence'."
Kevin responded:
> So, is Dave saying that evolutionary scientists are not permitted to be
> wrong, or to make mistakes? And is Dave implying that the peppered moth is
> the sole evidence in support of natural selection and evolution? I would
> hope that the answer to both questions is "no", yet the above statement
> would suggest that he would answer "yes".

Evolutionary scientists ARE permitted to make mistakes! Furthermore,
I expect scientists (like everyone else) to learn from their
mistakes. Dawkins comment suggests to me that he has not learned
from this mistake from the past.

> As for Dawkins, all attempts to "spin" his comment aside, all he said ("But,
> in any case, nothing momentous hangs on these experiments.") was exactly
> what every evolutionists on this list has said about this issue: So what?

Kettlewell announced his findings to the world with a fanfare: here
is "Darwin's missing evidence". The experiments have remained as
the ONLY good example of known forces of natural selection affecting
the genetic makeup of a breeding population.
Yes, there are over a hundred other examples of "natural selection" -
but in no case do we have the same clear link between identifiable
selection forces and the genetic make-up of organisms. That is why
Steve Jones described the Peppered Moth story as "Evolution's best

> Perhaps Dave is disappointed that Dawkins did not rise up in hellish fury to
> crush this impudent reporter for even daring to question the doctrine of
> evolution.

No. Dawkins appears to bite his tongue and count to 19 when such
impudence presents itself!

Best regards,
David J. Tyler.