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Moving the Goalpost

“Folks, this is one of the most exciting games in Super Bowl history! In case you just tuned in, here’s what’s happening: With only 8 seconds to go, the Buffalo Bills are trailing the New York Giants 20-19, but in the past two minutes Bills quarterback Jim Kelley has moved his team to the Giants’ 29-yard line, setting up kicker Scott Norwood for a field goal attempt. If Norwood makes it, the Buffalo Bills will win 22-20.”

Watched by tens of thousands in Tampa Stadium and millions more on TV, the Buffalo Bills line up for what will probably be their last play.

“OK, there’s the snap, and the kick. The ball is going, going—but it’s drifting wide to the right. Wait a minute! Some Bills players have pulled up the goalpost, and they’re moving it over—just in time! Norwood’s kick sails through the uprights! The Buffalo Bills win Super Bowl Twenty-Five!”

Of course, that’s not what happened in 1991; Norwood missed, and the Giants won. Football is played with rules and referees—and fixed goalposts.

Darwinism, unlike football, has only one rule: survival of the fittest. The fittest are those who survive, and Darwinists are determined to survive at all costs—even if it means moving the goalpost. In the June 2009 issue of Scientific American, Darwinist Steve Mirsky does just that.

The central claim of Darwin’s Origin of Species was that an unguided process of natural selection acting on minor variations is sufficient to produce new species (“speciation”), organs and body plans—indeed, every feature of every living thing, at least after the origin of life. But Darwin had no evidence for natural selection; all he could offer were “one or two imaginary illustrations.”  Instead, Darwin’s argument (which was also heavily theological) relied on an analogy with artificial selection. Domestic breeders had been showing for centuries that existing species can be modified—sometimes dramatically—by selecting only individuals with desired variations. Darwin simply argued that such a process, if extended over geological time, could accomplish much more.

Despite the title of his book, however, Darwin never solved the origin of species. Neither have his followers. In 1997, evolutionary biologist Keith Stewart Thomson wrote: “A matter of unfinished business for biologists is the identification of evolution’s smoking gun,” and “the smoking gun of evolution is speciation, not local adaptation and differentiation of populations.” Before Darwin, the consensus was that species can vary only within certain limits; indeed, centuries of artificial selection had seemingly demonstrated such limits experimentally. “Darwin had to show that the limits could be broken,” wrote Thomson, “so do we.” 1

As a biologist, I have written on this subject. In the June 2009 issue of Scientific American, Mirsky quotes me:

Creationists argue that speciation has never been seen. Here’s part of a December 31, 2008, posting by Jonathan Wells on the Web site of the antithetically named Discovery Institute: “Darwinism depends on the splitting of one species into two, which then diverge and split and diverge and split, over and over again, to produce the branching-tree pattern required by Darwin’s theory. And this sort of speciation has never been observed.”

Actually, however, Mirsky mis-quotes me. I did not “argue that speciation has never been seen.” What I wrote in 2008 was:

The best way to find “evolution’s smoking gun” would be to observe speciation in action. There actually are some confirmed cases of observed speciation in plants—all of them due to an increase in the number of chromosomes, or “polyploidy.” But observed cases of speciation by polyploidy are limited to flowering plants, and polyploidy does not produce the major changes required for Darwinian evolution. Darwinism depends on the splitting of one species into two, which then diverge and split and diverge and split, over and over again, to produce the branching-tree pattern required by Darwin’s theory. And this sort of speciation has never been observed.

Someone playing by the rules of science who wants to counter my statement that the sort of speciation required for Darwinian evolution has never been observed would presumably either (a) present evidence that it has been observed, or (b) show why such evidence cannot be found (though a theory for which evidence cannot be found is of dubious scientific value).

Mirsky chooses neither option. Instead, he chooses not to play by the rules of science.

In March 2009, in a symposium co-produced by Scientific American aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean, Mirsky listened to a lecture by University of Chicago Darwinist Jerry A. Coyne.

According to Mirsky:

As Darwin did before him, Coyne noted that the development of new breeds through artificial selection is a good model for the evolution of new species by natural selection. He then offered a comment about dog breeds, also found in his book [<em”>Why Evolution Is True]: “If somehow the recognized breeds existed only as fossils, paleontologists would consider them not one species but many—certainly more than the thirty-six species of wild dogs that live in nature today.”

Mirsky continues to argue as follows:

Let’s simply say that dog breeds are different species. Take two that Coyne highlights for their differences—the 180-pound English Mastiff and the two-pound Chihuahua. They’re both considered members of Canis lupus familiaris, and in principle artificial insemination could produce some sort of mix or possibly an exploding Chihuahua. But face it, the only shot a male Chihuahua has with a female Mastiff involves rock climbing or spelunking equipment.

Biologists clearly continue to include the two types of dogs within the same species out of modesty. But with creationists fighting evolution education throughout the country, the time calls for bold action. Let’s reassign the trembling, bug-eyed Chihuahua to its own species. Voilà, humans have observed speciation.

Voilà, indeed! If we cannot find evidence for the origin of new species, let’s just call dog breeds separate species. If Darwinism is in danger of losing, let’s just move the goalpost!


[1] Keith Stewart Thomson, “Natural Selection and Evolution’s Smoking Gun,” American Scientist 85 (1997): 516-518.

Jonathan Wells

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Wells has received two Ph.D.s, one in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley, and one in Religious Studies from Yale University. A Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, he has previously worked as a postdoctoral research biologist at the University of California at Berkeley and the supervisor of a medical laboratory in Fairfield, California. He also taught biology at California State University in Hayward and continues to lecture on the subject.