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The traditional peppered moth story is no longer supportable (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (The traditional peppered moth story is no longer supportable (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CB601:

According to the traditional peppered moth story, cryptic coloration confers protection to the moths from predators, and as the habitat changed due to industrial pollution, natural selection caused the frequencies of different color varieties of the moth to change. As the trees became darker, the lighter moths stood out more, so the darker ones became more plentiful, and vice versa as the pollution cleared. That story is no longer supportable because of flaws found in the experiments, such as where the moths rested, and the occurrence of contrary data, such as unaccountable frequencies of uncamouflaged moths in areas.


CreationWiki response:

It needs to be noted that the traditional peppered moth story is no way a threat to creation science. Not only do the peppered moths remain peppered moths but it does not even represent a change in the peppered moth gene pool but only a temporary shift in populations. The fact that Evolutionists even consider this evidence for evolution is a sign of desperation.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. Although the experiments were not perfect, they were not fatally flawed. Even though Kettlewell released his moths in daylight when a night release would have been more true to nature, he used the same procedure in areas that differed only in the amount of industrial pollution, showing conclusively that industrial pollution was a factor responsible for the difference in predation between color varieties.

Talk Origins has a strange definition of “not fatally flawed.” The conditions of Kettlewell experiment were simply too unrealistic to give reliable results. Since the moths are nocturnal, doing a daylight release is doing the experiment under conditions opposite of those in nature. This is a sufficiently large difference to at least render the results questionable.

Similar arguments can be made for all other experiments. Although no experiment is perfect (nor can be), even imperfect experiments can give supporting or disconfirming evidence.

The problem in this case is that a key condition (the time of day) was totally wrong. The difference between day and night could have any number of effects on the moths that would cause invalid results.

In the case of peppered moths, many experiments have been done, and they all support the traditional story.

The cited sources discuss these experiments and they had the same flaws. They also discuss other studies of peppered moths in the wild and they do not support the traditional story.

2. Even without the experiments, the peppered moth story would be well established. Peppered moth melanism has both risen and fallen with pollution levels, and they have done so in many sites on two continents

No one is questioning that there is a relationship between moth melanism and pollution levels; rather they question the cause of the changes.

3. The peppered moth story is consistent with many other experiments and observations of crypsis and coloration in other species. For example, bird predation maintains the colorations of Heliconius cydno, which has different coloration in different regions, in both regions mimicking a noxious Heliconius species. Natural selection acting on the peppered moth would be the parsimonious hypothesis even if there were no evidence to support it.

The flaw in this reasoning is that there are studies of peppered moths in the wild which do not support the traditional story.

4. The peppered moth story is not simple. The full story as it is known today fills thousands of pages of journal articles. Familiarity with the literature and with the moths in the field is needed to evaluate all the articles. But the research and the debates over its implications have all been done in the open. Charges of fraud and misconduct stem from neglect and misrepresentation of the research by the people making the charges. Of those familiar with the literature, none doubt that bird predation is of primary importance in the changing frequencies of melanism in peppered moths.

  1. At no point does Wells accuse any one of fraud or misconduct.
  2. To claim that no one familiar with the literature doubts the traditional story is an over generalization.

In teaching any subject to beginners, simplifying complex topics is proper. The peppered moth story is a valuable tool for helping students understand how nature really works. Teachers would be right to omit the complexities from the story if they judged that their students were not yet ready for that higher level of learning.

While this true, if the omitted “complexities” raise questions about the results, that is a problem.