The study of pigeons was instrumental in the formulation of Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolution, and using the same principles that underlie the theory in general he hypothesised that all pigeons are descended from the wild rock dove. A new study published in Science (pdf) used modern genomics to “prove Darwin right.” But somehow, through some twisted interpretation of the study, Brian Thomas has produced an article published under the headline “Pigeon Study Confirms Creation.” How did he do it?
Charles Darwin bred many varieties of pigeons. Some had differently shaped head crests and others had unique color patterns in their plumage. Darwin tried to use these superficial examples of human-guided animal breeding to support his false idea that nature repeatedly transformed one basic life-form into another. Today, over 350 breeds of the rock pigeon continue to showcase the plasticity of this bird’s feathery features. A recent study traced modern pigeon origins, and although the evolutionary investigators told some of the same wrong stories that Darwin did, three key details from their work clearly support creation.
“Three key details.” This should be good. The first “detail” is biogeographical:
The first detail relates to biogeography and the extensive comparison of DNA similarities showing patterns of pigeon migration, starting from the Middle East. The study appeared online in Science Express, and the lead author and University of Utah scientist Michael Shapiro said, “Some of those breeds only left the Middle East in the last few decades. They’ve probably been there for hundreds if not thousands of years. If we find that other breeds are closely related to them, then we can infer those other breeds probably also came from the Middle East. That’s what we did.”
And that’s exactly what one would expect if pigeons, like all other animals, descended and migrated from Noah’s Ark, which landed in the Middle East near the middle of the world’s livable land.
(The press release, quoted above and below, can be found here.) Creationists generally have trouble with biogeography, as most species do not appear to have recently radiated from the Middle East. Pigeons are if anything an exception, and if we would “expect” to see what we see with pigeons if they “like all other animals, descended and migrated from Noah’s Ark,” then we can only conclude that all cases to the contrary are evidence against creationism. Like camelids, for example, which evolved in North America and radiated out to produce llamas in South America and Camels in the Old World. How does Brian explain those? Also, is he calling the New World “nonlivable” there? Anyway, the second point is “but they’re still pigeons”:
The researchers did not emphasize the second creation-corroborating detail. Though humans have bred rock pigeons into hundreds of varieties, the pigeons remain pigeons. As far as we know from pigeon breeding, DNA, and fossils, they have always been pigeons. This evidence contradicts the headline that Nature used in reporting this research, “Pigeon DNA proves Darwin right.” It doesn’t. Pigeon DNA gave no hints of relatedness to any other bird kinds, clashing with Darwin’s claims that all birds share a common ancestor. The constancy of the pigeon-kind confirms the Genesis 1 account that God created “every winged fowl according to [its] kind” and the Genesis 7 account specifying that breeding pairs of bird kinds were required to board Noah’s Ark.
They are also “still dinosaurs” – this is irrelevant to the issue at hand. In the context of the Nature headline Darwin was “right” because he correctly predicted the common ancestor of all pigeons, not in the fact of evolution. But that brings us to an important point: why is it that when the tools available demonstrate something that the creationists are prepared to agree with – that pigeons have a common anscestor – they are perfectly fine with it, but when the exact same evidence, the exact same tools, are used to show that all life has a common ancestor, they call it “historical science,” saying “you can’t do that.” There is apparently some barrier, some impediment that means these methods cannot be used for a group larger than a certain, arbitrary size. They don’t realise that, if anyone is to take them seriously, they need to prove it.
While we’re on the subject of Genesis 7, the command in verse 2 – “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not cleanby two, the male and his female” – which demands seven pairs of clean animals, contradicts the simpler verse 19 of the previous chapter, “And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female,” which only wants two of everything. Genesis really needs to clean up its act before it could ever hope to be “confirmed.” The final “detail” is a little stranger:
A third detail was the pigeon research team’s discovery that a single “gene acts like an on-off switch to create a head crest when mutant, and no head crest when normal.” The head crest, formed when feathers on the back of a pigeon’s neck grow up instead of down, is a feature that adorns over 80 of the 350 pigeon breeds. “They found a perfect association between the mutant gene and the presence of head crests.” This genetic switch has hallmarks of design, not random natural origins.
Unlike randomized natural processes, an engineer would have thought to make such a trait variation readily deployable by using a straightforward genetic mechanism like a small DNA change. Also, an engineer would have made it for a purpose. The University of Utah news acknowledged that, noting that head crests play a role in mate attraction. Future research may help determine if this is another example of a “mutation” that occurs by design.
Exactly what Mr Thomas thinks “randomized natural processes” would do in this situation is anyone’s guess. So too is the generally warped view of biology that produces the idea that “trait variation” would be designed to be “readily deployable,” as if organisms are capable of changing their own DNA to fit the environment. He closes like so:
These pigeon research details all fit with creation. Pigeons originated in the Middle East according to their genetics, corroborating the Flood account in Genesis. The pigeons the scientists studied show no signs of transmutating into any creature other than pigeons, because they breed “after their kind.”6 And elegant, effective, functional genetic switches point to expert engineering.
Convinced? I’m not. The currency of “confirmation” has been diluted a little further by this underwhelming article.