Peppered with Dishonesty
Almost every biology book printed in the last two decades contains a picture with which most college students are quite familiar—the English peppered moth (Biston betularia). In fact, earlier this year the Discovery Institute reviewed eleven textbooks being considered by the Texas State Board of Education, and six of them contained the story of these moths (for the complete review, visit http://www.discovery.org/articleFiles/PDFs/TexasPrelim.pdf.) Of those six books, five received failing grades for their dishonest portrayal of the peppered moths. For many years, the images of the light- and dark-colored moths have been touted as proof that evolution occurs. The story that commonly accompanies the picture of England’s famous peppered moths revolved around the industrial revolution in England. Reportedly, at that time most of the moths were a light, speckled-gray color. Their light color supposedly allowed them to camouflage themselves among the light colored lichens on the trees. Thus, birds had trouble identifying these light-colored moths. A dark (melanic) form also existed, but this moth was said to be rare, as it stood out on the lichen-covered trees, and was easily seen (and thus eaten) by birds.
Textbooks then point to pollution as the trigger for an evolutionary change in the moths. The industrial factories in England started producing soot and smoke, and the tree lichens died, exposing the dark bark, and thus causing the trees to turn black. Allegedly, this change caused light-colored moths to become easier to see, while the darker moths remained safely camouflaged. Thus, in only a few years, the population of light and dark moths had reversed itself—with the black moths greatly outnumbering the white moths. According to evolutionists, this change in the moth population “proves” that species can “evolve” different characteristics that allow them to survive—or so the story goes.
But while the story may sound good, it is far from the truth. As Gabby Dover admitted:
This earlier group [of British naturalists—BH] had succeeded in convincing itself, and the academic world at large, that their manipulations of the peppered moth in industrial and non-industrial environments had finally and permanently nailed Darwin’s theory of natural selection to the mast of the good ship Beagle. How the mighty have fallen. The soft underbelly of flawed science, dubious methodology and wishful thinking in what became a classic textbook account of evolution in action has since been exposed… (2003, 4:235, emp. added).
This little secret of science did not suddenly come to light just this year. In the introduction to the 1971 edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, L. Harrison Matthews summed up the obvious when he wrote:
Some experiments are said to demonstrate evolution in action; those on industrial melanism in moths are a well-known example…. The peppered moth experiments beautifully demonstrate natural selection or survival of the fittest. But they do not show evolution in progress. For however the population may alter in their content of light, intermediate or dark forms, all the moths remain from beginning to end Biston betularia (Darwin, p. xi).
The problems with using the peppered moths as an evolutionary icon only begin there. There also is a serious problem with those images that adorn so many textbooks. The problem is—the images were faked! During the decades that H.B. Kettlewell spent researching the moths, only two moths were ever found resting on tree trunks during the day—one light and one dark. British scientist Cyril Clarke, who later investigated the peppered moth extensively, noted:
But the problem is that we do not know the resting sites of the moth during the day time.… In 25 years we have found only two betularia on the tree trunks or walls adjacent to our traps (one on an appropriate background and one not), and none elsewhere (Clarke, et al., 1985, 26:197, parenthetical item in orig.).
Peppered moths, it turns out, are night-fliers. As University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne observed: “The natural resting spots are, in fact, a mystery. This alone invalidates Kettlewell’s release-recapture experiments, as moths were released by placing them directly onto tree trunks, where they are highly visible to bird predators” (1998, 396:35, emp. added). So how did the textbook editors obtain such dramatic pictures of the moths on trees? The moths were arranged in an artificial setting—dead moths were either pinned or glued to tree trunks, or captured moths were forced to stay on the trunks. As Carl Wieland noted:
The moths filmed being eaten by the birds were laboratory-bred ones placed onto tree trunks by Kettlewell; they were so languid that he once had to warm them up on his car bonnet (hood).
And all those still photos of moths on tree trunks? One paper described how it was done—dead moths were glued to the tree. University of Massachusetts biologist Theodore Sargent helped glue moths onto trees for a NOVA documentary. He says textbooks and films have featured “a lot of fraudulent photographs” (1999, 21:56, emp. in orig.)
The theory about the moths “evolving camouflage” for survival was totally false. And, even though many of the writers and textbook publishers know the truth, they are still using the images today.
Also consider that dark moths and light moths have always been around. There was no new genetic material created to form a black moth. This “textbook story” is nothing more than gene frequencies shifting back and forth, by natural selection, between populations. But realize, we still are dealing with a single created kind. The moths are still moths! They did not evolve into spiders, cats, or humans. Yet, sadly, the peppered moths nevertheless are being used as “proof” for evolution. Young people need to understand that while the moth population always had the built-in ability to vary in color, the moths never had the ability to become anything other than moths.
And if all that were not bad enough, Coyne reported that the results of Kettlewell’s behavioral experiments were not replicated in later studies: “moths have no tendency to choose matching backgrounds” (396:35). As Roy Herbert remarked: “The melanic moth became a textbook example of evolution, solidly established. However, there have since been so many criticisms of Kettlewell’s work that industrial melanism has lost almost all credibility” (2002, 175:52). Indeed it has. Now, if we could just inform the millions of students who were sold this bill of goods in their freshman biology classrooms, and have since bought into the evolutionary theory as a result.
Evolutionist Jerry Coyne admitted that the peppered moth story, which was “the prize horse in our stable,” now must be discarded (p. 35). He went on to admit: “My own reaction resembles the dismay attending my discovery, at the age of six, that it was my father and not Santa who brought the presents on Christmas Eve” (p. 35). But sadly, as the Discovery Institute documented, six out of eleven science textbooks being considered by the Texas State Board of Education in 2003 contained this false story. If evolutionists are going to point to the peppered moth as proof of evolution, then they must be ready for parents and children to question the accuracy and validity of such “proof.” And textbook publishers need to know that they no longer can feign ignorance in their biased support of evolutionary theory. The gig is up.
Clarke, C.A., G.S. Mani and G. Wynne, (1985), “Evolution in Reverse: Clean Air and the Peppered Moth,” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 26:189–199.
Coyne, Jerry A. (1998), “Not Black and White,” Nature, 396:35-36, November 5.
Darwin, Charles (1971 edition), The Origin of Species (New York: J.M. Dent & Sons).
Dover, Gabby (2003), “Mothbusters,” EMBO Reports, 4:235.
Herbert, Roy (2002), “Fly By Nights,” New Scientist, 175:52.
Wieland, Carl (1999), “Goodbye Peppered Moths,” Creation, 21:56.