Darwin’s big error, according to a new study published in Biology Letters, was in arguing that competition between organisms is the most important force in evolution. The idea—often cast as “survival of the fittest”—is that in a dog-eat-dog world of scarce resources, carnivory, disease, and other dangers, all but the most fit will be killed off. This constant competition and the elimination of less fit (“less evolved”) species, the argument goes, moves evolution forward.
But the new study emphasizes the role of an organism’s “living space,” which includes the overall availability of food as well as the size of a population’s habitat. When an animal group gains access to new living space—especially an area unoccupied by other animals—evolution kicks into high gear. The team, led by the University of Bristol’s Sarda Sahney, came to the conclusion from a study of fossil diversity.
As an example, the team points to the supposed evolutionary rise of mammals, which happened as the dinosaurs died off (thereby vacating their “living space”). Team member Mike Benton explains,
“Even though mammals lived beside dinosaurs for 60 million years, they were not able to out-compete the dominant reptiles. But when the dinosaurs went extinct, mammals quickly filled the empty niches they left and today mammals dominate the land.”
While the theory is academically interesting, the scientists have presupposed evolution—interpreting fossil history as a record of millions of years of evolution, rather than as (largely) the record of a single, catastrophic, earth-wide Flood year. Beyond that, the connection between an organism’s living space and its diversity can be explained more concisely as the working of natural selection combined with an understanding of genetics—principles that both evolutionists and creationists accept and that can be observed in the present.
Finally, as we mentioned above, a few media outlets had headlines with somewhat irresponsible wording, claiming, vaguely, that “Darwin was wrong.” While a cursory examination shows that the research has nothing to do with the creation/evolution controversy, the headlines were objectionable enough for a blog response from the National Center for Science Education’s Steven Newton.1 He uses the media flap as an occasion to take a swipe at Answers in Genesis, claiming (as if we would agree) that we attack evolution “for reasons outside of science.”
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