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Dung Beetle Used in Argument For Natural Selection

on August 30, 2008
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The Economist: “Beetle Drive” Britain’s leading newsmagazine weighs in on “one of the lies regularly promulgated by creationist ideologues.” Uncalled-for, ugly allegations aside, we have to, ironically, wonder about the “truth” of that statement.

In an uninformed piece in the magazine’s science and technology section, the Economist looks at dung beetles, alleging that they provide an “object lesson in the speed of natural selection.”

They’re not evolving anything.

The article first attacks creationists for arguing that one can’t observe evolution in action, citing the old canard of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in response. We’ve explained time and time again that this is actually an example of natural selection favoring microbes that already have the genes coding for resistance; they’re not evolving anything. (See Antibiotic Resistance of Bacteria: An Example of Evolution in Action? for a good overview.)

Of course, natural selection affects microbes much more rapidly than larger species, who reproduce on a far longer time scale, the magazine points out. “For species with longer generations, examples [of evolution] are less numerous. But they do exist.” This segues into the magazine’s cursory examination of dung beetles, rooted in research at Indiana University published in the journal Evolution.

Indiana University’s Harald Parzer and Armin Moczek have been studying a dung beetle species, Onthophagus taurus, that is “now heading rapidly towards becoming at least four” species, the Economist reports. Studying the beetles worldwide, the researchers found an inverse correlation between the size of male beetles’ horns (which they use to compete for mates) and the size of their sexual organs.

The scientists hypothesized that limited resources mean that the male beetles must make a “choice” between longer horns, which allow them to more easily win mates, and larger sexual organs, which make it more likely that they will impregnate females.

And indeed, the scientists’ research confirmed this hypothesis; they believe natural selection has produced the similar tradeoff in at least ten other beetle species.

"Darwin, no doubt, would have been delighted.”

Because of the difference in sexual organ size and hypothesized impossibility of successful interbreeding between different beetle populations, the researchers believe O. taurus may soon become four different species. And that, dear reader, is what the Economist would apparently label “evolution in action”—presumably proof that everything evolved from slime. The story concludes, “Since it is known when these populations were introduced, and none is more than half a century old, evolution seems to have worked its wonders well within a human lifetime. Darwin, no doubt, would have been delighted.”

Evolutionists may be “delighted” at such discoveries, but they hardly provide evidence for how a single cell—let alone unorganized molecules—could have adapted into complex humans. The changes the male beetles are undergoing do not add new features or require new genetic information; they simply favor those who already have genes that code for, e.g., large horns.

Consider this: if one human society favored individuals with green eyes, such that green eyes eventually became dominant and green-eyed individuals wouldn’t choose a blue-eyed person as a mate, that would certainly not offer evidence that all humans evolved from apes! Likewise, adaptive changes in an individual created kind—even if leading to new “species”—does not offer evidence that all of life descended from primordial slime.


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