A Science Myth from the <i>New York Times</i> - Evolution News & Views

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A Science Myth from the New York Times

On June 26 the New York Times ran an article by Douglas H. Erwin, senior scientist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, in which he stated as demonstrated fact the power of natural selection to create the eye. We now can see (forgive the pun) that natural selection "is the primary agent in shaping new adaptations."

His example? "Computer simulations," he declares, "have shown how selection can produce a complex eye from a simple eyespot in just a few hundred thousand years."

Really, Dr. Erwin? Where is your proof of this important fact? What computer simulations, published where and when and by whom? Just a citation or two will do.

One also might scoff at the exaggerated faith shown computer simulations in general, since they frequently cannot even predict next week's weather accurately. But leave that topic alone for now. Let's just have the evidence of published computer simulations referred to by Dr. Erwin.

One suspects that the Erwin claim is based on Dan Nilsson & Susan Pelger's study, "A Pessimistic Estimate of the Time Required for an Eye to Evolve," Proceedings of the Royal Society, London B (1994) 256, 53-58. However, as Dr. David Berlinski pointed out a few years ago in Commentary, that paper contains no computer simulation whatsoever, a point obvious to anyone reading it and confirmed in writing by its senior author. It was Richard Dawkins who conveyed the widespread impression to the contrary, both in River out of Eden (1995) and The New Statesman of July 16, 1995. The thesis that there exists a computer simulation for the development of the eye is an urban myth that has built upon Dawkins' uncorrected error.

Details may be found in Volume 115, Number 4 of Commentary, April 2003, under the title "A Scientific Scandal."


The New York Times should retract Dr. Erwin's claim or substantiate it. So should Dr. Erwin. This isn't hard to research and the reply should not be fudged with the name-calling and hand waving that has become standard Darwinist dialogue. Either there are actual computer simulations that back the Dawkins/Erwin/New York Times assertion about evolution of the eye by natural selection, or there are not.