Every day is Darwin day here at Lightning Rod. I spent my day Tuesday attending a seminar by physicist James Glazier of University of Indiana on the evolutionary biology of cancer cells. In his view, the medical community could benefit from thinking of cancer cells as living things subject to natural selection. Certain courses of treatment might help patients and others might inadvertently tip the balance in favor of more invasive, more deadly tumor cells. More to come on that topic.

In the meantime, there are still many misunderstandings about Darwin and his theory, one of which I think I can clear up by addressing a comment a reader made to a previous post:

Edward Blyth, English chemist/zoologist (and creationist), wrote his first
of three major articles on natural selection in The Magazine of Natural
History, (though he didn't use the term "natural selection") 24 years
before Darwin's Origin of Species was published.

Why then do evolutionists think of natural selection as Darwin's idea?

Blyth didn't attribute God-like qualities to natural selection, as some
evolutionists do today. At least some are willing to admit: "Natural
selection can only act on those biologic properties that already exist; it
cannot create properties in order to meet adaptational needs." Noble, et
al., Parasitology, 6th ed. (Lea & Febiger, 1989), p. 516.

If so, do evolutionists think pigeon breeding (which occurs as a result of
intent and design) is a legitimate approximation of natural selection, and
if so, how?

Do evolutionists think the Galapagos finches (which all still interbreed
and none have evolved beyond being finches) legitimately exemplify
Darwin's concepts, and if so, how?

Alfred Russel Wallace shares credit with Darwin for developing the theory
of evolution. Yet one part of Wallace's life has been completely ignored:
his embrace of intelligent design. View the 2012 documentary Darwin's
Heretic at http://www.darwinsheretic.com

Let's start with the claim that pigeon breeding is a form of intelligent design. In Darwin's time, people bred unusual types of pigeons the way some people breed show dogs today. But breeders don't design their pigeons or their dogs. They can't decide ahead of time to make a pink and purple candy-striped pigeon or one that has fur instead of feathers. All they can do is work with whatever variations nature provides.

That's why breeding is such a good analogy to natural selection. Pigeon breeders could create novel-looking breeds merely by choosing who mated with whom. Nature provides novelties by producing pigeons with different sizes, colors, positioning of feathers, beaks and other traits. And as Darwin pointed out in On the Origin of Species, this same novelty and diversity appears in natural organisms — wild plants and animals and other living things. The only thing that changes is the criteria for selection. Instead of a breeder selecting based on appearance, nature selects based on all kind of other things — ability to evade predators, ability to get enough food, and in some cases sex appeal and parenting ability.

Alfred Russell Wallace was credited for thinking of the same idea around the same time Darwin did, and he did write at one point that he didn't think the human mind could be shaped by this process alone. Many Catholic scientists believe something similar regarding a soul.

Whether or not you believe in souls, it has little to do with the pseudoscience known as "intelligent design", which posits that certain biological traits have "irreducible complexity" and therefore can't have come about by any natural process. This is a counter-scientific notion it cuts off inquiry into potentially fruitful investigations.

And some aspects of living things can't be explained by Darwinian evolution alone. That was the case for the evolution of complex cells, which contain a cell nucleus and energy-producing structures called mitochondria. Had scientists deemed this type of life to be the result of intelligent design they would never have discovered the real answer, which is that these cells came about through a symbiotic joining of two completely different organisms. No need for any designer, supernatural or otherwise.