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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

We’ve Been Thrown a Bone
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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The American Heritage Dictionary defines data as “factual information, especially information organized for analysis or used to reason or make decision” (see Pickett, 2000, p. 463). In the scientific world, hypotheses are tested using data that have been collected, analyzed, and then reported. And yet data are exactly what is missing from National Geographic’s January 2002 cover story (Lange, 2002). The headline cleverly states, “Evolution of Dogs: Wolf to Woof.” However, the absence of actual data in the article takes the bite out of the argument, and the resulting “woof” comes across like a mere whimper. As a matter of fact, upon completion of the article, most impartial readers will find themselves reviewing the pages in a desperate effort to find the actual story. Throughout the eight-page spread, the author intersperses short paragraphs (mainly figure legends), that are blanketed by slick pictures. If a picture truly is worth a thousand words, then National Geographic has tried to present a 10,000-word dissertation on the evolution of dogs. The writing itself, however, probably could be condensed down to a single page—two at the most. Aside from the title of the article, the first two pages hold only these words:

Less than 14,000 years separates them: the wolf—the dog’s ancestor—and the Maltese, one of hundreds of breeds of today’s Canis familiaris. Humans transformed wild canids into the first domesticated animal—the tamable, trainable, incredibly variable dog (pp. 2-3).

The following page tugs at readers’ heartstrings as we read about “The Human-Dog Connection” while looking at a compassionate picture of a human skeleton “with its hand cradling a pup” (p. 4). The words evolution and scientific data are noticeably absent as we learn how a wild wolf turned into Fido. A pull-out section right in the middle of this “scientific study” on dog evolution allows for a photographic spread of various breeds of dogs. The rest of the foldout is dedicated to discussing how and why dogs may have been reared “for abilities such as guarding or hunting.” Computer graphics at the bottom of the page demonstrate the variations that exist between the wolf skeletal system and the Great Dane, Dachshund, and Pomeranian. Evolutionists use these differences between breeds in an effort to support their theory of macroevolution. However, macroevolution refers to major evolutionary changes over time—the origin of new types of organisms from previously existing, but different, ancestral types (e.g., cows evolving from fish). The numerous breeds of domestic dogs we now observe can be explained quite easily by selective breeding. The mass of the Pekingese and Irish Wolfhounds differ by fifty fold, and the behavior of Rottweilers and Golden Retrievers hardly could be more different. Yet remarkably, a dog of any breed can crossbreed with a dog of any other breed to produce viable and fertile offspring. Changes occur among varieties, but the descendant is clearly of the same type as the ancestor. Simply put, if you mate two dogs you can change hair color, stature, or traits, but you still are left with a dog.

The first and only time the word evolution is mentioned in the National Geographic article is in the two short figure legends that appear on page 8. The first legend accompanies a fierce-looking drawing that takes place in the Great Plains. An animal called Epicyon is seen attacking a horned herbivore. Also in the picture a pack of fox-sized Eucyon surround an early peccary (wild pig). The author states: “Eucyon species migrated into the Old World, eventually evolving into wolves. About 800,000 years ago wolves crossed to Arctic North America” (p. 8). The other figure legend on this page is labeled “Paths of Evolution.” Since this article is titled “Evolution of Dogs: Wolf to Woof,” I decided to reproduce the authors full assessment—word for word.

The dog’s lineage began 37 million years ago in North America in predators that had distinctive pairs of shearing teeth and ran down prey. Early canids reached Europe seven-million years ago, but it was Eucyon, at far right, moving west six to four million years ago, that gave rise to most modern canids, including wolves, coyotes, and jackels (p. 8).

That is it! The remaining two pages carry the banner “Faithful Companions” and begin with the sentence: “The dog evolved in the company of humans and cannot exist without them” (p. 10). Contained on these last pages are four pictures, each one depicting a special way in which dogs are “faithful companions” to humans. This “scientific” evaluation of the evolution of dogs is completed with four short figure legends that are titled: Dog of the Dead, Cosmopups, See Spot Rerun, and Robodog. A conveniently placed article titled “A Love Story” (regarding the relationship between humans and dogs) begins on the next page, but it, too, lacks any data regarding the origin of canines. And yet the glossy pictures and computer-designed lineage lines in this “evolution” article undoubtedly will serve as “data” for many individuals as they accept this weak discussion of origins. The “data” in their “Evolution of Dogs” story easily could fit into a thimble—with plenty of room to spare! If the editors of National Geographic are going to continue to allow such feeble journalistic efforts to be run as cover stories, then their publication should be lined up alongside the other supermarket tabloids.

REFERENCES

Joseph P. Pickett, ed. (2000), American Heritage Dictionary (New York: Houghton Mifflin), fourth edition.

Lange, Karen E. (2002), ”Evolution of Dogs: Wolf to Woof,” National Geographic, 201[1]:2-11, January.



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