Journal Topics

Of Butterflies, Peacock Tails and Poppycock

To his credit, Charles Darwin recognized there were instances of extravagant beauty in the living world that could not be explained by his original theory of evolution by natural selection, so in The Descent of Man he developed his theory of sexual selection to fill the explanatory gap. There he argued, in essence, that the butterfly has extravagantly colored wings, the better to attract a mate, reproduce and pass its beauty pageant qualities on to future generations.

Darwin’s theory of sexual selection is brought in to explain problems like the peacock’s tail. While Brad Pitt’s good looks might have no survival-of-the-fittest downside, a peacock’s pride and glory can get him killed. His enormous tail slows him down, making it easier for predators to catch him. So why would nature select for bigger and bigger peacock tails? Because, according to Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, pea hens are attracted to them.

The theory has a superficial plausibility, but a problem emerges if you scrutinize it long enough. Imagine you have a population of pea fowl. Most of the peahens select their mates in the standard natural-selection way—according to how fast the peacocks can take off, by how well they can handle themselves in a fight with other peacocks, that sort of thing. But over a serious of generations a line of peahens develop with a pronounced artistic streak, leading them to start sidling up to peacocks with bigger, brighter tail feathers. So far, so good. We now have peahens selecting for big, bright tail feathers, which presumably will tend to lead to bigger and brighter peacock tails in future generations. But the question is: Why would natural selection prefer these pea hens with their impractical disposition over pea hens with survival-oriented selection criteria? In other words, why would these artistically inclined peahens evolve in the first place? Darwin’s theory of sexual selection doesn’t give us an answer. It moves, rather than solves, the problem of the impractical peacock tail.

Common reason would urge a person to at least consider the possibility that a great artist lay behind the many instances of extravagant beauty that we find in the living world, but for many Darwinists, common reason has been ruled out of court ahead of the evidence.


1. Often times the more attractive animal is the healthier, fitter animal. And certainly these animals will generally have an easier time finding mates and reproducing. How is this age-old insight different from what Darwin was claiming with his twin theories of natural selection and sexual selection?

2. Socio-biologist Edward O. Wilson emphasizes that even the works of artistic genius need to be explained in purely evolutionary terms. How might this view transform the way people think about great art, music and literature?

3. The investigative rule known as methodological materialism insists that scientists only consider natural causes for natural phenomena, never intelligent design. Is this more reasonable or less reasonable than being willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if the evidence points to intelligent design?

— Jonathan Witt

Jonathan Witt, Ph.D., is a senior fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and co-author of A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature (IVP Academic, 2006) and Intelligent Design Uncensored (IVP Books, 2010).

Listen to Hank Hanegraaff’s interview with Jonathan Witt on the design and genius of nature featured on the September 20, 2011 Bible Answer Man broadcast.

CRI also recommends: Jonathan Witt, “Darwin vs. Beauty: Explaining away the Butterfly,” Christian Research Journal, 34, 5 [2011]: 42-43. (This issue is forthcoming). CRI also offers United States and Canadian residents a 1 year (6 issues) subscription to the Journal for $39.50 US. A 1 year (6 issues) foreign subscription is also available for $79.00 US. Click here to subscribe.

Apologetics, In the News, Journal Topics

Last Dance-Chaz Bono and Dancing with the Stars

I’ll miss Dancing with the Stars. Watching it was a weekly family ritual everyone in our home looked forward to, so our decision to stop leaves a void. It’s not a decision made out of moral piety because, after all, plenty of performers on that show have behaved in less than saintly ways, and don’t even get me started on some of the costumes! Nor am I afraid that, as a noted psychiatrist recently warned, young people will become gender confused by viewing a transsexual. (After all, the transsexual in question saw plenty of non-transsexuals as a child, which tells me gender identity isn’t seen then mimicked) And it’s not, as some have stupidly said, an act of prejudice or hatred to stop watching DWTS because of Chaz Bono’s participation. For the last time, disagreement and hatred are two hugely different experiences that ought never to be confused.

No, it’s more than that. I feel that I, along with the rest of the country, am being asked to celebrate a female in a specifically male role. If Chaz was simply a guest on a cooking show, or talk show, then no big deal. But Bono is assuming an officially male role in Dancing, which I as a viewer am asked to applaud. Strike that – I as a Christian am being asked to applaud it. And that I cannot do.

My Creator looked on the His newly formed man and made His first critical remark about humanity – that it wasn’t good for man to be unbonded, unattached, alone. (Genesis chapters 1 and 2) The Female was then specifically and deliberately made for completion of the male, and the contrast between the two was as intentional as their very creation. And if, as God noted to Jeremiah, we are known from the womb (Jeremiah 1:5) then the sex we’re born with is assigned, not optional. Our subjective experience cannot overrule created intent, and I can’t in good conscience applaud, however well intended, attempts to change what was divinely decreed.

Yes, a person must indeed feel an enormous pull towards becoming the opposite sex if such a person goes through the time, effort and financial sacrifice to attempt a sex change operation. Some accept the outcomes of these operations as valid, but some, myself included, see them only as cosmetic attempts that disfigure (without changing) the original. So I can respect how strongly Chaz must have felt the need to be male, else why go through so much to achieve the goal? But herein lies the problem: If someone says they feel are one thing, yet their physical, verifiable state testifies to something else, are we really so wrong in assuming that the problem is not their physical status, but rather their feeling? To put it crudely, if I say I feel like Napoleon Bonaparte, yet my physical status clearly says I’m not, is it really fair to expect you to go along with my feelings and ignore what’s plain to both sight and common sense?

I don’t think so. And that’s why this season is the last dance for me and my house. I wish Bono the best, who I’m sure doesn’t share my worldview and therefore shouldn’t be expected to conform to it. But nor can I conform to Chaz’s, so I politely and respectfully withdraw.

I’ll sure miss Bruno’s rants, though. Nobody can do enthusiasm like that guy.

Joe Dallas is the program director of Genesis Counseling in Tustin, California, a Christian counseling service to men dealing with sexual addiction, homosexuality, and other sexual/relational problems. He is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors and is the author of books on human sexuality, including Desires in Conflict (Harvest House, 1991) and A Strong Delusion (Harvest House, 1996). For a more detailed article by Joe Dallas on transsexualsim, see his article “The Transsexual Dilemma” from the Christian Research Journal at The Christian Research Journal is a must-have tool in your apologetics library so please subscribe to the Journal (6 issues for $39.50).