Return to Index Page


'Alien Empire' - a letter to the author

By Richard Gunther


(Written to the author of the book 'Alien Empire')


Dear Mr. O'Toole,


                               I recently purchased ‘Alien Empire’ and was very impressed by the interesting information and beautiful photographs in the book. As a keen collector of research material, your book will have its place on the shelf.


   However, I had a problem with something I read on page 34, 35 and 38, about the peppered moth. I have come across this example of natural selection before, in school text books and at least two encyclopedias, but the conclusions which all these articles, and your article, reach have never satisfied me. 


   As you correctly pointed out, the blackening of the trees should have given the darker moth an advantage over the lighter moth. I have read about H.B.Kettlewell, who performed most of the original studies on the moth. He said, if Darwin had seen the results of his work “He would have witnessed the consummation and confirmation of his life’s work” (Kettlewell 1959, Scientific America, 1978 page 3)


   But surely, all Kettlewell proved was that gene frequencies have shifted back and forth? The same moth, which can express a gene which gives it a light colour or a dark colour, is still the same moth, with the same genes? If a new gene had been produced, due to the arrival of industrial soot on the trees, we would have a clear example of evolution, but as far as we know, the moth has no new genes, so no evolution has occurred.


   I have also read something written by L.Harrison Matthews, a biologist who wrote the foreword for the 1971 edition of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’. He said, on the subject of the peppered moth, that it showed natural selection but not “evolution in action”.


   Also, British scientist Cyril Clarke has investigated the peppered moth for 25 years. He said he saw only 2 moths in their natural habitat by day. He says that Kettlewell and others attracted the moths into traps in the forest by night, using a light, or released female pheromones. In each case the moths were seen only at night. (C.A.Clarke ‘Evolution in reverse : clean air and the peppered moth’ Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 26:189-199. 1985)



   The moths being filmed eaten by the birds were laboratory-bred ones placed onto the tree trunks by Kettlewell. They were so languid they had to be warmed up – on the car bonnet – before they were stuck to the trees. Dead moths stuck to tree trunks hardly proves that moths settle by day on tree trunks.


   Theodore Sargent – University of Massachusetts biologist – helped glue the moths. He has now admitted that textbooks and films have featured “a lot of fraudulent photographs” (J.A.Coyne ‘Nature’ 396 (6706):35-36 and The Washington Times Jan.17th 1999 page D8)


   But there is another aspect to what you wrote in ‘Alien Empire’ which I have a problem with – about Gregor Mendel. You seem to think that the peppered moth “demonstrates the inheritance of discrete factors or genes” in the sense that genes may become mixed, producing new combinations which will then be passed on to future generations. This is not what Mendel discovered.


   What Mendel proved, years before Darwin published, was that genes are never blended. Traits in parents are inherited by the offspring, make a temporary association only in the offspring, and in subsequent generations the genetic material separates into the distinct units that were present in the original parents.


   Darwin believed in blending inheritance, but Mendel had already proved that this did not happen. When Mendel’s work was rediscovered in the early 1900s the initial reaction was against Darwin. 


   Mendel’s studies clearly established the stability of plants and animals. He also showed that traits which were not present in the parents but which appeared in the offspring were not ‘new’ at all, but had been present in the parent’s ancestors. The information to produce the trait was present in the genetic material all along, but it was hidden because of the dominance of another trait. Mendel’s work showed that natural selection alone cannot bring about a new trait, let alone a new species.


   You say that “The process of natural selection has now been amply demonstrated by observation and experiment . . .” To a certain extent this is true. Natural selection is a powerful mechanism, which sorts out the strongest from the weakest, and the best-adapted from the less adapted. Natural selection helps organisms to survive in a changing environment. But if you think natural selection is a mechanism whereby evolution occurs, the evidence is lacking. All natural selection does is ‘shuffle’ pre-existing genes. It never produces new information, or new genetic material.


   A second theory has been proposed, that mutations provide the new material, but in every observed case, mutations have been either lethal, or they have worked against the best interests of the organism – unless it has been placed in an abnormal environment to protect it. Mutations usually amount to removal of or confusion of information, so they have never been shown to be a viable mechanism behind evolution.


   I think it is a terrible shame that millions of people believe in natural selection as a cause for evolution when this has never been demonstrated. So many people have been indoctrinated with so-called ‘proofs’, which are in fact fraudulent (as in the case of Kettlewell and others), or a mixture of half-truths and philosophy. The lack of real, solid evidence is a shameful aspect of the noble pursuit which we call Science.


   I am open-minded enough to recognize genuine proof of evolution when I see it, yet, over the last 30 years, I have never seen any proof. Every so-called proof is lacking. Natural selection (or survival of the fittest) produces no new genetic information. All it does is modify already existing information. No new DNA appears. Animals may seem to show evolution, but all they are doing is expressing genes which were not, until that moment, dominant. Suppressed genes are not evidence of evolution because they are already there.


   Thanks to the variety of genes already available within an organism, there is room to adapt, to change, to modify, but never beyond the strict limit imposed on the organism by the genes. It is a case of “This far but no further.”


   One illustration of this might be the spectrum of visible light. There are seven colours in a rainbow, and all the colours we see are different combinations of these seven. No new colours are ever produced, because the primary limit is always seven.


   It is a truly remarkable thing how Science constantly affirms the truth, yet scientists constantly deny it.


Yours sincerely,

Richard Gunther

Back to Index Page