In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin envisioned that “extinction and natural selection go hand in hand.” Extinction, however, was relatively new concept only emerging in revolutionary France following the publication of Essay on the Theory of the Earth in 1813 by French naturalist Georges Cuvier.
“All these facts, consistent among themselves,” Cuvier argued, “seem to me to prove the existence of a world previous to ours… And what revolution was able to wipe it out [extinction]?” Cuvier was an iconic French scientist who established extinction as a field of inquiry. When completed in time for the 1889 World’s Fair, his name was one of the only seventy-two names inscribed onto the Eiffel Tower. The discovery of extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert explains in book The Sixth Extinction (2014), made evolution seem “as unlikely as levitation” – an issue Darwin conveniently overlooked.
While pigeon-holed in his library after the HMS Beagle voyage, Darwin conveniently overlooked one of the largest extinction events of the nineteenth century − the extinction of the Great Auk (pictured). Conservation efforts started in 1553 that escalated in 1794 with Great Britain banning any killing or use of their down feathers in pillows − to no avail.
Along with its increasing rarity, the collection of Great Auk feathers and eggs increasingly became highly prized by the Europeans. Their disappearance from the Great Auk habitat of the North Atlantic islands continued. By July 1844, on the islet of Stac an Armin, St Kilda, Scotland, the last of the Great Auk was seen, caught, and killed. Not to be seen of again since then.
Darwin conveniently overlooked the Great Auk extinction along with the more important issue–the rapid rate of extinction. “There is reason to believe that the extinction of a whole group of species is generally a slower process than their production,” Darwin declared despite the widely known evidence.
Darwin’s paralyzing dilemma is too big to go unnoticed. “No had ever seen a new species produced, nor, according to Darwin, should they expect to,” Kolbert points out.
“Speciation was so drawn out as to be, for all intents and purposes, unobservable. ‘We see nothing of these slow changes in progress,’ he [Darwin] wrote. It stood to reason that extinction should have been that much more difficult to witness. And yet it wasn’t. In fact, during the years Darwin spent holed up at Down House, developing his ideas about evolution, the very last individuals of one of Europe’s most celebrated species, the Great Auk, disappeared. What’s more, the event was painstakingly chronicled by British ornithologists. Here Darwin’s theory was directly contradicted by the facts, with potentially profound implications.”
The Great Auk extinction was the cost paid for the elite European’s feather-bedding quest. The extinction of species, however, is insidiously stems from far greater natural forces. The frog Darwin discovered in Chiloe Archipelago in South America named Rhinoderma darwinii in his honor was finally declared extinct late last year after decades of efforts to save it.
In June 2013, researchers found R. darwinii at only 16% of the 223 sites previously known to be inhabited. Just a few months later in November, scientists from the Zoological Society of London and the Universidad Andrés Bello in Chile found none and declared R. darwinii extinct. The extinction has been attributable to Chytridiomycosis; an amphibian disease caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Extinction was rapid – not through “slow changes.”
In Central America, the Panamanian Golden Frog is following in the steps of R. darwinii. Belonging to the genus Atelopus, the Golden Frog is now on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as critically endangered. The Golden Frog has a long been a national symbol. Emerging as part of local mythology, the frog is ironically printed on state lottery tickets for good luck.
The species was filmed for the last time in the wild in 2007 by the BBC Natural History Unit for the series Life in Cold Blood by David Attenborough. Since then, extensive conservation measures have been undertaken.
This tiny golden amphibian, named Atelopus zeteki, excretes a potent neurotoxin on the skin. While the toxin protects them from predators, it is not saving them from extinction. As science writer John Platt notes in Scientific America the now hard-core reality,
“They haven’t been seen in the wild in seven years.”
The same fungus, B.dendrobatidis-credited with the extinction of R. darwinii, has been linked to the dramatic population decline in A. zeteki populations. The fungus blocks the frog’s ability to absorb critical electrolytes through their skin leading to cardiac arrest. As Kolbert explains,
“Today, amphibians enjoy the dubious distinction of being the world’s most endangered class of animals; it’s been calculated that the groups extinction rate could be a much as forty-five thousand times higher than the background rate.”
Most critically, extinction is a spreading epidemic without evidence for the production of new species through evolution – scientific evidence contradicting Darwin’s theory. As of 2010, the IUCN red list, which incorporates the Global Amphibian Assessment and subsequent updates, lists 486 amphibian species as critically endangered.
Along with the fungus B.dendrobatidis, the bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila, the virus Ranavirus, and the fungi Anuraperkinsus are thought to be related to mass die-offs. Why these microbes have suddenly begun to affect amphibian populations increasingly perplexes and frustrates scientists.
Even worse, frogs are not going alone. “Extinction rates among many other groups are approaching amphibian levels,” Kolbert continues to opine:
“It is estimated that one-third of all reef-building corals, a third of all fresh water mollusks, a third of sharks and rays, a quarter of all mammals, a fifth of all reptiles, and a sixth of all birds are headed toward oblivion.”
This explosive rate of extinction fundamentally undermines Darwin’s theory of evolution. Extinction is light-years faster than the production of any new kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, or even new species. “Therefore the utter extinction of a group is generally,” Darwin had argued, “as we have seen, a slower process than its production.” After 150 years of investigation since the publication of The Origin of Species, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly contradicts Darwin’s naive theory of evolution.
Since January 2000, more than 500,000 species are estimated to have gone extinct. Conservation International estimates “some 5 to 50% of species are predicted to face extinction… between 2000 and 2050.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, estimates
“we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.”
Darwin was wrong−again. The evidence in nature stands in stark contrast to Darwin’s antiquated theory, then & now. It is now increasingly obvious,
• Evolution, while once a theory in crisis, is now in crisis without a theory.
• Biological evolution exists only as a philosophy, not as a scientific fact.