Why do ants walk single file? Why are goldfish gold? Why do worms come up on the sidewalk in the rain? Exasperated parents sometimes answer the incessant questions of their young children with “It’s just the way things are!” Presumably science does a better job of explanation, but one might wonder if the following evolutionary explanations improve on the exasperated parent response.
- Diatom distribution: A paper in Science last week tried to explain the distribution of diatom species in the ocean.1 They found no evolutionary pattern of certain species inhabiting certain oceans but not others. Perhaps mixing of ocean waters swamps the expected evolutionary radiation or environmental selection. “To the extent that marine diatoms are a model microbial taxonomic group,” they said, “our results imply that the biodiversity and macroevolutionary patterns at the microbial level fundamentally differ from those of macroscopic animals and plants, negating the idea that all living things follow similar ecological and evolutionary rules.” Apparently evolutionary laws are not disconfirmed by opposite outcomes.
- Autumn leaves: “Why fall colors are different in U.S. and Europe” is the title of an article in Live Science. European deciduous trees lack the rich reds of the Americas. Why is that? Once upon a time, 35 million years ago, “large areas of the globe were covered with evergreen jungles or forests composed of tropical trees,” but then “many tree species evolved to become deciduous, dropping their leaves for winter.” The article did not say whether the spirits of the trees convened to work out this strategy.
But then, pesky insects must have made the trees get the itch for protection: “Many of these trees also began an evolutionary process of producing red deciduous leaves in order to ward off insects.” How the trees strategized to initiate the evolutionary process was not explained. Nevertheless, this set off an evolutionary arms race as species migrated north and south. In Europe, though, the mountains got in the way. The red trees and their insects died from exposure to ice age temperatures – except for “the exception that proves the rule,” dwarf shrubs that still retain their red autumn leaves. They survived because they (and their insect pests) were able to live through winter under the snow. At least according to reporter Andrea Thompson, that’s how “the thinking goes.”
- Mister T Junior: A small version of T. rex has been discovered in China. It has the big head and puny arms of its famous star of stage and screen, but was only about 100th the body weight – about the size of a man. A boxer might have a fighting chance against one of these. He could pound the jaws of Raptorex left and right without fear, because the monster would not have the reach to grab him. The short arms are an evolutionary puzzle, though. National Geographic said, “The find runs counter to previous theories, which had said that T. rex’s stumpy arms were a relatively recent evolutionary development. As tyrannosaurs got larger, their arms simply didn’t scale up fast enough, and the limbs eventually became small in relation to the dinosaurs’ oversized bodies, the older theories say.” So much for that idea. Here’s how the article displayed the flexibility of evolutionary explanations:
Study leader [Paul] Sereno [U of Chicago] noted that it can be hard for people to appreciate the trade-offs that evolution inevitably entails.
“It would seem to a human that forelimbs are so useful, that only when you got to the size of a tyrannosaur and you could frighten everybody with a growl could you get rid of [forearms],” he said.
“But this common sense type of thinking almost never works with evolution,” Sereno said. In the tyrannosaurs, for instance, “long, heavy forelimbs are a significant burden and would seriously curtail agility in the hunt.”
Sereno did not explain if this means evolution should have produced short arms in all predators. If this early tyrannosaurid had short arms, why did other subsequent tyrannosaurs have longer arms before T. rex showed up? Perhaps that question falls into the trap of “common sense type of thinking.” We’re not supposed to use that with evolution, Sereno said. Live Science was confident, regardless, that “The new finding … suggests a T. rex blueprint for taking down prey evolved, and was successful, in the pint-size, well before the giant tyrannosaurs emerged.”
- Flamingo stance: Here’s a question a young child would ask at a zoo: why do the flamingos stand on one leg? Live Science tackled that with a smorgasbord of possibilities: keeping body temperature stable, avoiding parasites, preventing muscle fatigue. Whatever the reason, “more research needs to be done….”
- Australian egg-layers: Live Science tried to explain why egg-laying mammals called monotremes are found in Australia but not elsewhere. The explanation for the evolution of the platypus and echidna includes numerous escape hatches: some of their ancestors became aquatic, or semi-aquatic, or terrestrial, or evolved between these habits; maybe they diverged a long time ago, or maybe recently; some stayed the same but some evolved rapidly; etc. But we don’t know because the fossil record of these enigmatic creatures is poor. Somehow, Charles Q. Choi found evolutionary confidence in all this puzzling. “These oddballs are often considered primitive ‘living fossils’ that shed light on what our distant ancestors might have looked like.”
- Horny females: If the male animals have horns for fighting other males over females, why do some female animals have horns? New Scientist says this old evolutionary chestnut has been “solved.” Two evolutionists plugged a bunch of variables into a computer (body size, openness of habitat, territorial behaviour, group size or conspicuousness) and ran a mathematical model. Conspicuousness is the predictor of female horns, they concluded. Another evolutionist said they forgot to consider competition for food. That suggests that other variables might have also been neglected – or combinations of variables, or none of the above.
- Naked apes: Why are humans naked? Most mammals are covered in fur (exceptions include naked mole rats, hippos and elephants, but they are not close evolutionary kin). Elaine Morgan tried to give an evolutionary explanation in New Scientist (caution: nude photo). Since Darwin, the explanation for human nakedness has been controversial, she began. Darwin’s idea that men selected for hairless females has not stood the test of time. “Of all the thousands of mammal species, it is hard to believe that the males of just one species would develop an arbitrary preference for balder-bodied females, or that in just one species of primate it was the male’s preference that decided the issue.” she said. “If a man of Darwin’s genius could not have come up a more [sic] convincing solution than that, some key factor must have been missing from the narrative.”
So have evolutionists since Darwin improved on the explanation? (Scientific explanations that are too flexible or convoluted amount to “stuff happens” – the failure of explanation.) One explanation that held sway for decades was Raymond Dart’s 1924 theory that when our ape ancestors came out of the trees to hunt in the savannah, they shed their hair to prevent overheating. “For most of the past century it was assumed that the problem had been solved,” Morgan remarked. Well, then, why haven’t lions, cheetahs and other savannah predators followed that rule? Russell Newman debunked Dart’s theory in 1970 by arguing humans would never have evolved in the savannah with their traits of too little hair, too much sweat and their need to drink too much water. Now most evolutionists picture man evolving in a forest or woodland environment.
Stephen Jay Gould suggested nakedness was a tradeoff for evolving a bigger brain. Others suggested skin afforded better protection against ticks (but then, again, why didn’t other mammals use this strategy?). Alister Hardy suggested humans got naked when they adapted to swimming – the “aquatic ape” (or skinnydipping) theory. No one explanation has gained acceptance among evolutionary anthropologists. Morgan said the focus has shifted away from why humans are naked to when they lost their hair. Recent thinking says nakedness coincided with walking upright. This, however, skirts the question of why those two traits would be correlated. She concluded that Hardy’s aquatic ape theory remains the best contender (or the last one standing) so far, but not by much.
Morgan ended her article with a statement that could apply to all the above. “Only one thing is certain: the question is not going to go away,” she ended. “Any scenario which fails to tie up this loose end will continue to be less than satisfying. It will always be haunted by the suspicion that something in the story of our emergence is still missing.”
1. Cermeno and Falkowski, “Controls on Diatom Biogeography in the Ocean,” Science, 18 September 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5947, pp. 1539-1541, DOI: 10.1126/science.1174159.
Does anyone still doubt that evolutionary biology is a giant storytelling contest? You thought science was all about discovering the laws of nature, making predictions and understanding the world. Evolution accomplishes none of these things. The only “law” discovered by Darwin’s disciples is the Stuff Happens law (09/15/2008). They like it that way, because it keeps their quest for a good “scenario” (i.e., story) open-ended. Only their dupes would consider this scientific progress.
Humans have been studying the natural world for thousands of years before Darwin came along. Greeks and Romans had catalogs, and so did medieval scholars. Most naturalists (meaning observers of the natural world) agreed that the form and complexity of animals and plants showcased design. Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, was a creationist, and so was John Ray. Sure, the early naturalists made mistakes, but guess what – so do we! Modern naturalists have many advantages: better observational tools, more extensive collections, more observers, genomes, photographs, fossils, specimens, microscopes and state-of-the-art analysis. None of this requires Darwin’s “one long argument” (translation: one grand myth) of common ancestry by means of unguided variation. If anything, it is a rogue spirit of divination possessing the soul of science, clouding its vision with images of magical emergence. Faith in the natural world’s Designer will cast out its demons and let science once again become clothed and in its right mind.