Do Confusing Branches Add up to a Darwin Tree?

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Posted on June 5, 2013 in Botany, Darwin and Evolution, Fossils, Intelligent Design, Mammals, Marine Biology, Philosophy of Science, Terrestrial Zoology

Evolutionists routinely try to construct parts of Darwin’s grand “tree of life” from fossils and genes.  Do the parts come together as expected?

Camels & mammals:  The genome of a Bactrian (two-humped) camel named Mozart was deciphered.  According to Science Daily, “The DNA code also represents a rich resource for addressing questions on phylogenetic relationships between animals.”  So far, though, all the geneticists found was 85% similarity to the one-humped dromedary camel.  They hope it will clarify relationships with llamas and alpacas, too, but that work remains to be done.

Zebrafish & mermaids:  Alongside a photo of a lovely lady swimming underwater, Michael Gross wrote in Current Biology,  “While we humans tend to have grandiose ideas about our special position in the tree of life, more than 70% of our genes have an obvious orthologue in zebrafish.”  Other than telling sweeping stories of evolutionary transitions, Gross only mentioned the coelacanth genome and the zebrafish genome as data, noting that “zebrafish has the largest number of unique genes (3,634) not shared with any of the others” (chicken, mouse, and human).  And despite the major changes involved in moving from sea to land, he wrote, “Arthropods must have made the transition at least five times, as researchers have concluded from phylogenetic trees.

Tree of life is fishy:  In “Somethings’s fishy in the tree of life,” Science Daily reported on the largest comparison of fish genes to date, providing data that “dramatically increase understanding of fish evolution and their relationships.”  Some assembly required, after disassembling previous assumptions and “proposing” relationships nobody would have expected:

While some of the findings provide new support for previously understood fish relationships, others significantly change existing ideas. Many different groupings are proposed in this new tree. For example, tunas and marlins are both fast-swimming marine fishes with large, streamlined bodies, yet they appear on very different branches of the tree. Tunas appear to be more closely related to the small, sedentary seahorses, whereas marlins are close relatives of flatfishes, which are bottom-dwelling and have distinctive asymmetric heads.

Fish & Hips:  A short article on Science Daily tries to explain the “fishy origin of our hips.”  We’re related to salamanders, by implication: it only took a “few evolutionary steps” to convert fins to hips.  Even though humans are thought to be very distant on Darwin’s tree, “the differences between us and them are not as great as they appear — most of the key elements necessary for the transformation to human hips were actually already present in our fish ancestors,” the article alleges.  And that’s because “Many of the muscles thought to be ‘new’ in tetrapods evolved from muscles already present in lungfish,” a Monash University evolutionist said.  “We also found evidence of a new, more simple path by which skeletal structures would have evolved.”  A picture of an axolotl adorns the article—but that’s a salamander, not a fish.

Speaking of salamanders, an article on PhysOrg alleges that the “repeated evolution of high foraging rates in spotted salamanders” shows the “invisible finger of evolution” at work.  Quote from the evolutionary spokesman from U of Connecticut: “Finding that adaptive evolution may disguise strong ecological effects means that a range of ecological predictions are likely to be unreliable if we ignore how evolution affects biological communities” — i.e., evolution and ecology are so “inexorably intertwined,” one can mask the other.

Snakes alive, and hopeful lizards:  A researcher with his team at George Washington U has built a new evolutionary tree of all lizards and snakes around the globe, 4,161 species in all.  “While there are gaps on some branches of the tree,” the lead acknowledged, “the structure of the tree goes a long way toward fully mapping every genus and species group.”  He thinks he knows what will fill the gaps, even though the project is preliminary: “this estimate of the squamate tree of life shows us what we do know, and more importantly, what we don’t know, and will hopefully spur even more research on the amazing diversity of lizards and snakes.”

Speaking of lizards, here’s a big one.  While listening to music from The Doors, Jason Head (U of Nebraska) found a six-footer he named after Jim Morrison (leader of the rock band, who apparently committed suicide).  Thought to have lived 40 million years ago, Barbaturex morrisoni was larger than many of the mammals it munched on.  Head attributed today’s paucity of large lizards to climate change.  Apparently global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels were much higher back then, even with human smokestacks and automobiles around.  “We think the warm climate during that period of time allowed the evolution of a large body size and the ability of plant-eating lizards to successfully compete in mammal faunas,” he said (PhysOrg).  Is he proposing reptile size as a function of temperature?  Why, then, were there large dinosaurs in the arctic circle?  Why are lizards smaller today, to first approximation, in hot as well as cold climates?

Ant what they used to be:  How’s the ant branch coming along?  Science Daily reported on a new ant family tree that supposedly “Confirms Date of Evolutionary Origin” and “Underscores Importance of Neotropics” in their emergence.  Data from genes and fossils were used to build the largest ancestry diagram for ants.  According to the phylogenists, “the rainforests of the Neotropics are both a museum, protecting many of the oldest ant groups, and also a cradle that continues to generate new species.”  In other words, some evolve and some don’t.  “This ant tree-of-life confirmed an earlier surprising finding that two groups of pale, eyeless, subterranean ants, which are unlike most typical ants, are the earliest living ancestors of the modern ants.”  It would seem easier to lose eyes than to gain them.

Planting trees in the fast lane:  “Biologists have known for a long time that some creatures evolve more quickly than others,” begins an article on PhysOrg. “Exactly why isn’t well understood, particularly for plants.”  A new notion is that short plants grow in the “evolutionary fast lane” compared to tall plants.  At the U.S. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, researchers estimated the average height of 140 families of plants, then plotted them against their assumed date of emergence in the fossil record to conclude (to their surprise) that “shorter plants evolved as much as five times faster than taller ones.”  Why would that be?  They surmised that the tips of small plants generate more mistakes:

What puts short plants in the evolutionary fast lane? The researchers suspect the difference may be driven by genetic changes that accumulate in the actively-dividing cells in the tip of the plant shoot as it grows. Cells don’t copy their DNA perfectly each time they divide. In animals, most DNA copy mistakes that occur in the cells of the animal’s body can’t be inherited—they’re evolutionary dead ends. But this isn’t the case for plants, where genetic changes in any part of the plant could potentially get passed on if those cells eventually form flowers or other reproductive organs.

For the notion to work, “the rate of cell division and genome copying in taller plants eventually slows down, and changes in DNA—the raw material for evolution—accumulates less quickly.”  Sounds like a hypothesis in need of observation.

Does Darwin need his tree?  As reported here May 15, the “tree of life” is a tangled bramble bush, according to an article on Science DailyAstrobiology Magazine went further to debunk the notion of a “tree of life” with a last universal common ancestor (LUCA).  But their idea of “digging down below the tree of life” threatens to uproot it:

A family tree unites a diverse group of individuals that all carry genetic vestiges from a single common ancestor at the base of the tree. But this organizational structure falls apart if genetic information is a communal resource as opposed to a family possession.

The article stressed the significance of horizontal gene transfer,  Nigel Goldenfield (U of Chicago) stated it this way: “Our perspective is that life emerged from a collective state, and so it is not at all obvious that there is one single organism which was ancestral.”  Although this refers to the trunk of the tree, the impact of the new idea flows upward.  “In his work,[Peter]  Gogarten [U of Connecticut] has shown that horizontal gene transfer turns the tree of life into a thick bush of branches that interweave with each other.”  (see also 2/01/07). The new ideas of Carl Woese (1/28/10), Goldenfield and Gogarten are examples of “the evolution of evolution,” the article suggests (see 12/19/07).

The group is particularly interested in the question of how the ability to evolve originally developed. The “evolution of evolution” sounds like a chicken-and-egg problem — especially if you think, as Goldenfeld does, that life is by definition something capable of evolving.

However, evolution can utilize different mechanisms to achieve the same goal. Goldenfeld’s team will try to recover some of life’s former evolutionary phases by stressing cells and then seeing how their genomes rearrange in response.

It appears, then, that to salvage evolutionary theory, astrobiologists must personify evolution (“evolution can utilize different mechanisms”) and dispense with Darwin’s core concept of unguided natural selection (“to achieve the same goal”).

Goldenfield, a physicist, tries to see evolution in thermodynamics terms in order to come up with rules of “universal biology.”  However it is viewed, it’s clear that evolutionists have a long way to go.  He said, “We would like to have a better understanding of why life exists at all.

Why does life exist at all?  Because it was created.  It didn’t just happen.  We can say that confidently after showcasing once again the utter bankruptcy of evolutionary theory (10/19/10). Did you catch that the zebrafish has 3,634 unique genes?  What’s the probability of those arising without design?

After 154 years of Darwin, evolutionists are not even sure there is a tree of life.  Creationists have the certainty of a life-giving, created tree of life: in the beginning and at the end.  Don’t be fooled by the mystical divination of modern-day shamans who use mumbo-jumbo like “the evolution of evolution” or “the invisible finger of evolution” to keep their fake tree fable going (2/01/07 commentary), who refuse to acknowledge the clear evidence for design, and who keep promising understanding that never comes.




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