Did Zebras Invent Their Own Stripes?

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Posted on December 22, 2013 in Birds, Darwin and Evolution, Dumb Ideas, Mammals, Philosophy of Science

The explanations some evolutionists give for fur and feather patterns sound like tales of talking animals planning out their new fashion lines.

Evolution tries to explain not just what is, but how it got that way.  The core of Darwin’s theory is that stuff happens by unguided natural processes – no mind or planning was involved.  Things may look designed, leading evolutionists tell us, but that’s an illusion: they evolved.  Apparent designs are the outcome of processes that did not have them in mind – namely, random mutations and natural “selection” for accidental traits that might confer a survival advantage.  Yet reporters and scientists who believe this often write as if animals determined ahead of time what they would do to get more fit, have more sex, or avoid predators.  A case in point is the origin of patterning on mammals and birds.

Mammals

Zebra-cadabra:  The stripes on zebras are remarkable for their starkness and symmetry, with some stripes going horizontal and some vertical.  Such bold markings do not blend into the background to provide camouflage.  Why would they announce to predators “Here I am”?  Are they for social communication?  Then why are both males and females and young all striped?  At long last, the BBC News was proud to announce that the mystery of the stripes has finally been ‘explained’ (quotes theirs), at least for the satisfaction of “evolutionary biologists.”  The new theory is: “Zebras’ bold stripes protect the animals by masking their movements.”   All those moving stripes create an optical illusion when predators or biting insects approach.

One of the researchers compared the stripes to the barber-pole illusion or the wagon-wheel illusion (when the spokes appear to turn backward).  The problem with those analogies is that we know barber poles and wagon wheels are intelligently designed.  Darwinism needs to account for zebra stripes by undirected, mindless processes.  Dr. Martin How fails to tell how:

According to Dr How, zebra stripes capitalise on this type of illusion to help protect the animals.

He explained that the broad diagonal stripes on a zebra’s flank and the narrower vertical stripes on its back and neck give unexpected motion signals that confuse viewers, particularly in a herd of zebras.

We suggest that these illusions cause pests and predators to mistake the zebra’s movement direction, causing biting insects to abort their landing manoeuvres and chasing predators to mistime their attacks,” said Dr How.

Sounds convincing, but any explanation needs to face follow-up questions.  If striping is such a successful strategy, why didn’t wildebeest and antelope evolve it?  Why aren’t all members of the horse family striped, when they presumably also have to deal with predators and biting insects?  Does it also explain the stripes on zebrafish, zebra mussels and striped skunks?  How did the first stripes on zebras originate by mutation?  How did the stripes become so regularly spaced and uniform over the entire body?  Were the selection pressures so strong in the case of the mutant with the first tentative stripes, that all the unstriped members of the population died out?  Did the mutation for stripes have any pleiotropic effects that reduced fitness?  Will this explanation fare any better than last year’s attempt to hypothesize that the stripes repel biting flies? (2/09/12).  Doesn’t an explanation about how the stripes work actually imply design?  Doesn’t Dr. How’s wording suggest that the stripes are the designer, if they “capitalise” on an illusion?  How is this not a fallacy of personification?

We are informed that this explanation was quite a feat, a long time in coming: “Zebra stripes have long confused evolutionary biologists, right back to Darwin and Wallace,” one of the researchers said.  The illusion, therefore, appears to work very well on evolutionists.

Birds

Patterns of a feather flock together:  A photograph of a handsome California quail, adorned in its multi-colored costume of feathers, some with bold edges overlapping like roof shingles, others plain gray, all fitting into their own specific areas on the bird, topped with a feathery tuft over the fashionable head, adorns a Science Article that announces to readers it will explain the “evolution of plumage patterns in male and female birds.”  Some matter-of-fact stuff about taxonomy and sexual dimorphism precedes the evolutionary explanation.  Then we learn that evolutionists have largely ignored the question of feather patterns: “The colour of plumage has attracted much research interest, but the exquisite patterns of bird plumage, such as the spots of the guinea fowl and the barred patterns of ducks and turkeys, to just name a few, have received much less attention,” said a PhD candidate at Cambridge out to make her name in the Darwinian storytelling society.  First, it was necessary for Thanh-Lan Gluckman to eliminate the unfit:

It was argued that male birds developed their spectacular colours and elaborate patterning as a result of their mating patterns — they used their plumage to compete for and attract females. On the other hand, female birds needed to blend into their surroundings in order to nest safely and protect their young — so they became drab and dull to protect themselves and their young from predators,” said Gluckman.

What this implies is that evolutionists have been wrong for 150 years.  It certainly seems so, if they were attributing purpose to birds that are supposed to be evolving without planning.  In a search for forces that would produce patterning, Gluckman studied 288 species of waterfowl and gamebirds, and found “a fabulous number of variations and combinations of these visual patterns in females as well as males.”  She couldn’t see any rhyme or reason to the evolutionary trends for monogamous or polygamous species.  It didn’t appear that sexual selection could explain all cases of sexual dimorphism (the contrast in appearance between males and females).  What’s going on?

By emphasising similarities as well as differences in plumage patterns between male and female birds, rather than whether one sex is the same as the other, I found that sexual dimorphism in the plumage pattern of birds is highly nuanced and that there can be multiple types of sexual dimorphism. In expanding the definition of sexual dimorphism, and reconstructing evolutionary history, I found that changes in sexual dimorphism could be due to changes in males and/or females. In addition, the plumage patterns of birds seem to transition easily between different types of dimorphism, which is congruent with adaptation to fluctuating social and environmental conditions,” said Gluckman.

The evolutionary pattern in patterning is there is no pattern.  Changes “could be” due to “males and/or females.”  It’s all “highly nuanced” and seems to “transition easily.”  In one sense, this is an improvement over evolutionary explanations that suggest birds planned their evolution.  In another sense, it makes things worse for evolutionists.  Sexual selection appears to have no explanatory power.  Stuff happens, Gluckman appears to say, in no predictable way.  But when all is said and done, evolutionists still don’t know how those quail became so handsomely adorned.

Has there ever been a more useless theory that claimed such great things for itself than Darwin’s theory of evolution?  Here we are, 154 years after the Origin launched a revolution in thinking that helped motivate two world wars and a takeover of academia, and they have nothing substantial to say.  When it comes to details, they are still clueless why zebras are striped and why quail are so beautifully patterned.  Instead, we get a steady stream of “could be” and “perhaps” but nothing definitive that ties the theory to the observation in a robust way.  When they try, usually they first have to overturn the previous evolutionary explanation.

It’s one thing to classify and observe.  Scientists are good at that.  It’s nice to know the distribution of stripes on zebras, and even how they function as an optical illusion.  It’s good to know how many species of waterfowl and gamebirds there are, which ones exhibit sexual dimorphism and which ones don’t.  Any “citizen scientist” can do as much.  But when it comes to explaining how things got the way they are, evolutionists provide no value added.  Saying “stuff happens” is no help at all.

Because “apparent design” is so widespread in the living world, evolutionists stoop to violating their own rules.  They word their explanations with design language: such-and-such “evolved to” perform a function.  We must call them out when they commit this contradiction.  It is an “illegal procedure” foul, given the processes of neo-Darwinism, to say that zebra stripes “evolved to” create optical illusions, or quail feathers “evolved to” adapt to changing environments or diverge males from females (except when they don’t).  Remember, evolution is blind, acting on random variations.  Inside a cell nucleus, it’s dark.  A pre-zebra has no idea that a cosmic ray hit one of its sperm, the one that (by chance) was destined to fertilize an egg that would make an embryo develop a stripe on its right hind leg.  A lion has no idea that this stripe is supposed to confuse it so it eats the plain zebra ancestor.  Whoops; the lion ate the one with the stripe, or the alligator got it.  Start over and wait another million years.

This crazy theory masquerades as a scientific explanation but adds nothing – zilch – to our understanding.  We’re tired of the just-so stories.  One thing creationists and evolutionists could unite on is biomimetics (12/16/13).  No religion required, no evolutionary storytelling required – just a recognition that there are designs in nature we could learn from.  Both sides agree things look designed.  So, let’s study those designs together (whether you think they are apparent or real) and turn them into products that could help everybody.  This can get science out of the explanatory morass Darwin led us into, and move science forward.

 

 

 

2 Comments

David H. Elton III December 22, 2013

Well.…This is interesting. However, this below paragraph ? Not accurate » See Directly below…
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(my comments surrounded by (( ~ ))
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“Evolution tries to explain not just what is, but how it got that way. The core of Darwin’s theory is that stuff happens by unguided natural processes ((Not True/Opinion)) – no mind or planning was involved. Things may look designed, leading evolutionists tell us, but that’s an illusion: they evolved. Apparent designs are the outcome of processes that did not have them in mind – namely, random mutations and natural “selection” for accidental traits that might confer a survival advantage. Yet reporters and scientists who believe this often write as if animals determined ahead of time what they would do to get more fit, have more sex, or avoid predators. A case in point is the origin of patterning on mammals and birds.

.… not very accurate. (Bill S?)

However…a well written slice of “opinion“
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Editor December 22, 2013

David,
Thank you for writing, but you need to say more than just throw out an assertion that something is inaccurate. Otherwise you have done little more than offer your own slice of “opinion” without advancing the discussion. What is inaccurate or not true, and why?
Editor

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