November 19, 2009 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionary Explanation Is Always a Work in Progress

As evolutionary biologists examine diverse plants and animals, it seems they are never able to give a definitive answer as to how they got that way.  Their work merely begins or continues to search for clues.  Like mothers, their work is never done.  At least this provides them job security.

  1. Box jellyfish:  There are about 50 species of box jellyfish.  Some have highly toxic stings; some do not.  Some mate in groups without contact; others appear to pair off.  PhysOrg reported that a team of scientists from several universities has “unraveled the evolutionary relationships among the various species of box jellyfish, thereby providing insight into the evolution of their toxicity.”  While this knowledge will be useful to help predict which species are toxic to humans, and which antivenom strategies will be likely to work, it does not explain how box jellyfish evolved in the first place, nor how they developed “as many as 24 eyes, capable of sensing light and forming an image of their surroundings.”  Indeed, “Why they have complex eyes, how well they see, and what role vision plays in their mating and feeding behavior remain unknown.”
  2. Orchids:  There are about 25,000 species of orchids.  These are among the most diverse flowering plants in the world.  They have the most diverse pollinators; many have structures that are very specific to certain insects or birds.  PhysOrg posted an article about the “evolution of orchids” that actually spoke of diversification within orchids, not how they evolved from something else.  “Charles Darwin and many other scientists have long been puzzled by the evolution of orchids, the largest and most diverse family of flowering plants on Earth,” the article began.  “Now genetic sequencing is giving scientists insights into how these plants could evolve so quickly.”
        Genetic studies show that there is a special petal controlled by different genes than the others.  “This genetic difference enables it to evolve differently to the remainder of the flower, producing structures such as the petal resembling the female bee” in the fly orchid.  This species tricks male bees to come and “mate” with the flower, which in turn gets pollinated by the bee.  Another suggestion in the article says “The rapid evolution of so many species of orchids and other flowering plants may also lie in the fact that flowering plants exhibit allopolyploidy or genetic redundancy, in which there is more than one gene to do a particular job.”  This explanation, however, does not address why other flowering plants don’t use allopolyploidy to the same extent as orchids, nor why genetic redundancy could not be viewed as a design strategy by a Creator.  It should be noted that staunch creationists admit a significant degree of adaptive natural selection within created kinds, while denying that orchids evolved from some other kind of plant.
  3. Moa please:  “The evolutionary history of New Zealand’s many extinct flightless moa has been re-written in the first comprehensive study of more than 260 sub-fossil specimens to combine all known genetic, anatomical, geological and ecological information about the unique bird lineage,” Science Daily announced.  Aside from the fact that prior knowledge about said evolution becomes pass� with this announcement, did it really explain how the giant birds came to be?  “The many species of moa are thought to have descended from a common ancestor of other large living flightless birds that evolved on separate southern landmasses when Gondwana broke up: the ostrich in Africa; the emu and cassowary in Australia; the rhea in South America; and New Zealand’s kiwi.  Another presumed relative was the extinct giant elephant bird in Madagascar.”  That simple thought, however, must pass through a “complex history” after the land masses separated.  “We were surprised to discover just how recently many of the moa species — and probably many of the iconic New Zealand animals and plants — evolved in the South Island after the uplift of the [Southern] Alps,” the researchers from the University of New South Wales said.
  4. Bats:  Science Daily printed a story about the “evolution of bat migration.”  This story had little to do with Darwinian evolution.  It was more about behaviors of existing populations looking for food.  Even so, it involved a convoluted explanation about how behaviors evolved multiple times: “The researchers revealed that the migratory behavior over long and short distance evolved repeatedly and for the most part independently within the family of vespertilionid bats.”  Speculation rules again: “The evolution as well as the loss of the migratory behavior is probably based on the fast evolutionary adaptation that is caused by climate changes or changes in the social life of the bat.”  This composite explanation does not distinguish bats from other species that lived during the same climate changes, and fails to establish a natural law that causes evolution.  Some might dispute the claim that climate causes anything in evolution.  It was also not explained whether changes in the social life of any population are causes or effects of evolution.
  5. Cold-blooded goat?  PhysOrg and National Geographic celebrated the discovery of an extinct island goat that might have “lived like a reptile” – i.e., exhibited the ability to reduce its body temperature depending on the food supply.  “A prehistoric goat survived for millennia on a resource-poor island by living like a reptile—changing its growth rate and metabolism to match the available food supply, according to a new study of the animal’s bones.”  Of course, the goat had fur and all the mammalian characteristics – not scales.  It’s not clear what can be adduced from bones alone, or what this claim has to do with evolution, unless it is an illustration of devolution to a more primitive life history.  The diminutive goats on the island Majorca, near Spain, apparently had no natural enemies and a limited food supply.  They survived for a long time before humans hunted them to extinction about 3,000 years ago, the articles said.
  6. Flashing sabers:  Big sharp teeth apparently don’t translate into ferociousness.  Live Science said that “Study Paints Sabertooths as Relative Pussycats.”  Compared to the extinct America lion, the saber-tooth tiger Smilodon fatalis might have been mild-mannered.  This was based purely on sexual dimorphism, though.  “After generations of male-male competition, the males of some species evolve to be much larger than their mates,” the article stated.  Since saber-tooth cats have less sexual dimorphism, the males of the species may not have had the aggressiveness suggested by the dimorphism in American lions.  Even so, this says little about the origin of these animals.  It accommodates the limited variation within created kinds that a creationist would accept.
  7. Hobbitses:  The latest salvo in the controversy over how to interpret Homo florensiensis, the small-skeleton human remains found in Indonesia a few years ago, comes from Stony Brook University Medical Center.  PhysOrg reported that researchers there decided it represents a new human species – not a population of modern humans with a brain disorder called microcephaly.  Their explanation, however, revolves around different notions about what evolution would do.  Were these little people modern humans that became dwarfed while stuck on an island?  “It is difficult to believe an evolutionary change would lead to less economical movement,” said Dr. William Jungers of Stony Brook.  “It makes little sense that this species re-evolved shorter thighs and legs because long hind limbs improve bipedal walking.  We suspect that these are primitive retentions instead.”  What makes sense to one researcher, however, or what looks primitive, may be disputed by others.
        Perhaps the Darwinians should tackle the more difficult question raised by another article on PhysOrg about brains.  Neuroscientists at UCLA found that the human brain has a remarkable ability to reorganize itself and compensate for disabilities.  The blind, for instance, learn to “see” things from tiny changes in heat, sound, touch and other cues.  The neuroscientists found that the frontal lobes and memory centers in blind subjects become enlarged, “perhaps offering an anatomical foundation for some of blind individuals’ enhanced skills.” See also the 11/17/2009 entry about brain size.
  8. Cannibal evolution:  Cannibals are apparently more fit than the rest of us.  They have a gene mutation that protects them from the ravages of a brain disease that would result from eating their fellow humans’ gray matter.  New Scientist called this “the most clear-cut evidence yet of human evolution in action.”  Simon Mead the University College London is all excited.  “I hope it will become a textbook example of how evolution happens,” he said.  “It’s a striking and timely example, given the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species.”  It wasn’t clear if Mead was advocating cannibalism for health and fitness, but it left a question begging of whether a single point mutation in one gene that breaks kuru, a brain disease, is really evolution.  Presumably the survivors are the only ones left from a population that died from the ravages of the disease.  More apt might be the question of why the people of Papua New Guinea ever were led to believe that engaging in a risky behavior was a worthwhile way of showing respect for the dead.

Darwin got a little more personal notoriety – as if he even needed any more – by PhysOrg.  It wasn’t for his theory of evolution, though.  Some museum curators are glad he collected specimens of mockingbirds on the Galapagos, because it may enable them to reintroduce an endangered species back to the islands.  The observations sound downright un-Darwinian: “They discovered that the populations living on the small satellite islands of Champion and Gardner-by-Floreana do not have long independent evolutionary histories.,” the article ended.  “In fact, they split from each other perhaps as recently as Darwin’s visit and probably as the result of the extinction of the Floreana population – a bridge between the two.”

We keep showing you ad nauseum how the Darwinians play their game (see “How not to work a puzzle” in the 05/01/2008 commentary).  Their explanations are not conclusions emerging naturally from the observations; they are beliefs imposed on the observations by a prior chosen world view.  Watch for the tricks of the trade: extrapolating microevolution (which is not disputed even by Biblical creationists) to molecules-to-man Darwinian evolution, tossing in ample fudge-words (e.g., this suggests that such-and-such might, could have, may have, or probably evolved); promissory notes (this promises to shed light on evolution), composite cop-outs (such-and-such evolved because of climate, or a social change, or whatever), assuming evolution instead of demonstrating it, and failing to deal with the primary question of the origin of genetic information for complex, functional capabilities.
    Since critics of their game have been expelled in advance, the Darwinian storytelling society has become a corrupt, incestuous tradition.  They do not feel threatened because of their enormous power base inside academia, protected by media and legal checkpoints.  If you ever make it past the guards into their protected enclaves, ask them to explain to you “the evolution of the tendency of evolutionary biologists to engage in just-so storytelling” and see if the question even registers on their intellectual radar screens.  Most likely you will get a blank stare for a few seconds, followed by a personal attack, like What are you, some kind of creationist?  We’re talking about science here!  Guards: seize this fundamentalist!

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