November 10, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionary Explanations Come Up Empty

When evolutionists claim that they have explained the evolution of this or that, or that their research sheds light on its evolution, a closer examination sometimes shows verbiage covering up hollow reasoning, or even employing intelligent design concepts as weapons against design.

  1. Snap goes the dragon:  PhysOrg highlighted a research project by some UK biologists and computer scientists who claimed they explained, in Kipling fashion, “How the dragon got its snap” – the snapdragon, that is, a popular garden flower.  Snapdragons (genus Antirrhinum) have asymmetrical dorsal and ventral parts that form a hinge.  When the bee lands on the welcome mat, the flower snaps open, allowing entry into the inner sanctum of pollen and nectar.  According to PhysOrg, the work not only sheds light on the evolution of shape, it throws it:

    The study also throws light on how different shapes may evolve.  In the computational model, small changes to the genes that influence the growth rules produce a variety of different forms.  The shape of the snapdragon flower, with the closely matched upper and lower petal shapes, could have arisen through similar ‘genetic tinkering’ during evolution.  Evolutionary tinkering could also underlie the co-ordinated changes required for the development of many other biological structures, such as the matched upper and lower jaws of vertebrates.

    Left begging by this explanation is how a blind, purposeless, aimless process produced growth rules, closely matched parts, and coordinated changes.  The tinkering metaphor also connotes some kind of personality aiming at a result, however haphazard the method might be.  Even “trial and error” still connotes having a goal in mind.  In evolutionary theory, survival is not a goal; it is an artifact.
        The paper in PLoS Biology on which this story was based did not explain things any better.1  “The results suggest that genetic control of tissue polarity organisers has played a key role in the development and evolution of shape,” the authors said, leaving it unclear who controls the development, or who wrote the screenplay, who gathered the cast of characters, and who directed their roles.  It also merely assumes that shapes evolved rather than were designed.  If this throws any light, it throws it onto assumptions, not onto evidence.
        Regarding evidence for shape formation, they admitted they were clueless at the outset: “Genes are known to control the shape of biological structures, like flowers, hearts, and limbs, yet how they do this is poorly understood.”  They proceeded to study how (but not why) genes influence the shape of snapdragons, and found that a model that simply accounts for local tissue growth is inadequate.  “These could be most readily explained if genes also affect an internal field of orientations along which growth is directed, established by organisers of tissue polarity,” using words that connote intelligent design.  “Our analysis therefore revealed a previously unsuspected role of shape genes in the control of tissue polarity, highlighting the importance of this process for the development and evolution of tissue forms.”  The word evolution was tagged onto that sentence full of design words like a bumper sticker on a car announcing “Chance rules.”.  Such a message has nothing to do with the design of the car.
        Nothing improved by the end of the paper.  “We propose that effects on tissue polarity have played a key role in the evolution of shapes, such as the closed Snapdragon flower, and thus provide a general mechanism for the generation of complex forms.”  A close reading of that sentence reveals design concepts being employed to argue for a chance process: propose (stating a proposition, appealing to logic and evidence for its support); effects… played a role (a dubious proposition, unless the effects are coordinated and controlled); mechanism (a word normally used of plans and goals); and generation of complex forms (a phrase that could be used for a chance process, but not for one with functional benefits, like snapdragon pollination).  The authors proceeded to include a paragraph on the “Evolution of Shape” as a general principle.  The same problems plagued this attempt: use of subjunctive mood hiding the active causes, assumption of evolution, hedging words (might have, may have), and the use of design words to argue for chance:

    Dorsoventral flower asymmetry is a common feature of the Lamiales (the Order to which Antirrhinum belongs).  However, the formation of flowers that have a closed mouth with a hinged palate (known as the personate form) is restricted to a small but diverse clade within the Lamiales.  The Antirrhinum corolla model indicates that a key step in the evolution of personate flowers may have been bringing tissue polarity organisers under the control of genes like DIV and DICH.  In particular, the formation of a hinged lower palate matching the upper corolla depends on promotion of CENORG by DIV.  It is possible that equivalent morphogenetic changes could have been brought about through changes in patterns of specified growth rates rather than tissue polarity.  However, modulating tissue polarity may provide a simpler developmental mechanism for some coordinated changes in form and may therefore have been favoured during evolution.  Other evolutionary innovations, such as formation of flower spurs, may also involve genes influencing organisers of tissue polarity.  Thus, changes in polarity as well as specified growth rates may play a key part in the evolution of complex morphologies.

    It should be clear to the skeptical reader that random changes to a coordinated mechanism are not likely to produce functional “innovations” in any blind system.  The authors therefore shrewdly co-opted the language of design and implied that it supported the explanation of complex shapes (not only those of snapdragons, but “complex morphologies” throughout life) by a random, unguided, purposeless, aimless process of evolution – provided one overlooks the bet-hedging phrases suffusing the explanation (may have, it is possible, could have been, may provide, may therefore have been favoured during evolution, may also involve).
        PhysOrg and Science Daily both dutifully reproduced the press release from the John Innes Centre without any critical analysis, even with its overtly evidence-challenged, design-free statement that extrapolated their puny work on snapdragon genes into an over-arching principle: “the researchers show how these principles allow very complex biological shapes to generate themselves.”  One of the authors was even more explicit: “How do hearts, wings or flowers get their shape?” Prof. Enrico Coen asked.  “Unlike man-made things like mobile phones or cars, there is no external hand or machine guiding the formation of these biological structures; they grow into particular shapes of their own accord.

  2. Eh? goes the tetrapod:  “Were our tetrapod ancestors deaf?” asked PhysOrg, assuming out of the starting gate that humans had tetrapod ancestors.  The article gave credence to researchers at the University of Southern Denmark who “have shown that the closest living relatives of the tetrapods, the lungfish, are insensitive to sound pressure, but sensitive to vibrations.”  That may be true of living lungfish, which are fish, but tetrapods are four-footed non-fish.  “Many changes in the sensory systems of tetrapods are associated with the water-to-land transition,” the article stated, again announcing a truism only logical if evolution is assumed.  That statement was followed by an uncontroversial fact of living tetrapods: “In hearing, one of the crucial elements in detecting airborne sound is the tympanic ear”
        But next was a statement of profound faith in a string of chance miracles: “Surprisingly, the tympanic ear originated independently in the major tetrapod lineages and relatively late after the terrestrial tetrapods emerged – in the Triassic, more than 100 million years after the origin of tetrapods.”  By couching the proposition in passive voice verbs (originated, emerged), the authors misdirected the readers from a hollow scientific explanation onto a dogmatic assumption.
        Surprising is an understatement.  Look at the chain of chance occurrences to even get close one time: “Sensitivity to airborne sound entailed three major changes of the ear between the age of Carbon and the Triassic: a changed sensitivity in the inner ear, a change in the articulation of the middle ear bone and finally coupling of the middle ear bone to skin covering the spiracle, creating a tympanic ear.”  But those are the least of their worries for evolution to get right.  The structures would be useless without a brain to hear the sounds and the senses to react to them.  The authors, naturally, neglected to explain how those details “emerged.”
  3. Yum! goes the caveman:  A psychologist at McGill University says that the sight of red meat makes humans less aggressive, why?  Because, he believes, “humans may therefore have evolved an innate predisposition to respond aggressively towards meat,” Frank Kachanoff said.  This counterintuitive belief is explained by the hunt being over and the cave clan gathering around the soothing campfire.  After the fact, the psych reasoned, “it would make sense that our ancestors would be calm, as they would be surrounded by friends and family at meal time.”  But does testing 82 living males reveal anything about unseen evolutionary ancestors?

To show these are not isolated examples of assuming evolution while pretending to explain it, the news media provide a steady stream of illustrations.  Here are just a few of the most recent:

  • Oxygen produces complex life, says Live Science.
  • Life?  Primordial soup not needed; primordial haze will do (Space.com).
  • Human evolution was shaped by plate tectonics (New Scientist).
  • Fly eye similarities to human eye show that sight is an “evolutionary bestseller” (PhysOrg).
  • The fossil record doesn’t really undermine Darwin (Science Daily; see 10/31/2010 for details).

And for an indication that evolution is indeed an all-encompassing, cosmic world view to secular scientists, Space.com suggested that a collision between galaxies – an unplanned crash full of entropy – “may reveal insights on universe’s evolution.


1.  Green, Kennaway, Hanna, Bangham, and Coen, “Genetic Control of Organ Shape and Tissue Polarity,” Public Library of Science Biology 8(11): e1000537, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000537.

Is this the folly of deception or of ignorance?  Are these evolutionists intentionally trying to foist a false view of the world on the public, or are they just so blind, they confuse their own imagination with reality?  Readers can draw their own conclusions.  One thing is indisputable: this is not science.  Even strong evidence of design, and the language of intelligent design, becomes twisted into weird faith that Darwin has been vindicated.  Holding to beliefs so empty, so committed to a view in spite of evidence, so beholden to a godlike hero named Charles Darwin, can only be described by a new term specially coined to describe it: funDOmentalism, where the DO stands for “Darwin Only.”  To a funDOmentalist, no evidence can alter their faith; it is the one great truth they most surely know, even if all of reality must be contorted to fit it.

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