June 4, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Tales Rescue Evolution from Unexpected Data

Observations don’t always fit what evolutionists expect.  Darwin’s theory always wins anyway.

When you wish upon a bone:  Roger Close of Monash University looked at fossil wishbones and tried to find an evolutionary pattern.  There wasn’t any.  The furcula (wishbones) of mesozoic birds showed just as much diversity as those of modern birds, if not more so.  The article on PhysOrg summarizing Close and Rayfield’s paper in PLoS ONE did not mention transitional forms, or any pattern from simple to complex.

Close expected his research to “broaden our understanding of the functional anatomy or biomechanics of early avian evolution.”  He expected to clarify the findings in a 2002 study of wishbones by Hui, but alas, “a murkier picture seems to emerge” from his data set.  In the PhysOrg article, Close left the door open for Darwin: “While this may be interpreted as evidence that early birds flew differently to those alive today, it might equally well indicate that they had evolved different anatomical solutions to accomplish the same feats.

Adult birds as dinosaur fetuses:  Two evolutionists, by studying the shape of bird heads and dinosaur hatchlings, came up with a new idea about the origin of birds: they are dinosaurs that never grew up.  Somehow, the first birds were dinosaurs that “sped up the clock” of embryonic development and arrested it before maturity.  As a result of what might be called the Peter Pan theory of evolution, ostriches, condors, hummingbirds and penguins were not far behind.

“What is interesting about this research is the way it illustrates evolution as a developmental phenomenon,” said Arkhat Abzhanov, associate professor at Harvard and study co-author. “By changing the developmental biology in early species, nature has produced the modern bird — an entirely new creature — and one that, with approximately 10,000 species, is today the most successful group of land vertebrates on the planet.”

Is this a new law of nature?  Are whales arrested embryos of cattle?  Are humans arrested embryos of monkeys?  In the report on Science Daily, they didn’t point to any other instances of such an evolutionary process, but added “arrested embryonic development” to Darwin’s strategic toolkit:

Ultimately, Abzhanov said, the way the bird skull evolved — through changes in the developmental timeline — highlights the diversity of evolutionary strategies that have been used over millions of years.

“That you can have such dramatic success simply by changing the relative timing of events in a creature’s development is remarkable,” he said. “We now understand the relationship between birds and dinosaurs that much better, and we can say that, when we look at birds, we are actually looking at juvenile dinosaurs.”

“It shows that there’s so much for evolution to act upon,” Bhullar agreed.

The article indicated that they were surprised by the differences in development between birds and dinosaurs: “What the researchers found was surprisingwhile early dinosaurs, even those closely related to modern birds, undergo vast morphological changes as they mature, the skulls of juvenile and adult birds remain remarkably similar.”  This evidence was not allowed to falsify Darwinism, however; on the contrary, it was used to reinforce it.  Now Darwin has more diversity of evolutionary strategies to use, and a bigger toolkit to work with.

Bird feeder gets smaller:  One would think birds would love to eat giant insects, especially since pterodactyls lunched on them.  Apparently, the early bird got the small insect.  A prof and his grad student at UC Santa Cruz had to look long and hard to find correlations between insect size, oxygen levels and bird evolution, but turned up enough to report on PhysOrg that the “Reign of the giant insects ended with the evolution of birds.

Facts and data gaps, though, kept getting in the way: “But a 20-million-year gap in the insect fossil record makes it hard to tell when insect size changed, and a drop in oxygen levels around the same time further complicates the analysis.”  It left them with a composite explanation involving multiple possibilities: “These include the continued specialization of birds, the evolution of bats, and a mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous.”  How any of these were related to bug size was not clarified.

The authors acknowledged that small insects have always been around, even when the giants reigned.  It’s unclear, then, why they would invoke the evolution of birds to drive the big bugs extinct, when today’s oxygen level (21%) is lower than what they assumed existed (30%) in the past and, according to the “leading theory,” oxygen level was a limiting factor on insect size.    An evolutionary story was ready in the wings, though: “With predatory birds on the wing, the need for maneuverability became a driving force in the evolution of flying insects, favoring smaller body size.”  Strange that the big bugs never needed said maneuverability when the pterosaurs were around.

Seal a can’t:  Acknowledging that the strange fish known as coelacanths are iconic “living fossils” famous for their lack of evolution since the Middle Devonian, disappearance from the fossil record, and surprise re-appearance doing just fine in 1938.  Since then, several populations of the lobe-finned fish have been found off the costs of South Africa, Tanzania and the Comoros islands.

European researchers “unexpectedly” found some genetic diversity among the geographically-separated living populations.  Writing in Current Biology,(Volume 22, Issue 11, R439-R440, 5 June 2012) Lampert et al. said, “Despite its undeniably slow evolutionary rate, the coelacanth still diversifies and is therefore able to adapt to new environmental conditions.”   One would expect a multitude of changes in environmental conditions to have occurred in 400 million years.  This means the fish can evolve, but didn’t — until modern times.  The lesson? — old fuddy-duddies can still jive:

Coelacanths are generally viewed as evolutionary relics. Levels of population divergence and allelic diversity are low and confirm the assumed slow rate of molecular evolution in coelacanths. Obviously, even such slow evolutionary rates allow for local adaptation. As shown earlier for coelacanths and recently for cycad plants, near extinction need not be an evolutionary dead end.

One wonders what on earth held these talented evolvers back from doing the Darwin thing till now.

We must get the evolutionary storytellers out of the science building.

On second thought: what would we do for entertainment?  Look at the fun we just had: a new Peter Pan show of bird evolution, a game of Evolutionary Strategy, a Saturday Night Live skit (since there is “so much for evolution to act upon”) of elderly fish that can still jive, and a charlatan’s promise that even YOU need not be an evolutionary dead end (thank goodness).

Riddle: What is an evolutionary dead end?

Answer: the head of a Darwinist.


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  • rockyway says:

    “We now understand the relationship between birds and dinosaurs that much better, and we can say that, when we look at birds, we are actually looking at juvenile dinosaurs.”

    – I don’t see the slightest reason to believe juvenile dinosaurs could fly. Can juvenile cows live in the ocean and dive deep under the surface?

    It’s amazing how fast our authors turn speculation into fact. (“Faster than a speeding bullet…”)

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