August 26, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Adaptation by Design, Not Evolution

Evolution does little to explain amazing adaptations in animals and plants, but intelligent design is up to the task.


Insect wing robustness:  Scientists at Trinity College Dublin set out to explain why insect wings don’t fracture.  The secret is in the veins, reported PhysOrg; tears in the paper-thin membranes are stopped at the veins before they can propagate.  Locusts endure longer marathon flights compared to most insects, but their wing membranes are actually quite delicate.  By performing stress tests on locust wings, the scientists found that the veins provide stop gaps to prevent accidents from becoming catastrophes, providing protection against crack spreading by 50% (see video clip on Science Magazine).  In a way, the veins act like watertight compartments on a ship, preventing a leak from sinking the whole vessel.

The wings achieve an optimum balance between competing design requirements.  “Nature has found a mechanically ‘optimal’ solution for the locust wings, with a high toughness and a low weight,” remarked David Taylor, a mechanical engineer at the college.  He sees scientific fruit from the team’s work in two ways.  “The researchers believe that the vein pattern found in insect wings thus might inspire the design of more durable and lightweight artificial ‘venous’ wings for micro-air-vehicles,” for one.  “And by “reversing” their analysis, one could possibly even use the vein spacing of fossil insects to study the wing properties of extinct insect species.”  The original paper by Taylor and Dirks, which did not mention evolution once but mentioned design five times, is openly accessible on PLoS ONE.

Tiny bubbles in the feet:  How does a beetle walk underwater?  Very carefully, with the aid of tiny bubbles trapped in the hairlike setae of their foot pads.  A short PhysOrg entry explains how Naoe Hosoda and team at the National Institute for Materials Science sees engineering possibilities in their discovery.  “Dr. Hosoda and her team clarified the mechanism which makes this possible and developed an artificial silicone polymer structure with underwater adhesion properties,” the article said.  ” This achievement is expected to be developed as an environment-friendly technology and is also considered applicable to clean underwater adhesion without using chemical substances that impact the environment.”

Fish collective motion:  Evolution tried to insert itself into a story on Science Daily:  “A video game designed for predatory fish might have unraveled some lingering evolutionary questions about group formation and movement in animals, according to new research that took a unique approach to observing interactions between real and simulated animals.”  Princeton evolutionists claim “the strongest direct evidence that collective motion in animal groups such as schools of fish can evolve as a finely tuned defense against attack from predators.”  To understand this odd conjunction of fine tuning with evolution, we must look beyond the contrived experiment where the experimenters projected red dots (representing prey) on a tank containing predators.  Virtual fish are programmed by intelligent design.  Even a friendly colleague not involved in the study understands that:

“The beauty of this experiment is that the researchers systematically vary the rules that the individual simulated prey play by, which dictates the structure of the resulting group,” Parrish said. “They’re like the little man behind the curtain moving three dials up and down — attraction, repulsion and alignment. Then they say, ‘Okay, bluegills, give it your best shot. How good are you at attacking prey based on how we set the rules?‘”

The researchers claim that group formation in the “evolvable” software worked to deter predator attacks.  This says nothing, however, about how the prey fish “evolved” the ability to follow one another closely at high speeds with near-instant coordination, nor why the predators were repelled by the group motion.  Clearly these capabilities had to already be present in the fish.  Nor did it help evolutionary theory for the team to point out this is how fish and birds in the real world act, because they could have been designed that way.  Looking for “rules” that fish follow supports a design inference.  In short, the scientists observed adaptive designs in the real fish, but neglected to explain how purposeless mechanisms of evolution gave the fish these abilities by a long series of mistakes.

Cave fish tooth tale:  It’s well known that humans deprived of senses like sight or hearing gain increased sensitivity from their remaining senses.  This apparently happens with cave fish, Current Biology reported: though blind, they find their way “by the skin of their teeth” (Haspel et al., Current Biology Volume 22, Issue 16, R629-R630, 21 August 2012, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2012.06.035).  “Evolution” was apparently not important enough to the authors to mention it in their paper.  It was really a story of heightened sensitivity in existing fish denticles to vibrations.  The only hint of evolution was a mere suggestion: “Teleost denticles, oral teeth, cephalic lateral line, and taste buds may share a common ancestral sensory structure.

Darwin finch genome:  Evolutionists might be understandably excited to have the first genome published from one of Darwin’s “iconic” finches from the Galapagos, but any benefit for evolutionary theory mentioned in the announcement on PhysOrg is either historical hype or future hope.  The article went on and on about how the Galapagos finches have been symbolic of Darwin and influential in promoting his theory.  The article went on equally about how the genome is expected to produce scientific fruit in the future.  But for now, nothing stated in the article about the genome itself provided clear evidence for evolutionary theory: just empty promises, like  “Having the reference genome of this species has opened the door for carrying out studies that can look at real-time evolutionary changes on a genomic level of all of these enigmatic species.”  If something evolutionary turns up, we’ll have to report it later.


Reach out and touch:  If you thought plants are oblivious to their neighbors, you should see a report from PNAS, “Plant neighbor detection through touching leaf tips precedes phytochrome signals” (deWit et al., August 20, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1205437109 PNAS August 20, 2012).  It’s a study about the counterintuitive notion of “plant behavior.”  The lab plant Arabidopsis has been observed to reach out and touch its neighbors: “we identify a unique way for plants to detect future competitors through touching of leaf tips,” the authors stated.  “This signal occurs before light signals and appears to be the earliest means of above-ground plant–plant signaling in horizontally growing rosette plants.”

Seasonal response:  The “wisdom” of plants is noted in a short article on PhysOrg about how plants survive the winter.  “Mechanisms that protect plants from freezing are placed in storage during the summer and wisely unpacked when days get shorter,” the article began.  Specifically, the CBF pathway becomes activated when shorter periods of sunlight signal the approach of winter.  A researcher at University of Michigan apparently didn’t require evolutionary theory to observe that plants conserve their resources like any wise person would do.  “The CBF pathway is actively turned off during the summer to prevent the allocation of precious resources toward unneeded frost protection,” he said.

Wood you like to know:  Another story on PhysOrg has a lot to say about adaptive design but nothing to say about evolution.  Scientists at North Carolina State were excited to discover “a phenomenon never seen before in plants,” a transcription factor in the cytoplasm that regulates “gene expression on multiple levels, preventing abnormal or stunted growth” of wood.  “And it did so in a novel way,” the article remarked: when one of the four other proteins in its family group was present, the spliced variant was carried into the nucleus, where it bound to the family member, creating a new type of molecule that suppressed the expression of a cascade of genes.”  This behavior has not been seen in a plant before, they said.  They hope it will help genetic engineers learn how to control the amount of lignin in wood production.

Wonder wood:  Ready to hear about the next wonder material for the 21st century?  It might revolutionize construction of homes, cars, computer displays, body armor and much more.  Get ready, it is (drum roll, please): wood pulp.  That’s right: common, ordinary wood pulp is set to turn waste into gold, New Scientist reported.  Why?  It’s an all-natural replacement for expensive carbon nanotubes.  It’s called nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) and inventors think you will love it.  It’s transparent, it’s lightweight, and it’s strong, with a strength-to-weight ratio eight times better than stainless steel.  To manufacture it, engineers take plain old plant material (small twigs and branches work just fine – even sawdust) and purify it by removing lignin and hemicellulose.  By the time they mill it, give it an acid bath and concentrate it into crystals, it becomes a thick paste that can be applied as a laminate or shaped into almost anything.  “The beauty of this material is that it is so abundant we don’t have to make it,” one manufacturer reported. It’s also safe for humans and green for the environment.  The price is expected to drop as large-scale production plants ramp up.  In the excitement of design talk, nobody seemed interested in mentioning evolution.

Lignin:  Speaking of wood, Dr. Doug Axe of the Biologic Institute spoke on Intelligent Design the Future why evolution cannot explain the second-most-common biopolymer on earth after cellulose, lignin – the molecule that gives woody plants their strength.  Axe and two other researchers found a compelling design inference in the global ecological dependence on lignin’s specific properties – properties that give rise to humus in topsoil.  Further, though microbes consume cellulose for energy, no microbe has ever evolved the ability to consume lignin.  “What is a paradox for Darwinism makes perfect sense from a design point of view,” he said.  See the abstract of his paper in the journal Bio-Complexity.

The sooner we get evolutionary just-so storytelling out of science, the better.  Science no longer needs Darwin’s ball and chain.  Onward and upward into the Intelligent Design century!


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