January 10, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Prune Fingers and Evolutionary Explanations

The ways various news organizations cover the same news story – why swimmers’ fingers get wrinkled – provides a test case on whether evolutionary theory adds any value.

It’s one of those things we all know from experience but only a scientist would want to explain: why do our fingers get wrinkled like prunes after about 5 minutes underwater?  Recent studies show that the phenomenon is controlled by the autonomous nervous system.  Tom Smulders, an evolutionary biologist at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, decided to run some experiments.  Bottom line: the wrinkles may serve a purpose, helping us to grip things better underwater.

We could leave it at that, but some news sources wanted to invoke evolutionary theory to explain it.  Other sources, though secular and supportive of evolution, didn’t refer to it.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Jonathan Amos at the BBC News gave evolution the most credit.  Right off the bat, he said prune fingers “suggest our ancestors may have evolved the creases as they moved and foraged for food in wet conditions.” Finding that they are under nervous system control “led scientists into thinking there must be some deeper evolutionary justification for the ridges.”  Smulders considered it “less of a leap to assume there must be a function for it, and that evolution has selected it. And evolution wouldn’t have selected it unless it conferred some sort of advantage.
  • Helen Thomson at New Scientist didn’t refer to evolution at all.  “Why do our fingers do prune impressions when soaked? It could be an adaptation that gives us better grip underwater,” she said, referring only to the functional purpose of a better grip.  A lot of her readers, though, got into evolution debates in the comments.
  • Sid Perkins at Science Now invoked evolution three times.  “Having something under the direct control of a nerve, even an involuntary one, suggests it serves an evolutionary purpose,” he said, adding later, “It’s also unclear whether wrinkles evolved to help us grasp underwater objects, or whether they’re simply a byproduct of a nervous system quirk. Weber says finding out whether such puckering occurs in other primates might shed light on the evolutionary origins of the phenomenon.

So while most reporters invoked evolution, a couple did not.  Were they lacking anything for the omission?  All of the articles noted that there appears to be a purpose for wrinkled fingers underwater, but none of them explained how a purposeless process could arrive at purpose.

The only vestigial organ left in evolutionary theory is evolution itself.  You can see how it was completely useless as an explanation for this simple phenomenon, a vestige of an outworn Victorian myth.  The reporters either (1) cheat or (2) misunderstand evolution when they say that prune fingers “evolved to” or “evolved for” anything.  Evolve is not an active verb; it’s passive.  It’s a passive result of happenstance, not a force leading to a purposeful end.  If wrinkly fingers appeared by happenstance, and they happened to have a function, evolution couldn’t care less.  It’s especially hilarious to believe that the evolution made the autonomic nervous system fine-tune this adaptation, enabling it on fingers and toes but not on biceps or buttocks (don’t monkeys sit on rocks underwater?).  When speaking of purpose, adaptation, and function, we should be thinking intelligent design – the only cause capable of achieving purposeful ends.

Here are some new oxymorons provided by the reporters to add to your Darwin Funnies file: evolutionary justification, evolutionary purpose, evolutionary function.  Think about that first one for awhile until you LOL.

Evolution gets tacked onto these stories by human beings who innately understand purpose.  They purposefully add evolution as an entertaining wrinkle on their story, but it doesn’t help scientific explanation get a grip.


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  • Donald Holliday says:

    I saw this on the news feed when it came out and it blows me away how these intellects who claim to be the keepers of the faith will never once question the absurd asinine fables invented by their own trying desperately to justify the faith. Prune fingers for foraging shellfish in water indeed.

    I had a similar conversation with a Korean evolutionist explaining to me the origin of Asian eyes. He said they developed during the ice age when people in China living in icy and snowy conditions had to squint a lot to see. Seriously, that’s what he said. He also said that dark skin races had a natural sunscreen and European whites didn’t need it because they had less sunshine. I told him it doesn’t explain why Eskimos have dark skin. And yet they continually demonize the biblical creation account, which admittedly is only written for the purpose of giving simple but amazingly pertinent observational step by step occurrences which simply omit any mechanical explanations. Mankind has all eternity to research and study to identify those mechanisms. While many creationists sometimes lose the purpose of the reason why the Bible was written in the first place, that is to address the issues regarding the fall of mankind and the solution thereafter, it may well have been written differently had the first couple showed and proved their integrity to a very simple command.

    Still, it is the church of evolutionism which has fabricated the worst myths which insult the intellect. Just think of how science has been extremely held back rather than advanced for the benefit of all mankind.

  • justme says:

    @Donald, what prescient comment. The psychological diseases infecting humanity are many, but in my opinion, Darwinism and Islam are the worst. Their track record of slaughter speaks for itself .

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