January 25, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

How to Respect a Crow

They’re black and noisy, but the more you learn about crows, the more you will appreciate them—or at least respect them as you shoo them from your scarecrow.

Upgrading crow reputation:  The bad reputation of crows is not “entirely” deserved, writes SINC, in an article that tries to “demystify” the black birds.  The crow family, which includes crows, ravens and magpies, is called the Corvids.  Don’t crows attack and kill other birds? A new study showed that “they have a much smaller effect on other bird species than was previously thought.”  Yes, they do prey on other birds, but they don’t wipe them out:

Comparing crows and magpies, the scientists showed that in 62% of cases crows impacted negatively on the reproduction of their prey, whilst magpies had a negative effect in 12% of cases. “But no differences related to the abundance of prey were noted,” the scientist affirms.

For the authors of this piece of research, given the results it is necessary to “be cautious” when drawing conclusions on the impact of magpies or crows on the populations of their prey. “This method of managing populations is frequently ineffective and unnecessary,” Arroyo finishes.

Nevertheless, crows do harass chicken farmers, and scarecrows in cornfields are undoubtedly still necessary.  One reason we hate them is our own pride.  They’re so doggone smart, they outsmart us!

Crow reasoning:  Strange as it seems, crows have the ability to do abstract reasoning on the level of primates.  Experiments reported in Current Biology show them scoring high. But are they ready for philosophy?

Our results thus constitute unprecedented behavioral evidence of analogical reasoning by a nonprimate animal. They therefore add to growing research undermining the influential claims of such famous philosophers as René Descartes and John Locke that only humans are capable of abstract thought. Relational reasoning—particularly appreciating the relation between relations, as in analogies—can no longer be deemed to be the unique pinnacle of human cognition.

In the same issue of Current Biology, psychologist Jennifer Vonk is not quite ready to swallow those implications wholeheartedly:

New research indicates that crows are capable of matching stimuli on the basis of analogical relations: that is, similarity of size, color and shape. This may be the first evidence for spontaneous analogical reasoning outside of the primate order….

Despite decades of research that has revealed tantalizing evidence for the presence of relational understanding in various primate species, some researchers claim that this capacity forms a fundamental divide between humans and all other species. This conclusion — implying that Darwin was misinformed in his assertion of continuity between man and beast — has met with resistance, subject to the accusation that some researchers are motivated by the desire to keep moving the goal posts so that no other species could ever challenge perceived human superiority. Those who support the idea of cognitive continuity have pushed back with increasing demonstrations of even more distantly related species evidencing abilities previously deemed unique to humans. As they report in this issue of Current Biology, Smirnova et al. have followed suit with their new claim that crows are capable of analogical reasoning; that is, of understanding that the relationship between two or more objects is the same as, or different from, the relationship between two other objects.

Vonk points out that pigeons and parrots aren’t too shabby on intelligence tests, either. She finds a few flaws in Smirnova et al.‘s procedures, and hopes further experiments will clarify the amount of cognitive ability in birds. The authors themselves cannot rule out some investigator interference.  Nevertheless, “the claim for evidence of analogical reasoning in the crow deserves great scrutiny,” Vonk thinks.  “In particular, the finding that crows performed equally as well on tests of analogical reasoning as they did on tests of perceptual similarity matching should be considered surprising.” Whether this shows evidence of a continuum between humans an animals is not so clear:

All of this is not to say that I believe that crows do not possess relational knowledge — they very well might. But it is to say that we must be cautious in granting abilities to animals that are interesting largely because they potentially break down the human erected divide between humans and other animals, and less so because they illuminate some aspect of animal cognition that explains that particular animal’s umwelt. It has become something of a ‘holy grail’ type pursuit to find evidence for abilities that have served to enforce this divide, often times little justified by an interest in how that species solves problems presented in their evolutionary history or current environment. And, if we cannot conclusively demonstrate the presence of such traits against all alternative interpretations — some of them resting on simpler cognitive mechanisms — then we are dismantling Morgan’s canon [similar to Occan’s Razor for interpreting apparent cognitive traits] at the cost of maintaining theoretical rigor.

So Vonk is tantalized, yet cautious, about this apparent new evidence that might break down any wall between man and animals.  The problem for Darwinists, though, is that any common ancestor between humans and crows would have to be so far back in the evolutionary tree that crows’ mental abilities could not have been inherited from it. Smirnova et al. recognize this and pull out the Darwinists’ favorite magic wand:

It may be no accident that crows performed so impressively in our study; they stand out among birds in their highly developed neuroanatomy. More generally, mounting evidence indicates that although birds do not have a brain structure that is homologous to the mammalian prefrontal cortex, the avian nidopallium caudolaterale may effectively mediate complex cognitive functions, perhaps representing a case of convergent evolution.

So when you look at a crow, and the crow looks at you, what are you both thinking? A philosopher says, “All ravens are black.” Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.” Some are, indeed, non-black.

Ravens, parakeets, parrots, and mynah birds are smart enough to mimic sounds, but do they understand the words? Does the raven comprehend the semantics of the sound it makes? Nevermore. Only Poe’s who write poems do.

Both evolutionary explanations are absurdly illogical or improbable. Traits for analogical thinking could not be inherited from a common ancestor, because nobody believes that salamanders have the trait. (Even if they did, where did they get it from? It just pushes the origin further back in time, making it more miraculous.) The magic wand of “convergent evolution” is an ad hoc theory rescue device devoid of content, an escape from rigor, not an explanation for it. If the origin of reasoning is improbable once, it is doubly improbable twice.

Proposing that an intelligent cause (the Creator God) endowed creatures with intelligence they require for their needs is the only explanation that makes sense. It fits the observations and links the effects to a necessary and sufficient cause. That cause is one we understand from our uniform experience. Every time we see the origin of an intelligent process (such as software or robotics), we know that intelligence was the cause.

There are some good shots of crows flying acrobatically in Flight: The Genius of Birds.  Paul Nelson makes the point, “You don’t just partly fly; because flight requires more than just having a pair of wings. It requires having all your anatomy geared to that function.” Crows are excellent flyers. Watch them pass twigs between one another, chase off hawks bigger than they are, and call to their comrades with complex variations of “caw, caw!” The way to respect a crow is to marvel at the engineering our Creator put into it.



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