August 1, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

Platypus Evolution "Remains a Mystery"

Evolution spectacularly fails to explain one of the planet’s most intriguing animals.

No contest. It was like watching a presumed world champion forfeit at the beginning of a highly-advertised boxing match. The National Geographic banner reads, “How the Venomous, Egg-Laying Platypus Evolved.” The tension in the arena is electric as the champion steps into the ring. The announcer introduces the champion and states the rules. Finally, NG will crush the creationist opponent by answering the long-standing challenge!

If there was a poster animal for diversification, it would have to be the platypus. It looks like an otter that’s gone trick-or-treating as a duck.

It’s a mashup that inspired Mark Anthony Libre to ask Weird Animal Question of the Week: “How did [the platypus] evolve in this unlikely fashion?

It was not to be. The presumed champion quit in the first round, uttering a barrage of excuses. Reporter Liz Langley interviews shamed contestant Wes Warren (Washington University, St Louis) for explanation.

  • “The platypus is an Australian mammal with some weirdly reptilian traits, like egg-laying.” This is an observation, not an explanation.
  • “While we think of mammals and reptiles as very different, at one time they were more closely related,” says Warren. This is an assertion from his own position, not an argument.
  • “Warren led the 2008 study that found that the platypus has genetic similarities to reptiles, birds, and mammals.” This should constitute a falsification to evolutionists, since the three groups are separated by millions of years, and no other mammal retained the particular traits of the platypus. Langley writes, “Mammal-like reptiles diverged from the lineage they shared with birds and reptiles about 280 million years ago.” Then in the evolutionary scenario, “Around 80 million years later, the monotremes—or egg-laying mammals—split off from the mammalian lineage, says Rebecca Young, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin,” intervening like an assistant helping to help revive the boxer who is sweating in the corner.
  • How about some fossils? Warren points to an extinct monotreme from South America with a duckbilled snout like the platypus’s, but then says, “but is likely not close kin.” The crowd boos, impatient with the lack of explanation.
  • Warren quits the arena without answering the challenge. “But why platypuses ‘stopped evolving and losing these components that make a mammal a mammal,’ such as fur, remains a mystery, says Warren.”
  • Seeking to save face after the disastrous forfeit, the assistant intercedes again: “Speaking of evolution, the platypus is a good reminder that the process can be random, with mutations and adaptations that happen along the way, Young says.”

The forfeiture is evident from Young’s appeal to the Stuff Happens Law. But the platypus is clearly not random. It is a unified whole, fully adapted to its habitat. It can hunt in the dark with an electric sense. It has cute eyes and sleek fur. The males have a poison spur on the foot that Warren knows cannot be explained by mutations and selection over millions of years.

Warren led a 2010 study that found 83 toxins in platypuses’ venom, which contains genes that resemble the venom genes of other animals, including snakes, starfish, and spiders.

So what is his explanation for that? Langley displays it on the arena’s projection screens: “It’s likely an example of convergent evolution, in which unrelated species evolve similar traits.” Excuses about convergence are even evident in the platypus’s scientific name: Ornithorhynchus paradoxus, which means, “a paradox of an animal with a bird-like mouth.”

The creationist challenger is doing a victory dance in the ring, to the cheers of the crowd, as Warren’s supporters boo and leave in disgust. “Convergent evolution” is no explanation at all. A trait is unlikely to emerge by chance one time, let alone 83 times! Does Warren and his NG sponsor really expect the crowd to believe that the platypus lucked out imitating snakes, starfish and spiders?

The creationist takes the microphone. “The platypus is real,” he says. “It’s not a duck costume stuck on an otter.” He reminds them that evolutionists at first thought the platypus was a hoax when it was revealed to British scientists in 1798 (British zoologist George Shaw even cut into the duckbill with scissors, looking for stitches). Instead, he continues, the platypus is a beautifully designed animal with numerous irreducibly complex traits magnificently designed for its habitat. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” he quips, to the chuckles of the audience, “if the Creator made the platypus to embarrass evolutionists.”






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