May 24, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Whale of a Tail Tale

Armed with a license for just-so storytelling, evolutionists can explain anything – even opposites.

Call it research. Call it a ‘study’. Call it expert opinion. It’s still just storytelling.

Science is supposed to be about evidence and repeatable, testable demonstration. But when it comes to evolutionary explanations, scientists and reporters shed all restraint and put on their Rudyard Kipling costumes, weaving fanciful tales as if talking down to children. The children are not allowed to ask questions. What the expert says is just so.

Watch Laura Geggel engage the art in Live Science, in her story, “Tale of 2 Tails: Why Do Sharks and Whales Swim So Differently?” (emphasis on Tale). The theme is, if something exists, evolution did it. Her ‘expert’ is Kenneth Lacovara, an evolutionary paleontologist.

Whales move their tails up and down because they evolved from mammals about 50 million years ago, said Kenneth Lacovara, a professor of paleontology and geology and the dean of the School of Earth & Environment at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.

“When quadrupedal [four-legged] mammals run, their spine flexes up and down,” Lacovara told Live Science. Whales retained this anatomy, which allows them to gallop underwater, so to speak, Lacovara said.

The oldest known relation in the modern whale lineage is Pakicetus attocki, a four-legged, wolf-size mammal that likely had webbed feet. [Once upon a time,] P. attocki lived on the edges of a shallow ocean and chowed down on fish about 50 million years ago, Live Science previously reported.

As evolution progressed, the lineage that led to whales became more, for lack of a better term, whale-like. For instance, the 35-million-year-old Basilosaurus lived in the water and measured about 60 feet (18 meters) long, as long as a bowling lane. However, the animal still had tiny, dog-size hind limbs, a remnant of its quadrupedal past, according to PastTime.org.

“[The limbs] were on their way to becoming vestigial appendages,” Lacovara said. But, even as these vestigial limbs disappeared, whales were “retaining that same musculature that they got from their quadrupedal ancestors,” he said.

On the other hand, because sharks are fish, they move their tales [sic] back and forth. Even when fish first ventured onto land, they still moved in a side-to-side motion. For example, the 375-million-year-old Tiktaalik roseae, the first fish thought to venture out of the water, likely moved in a side-to-side motion, Lacovara said.

Undoubtedly, if fish were seen to move their tails up and down, and whales did the reverse, the same tale could be told with equal ease by the Darwinian storytellers. That’s because natural selection equates to the Stuff Happens Law. If an animal keeps moving its tail one way, that’s evolution. If it decides to move its tail another way, that’s evolution, too.

Tom Bethell, Darwin's House of Cards (2017)In his book Darwin’s House of Cards, journalist Tom Bethell, having interviewed leading evolutionists, argues that Darwinism is a cultural product of the ‘myth of progress’ that predominated in 19th-century Europe. We see a vestigial relic of that in Geggel’s phrase, “as evolution progressed.” But there is nothing about neo-Darwinism that requires progress. Extinction, in fact, is much more common. Evolution is so flexible, it moves forward, backward, up, down, and sideways (12/19/07). That’s because it has no guidance, no goal, no purpose. Pakicetus was not trying to become a whale.

In another recent book, Zombie Science, Jonathan Wells critically examines this new ‘icon of evolution’, the tale of the whale. He dismantles every aspect of the just-so story Geggel and Lacovara just told, showing that the fossils do not line up in a sequence, that the discoverer lied about them (inferring parts that were not found), and that the ‘vestigial’ aspect is false—the reduced limbs are functional.

So why didn’t Geggel, like a good science reporter, do her homework and ask Wells’s opinion about the observational facts of the story? After all, Wells has two PhDs, one in science (embryology), and he just researched and wrote about whale evolution, supplying numerous references. The reason: when it comes to matters of evolution, Live Science is not about science, but religion. Darwin skeptics are heretics. Only proponents of the religion are allowed to speak. As Richard Lewontin famously admitted in 1997,

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

And yet, cannot that criticism of God be turned around? Can’t it be said that anyone who believes in the Stuff Happens Law could believe in anything? Isn’t Darwinism the omnipotent deity that upsets the regularities of nature, allowing natural miracles to happen?

As evolution progressed, the lineage that led to whales became more, for lack of a better term, whale-like.

Because Jonathan Wells is an unrepentant heretic from the church of Darwin, his reputation as a scientist has been mercilessly trashed by the keepers of the faith (when it is not ignored). And so, despite his calm and factual manner, Wells jokingly advises readers of Zombie Science to make brown paper book covers for it, so that they will not be seen carrying it around.

More Storytelling

Jon Tennant is another trained just-so storyteller for the Darwin Party. In PLoS Blogs, reproduced by Phys.org, he picks up the story of how land animals learned to eat underwater. Talking down to the children, he encourages them to close their eyes and imagine:

But did you know that all marine mammals descended from common land-dwelling ancestors? It might be difficult to see that by looking at modern species alone, but that’s where the fossil record comes in handy. An accurate picture of their evolution is crucial for helping us to understand the structure of increasingly threatened aquatic ecosystems.

By looking in detail at the fossilised ancestors of marine mammals in order to understand their ecology, we can see that terrestrial mammals returned to the seas millions of years ago – this makes them secondarily aquatic. A major part of this involved the morphological and behavioural adaptations required to become specialised oceanic feeders. Anyone who’s ever tried to eat underwater will know exactly what we mean.

Evolutionary pressure is so pervasive, in fact, Tennant claims that “whales, dolphins and seals follow the same evolutionary patterns.” Too bad that birds didn’t learn their Darwin lessons. Cormorants and pelicans carry their underwater food to the shore to eat. Other birds gulp it down in the air while flying. The lesson is: evolution pushes you to learn to eat underwater, except when it doesn’t. Birds had far more time to learn their lessons than whales did. But Tennant selectively applies evolutionary principles to keep the story going:

This implies two things, evolutionarily. Firstly, that an ability to feed underwater is constrained in terms of the process of adaptation – you need to follow a specialised set of rules in order to survive. The same sort of pattern can be seen in birds, pterosaurs, and bats – all distinct lineages that independently learned how to fly. Secondly, as marine mammals also occupy a range of different feeding styles, from filter feeders to hypercarnivores, this process of adaptation seems to ultimately open up a wide diversity of possibilities for feeding behaviours.

If adaptation were a process, it would work consistently. We can see, however, that if birds had learned to eat underwater, and if marine mammals had learned to beach themselves to eat on land, that would be just fine for Darwinians. Whatever happens, they could call it ‘adaptation’ and glorify the ‘process’ that made it evolutionarily successful. Tennant ends,

This is important, as it shows us how using the fossil record opens up the process of evolution, as opposed just to looking at a product of it by focusing exclusively on modern animals.

Lesson: Don’t try and understand evolution without looking at the fossil record.

In Darwin’s fantasy storyland, whales could adapt to fly, just like Disney portrayed them in Fantasia 2000. It would be interesting to see what story a Darwin novitiate would come up with if shown that episode as a ‘documentary’ by serious colleagues and given the assignment to write an essay about how it evolved.

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We would agree with Tennant’s last sentence, in the sense that looking at the fossil record does help one understand evolution. It helps one understand that evolution is false.

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