July 25, 2017 | David F. Coppedge

Darwin Fail: Surprising Organisms Follow Their Own Path

There are organisms that change too fast, others that change too slow, and others that change without natural selection. What’s a Darwinist to do?

The horses that evolve by intelligent design: Here’s a surprising bit of news from Science Daily: “Most modern horses are descendants of recently imported Oriental stallions.” How recently? Just 700 years ago. “Researchers who have analyzed the Y chromosomes of more than 50 horses representing 21 breeds have found that the paternal lines of nearly all modern horses trace to stallions brought to Europe from the Orient over the last 700 years,” this article says. “The findings reported in Current Biology on June 29 reveal the overwhelming influence of breeding schemes driven by strong selection on males.” When you think of all the variation in modern breeds, that’s a lot of change brought about by purpose and design.

Doggone wolves: A new study of dog origins “throws dog domestication theories to the wolves,” says Phys.org. Like the horse family tree, the dog family tree “has a single geographic origin,” Science Daily says. “The finding, to be published in Nature Communications, suggests a single domestication event of modern dogs from a population of gray wolves that occurred between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago.” Those are Darwin Years, of course, which can stretch and squeeze whichever way needed to preserve the Darwin narrative. And it may take more Darwin Years to figure this out: “Overall, he emphasized, their new genomic analysis of ancient dogs will help scientists better understand the process of dog evolution.” If you need to understand cat evolution, chief storyteller Mindy Weisberger at Live Science attempts to answer, “Why Dog Breeds Look So Very Different, But Cats Don’t,” appealing to different values of Darwin Years. But of course, artificial breeding is about intelligent design, not evolution. Nevertheless, the transformation of a wolf into a dachshund or a greyhound by artificial breeding is remarkable. See our 5/30/17 article, “Dog breeding: exploring the limits of change.”

Nice kitty: The first-ever photo taken of a wild lioness nursing a leopard cub has been posted by National Geographic. Those two species are supposed to be rivals, not friends. “In fact, lions have a habit of killing leopards,” the surprised reporter says of this “unprecedented” behavior observed in Tanzania. Conservationist Luke Hunter quipped, “We never see this in the wild.” And yet scientists knew it is physiologically possible. “While the arrangement is unusual, Hunter says there’s nothing physiologically that should prevent the lion from raising the leopard. Both species produce similar milk and undergo comparable nursing periods.”

The vegetarian shark: This headline from National Geographic should perk up the ears of “Shark Tank” fans: “This Shark Eats Grass, and No One Knows Why.” A certain bonnethead shark seems to be going vegan, consuming salad for 50% of its diet. “Scientists have discovered that some sharks are eating a large amount of seagrass, as a significant part of their diet—but experts aren’t sure why the fish are deviating from their traditional carnivorous diet.”

Underwater firewood: 60,000 years is a long time for wood to get waterlogged in the ocean, but a video clip at the BBC News worries that divers might try to pull up an “underwater forest” for souvenirs. Has this wood really been buried 60 feet down for that long a time? The stumps now underwater off the coast of Alabama resemble living trees that live in North Carolina today. From the video, the wood looks just like waterlogged wood, not rock. The researcher wanting to protect it drags “climate change” into the story, showing that it’s “proof positive” that sea level rise can occur quickly. What seems to escape the BBC is that SUV’s and coal plants could not have been responsible for sea level rise 60,000 years ago. Live Science doesn’t budge on the 60,000 year date of this “amazing discovery” of an underwater forest, calling it “the oldest of its kind anywhere in the world.” Live Science also posted a video and a photo gallery of the wood. Looks pretty modern.

The ancient complex cells: Phytoplankton rule the oceans, CNRS tells us, and they have from long ago. And yet they engage in one of the most complex activities of any cell: photosynthesis. Science Daily says this about fossil eukaryotic plankton found in Australia and Africa: “These microfossils are unusual not only because they are so old, appearing in the geologic record about a billion years after Earth formed 4.6 billion years ago, but because they are large, complex, plankton-like and autotrophs — organisms that can turn inorganic elements into organic material.”

The enzyme that refuses to evolve: Bacteria should be the fastest organisms to evolve, because of their numbers and rapid reproduction times. Phys.org talks about a “Four-billion-year-old ‘fossil’ protein resurrected in bacteria” that works pretty much today as it did four billion years ago. “Thioredoxin, a versatile work-horse protein that moves electrons around so that chemical reactions in the cell can occur, is a favorite in the lab because it has been around almost since the origin of life and it is present in all modern organisms,” the article says. “We can’t live without it, nor can E. coli.” It was “a bit surprising” to researchers to find that a reconstructed “primordial” form of the enzyme retained function in today’s counterparts, even though modern bacteria have a completely different environment. The authors found a way to end with a plug for Darwin.

Darwin beak airful: What controls beak size in birds? Is it temperature, or is it food? The Grants, studying Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos for decades, thought it was feeding habits. An article on Phys.org tests the idea that temperature or climate has an effect. The results were suggestive but not straightforward: “it’s not yet clear from that whether adaptation to improve feeding efficiency is the only, or even the most important, factor in driving beak evolution across millions of years,” the researchers said, noting that results were not quite as expected: “the researchers found no correlation with summer temperatures but a clear one for winter—the coldest winters were associated with the smallest beaks, whereas warmer winters were associated with larger beaks.” So even though the results were ambiguous, they thought it “exciting” to be working on a problem that had intrigued Darwin. Let’s see; how long ago was Darwin speculating on that? “The next step would be to better understand the relationship between these two factors—feeding efficiency and winter temperatures—in the overall narrative of beak evolution.” Emphasis on narrative (i.e., story).

The raven paradox: A paper in Science Magazine announces, “Ravens parallel great apes in flexible planning for tool use and bartering.” Boeckle and Clayton say in a summary of the paper in the same issue of Science, “These results suggest that planning for the future is not uniquely human and evolved independently in distantly related species to address common problems.” Ah yes, convergent evolution: the handiest device in the Darwin-rescue toolkit. That’s the explanation the researchers give in Science Magazine, attributing the similar outcomes in “distantly related species” (apes and crows) to similar selective pressures. But is it smart for humans to employ Darwin Flubber in explanation? “We Knew Ravens Are Smart,” National Geographic quips. “But Not This Smart.”

Invisible convergence: Another article uses the convergence concoction to explain marine organisms that employ optical tricks to appear invisible. Jasmin Fox at the BBC News showcases some of these amazing creatures in her stunning photo gallery, only to mix in the Flubber by saying, “It’s so popular in fact that transparency has independently evolved multiple times in completely unrelated animals.” Enjoy the photos anyway. The sea sapphires are especially cute.

So much of the Darwin controversy would end if the true believers gave up on the “narrative” business and followed the evidence where it leads. No more moyboy assumptions. No more Darwin Flubber. No more rescue devices. No more propping up Darwin. Make him stand on his own. Turn off the blower. Watch what happens.

Animation by J. Beverly Greene for CEH. All rights reserved.

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  • DaveD says:

    I am curious about the statement in the Live Science article about the Cypress swamp that says: “…radiocarbon dating from nearby sediments suggests the forest dates to an ice age that prevailed more than 50,000 years ago.” Wouldn’t it make more sense to date the wood itself? Did they try it and find the dates were not to their liking? Pity the location of the wood is kept secret so no one else could do the obvious test.

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