Santa’s Reindeer Latest Victims of Darwin Storytellers
Darwinists play Pin the Ruminants on the Darwin Tree, including reindeer, cows, goats and sheep.
Ruminants are highly diverse and successful mammals. They are cud-chewing herbivores with multi-chambered stomachs that metabolize plant material with the help of bacteria that break down cellulose. Beyond that, there appears little in common between the 200 or so species. Giraffes, bison, deer, cows, sheep and goats are all ruminants. We get the word “ruminate” from the habit of pondering an idea like a cow chews its cud. Some members of this large family, like bighorn sheep and reindeer, have prominent “headgear,” in the form of horns or antlers. Science Magazine published a special issue about ruminants after the genomes of 44 species were sequenced. Without question, ruminants provide extreme economic value to mankind. But all most of the scientists could think about were how they evolved, and which evolved from which. Science Daily says in summary,
The team generated more than 40 trillion base pairs of raw DNA sequences and assembled them into genomes for 44 species. Based on this data they were able to create a new family tree for ruminants — placing the largest (giraffe) and smallest (lesser mouse deer) on some of the earliest branches after ruminants emerged as a group 32 to 39 million years ago.
Gathering genomic data is interesting and valuable, as is learning all we can about our ruminant friends. Such knowledge can help us protect them and benefit from their presence even more. Given the authors’ obsession with Darwinism, though, a question before us should be, “What value does evolutionary theory provide to our understanding of ruminants?”
Ruminants: Evolutionary past and future impact (Dai Fei Elmer Ker and Yunzhi Peter Yang, Science). This short article summarizing the research papers uses the word “evolution” 17 times. Since evolution is an assumption and not a demonstration, the authors are found tweaking evolutionary “rates” to keep everything fitting Darwinism. Headgear present? It evolved. Headgear absent? It evolved, too. “The genomic resources and evolutionary insights derived from these studies are likely to contribute to ruminant agriculture and conservation,” they say. Well, which is it? Genomic resources can be informative about conservation, but what’s Darwinism got to do with it?
Large-scale ruminant genome sequencing provides insights into their evolution and distinct traits (Chen et al., Science). This large team of Chinese scientists spoke only of evolution. “Our results demonstrate the power of using comparative phylogenomic approaches in resolving the deep branches of phylogeny that result from rapid radiations,” they say. “The data and results presented in this study provide valuable resources and insights into the evolution of ruminant and mammalian biology.” The power and the value, though, only accrue to satisfying the feelings of Darwinists about how well they can force-fit data into their belief. Hamburger eaters and deer hunters are unlikely to care.
Biological adaptations in the Arctic cervid, the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) (Lin et al., Science). Santa’s reindeer are the latest victims of Darwin storytellers. The paper is another bedtime story for unsophisticated readers content to let ‘experts’ inform them that whatever exists, it evolved. Every factor in the story (such as evolutionary rate) is flexible, but the backbone narrative (Darwinism is a fact) is not open to criticism. Sample:
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are naturally distributed across the Arctic and subarctic regions. They face challenges such as severe cold and limited food availability during the winter and prolonged periods of both light and darkness during the year and have thus had to evolve strategies and features to address these environmental obstacles.
Knowing how genes confer adaptation to cold is interesting, but did reindeer “have to evolve” strategies to achieve it? Did they do it by intelligent design? Did they have a committee meeting and decide what genes to change? Obviously not. Creationists discuss engineered adaptability that is programmed into genomes of related animals that can respond to environmental triggers, leading to diversification at the species and genus level (example at ICR), but that’s intelligent design. What in Darwin’s mechanism can produce giraffes and reindeer from a supposed common ancestor by random mutations?
Genetic basis of ruminant headgear and rapid antler regeneration (Wang et al., Science). The Chinese sure have an obsession with Darwin in this series. But of course, so do Americans and Europeans. Since headgear exists (the thinking goes), it must have evolved. Creationists can accept variations in headgear to an extent, such as varieties of points in deer antlers, but the origin of these rapidly-growing structures is a different matter. Some headgear can grow very fast – 1.7 cm per day in red deer. Surprisingly, the presence of headgear sometimes correlates with the absence of cancer. And yet in other species, headgear have been lost. Is evolution obvious in this phenomenon?
Ruminants are a diverse group of mammals that includes families containing well-known taxa such as deer, cows, and goats. However, their evolutionary relationships have been contentious, as have the origins of their distinctive digestive systems and headgear, including antlers and horns (see the Perspective by Ker and Yang). To understand the relationships among ruminants, L. Chen et al. sequenced 44 species representing 6 families and performed a phylogenetic analysis. From this analysis, they were able to resolve the phylogeny of many genera and document incomplete lineage sorting among major clades. Interestingly, they found evidence for large population reductions among many taxa starting at approximately 100,000 years ago, coinciding with the migration of humans out of Africa. Examining the bony appendages on the head—the so-called headgear—Wang et al. describe specific evolutionary changes in the ruminants and identify selection on cancer-related genes that may function in antler development in deer.
Evolutionary relationships have been contentious, they say. Some genes imply incomplete lineage sorting, they say. There have been large population reductions, they say. The Abstract adds,
Ruminants are the only extant mammalian group possessing bony (osseous) headgear. We obtained 221 transcriptomes from bovids and cervids and sequenced three genomes representing the only two pecoran lineages that convergently lack headgear. Comparative analyses reveal that bovid horns and cervid antlers share similar gene expression profiles and a common cellular basis developed from neural crest stem cells. The rapid regenerative properties of antler tissue involve exploitation of oncogenetic pathways, and at the same time some tumor suppressor genes are under strong selection in deer. These results provide insights into the evolutionary origin of ruminant headgear as well as mammalian organ regeneration and oncogenesis.
Organ regeneration is of interest to science, but once again, the evolutionary storytelling seems superfluous despite evolution being mentioned 47 times in this paper. Nothing about evolution is certain: “The evolutionary origin of headgear, specifically whether headgear evolved only once or multiple times, has been a matter of considerable scientific discussion,” they say – contentious discussion, indeed. So if they find a fit to an evolutionary tree, will that be the last word? Unlikely, because they have to make assumptions and tweak variables (like convergence and “rapidly evolving genes”) to get their data to fit. They admit as much:
Headgear evolution is still debated, partly because of differences in the evolutionary scenarios suggested by different phylogenic trees, coupled with the notable differences in headgear anatomy and development.
In this case, they found a similarity between neural crest stem cells in pronghorns and giraffes, and assume that proves they have a common origin. Does that make sense? Think of how many other traits distinguish those animals! The tweaks made by Wang et al. will likely be contested by others. Even so, none of the intramural rivalry between Darwinians will likely make a difference to the man on the street trying to feed his family ruminant burgers at McDonalds.
Why must data be crammed into Darwin’s story? Nothing in the data compels certain humans to arrange data into a single unified family tree that evolved from bacteria. Only the assumption that “If it exists, it evolved” motivates the obsession to do this. You can go to the zoo and have a perfectly wonderful time without thinking of Darwin. For comparison, you can get a lot done with the tools in your garage without worrying about a “tool common ancestor” in a mythical tree diagram. Ruminate on that.