Beetle Diversity Without Evolution
To believe the Darwinian account of beetle diversification, you have to be willing to accept miracles.
Taking a swipe at creationists, the communist evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane is said to have quipped that if a Creator exists, he must have “an inordinate fondness for beetles.”* While beetles number in hundreds of thousands of species, other groups of organisms (particularly microbes) also show remarkable diversity. But is species richness the criterion for what a Creator cares most about? The comment could be inverted, so as to point to the single species of Homo sapiens as the singular object of God’s love, the crown of creation. Instead of beetle-counting, Haldane might better have contemplated what beetles do for ecosystems: i.e., what beneficial roles they play that might require diversity. It’s a mighty big world for such small animals. Richard Jones wrote in The Guardian, “Why beetles are the most important organisms on the planet” (25 Jan 2018),
They live in water, up trees, in the soil, in ant nests, in bee burrows, in our homes; they visit flowers, they patrol leaves, they fly and bump at the lighted window of a late summer evening. Platypsyllus castoris lives in the pelts of beavers, scraping a living from dead skin and sebaceous secretions. Beetles live everywhere and do everything.
Two recent papers attempt to account for the evolution of beetle diversity. Beetles (order Coleoptera, or “sheath-wing”) are considered by Darwinists to be one of the best examples of “adaptive radiation” and “evolutionary diversification” after their appearance in the Carboniferous (assuming the Darwin Years timeline). But is evolution the best explanation? After all, creationists allow for a great deal of “horizontal” diversification within genera and families, through sharing of pre-existing genetic information. Non-Darwinian mechanisms might include hybridization, introgression, gene loss or duplication, exaggeration of existing traits, epigenetics (e.g., gene regulation, RNA editing, alternative splicing), retrovirus embedding and horizontal gene transfer (see Evolution News about this). Darwinists, by contrast, need to explain every innovation by random mutation and natural selection (RM+NS). Can they do it without reference to miracles of emergence: i.e., the Stuff Happens Law?
The evolution and genomic basis of beetle diversity (PNAS). In this paper, two dozen Darwinists purport to explain beetle evolution from a common ancestor by unguided natural processes. Remember, their burden is to show that RM+NS can do it all. To distinguish themselves from creationists, they must go beyond the processes that creationists already accept, as listed above.
We inferred the phylogeny and evolution of beetles using genomic data of an unprecedented scale. Moreover, we documented the diversification of plant-feeding (herbivorous) beetles, which account for nearly half of all beetle species and a similar proportion of herbivorous insects, following convergent horizontal transfers of bacterial and fungal genes enabling the digestion of lignocellulose in plant cell walls. Our findings clarify beetle phylogenetic relationships and reveal new insights into the evolution of specialized herbivory and why there are so many species of beetles. Furthermore, they underscore the intimacy and complexity of the evolutionary relationships between insects, plants, and microorganisms and show how analyses of large-scale genomic data are revealing the evolution and genomic basis of insect biodiversity.
In short, they theorize that beetles got the secret of plant digestion from bacteria, by means of horizontal gene transfer (HGT) of “plant cell wall-degrading enzymes (PCWDEs).” That’s not Darwinian evolution. It’s sharing of existing genetic information. From that premise, the evolutionists think that this step “facilitated” rapid diversification of beetles.
Amplification and functional divergence of PCWDEs post-HGT may have facilitated the evolution of increasingly specialized plant-feeding habits in Buprestoidea and Phytophaga, including the exploitation of woody tissues and pectin-rich young leaves and stems, seeds, and fruits. The existence of multiple copies of these genes in most beetle genomes may reduce constraints on their functional evolution, facilitating substrate diversification (activity toward additional/different plant cell wall polysaccharides) post-HGT.
They believe this simply because of their faith in the creative power of natural selection (but see 8 Nov 2019, “Must adaptation be evolutionary?”). Presumably, if circumstances “reduce constraints” on natural selection, “functional evolution” will be unleashed to work its miracles, and a plethora of innovations will appear on cue. But do the Darwinians really understand this? Do they know anything about how this could have happened?
The extraordinary diversity of beetles (order Coleoptera; >400,000 species) has been attributed chiefly to the adaptive radiation of specialized herbivorous beetles feeding on flowering plants (angiosperms). However, the evolution of herbivory and its impacts on beetle diversification remain poorly understood. We used large-scale genomic data to infer the phylogeny of beetles, reconstruct timing and patterns of beetle diversification, and trace the evolution of beetle genes enabling specialized herbivory. Our results shed light on the evolution of plant feeding and reveal endogenous plant cell wall-degrading enzymes (PCWDEs) as a key innovation in the adaptive radiation of beetles on plants.
Back up a step, and ask where the bacteria got this “key innovation” they passed on to beetles. The authors don’t say. Maybe a miracle occurred (the Stuff Happens Law). If they assume natural selection did it, remember that Stephen Talbott complained (15 Nov 2019) that NS is a vacuous idea masquerading as explanation. In this PNAS paper, it’s notable that with all the talk about evolution and phylogeny, there is zero discussion of mutation and natural selection! The “key innovation” occurred (in their explanation) by horizontal gene transfer (HGT).
Beetle diversity thus appears to have resulted from multiple factors, including low extinction rates over a long evolutionary history, codiversification with angiosperms, and adaptive radiations of specialized herbivorous beetles following convergent horizontal transfers of microbial genes encoding PCWDEs….
The appearance of similar expansive arrays of PCWDEs in Buprestoidea and Phytophaga, separated by over 250 Ma of evolution, appears to result from convergent evolution via HGT, rather than vertical transmission from a common ancestor (Figs. 1 and 3). However, the mechanisms behind these HGT events remain obscure.
Creationists would explain the observations differently. Horizontal variation has occurred extensively among taxonomic orders, they would argue, that were created to function in particular environments. Since the Fall and the curse, some beetles became harmful and pathogenic to humans. Overall, though, there is wisdom and design evident in the harmony of ecosystems. Creationists would expect to find natural relationships between the genera and species that diversified from their created kinds, but not Darwin’s “tree of life” diagram demanding a single root of all life.
In short, creationists have a cause that is necessary and sufficient for the complex design of beetles: intelligence. Evolution rests on chance. RM is chance (random mutation). NS is chance as well; everything that happens is unguided, purposeless and vacuous. So which cause does better explaining beetle diversity – intelligent design, or “Stuff Happens”?
The multistep morphing of beetle horns (Science Magazine). This article takes a look at a particular aspect of some beetles: their long horns. Author H. Frederik Nijhout, commenting on another paper in the same issue by Hu, Lenz and Mozcek, propose that beetle horns are modified wings. Enjoy Nijhout’s “Darwin was wrong” opening:
As with most complex problems, the simple, easy-to-understand hypothesis that novel traits arise from new genetic mutations is wrong. Although scientists have known this for decades, an alternative explanation has yet to present itself. On page 1004 of this issue, Hu et al. show that deciphering the mechanisms underlying the evolution of a new biological trait is intimately intertwined with our evolving understanding of the concept of homology and its role in developmental genetics.
What’s evolving is not the beetles, apparently, but the theory of evolution! Consider what was just said here. Evolutionists have known for decades that novel traits do NOT arise by genetic mutations, but that’s what they continue to teach everyone else. Whether or not readers accept the authors’ claim that horns are modified wings, they should be angry at having been so misled.
So how did wings evolve into horns? Let’s see how well they understand it. Here’s how Nijout ends his just-so story, ‘How the beetle got its horns’ —
The single medial horn of these beetles thus appears to come about by the migration and fusion of two lateral primordia derived from the dorsal wing field. It seems possible, therefore, that beetles that have two horns fail to merge their primordia, and those with four horns split the two primordia. The flexibility of using wing genes to initiate a primordium and then building on that foundation by selecting for genetic networks that promote specific morphogenesis might well have been the foundation for the elaborate and sometimes riotous diversification of form seen in the pronotum of insects. This raises a new question: What is the primitive function of what is now called the wing gene network? Is it to specify wings, or are wings latecomers in a network that evolved to regulate various outgrowths on the thorax and abdomen? Novelty may be in the eye of the beholder.
Under the most generous interpretation, applying the most compassionate attempt to believe this story, it goes the wrong way for Darwin. A wing can fly. A horn cannot. This would represent devolution, not evolution.
The authors of the paper (Hu et al.) begin with another shocker: “Understanding how novel complex traits originate is a foundational challenge in evolutionary biology.” That’s an astounding admission. Remember, evolutionists need to get from bacteria to human brains. That’s a lot of origination of novel complex traits. Here, 160 years after Darwin’s Origin, evolutionists are clueless about the very basis of their belief!
*The statement by Haldane may be apocryphal, misquoted or misattributed. The Darwinists who repeat it, though, commit the Self-Refuting Fallacy. They judge the fondness to be “inordinate,” which implies moral judgment. But if the “evolution of morality” was unguided and purposeless, they have no foundation for assessing ordinance or inordinance.