Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Another Know-it-All ID Creationist

A commenter named Christopher at Jason Rosenhouse's Evolutionblog posted a series of questions which he must surely think is devastating to the Theory of Evolution. What it really shows is a lack of understanding of the theory, a lack of serious thought about the questions, and a complete lack of imagination (since all of these questions have been answered before).
How did the gecko develop its outstanding ability to climb? Were the hairs on its toes useless up until the time they were just right? Why haven't a host of other lizards developed such a beneficial ability?
Any competent biologist could tell you that geckos evolved their ability to stick to sheer surfaces over many generations. Their “sticky hairs” that cling by van Der Waals force had some value for climbing, which became better in later generations. Other lizards don’t have this ability because they aren’t descended from the gecko ancestor in which this feature first appeared. The gecko family of reptiles is evidence for evolution, not against it.
How did the bombardier beetle slowly evolve such a dangerous mechanism without obliterating itself into extinction? If the chemicals were not just the right strength or right ingredients, or if the control valve did not close when the explosion took place, think of the consequences. If the mechanism didn't work until fully formed, think of the extra baggage it would have been.
The bombardier beetles “explosive” chemical defense isn’t really that explosive, and the basic chemicals (hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone) aren’t all that dangerous. To paraphrase Michael Wong, the “bomb” is more like a hot fart. The chemicals that go into this defense are found in many other insects, where they serve completely different functions; the bombardier beetle family simply evolved a useful way to put them together. There are, in fact, many different species of bombardier beetle with varying degrees of sophistication in their “explosive” delivery systems. The fact that such variation in the mechanism exists blows Christopher’s “if the mechanism didn’t work fully formed” argument right out of the water.
How did the hummingbird develop into such a high-metabolic bird? Why are there not many other birds similar to it? What fossils do we have that show its gradual development into what we know them as today?
The hummingbird line of descent evolved into what they are today because of the resources they exploited and the means they used to do it. Even a light bird can’t easily feed on nectar from a flower by landing on it; very few flowers will support even that light amount of weight. Thus, those that could hover long enough to get a meal from a flower could exploit this resource more effectively, and successive generations evolved to improve their nectar-feeding abilities. And let’s not forget that many flowering plants started to evolve to take advantage of these nectar-feeding birds. As for why there aren’t many other families with similar capabilities, the answer is simple: common descent. Birds that aren’t in the “family tree” of hummingbirds won’t spontaneously display hummingbird features; again, their restriction to a particular family line is evidence for the Theory of Evolution.
How did the giraffe slowly develop such a brain structure that would allow it to raise and lower its head without any problems? If they are the result of millions of years of evolution, wherein they grew longer and longer necks overtime in order to eat from the trees, why aren't there hundreds of other animals with such necks?
Obviously, the giraffe brain structure and circulatory system were evolving at the same time that the population was growing larger and longer in the neck to exploit trees as food sources. Does Christopher think each feature of a species develops independently of the others? Again, the lack of long-necked browsers in other family lines is evidence of common descent, not design. After all, wouldn’t a designer use this nifty feature in other lines and other places?
How did male seahorses ever evolve from non-pouch to pouch? Why would they ever develop a pouch in the first place? How did the eggs survive before the male ever developed a pouch, and who convinced the male to watch over the eggs once the pouch was developed?
OK, I’ll admit it: I don't know all the answers. Seahorse reproduction does seem kind of backwards compared to that of other fish families. Of course, I would venture to say that the eggs of seahorse ancestors survived before the development of the pouch in much the same way that other fish eggs dropped in the wild survive today: numbers, location, and luck. The question of how females started dropping off eggs with the males instead of males dropping off sperm with the females is one for a biologist who actually studies seahorses, but it wouldn’t occur to Christopher to do some actual research. The fact that I don’t personally know the evolutionary answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
If the platypus developed from some type of rat millions of years ago, how did its fleshy snout develop into a leather bill? How did the electric sensors evolve where none existed before? And why do they lay eggs? Why don't many other mammals lay eggs?
Maybe you just meant it figuratively Christopher, but leather is chemically “tanned” flesh, and a platypus’ “bill” is not tanned: it’s a variety of fleshy nose. Electric sensors aren’t that odd in nature; many fish species also have them. Their reproductive system suggests that their line diverged from those of other mammals (like rats) early in the divergence of mammals from reptiles. “Legacy” features from long-extinct ancestors aren’t that unusual in nature; you might as well ask why whales have finger bones.
These are questions that some can imagine answers to, but such answers remain just that . . . imagination. An Englishman by the name of William Paley wrote nearly two centuries ago in his book, titled Natural Theology, that design requires a Master Designer. If someone found a pocket watch, he said, lying on the ground, he would reach the conclusion that it had been designed by a watchmaker. The order and design of the natural world, Paley reasoned, also points to the existence of an omnipotent Creator Designer.
Imagination is part of the bedrock of science, Chris. It takes imagination to develop a hypothesis for how or why anything happens. But science doesn’t stop with imagination; it requires experiments and observations to build evidence either supporting or refuting the hypothesis. The Theory of Evolution has well over a century of supporting evidence on its side, and if there were any legitimate refute, scientists would have already dropped it to look for an explanation that did fit the evidence. The demands for evidence that other scientists can examine quickly eliminate flawed hypotheses in a very evolutionary manner. Only the most accurate hypotheses survive to become theories.

As for the incredibly ancient Watchmaker argument, I’ll just link to one of the numerous online refutes of that stale old canard. It basically boils down to the following: if something is complicated it couldn’t have evolved, so it must have been designed, and we need not do any further investigating.

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