Philip Kitcher published Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism in 1983. It was one of the things that got me looking into the modern creationist movement about 30 years ago. Back then creationism was a gaggle of table-thumping preachers and some disaffected scientists advocating for biblical literalism. When that ended in disaster following a number of legal challenges the creationists went modern. Law professor Phillip Johnson wrote Darwin on Trial, inspiring a resurgence of the Intelligent Design movement. This movement involved real scientists with real academic credentials, and the notion about the God of Abraham being the creator of everything was covered by a screen of pseudo research aimed at demonstrating the deficiency of natural processes. Intelligent Design did not mandate biblical literalism.
The primary advocate for Intelligent Design is the Discovery Institute, out of Seattle, Washington. Here is their latest.
Darwinists often point to the whale fossil record as one of the best examples of an evolutionary transition. But is it?
Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species: “I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.”
Bears turning into whales? Scientists today disagree, instead claiming that other land animals were the real precursors to today’s whales.
And there is a video. Follow the link and watch the video. I will illustrate with pertinent screen shots. Here’s for starters.
We all know bears can’t parallel park. The cartoon video illustrates what would happen if a bear attempted this. It is humorous, but there is not a lot of real science being wasted.
But Charles Darwin thought bears could do much more than parallel park. They could turn into whales.
Look, he stated so in his first edition of The Origin of Species.
Actually, and this is the point a few seconds in when this narrative begins to come off the rails. The cartoon illustrates Darwin’s text as appearing in the first edition of his book. A bit of perusing Amazon’s library, and I obtained a copy of that edition.
In North America the black bear turned into seen by way of Hearne swimming for hours with broadly open mouth, hence catching, like a whale, bugs in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better tailored competition did not already exist inside the United States of America, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by way of herbal selection, increasingly aquatic of their shape and conduct, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature changed into produced as titanic as a whale.
Charles Darwin. On the origin of species . Kindle Edition.
Charles Darwin never wrote that bears could turn into whales, and the video tells us Darwin deleted this assertion in later editions. Evolution does not work that way, but accuracy requires a lot of explaining. What is claimed—and what certainly happened—is the whales we have today have ancestors that lived on land. But the video asserts Darwin thought bears could turn into whales, so we will go with that.
Next we learn what modern scientists wrongly think, and what they think is whale ancestors were not bears, but something else. Hint: genetic analysis points to the hippopotamus as the whale’s closest living land animal.
The video introduces whale evolution as depicted by Jerry Coyne in his book Why Evolution is True. They show the following, which seems to have been assembled from page 49.
Here is the illustration from that page.
This shows the cladogram related to modern whales. The common ancestor is not known, but Coyne provides the details.
There is no need to describe this transition in detail, as the drawings clearly speak—if not shout—of how a land-living animal took to the water. The sequence begins with a recently discovered fossil of a close relative of whales, a raccoon-sized animal called Indohyus. Living 48 million years ago, Indohyus was, as predicted, an artiodactyl. It is clearly closely related to whales because it has special features of the ears and teeth seen only in modern whales and their aquatic ancestors. Although Indohyus appears slightly later than the largely aquatic ancestors of whales, it is probably very close to what the whale ancestor looked like. And it was at least partially aquatic. We know this because its bones were denser than those of fully terrestrial mammals, which kept the creature from bobbing about in the water, and because the isotopes extracted from its teeth show that it absorbed a lot of oxygen from water. It probably waded in shallow streams or lakes to graze on vegetation or escape from its enemies, much like a similar animal, the African water chevrotain, does today. This part-time life in water probably put the ancestor of whales on the road to becoming fully aquatic.
Coyne, Jerry A.. Why Evolution Is True (p. 49). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. [Emphasis added]
I emphasized a critical piece of the text, because this will come up later.
They quote from the book:
Whales happen to have an excellent fossil record, courtesy of their aquatic habits and robust, easily fossilized bones.
Coyne, Jerry A.. Why Evolution Is True (p. 48). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
But they want you to know the proposed ancestry of whales is anachronistic, and they illustrate with a geological cross-section to show so-called ancestral fossils higher in the fossil record than their descendants.
The video employs mockery in place of rational argument to make their point. Here we show a man with a baby, and he announces the baby is his grandfather. This is the definition of anachronism.
They display the abstract of a paper by Rick Durrett and Deena Schmidt, both with the Department of Mathematics at Cornell University. And they highlight the text they want you to consider.
For your reading pleasure, here is the complete abstract.
Results of Nowak and collaborators concerning the onset of cancer due to the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes give the distribution of the time until some individual in a population has experienced two prespecified mutations and the time until this mutant phenotype becomes fixed in the population. In this article we apply these results to obtain insights into regulatory sequence evolution in Drosophila and humans. In particular, we examine the waiting time for a pair of mutations, the first of which inactivates an existing transcription factor binding site and the second of which creates a new one. Consistent with recent experimental observations for Drosophila, we find that a few million years is sufficient, but for humans with a much smaller effective population size, this type of change would take >100 million years. In addition, we use these results to expose flaws in some of Michael Behe’s arguments concerning mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution.
The paper is “Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution,” and you can follow the link to read the entire paper.
The video wants you to be aware of the millions of years required to produce a single beneficial mutation. That way you will have good reason to doubt Darwinian evolution. Beyond this point I am unable to follow, because the subject matter is way above my pay grade. For example:
Yes, I will spare you. What I will not spare you is something the video does not seem worth emphasizing. From the abstract, “In addition, we use these results to expose flaws in some of Michael Behe’s arguments concerning mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution.” Michael Behe is a major proponent of Intelligent Design, and the authors believe they have poked holes in some of Behe’s mathematical arguments.
The video gets into the matter of the giraffe’s neck. Compare the giraffe to a similar animal—one with a shorter neck—the okapi. They show an excerpt from a paper in Nature Communications.
Here is additional detail.
Published: 17 May 2016
Giraffe genome sequence reveals clues to its unique morphology and physiology
Nature Communications volume 7, Article number: 11519 (2016)
The origins of giraffe’s imposing stature and associated cardiovascular adaptations are unknown. Okapi, which lacks these unique features, is giraffe’s closest relative and provides a useful comparison, to identify genetic variation underlying giraffe’s long neck and cardiovascular system. The genomes of giraffe and okapi were sequenced, and through comparative analyses genes and pathways were identified that exhibit unique genetic changes and likely contribute to giraffe’s unique features. Some of these genes are in the HOX, NOTCH and FGF signalling pathways, which regulate both skeletal and cardiovascular development, suggesting that giraffe’s stature and cardiovascular adaptations evolved in parallel through changes in a small number of genes. Mitochondrial metabolism and volatile fatty acids transport genes are also evolutionarily diverged in giraffe and may be related to its unusual diet that includes toxic plants. Unexpectedly, substantial evolutionary changes have occurred in giraffe and okapi in double-strand break repair and centrosome functions.
The video emphasizes the number of mutations that separate the giraffe and the okapi. Having previously demonstrated—by their way of thinking—the enormous time required for a fortunate mutation, we are supposed to question whether such evolution occurred.
Also the creationists want to be sure you know those whale fossils are anachronistic. The video exploits a popular misunderstanding, which routinely gets amplified in the creationist community. Specifically, one species does not change into another. A new species branches off from its ancestral lineage, and the two branches go their separate ways. Sometimes both branches are prolonged to the present day. Sometimes one branch will terminate, while the other survives. Sometimes both terminate. The result is you can find a fossil from one branch that is much younger than a fossil that retained features of the branch point. A rude example is this. When I was quite young I escaped an episode involving an explosive detonating device. If I had not escaped, my fossil would have predated that of my grandfather, who survived another ten years.
Here is how the video depicts fossils it considers out of sequence.
The video concludes with a scathing dig at the science of evolution. It’s a “glossy, one-sided story.”
There is considerable irony piled on here. An aspect of Intelligent Design was supposed to be the creationist no longer deny evolution happened. They promise they will demonstrate a transcendental entity has been behind it all along. They initially refused to acknowledge this entity was the God of Abraham, but many have ceased to conceal their real intent. At a conference at SMU in 1992 Jon Buell and Phillip Johnson were present. Buell heads up the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, which produced Of Pandas and People, the notorious book promoting Intelligent Design and aimed at public school science curricula. Both these creationists acknowledged in a private conversation the Earth is billions of years old, and current life forms have common ancestry.
Phillip Johnson addressed the evolution of land animals to whales in an interview many years back. Here are his pertinent comments:
You can imagine this in the sense that—suppose that you got a set of mutations which in themselves might be capable of turning a mouse into a whale. That’s essentially what is deemed to have happened according to the Darwinian theory. Not literally because it’s not literally a mouse, but something like that, a tiny four-legged creature must have changed step by tiny step into a whale. But if you imagine that starting to happen it’s counterfactual because you have to imagine the mutations coming and there’s no evidence that they exist. You can see that somewhere there the mouse started to develop flippers and a big tail and gear for breathing underwater it would become awfully unsatisfactory as a mouse and helpless and it would get eaten or would be unable to survive. But natural selection would weed it out.
What Johnson is saying is, for example, the mutations that would produce a whale species from a mouse species would necessarily involve intermediates that are non-viable. He was likely not thinking deeply on the matter, because chains of viable intermediates easily come to mind, although not real evolutionary chains. Here is one that does not involve a mouse:
- · Bear
- · Badger or wolverine
- · Otter
- · Sea otter
- · Sea lion
- · Seal
- · Whale
But back to the video. It is easy to conclude this is aimed at a juvenile audience, given the spattering of lame jokes that punctuate the narrative. For example, there is a fossil named Ambulocetus. The term means “walking whale,” but the video makes a joke of the name, showing a cartoon ambulance. What is most frightening is the likelihood adults are viewing this and are gaining the confirmation they have been looking for.
Carl Zimmer’s excellent book At the Water’s Edge provides a comprehensive narrative on whale evolution. The book describes life in the sea and the development of land animals. Then he follows the development of sea creatures—seals, sea lions, porpoises, and whales. Here is an excerpt discussing Ambulocetus:
Thewissen’s creature, which he called Ambulocetus (“walking whale”), was the closer of the two to the origin of whales. Its four-hundred-pound body—an enormous crocodilelike head, a wide chest, and a long tail—sat on squat legs. It still had the tall projections rising from its neck vertebrae that mesonychids had used to hold up their heavy heads. The width of its chest pushed its hands out to either side like seal flippers, and the giant feet on its crouched hind legs slapped awkwardly on the ground. Ambulocetus could shamble on land if it had to, but the shape of its spine told Thewissen where its gifts lay. It had lost the locking tabs that kept mesonychid spines rigid, and its general geometry was closer to an otter’s than any other animal’s. Although Thewissen did not find Ambulocetus’s hips, the spine strongly suggests that Ambulocetus could have arched its back as it pushed out its giant hind legs and driven the force of its kick out to the end of its tail.
Zimmer, Carl. At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea (pp. 194-196). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.
In April 2002 the Atheist Alliance International Convention hosted a debate with creationist Don Patton. Don is one of the old-school, Bible-thumping creationists, and he got to choose the debate topic: “The fossil record is more compatible with the model of creation than the model of evolution.” The topic of whale evolution came up.
For my part, I assured everybody whales had evolved from land animals. Don insisted they had not. The matter of vestigial legs came up. Whales have forelegs that serve as flippers, but they have no discernible hind legs. However, whale skeletons sometimes show leg bones where hind legs might be expected. Don pointed out these were not leg bones. They served no leg purpose. They were not even attached to the rest of the skeleton. There was a picture showing the bones, and I had to ask, “Then why are they shaped like feet?”
Despite everything the Discovery Institute has poured into this video, the fact remains. Whales descended from land animals.
This seems to be one of a collection produced by the Discovery Institute. Deconstructing these videos is tedious, but this weeks-long lockdown has emptied my excuse bucket. Look for additional reviews to come.