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27th April, 2009

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Evolution's quiet revolution

Deep down in the background clamour of evolutionism's never-ending flood of supremely confident pronouncements about wonderful new discoveries confirming Darwin's theory lie untold numbers of barrels filled with gunpowder which, when they go off, will make Guy Fawkes's hoped-for explosion pale into insignificance.

Take, for instance, the discord between "bones and molecules", well-known among evolutionists but largely beyond public view. Darwin argued that, since species can evolve gradually into other species, the guide to establishing who is related to whom can be found in anatomical similarities. The more alike two species are, the more closely they are related. Modern evolution theorists, while heaping praise upon Darwin, are rapidly jettisoning this simple criterion of relatedness. Anatomical similarities (bones) cannot be taken to show evolutionary relationships. Rather, we need to look to molecular evidence to reveal relatedness or, in technical terms, to establish phylogenies. The first shot in the modern approach to establishing relationships was fired in 1958 by the famous Francis Crick who found it "instructive" to compare human and horse hemoglobin proteins, implying that the similarities reflect similar hereditary templates which, by extension, imply relatively recent common ancestry.

Only trouble is, phylogenies determined by comparing genes (or the proteins they code for) often fly squarely in the face of obvious similarities of form. The April, 2009, edition of National Geographic reports on findings of the Early Bird Project, a long-term study of the phylogeny of birds founded on the assumption that the key to discovering relatedness lies in the genetic material and the various proteins whose manufacture it controls. Though fully supportive of evolution theory, NG's short piece does acknowledge that the findings thus far are "sure to cause a flap"; they contradict older theories of relatedness based on form. It reports, for instance, that, "New data now show that parrots, falcons, and chickadees are closely related" while, by contrast, "Others that act similarly, such as falcons and other birds of prey, may be genetically unrelated". In a you've-gotta-be-kidding bit of blarney it assures us that flashy, zippy, diurnal hummingbirds and slow, drab, doe-eyed, nocturnal nightjars are near kin. If you already believe in evolution, you are virtually obliged to accept that which seems intuitively unacceptable. Hey, bones may lie, but genes never do.

Time and again, molecular phylogenies make a mockery of good-old "bone phylogenies". New studies of water birds have thrown the cat among the ducks. Van Tuinen and others report "unexpected findings" from studies of "nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences", including a close relationship between flamingoes and grebes "which otherwise show no resemblance". 1

Evolutionists long held that the nearest living relative to primates (apes, monkeys, lemurs, and man) was the tree shrew. No longer:

Our nearest nonprimate relatives are not tree shrews as once thought, researchers say-but another group of tree-dwelling mammals known as colugos, also known as flying lemurs.

The rewriting of relationships goes on and on. Thewissen and Madar report,

Recent molecular studies are inconsistent with ungulate phylogenetic trees that are based on morphological [anatomical] traits.2

Students of evolution have long held, naturally enough, that the striking difference between those whales that strain out their food through comb-like baleen (Mysticetes) and those that capture and eat prey with teeth (Odontocetes) reflects

an evolutionary divergence. No more:

A new study of DNA sequences has badly shaken the standard family tree of cetaceans, suggesting intriguing new twists in whales' evolutionary history. The new findings suggest that Odontocetes and Mysticetes are not true evolutionary lines.3

Oh, so we are meant to believe that baleen evolved independently in a number of different lineages. Sure, I can believe that, just as I can believe that Dorothy was plucked up by a tornado and dropped safely in Oz.

The plant kingdom is far from immune to phylogenetic shenanigans. In late 1998, the Royal Botanic Garden produced a study that turned traditional views of plant relationships on their head. Scientists studying individual genes came up with startling results, concluding that "the most surprising kinships existed between the most unlikely flowers and trees". 4 The huge, sacred lotus flower now has a new closest living relative - the plane tree! The pawpaw is closely related to the cabbage, while the rose counts the fig tree and nettles among its next of kin.

Similar deconstructionism is changing older ideas about relationships even between phyla, the highest level in the hierarchical classification of animals and plants. In the past, phyla that were judged to share similarities of body plan were considered "related". That has changed. Until now, structural considerations led experts to place the recently-discovered phylum Cycliophora close to the Entoprocta and Bryozoa on the evolutionary tree of life; however, "molecular criteria so far ally them most closely with the rotifers" (Pechenik 2009, Biology of the Invertebrates, p. 449).

It gets worse. Plasmodium falciparum, the single-celled parasite that causes malaria, has all the trappings of animalism. Recently-employed biochemical techniques, however, place it in the plant kingdom. Some scientists are now experimenting with "herbicides" to see if they may be more effective in knocking it out.

Surely, surely, surely the clash between bones and molecules as interpreters of life's story ought to send scientists back to the drawing board. The conflict, for those willing to acknowledge it, takes an axe to the trunk of the evolutionary tree. But no, human beings just don't work that way; we are too beholden to our egos. Evolutionists reason like this: sure, evidence for relationships between clades (groups of living things with a common ancestor) based on structure often contradicts evidence coming from molecular and genetic studies; nevertheless, since we know evolution is true we will continue the quest to reconcile the contradictory data; when resolution eludes us, we will put similarities in proteins and genes ahead of structural similarities. I ask, why do evolutionists bother any more with character-based (anatomical) phylogenies when molecule-based methohds have completely undermined the old method? Do they want to have their cake and eat it, too?

Shh, please. I hear Darwin turning in his grave. What's that you are saying? Yes, yes, I hear you. "Lotuses and plane trees next of kin? Bah, humbug. Lotuses are evergreen, herbaceous, aquatic plants found only in the tropics, while plane trees are deciduous, woody, terrestrial plants found in temperate climes. Get real." Good point, Mr. Darwin.

Remember this: while the facts of nature cause endless headaches for evolution theory, not one fact is difficult to reconcile with belief in an all-wise, infinitely intelligent Creator. Not one. Not even the sharing of similar genetic code by cabbages and pawpaws. It just goes to show what the Master Innovator can do.

1 Convergence and divergence in the evolution of aquatic birds, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 2001, 268: 1345-1350, p. 134

2Ankle Morphology of the Earliest Cetaceans and Its Implications for the Phylogenetic Relations among Ungulates, Systematic Biology, 1999, 48(1):21-30, p. 21

3 Science News, 20.2.93

4 A rose is still a rose, but everything else in botany is turned on its head

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See also,

Confession of a former evolutionist

Just after posting this blog we got wind of this report

Animals That Seem Identical May Be Completely Different Species

You gotta laugh!


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