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Feedback archive ? Feedback 2017

Evolution: not needed

Published: 2 September 2017 (GMT+10)

Today’s feedback features two questions that show why evolution is not needed as an explanation for specific features in biology. Istiaque A. from Bangladesh writes:

I am interested to know about Xanthopan morganii (link deleted as per feedback rules—Ed.) a moth Darwin predicted to be existent based on an Orchid species and accordingly it was found later to be in accordance Darwinian Theory of Evolution as evolutionists claim. I found no write-up in your site on this astounding discovery. Even this site (link deleted—Ed.) claiming 22 fundamental predictions of evolutionary theory to have been falsified could give me no explanation about it.

May I request you to make a post on this issue elaborating how the anti-Darwinian school explains it?

Xanthopan morgani
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org, Esculapio

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Darwin certainly did predict its existence (in general; Alfred Wallace predicted that it would specifically be Xanthopan morganii). But we don’t need microbes-to-man evolution to make this prediction. Consider Wallace’s actual prediction:

I have carefully measured the proboscis of a specimen of Macrosila cluentius from South America in the collection of the British Museum, and find it to be nine inches and a quarter long! One from tropical Africa (Macrosila morganii) [an old name for Xanthopan morganii] is seven inches and a half. A species having a proboscis two or three inches longer could reach the nectar in the largest flowers of Angræcum sesquipedale [the orchid species Xanthopan morganii pollinates], whose nectaries vary in length from ten to fourteen inches. That such a moth exists in Madagascar may be safely predicted; and naturalists who visit that island should search for it with as much confidence as astronomers searched for the planet Neptune,—and they will be equally successful!1

Wallace reasons that, since there is a moth in West Africa with a 7.5 in (19 cm) proboscis, it’s highly likely that a similar moth with a longer proboscis will be found in Madagascar, where the orchid with the foot-long nectary is found. This is just good biological reasoning; such an orchid would die off very quickly if nothing could get the nectar. Wallace’s prediction of the specific moth also makes perfect sense; it’s geographically close to Madagascar, and increasing the length of the proboscis is a small functional variation on the same basic structure. Indeed, the population on Madagascar is now known to be the same species as the West African moth. See The Love Trap for more details.

However, none of this is relevant to the creation/evolution debate. Why? All the crucial points of Wallace’s prediction are perfectly consistent with the principles of speciation, natural selection, and biogeography crucial to a biblical understanding of the history of biology. Only if this prediction were inconsistent with or implausible in a biblical/design understanding of biology could it be meaningful evidence for evolution (compare also the ‘fallacy of non-discriminating predictions’).

We should also point out that our book The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on evolution (top right) discusses this very moth on pp. 74–77.

Victor F. from Brazil writes:

Hello dear friends, I have a question regarding the loss of clamps (like anchoring organ) in protomicrocotylidae. Some people claim these structures are vestigial and that these animals have developed other structures in order to grab at fishes, like a side flap or cross striae. However, my question is not about whether or not this claim is true, but if structures like side flaps and cross striae are proof of "macroevolution". Thank you in advance and may God shine upon you.

[There are several terms in the question and the response below of which most readers will be unfamiliar. The flatworms (platyhelminths), have both free-living and parasitic forms. Among the parasitic species are the monogeneans, typically found attached to the gills of fish. These have characteristic clamps and accessory tegument (skin) flaps that allow them to attach to their hosts. The Protomicrocotylidae and the Pseudodiclidophoridae are families within the same order (Mazocraeidea) of monogeneans.2]

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

First, what is the nature of the change required to produce these ‘new structures’? Localized increases in the surface area of the tegument (the ‘skin’ of platyhelminths/flatworms). It’s hard to see how new ridges and flaps in the tegument really count as new structures, rather than functional modifications of the tegument (perhaps to compensate for the reduced functionality of the clamps; but that’s just speculation).

Why do I downplay the significance of these features as new structures? It seems these features can be explained as resulting from designed adaptability built into the original breeding population. For instance, another monogenean family, the pseudodiclidophorids, also exhibit species that have developed ‘skin’ ridges and flaps coincidentally with a reduction in clamps.3 Though this sort of condition does appear to be rare in monogeneans, it is not unheard of, and the fact something like this seems to have happened multiple times suggests many monogeneans had the latent ability for these sorts of changes to occur. In other words, this is not the evolution of a completely new biological system from nothing, but adaptive modifications of the ‘skin’ to increase the organism’s grip strength that were either latent in the programming of monogeneans, or prominent on only some members of the original breeding population.

Also, almost all of these parasites are host-specific. The Protomicrocotylidae are found living on only one group of fishes (jacks and trevally) and so have an optimized attachment strategy for those particular fish. In a creation context, the original flatworm was probably not a parasite, but through a process influenced by the Fall, they invaded the gills of fish and, finding a safe and nutrient-rich home, subsequently lost their ability to live free.

But is this evolution? No, for things are running in the wrong direction. It’s biological change, yes, and even adaptive change … but it’s consistent with biblical creation. See Can mutations create new information? and the references in the article for more details.

References and notes

  1. Wallace, A.R., Creation by Law, The Quarterly Journal of Science, p. 477, 1867. For an additional example of a successful scientific prediction that has nothing to do with evolution, see The discovery of Neptune. Return to text.
  2. Gibson, D., Mazocraeidea, World Register of Marine Species, marinespecies.org/aphia.php/aphia.php?p=taxdetails&id=390779, accessed July 12 2017 Return to text.
  3. Justine, J.L., Rahmouni, C., Gey, D., Schoelinck, C., and Hoberg, E.P., The monogenean which lost its clamps, PLoS ONE 8(11):e79155, 2013 | doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079155. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

W. D.
This reminds me I still need to finish Dawkins' The Greatest Show On Earth. He is, to my horror, one of my sister's favorite writers and I thought it would be fair to read some of his writings myself instead of only relying on what CMI tells me about him. But it's the most annoying book I've ever read, it's an ongoing insult to the reader's intelligence, it's just preposterous. Like the part about this orchid and its pollinator, where he triumphantly tells the reader that evolutionairy theory can make accurate predictions, contrary to what we, stupid creationists say. It was totally obvious to me this wasn't an evolutionairy prediction at all, just a logical deduction from observations without any need of a theory about its origins.
But it was quite an eye-opener to see this with my own eyes. If an intelligent human being can write this nonsense, if an intelligent human being can read this nonsense, thinking Dawkins is a great writer, then there isn't something wrong with their intelligence, but with their hearts. I guess I have to tell my sister that, instead of diving into the scientific details.
Michael B.
I am wondering why you would approach the question of these flatworms (some having "structures" and some not) from the direction of development rather than loss?
Isn't it more likely that a feature exists first and then mutation causes loss?
If the feature is an addition then it follows that the behavior must also then be added which drastically increases the improbability of this scenario.
Similarly for the moths the longer proboscis must have been first for the larger orchids to survive and it is the mutation of a shorter proboscis that allowed only orchids with a shallower nectary to survive.
Shaun Doyle
The shape of the reply was in part directed by the question from the commenter: "However, my question is not about whether or not this claim is true, but if structures like side flaps and cross striae are proof of 'macroevolution'." Here, the commenter was wondering if the development of these side flaps and cross striae were proof of microbes-to-man evolution. My response showed that the nature of the structures, even if they did develop after creation, are not a disproof of biblical creation. Why? If they were new developments, they plausibly fall under the notion of 'designed adaptability' built in to the original populations God created. Please see Can mutations create new information? for more details on this idea of designed adaptability, especially under in the section "Can mutations create information?".

Nonetheless, note that I also said this: "but adaptive modifications of the ‘skin’ to increase the organism’s grip strength that were ... prominent on only some members of the original breeding population [emphasis added]." In other words, I allowed for the possibility that these structures were present in some flatworms from creation.

Regarding the moths, natural selection from natural variation may be enough to explain why the orchid and moth species developed such a long nectary and proboscis, respectively. Mutations may not even be needed to explain what we see. After all, all that is modified is the length of the structures; nothing about how the structures work is modified.

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