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The Problem(s) With Penguins

Penguins have always been a problem for evolution. Their flippers, for instance, are supposed to be the vestiges of wings. “Say again …?” you say? That’s right, according to evolution penguins are supposed to have evolved from an earlier bird with wings. The bird morphed into a penguin and the wings morphed into the penguin’s flippers. Anyone who has seen a penguin swim knows its flippers are not just a happenstance design. The penguin is an incredible swimmer and the last thing that comes to mind is that its flippers somehow evolved from a wing. Of course for evolutionists this transition is a fact, even though they don’t know how it happened.

Now penguins have been discovered to defy the much touted molecular clock. The molecular clock is simply a measure of the time that two species diverged from their common ancestor, as determined by their genetic differences. In other words, like the ticking of a clock, the steady stream of mutations, which help drive evolutionary change, accumulate and can be measured. Sometimes evolutionists have an idea of the supposed time since divergence from the fossil record. They use such cases to compute the rate at which the mutations accumulate, and once they know the rate they can use it in cases in which only the genetic data are available.  Read more

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35 Responses to The Problem(s) With Penguins

  1. Anyone who has seen Batman is well aware of the problem with Penguins.

  2. So how does this molecular clock work? Is it like carbon dating or something? Is it a comparison of species dna somehow?

  3. Collin: So how does this molecular clock work?

    DNA sequences accumulate neutral mutations over time. When comparing sequences, the changes are generally monotonic, with more changes over longer periods of time. This allows the sequences to be sorted in chronological order. That alone makes it an important tool.

    The accumulation of mutations will often occur at a known frequency. This allows the marking off of time. These marks can then be calibrated with other methods of dating, such as fossils.

    It’s been found that the rate of accumulated mutations varies between genes and between lineages. That means the molecular clock has to be calibrated and checked against independent evidence for each lineage and gene. However, once this is done, it provides data where other evidence might be scant.

    (Interestingly, and though there are important exceptions, the rate of the molecular clock is largely the same in many independent lineages. That’s because it is not based on generation time, but on the cell replication. Bacteria reproduce every day or so. While mice may reproduce only once every few months, there are about fifty divisions from a mouse zygote to sperm, so the rate of cell replication is about the same as in bacteria.)

    Of course, all of this relies upon and supports Common Descent. The molecular clock is not a perfect system, but can be very useful. It’s just one more tool to tease out information.

  4. “Collin” (#1) aked: “So how does this molecular clock work?

    There’s a basic discussion at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecular_clock.

  5. BTW, did you teach at the 2009 SUMMER SEMINARS ON INTELLIGENT DESIGN at the DI and will there be such seminars in 2010?

  6. Their flippers, for instance, are supposed to be the vestiges of wings. “Say again …?” you say? That’s right, according to evolution penguins are supposed to have evolved from an earlier bird with wings.

    I’m having trouble taking this argument seriously – penguin’s wings look like wings, and they perform the same function (except propulsion is through water, not air).

    Anyone who has seen a penguin swim knows its flippers are not just a happenstance design. The penguin is an incredible swimmer and the last thing that comes to mind is that its flippers somehow evolved from a wing.

    if you watch penguins swimming, you’ll see that they do flap their wings/flippers, and also glide – both like birds.

    Of course for evolutionists this transition is a fact, even though they don’t know how it happened.

    Try wikipedia. We know quite a bit about penguin evolution. And wing evolution from air to water seems a relatively easy process (and there are other birds that use their wings for flight in both media).

  7. “Heinrich” (#3) wrote: “…penguin’s wings look like wings…

    Of course they do, because they are wings. Look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.....ium-8a.jpg – those birds are obviously using their wings to fly – except underwater.

    Auks – the northern hemisphere cognates of penguins – can fly both in the air (with obvious difficulty) and underwater. I have seen small auks (Common Murres) swimming in the big tanks of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, using their wings for propulsion underwater.

    Denying that wings can evolve into flippers is to deny reality – you can see different stages of this convergent development in different birds alive today. Offsets in the molecular clock simply mean it is still becoming understood – science does not yet have all the answers, but is actively looking for them.

  8. And wing evolution from air to water seems a relatively easy process (and there are other birds that use their wings for flight in both media).

    I think most people probably have difficulty seeing the similarities in air and water, even though they both are fluids, as covered in a previous thread on this blog.

    See also:
    http://www.windows.ucar.edu/to.....fluid.html

  9. Well, wait a minute, Heinrich.

    Anyone who has learned to swim can immediately see the difference between flippers and wings.

    Flippers provide velocity and steerage, not airborne flight.

    Flippers might have evolved from wings, but … why should I assume it if I am not a Darwinist?

    For example, flighted birds feature a number of changes in their bones and lungs, etc., that enable flight.

    Do penguins retain these changes?

    In that case, I might provisionally buy the story. Otherwise ….

  10. Wings are employed to keep a bird aloft (compensate for gravity), flippers are used to keep a penguin submerged (compensate for bouyancy).

    Just a thought.

  11. Flippers provide velocity and steerage, not airborne flight.

    Well, um, obviously they don’t provide airborne flight – if they did they would be called wings.

    If you’ve every watched swallows, you’d know that wings also provide velocity and steerage. So, other than them being in different media, what’s the difference?

    Flippers might have evolved from wings, but … why should I assume it if I am not a Darwinist?

    Why else would they be so similar? Why would penguins, which are clearly birds (the eggs, beaks and feathers are a hint) not have wings? Isn’t the simplest explanation that their wings have been modified for ‘flight’ underwater?

    For example, flighted birds feature a number of changes in their bones and lungs, etc., that enable flight.

    Do penguins retain these changes?

    What features are you specifically thinking of? My guess is that some are retained, but those which are specific to flying in air may not have (there will also have been changes in the lungs because penguins have to hold their breath whilst swimming underwater).

  12. Anyone who has learned to swim can immediately see the difference between flippers and wings.

    Flippers provide velocity and steerage, not airborne flight.

    The inner fish in penguins is as obvious as the inner wolf in Thylacine.

  13. Isn’t the simplest explanation that their wings have been modified for ‘flight’ underwater?

    That isn’t simple. And it isn’t an explanation.

  14. So how many different species of penguins were on Noah’s Ark? As they are land animals in the context that they cannot reproduce at sea, they were eligible to be on the Ark, weren’t they? Or were they?

  15. PaulBurnett:

    So how many different species of penguins were on Noah’s Ark?

    As many as needed.

    But I digress.

    Is there any scientific data which demonstrates that a flying bird can “evolve” into a swimming bird?

    IOW is there any data which demonstrates the transformations required are even possible?

    Is there a way to test the concept?

  16. “Joseph” (#15) asks: “Is there any scientific data which demonstrates that a flying bird can “evolve” into a swimming bird?

    Given the large number of species of flying birds which are also swimming birds, and then observing the continuum of “swimming birds that don’t fly well” to “flying birds that don’t swim well,” it’s pretty easy to see that auks are just inside the curve and penguins are just outside it. And then do some fossil hunting and molecular biology and see what the relationships are.

    IOW is there any data which demonstrates the transformations required are even possible? Is there a way to test the concept?

    Take a look at the article at http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/.....t/msj124v1 – “Early Penguin Fossils, plus Mitochondrial Genomes, Calibrate Avian Evolution” which discusses calibrating the clocks of paleontology and mitochondrial DNA to arrive at a lower estimate of 61-62 million years ago for the divergence between penguins and other birds.

    Of course, that probably makes about as much sense to you as the Noah’s Flood mythos makes to me.

  17. Of course, that probably makes about as much sense to you as the Noah’s Flood mythos makes to me.

    The difference is that in the case of the flood, we’re ready to admit that it’s a religious belief. We might try to support it with some scientific observations, but we’d be hard pressed to come up with any real scientific evidence.

    I respect other people’s religious beliefs, even when I strongly disagree. It’s harder to afford your faith the same respect as long as you keep on insisting that it’s science, and making snide comparisons between your beliefs and mine. Yours is always big on the grand, sweeping visions, but oddly vague when it comes to the specific details and observations that typically drive real science. That’s okay. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to believe it.

  18. Paul and Scott,

    I’m willing to say that Paul’s evidence is highly suggestive. That a kind of bird evolved to penguins seems to be a reasonable deduction. But I don’t think it’s a scientific one because there has been no testing, no independent-dependent variable relationship, and no direct observation. Although much of that is true with astronomy and geology as well.

    The weakness, Paul, is in the demonstration of whether or not the transformation of one bird into another kind of bird happened by random variation and natural selection or by some other method.

    Scott, would you say it is scientific, per se, to insist that an intelligent designer must have been behind the change? Isn’t that just as religious as Paul’s belief?

  19. Collin,

    I don’t find it at all unreasonable that there is descent between other birds and penguins. As you pointed out, it’s the mechanism that’s missing. When a thing has the appearance of design, and no non-intelligent mechanism can be demonstrated, design is the more reasonable conclusion. Is it rigorously scientific? No. I haven’t seen any specific application of ID to penguins. Just like I haven’t seen a specific hypothesis explaining how undirected mutation and selection produced penguins, just a fuzzy “something must have happened” sort of narrative.

    It is not scientific to say that a designer is responsible for penguins. But it is the most reasonable conclusion. From the cells of which they are made to their distinct, specialized features and behaviors, no scientific hypothesis has been offered to explain any other way they might have come about. Why would I reject what seems obvious in favor of what sounds like half-baked science fiction? Why should I reject my religion in favor of someone else’s?
    (Yes, in this case, I’m quite comfortable admitting that my opinions are subject and even religious.)

  20. Scott,

    I think we agree. In my opinion, even most (if not all) of science is based in on faith. After all, which scientist does not have faith that the laws of nature will continue to function as they always have? Is there some guarantee somewhere? How does a scientist know that he has not accounted for all possible intervening hidden variables in his experiment?

    I agree that your inference of design is the more reasonable one. I wonder though what Discovery Inst. peoples’ opinions are. I sympathize with their argument that ID is a science, but I’m not sure it is. I just think that much of evo theory is also unscientific. Yet unscientific does not = untrue, though most people seem to think so.

  21. Mark Frank,

    I am probably not communicating very well. I don’t mean that we can’t be certain that a plane will fly and keep us safe based on the laws of physics. But it is merely a strong faith (not knowledge, until after the fact), because we do not know that there will not be a terrorist with a bomb in the next seat, or even that the laws of physics will continue to apply. Why should they? Because they’ve always applied? Well, I’ve also always had answers to my prayers. Not always the answer I wanted, but always an answer.

    To answer your question: My faith in God encompasses my faith in the laws of physics. It is my belief in God that strengthens my belief that there is order in the universe and that that order is understandable and is meant to be understood by His children.

  22. Would you rather ride in a plane based on the faith of science or the faith of Christianity?
    That depends on whether the science you speak of is actually ideologically-motivated, follow-the-crowd speculation. We believe that it must fly because any alternative possibility is unacceptable.

  23. “Collin” (#18) wrote: “The weakness, Paul, is in the demonstration of whether or not the transformation of one bird into another kind of bird happened by random variation and natural selection or by some other method.

    Fine – propose “some other method” – formulate a hypothesis (other than “evolution is wrong”), test it, write it up – there’s a known process for doing this sort of thing. So far, the method currently proposed is the best one around.

  24. Paul,

    You’re right, its the best one around. And it sucks really really bad.

  25. I wrote (#23) “So far, the method currently proposed is the best one around.” and “Collin” (#24) wrote back: “You’re right, its the best one around. And it sucks really really bad.

    But that’s not a hypothesis – that’s just more carping about evolution being non-specifically “bad”. Until somebody comes up with something better, which meets the criteria of being repeatable science (which intelligent design is not, so far), evolution (natural selection of genetic variation) is the best answer our species has come up with – so far.

  26. #21 Collin

    I can’t find my original comment so I will have to work from memory.

    My point is that whether you call it faith or not – our beliefs based on sound science are different from our beliefs based on religion. You rightly point to the problem if induction – why should anything happen because it has always happened before? That is a long-standing philosophical condundrum but it is not peculiar to science. Why should God exist just because it has existed up until now?

    What is peculiar to science is things such as

    insistence on results that are based on observation that can be repeated and therefore shared with others

    preparedness to revise beliefs in the face of evidence – nothing is certain

    It is this approach that has enabled the technology to which you entrust your life every day. If an answer to your prayer told you it would be perfectly safe to take cyanide and this would make you a better person – would you do it? Would you recommend that others do it if they get the same answer to their prayers?

    Your religious faith may be important to you – I don’t want to belittle it – but it is of a different quality (not necessarily inferior) from scientific beliefs.

  27. When a thing has the appearance of design, and no non-intelligent mechanism can be demonstrated, design is the more reasonable conclusion.

    Couldn’t this be reversed? i.e. when a thing has the appearance of having evolved through selection, and no intelligent designer can be demonstrated, evolution is the more reasonable conclusion.

    This is not snark: one of the problems I have with ID is that it always seems so one-sided: it’s always about showing the evolutionary mechanism (and in Behe’s case, showing it in absolute detail), but it’s always argued that ID doesn’t even need a pathetic level of detail. But once you’ve posited design, doesn’t it make sense to ask about the mechanism of design, or the implementation of the design? If it doesn’t make sense, why not?

  28. Fine – propose “some other method” – formulate a hypothesis (other than “evolution is wrong”), test it, write it up – there’s a known process for doing this sort of thing. So far, the method currently proposed is the best one around.

    I’m not sure that you’ve been reading the posts carefully. Not everyone disagrees with common descent. It’s the random, unguided part that appears to be based on blind faith. Perhaps when researchers follow that ‘known process’ of testing you mentioned some of us will come around.

    Consider this statement from the research paper you posted:

    Additional fossils and molecular data are still required to help understand the role of biotic interactions in the evolution of Late Cretaceous birds and thus to test that the mechanisms of microevolution are sufficient to explain macroevolution.

    Apparently the authors agree with you. There is a known process for doing this sort of thing. Someone should test it and write it up. Until then, it’s an article of faith. It’s okay to believe something just because you want to. We all do it.

  29. I have with ID is that it always seems so one-sided: it’s always about showing the evolutionary mechanism (and in Behe’s case, showing it in absolute detail), but it’s always argued that ID doesn’t even need a pathetic level of detail.

    Darwinism has dug itself into a hole. It claims to explain the origin of species, but fails to offer meaningful specifics in its explanation. How did this feature or that evolve? It always boils down to ‘something happened, we’re not sure what, it was probably a combination of these things, maybe others, but something definitely happened.’

    Take ID out of the equation. By itself, Darwinism fails because it explains nothing.

    Every theory or hypothesis stands or falls on its own. It doesn’t matter if another theory proposes more specifics, especially if it doesn’t support them.

  30. Scott – have you decided to punt on what I was asking?

    Your argument was about design: “When a thing has the appearance of design…”, not about evolution. So I was asking about the hypothesis that something was designed.

    Actually, you seem to have dug yourself a deeper hole:

    Every theory or hypothesis stands or falls on its own. It doesn’t matter if another theory proposes more specifics, especially if it doesn’t support them.

    So when exploring the appearance of design, you should be able to use ID theory, without reference to evolution.

    To repeat what I asked – once you’ve posited design, doesn’t it make sense to ask about the mechanism of design, or the implementation of the design? If it doesn’t make sense, why not?

  31. “Joseph” (#15) asks: “Is there any scientific data which demonstrates that a flying bird can “evolve” into a swimming bird?”

    PaulBurrnett:

    Given the large number of species of flying birds which are also swimming birds, and then observing the continuum of “swimming birds that don’t fly well” to “flying birds that don’t swim well,” it’s pretty easy to see that auks are just inside the curve and penguins are just outside it. And then do some fossil hunting and molecular biology and see what the relationships are.

    IOW there isn’t any such evidence. That is all you had to say.

    “IOW is there any data which demonstrates the transformations required are even possible? Is there a way to test the concept?”

    Take a look at the article at http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/…..t/msj124v1 – “Early Penguin Fossils, plus Mitochondrial Genomes, Calibrate Avian Evolution” which discusses calibrating the clocks of paleontology and mitochondrial DNA to arrive at a lower estimate of 61-62 million years ago for the divergence between penguins and other birds.

    Unfortunately there isn’t anything in that article which demonstrates that a flying bird can “evolve” into a penguin.

  32. Heinrich:

    To repeat what I asked – once you’ve posited design, doesn’t it make sense to ask about the mechanism of design, or the implementation of the design? If it doesn’t make sense, why not?

    Yes it makes sense to ask such questions.

    However the ONLY possible way to answer, in the absence of direct observation or designer input, that is by studying the design in question.

  33. To repeat what I asked – once you’ve posited design, doesn’t it make sense to ask about the mechanism of design, or the implementation of the design? If it doesn’t make sense, why not?

    Sure it makes sense. Why wouldn’t it? But whether or not one does so has nothing to do with whether the design inference was correct in the first place.
    If my thermometer says the temperature is 78F, then it’s most likely an accurate measurement. I don’t need to know why it’s 78F. That’s a good question, but it has nothing to do with the thermometer.

    To reaffirm my answer: Yes, if the narrow inference provided by ID indicates that a thing was designed, it’s reasonable to use other methods at our disposal to investigate the mechanisms and so forth. But the second part of that investigation is not ID. It would be some other analysis.

    The constant references to evolution have nothing specifically to do with ID. It’s just fun to talk about.

  34. What is peculiar to science is things such as…insistence on results that are based on observation that can be repeated and therefore shared with others

    Your religious faith may be important to you – I don’t want to belittle it – but it is of a different quality (not necessarily inferior) from scientific beliefs.

    It’s not scientific belief that I have a problem with. It’s the belief that random mutation and natural selection can evolve a species of birds into penguins. It is an article of faith, a conclusion drawn apart from observation. It is believed as a matter of preference, because its adherents wish it to be so. In that respect it has everything to do with religion and nothing to do with science. Seriously, you can’t think that scientists are immune to religion.

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