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Two Just So Stories

“Just so story” is a phrase one hears often in the origins debate. Etymologically, the phrase is traced to a series of children’s stories by Rudyard Kipling in which he gave comical accounts of how various animals acquired their peculiar traits, including “How the Camel got his Hump,” “How the Rhinoceros got his Skin,” and “How the Leopard got his Spots.”

Following are two “just so stories.” Let’s see if you can guess which one is Kipling and which one is Darwin.

“How the Whale Learned to Swim”
In North America the black bear was seen . . . swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered . . . more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.

“The Elephant’s Child”
Then the Elephant’s Child put his head down close to the Crocodile’s musky, tusky mouth, and the Crocodile caught him by his little nose, which up to that very week, day, hour, and minute, had been no bigger than a boot, though much more useful . . . Then the Elephant’s Child sat back on his little haunches, and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and his nose began to stretch. And the Crocodile floundered into the water, making it all creamy with great sweeps of his tail, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled . . . and ever since that day, O Best Beloved, all the Elephants you will ever see, besides all those that you won’t, have trunks precisely like the trunk of the ‘satiable Elephant’s Child.

If you guessed the first story is Darwin and the second is Kipling, you are right. But don’t rush to your “Origin of Species” to check me out, because you are likely to have the 6th edition, the edition that is most commonly available today. The bear story above appeared in the first edition only, because Darwin’s friends thought it was so outrageous they convinced him to leave it out of subsequent editions.

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29 Responses to Two Just So Stories

  1. Hey Barry! I was hoping the H.R. 2679 articles would draw you out of the woodwork.

    I’d really like to hear what you think of jury nullification. The only other lawyer I ever had a heart to heart with about it couldn’t stand the thought of a jury defying a judge. Me, I love it, if for no other reason that it’s a way to stick it to the man – you know, like a way to tell the establishment to go fly a kite. Seriously, I believe the ultimate power should always be in the hands of the people instead of elected officials and especially not in the hands of appointed officials.

  2. Been fighting the good fight for the last few weeks. I had time only to peak at the posts, not participate.

    As for jury nullification, Colorado, where I practice, actually has a standard jury instruction that the judges read in every single jury trial reminding the jurors that they must not “judge the wisdom of the law.”

    I don’t get too exercised over the issue though. The jury is still the conscience of the community, and a good lawyer has ways of reminding them. For example, I have a friend who practices criminal law. When he wants to remind the jury that they are the ultimate authority in the courtroom he simply picks up the verdict form, walks up the jury, and says, “See that box there that says, ‘not guilty.’ It wouldn’t be there if you couldn’t check it.”

  3. Barry,

    You just don’t get it. Whales exist and they are mammals. Thus, whales must have evolved from land-based mammals (because ocean-going mammals could not have evolved in the ocean, for obvious reasons).

    Therefore, cosmic rays zapping nucleotides in DNA molecules, lateral gene transfer, and genetic copying errors must be responsible for the evolution of bears (or, perhaps, hippopotamuses) into whales.

    How could you possibly challenge this obvious evolutionary truth?

    I’m very disappointed that you have publicly revealed your embarrassing logical and analytical deficiencies.

    This is what amazes me. If one were to classify Kipling’s stories from an evolutionary perspective, they would be Lamarckian, but Darwin’s bear story also sounds more Lamarckian than Darwinian. BA

  4. Barry: “…Colorado, where I practice, actually has a standard jury instruction that the judges read in every single jury trial reminding the jurors that they must not ‘judge the wisdom of the law.’ “

    Does this mean that juries must not judge the wisdom of the law when the law says that blacks must pay a poll tax in order to vote, or that they must be segregated into black-only public schools, or that they must not drink from white-only drinking fountains?

    Actually, the examples you raise are not examples of the law “de jure.” In other words, they are not examples of laws that were actually on the books. There was never, for example, a law that said only blacks had to pay the poll tax. The problem with a poll tax is that it has a disproportionate impact on the poor, and thus on blacks. Your examples show “de facto” law at work — law in fact even though it is not on the books.

    To illustrate your point with the de jure law of Colorado, I would use the so called “bubble law.” This is a Colorado law that makes it a crime to come within a certain distance of a person (even on a public sidewalk) in front of an abortion clinic (eight feet as I recall) to hand them literature or talk to them to try to get them to change their mind about going inside and having an abortion. In my view, no matter how one feels about abortion, creating “free speech free” zones is a violation of the First Amendment (the Supreme Court disagrees with me; they upheld the law). If I were on a jury in the trial of a person charged with violating the bubble law, the judge would tell me that I may not judge this law and if the facts show the person broke it I would be duty bound to vote to convict. I would then be faced with the choice of violating my conscience or ignoring the judge’s instruction. BA

  5. Speaking of Darwinian just-so stories, I’ve recently acquired a new-found appreciation for them. Not long ago, I went to see the new X-Men movie and just couldn’t enjoy it the way that I would have if I were a kid. A scenario in which evolution gives a guy fully-formed bird wings on his back, another guy the ability to shoot laser beams out of his eyes, and several people the ability toss around cars as if they were made of styrofoam just seemed to be too much of a stretch of my imagination to pass as adequately plausible fictionalized science. But then I thought again… ;)

  6. yea, until they find some whale fossils with legs, or show some sort of transitional features I’m not buying this story. Also, DNA comparison on whales shows that they should have a common ancestor with the hippos, so these fossils would have to have very specific features that would have to have some whale characteristics, but also characteristics of cloven hoofed animals. (like the hippo) Personally if this were my “just so” story, I wouldn’t have picked something as different looking as the hippo, but maybe something like a Walrus or Seacow. Why would these guys make such specific claims on what the transitional fossil would have to look like? THat just makes it harder to make stuff up!

    Now a bear whale that eats insects! That would be awesome. ;)

  7. Reference & links:
    Darwin, Charles, On The Origin of Species, 1859, London, John Murray, 1st Edition, CHAP.VI, 184 DIFFICULTIES ON THEORY.

    [http://pages.britishlibrary.net/charles.darwin/texts/origin1859/origin06.html] Origin of Species 1st Edition Ch.VI 184

    [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_So_Stories Just So Stories]

  8. Old-World Primates Evolved Color Vision to Better See Each Other Blush, Study Reveals: http://pr.caltech.edu/media/Pr.....12802.html

    Excerpt:
    Now, a team of California Institute of Technology researchers has published a paper suggesting that we primates evolved our particular brand of color vision so that we could subtly discriminate slight changes in skin tone due to blushing and blanching. The work may answer a long-standing question about why trichromat vision (that is, color via three cone receptors) evolved in the first place in primates.

    Bonus:
    Adding to the confidence of the hypothesis is the fact that the old-world trichromats tend to be bare-faced and bare-butted as well.

    No, it’s not a joke! It is a scientific research. Please read it seriously! :P

  9. Farshad@8

    Clearly you are a religious fundamentalist, anti-Science, literal six day believer. Oh, when will you guys stop attacking Science® with your religious myths?!!!

  10. Webmaster – Please separate out the comments on Jury Nullification and put them with the previous post.

    Sorry, the blog software has no easy way to do that. -ds

  11. this study was a fake, because it was later learned that the old world primates were glued to tree trunks.

  12. “but Darwin’s bear story also sounds more Lamarckian than Darwinian”

    A little known fact: Darwin actually believed in the transmission of acquired traits, what is now called “Lamarkian” evolution. Remember, he was writing long before Mendel was known, let alone DNA. Another interesting fact: Lamarckian evolution has been excluded more on theoretical grounds (because, if genes control everything, then there’s no plausible way for genes to be modified by aquired traits) than experimental: there’s actually a fair amount of evidence (usually ignored) for it. RM + NS is the neodarwinian synthesis, NOT “classical” Darwinism.

    And actually, Darwinism is much more plausible if you assume that selection acts upon not just random errors, but on creatures shaped by their environment during life (not entirely plausible, mind you, but more so). You can almost see what he was getting at. But the Neodarwinians have painted themsleves into a corner with undirected RM + NS, so they have to defend this absurd construct…

  13. One of my favorite just-so-stories is over at talkorigins. The 15 ‘easy-to-envision’ steps to becoming a bombardier beetle! (In 30 million years or less, GUARANTEED!!- or your money back!)

    (quote)
    Gish is wrong; a step-by-step evolution of the bombardier system is really not that hard to envision. The scenario below shows a possible step-by-step evolution of the bombardier beetle mechanism from a primitive arthropod.

    1.-Quinones are produced by epidermal cells for tanning the cuticle. This exists commonly in arthropods.

    2.-Some of the quinones don’t get used up, but sit on the epidermis, making the arthropod distasteful. (Quinones are used as defensive secretions in a variety of modern arthropods, from beetles to millipedes.

    3.-Small invaginations develop in the epidermis between sclerites (plates of cuticle). By wiggling, the insect can squeeze more quinones onto its surface when they’re needed.

    4.-The invaginations deepen. Muscles are moved around slightly, allowing them to help expel the quinones from some of them. (Many ants have glands similar to this near the end of their abdomen.

    5.-A couple invaginations (now reservoirs) become so deep that the others are inconsequential by comparison. Those gradually revert to the original epidermis.

    6.-In various insects, different defensive chemicals besides quinones appear. This helps those insects defend against predators which have evolved resistance to quinones. One of the new defensive chemicals is hydroquinone.

    7.-Cells that secrete the hydroquinones develop in multiple layers over part of the reservoir, allowing more hydroquinones to be produced. Channels between cells allow hydroquinones from all layers to reach the reservior.

    8.-The channels become a duct, specialized for transporting the chemicals. The secretory cells withdraw from the reservoir surface, ultimately becoming a separate organ.
    This stage — secretory glands connected by ducts to reservoirs — exists in many beetles. The particular configuration of glands and reservoirs that bombardier beetles have is common to the other beetles in their suborder.

    9.-Muscles adapt which close off the reservior, thus preventing the chemicals from leaking out when they’re not needed.

    10.-Hydrogen peroxide, which is a common by-product of cellular metabolism, becomes mixed with the hydroquinones. The two react slowly, so a mixture of quinones and hydroquinones get used for defense.

    11.-Cells secreting a small amount of catalases and peroxidases appear along the output passage of the reservoir, outside the valve which closes it off from the outside. These ensure that more quinones appear in the defensive secretions. Catalases exist in almost all cells, and peroxidases are also common in plants, animals, and bacteria, so those chemicals needn’t be developed from scratch but merely concentrated in one location.

    12.-More catalases and peroxidases are produced, so the discharge is warmer and is expelled faster by the oxygen generated by the reaction. The beetle Metrius contractus provides an example of a bombardier beetle which produces a foamy discharge, not jets, from its reaction chambers. The bubbling of the foam produces a fine mist.

    13.-The walls of that part of the output passage become firmer, allowing them to better withstand the heat and pressure generated by the reaction.

    14.-Still more catalases and peroxidases are produced, and the walls toughen and shape into a reaction chamber. Gradually they become the mechanism of today’s bombardier beetles.

    15.-The tip of the beetle’s abdomen becomes somewhat elongated and more flexible, allowing the beetle to aim its discharge in various directions.

  14. “But the Neodarwinians have painted themsleves into a corner with undirected RM + NS, so they have to defend this absurd construct…”

    How does a term like “undirected RM + NS” make sense? NS by definition does the directing, so how can you label it as undirected?

    How is this construct absurd? How can someone say “i accept microevolution” and turn around and say “I don’t accept RM + NS”. In your opinion what mechanisms drive what you guys call “microevolution” if it’s not RM + NS?

    Directing implies purposeful steering towards a particular goal. Natural selection has no purpose and no goals. Natural selection doesn’t care whether anything lives or dies. It’s just an impersonal law-driven process like erosion. To be quite frank I don’t accept that microevolution is an undirected process either. I’m not at all convinced that anything nature is truly random as that requires answering the metaphysical question of determinism in an assured manner. All I’m willing to commit to is that mutations of unknown cause are the fodder for natural selection. I’m not at all convinced that natural selection for beneficial change is operational at all as there is so much noise from the preponderance of deleterious or neutral mutations that the beneficial signal is drowned. -ds

  15. Fross,

    I doubt that anyone denies RM and NS here. It is just that it has only been shown to apply to triivial examples. Micro evolution is partially driven by RM + NS but it is also driven by other things that have nothing to do with mutations.

  16. Fross,

    “[C]hanges within a population have been termed microevolution, and they can indeed be accepted as a consequence of shifting gene frequencies. Changes above the species level – involving the origin of new species and the establishment of higher taxonomic patterns – are known as macroevolution. The central question of the Chicago conference was whether the mechanisms underlying microevolution can be extrapolated to explain the phenomena of macroevolution. At the risk of doing violence to the positions of some of the people at the meeting, the answer can be given as a clear, No.”

    Roger Lewin, “Evolutionary Theory Under Fire: An Historic Conference in Chicago Challenges the Four-Decade Long Dominance of the Modern Synthesis,” Science 210 (November 21, 1980): 883, 883-887.

  17. Barry,

    Thank you for your post. I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to have you as one of the contributors to Uncommon Descent.

    Jimbo,

    Thank you for your informative comments. neo-Darwinism has dominated so much that classical Darwinism has been mostly forgotten.

    Some thoughts: Mary Jane West-Eberhardt (of Devlopmental Plasticity fame), claims to be a true (a classical) Darwinist. So, does Lynn Margulis (lol). Perhaps a way to market ID would be to say, IDers are the true Darwinists (choke, on second thought that probably won’t work)!

    Sal

  18. I believe the ultimate power should always be in the hands of the people instead of elected officials and especially not in the hands of appointed officials.

    And that’s why jury nullification is such an integral part of American jurisprudence. The sad fact nowadays is that you may not even make it on to a jury if you are aware of thy jury’s right to vote their conscience on matters of fact and law.

  19. In the latest evolutionary jolt to the tree of RM&NS… there are so many twist in the plot of “just so” stories, that the authors have given the pen over to the characters. Roger Rabbit comes to life from the primordial glue, he is not destroyed by it….

    (hattip: creationsafaris.com news, as quoted from PNAS.org, June 2006) “‘We need to look at fossils from a new point of view, because there must have been a common ancestor of bats, horses and dogs,’ one of them said.”

    So once again the tree is tangled in a web so tight even Charlotte cannot weave her way out of its knots.

    And the punch line:
    “‘I think this will be a surprise for many scientists,’ one of the researchers remarked; ‘No one expected this.’”

    There are so many surprises, the role of Gomer Pyle is being resurrected. Jim Nabors is booked solid across the world of evolutionary campuses, introducing such wonderful new mysteries of science. Surprise, surprise, surprise!

    When asked about his sudden resurgence in theatre and his new role for speaker of MacEvo; Nabors responded – Shaaaaazzzzzzzzzaaaam! Aint that the funniest thannng! Who woulda thunk they needed an actor to talk about science?

    He then began to tell the story of the split-toed, red belly, tasmanian pig devil spotted in Mayberry RFD. The current theory is it once was a longhorn breed, but due to drought and lack of grass, it began sniffing for food and rutting the ground in order to survive. The unique markings of red on its belly and snout are from the constant groundhog like existence, rutting and digging in red clay. The split toes were evolved by natures magnificent mutations to help in foraging for morsels of bugs and critters beneath the clay upon which the highly specialized and evolved snout had found. The snout was shortened as a result the nose continuously rubbing against the clay which simultaneously contributed to the original sounds of a ferocious growl crossed with the mooooooo oink, oink, oink anytime farmer Joe got to close and threatened this newly evolved species food habitat. As to why this new varmit is also named Tasmanian Devil too, Gomer exclaimed, well, ya see, it uses them longhorns to help dig for food, and well, they got shorter and shorter over the years, darn near broke em! But they got sharper and redder and so Shaazaaaam!

    You have the Split Toed, Red Belly, Tasmanian Pig Devil!

    Scientist are truly surprised by this discovery! But they know that Gomer Pyle can convince the nations heartland – they’re doing good science here. You see, says the International Association for Consensus Science President, Dr. Dupem we just needed to find someone to speak on their level.

    Asked if Opie would join in telling the grand new story, Nabors replied true to Gomer Pyle fashing, Why Heck no! He’s to busy telling bigger fish stories than me!

  20. My favorite Darwin story is about how the giraffe got it long neck! Is it bed-time yet?

  21. I love “just so” stories. They show the extent of the human imagination, and there’s only a small portion of humanity that spends time wondering about such issues. To me, anyone who looks at something like a giraffe and wonders “why that?” is a unique person who doesn’t take the world before them for granted.

    Now personally, as entertainment value, I like what you guys call “Darwinistic just so stories” the most. They have far more detail to their stories, and sometimes the illustrations are pretty cool. The just so story about giraffes is different than the just so story about whales, and each animal can have its own unique “just so” story. This is great for spin off stories and if you hit writer’s block, just pick a new animal and you have an entirely new “just so” story to go with. Now in comparison, non Darwinian “just so” stories have a long way to go in terms of entertainment value. For instance, the just so story for giraffes is the same story for whales and every other animal. If you’ve read one story, you’ve read them all.

    Did you ever stop to wonder if there is any other area of science other than Darwinian evolution where the researcher’s imagined stories count as evidence for the theory? BA

  22. Re: #16

    The full context of that quote is:

    “[C]hanges within a population have been termed microevolution, and they can indeed be accepted as a consequence of shifting gene frequencies. Changes above the species level – involving the origin of new species and the establishment of higher taxonomic patterns – are known as macroevolution. The central question of the Chicago conference was whether the mechanisms underlying microevolution can be extrapolated to explain the phenomena of macroevolution. At the risk of doing violence to the positions of some of the people at the meeting, the answer can be given as a clear, No. What is not so clear, however, is whether microevolution is totally decoupled from macroevolution. The two can more probably be seen as a continuum with a notable overlap.”

    Roger Lewin, “Evolutionary Theory Under Fire: An Historic Conference in Chicago Challenges the Four-Decade Long Dominance of the Modern Synthesis,” Science 210 (November 21, 1980): 883, 883-887.

    That is, Lewin was commenting in support of the then-novel idea of punctuated equilibrium, in which environmental change, such as increased predation or climate stress or simple division of breeding population, is stipulated to be a necessary part of the process driving more large-scale change away from a previously established and enduring optimum.

    I know Barry understands that, but for others who might not have read the paper, the fuller context makes an interesting and slightly different point.

  23. Well there are some wonderful “just so” stories about cosmology, and geology off the top of my head. I think something like the “just so” story about giraffe is actually an attempt to explain the giraffe, is it not? But I agree with your assertion that just so stories can’t count as evidence. If anything just so stories represent the theory/hypothesis part and outside facts should support the just so story. For instance the whale “just so” story has become validated to some degree by outside facts.

  24. Fross,

    We agree that just so stories cannot count as evidence. The fact that we may be able to think up stories about what might have happened may be interesting, but it is not evidence. The real issue, I am sure you will agree, is whether the data supports a conclusion that the process described in the story actualy happened in the real world.

  25. These stories are fun, I ran into a children’s book at thrift shop explaining how ‘lil Archaeopteryx learned to eat more bugs by spreading his wings and hopping into the wind. The author, however, did not tell us how he got his pilot’s license. I’ve searched in vain to find how Beavers and Spiders evolved degrees in civil engineering. It also is puzzling to imagine the precursor of modern ducks flying in a v-formation all by himself (a “dot” formation?). Unless two (three for the formation to look cool and catch on) ducks met up who had coincidentally evolved this instinct simultaneously (but then the old joke about a different tendency: “how do you decide who leads?”). What other explanation can there be but some kind of Lamarkian evolution of instinct combined with literally impossibly small probalities?

  26. The full context of that quote is…

    Does anyone know where I can obtain copies of the papers and discussions from that “Historic Conference in Chicago?”

    I mean, seriously, if it is such an historic conference, where are the historical records?

  27. BarryA,
    you are very correct. What I’d love to see is someone take the whale evolution “just so” story, write it down and then list a series of facts you’d expect to see in the real world if the “just so” story were true.

  28. 28

    BarryA wrote in Comment #2 –
    —As for jury nullification, Colorado, where I practice, actually has a standard jury instruction that the judges read in every single jury trial reminding the jurors that they must not “judge the wisdom of the law.”—

    I am surprised that the jury nullification discussion was moved here instead of continuing under its own thread. I would like to add a few more comments.

    I think that there are actually three different kinds of jury nullification. Here is how I think they would apply to the Dover case (assuming hypothetically that a jury would be given the authority to decide the issue of constitutionality) –

    (1) — the jury nullifies the original law. I don’t think a jury would nullify the Constitution’s establishment clause.

    (2) — the jury nullifies the judge’s instructions in how to interpret or apply the law. I think that a jury would just love to nullify the infamous “Lemon test” — judges themselves often nullify this test — see http://im-from-missouri.blogsp.....sucks.html

    (3) — the jury accepts both the law and the judge’s instructions about the law but rules that the defendant is not guilty because of extenuating circumstances or sympathy for the defendant. I have no opinion about how this might apply to the Dover case.

    As I pointed out before, another problem is that if there were actual damages, the court might divide the case into two parts — a jury trial for the damages and a non-jury trial for the constitutionality issue. Also, if there is going to be an appeal, there really needs to be a written opinion, and juries cannot write opinions.

    Larry, I’ve already told you that jury trial verdicts are frequently appealed with the exception of prosecutors in criminal trials due to prohibition against double jeopardy. What part of that didn’t you understand? If I have to waste my time repeating myself one more time because you refuse to accept easily verifiable facts it’ll be the last time. -ds

  29. See the article on Just-so story at ResearchID.org

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