Some Questions for Evolutionists (and my Answers)
Over at the website Evogenesis.com, old earth creationist John Thomas poses some questions for “evolutionists.” Although I’m not an “evolutionist” in the sense of an unquestioning slavishly faithful adherent, I do think that evolutionary biology has managed to explain a whole lot more than any other alternative within its domain. I think that would make me an “evolutionist” in Thomas’ book, and it’s very nice of him to ask me questions. Very curious of him! I’ll repeat his questions in italics and share my answers.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR EVOLUTIONISTS
1. Are you happy to embrace the belief that man is nothing more than a complex arrangement of inanimate atoms, effectively making him no more important than a cabbage or a worm?
Of course I wish that I were important. I also wish I could fly. I wish I had a secret underground lair, and a secondary hard drive for my brain, and a time machine, too. Wishing won’t make it so. Wishing that I were more important to the universe than a worm or a cabbage does not actually mean I must be more important. I shouldn’t accept or reject a theory based on whether it fits with my personal fantasies. I shouldn’t expect the universe to make me happy.
2. How can the young of migratory birds be born knowing how to navigate by the sun?
Aren’t mysteries wonderful? I have no idea what the answer is! I’m not a biologist. It’s a good thing that there are scientists working on answering that question through careful observation. I’m grateful for this well-written review of the research literature on the subject, which has helped me begin to understand how biologists are working to answer that question:
Wiltschko, Roswitha, and Wolfgang Wiltschko. “Avian navigation: from historical to modern concepts.” Animal Behaviour 65.2 (2003): 257-272.
For more recent research having to do particularly with young birds, this is an interesting piece of research. Check out the literature review, which notes that the sun is only one of many cues that birds use for navigation:
Horton, Travis W., Richard O. Bierregaard, Peyman Zawar-Reza, Richard N. Holdaway, and Paul Sagar. “Juvenile osprey navigation during trans-oceanic migration.” PloS One 9, no. 12 (2014): e114557.
3. How could the incredibly complex yet complementary human penis and vagina have evolved separately in man and woman? Ditto for all mammals?
Another mystery! What a fortunate happenstance that we have a well-funded research infrastructure on our planet. Here’s a well-reviewed edited volume containing 22 research articles on the subject of the evolution of sexual organs:
The Evolution of Primary Sexual Characters in Animals. 2010. Janet Leonard and Alex Cordoba, editors. Oxford University Press
A less dense review of the scientific literature on the evolution of genitals, written for a popular audience, was published last year by Penguin Books. It’s out in paperback this year:
Nature’s Nether Regions: What the Sex Lives of Bugs, Birds, and Beasts Tell Us About Evolution, Biodiversity, and Ourselves. 2014. Menno Schilthuizen. Penguin Books.
4. How do the cells in any growing organ, such as the human heart, “know” how to work together to create complex morphologies, such as pumping chambers, veins and arteries, valves and the coordinated electrical impulses that regulate their working?
Isn’t embryonic development fascinating? I’m not an expert, since I’m not a biologist, but I sure am glad that there are many people who have devoted their entire careers to answering this question, since the answers they have found have direct relevance to those born with congenital heart defects. Here’s a link to a 2004 article describing the process of the development of the human heart:
Abdulla, R., G. A. Blew, and M. J. Holterman. “Cardiovascular embryology.”Pediatric Cardiology 25.3 (2004): 191-200.
And just this month, wouldn’t you know it, a new research article was published in the journal Nature Communications in which the authors describe a project in which prior research knowledge about the physical and chemical mechanisms of human heart differentiation has been applied to successfully coax human heart stem cells into forming differentiated cardiac tissue on a tissue culture plate in a lab at UC Berkeley:
Ma, Zhen, Jason Wang, Peter Loskill, Nathaniel Huebsch, Sangmo Koo, Felicia L. Svedlund, Natalie C. Marks et al. “Self-organizing human cardiac microchambers mediated by geometric confinement.” Nature Communications 6 (2015).
The article is thick with acronyms and can be difficult to read, but at the end there are nine video files attached that are pretty spiffy. Also, UC Berkeley describes the research in more accessible terms here.
5. Why, do you think, did Charles Darwin spend so much of this life suffering from severe psychsomatic afflictions — and why did he delay so long in publishing his work? Answer: In his heart, he knew it was infantile nonsense from the start.
Well, you see, I don’t really know, since I haven’t asked Darwin himself and… hey, you answered for me!