‘How’ Doesn’t Mean ‘How’ in Evolution

By Tom Gilson Published on May 5, 2018

NPR asked on Wednesday, “How Did Birds Lose Their Teeth and Get Their Beaks?” The headline continues with a promise: “Study Offers Clues.”

I’ve got clues of my own on what the word “how” means in articles on Darwinian evolution like this one.

It tells us, as such reports commonly do, that there’s a new study that “fills in some of the missing links.” A bird-like animal called Ichtyornis dispar lived in Kansas some 66 to 100 million years ago. In “aspect” it was much like a gull or a tern, except unlike modern birds, it had teeth and a muscular jaw to use them. “That combination of beak, teeth, flight and jaws,” says the article,” makes it a crucial link in bird evolution.”

What Happened to the “How”?

There’s plenty to find fascinating about Icthyornis, and any new discovery is good. But what does it tell us about that “how” question? Nothing. You can look as long as you like, and all you’ll find is that scientists have a new idea what route evolution in producing these animals. But if you want to know how it traveled that route, that’s nowhere to be found. The headline’s “how” promise goes unfulfilled. That’s typical of reports like these.

But what does it tell us about that “how” question? Nothing.

Instead of explanations, we see problems. There’s an organism with a large brain, unlike its predecessors, apparently to allow it to do the processing required for flight. There’s a paleontologist telling us “the bones that protect the brain enlarged to keep pace with the changes in brain size.”

That’s a problem, not an explanation. How (I wonder) did the DNA for the bones know there were changes going on in the DNA for the wings and the muscles for the brain, all working together to get the animal ready to fly?

There are two questions in there. One is a simple information problem. DNA and cells contain loads and loads of information. It takes a whole lot new information to supply an animal with the ability to fly. And that information had better be good, given all the problems involved in flight. How does DNA keep acquiring all that great information? Darwinists have lots of answers, but for the huge amount of information needed, and the unfailing accuracy required, those answers come up empty.

The Difficult “How” of Irreducible Complexity

Then there’s the information of coordinating all the needed parts to arrive on schedule to work together properly. Or to state it more formally, there’s the issue of irreducible complexity, as described by Dr. Michael Behe of Lehigh University.

Here’s the problem. Every evolutionist from Darwin on down has known that evolution must proceed by small, gradual, stepwise changes. Each one of those changes must confer some kind of adaptive advantage on the population that receives them. Either that, or (at worst) it has to do no harm. Apart from that, no change will last; evolution will weed it out just as fast as it can.

Now, changes that aren’t actually useful (adaptive) for the current generation are almost always harmful. It does no good say the change would help some future generation; evolution can’t see into the future.

So then, examples of unhelpful changes could include larger muscles in the chest, when wings have not developed yet; those muscles would steal energy, and that’s no help to the animal’s survival. Another example: wings, when the brain hasn’t developed what it needs to be able to fly with them; they’d just get in the way. Or a larger skull when the brain hasn’t expanded in size to need it yet; or (the other way around) a brain that wants to grow larger when the skull hasn’t made room for it yet.

So consider what we’re dealing with here: Wings, muscles, brain and skull. It all has to develop at once, or else none of it does the animal any good, and natural selection will literally kill it off. Either that, or else each of these parts must have some independent evolutionary reason to appear. But what would that independent reason be?

Now, maybe these problems are solvable in the case of Icthyornis. I don’t know. I do know that Darwinists have bitterly attacked Michael Behe’s work from every possible angle, and still they’ve never succeeded in showing him wrong. In fact, for many of his examples, Darwinian solutions seem impossible in principle. That is, it’s not just that science hasn’t figured things out yet. It’s that we know enough already to see that there’s no conceivable Darwinian path to get to these irreducibly complex structures.

Stops along the way don’t tell us how planes fly, and they don’t tell us how animals evolve, either.

Articles About Evolution: Always Where It Lands, Never How It Got There

But let’s back up a few steps here to where I started from: the “how” question, and whether this article answers it. This is more important than just one article. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see lots of reports like it, promising to tell you the “how” of evolution.

What you’ll find in all these articles is that the word “how” in these reports never has its ordinary meaning, “This is the way it was done.” In most cases, including this article, it means something else instead: “Here’s one possible landing point the process took on the way to getting itself done.” But just as landing points across the country don’t explain how airplanes fly between them, they also don’t explain how one animal evolves into another.

And suppose instead of flying 500 miles in one hop, we learned the plane stopped once every hundred or so. That’s what “missing links” are, after all. They’re in-between landing points in the evolutionary journey. But stops along the way don’t tell us how planes fly, and they don’t tell us how animals evolve, either.

But this is how it goes, time after time. Proponents of Darwinian evolution keep telling us where airplanes land. Maybe they think that’s all it takes to convince us they know how planes fly.

My advice: When you see an article promising you a “how” in evolution, don’t settle for anything less than full delivery on the promise. Make them tell you what really gets the plane off the ground, navigating properly and landing safely at an acceptable destination. Only then should you be satisfied that they’ve told you “how.”

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