Thursday, September 24, 2009

Another Puzzle

The other day we talked about a couple of evolutionary puzzles - insect metamorphosis and the waggle dance of bees. Robert Deyes at Uncommon Descent offers us another: Animal migration.

Creatures as diverse as Monarch butterflies, Green sea turtles, Arctic terns, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, and salmon all must coordinate a complex series of factors - body mass, time of migration, food availability, weather, global position (without benefit of landmarks for pelagic migrants) - all, in the case of young of the year, without ever having done it before. How did such astonishing abilities evolve when the costs and risks to the organism are so high and the benefits so seemingly minor? Here's Deyes:

Those in favor of evolution's ways openly struggle to understand the selective advantage afforded by the migratory birds' seemingly deliberate draining of precious resources. By their own admission "Migration exacts a high toll [as] grizzlies wait in streams and gorge on exhausted salmon migrating home from the sea, and falcons feast on fatigued songbirds arriving at their winter home in Africa. Fuel used by muscles to propel wings, fins, and legs is unavailable for reproductive activities, and time spent on the move is time not spent gathering food." They counter their self-imposed quandary by assuming a priori that selection 'favors the brave' and that over time survival benefits must have outweighed such costs. Evolution is after all a 'fact' and so what must have happened must have happened. Such circular reasoning of course gets us nowhere and leaves the above functional challenges unanswered.

Migration is indeed a mystery - a mystery in terms of how it's accomplished and a mystery in terms of why and how it ever evolved. Of course, if the evolution of this amazing behavior were directed by an intelligent agent a big part of the mystery, though certainly not all of it (the question of how the agent did it, for example, would still remain), would be cleared up.


Huffing and Puffing

Michael Egnor at Evolution News and Notes writes that:

"The ID-Darwinism debate is rapidly eroding materialist credibility, not only because of the strength of the ID arguments, but because ID proponents have forced materialists to state clearly what they believe. Candor is incompatible with materialist ideology; Darwinists are angry in large part because they've been forced to explain themselves."

This is an interesting insight. Nothing irritates a man like having to defend what he just knows to be true, especially when the truth is obvious to him and he can't understand why it isn't obvious to everyone. Unfortunately, Darwinism is only obvious if one starts from the assumption that materialism, or naturalism, is true. If that's so then something like Darwinian evolution simply must be the case, but the problem is that it's by no means obvious that materialism is true, and there are lots of reasons to think that it's not.

The IDer who attacks Darwinism by attacking materialism is cutting to the heart of the matter. He's laying seige to fundamental core convictions and showing them to be little more than smoke and mirrors. Few approaches are more certain to arouse a man's anger than exposing the hollow pretensions of his presuppositions. Most intelligent people sense when the philosophical ice is cracking under their feet and they often seek to mask their alarm and insecurity by throwing up clouds of anger and hostility, as if huffing and puffing were an adequate substitute for rational explanation.

It's a good rule of thumb, I think, that the angrier and nastier someone gets in an argument the less sure he is of the strength of his case.