The Loom

Gulp

mole.gifGrowing up as I did in the northeast, I always assumed that the really weird life forms lived somewhere else–the Amazonian rain forest, maybe, or the deep sea. But we’ve got at least one truly bizarre creature we can boast about: the star-nosed mole. Its star is actually 22 fleshy tendrils that extend from its snout. For a long time, it wasn’t entirely clear what the moles used the star for. The moles were so quick at finding food–larvae, worms, and other creatures that turn up in their tunnels–that some scientists suggested that the star could detect the electric fields of animals.

That idea hasn’t panned out, but the truth has turned out to be just as exotic. As I write in tomorrow’s issue of the New York Times, the star is the most sensitive touch organ known to science. It is studded with 25,000 touch-sensitive nerve organs, which channel their sensations into 100,000 large nerve fibers (more than in your entire hand). These nerves then carry the signals to the brain, much of which is dedicated to interpreting what the star feels. As Ken Catania of Vanderbilt University reports in a paper appearing in the current issue of Nature, this heavy-duty wiring produces record-setting speed. As soon as the star-nosed mole comes into contact with food, it needs a fifth of a second to gobble it down. (The article includes a sequence, of frames from one of these filmed feasts.)

As some readers of the Times may notice, this mole article appears in the science section a day after an op-ed column appeared in the editorial section promoting Intelligent Design. Michael Behe, a Lehigh University biologist, claims that evolutionary biologists have not offered hypotheses for how complex things evolve in nature. Given this supposed lack of explanations, and given the supposedly obvious signs of design in biology, Behe concludes that life must be the product of an Intelligent Designer.

Behe is incorrect. In fact, evolutionary biologists have put together hypotheses for many complex systems, which they have published in leading peer-reviewed biology journals. The immune system is one example, which I blogged about in December. The star of the star-nosed moles is another. Ken Catania’s hypothesis for its origin starts with the observation that the star is not quite as unique as it may seem at first sight. The touch-sensitive organs it uses (called Eimer organs) are found on the noses of other moles, albeit it in far lower densities. What’s more, coast moles, close relatives of star-nosed moles, have small, pipe-shaped swellings at the very tip of its nose, which resemble the star on a star-nosed mole when it is still an embryo.

The star, Catania argues, evolved on a coast-mole-like ancestor. The swellings became larger, the nerves became denser, and the brain dedicated more space to processing the star’s signals. Natural selection favored this trend, according to Catania, because the star-nosed moles moved from dry habitats to wetlands, which are loaded with small insect larvae. In addition to big insects, such as earthworms or crickets, star-nosed moles added these small prey to their diet. The star provided benefits to the mole long before it had taken the full-blown form it has today. The more time the star-nosed moles shaved off their performance, the more calories they could take in each second.

Catania’s hypothesis takes into account all of the evidence he and others have gathered about star-nosed moles–their behavior, the microscopic structure of their star, the architecture of their brains, their ecology, and the same evidence in closely related moles. It builds on what scientists already know about variation, inheritance, and natural selection. As a hypothesis, it’s open to testing, based on further observations of star-nosed moles and their relatives. And that’s what Catania is doing.

As for corresponding published papers that use Intelligent Design to interpret the star-nosed mole, they do not exist. The closest I can find are some comments from Answers in Genesis. On their web site, they claim that Catania’s hypothesis cannot be right because it is based on "the discredited idea of Embryonic Recapitulation." This claim is based on the fact that the nineteenth century biologist Ernst Haeckel doctored some pictures of embryos in order to fit his own notion about how evolution progressed in certain directions. Nevertheless, the scientific consensus today–based on over a century of research since Haeckel’s day–holds that changes in the way embryos develop can lead to dramatic evolutionary change (Here’s a good account of the current undertanding.).

The Answers in Genesis site then asks, "Why would a ‘primitive’ mammal suddenly start to develop such a specialized appendage? If it was already successfully hunting food without the star, what was the evolutionary ‘trigger’ for the star’s development?" Catania has already laid out this part of his hypothesis: the ancestors of star-nosed moles moved into wetlands, where variations that helped them feed on insect larvae could get them more food and boost their odds of reproducing. Other mole species, living in dry soil, didn’t have this incentive. What’s more, the delicate star would be damaged scraping against the hard tunnels dug by other moles.

These are some of the reasons why Catania and other scientists that I interview are not swayed by the sorts of claims made by Answers in Genesis or Michael Behe (as evidenced by the lack of peer-reviewed papers that they have inspired). Instead, what excites these scientists are the common themes that arise when they study the origins of different complex traits. Consider, for example, the adaptive immune system. I won’t go into detail here about the latest thinking about how it evolved (I already have here). But I will point out that it seems to have followed the same trajectory as the star-nosed mole. It did not come out of nowhere. Parts of the system–including organs, cells, and receptors, were already in place millions of years earlier, often serving different functions than they do today. These parts were then modified, connected together in new ways, and gradually took on the form they have today. The same goes for the star-nosed mole and many other case studies in complexity–even including artificial life.

In the interest of full disclosure, I cannot end this post before confessing that the evolution of complexity was not the only thing I found fascinating in working on this article. Searching for a point of comparison for the speed of star-nosed moles, I wound up at the web site for the International Federation of Competitive Eating. Did you know someone holds the record for eating cheesecake? Eleven pounds in nine minutes. Now that’s bizarre.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph Poliakon
    February 8, 2005

    Is it prophetic coincidence that you ended your article on eating apparatus evolution driven by geography, with a note pointing to the International Federation on Competitive Eating?

    What came to mind with your IFCE reference was the purported “Obesity Problem” in today’s U.S. Could girth expanding, belly swelling obesity in humans, be an evolutionary parallel to the star-nose mole’s adaptive expansion of their coastal cousin’s pipe-shaped nose tip swellings? Coastal vs. Wetland? Land-of-Plenty vs. Not-So-Land-of-Plenty? Could the Big Mac with large fries be an evolutionary “trigger” for obesity in humans?

    Just some FOOD for prophetic evolutionary thought.

  2. #2 sandra
    February 8, 2005

    Read what both evolutionists and ID proponents have to say in the article “Intelligent Design?” at http://www.actionbioscience.org/evolution/nhmag.html

  3. #3 Stan
    February 8, 2005

    Ironically, many IFCE eating champions are quite thin (see: http://www.ifoce.com/news.php?action=detail&sn=39 ), unlike our star-nosed friend. Now if we can just train them to play poker….

  4. #4 Jari Anttila
    February 8, 2005

    AiG is implying (“Why would a ?primitive? mammal suddenly start to develop such a specialized appendage?”) that a species which is otherwise regarded as primitive cannot have any complex organs. In other words, if its ancestors branched off from the common lineage earlier than others, its evolution should have ceased right there. This ladder-like phylogeny is a typical misinterpretation of how evolution proceeds.
    Nobody ordered the mole’s ancestor to stop evolving, “because you’re primitive!”

  5. #5 Carl Buell
    February 8, 2005

    Having actually handled Star-nosed Moles, they are hyper in more than their eating habits and have a “back end” almost as interesting as the front; a long scaly tail that doubles as a fat-storing organ. Thanks for the link to both your article and Ken Catania’s paper.

  6. #6 Davi Bock
    February 8, 2005

    Sometimes I think it’s regrettable that so many good science writers get drawn into debates with creationists, proponents of ‘intelligent design’, and the like. I suppose it’s incumbent upon science writers, as popularizers of the arcane, to argue the case for modern evolutionary theory. But this effort distracts from what I believe is their more interesting function: to comb a large scientific literature for what’s new and cool, and distill it for everybody’s enjoyment, scientists and laypeople alike. In any case, thanks much for your blog, Mr. Zimmer, I enjoy it and read it regularly.

  7. #7 Charlie Wagner
    February 9, 2005

    I plan to send you and Dr. Catania preview copies of my book, just as soon as it comes out. I hope you both read it. The title will be “How Really Smart People Can Believe Really Stupid Things”.

  8. #8 Charlie Wagner
    February 9, 2005

    “The swellings became larger, the nerves became denser, and the brain dedicated more space to processing the star’s signals.”

    And these changes occured because of:
    1) evolution pixies
    2) magic
    3) a miracle

    “the ancestors of star-nosed moles moved into wetlands, where variations that helped them feed on insect larvae could get them more food and boost their odds of reproducing. Other mole species, living in dry soil, didn’t have this incentive. What’s more, the delicate star would be damaged scraping against the hard tunnels dug by other moles.”

    That’s one of the stupidest things I ever heard. He should get a whole chapter in my book. You would have to believe in miracles and suspend all reality to think that this is a credible explanation for these adaptations.

    “These parts were then modified, connected together in new ways, and gradually took on the form they have today.”

    And you think this kind of organized engineering was done without intelligence? You think it was the result of random, accidental mutations filtered by natural selection? I think it’s time to do what I did after 30 years of accepting the current paradigm: revisit the question with an open mind.

    http://www.charliewagner.net/casefor.htm

  9. #9 Steve Russell
    February 9, 2005

    LOL!

    It will be interesting to see what testable premises are posited in Mr. Wagner’s tome…!

  10. #10 Jari Anttila
    February 10, 2005



    And you think this kind of organized engineering was done without intelligence?

    Yes. It was done by a process called coevolution.
    I’m sure it will not take 30 years to find out what that it.

  11. #11 Charlie Wagner
    February 10, 2005

    Jari wrote:
    “Yes. It was done by a process called coevolution.”

    Insects were believed to be highly co-evolved with flowering plants, with extensively modified bodies and mouth parts that facilitate feeding on plants. Many scientists have argued that insects diversified when flowering plants diversified.
    Unfortunately, all major mouth part types precede flowering plants and were probably co-opted from other uses. Also, the rate of insect diversification actually slows when flowering plants arrive. While it seemed obvious that there must have been some interaction between insects and flowering plant evolution, the story is clearly not supported by the evidence.
    So much for co-evolution.
    The fact is that like much of evolutionary theory, co-evolution is just a story that someone made up that sounds good, but has no empirical support.

  12. #12 Jari Anttila
    February 10, 2005

    “…co-evolution is just a story that someone made up that sounds good, but has no empirical support.”
    There seems to be quite a lot of support e.g. in many of these articles.

  13. #13 Homo ignoramus
    February 10, 2005

    Charlie, is that book of yours going to be an autobiography? *grin*

    Seriously, some of the arguments you make in your “paper” astound me. Your washing machine, for example, is not affected by the same set of processes as your daughter. Your washing machine was not created through the autonomous imperfect reproduction of thousands of generations of other washing machines and your daughter was not assembled from a box of spare daughter parts. I don’t understand how you can look at the former and infer anything at all about the nature of the latter. And how can you assert that a mountain is not the product of intelligent design? I know you aren’t millions of years old, so I’m pretty sure you’ve never seen an orogenetic event from start to finish. Your whole “Scientific Case for Intelligent Input” could certainly use a little bit more science… or perhaps some intelligent input. (You won’t be getting that from me, though.)

    “[Evolution] is just a story that someone made up that sounds good, but has no empirical support”? What? That comment describes your ramblings perfectly, except for the sounding good part.

  14. #14 Jari Anttila
    February 10, 2005

    If anyone here is going to write a book about
    creationism and its motivations, I suggest a title:
    “How Really Desperate People Can Believe Really Desperate Things”.

    But, AFAIK, Charlie is not a creationist but a nihilist, which is the other option of how to attack science.

  15. #15 Charlie Wagner
    February 10, 2005

    Jari wrote:
    “But, AFAIK, Charlie is not a creationist but a nihilist, which is the other option of how to attack science.”

    I am neither a creationist or a nihilist and my intent is not to attack science but to criticize it when it gets off track, just as any parent would respond to a wayward child. I believe strongly in the scientific method, in empirical evidence and in falsification. Therefore it pains me deeply to see theories promoted by science which do not meet the criteria for acceptance, which is the presence of observational or experimental support.
    All of the evidence for evolution is nothing more than good science misinterpreted. The evidence derived from genetics, molecular biology, and molecular genetics is on solid ground, and I don’t question it, nor do I question any of the other areas of legitimate research. Only when this data is misinterpreted as being supportive of darwinism do I complain.
    There is nothing in the peer-reviewed literature anywhere that supports the notion that mutations and natural selection can lead to the emergence of highly organized structures, like the eye, processes like the biochemical reactions of vision or the notion that unguided processes can somehow integrate these components into functional systems without intelligent input.

  16. #16 gaebolga
    February 10, 2005

    Actually, Charlie, you’re really just a moron. And you still haven’t been able to explain why the fact taht dogs reproduce and airplanes don’t isn’t relevant to your argument by analogy.

  17. #17 Jari Anttila
    February 10, 2005

    Charlie:

    I am neither a creationist or a nihilist and my intent is not to attack science but to criticize it when it gets off track

    I just read and responded to your post in Panda’s Thumb. The rhetorics of your criticism made it clear that nothing, which isn’t directly observable, is good science to you. That’s the typical nihilistic or solipsist viewpoint.
    If you think that everything else is off-track science, well, you have a right to think so.
    It still has managed quite well and has produced a whole lot of converging results which imply that we are indeed after something that can be called “truth”. An alternative is to know nothing. Of course, you have a constitutional right to know nothing.

    There is nothing in the peer-reviewed literature anywhere that supports the notion that mutations and natural selection can lead to the emergence of highly organized structures, like the eye,

    Is this familiar to you?
    Read also this and this.

  18. #18 Homo ignoramus
    February 10, 2005

    Charlie said:

    “my intent is not to attack science but to criticize it when it gets off track, just as any parent would respond to a wayward child”

    How arrogant. You’re science’s daddy now?

    Please explain how your alternative is more scientific than the science. Charlie Wagner’s gut instincts and wild-ass guesses certainly do not constitute empirical evidence. Please explain how you are sufficiently qualified to dismiss the work of the legion of biologists who have actually written (and, by definition, reviewed) the peer-reviewed literature. I very much doubt that you have read all of the relevant literature, and it is logically impossible that you have read more of it than the aggregate of all biologists.

  19. #19 Charlie Wagner
    February 10, 2005

    Jari,
    I read both of the articles. Don’t loose sight of the issue. I’m not questioning whether or not evolution has occurred, I’m questioning whether it’s mechanism is random mutations and natural selection or whether some component of intelligent input was required. These two papers address the evolution of the eye, but make no statements about the mechanism, nor do they address random mutations and natural selection.
    Evolutionists constantly obfuscate the discussion by refusing to define clearly what they mean by the word evolution and they often do not distinguish between the fact of evolution, that change has occurred over time and the mechanism of evolution, which could easily be the result of intelligent input.
    Like Gould, I take no issue with the fact that evolution has occurred, that change has occurred over time and that all living things are closely related and probably had a common origin. But I have serious reservations about whether the mechanism of muation and selection proposed in the Modern Synthesis has the power vested in it by it’s proponents.

  20. #20 Homo ignoramus
    February 10, 2005

    Then please do explain, or at least hypothesize, the mechanism(s) by which the intelligent input acts to influence evolution. Doesn’t require magic, miracles, or designer pixies, does it?

  21. #21 Charlie Wagner
    February 10, 2005

    Homo ignoramus,
    Just an aside before I answer your question. This expression (Homo ignoramus), as you may know, comes from Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collision” and I’ve been using it on the banner for my website for a long time. Is this just a coincidence or should I be flattered?
    Anyway, to your question. Let me start by saying that the nature of the intelligence is unknown, as is its origin or mechanism.
    That having been said, my feeling is that all of the life on the earth has unfolded as the result of a program that was in the DNA at the time that it arrived on earth from elsewhere.
    For the most part, this evolution ended long ago and we cannot expect any further new forms. In fact, there have been no new phyla for hundreds of millions of years. DNA and cells have many of the qualities of a universal automaton that can theoretically construct any other biological machine using the protein synthetic apparatus and the available raw materials, so long as they consist of proteins. My belief is that since DNA is immortal (it requires no life support of any kind and can easily be stored in spores that can travel through space, immune from radiation, heat, cold or whatever) it floats through space until it encounters a suitable host that provides what it needs to unfold its potential. It then adapts itself, using on board hardware and software, to environment, no matter how severe. Clearly, living organisms are found in every available environment on the earth from the coldest to the hottest, from the most acidic to most alkaline, from the bottom of the deepest ocean to the top of the highest mountain. In short, it has unlimited potential.
    The most important question is the origin of the instructions that are found in the genome. Who wrote them? Where did they come from? We simply do not know

  22. #22 Homo ignoramus
    February 10, 2005

    Charlie, you can take credit for my handle. I’d seen the term used before, but I confess to being ignorant of its true origin (thanks for supplying that information). Anyway, it fits me exceedingly well.

    Your DNA hyothesis is an… interesting idea from a sort of science fiction perspective, and is indeed less annoying (to me) than the standard creationist “goddidit” since it provides at least some remote opportunity for further investigation. My hostility wanes. Still, you shouldn’t go around thinking that you’re not some sort of a lunatic. :-)

    Is there really any type of “experimental support” for the more traditional theory of evolution that you (or other IDists) would consider valid? I don’t see how we could ever isolate an experiment from the influence of intelligent design. Would we need it to be conducted haphazardly by a complete moron?

  23. #23 Charlie Wagner
    February 11, 2005

    Homo ignoramus wrote:
    “Is there really any type of “experimental support” for the more traditional theory of evolution that you (or other IDists) would consider valid? I don’t see how we could ever isolate an experiment from the influence of intelligent design. Would we need it to be conducted haphazardly by a complete moron?”

    The experiment is simple to design but almost impossible to carry out, due to the long periods of time involved. Just apply artificial selection over a period of time equivalent to that found in nature. One possible solution to this dilemma is to use computer simulations but you have to be absolutely certain that the output is analogous to what occured in nature.
    Artificial selection has been going on for quite a long time and new varieties have been created, but again, the output does not result in new highly organized structures, adaptations or processes, only variations on what already existed. There seems to be a barrier beyond which you cannot go.
    Both these areas of research are interesting, but so far as I can see, have not produced outputs that are analogous to what nature offers and have not produced the needed empirical support.
    Another possible approach is to try to find other entities on earth that are analogous to living organisms, but are the product of random processes. The only other entities on earth that are analogous to living organisms are machines that use multiple structures and processes integrated into functional systems. So far, no such machines have been discovered that have emerged without intelligent input.

  24. #24 Jari Anttila
    February 12, 2005

    Charlie:

    You failed to notice the first and most important paper I mentioned (Nilsson & Pelger, 1994), which especially demonstrated the ability of mutations and natural selection, i.e. darwinian mechanisms, to produce a complex eye with a lens from a mere light-sensitive patch; in a relatively short period of time.
    I found this short description of its details.
    The other two papers dealt with the common genetic basis different eye types have in various animals, which means that not so much convergence is needed than previously was thought.

    More about the aforementioned ability of darwinian mechanisms:
    Evolution of biological complexity
    Reconstructing large regions of an ancestral mammalian genome (They didn’t take into account any intelligent input here, and still the reconstruction was fairly good)

    Evolutionists constantly obfuscate the discussion by refusing to define clearly what they mean by the word evolution and they often do not distinguish between the fact of evolution, that change has occurred over time and the mechanism of evolution, which could easily be the result of intelligent input.

    Indeed; I’ve encountered this obfuscation zillions of times during the past years, but almost entirely from the creationists, who equate with each other (and equally dissent) evolution, darwinian mechanisms and common descent, when, in fact, they are three different things.

    There’s this general definition for biological evolution:
    “a change in allele frequencies over time”,
    which doesn’t say anything about where the new alleles come from (darwinism says: mutations) and what’s changing them (darwinism: selection); or how much they change and how long does it take.

    But that’s enough for any kind of evolution, because all you need to transform a creature A to a creature B is to change (add, delete, mutate, etc.) the alleles of its DNA-based genome.

    Let me start by saying that the nature of the intelligence is unknown, as is its origin or mechanism.

    That’s a very bad premise if compared to darwinism, where all these things are known.

    That having been said, my feeling is that all of the life on the earth has unfolded as the result of a program that was in the DNA at the time that it arrived on earth from elsewhere. For the most part, this evolution ended long ago and we cannot expect any further new forms.
    In fact, there have been no new phyla for hundreds of millions of years.

    Do you mean that this programmed evolution ended at the Cambrian “explosion”, which produced the current bodyplans? Or do you mean that the program ran about 3.8 billion years, from Precambrian to Quaternary, and then mysteriously stopped and erased from the present organisms all the evidence showing its previous presence? Or is there still left some? (the “junk-DNA”, perhaps?) Perhaps the program is not even stopped yet? Surely, for a such complex software (and a physical one, not supernatural) to have been in action on Earth, there should be some traces left from it.

    It seems to me that this hypothetical program should have been able to build also the environmental conditions in which the lifeforms were supposed to live, or to know in advance every possible environment on Earth during its 4-billion year history. I addressed this problem in my recent posts to Panda’s Thumb and to talk.origins. The problem is that natural selection is the simplest process, and actually the only known reasonably natural process, that can accomplish this task of accommodating lifeforms with ever-changing and unpredictable conditions. To beat it you really need no less than an omniscient God.

    “Is there really any type of “experimental support” for the more traditional theory of evolution that you (or other IDists) would consider valid?”
    The experiment is simple to design but almost impossible to carry out, due to the long periods of time involved. Just apply artificial selection over a period of time equivalent to that found in nature. One possible solution to this dilemma is to use computer simulations but you have to be absolutely certain that the output is analogous to what occured in nature.

    And because you can never be “absolutely certain” what occurred in the past, you categorically invalidate every possible experiment in advance. This applies also to artificial selection because we couldn’t know if its conditions matched to those of the alleged natural selection. Now, this is not a problem of some theory of evolution, but a problem of reconstructing history in any field of research. I told earlier that this is a fruitless approach. Either you want to know something or you are happy to know nothing. I’m not happy with the latter.

    Artificial selection has been going on for quite a long time and new varieties have been created, but again, the output does not result in new highly organized structures, adaptations or processes, only variations on what already existed.
    There seems to be a barrier beyond which you cannot go.

    A few thousand years of artificial selection of dogs has been able to produce a set of incredibly varied variations that appear to be novel, because they are combinations of already existing genes (like most of the variations in nature, actually). That alone is a demonstration of how powerful process selection is. Add to this the mutations that would increase its potential in a significantly longer period of time.

    If we look at the history of life on Earth, as it is preserved in the fossil record, how often has “new highly organized structures” appeared? I don’t know what you mean by that phrase, but to me it seems to have been a very rare event; suggesting that it happens only in very exceptional conditions. Maybe even less frequent than a giant meteor or comet colliding the Earth, which also (fortunately) is such a rare event that nobody has witnessed it. Still, plenty of traces left of them.

    Given the fact that most genes are common even between organisms that look very fundamentally different, it’s hard to see what would constitute this “barrier”.
    Maybe it’s the Metazoan bodyplan, because they have not changed since Cambrian, possibly due to the fixation of the Hox gene combinations, but that still leaves a hell of a lot of room for evolutionary variations without any need for an external agent to break the “barrier”.

  25. #25 Ed Darrell
    February 13, 2005

    Mr. Wagner said: “Artificial selection has been going on for quite a long time and new varieties have been created, but again, the output does not result in new highly organized structures, adaptations or processes, only variations on what already existed.”

    Only “variations” on what existed? What cell is not just a variation on a previous cell, Charlie? How could anything ever meet your test of originality?

    Or, were we to take a plant, and on one hand make its roots swell into fleshy, edible parts, such as a radish, and on the other hand make its flowers the edible part, such as broccoli — would that come close to meeting your definition of change to indicate evolution?

    And finally, if you’re insisting on completely different structures for everything, isn’t that tantamount to saying the hummingbird and the ostrich are the same species? After all, it’s only emphasis in which organs to expand, that marks the differences between the two. . .

  26. #26 Charlie Wagner
    February 13, 2005

    Jari wrote:
    “You failed to notice the first and most important paper I mentioned (Nilsson & Pelger, 1994), which especially demonstrated the ability of mutations and natural selection, i.e. darwinian mechanisms, to produce a complex eye with a lens from a mere light-sensitive patch; in a relatively short period of time.”
    Unfortunately, this paper did no such thing. It only dealt with quantitative changes involving magnitude but completely ignored the more important qualitative changes required for increased organization and integration of structures and processes into a functional system. All of the really important advances, the integration of the iris, lens and retina into a functional alignment, the attachment of the optic nerve to the retina, the highly organized series of chemical processes needed to capture photons of light and convert them into images in the brain are all left to magic, evolution pixies or a miracle. It’s no different from Doolittle’s silly description of the evolution of the blood clotting system. Thinking scientists ought not to take these kinds of examples seriously.

  27. #27 Charlie Wagner
    February 13, 2005

    Ed wrote:
    “How could anything ever meet your test of originality?”

    Originality is not the issue. Nor is complexity. I’m talking about increased levels of organization, not increases in size, changes in color or beak length. Organization involves multiple structures, multiple processes and multiple functions, integrated into a system. The human eye is an example of a highly organized system. It has structures (iris, retina, lens, optic nerve, etc,) it has processes (11-cis-retinal, rhodopsin, transducin, GDP and GTP, etc.) and all of the structures are integrated in such a way that they support each other in their proper alignment, the processes support each other in the step-wise sequence of events that occur from the moment the photon strikes the retina until the image forms in the brain and the structures and processes are integrated together in such a way that they support each other and they support the function of the whole eye, which is to see.
    At one time, there were no human eyes, and at a later time, human eyes existed. How do you get from A to B? There are large increases in organization involved. How do you explain them?
    Darwinian evolutionists are like gamblers who go to a casino thinking that they can somehow make the impossible become possible by using enough time and dividing the problem into smaller steps. Even when they know full well (or ought to know) that it’s impossible to win in the long term.
    Organization doesn’t increase as a result of random, non-directed processes. Only by invoking intelligent input can this be accomplished. It’s that simple.
    One more thing to ponder. Right in front of me here on my desk is a trilobite from the early cambrian period. At one time this trilobite was considered to be the earliest metazoan and marked the beginning of the cambrian. It has no known ancestors in the fossil record. But it has holochroal eyes, consisting of crystalline lenses, which have an internal doublet structure (two lens layers of different refractive indices acting in combination) corrected for focusing problems that result from rigid lenses that give it a remarkable depth of field and correction of spherical abberation. Such lenses were not invented until the 17th century, yet here they are in cambrian trilobites. What is your darwinian explanation for that?

  28. #28 Jari Anttila
    February 13, 2005

    Charlie:

    It only dealt with quantitative changes involving magnitude

    Say what? Change from a patch of light-sensitive cells to a fish eye with a spherical graded-index lens is just “quantitative changes involving magnitude”?

    Actually, that’s the whole point. If you can see the intermediate states, it’s indeed a series of
    quantitative changes. If you can’t see them, it seems to be some mysterious “design” that appeared from scratch.

    but completely ignored the more important qualitative changes required for increased organization and integration of structures and processes into a functional system.
    All of the really important advances,

    Sorry, this is the “moving goalposts” -trick. No simulation can be perfect, so the missing parts are always the “really important”.

    Your original claim was:
    “There is nothing in the peer-reviewed literature anywhere that supports the notion that mutations and natural selection can lead to the emergence of highly organized structures, like the eye,”

    Well, it does “support the notion” that they “can lead”. You didn’t demand an exact rerun of what happened in nature (but now you’re demanding).
    And you didn’t include into “the eye” everything that is needed to operate it when it’s posited into your head. But now you’re including.

    At one time, there were no human eyes, and at a later time, human eyes existed. How do you get from A to B?

    Some of it is explained here.
    Humans didn’t appear from scratch, nor did their eyes.

    …corrected for focusing problems that result from rigid lenses that give it a remarkable depth of field and correction of spherical abberation. Such lenses were not invented until the 17th century, yet here they are in cambrian trilobites. What is your darwinian explanation for that?

    Here. Not far from the page I gave before. Just in case you won’t bother to read it, here’s a quote:
    “Also, the refractive index of the center of the lens changes. This is possible because the lens is made from a mixture of proteins. The ratio of the proteins can be different in different places, so the lens material is not optically uniform….This “graded index” is a very valuable property.”

    Generally, why do you think that natural selection was not capable to find a technically optimal solution before humans did? The lens type you described was just as good 500 million years ago as it is now.

    I must say I’m disappointed to your responses. Your argumentation is just a combination
    of evasive rhetoric, obscure terms and appeals to incredulity.

  29. #29 Jari Anttila
    February 14, 2005

    Charlie:

    Look again at the first and last pictures in the eye evolution series, and forget the others between them. Now, would you believe that the first structure, a patch, could be transformed into the last, an eye with a graded lens, by fortuitous mutations and unplanned selection only; without any intelligent engineering? I wouldn’t. The end result is obviously an irreducibly complex structure consisting parts that would be useless alone.
    Certainly it would be absurd to suggest that natural selection should first produce a lens and then a pit-like structure into which the image is formed. Or vice versa, because the hemispherical pit (with a large aperture) would be useless without a lens.

    Just by feeling that something is incredible doesn’t make it impossible. We humans didn’t invent natural selection; rather, it’s the other way around. No wonder why it seems incredible to us.

    BTW: As you must know by now, the Cambrian fauna is not the oldest known bunch of Metazoans.
    And there are plausible candidates (Parvancorina) for trilobite ancestors, too. See this.

  30. #30 Aaron
    February 14, 2005

    Charlie — I’m sure somebody has pointed this out to you by now, but did you read the last sentence of the abstract of the first paper you pointed out, “A pessimistic estimate of the time required for an eye to evolve”?

    “Even with a consistently pessimistic approach the time required becomes amazingly short: only a few hundred thousand years.”

    You didn’t read the abstract, did you?

    You just read the title.

    Poor Charlie…