Science v Intelligent Design: ID and whales

| 21 Comments

In the comments section of an earlier posting in which I explored the “arguments” from an ID proponent as to why the suckling behavior of whales shows evidence of Intelligent Design, Duncan posted the following rebuttal by Dr Colin D MacLeod

Duncan Wrote:

The comment about whales and their nipples being evidence of Intelligent Design was published in a letter to the Scottish newspaper The Herald, and seems to derive from a 1938 book by the Creationist Douglas Deraw, entitled “More Difficulties of the Evolution Theory”. The claim received a pretty terminal rebuttal on 20 October, with the publication of the following letter:

Dr Colin D MacLeod Wrote:

Joe Pieri claims (Letters, October 17) that a watertight cap around the nipples of whales that fits tightly around the baby’s snout to prevent sea water entering is a perfect illustration of intelligent design (ID) as any gradual transitional form would result in the baby whale’s death. If this is the best example a supporter of ID can muster, it only helps to illustrate how flawed this non-scientific idea is and why it has absolutely no place in the science classroom. First, as a whale biologist, I can say with some certainty that no such structure exists.

Baby whales use “fringes” around the edge of their tongue to help channel milk from the nipple to their thoats. This does not to prevent the entrance of sea water into the baby whale’s mouth, nor is it intended to, but only serves to reduce the mixing of sea water and milk. This leaves plenty of possibilities for functional transitional forms where the tongue is only slightly more fringed and, therefore, only slightly better at keeping the milk and sea water separate, making the milk less dilute and, therefore, beneficial to the calf as it gets more concentrated milk faster.

Secondly, there is no need for baby whales to prevent sea water entering their mouths as it will not kill them. Presumably, Mr Pieri thinks that the reason the baby whale would die if sea water entered the mouth is because it might get into the airway causing the animal to drown.

However, unlike humans, the windpipe of a whale sticks right through its oesophagous, completely separating the airway and the digestive tract (a requirement for all whales, whether adult or baby, as they need to be able to open their mouths underwater to feed) so there is no risk of drowning while nursing in baby whales. A similar, but not as complete, separation of the digestive tract and the airway is found in all young terrestrial mammals, including humans, to allow them to breath while nursing, and while adaptation is lost in older humans through a descent of the larynx, this basic mammalian separation has been enhanced by natural selection in whales because it is beneficial to their life in the sea. Incidentally, this positioning of the larynx through the digestive tract limits the size of fish whales can swallow because if the fish is too big it may displace the larynx and allow water into the airway, resulting in death.

In fact, whales are not uncommonly found washed up on the shore having died due to suffocation with large fish wedged in their throat, demonstrating that while this design works most of the time, it is far from perfect and certainly not evidence of any ID. Therefore, Mr Pieri’s “perfect” example for ID is a figment of his imagination based a poor understanding of biology and no facts.

Dr Colin D MacLeod, Beaked Whale Research Project, 1 Froghall View, Aberdeen

It seems clear that another ID ‘prediction’ has been falsified so when will ID admit defeat? At least it shows the immense amount of ignorance on which ID relies.

21 Comments

You’re lumpy and you smell awful. [Leela shoots him a look.] Hey, I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em! I’m a whale biologist.

The suit was ugly - whale biologist!

Oh well, back to the old claim that it is completely unfair to predict that design will actually be “good”. Only optimal designs are evidence for or against the “designer”, after all, so it turns out that this one doesn’t count.

Sheesh, you really think ID is going to pay attention to “materialist science’s” claims that all of the evidence should be considered? That’s just unfair to alternative sciences which at the outset claimed the right to pick and choose.

What about the flagellum? Huh?

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

Secondly, there is no need for baby whales to prevent sea water entering their mouths as it will not kill them.

Well of coarse not, because whales are equiped with an intelligently designed windpipe…

Dr Colin D MacLeod Wrote:

I can say with some certainty that no such structure exists.

Well, that one got me. I thought, “I don’t remember any talk about collars around whale nipples” but accepted the claim that there was such a thing without checking. It really woudn’t have been much of a problem for evolution.

Must always remember creationist are lying sacks of slime.

Don

“Must always remember creationist are lying sacks of slime.”

Which, curiously, is evidence of ID… if the Intelligent Designer has a very twisted sense of humor.

Trackbacks don’t seem to be working. I get an error page when I try to use the trackback URL listed above. http://tinyfrog.wordpress.com/2007/[…]gent-design/

It seems clear that another ID ‘prediction’ has been falsified

I’m afraid this needs nitpicking. Technically we can’t falsify IDC as your scare crows proposes, because the movement refuses to supply a proposal for a mechanism to base predictions on.

But yes, if we take upon ourselves to go through the implications then “perfect” design is falsified. The IDC scam artists will only duck out and claim this wasn’t it. (Most likely, descend into silence.)

The basic IDC fallacy here is to jump the gun and propose predictions before having a theory. Much as when they jump the gun and propose education before having a science.

[On a tangential note, I sense I just passed the threshold when discussing the IDC scam as if they could have some honest intentions beneath it all feels as wrong as when ascribing teleology in historical descriptions of evolution, however convenient. The “watertight cap around the nipples of whales” was just one lie too much. My new slogan will henceforth be “There is no honesty in creationism!” analogous to “There is no teleology in evolution!” :-)]

Hmm. Maybe Wikipedia should have an entry detailing “Common IDC fallacies”. They do make some unique idiocies.

when will ID admit defeat?

The real as opposed to rhetorical question to ask is perhaps when will IDC change from jumping the gun to jumping the shark? Hmm. Behe IC v 2.0 w/o retracting dysfunctional v 1.0? Dembski discharging The Divine Wind? Surely, Kitzmiller vs Dover?!

Chris Tucker:

Which, curiously, is evidence of ID… if the Intelligent Designer has a very twisted sense of humor.

ROTFL. I don’t know if the FSM have, but I have.

If the men behind the curtain of The Panda’s Thumb isn’t too adverse against Pharyngula ideas, I would hope you could be the PT’s first recipient of the as of yet informal Order of Golly prize (or maybe it should be the Pander to Steve).

When I first saw this, the phrase ‘cap around the nipple’ was confusing but deduced it meant some sort of raised collar. It didn’t then seem so hard to deduce a series of evolutionary changes to account for it. It just didn’t occur to me that they could just make up the whole thing. How do you engage with people who just lie?

Torbjörn Larsson Wrote:

But yes, if we take upon ourselves to go through the implications then “perfect” design is falsified. The IDC scam artists will only duck out and claim this wasn’t it. (Most likely, descend into silence.)

Oh, yes, my friend: the evidence for Incompetent Design just keeps on mounting.

Acleron wrote: It just didn’t occur to me that they could just make up the whole thing. How do you engage with people who just lie?

Good point. In refuting the watertight cap theory Dr. MacLeod unwittingly gave them yet another example of the evidence of design that OMG! is all around us everywhere we look…

However, unlike humans, the windpipe of a whale sticks right through its oesophagous, completely separating the airway and the digestive tract (a requirement for all whales, whether adult or baby, as they need to be able to open their mouths underwater to feed) so there is no risk of drowning while nursing in baby whales.

Okay, sure it isn’t perfect…

In fact, whales are not uncommonly found washed up on the shore having died due to suffocation with large fish wedged in their throat, demonstrating that while this design works most of the time, it is far from perfect and certainly not evidence of any ID.

… but the reason it is not perfect is a consequence of “the fall” and is not a result of any mistakes from the Designer. :P

This is why references are so important.

Every time a creationist makes a factual claim you should demand the reference. If they don’t have one, chances are they are just making stuff up. They may have heard it somewhere, but that doesn’t make it true. If the reference they give is some creationist web site or discredited creationist book, you know that the source is probably not reliable.

When you provide information in rebuttal of creationist claims you should provide references whenever possible. That shows that this is not just something you made up. Popular sources such as National Geopgraphic are OK because they contain scientific references, but it is always best to reference the primary literature if possible. Using references that are readily available on-line is also a good idea, especially in a blog format, since everyone who wants to can read the paper with a mimimum of effort. The Talk Origins archive is an excellent source for scientifc references regarding almost any common creationist claims.

Of course the most important thing to remember is never take the word of a creationist for anything. Their credability is zero and they are strongly motivated to lie for Jesus. Just remember what happened on the witness stand in Dover. When one side constantly uses scientific references and one side steadfastly avoids them, it should be obvious to even the most casual observer who is trying to pull a fast one and who is being honest.

This is another example of why I love reading the Panda’s Thumb!

Of course the most important thing to remember is never take the word of a creationist for anything. Their credability is zero and they are strongly motivated to lie for Jesus.

Hence the unspoken Creationist screed of “Facts are the devil’s playing cards.”

I don’t know why, but I’d been under the impression that the problem with seawater during whale nursing was not that the baby whale would inhale it, but that it might swallow it. After all, there’s already liquid in the oral cavity and esophagus during nursing; why would an admixture of seawater make inhalation of liquid any more likely, even if whale anatomy didn’t prevent it? On the other hand, excessive sodium intake has known ill effects in at least some mammals (think of humans drinking seawater).

Of course, I know nothing of whale sodium metabolism. Probably, since they live in the stuff, they’ve evolved ways of dealing with large quantities of swallowed seawater. That wouldn’t make nearly as good a putative example of design, though, as the supposed “nipple cap”, because it’s easy to imagine incremental changes to kidney function or whatever. Or do I just think that because I’m not an IDist?

Not being an IDist is definitely helpful when it comes to not making a complete fool of yourself, biologically speaking. I’ve been re-watching a whole lot of David Attenborough BBC documentaries lately on DVD, and it’s a cornucopia of weird wildlife with odd, evolutionary adaptations and (whisper it) transitional forms. Oh look, there’s a snake that glides by flattening its body. There’s a lizard whose legs are so short it’s become snakelike. There’s a flying squirrel. There’s a frog laying its eggs in a pond on a leaf. There’s one that keeps its eggs on its back. There’s one that embeds them in the skin of its back. There’s one that keeps them inside its body and gives birth to a wriggling tadpole. There’s a bird with claws on its wings. There’s one with no wings at all…

I think ID-thinking is based in a children’s colouring-book view of biology, or the Noah’s Ark model- cow, sheep, pig, horse, beetle, fish, whale, we’re done here. They see unbridgeable gaps everywhere because they haven’t seen the animals that are living in the gaps!

First, as a whale biologist, I can say with some certainty that no such structure exists.

This is a good catch. A typical example of how creationists continually lie to prop up their mythology.

It would also make a great addition to the talkorigins.org list of creationist claims.

The creos have been making the same Arguments from Ignorance and Incredulity for over 150 years. It hasn’t gone anywhere but since they have none better, they will undoubtedly make them for another 150 years. After all, 400 years after Copernicus, 26% of the fundies still believe the sun circles the earth.

Stephen wrote:

“I think ID-thinking is based in a children’s colouring-book view of biology, or the Noah’s Ark model- cow, sheep, pig, horse, beetle, fish, whale, we’re done here. They see unbridgeable gaps everywhere because they haven’t seen the animals that are living in the gaps!”

I completely agree. This is undoubtedly why virtually no one with any real biological training is a creationist. Exposure to the comparative evidence is very convincing. There are not just a few dozen species put here for the benefit of mankind. There are millions of different species, including at least 600,000 different species of beetles and 25,000 species of weevils. Now why would God do that when she knew that they would all have to fit on the ark? What, you say they evolved after the ark? That’s a lot more evolution than any evolutionary bioplogist is willing to accept in 6,000 years, at least without some evidence. And of course the vast majority of species that have ever lived have already gone extinct, not very intelligent design that.

Indeed, I am sure that somewhere, right now, someone is making the argument that a four chambered heart could never evolve. It’s just too complex. I can’t imagine how a heart with one chamber, or two or three could ever work! What’s that you say, … oh, never mind.

Noncarborundum said:

I don’t know why, but I’d been under the impression that the problem with seawater during whale nursing was not that the baby whale would inhale it, but that it might swallow it. After all, there’s already liquid in the oral cavity and esophagus during nursing; why would an admixture of seawater make inhalation of liquid any more likely, even if whale anatomy didn’t prevent it? On the other hand, excessive sodium intake has known ill effects in at least some mammals (think of humans drinking seawater).

Of course, I know nothing of whale sodium metabolism. Probably, since they live in the stuff, they’ve evolved ways of dealing with large quantities of swallowed seawater. That wouldn’t make nearly as good a putative example of design, though, as the supposed “nipple cap”, because it’s easy to imagine incremental changes to kidney function or whatever. Or do I just think that because I’m not an IDist?

From what my biology professors have told me, sea mammals drink very little water at all, and get the majority of their water from their food. Even so, their kidneys are extremely large relative to their bodies, and excrete excess salt out through the kidneys. In fact, no mammal has any specialized salt-removing glands, as opposed to sea birds, or marine iguanas. Instead, mammals that live in low water or high-salt environments (such as deserts and the ocean) utilize enlarged kidneys to help them excrete excess salt and retain water.

when will ID admit defeat?

Never. The marketing strategy of using the “Intelligent Design” label might be abandoned, much as “french fries” were renamed “freedom fries” without any change whatsoever to the product.

But the cynical plot to highjack science to serve as religious apologetics, by people whose theologies are too weak to sustain themselves honestly, will likely last as long as religion itself. The fundies hate science because it fails to prove their god for them, an offense which apparently justifies any level of prevarication on their part.

Indeed, I am sure that somewhere, right now, someone is making the argument that a four chambered heart could never evolve. It’s just too complex. I can’t imagine how a heart with one chamber, or two or three could ever work! What’s that you say, … oh, never mind.

As a starting point in analyzing that, how many chambers are typical of each class of vertebrate?

ben said:

The fundies hate science because it fails to prove their god for them, an offense which apparently justifies any level of prevarication on their part.

I wonder if any of them have thought of the consequences of success. If you prove God, there’s no more need for faith. Either their faith needs propping up to begin with, or their idea of “facts” and “proof” include the notion that all things have to be believed to be seen.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on October 22, 2007 1:30 PM.

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