Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Dino’s Whiplash


A short article in the popular press reports that certain sauropods with long necks could not have held those necks upright. I read the article, leaned back in my chair and did a lot of serious thinking. . .

I don’t actually know (or care) much about dinosaurs but wondered about the relationship between evolutionary stories and the “long-neckedness” of some of these creatures. I thought it might be interesting to discuss the explanatory strength of such theories of evolution in light of this new discovery. First, two stipulations:

1. For now, let’s go with good ol’ neo-Darwinism, no Lamarckism, or other sidelights. Let’s just assume that neck after neck got longer and higher as random mutations in genetic information for “long-neckedness” conferred a selective advantage, i.e. access to more food higher up, for some of the luckier sauropods.

2. Let’s also say that the referenced article was like, totally peer-reviewed, man, and published by the most prestigious “Journal of Scientific Excellence,” not on Yahoo! where I actually happened across it. 🙂

Ok, so Mr. Seymour ran some numbers and found out that a dino-heart for these long-, and upright-necked creatures would have to be as strong as a cement boom pump! Look, his numbers are right: they were vetted! I exaggerated, but if not a boom pump, well, close enough. Cement-boom-pump-hearts and even hearts that maintain dino-consciousness are out of the question for upright eight meter necks.

I note that Mr. Seymour is an evolutionary biologist, and evolutionary biologists aren’t precluded from using techniques from other fields to further their research. That’s as may be. What I don’t get is where evolution played a role in Mr. Seymour’s use of engineering concepts. Notice that thus far, I have been unencumbered by reading his paper found in “Biology Letters”. As an advocate for ID, I am tempted to wonder aloud about how much evolutionary verbiage was attached to or meant to be foundational to the original paper. Let’s just suppose it was the standard amount.

Why didn’t the “alleged” foundational evolutionary theory, if any, make it over to my “Journal of Scientific Excellence”, i.e. the popular news article?

Here is my point. The evidence that “points necks in a new direction” is derived from engineering, i.e. design. The explanatory power is found in the engineering. I am unencumbered by any firsthand knowledge of how evolution was supposed to have explained the occurrence of upright sauropod necks, so I am curious to know if a simple engineering-based research paper has now overturned all of that evolutionary information. I doubt it. Somehow, I think the story will just be re-imagined.

I would prefer that the discussion not focus on prior competing evolutionary theories concerning dino-necks. Rather, I am interested in the relative strength of engineering concepts versus evolutionary theory in terms of explanatory power for the occurrence of upright and non-upright dino-necks.

I understand that it may be an oversimplification to say that the selective advantage was to reach higher in the canopy, but that is what the general population has been “taught.” Also, there are currently stories about that explain how the long necks of some dinosaurs would help them hunt while in water, but that has no bearing on what has been “taught” concerning the upright-necked herbivorous sauropods.

If, because of engineering (read design) research, the “upright” hypothesis is not sustainable, how easily are Darwinists “allowed” to dump it for another? If moving to a new theory is easy, how much stock are we to put to the old theory’s explanatory power? What did it explain, and how did that explanation move neo-Darwinism up the epistemic ladder of explanatory power? How many rungs down should it move now?

The lack of internal consistency and any sort of staying power is remarkable, so as for explanatory power, when waxing official over the fossil record, the whole story of evolution becomes nothing more than a game of Chutes and Ladders.

Looking back over this, I see that I have interspersed hypothesis, theory, analogy, story and such. I would prefer that comments not overly focus on my failure to write with precision. But, to each his own . . .