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Grand Movements Of Nature: Evolutionists’ ‘Non-Answer’ To Animal Migration


The NOVA documentary The Incredible Journey Of The Butterflies, which aired on public television earlier this year, details a phenomenon that in recent years has captivated biologists worldwide- the North American Monarch butterfly’s 2500 mile long migration to the Mexican Sierra Madre mountains. Both the sheer scale of the journey and the paucity of models in the scientific literature that adequately explain its evolutionary origins are plainly evident (1).

The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould took a rather nebulous stab at explicating the origins of another migratory feat- that of the green turtle’s trans-Atlantic breeding trek from Brazil to the ‘pinpoint of land’ we now call Ascension Island (2). Having soundly carved up biologist Archie Carr’s migratory drift hypothesis (which would have us believe that the migratory distance used to be much shorter and extended gradually as continents moved apart), Gould treated us to his own momentary reliance on obscurity. In Gould’s words “the mechanism of turtle migration is so mysterious, that I see no barrier to supposing that turtles can be imprinted to remember the place of their birth without prior genetic information transmitted from previous generations” (2). It seems that for Gould at least, the bigger the evolutionary mystery, the more scope one would have for assuming what one wished to assume.

The rock pigeon, a favorite of Darwin’s and a center piece in his treatise on artificial selection, uses the sun as a compass to get around (3-5). Equipped with an extraordinary capacity to perceive UV and polarized light, as well as a keen ability to detect the earth’s magnetic fields, the rock pigeon is today considered to be a champion of directional orientation. As Fred Ryser noted in his textbook account, “the [pigeon’s] sun compass employs the apparent movement of the sun along an arc across the sky -the ecliptic-during the day…On overcast days or when its capacity to see the sun is eliminated…the pigeon practices directional orientation by using geomagnetism…the pigeon’s magnetic compass somehow senses [the] downward inclination in the magnetic field and the brain interprets it as north”(4). Underpinning such a phenomenal capability are numerous crystals of iron oxide that in the pigeon’s brain align with the earth’s magnetic field “like the iron needle in a compass” (5).

Just as remarkable is the Arctic Tern’s aptitude for long distance precision flight. Flying in flocks of 12-25 individuals at altitudes of 30-150 meters, terns cover 40,000 km each year between their polar wintering and breeding quarters (6). One might assume that for these and other migratory birds, land masses en route could provide necessary resting points and navigational aids to keep them energized and on track. And yet some notable cases defy such a facile dismissal of the facts. The American golden plover, for example, can fly over the Atlantic from Canada to the northeastern coast of South America with sparse visual cues and without so much as a touchdown or a re-supply of food (7). Similarly, many ruby-throated hummingbirds fly 500 miles non-stop in their annual northward migration across the Gulf of Mexico. According to one review, such a compulsion to fly is ingrained in the very fabric of the young ‘hummer’: “there’s no memory of past migrations, only an urge to put on a lot of weight and fly in a particular direction for a certain amount of time, then look for a good place to spend the winter” (8).

McGraw Hill’s third edition of The Nature Of Life carried details of a study that confirmed the homing abilities of a long-winged seabird called the shearwater: “When experimenters transferred an individual shearwater…from its home in Great Britain to a new location in Massachusetts, the remarkable bird was back on its nest in 12 days, having crossed 4800 miles of trackless ocean” (5). Key experimental data corroborates the assertion that an established endogenous circannual clock is critical for ensuring appropriate pre-migratory fattening, moulting and reproduction. Writing on the common warbler, for example, Max Planck Institute’s Eberhard Gwinner emphasized how “rhythmic waxing and waning of nocturnal [circannual activity]…is usually accompanied by variations in migratory fattening (indicated by an increase in body mass) and followed by a moult in winter and a phase of reproductive activity in summer” (9). Most remarkable of all is the finding that the circannual clock is responsible for setting not only the timing but also direction and duration of migration (9). Day length (or photoperiod) provides a critical trigger for getting migration started (9).

How might evolutionary processes have given rise to migratory behaviors? In their book Nature’s IQ, Balazs Hornyanszky and Istvan Tasi are candidly open about their view on the matter- natural selection could not have been the operative mechanism (10). The exactitude of food intake relative to energy expenditure for trans-oceanic birds forms an important platform upon which they develop their rationale- too much food prior to becoming airborne and levels of body fat would be incompatible with effective flying (9). Too little food and the fat reserves would be insufficient for completion of the journey. The end result would be an almost certain death, perhaps an out of control plunge into the merciless seas below. Hornyansky’s and Tasi’s swathing attack on the evolutionists’ ‘non-answer’ appeals to our deepest intuitions. Analogizing bird migration to human feats of navigation they write:

“Many [innate] complex abilities must be simultaneously present for migratory birds to perform such impressive feats, and these abilities and knowledge have to work in perfect harmony. If we want to climb the highest peak of the Himalayas, Mount Everest, we have to create a detailed plan to be able to reach our goal. It would be foolish to think that merely by a series of fortunate accidents, in time we will suddenly find ourselves there. Not only do we have to make an all-encompassing plan, but we also have to execute every detail of it. If we disregard just a single factor…our undertaking, despite all our efforts, could end in failure. The migratory system of birds, too, is able to function only in its entirety, and the superficial assumptions about its ‘gradual evolution’ get caught in the filter of logical thinking” (10).

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” (5). 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. In short, evolutionists are today caught in their own Gouldean-style reliance on obscurity.

Literature Cited
1. Robert Deyes (2009), Questioning The Role Of Gene Duplication-Based Evolution In Monarch Migration, Access Research Network, See http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/2/2009/03/01/questioning_the_role_of_gene_duplication

2. Stephen Jay Gould (1992), The Panda’s Thumb- More Reflections In Natural History, Published by W.W Norton and Company, New York, pp.31-34.

3. Charles Darwin (1859), The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection Or The Preservation of Favored Races In the Struggle For Survival, Modern Library Paperbacks Edition (1998), New York, p.42.

4. Fred A Ryser Jr (1985), Birds Of the Great Basin: A Natural History, University Of Nevada Press, pp.290-291.

5. John H Postlethwait and Janet L. Hopson (1991), The Nature Of Life, 3rd Edition, McGraw Hill, New York, pp.922-923.

6. Gudmundur A. Gudmundsson, Thomas Alerstami, Bertil Larsson (1992), Radar observations of northbound migration of the Arctic tern,Sterna paradisaea, at the Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctic Science, Volume 4, pp. 163-170.

7. See American Golden Plover ‘Fact Sheet’ On The National Wildlife Federation Site http://www.nwf.org/birdsandglobalwarming/birdprofile.cfm?bird=American+Golden-Plover

8. See Hummingbirds.Net at http://www.hummingbirds.net/migration.html

9. Eberhard Gwinner (1996), Circadian And Circannual Programs In Avian Migration, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Volume 199, pp.39-48.

10. Istvan Tasi and Balazs Hornyanszky (2009), Nature’s IQ: Extraordinary Animal Behaviors That Defy Evolution, Torchlight Publishing, Badger, CA, pp.93-94

To O'Leary, How do butterflys do it ... So something is going on that current thinking does not allow us to understand Why arent we allowed to understand it ? We dont understand it, sure, but we dont understand lots of things. In time we will understand more than we do now, maybe even butterfly navigation. What do you base this staement on ? Graham
To Joseph, Your cartoon description is amusing but doesnt help us. All animals travel (greatly varying) distances to obtain food, escape predators, etc. With time these distances will shorten/lengthen as circumstances change. To suggest that animals do it just because they want to is your own invention. Graham
joseph: A program designed to work with multiple inputs no less Sez you. Color me underwhelmed by your "argument". Dave Wisker
Bold added:
Field studies using radar and the discovery of magnetic influences on orientation demonstrated that migratory orientation was a complicated behavior involving multiple stimuli (Keeton, 1974; Emlen, 1975).
A program designed to work with multiple inputs no less. Thanks Dave. Anything else you would like to add to the design inference? Joseph
Joseph: it evolved..it HAD TO EVOLVE...because (stone cold) Charlie Darwin says so...and thats the bottom line... the alternative is unthinkable!! /sarc tsmith
Regarding celestial navigation in birds (my emphasis):
Manipulations of star patterns in a planetarium (Sauer, 1957, 1961; Sauer and Sauer, 1960; Emlen, 1967a,b) have shown that at least several species of Sylvia and the Indigo Bunting can select migratory directions solely on the basis of star patterns. The idea, based primarily on the Sauers' classic work, that star patterns provide the primary and probably only orientation mechanism used by night migrants was eventually shown to be inadequate to account for later observations. Field studies using radar and the discovery of magnetic influences on orientation demonstrated that migratory orientation was a complicated behavior involving multiple stimuli (Keeton, 1974; Emlen, 1975). Indeed, since results from outdoor orientation cage tests were rendered ambiguous by the discovery of magnetic orientation, we have had remarkably little documentation of star-compass orientation in bird species (only the Indigo Bunting and the Syl-via species studied by Sauer qualify). Consistent with much of the thinking of the time, Sauer conceived of the star compass as an innate entity. Precisely how he viewed its mechanism is not clear. He has denied (Sauer, 1971) the common interpretation of his views, viz., that young warblers possess a genetically predetermined star map, an interpretation that was derived from statements such as the following (Sauer, 1958:46): " . . the warblers have a remarkable hereditary mechanism for orienting themselves by the stars -a detailed image of the starry configuration of the sky coupled with a precise time sense which relates the heavenly canopy to the geography of the earth at every time and season." Sauer came to this conclusion on the basis of some hand-reared warblers which showed appropriate orientation to a normally rotating planetarium sky. Unfortunately, only two of his birds were completely naive in terms of visual exposure to the sky, and each of these birds was subjected to only one very brief test. It is thus impossible to draw any firm conclusions from Sauer's experiments with respect to the ontogeny of stellar orientation.
Able KP & VP Bingman (1987). The development of orientation and navigation behavior in birds. Quarterly Review of Biology 62(1): 1-29 Dave Wisker
The ID people seemed to be getting excited about the fact that Biologists cant explain migration.
Migration doesn't make any sense without intentional design. An accumulation of genetic accidents leading to migration is just fantasy. Think how it would have had to have happened: One in the population gets the "inkling" to go somewhere beacsue it received a mutation/ mutations somewhere in its genome. But where? Does it just start flying, swimming, or running in some direction? Does it know why its got this feeling? Hey why isn't anyone following me? But anyway ID has something- it's called programming. As in organisms are programmed to migrate. Joseph
I think Graham has an excellent point: is any ID research being done on things that mainstream science is at a loss over? Any good web-based resources that have some info of ongoing research? ellazimm
The ID people seemed to be getting excited about the fact that Biologists cant explain migration. Well, so what, there are lots of things they cant explain (yet). If ID can come up with something, then we are all waiting. Graham
O'Leary #3 (not picking on you, just using you as a springboard)
"And remember, these are not especially smart creatures. They don’t even have brains, exactly."
Which proves that brains or brain size is not what makes one smart.
"So something is going on that current thinking does not allow us to understand."
I can understand that a "long-winged seabird called the shearwater": (1) has the same identity through physical change experienced during cross-Atlantic flights or through its lifetime, (2) has certain faculties, e.g., the faculty to make nests, find their way home, fly well solo or with other birds, fly for long periods of time without resting, etc., (3) make use of a sort of onboard compass, have a unified visual field, (4) are bearers of a sort of a soul containing consciousness which animates their bodies, (5) is the only thing that knows from a first person's perspective facts about what it is like to be a long-winged seabird called the shearwater (6) has a soul that is simple since the type of substance that allows for (1) through (5) can't be spatially extended or be made of a multiplicity of parts. Therefore, those "mysterious" faculties are not physical or located in the composition of parts that make up the body of the bird, but rather are found in the unextended, simple, uncomposed object or substance that is the soul of the bird. Just thinking about birds... If one is interested in animal souls: The evolution of the soul By Richard Swinburne. absolutist
I forgot to mention that this is a big simplification, since each of these programmed migrations must require many simultaneous individual mutations to the tiny butterfly brains, not just two. But no problem. magnan
Darwinists don't need to worry about this - after all, anything and everything can be explained by RV + NS with no test or falsification required or even possible. A nice just so story would be that by chance one Monarch butterfly emerged from the pupa stage in Monterey with a mutation to its tiny "brain" forcing it to fly to Canada when it starts to get warm. These all died because they froze to death. But once in a while one also had a second mutation, also compelling it to fly from Canada back to Monterey when it starts to get cold. Of course this trait rapidly spread in the population. Oh, actually it happened gradually. The Monarchs originally spent all year in Monterey because of a really nice climate year round. It got a little hotter there, and a hopeful double mutant appeared also with the instinct to summer in Oregon and come back in the fall. Then new double mutations progressively forced them to summer in Washington, and then further north. Of course, no way to test or falsify this, but it must be the case, right? magnan
Denyse, I say it is all programming. IOW migration is downloaded into the DNA along with the rest of the software required- for development and day-to-day operations. Sermonti also talks about butterflies- how they flutter about one their own- that they must have a system of recognition of group identity. But anyway about the birds one person commnted:
An animal with an innate image of the firmament!
Thank you Robert... fascinating stuff, and you're obviously sharing out of a depth of research. Yet another very strong "appearance" of design, whose weight Darwinists have to bear in the struggle to keep the theory afloat. Typo: 'turns' -> 'terns' in paragraph 4 lars
Joseph, thanks for the information and thanks for recalling Sermonti, one of the first to question the Darwin nonsense. Obviously, these creatures use a method that depends on things that change little from year to year. That would suggest they use the sky, and would also explain why weather conditions might delay them by occlusion. In northern regions, the colder it gets, the brighter the sky (unless a blizzard descends, where vast snow insulates). But almost all have left before then. O'Leary
Geneticist Giuseppe Semonti, in his book “Why is a Fly Not a Horse?” tewlls us in chapter VIII (“I Can Only Tell You What You Already Know”):
An experiment was conducted on birds-blackcaps, in this case. These are diurnal Silviidae that become nocturnal at migration time. When the moment for the departure comes, they become agitated and must take off and fly in a south-south-westerly direction. In the experiment, individuals were raised in isolation from the time of hatching. In September or October the sky was revealed to them for the first time. Up there in speldid array were stars of Cassiopeia, of Lyra (with Vega) and Cygnus (with Deneb). The blacktops became agitated and, without hesitation, set off flying south-south-west. If the stars became hidden, the blackcaps calmed down and lost their impatience to fly off in the direction characteristic of their species. The experiment was repeated in the Spring, with the new season’s stars, and the blackcaps left in the opposite direction- north-north-east! Were they then acquainted with the heavens when no one had taught them?
The experiment was repeated in a planetarium, under an artificial sky, with the same results! Joseph
I'm curious about this. My sense (and someone is free to correct me here) is that there is much we don't know about both the mechanisms that drive migration and how they came about. If ID has a better explanation of this it would seem to be an opportunity for the ID movement. For example, if the urge to migrate is set when the species first appears it must get passed to subsequent generations. If this isn't passed via currently known mechanisms then there is the opportunity for ID biologists to uncover this new designed mechanism and demonstrate it in the lab. Similarly, if instead the designer intevenes directly in each animal to cause and guide migration, that should also be directly measurable. This would seem to bypass the "ID is a historical science" issue and provide a chance to do a more direct form of science. mikev6
Barb, the capital in "Nature" is for the purpose of mystification. That's not the same as the capital in God, because ethical monotheists believe that - as Antony Flew puts it - there IS a God. But the person who caps Nature does not believe that there actually is a "Nature" in the same sense. Depending on where the butterflies originate, there may in fact be more than two generations. If they are flying from Canada to Mexico and back, there may be three. So how is the path for the flight back to Canada explained to the third generation butterflies? And remember, these are not especially smart creatures. They don't even have brains, exactly. So something is going on that current thinking does not allow us to understand. That's one reason I think Darwinism is a dead duck. If you need natural selection to do the heavy lifting here, I got bad news: Lots of butterflies in Canada just die and leave eggs that don't freeze. That works too. Heck, it works too well sometimes, if you go by their voracious caterpillars devouring vegetable leaves. So it is not at all obvious that natural selection is the best explanation. O'Leary
The migration of monarch butterflies is amazing. They leave Canada in the fall and winter in California or Mexico. They settle on sheltered trees in the same groves (sometimes even in the same trees annually) year after year. They deposit eggs on milkweed plants in the spring before returning to Canada. The new butterflies continue the northward migration and then make the same 2,000-plus migratory trip south. B.J.D. Meeuse, writing in The Story of Pollination (1963, p. 171) states noncommittally: "The butterflies that come south in the fall are young individuals which have never before seen the hibernation sites. What enables them to find these is still one of those elusive mysteries of Nature." Why the capital N in nature, I wonder? It's not a proper name. Barb
Pigeon homing is one of Rupert Sheldrake's favourite topics. He claims that experiments have now ruled out magnetism as the basis of the homing mechanism. anonym

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