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The Penguins March Again

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In yesterday’s post on March of the Penguins, I quoted British Darwinist Steve Jones, noting

A group of penguins standing upright looks like co-operation, but in fact the ones on the outside are struggling to get in and those on the inside are trying to stand their ground: it’s a classic Darwinian struggle. The idea that the life of a penguin is any more beautiful than that of a malaria virus is absurd.

I then noted,

Actually, the book narrative and the film do not depict a classic Darwinian struggle. The book states that the male penguins, left alone with the eggs in a harsh climate while the females return to the ocean to feed, spiral in and out of their “turtle” formation, in a slow and orderly way, taking their fair turn in the warm center of the huddle:

“The males can be aggressive the rest of the year. But they are docile and cooperative now, united to protect the eggs and survive the cold. Each takes turns getting warm by spending time near the center of the turtle. The huddled mass coils around itself in an undulating spiral. The penguins on the outside move in toward the center, the ones on the inside go outward. And this rotation happens very gently in order to safeguard the eggs. (p. 75)”

quoting the text of the book.

“Strangelove” writes to say,

I am puzzled. Why is cooperation amongst animals only evidence for ID? Why can’t the TOE account for cooperation amongst members of the same species? Your comments seem to imply that the TOE requires constant and harsh competition.

But I did not say (a) that cooperation among animals was evidence for ID or that (2) the TOE cannot account for cooperation amongst members of the same species.

It was British Darwinist Steve Jones who saw Darwinian competition where most observers, including myself, saw cooperation among the penguins.

Cooperation may favor “a” theory of evolution, but it does not favor current Darwinism.

Modern neo-Darwinism depends heavily on “”selfish gene” theory, and dismisses group selection. (If you can accept group selection, you can incorporate cooperation into your scheme; otherwise, you will expect to see only the appearance of cooperation in a situation that is actually driven by competition.) On that point, see David Stove ‘s careful delineation of the issues in Darwinian Fairytales.

There is a question that is relevant to ID (and this, I think, is what started people asking questions): The penguin mates use a complex coperative system of long treks for nurturing their one egg per couple. It is unclear to me, as it is to many, that the system could evolve from a simpler system, as Darwinism requires. Nor could the penguins devise their system by an act of intelligence.

Put another way, there seems to be intelligence in the system, but it is too much intelligence to ascribe to the birds themselves.

[…] life forms than they can make up. Monkey bodies rendered in flowers, for example, or the march of the penguins. Or the temporary amoeba […] Fake shark stunts out at Discovery TV … but why were they ever IN? | Uncommon Descent
bFast, having the authority of once dating a neuroscientist in training, I'll add some weak insight. Brains are darn complex. Thanks to recent MRI technologies we are starting to get some pictures of how our brains work (I did my part and participated in an experiment). But, those pictures are very vague still. Eventually we may understand how our genes affect our brains. But, we're still trying to get an idea of how our brains function at all. We can understand the breeding of the dogs. But getting down to which genes control the instinct and in which way, is probably past our technology levels at the moment. Perhaps someday... Strangelove
Within the dog world, there is lots of bread-in instinct. Retrievers retrieve and pointers point. (Having been the owner of an untrained retriever, I assure you its an instinct. In my case, if our dog was ever hungry there'd be somebody's doggie dish at the door.) As such, the genetic phenomenon of instinct should be particularly analyzeable. bFast
bFast, Unfortunately, I'm really no expert on the ToE. And I would guess that instinct development would be a difficult aspect to study, seeing as the brain really doesn't fossilize well, and we don't understand it anyway. I have the assumption that we really don't understand how genes get expressed as instincts. But, if we did understand that, it might be possible to look at the genes of similar animals to at least understand whether their instincts were developed before they speciated. Which illustrates a useful aspect of the ToE. Strangelove
Strangelove, others, what support is there for the development of instincts via NDE? Is there evidence, beyond a good "just so story" to explain this phenomenon? I've been considering the challenge of bird migration via NDE. Having done some long distance north-south moving, I see this issue from a somewhat unique perspective. If you move down a mountain, it takes very little to notice significant weather differences. It doesn't seem very challenging for animals to develop a pattern of migrating up and down mountains. If you move from the coast to inland and back again you find weather differences to be quite distinct, in general coasts are milder and wetter, inland having more extremes of temperature. A hundred miles makes a lot of difference. However, a venture of a thousand miles north-south makes very little difference, there is very little positive reinforcement offered to the animal that makes the treck. To make matters worse, there seems to be micro-climates which would actually promote a reverse migration. I don't know that it is impossible, but it certainly seems difficult for an animal to find the positive support to develop an active north-south migration via NDE. Yet it seems that north-south migration patterns are extremely common in nature. Is this a challenge to NDE or is this just a challenge to my imagination? bFast
bFast, was it Winged Migration? That was another nature film with some amazing footage. I'm going to heavily recommend it as well. You're exactly right about the innate propensity for language and migration. Strangelove
Is there a link a free copy of the film? I am not prepared to purchase a copy. Though I have not seen the film, some of the questions that it brings up have been outlined here and merit discussion. The issues seem to be, how did the penguin develop co-operative warming behavior where each bird takes its turn on the outside of the ring of warmth, and how did the birds develop their incredible isolated nesting behavior where the nest is kept miles away from any food source. I see no reason why it is necessary to see the movie to discuss these challenges to NDE. Strangelove: "bFast, on the other hand, alot of migratory behaviours are taught." I think you will find that a lot of instinctive behaviours are linked with learned behaviors. It seems that part of instinct is the ability to do the learning. I watched a recent documentary where they were reintroducing the migratory patterns to some swans. They took ultralight airplanes and led the birds through the migration path. Once the birds were taught the route once, they were on their way, able to renavigate back home, and to migrate at the next season. In this, we see a learned component to migration, but also a clear instinctive component. No one taught the birds that they should make the treck back to their starting place. We also see this with humans. Though we teach our children language, teaching them different languages depending on our own base of knowledge, it seems that humans have an inborn ability to learn language. We even seem to have an inborn universal structure upon which the individual languages are built. Its all very complicated, and very instinctive. bFast
I definitely reccomend the film. I don't particularly understand in what way it supports ID. But, it was a great movie. Fantastic footage. The entire time I kept imagining the brutal conditions the film crew had to endure as well. Strangelove
From moderator Denyse: As I mentioned earlier, this thread will be much more fruitful if commenters actually SEE the Penguins film. That is not a reflection on the quality of previous comments. My point is that if you have not seen the film, you will not understand why a number of people pegged it as suporting ID rather than Darwinism, so your comments will tend to go off track into the behavior of a variety of other species, which may have nothing to do with the specific Penguins issue. O'Leary
bFast, on the other hand, alot of migratory behaviours are taught. I raised ducks when I was a kid and they definitly didn't fly south for the winter. Of course I didn't perform the test in which I stopped feeding them. But, they wouldn't know where to go. Birds aren't just flying south, they're flying to specific destinations. They have incredible memories, too. We always knew when to put out the hummingbird feeder when the first hummingbird flys up to our tree, where the feeder was hung and buzzed around the exact location expectedly. That always amazed me. Strangelove
JohnnyB: “'it is too much intelligence to ascribe to the birds themselves' Why is that?" I don't know much about penguins, but I recall reading Grey Owl as a child. It seems that Grey Owl adopted beavers, having them live in his bathtub. At some point the adolescent beaver felt it necessary to drag sticks in, and lay them up against the tub creating a dam. It is obvious, therefore, that building dams is an instinct of the beaver. I would bet that the described behavior of the penguin is instinctive as well. Now, how do these instincts get started? Does one animal get a bright idea, and teach the idea to its friends? Does the idea eventually work its way into the makeup of the animal? This is the lamarckan view. However, lamarckan evolution has not found much support from scientific investigation. Assuming that the behavior described is instinctive, and assuming that lamarckan biology is not valid, I don't believe we can attribute this behavior to the bird's intelligence. bFast
steveh: "Maybe there was a time when penguins only had to hop up on to land or head a couple of miles inland and they might learn to increase that distance as the conditions changed, after a few, er, “embarrassments”. I imagine I have oversimplified here beyong all reason and should stay in the “I don’t really understand it either” camp..." I had the impression that the penguins lived there from the times when antarctica was forrested and warmer. But, I'm in the "I don't understand it either" camp. Strangelove
"it is too much intelligence to ascribe to the birds themselves" Why is that? johnnyb
For a full transcript of the "over the top" ABC Science Show review of the March of the Penguins, see http://www.abc.net.au/rn/scienceshow/stories/2006/1610254.htm# idnet.com.au
Atheist PhD Paul Willis, whilst talking about march of the penguins, tries to demolish Intelligent Design on the ABC (Australia) Science Show April 7th 2006. He completely misunderstands ID and instead resorts to emotionalism and bad language. Why not listen to this MP3 sample of his "scientific" thinking. http://www.idnet.com.au/files/pdf/sadisticdesigner.mp3 idnet.com.au
Denise, it's fun to see some new blood down here at UD. (I admit that I also feel a loss at DaveScott's comebacks tacked on to many posts.) I am, however, intrigued/frustrated at your use of the term "the TOE". There are multiple theories of evolution, some of which are solidly ID, therefore "the" is incorrect. If you read recent discussions on this forum, you will notice a thread discussing whether we should be referring to ID as IDE, Intelligent Design Evolution or as IE, Intelligent Evolution. I, for one, see myself as an ID evolutionist. As such, using the term TOE to describe the proponents of unfettered naturalism is too broad. Let me suggest that you use, rather the term, Neo-Darwinian Evolution (NDE). Note that this expression avoids the question of whether NDE is a valid theory or is more accurately an hypothesis. bFast
I don't have any direct knowledge of prey-spotting ability in primates other than homo sapiens sapiens but the horses at our barn will spot a snake long before any riders will. Horses are the most predator savvy mammals that I have observed. devilsadvocate
Fross: Lions have a pretty complex social structure and Tigers and other large cats don’t. Somewhere down the line Lions became social creatures. I don't know how true the first part is but if it is why can't it be that the others lost the social structure and lions retained it? Also both intelligence and design are natural explanations- both exist in nature. IOW "natural" has nothing to do with it. Instead focus on unintelligent, blind/ undirected (non-goal oriented) processes vs. intelligent, directed (goal oriented) processes. SteveH: Some birds are pretty smart. And the debate is how did they become "smart"->? Culled genetic accidents or intent? All I can say after watching the movie- it's a good thing polar bears only live in the north... (D'oh!) Joseph
Jason, I don't really see that. Some birds are pretty smart. Maybe there was a time when penguins only had to hop up on to land or head a couple of miles inland and they might learn to increase that distance as the conditions changed, after a few, er, "embarrassments". I imagine I have oversimplified here beyong all reason and should stay in the "I don't really understand it either" camp - FWIW I have read about penguins falling over backwards under the right circumstances; Does that count? steveh
To Denyse, thank you for releasing my posts from purgatory. I look forward to participating in other discussions like this one. To JasonTheGreek, You suggest this was concentrated "...more on the overall nature of design and not design specific to a certain branch of penguins." Doesn't this necessitate a substantial predictive component to ID? These penguins are in a unique environment that requires a fairly specific solution. If what is being suggested is that this might be evidence of something more than a generic cooperation gene (which could have evolved via TOE) the design process would have to take into account that some species would have to deal with these specific conditions and be preprogrammed to deal with it. Using the "telic organizing principles in nature" approach, this would imply that nature somehow cuts across time. Past, present and future aspects of nature must interconnect somehow. Please don't take this as a negative argument. I am trying to work out some basics for an ID alternative here. However, I don't see how a front loaded argument does any better than the TOE unless information about a future need is included. Provoking Thought Thought Provoker
Fross I think a design aspect would concentrate more on the overall nature of design and not design specific to a certain branch of penguins. I don't think anyone is saying some designing agent tinkered with penguins to cause this, but that the design was there from the start, and it shows through in the behavior of the penguins down the line somewhere. JasonTheGreek
Cooperation may favor “a” theory of evolution, but it does not favor current Darwinism.
There are obviously some misconceptions about naturalistic evolution going on here. Even if we start from the position of the 'selfish gene', it should be obvious that sometimes the best behavior for promoting your genes is to cooperate with others of your species. Since this is not obvious to some people at UC, maybe I should be more explicit. Consider the situation: eggs are very fragile, eggs require warmth. Let's say that a penguin's eggs are no better off staying in the middle of a group of penguins then eggs that are rotated through the movement cycle. This means that a penguin who refuses to move out of the circle is really no better off than a penguin who is rotating through the penguin group. Further, let's say that a penguin's are smart enough to punish the penguins who refuse to move. This means that the penguin who refuses to move actually stands the chance of being attacked, which could break the egg - even though there is no upside to standing in the middle of the circle. No matter how strong that male penguin is, the egg is still vulnerable, and the situation means that the penguins best option is to cooperate with his fellow penguins. Further, there is the fact that evolution is happening on different levels. If one group of penguins fight to stay in the middle and a second group of penguins cooperate, the second group will proliferate better as a group. Ultimately, the second group may survive while the first group goes extinct. There are entire books written about how cooperation can evolve. As far as the comments that "evolution explains everything and therefore explains nothing" - well, evolution might very well explain a huge variety of behaviors - but because of this fact, you have to look for flaws in evolution *elsewhere*. There are other areas of the natural world where flaws in evolution could theoretically be found - you need to look in those places, not complain that all possible outcomes of *one* particular situation are explainable through evolution. BC
I can not imagine how cooperation can be found using any kind of selection - group, subgroup or individual. Suppose one penguin has the 'cooperative gene'. How it appears - who knows? Anyway, this cooperative individual decides to make space for others and then moves out to the edge of the penguin huddle; but it won't get back in so easily, because others are not cooperating. All penguins, or at least a great majority of them, must be cooperating for the genes to work and be selected for... and the one that has the cooperation gene is at high risk of being 'selected' away because of freezing to death (i.e. at a lower survivability factor). When i tfinds it difficult to get back in, will the gene over-ride and make him stay outside and die. It is almost like asking for an irreducibly complex system..where all parts are cooperating for a common goal. JGuy
I think social group behavior can evolve naturaly. For instance look at the large cats. We know that tigers and lions share a common ancestor along with all the other large cats. (simply due to them being able to hybridize) Lions have a pretty complex social structure and Tigers and other large cats don't. Somewhere down the line Lions became social creatures. Those penguins are related to penguins that live all over the globe, and the frozen conditions they live in weren't always there. My point is that unless you want to assert that a designer came in and tinkered with a specific branch species of penguins after the polar caps were covered with ice, then the natural explanations are more than enough to cover this topic. Fross
There appears to be a bit of a misunderstanding about the idea of selfish genes, a misunderstanding which perhaps Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene would clear up. Dawkins tackles the very issue of how altruism and cooperation on the part of individuals. He shows how group selection is not necessary to account for altruism and that selfishness (in a technical sense) on the level of genes can explain the evolution of altruism and cooperation. selfish gene

From moderator Denyse:

1. I have just discovered a number of comments in the moderation queue that should have been posted and I don't know why they were not. I am going to post all those that I do not think require moderation. If they end up in the wrong place, wrong order, I am sorry. I should think they would find their way to the right post, at least.

As far as taking the posters off moderation is concerned, I will seek advice on how, exactly, to do that in WordPress.

2. Regarding the Penguins Marching On: If they have not already done so, commenters and readers will get far more out of the discussion if they see the film (which can be rented at video stores - at least where I live, in Toronto) and/or read the book. Find out and take into account what people are reacting to before offering a theory, and your theory will be that much sounder.

There is a question that is relevant to ID (and this, I think, is what started people asking questions): The penguin mates use a complex coperative system of long treks for nurturing their one egg per couple. It is unclear to me, as it is to many, that the system could evolve from a simpler system, as Darwinism requires. Nor could the penguins devise their system by an act of intelligence. Put another way, there seems to be intelligence in the system, but it is too much intelligence to ascribe to the birds themselves. Wouldn't that be true of any migratory population? As for cooperation- what does that say about competition being a driving force? IOW we observe more cooperation than we do some struggle for survival. Cooperation would lead to stasis and perhaps a little "de"volution. (remember that song "2525"?) Perhaps the ToE can account for symbiosis/ cooperation, however intelligent design is the better explanation. The reasoning? Plug-n-play technology baby- As in intelligent designers can see and understand the "big picture" and plan for that. Intent and purpose- powerful stuff indeed. So powerful it has blinded the anti-IDists from seeing the "big picture"...
A scientist was talking with a farmer. They agreed that if the scientist could tell the farmer the number of sheep in his flock the scientist could take a sheep. The scientist glanced over the flock and shouted 53! “That’s right,” said the farmer. “That science of yours is pretty amazing. Take yer pick.” The scientist bends over and scoops up an animal. “You must be a molecular biologist.” Said the farmer. “Why yes, I am. How did you know?” inquired the scientist. “That’s not important” replied the farmer..” Just put down the dog.”
As for Dr. Jones- is he the same "Steve" Jones that authored "Darwin's Ghost"? Joseph
Here's some background on Steve Jones from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jones_(biologist) Excerpt: "In 1996 his writing won him the Royal Society Michael Faraday prize 'for his numerous, wide ranging contributions to the public understanding of science in areas such as human evolution and variation, race, sex, inherited disease and genetic manipulation through his many broadcasts on radio and television, his lectures, popular science books, and his regular science column in The Daily Telegraph and contributions to other newspaper media.'" russ
Mats- I read that article. That makes little sense to me. FEAR of snakes caused evolution in primates, and the to test it is to see if some apes are different in their "fear of snakes" than others? Wow. I know some people who ADORE snakes and some who are scared to death of them. I think that alone is a test showing that people are different and so are ALL animals. Some chimps are calm and never hurt a soul, while some are violent and attack people, other chimps, etc. How would seeing if different apes like snakes more be a test of this nonsense? 2. This is rather odd- from the article:
If snake and primate history are as intimately connected as Isbell suggests, then it might account for other things as well, Greene added. "Snakes and people have had a long history; it goes back to long before we were people, in fact," he said. "That might sort of explain why we have such extreme attitudes towards snakes, varying from deification to ophidiphobia, or fear of snakes."
Let's sure I got this. FEAR of snakes was so massive, it changed ancient apes into thinking, creative, emotional human beings, yet some people adore snakes? The theory explains the fear of snakes AND the love of snakes?! What can these theories NOT explain? You want the theory of everything, let's face it- it's already here and it's called evolution via mutations and natural selection! JasonTheGreek
Denyse, Thank you for clearing things up a bit. I would like to add just a few things to this post. When one self-appointed representative of the theory of evolution makes a blunderheaded remark (Steve Jones in this case, but I'm sure I have said/will say stupid things as well), it is unfair to judge the rest of that theory based on that single remark by a single person. The TOE will surely have to account for alot of cooperation in the animal kingdom. It is pervasive from bees, ants, meerkats, wolves, lions, humans, etc. If it is unable to account for cooperative behaviour, then it clearly needs to be updated and changed. But, that is what science is all about. Here's a practical question. How do you determine what the implications are of "modern Darwinism"? Are you looking at the peer-reviewed literature? the books for laymen? words from a self-appointed representative? This is an honest question. And in this same vein, can you provide evidence to show that "modern Darwinism" cannot account for cooperative behaviour? Besides Steve Jones that is... Thank you for allowing me to participate in these discussions. Previous blog czars would've banned me by now for such discourse. Strangelove
Cooperation may favor “a” theory of evolution, but it does not favor current Darwinism.
That's right. Thanks to Science®™ we now know that what has driven pre-human evolution was Fear of Snakes Mats
Hi Denyse, You wrote: "Modern neo-Darwinism depends heavily on “selfish gene” theory, and dismisses group selection. (If you can accept group selection, you can incorporate cooperation into your scheme; otherwise, you will expect to see only the appearance of cooperation in a situation that is actually driven by competition.)" It's a common misconception that cooperation cannot arise apart from group selection. But Robert Trivers explained 35 years ago how it can happen, even between unrelated individuals. See the many references to "reciprocal altruism" on the Web. Also, you seem to be saying that if the genes motivating a behavior are selfish, then the behavior itself must be selfish, and can only give the "appearance" of cooperation. Steven Pinker nicely dissects this fallacy in How the Mind Works: "The confusion comes from thinking of people's genes as their true self, and the motives of their genes as their deepest, truest, unconscious motives. From there it's easy to draw the cynical and incorrect moral that all love is hypocritical. That confuses the real motives of the person with the metaphorical motives of the genes. Genes are not puppetmasters; they acted as the recipe for making the brain and body and then they got out of the way. They live in a parallel universe, scattered among bodies, with their own agendas." Another way of drawing the distinction is to look at sexual attraction. Our genes may cause us to feel sexual attraction in order to get themselves into the next generation, but that hardly means that the attraction itself is a sham, as anyone who has experienced it will attest. zapatero

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