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Why are statements about “evolution” so often just filler?


A reader draws attention to a recent media release from U South Australia positing that future drones will resemble 300 million-year-old dragonflies:

A team of PhD students led by UniSA Professor of Sensor Systems, Javaan Chahl, spent part of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown designing and testing key parts of a dragonfly-inspired drone that might match the insect’s extraordinary skills in hovering, cruising and aerobatics…

Describing the dragonfly as the “apex insect flyer,” Prof Chahl says numerous engineering lessons can be learned from its mastery in the air.

“Dragonflies are supremely efficient in all areas of flying. They need to be. After emerging from under water until their death (up to six months), male dragonflies are involved in perpetual, dangerous combat against male rivals. Mating requires an aerial pursuit of females and they are constantly avoiding predators. Their flying abilities have evolved over millions of years to ensure they survive,” Prof Chahl says.

“They can turn quickly at high speeds and take off while carrying more than three times their own body weight. They are also one of nature’s most effective predators, targeting, chasing and capturing their prey with a 95 per cent success rate.” …

“Their long abdomen, which makes up about 35 per cent of their body weight, has also evolved to serve many purposes. It houses the digestive tract, is involved in reproduction, and it helps with balance, stability and manoeuvrability. The abdomen plays a crucial role in their flying ability.”

University of South Australia, “Future drones likely to resemble 300-million-year-old flying machine” at ScienceDaily

The paper is open access.

The reader notes that the release would read just as meaningfully if the text was shortened to “Their flying abilities ensure they survive,” Prof Chahl says.” and “Their long abdomen, which makes up about 35 per cent of their body weight, serves many purposes”.

Our philosopher and photographer friend Laszlo Bencze had a look at it and writes to say,

I have written about this issue myself several times. It’s so annoying. But the purpose of dropping these meaningless nods to evolution into articles is to dress them up as highly scientific.

Unfortunately, I think it works. If you say, “Most people prefer vanilla ice cream,” you’ve just made a trivial claim of no great significance. But if you say, “People have evolved to prefer vanilla ice cream,” well now you’ve made an insightful and fascinating statement backed by years of scientific research, no doubt about it. I’m sure that’s how most people respond to these evolution genuflections.

I know I certainly did. How could anyone make these claims unless they were backed up with rigorous studies? There had to be reams of papers, PhD theses, articles in Nature magazine for every such mention.

When I learned in 1983 from an article by Tom Bethell, published in Harper’s Magazine that there were no such studies, no not even one, I was shocked. Also I was angry at having been lied to for years. Those nods to evolution are not trivial. They are harmful in creating an aura of respectability about evolution that has no right to be there.

If an editor removed the genuflections, you can bet that the authors would be outraged and would pillory that unfortunate who would never again possess any scientific credibility. As hollow as it is, these evolution words puff up writers allowing them to believe that they are themselves, “highly scientific.” You can’t divest an author of such profound power without severe repercussions.

Well, if they can’t have the cattle, they are going to insist on the Big Hat, right?

Bethell noted the same tendency in Darwinian language in 2005:

That phrase–”it was selected for”–is regarded as a sufficient explanation for . . . everything. The same mundane phrase is given as the explanation for everything under the sun. How did the bats get sonar? “It arose by an accidental mutation of the genes and was selected for. Next question?” How did the eye develop? “Piecemeal. There was a random mutation and it conferred an advantage so it was selected for. Then the same thing happened over and over again. Next question?” How did the camel get its hump? “Random mutations conferred some advantage and so they were selected for. Next question?”

Tom Bethell, “Don’t Fear The Designer” at National Review (December 1, 2005)

We should write more parodies of that stuff, really. Anyone have friends at the Babylon Bee.

Presumably the ancient dragonfly was something like this:

Of note, "Günter Bechly is a German paleo-entomologist who specializes in the fossil history and systematics of insects (esp. dragonflies)
Günter Bechly is a German paleo-entomologist who specializes in the fossil history and systematics of insects (esp. dragonflies), the most diverse group of animals. He served as curator for amber and fossil insects in the department of paleontology at the State Museum of Natural History (SMNS) in Stuttgart, Germany. He is also a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Dr. Bechly earned his Ph.D. in geosciences from Eberhard-Karls-University in Tübingen, Germany.
Günter Bechly, (before the Darwinian gestapo 'cancelled' him for daring to question Darwinian evolution), as curator for amber and fossil insects at a state museum, was uniquely positioned to have first hand knowledge of the insect fossil record. Dr. Bechly found no evidence for evolution from the insect fossil record.
Günter Bechly: Rich Fossil Record Says No to Insect Evolution On this episode of ID the Future, Dr. Günter Bechly, paleoentomologist and former curator for amber and fossil insects for the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany, talks with host Andrew McDiarmid about evidence for macroevolution among insects. The fossil record is “saturated,” Bechly says. By that he doesn’t mean there aren’t new fossil forms to discover. Bechly himself has discovered several. He means we have an extensive enough sampling to confidently discern the major patterns of change and stasis in the history of life. And it shows no sign of insect evolution. It shows no transition from marine arthropods to terrestrial insects, none from wingless insects to winged insects, and no gradual evolution to insects (such as beetles and butterflies) that go through a metamorphosis that includes a pupal stage. And evidence for common ancestry is either contradictory or missing. In short, Bechly argues, the insect fossil record is much better explained by intelligent design than blind evolution. https://idthefuture.com/1201/
In fact, to the chagrin of Darwinists, Günter Bechly named a new species of fossil dragonfly that he had discovered after Michael Behe.
New Species of Fossil Dragonfly Named for ID Proponent Michael Behe Günter Bechly - April 27, 2018 https://evolutionnews.org/2018/04/new-species-of-fossil-dragonfly-named-for-id-proponent-michael-behe/
I think it is a fairly safe bet to assume that, if a dragonfly fossil was named after a leading ID proponent by an expert in fossil dragonflies, then the fossil record of dragonflies must be very unDarwinian in its foundational character. And indeed dragonflies have had the same, (extremely sophisticated), body plan for, at least, 325 million years.
Dragonflies and Damselflies Excerpt: The Odonata are known to be ancient insects. The oldest recognizable fossils of the group belong to the Protodonata, an ancestral group that is now extinct. The earliest fossils so far discovered come from Upper Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) sediments in Europe formed about 325 million years ago. Like modern-day dragonflies, the Protodonata were fast-flying with spiny legs that may have assisted in capturing prey; their wingspan was up to 75 centimeters (30 inches). https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/arthropoda/uniramia/odonatoida.html Dragonfly Designs Inspire Engineering - January 3, 2013 Excerpt: "We weren't expecting to find something so sophisticated in lowly insects from a group that's been around for 325 million years...." ,,, Another paper on dragonflies shows that these marvels of the insect world are equipped with navigational equipment that can do vector calculus.,,, "Intercepting a moving object requires prediction of its future location. This complex task has been solved by dragonflies, who intercept their prey in midair with a 95% success rate. In this study, we show that a group of 16 neurons, called target-selective descending neurons (TSDNs), code a population vector that reflects the direction of the target with high accuracy and reliability across 360°. " http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/01/dragonfly_sense067971.html
A few more notes
Dragonflies on the hunt display complex choreography - Dec. 10, 2014 Excerpt: The dragonfly is a swift and efficient hunter. Once it spots its prey, it takes about half a second to swoop beneath an unsuspecting insect and snatch it from the air. Scientists,, have used motion-capture techniques to track the details of that chase, and found that a dragonfly's movement is guided by internal models of its own body and the anticipated movement of its prey.,,, "Until now, this type of complex control, which incorporates both prediction and reaction, had been demonstrated only in vertebrates,",,, "dragonflies on the hunt perform internal calculations every bit as complex as those of a ballet dancer.",,, "Articulating a body and moving it through space is a very complicated problem.",,, it was clear that the dragonflies were not simply responding to the movements of the prey. Instead, they made structured turns that adjusted the orientation of their bodies - even when their prey's trajectory did not change.,,, Leonardo says the movements his team observed are so fine-tuned that they keep the image of the prey fixed in the crosshairs of the dragonfly's eyes—their area of greatest acuity—during the duration of the chase. That allows the dragonfly to receive two channels of information about its prey, Leonardo says. The angle between the head and the body tracks the predicted movement of the prey, while the visual system detects any unexpected movement when the prey strays from its position in the crosshairs. "It gives the dragonfly a very elegant combination of predicted model-driven control and the original reactive control," he says. http://phys.org/news/2014-12-dragonflies-complex-choreography.html Dragonfly Wings in Slow Motion - Smarter Every Day 91 - video https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=oxrLYv0QXa4 10 Prehistoric Bugs That Could Seriously Mess You Up Excerpt: Modern-day dragonflies seem to have an unduly ferocious name; but their enormous ancestor, M. permiana, would have deserved the name “dragon.” It was probably the largest insect that ever lived: its wingspan could exceed two feet (60cm), and its body grew to nearly 17 inches (40 cm)., (another source says they were 30 inches long), M. permiana’s immense size has led researchers to think that it may have fed on animals as large as frogs and squirrels in order to sustain itself.,,, http://listverse.com/2013/01/14/10-prehistoric-bugs-that-could-seriously-mess-you-up/
April 29, 2021
01:53 AM
I don't think most people hear "evolution" and think "backed by many years of study". That might be an academic assumption. Also, "their flying abilities ensure they survive" is just as extraneous as "they evolved to fly". A simple observer says "They fly." A scientific observer measures how often and how far they fly, but doesn't make any assumptions about why they fly.polistra
April 28, 2021
10:15 PM

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