What flying fish tell us about evolution

One of the most telling pieces of evidence against the Darwinian theory of evolution by random mutation and natural selection is the existence of highly specialized analogous organs in unrelated species. Wings, for example, have evolved on at least three occasions—in winged insects, in winged mammals, namely the bat, and in winged dinosaurs/birds. (I’m assuming for the sake of discussion that birds are related to flying reptiles, so I’m treating them here as one group.) Insects, bats, and reptiles/birds have no immediate relationship with each other, which means that in each instance, the organs and faculty of winged flight came into existence independently.

Think what this says about the plausibility of Darwinian evolution. Not only does Darwinism require us to believe that the marvel of winged flight evolved by random accidental mutations, it requires us to believe that winged flight evolved over and over again by random accidental mutations. Which makes it seem not random at all, but part of the natural, inherent scheme of things.

I bring this subject up because of the video that came to light this week of a flying fish staying aloft for 45 seconds, the longest time ever observed. I actually had forgotten about flying fish and looked them up at Wikipedia. There are many species, distributed over several genera.

Answers.com provides some useful definitions of flying fish compiled from other sources:

- Any of various marine fishes of the family Exocoetidae, having enlarged, winglike pectoral fins capable of sustaining them in brief, gliding flight over the water.

- Members of the family Exocoetidae, which are commonly found in tropical waters, especially throughout the Caribbean. The name of this fish comes from its ability to soar through the air for great distances, sometimes up to almost 350 yards. To manage this feat, the flying fish builds up speed in the water, then leaps into the air, extending its large, stiff pectoral fins, which act like wings. Flying fish are good food fish with a firm texture and a pleasant, savory flavor.

- Any of about 40 species of oceanic fishes (family Exocoetidae). They are found worldwide in warm waters and are noted for their ability to “fly.” All species are less than 18 in. (45 cm) long and have winglike, rigid fins and an unevenly forked tail. Two-winged species have only the pectoral fins enlarged; four-winged species have both the pectoral and the pelvic fins enlarged. Rather than flying, they actually glide after jumping from the water. They can make several consecutive glides; the strongest fliers can travel as much as 600 ft (180 m) in a single glide, and compound glides may cover 1,300 ft (400 m). The behaviour is primarily a means of escaping predators.

The upshot is that there are not, as I had mistakenly believed, three groups of animals—flying insects, flying dinosaurs/birds, and bats—in which winged flight, or, in this case, long-distance gliding with wing-like fins, has independently appeared, but, counting the flying fish, four. Which makes the case against Darwinism even stronger than I had thought, if that were possible.

Finally, look at this picture of a flying fish, from the Wikipedia article:


How similar are its wing-like fins to the wings of a bird, despite the fact that flying fish evolved entirely separately and independently from birds. Clearly winged flight is not a result of random mutations. It is an inborn potentiality of biological existence. It is a sub-program built into the meta-program of life itself.

- end of initial entry -

Mark K. writes:

LA: “Clearly winged flight is not a result of random mutations. It is an inborn potentiality of biological existence.”

Enough is enough; I think the time has come to report this website to the National Science Foundation. If you continue this attack on science, the government will revoke any and all funding for scientific and\or social research that has been granted to VFR. And a copy of any censure will be sent to the European Council to ensure that your anti-rationalist behavior does not cross international boundaries.

And furthermore, you have been disqualified for any consideration of the Carl Sagan Cosmos Award.

Mark K. writes:

Came across this wonderful website, with Darwinian just-so stories that can be read by parents to children (or vice versa) at bedtime. Some of the titles—“How Bambi Became Moby Dick” (from deer to whale), “How Beetle Got the Bomb” (discussed previously at VFR), “How Frog Got Her Poison,” “How Human Stood Up” and many more. It is a wonderful compilation that promises to resurrect Darwin from failed biological thinker to children’s story-teller. He can thus join the classical ranks of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Another salvaged career.

My favorite tale is “How Woodpecker Used Her Head”: “The woodpecker has evolved several unique mechanisms to prevent brain damage, retinal haemorrhages, and retinal detachment.” If only politicians had evolved the same way…

Shrewsbury writes:

Nay, birds are not related to flying reptiles such as the pterodactyl; they appear to have evolved from the two-legged therapods … the skeletal structure is remarkably similar….

(And should dinosaurs even be called reptiles anymore? They appear to have been warm-blooded…. )

Shrewsbury has been, fecklessly of course, trying to devise a New Theory of Evolution in which the intention of an animal leads to a new species. For instance, if proboscideans decide for some reason to start trying to dig up roots with their tusks, then in the fullness of time you get deinotherium, with its strange, short, backward-curving tusks. A bird decides to get bugs out of trees, then develops the equipment for it and becomes a woodpecker. The behavior must come first, and the form actually adapts to the behavior more than to the environment….

Where Shrewsbury finds God is in the astonishingly precise and innumerable parameters which allow all this to happen, as your flying-fish post implies …

LA replies:

Ok, if birds are not descended from or related to winged dinosaurs, then the number of independent appearances of winged flight has just increased by one.

Steve D. writes:

I have been putting off writing to you on this subject, because like you I’m not an expert, and there seemed little point in two non-experts comparing their comparative ignorance. But what the heck …

To begin, a couple of points on your latest post regarding flying fish. First, flying reptiles and birds are not particularly closely related. Pterosaurs “evolved” from the same branch of Reptilia that produced dinosaurs, which later produced birds, but they’re as separate really as birds and mammals. The pterosaurs all died out—otherwise, they’re so unlike either birds or reptiles that they’d be considered as a completely separate class. So this effectively increases the number of times flight evolved by one.

Second, I’m no Darwinist, but I know how they argue, and it’s just a matter of time before someone points out to you that given the qualities of our atmosphere, any wings that function must resemble each other. So it would be no surprise, evolutionarily speaking, if flying fish “wings” bore a resemblance to bird wings or insect wings—they would have to in order to work; and if they didn’t work, the mutation would die out. [LA replies: Of course, if somehow the series of thousands of random mutations over untold number of generations that were needed to produce wings just happened to occur, and not just occurred once in one series, but in five different and unrelated series, then yes, given the physics of flight, the product of those five successful series of mutations will be alike. But my point, of course, is that the accidental appearance of each tiny change needed to produce the organic and structural changes leading to wings is so absurdly unreasonable and unlikely as to be rejected. Therefore, what the repeated independent appearance of wings points to is the intuitive inference, not that accidentally evolved wings will be all alike, but that on a planet with living organisms and a pressurized atmosphere, winged flight is “programmed” to appear, because it “fits” the nature of such a planet. In other words, winged flight is an “archetype” for a planet with a pressured atmosphere.]

But the best argument against evolution to my mind (speaking as an uninformed amateur who can’t find a knowledgeable professional who will consider questions that imply criticism of Darwin) is the incompatibility of information systems. You can’t put a Zip disk in a CD/ROM drive, even if it contains the same information as a CD might. The information is irrelevant: what’s important is that it be arranged in a way that is compatible with the system that reads and interprets it.

In the same way, even though humans and chimps are said to share about 99 percent of their DNA sequences—supposed proof of close kinship—their information systems are incompatible: humans have 46 chromosomes, chimps have 48. This means that their putative latest common ancestor either had 46 chromosomes, and chimps somehow gained two; or it had 48 chromosomes, and humans somehow lost two; or it had a completely different number, and BOTH humans and chimps gained or lost (one of them gaining or losing TWICE).

I have yet to be told how any animal can spontaneously increase or decrease its chromosome count by two without serious or even fatal damage. Down’s Syndrome, for instance, is caused by the extra replication of a single chromosome, giving the individual 47 instead of 46. And Down’s Syndrome is bad enough—nobody could make the case that it represents a potential selective advantage.

What’s more, every one of those conjectured tiny mutations necessarily takes place in an individual. Take the case of our chimplike ancestor, and suppose he had 46 chromosomes, like us. To produce a chimp, one male, having 23 chromosomes in each sperm cell, would have to undergo a mutation in which his DNA is shuffled around, resulting in 24 chromosomes instead. Maybe it was as simple as a single chromosome splitting into two parts. Still, evolution faces a problem here: who would he mate with? It’s too much to assume that a female, living at the same time and in the same group, spontaneously and simultaneously underwent an identical mutation (what’s more, as Darwinists such as Dawkins have realized, such an event would be indistinguishable from miracle). [LA replies: I’ve written a couple of articles on the insurmountable challenge to Darwinian theory posed by the necessity of simultaneous complementary mutations that would be needed in individuals of both sexes in order to allow innovations in reproductive organs and behavior. See this and this.]

So instead, an orthodox Darwinist is forced to concoct a mechanism whereby Grandpa Chimp can somehow pass on his 24 chromosomes to a viable offspring, in such a way that the odd number, rather than causing damage, actually confers a survival advantage—allowing the species to continue until the same thing can happen all over again and bring the total up to a round 48.

I can’t help but notice the telltale absence of any such concoction.

LA wrote to Brandon F. who had sent the video of the flying fish:

Maybe I knew but had forgotten. That adds another INDEPENDENT appearance of winged flight: Insects, reptiles, birds (though maybe the birds are descended from flying reptiles), mammals, and now fish. And in each case the wings have same basic structure, just by chance, they all had thousands of mutations leading to the same structure.

Brandon replies:

Great point on the structure. The whole modern view is to deny not only moral principle but all principles of manifestation.

Ken H. writes:

I can’t follow your reasoning on the flying fish. You appear to be saying that because something you think is improbable happened four times instead of three, it is so unlikely that it can’t be chance at all. The more obvious conclusion is that your estimation of the odds is wrong. It reminds me of the map that circulated in 2004 showing that God was sending a message to Florida by sending hurricanes to only counties that voted for Bush. Your analysis is no more convincing.

The existence of species that glide or just barely fly—flying fish, flying squirrels, flying snakes—is actually confirmation of Darwin’s theory that abilities such as flying don’t have to evolve all at once. Incremental changes in fins or skeletons or skin can be advantageous.

LA replies:

Ken H. has missed the point. I wasn’t saying that three occurrences of independently evolved homologous organs are not a disproof of Darwinism, but that four such occurrences, are. Rather, the existence of different life forms with homologous organs are a persuasive challenge to Darwinism, period. Increasing the number of life forms with homologous organs simply dramatizes and emphasizes the argument further.

And of course Ken doesn’t even try to offer a Darwinian explanation of how it could be that insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals all independently underwent the same series of thousands of accidental mutations leading to wings with the structure that is needed for flight.

Nik S. writes:

I do not think the ability of various “un-related” creatures to fly is such a disproof against evolution. One merely needs to look at the obvious resemblance between a fish and an airplane to see that certain arrangements of matter (i.e., a tube with “fins” and/or “wings”) are better at traveling through space than others. Thus, given the fact that the earth is composed of three states of matter—solid, liquid, and air—it would make sense for earth’s evolving creatures to adapt themselves to as many states of this matter as possible (amphibians, birds, etc…). As well, since “wings” are nothing more than “sides” to a body…..they really are not all that special, and their concurrent development in the various branches of life should not be regarded as such a novelty.
What is more remarkable, in my mind, is the fact that the universe has given birth to this life-filled Earth at all. I do not understand the debate over evolution, when the fact of Anything existing at all is much more remarkable. I see the Universe’s existence itself as proof of God—why do we need to involve biological details? Who cares?

LA replies:

You are a true “forest man.” And that’s fine. The forest is enough to tell us of God’s existence. Other people are interested only in the trees. But others are interested in both the forest and the trees.

Nik S. replies:

Laugh out loud. What a great response. Okay, maybe you are right—maybe the details are worth something. But these days, the debate seems to be more about how such-and-such color of berry led to another such-and-such color of berry. Such trivial arguments. I can see why people think that Obama is, “The Way”.

If only…in the scientific world, there were “trees” without any “forests.” As if that were possible. To paraphrase Thoreau, “I make the majority of a forest with a single tree.”

Oh wait, that’s God’s Kingdom. Whoops.

P.S. Your website rocks!

Nik continues:

I admit, you are right in that the arguments of “evolution” are points worthy of being discussed. However, I am puzzled why there is not presently a larger debate about the Big Bang Theory in general—the whole “something came from nothing” argument. Creationists would have a huge foot-hold on this point, and yet it is hardly discussed (probably because the elites in the super-string-theory departments haven’t quite yet figured out how to distill their BS to the media???).

No seriously: How do secularists and atheists explain the mere fact of the universe’s existence?

“It just happened” = (“something” came from “nothing”, i.e. 1 came from 0, i.e. 1=0, i.e. = BS)

What a copout.

I just feel like these ideas could be discussed more as well….no diss to the evolution discussions.

LA replies:

Nick is absolutely right that the biggest challenge to science is the existence of the universe itself, and that this question almost never seems to come up. Theists challenge materialists/Darwinists on questions like, how can there be human intelligence, how can there be whales, how can there be the eye? (If the theist in question is Ann Coulter, her challenge will be something like, how can there be lip gloss?) But you never hear a theist say to the non-theists, how can there be the universe? And Nik is right that the failure to ask this question is odd, because it is the materialists’ weakest point. They talk so easily about the Big Bang. All people today—including all the people who scoff at God and consider religious believers to be mental defectives—accept the Big Bang as a matter of course. But you never hear our side say to them, and what did the big bang come out of? I’m not sure exactly why this is so. Maybe it gets too metaphysical (literally) for people to talk about the limits of matter, energy, space and time and argue that they have to come from “something” that precedes and transcends matter, energy, space and time.

I did talk about it in this thread. The discussion begins at “The scientists tell us that all of matter and energy came into existence in a single instant, out of the Big Bang.”

Homer S. writes:

“And of course Ken doesn’t even try to offer a Darwinian explanation of how it could be that insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals all independently underwent the same series of thousands of accidental mutations leading to wings with the structure that is needed for flight. “

It’s because it isn’t accidental. A fish in the water is already “flying”. A mammal or insect or dinosaur living in the trees and jumping from branch to branch is already flying. Unlike being on land, you don’t need to have one impossibly complete or countless unlikely random mutations in order to achieve adaptability—the first mutation can make an organism instantly more adaptable and closer to full flight. The long chain of changes needed to produce a winged flying mammal, bird, insect, or even reptile becomes less random-driven and more adaptation-driven as time passes and the genetic lineage survives. Tiny rodents living in tall trees will gradually evolve into gliding rodents because those survive—and will gradually evolve into flapping rodents (bats) in a sort of genetic snowball effect. It starts with a rock of randomness but then gains a mass of adaptability.

I’ll use an anology of Dachshund dogs. The change from, let’s say 15 inches long to 16 inches was entirely random, but the change from 25 inches to 26 inches was not at all the result of a random mutation, but the result of deliberate breeding, a sort human-imposed natural selection. Dachshunds did not elongate from 15 to 26 inches by a series of 11 independently-random mutations.

LA replies:

Notice how Homer S. unfolds the purest speculative scenarios—speculations for which there is not an iota of evidence, such as that mammals or reptiles living in trees and hopping from branch to branch developed wings by a cumulative process of random accidental mutations—as though they were not only plausible, but virtually established fact! And notice how he turns random mutations—changes which according to the Darwinian theory occur purely by accident, with no reason for them to happen—into virtually an assured process leading to an assured result! It’s as though the evidence for the Darwinian theory were the theory itself:

“Tiny rodents living in tall trees will gradually evolve into gliding rodents because those survive—and will gradually evolve into flapping rodents (bats) in a sort of genetic snowball effect. It starts with a rock of randomness but then gains a mass of adaptability.”

Thus Darwinians, in order to make their theory seem believable and true, sneak inchoately yet profoundly teleological assumptions into a process that the theory says is radically non-teleological.

Paul Henri writes (May 24):

I understand your idea. But it relies on the premise that geologic time is insufficient to produce flight by very different species four times. Geologic time has produced incredibly nuanced differences at the biochemical level but has retained all the ancient biochemical reactions despite enormous differences in morphology. The morphological differences are extremely varied. I think geologic time is beyond intuitive comprehension. It can only be discussed with mathematics.

LA replies:

In my view, it doesn’t matter if the time is infinite. Some things by the very nature of reality cannot occur. Given infinite time, a monkey banging on a typewriter could not produce Washington’s Farewell Address, or the Lord’s Prayer in the King James version, or “Johnny B. Goode.” Even given infinite time, purely random, accidental mutations—mutations for which there is no reason for them to occur, which just happen to happen occasionally—cannot produce wings, hearts, skeletons, warm-bloodedness, pelvises, legs, internal fertilization, the bombadier beetle, the African frog in which the male deposits a sperm packet somewhere on the external skin of the female and she opens her skin at that point and absorbs the sperm packet into her body, neurotransmitters, neurons, the human cerebrum, the dog, the whale, the eagle, the shape of the human female. Random accidental occurences cannot produce anything new and complex. Highly specialized, functioning form can only proceed from intelligence. It cannot proceed from matter alone.

Not to mention life itself. Do you believe that life arose because of some chance gathering of just the right chemicals in an ancient sea? Scientists have estimated that the odds against the amino acids basic to living cells coming into existence by chance are greater than something on the order of the number of atoms in the universe.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 22, 2008 06:19 PM | Send

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