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Sugar Gliders, Flying Squirrels, and How Evolutionists Explain Away Uncooperative Data

Cornelius Hunter


The scientific evidence contradicts evolutionary theory. Consider, for example, the problem of tracing out the mammalian evolutionary tree.

According to evolution similar species should be neighbors on the evolutionary tree. For example, the flying squirrel and sugar glider certainly are similar — they both sport distinctive “wings” stretching from arm to leg. Shouldn’t they be neighboring species? The problem is that, while they have incredible similarities, they also have big differences. Most notably, the flying squirrel is a placental and the sugar glider is a marsupial. So they must be placed far apart in the mammalian evolutionary tree. The problem in this example is that different characters, across the two species, are not congruent. Here is how evolutionists rationalize the contradiction:

Flying squirrels and sugar gliders are only distantly related. So why do they look so similar then? Their gliding “wings” and big eyes are analogous structures. Natural selection independently adapted both lineages for similar lifestyles: leaping from treetops (hence, the gliding “wings”) and foraging at night (hence, the big eyes). [Emphasis added.]

This is a good example of how contradictory evidence drives evolutionists to embrace irrational just-so stories. Natural selection cannot “adapt” anything. Natural selection kills off the bad designs. It cannot influence the random mutations that must, somehow, come up with such amazing designs. This is the hard reality, but in order to rationalize the evidence, evolutionists must resort to this sort of teleological language, personifying and endowing natural selection with impossible powers. As often happens, a distinctive grammatical form — “for similar lifestyles” — is a dead giveaway. Natural selection becomes a designer.

This example is by no means exceptional. In fact, this sort of incongruence is rampant in biology. Evolutionists have attempted to deny it in the past, but it is undeniable. It is the rule rather than the exception. As one recent paper, entitled “Mammal madness: is the mammal tree of life not yet resolved?” admitted:

Despite the keen interest in mammals, the evolutionary history of this clade has been and remains at the center of heated scientific debates. In part, these controversies stem from the widespread occurrence of convergent morphological characters in mammals.

In addition to the morphological characters, evolutionists make extensive use of molecular sequence data using the so-called molecular clock method. This method, however, has a long history of problems. You can see here and here how the molecular clock method has failed, but an entirely different problem is the non-scientific misuse of this approach. Consider how evolutionists have misused it in the mammalian evolutionary tree problem:

Two articles in this issue address one such node, the root of the tree of living placental mammals, and come to different conclusions. The timing of the splitting event — approximately 100 Ma based on molecular clocks — is not in debate, at least among molecular evolutionists. Rather the question is the branching order of the three major lineages: afrotherians (e.g., elephants, manatees, hyraxes, elephant shrews, aardvarks, and tenrecs), xenarthrans (sloths, anteaters, and armadillos), and boreoeutherians (all other placentals; fig. 1).

Such overly optimistic interpretation of the molecular clock results unfortunately has a long history. Dan Graur and William Martin have showed how such overconfidence became common in evolutionary studies. They write:

We will relate a dating saga of ballooning inapplicability and snowballing error through which molecular equivalents of the 23rd October 4004 BC date have been mass-produced in the most prestigious biology journals.

Graur and Martin chronicle how a massive uncertainty was converted to, err, zero, via a sequence of machinations, including the arbitrary filtering out of data simply because they do not fit the theory:

A solution to the single-calibration conundrum would be to use multiple primary calibrations because such practices yield better results than those obtained by relying on a single point. Indeed, it was stated that “the use of multiple calibration points from the fossil record would be desirable if they were all close to the actual time of divergence.” However, because no calibrations other than the 310 +/- 0 MYA value were ever used in this saga, the authors must have concluded that none exists. This is not true. Moreover, deciding whether a certain fossil is “close to the actual time of divergence” presupposes a prior knowledge of the time of divergence, which in turn will make the fossil superfluous for dating purposes.

Not only are uncooperative data discarded, but tests are altogether dropped if they don’t produce the right answer:

The results indicated that 25% of the homologous protein sets in birds and mammals failed the first part of the consistency test, that is, in one out of four cases the data yielded divergence times between rodents and primates that were older than those obtained for the divergence between synapsids and diapsids. One protein yielded the absurd estimate of 2333 MYA for the human-chicken divergence event, and as an extreme outlier was discarded. For the remaining proteins, the mean bird-mammalian divergence estimate was 393 MYA with a 95% confidence interval of 471-315 MYA. In other words, the 310 MYA landmark was not recovered. Because neither condition of the consistency test was met, it was concluded that the use of the secondary calibration is unjustified.

In one example, a monumental dating uncertainty, roughly equal to the age of the universe, is magically reduced by a factor of 40:

Were calibration and derivation uncertainties taken into proper consideration, the 95% confidence interval would have turned out to be at least 40 times larger (~14.2 billion years).

Now of course there is little question that evolutionists will resolve their evolutionary tree problems. A combination of filtering the data, selecting the right method, and, of course, deciding there is nothing at all improbable about natural selection “adapting” designs in all manner of ways, can solve any problem. But at what cost? As the paper concludes, “Unfortunately, no matter how great our thirst for glimpses of the past might be, mirages contain no water.”

Image: Sugar glider in flight, by Lydekker, Richard [CC BY 2.0 or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted at Darwin’s God.