Evolution in the News - November 2021
by Do-While Jones

Tusk Confusion

War didnít cause elephants to evolve.

The theme of this newsletter is that science has been so poorly taught that science isnít really science anymore. People confuse philosophy with science. They donít recognize the difference between what they think and what they know. As an example, we share with you this article in last monthís Science journal with a headline that claimed,

Civil war drove these elephants to lose their tusksóthrough evolution 1

That dubious statement of fact is puzzling. Were the elephants in a civil war? And how did fighting with each other cause them to lose tusks through evolution? Thatís sillyóbut maybe the authors were intentionally ambiguous because they wanted an outrageous headline that would be click-bait. Unfortunately, some people donít read past the headline, and might think there is a connection between civil war and evolution.

The subtitle clears things up a little bit.

As ivory poachers wiped out herds, tuskless elephants became more common 2

Letís examine the article to see how the authors confused what they know with what they think.

The subtitle is a factual statement which is certainly true. There is statistical evidence to back it up.

[Campbell-Staton] and his colleagues analyzed videos, taken before the civil war, of elephants in the park. At that time, about 18% of females there were born without tusks. But in the generation born after the war, the rate was 33%, according to decades of observations by the nonprofit group ElephantVoices. 3

Thatís good science based on actual observation. They know that to be true.

It is also true that poachers have killed elephants for their tusks.

Mozambiqueís civil war from 1977 to 1992 had a grim outcome for elephants: During that time, some 90% were killed for the ivory in their tusks, which were sold to finance the war. 4

Thatís also known because it was observed to be true, and documented with statistics.

But what about the conclusion that poachers caused the ratio of tuskless to tusked elephants to change? Just because the facts are true, it doesnít guarantee that a conclusion drawn from those facts is true. The conclusion has to be verified, too.

In this case, the conclusion is probably true. It is based on a plausible cause and effect which does not violate any scientific laws. If you kill elephants with tusks and donít kill elephants without tusks, of course the proportion of tusked elephants will decrease. Thatís a mathematical fact which would explain the observation.

Because it is a known fact that the ratio of female elephants without tusks has increased, and it is known that poachers kill elephants for their tusks, and because it is consistent with mathematics, in the absence of any other plausible explanation we can believe with a high degree of confidence that poaching has changed the demographics of the elephant population in Mozambique.

Compare this with the common evolutionary conclusion that since animals have eyes, they must have evolved from light-sensitive cells, which accidentally grew an optic nerve to a brain that stumbled upon an image-processing algorithm. The fact that eyes exist does not prove the conclusion that they evolved by some method contrary to logic and science. The evolutionary conclusion is just wishful thinking.

An Unwarranted Conclusion

The title of the article said that evolution caused elephants to lose their tusks. Thatís an unwarranted conclusion that is false for two reasons.

First, the title confuses evolution with devolution. The theory of evolution depends upon natural processes to create new features with new functionality. Devolution results in loss of existing functionality. Since it was the loss of tusks which was observed (not something like the sudden appearance of wings or echolocation in elephants) it was devolution, not evolution.

Loss of functionality is commonly observed. It is a natural consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Things naturally fall apartóbut that doesnít prove they naturally fall together. In fact, they donít. The radio in my old truck doesnít work anymore, perhaps because a bump jiggled a wire loose. Thatís natural. It would be unnatural for a bump to cause a loose wire to connect itself and turn the radio into a DVD player.

For a population of elephants which had tusks to lose them would be perfectly natural. An imperfect reproduction of a gene could cause it to lose functionality. Thatís consistent with scientific observation. In fact, by comparing genes, scientists have figured out which genes produce tusks in elephants.

To look for genes that might be involved, the team took blood from 18 female elephants in the park and sequenced their genomes. Two genes stood out:†MEP1a†and†AMELX, which are active in tooth development in other mammals, were present in seven elephants with tusks, but had unique mutations in 11 tuskless elephants. Ö The results suggest that by killing elephants for their tusks, poachers selected for mutated versions of†AMELX†and†MEP1a, which spread in the population and made tuskless elephants more common. 5

In other words, the MEP1a†and†AMELX genes in tuskless elephants DEVOLVED, and lost functionality. Devolution, not evolution, caused the elephants to lose their tusks.

Demographics Do Change

Second, the civil war (and the poaching to fund it) did not cause tuskless elephants to evolve. There were tuskless elephants before the war began. All that changed was the ratio of tusked and tuskless elephants.

This is the same as the famous debunked peppered moth argument evolutionists loved to use. Ignoring the arguments about the staged photographs and the release-and-count-later methodology used in the study, the soot did not cause a new color of peppered moths to evolve. It merely changed the ratio of previously existing light moths to previously existing dark moths.

It is certainly true that the demographics of a population can evolve (that is, the ratios of individuals with certain characteristics can change); but thatís a different kind of evolution. It has nothing to do with the origin of new biological characteristics, which does not happen.

Unanswered Questions

The study also found,

In humans, a mutated version of†AMELX†is linked to male death before birth; in females, that version stunts the growth of the upper incisors, the same teeth that become tusks in elephants. Itís not clear why a mutated version of†AMELXówhich is located on the x chromosomeówould be fatal to males Ö It also raises many questions. The biggest is why a dominant gene associated with deadly effects for males would persist in the population during periods without poaching. Such genes ought to disappear, Roca says, because females that lack them would have more offspring. One possibility is that surges of intense hunting have occurred on and off in Gorongosa over millennia, letting the genes occasionally provide a benefit. Wittemyer wonders whether a similar phenomenon happened long ago in Asia, because both male and female fossil elephants there have tusks, but among living Asian elephants, only males have tusks. 6

Darwin proposed that individuals with genes that make them better suited for survival should drive inferior variations to extinction in tough times, causing the superior variations to be inherited by the survivors. Thatís a reasonable proposalóbut the fact that it is reasonable doesnít make it true.

It isnít necessarily the slowest gazelle that wanders past the lion hidden in the tall grass. There is a legitimate question regarding the importance of survival of the fittest compared to survival of the luckiest. Thatís why the unwarranted speculation about ďsurges of intense huntingĒ was made. There is no other evidence for surges of hunting. It is a fanciful explanation that was needed to explain why survival of the fittest doesnít seem to apply in this case. Itís just a storyónot a fact.

Evolutionists like to play the advantageous card, regardless of the situation. Whenever it suits their argument, tusks evolved because they gave elephants a survival advantage. Other times, elephants lost their tusks to give them a survival advantage. Having tusks, and not having tusks, are both advantageous, and both prove evolution. How can you argue with that?

Facts and Conclusions

Hereís the point: Just because facts are true doesnít mean that the conclusions are true. It is a fact that poachers have killed elephants for their tusks, increasing the proportion of elephants without tusks in Mozambique. But that doesnít prove that there were surges of intense hunting in Mozambique, or anywhere else.

Itís true that genetic mutations can cause females to lose their tusks, and males to die before birth; but that doesnít prove random genetic mutations can cause elephants without tusks to grow tusks.

Just because you like to think it happened doesnít mean it really did happen.

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Footnotes:

1 Erik Stokstad, Science, 21 October, 2021, ďCivil war drove these elephants to lose their tusksóthrough evolutionĒ, https://www.science.org/content/article/civil-war-drove-these-elephants-lose-their-tusks-through-evolution
2 ibid.
3 ibid.
4 ibid.
5 ibid.
6 ibid.