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Why Zebras Have Stripes

I must say that the whole concept of evolution confuses me. To show you how confused I am, I’m now going to write about it in an attempt to break the all-time commenting record.

I remember in school learning about evolution and it was pretty straightforward: The animals that were the best at survival had babies and so the species got better over time. Seemed reasonable. There were nice charts showing how man evolved from ape-like creatures with a common ancestor becoming more upright as time went on. Obviously, standing upright must be useful for survival so that’s what happened.

The greatest philosopher and futurist of our current time, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame (how ironic is that!), has postulated that reality to a human can be described as a movie playing in your head. This is what causes people to see two completely different realities of Donald Trump where in one reality he is literally Hitler and another reality he is a reasoned, successful businessman with a deep love for the country. Both movies are actually illusions. In Scott Adam’s view, “Humans did not evolve with the capability to understand their reality because it was not important to survival. Any illusion that keeps us alive long enough to procreate is good enough.”

Before I go further, let me say that the fossil record is what it is. Sometimes people misinterpret the fossils but I think a recreation of T-Rex from fossils is still pretty darn cool. I also don’t have any problem with the fossil record of human evolution. It’s plain to see what happened. What I’m so darn confused about is why it happened which, I think, is a much more interesting question.

Let’s look at how evolutionary scientists see the evolution of the ear. The University of California at Berkeley explains [Note 81] that “the quadrate and articular (two bones in the jaws of early animals) lost their function in jaw articulation and even their position in the jaw as they evolved. They became increasingly smaller and eventually migrated into the ear region, where they became the ‘hammer’ and ‘anvil’ of the ear.” Well isn’t that just special?! Two bits of jaw realized they weren’t needed so over time they moved up the skull and decided to become the hammer and anvil. OK. I’m glad they explained that so clearly!

So maybe that’s what indeed happened but I’m totally baffled at the lack of amazement that such a thing could occur! What if the bones got up there and formed a ‘screwdriver’ and ‘fish’ and the whole thing just didn’t work as an ear. But, no, up they went and formed the perfect solution for hearing. And it was handy that an eardrum sprung up, some nerves decided to join the party, and the brain said “I guess I better figure this all out because hearing, whatever that is, could be real handy. And just for kicks we’ll add an ear to collect sound waves. Done and done!” And all of this happened simply because migrating bones gave an animal a better chance of survival. Wait, what? Does that make any sense at all?

Remarkably, in human hearing the response to sound is fairly flat from 125 Hz to about 4,000 Hz. Do you have any idea how hard it is to create something like that? And somehow it all happened, well, because it could. I once worked for an electronic organ company and they experimented with a speaker made from Styrofoam as a potential cost reduction. The thing was garbage with all sorts of peaks in the response. As a practical matter, it caused sounds in certain narrow ranges to be louder than other ranges. It was impossible to listen to! But fortunately, we just evolved exactly what we needed with just tissue and bone. Doesn’t that seem a bit – implausible? Fortunately, one of our ancestors named Ug said “someday someone’s going to write ‘Hey Jude’ and they’re going to be really happy that I’m the one who survived to make little Ugs!” Who, by the way, will also have better hearing that they will continue to pass along.

Another thing that confuses me is the continual progress of evolution always toward a better answer. Admittedly, there are fossil records of human-like creatures that seem to be a dead end. But why don’t we find where something turns out to be a mistake but that mistake either doesn’t matter to survival or occurs with something that has a significant advantage. Why don’t we see that hearing was also accompanied by something like the addition of a sixth toe on each foot? Related to this is that every animal comes complete with exactly what it needs – no more, no less. How does that happen?  Why don’t we have webbed toes? They could be handy but animals that make their home in water have webbed toes. Or why don’t we have an eye in the back of our head? That could really be useful from time to time.

The good news is that evolution allows various people to argue over silly things such as zebra stripes. The National Geographic published an article in 2015 that concluded that zebras evolved stripes for the purpose of “keeping zebras cool and fending off disease-causing insects that are more common in hotter climates.” [Note 82] Can you just picture some zebras standing around going “you know, I’m not nearly as concerned about lions because, heck, everyone needs to eat something but these damn flies are really bugging me. Let’s evolve some stripes because maybe the bugs won’t like them!”

Now, it may well be that zebra stripes are effective in fending off insects. That’s fine. But until we can actually ask a zebra, it’s just pure speculation. You wonder what these scientists would come up with if asked to attend a sporting event they weren’t familiar with and attempt to deduce the rules from watching a game. Oh, wait! We see that every four years in the Olympics! Bad analogy.

So to sum this up:

  1. Fossils are fun to collect and play with. They tell remarkable stories about the past.
  2. Evolution is just arrogant humans trying to tell a story about something they really don’t understand but want to sound smart and make money doing things that really don’t make any difference to anyone.
  3. Until someone comes up with something better, the remarkable evolutionary advances that we see in the fossil record I’ll just attribute to God.

 

[Note 81] http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evograms_05

[Note 82] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150113-zebras-stripes-evolution-animals-science-africa/

 
Mark Rosneck

Written by Mark Rosneck

Site owner and bilagáana

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