Monday, 26 August 2013

Scientific errors in Christadelphian attacks on evolution: The Testimony magazine - 5

David Burges, science editor of The Testimony argued in his May 2010 article "How did the giraffe get its neck?" that evolutionary explanations for the origin of the giraffe neck are unsatisfactory. Yet again, his article invoked the special creationist argument from personal incredulity, failed to critically engage with the relevant scholarly literature, relying instead on a newspaper report of a journal article.

This failure to properly research his article is damning, particularly since the fossil record shows evidence of giraffe neck evolution. This failure to properly research articles is a common feature of science articles published in The Testimony.

Although the argument from design was refuted over 150 years ago when Darwin advanced his theory of evolution via natural selection, special creationists still advance it despite the fact that it hasn't been taken seriously for well over a century by professional biologists. For example, David Burges, the science editor of The Testimony recently looked at the anatomy and physiology of the giraffe, and asserted that:
 Everything about the giraffe points to a creature whose anatomy and features are unique and designed as a complete package. The authors of the most recent study, in dismissing sexual selection, conclude: “Better explanations for neck elongation must be sought elsewhere”. That ‘elsewhere’ is in the Word of God, which assures us that “God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and . . . saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:25, NRSV) and that He created all things for His (and our) pleasure (Rev. 4:11). [1]
Burges' conclusion was driven by the argument from personal incredulity, hardly grounds for such a cavalier dismissal of evolutionary biology. The origin of the giraffe's neck is still an area of active research, but the absence of a satisfactory evolutionary explanation does not mean one will never be found. More to the point, although we do not have a universally agreed evolutionary explanation for the neck of the giraffe, the fossil record is consistent with an evolutionary origin of the giraffes.
Evolution of the giraffe family. The modern okapi is more typical of the group, with its short neck and relatively short horns or “ossicones.” Some fossil giraffids, however, had very unusual branching and flaring cranial appendages. Only the lineage of the modern giraffe evolved a long neck. Source: Prothero Evo Edu Outreach (2009) 2:289-302
Vertebrate palaeontologist Donald Prothero points out:
Creationists often scoff at the notion that there are fossils that show how the giraffes evolved, but they could not be more mistaken. In fact, the giraffids have an excellent fossil record, although nearly all giraffes (both extinct and living) are short-necked, much like the modern okapi. Only the living genus Giraffa has the long neck that we consider typical of the group. All the rest of the giraffids were not only short-necked but sported a wide variety of cranial appendages. Some, like Sivatherium, were stocky moose-like creatures with broad palmate horns somewhat like those of a moose. Others, like Climacoceras, looked more like deer or antelopes. Despite these superficial convergences, they all show the characteristic hallmarks of giraffids in their teeth, skulls, and skeletons.
Most of these taxa are known from skulls and jaws and a few from skeletons, but the neck vertebrae are not often preserved. However, Nikos Solounias (2007, personal communication) is currently publishing a description of a new fossil of the giraffid Bohlinia that preserves a neck that is intermediate in length between Giraffa and the okapi Thus, we do know how the giraffe got its long neck, and we have the transitional fossils to show how and when it occurred! Once again, the fossil record has provided a specimen whose very existence the creationists have long denied. (Emphasis mine) [2]
Neck vertebrae of a recently discovered fossil giraffid Bohlinia that is intermediate in length between those of primitive giraffids (Okapia, bottom) and the modern long-necked species (Giraffa, top). This amazing discovery is a true “missing link” between okapis and the long-necked modern species (drawing courtesy of N. Solounias). Source: Prothero Evo Edu Outreach (2009) 2:289-302

Prothero's review article was published in 2009, a year before Burges' article appeared in print. His failure to comment on this evidence from a respected vertebrate palaeontologist is a damning indictment of the poor research that went into this article, which is, as mentioned before, just another argument from incredulity.

In addition to resorting to the argument from personal incredulity, Burges has also made the mistake common to almost all creationists - failing to differentiate between the fact of evolution (as demonstrated in the fossil record, biogeography, comparative anatomy and molecular genetics) and the currently accepted theory of how that evolutionary change occurred. With respect to the neck of the giraffe, while a satisfactory evolutionary explanation for how it obtained its neck is pending, we have an excellent fossil record which includes a transitional giraffid fossil complete with neck length intermediate between the okapi and the giraffe.


1. Burges D "How did the giraffe get its neck?" The Testimony (2010) 80:106-107
2. Prothero D "Evolutionary Transitions in the Fossil Record of Terrestrial Hoofed Mammals" Evo Edu Outreach (2009) 2:289-302
3. Burges op cit p 107