Major Evolutionary Blunders: Convergent Evolution Is a Seductive Intellectual Swindle
by Randy J. Guliuzza, P.E., M.D. *
When it comes to swindles, it would be hard to top Liz Carmichael. She spun a tale about obtaining proprietary secrets from her deceased NASA engineer husband that enabled her to start and become CEO of a totally bogus car company marketing the Dale. This fictitious 84 mpg, three-wheeled car bilked millions from investors in 1975…and all the while Liz was actually a man, Jerry Dean Michael, impeccably dressed like a woman. No investor ever saw the car factory or drove a Dale. Yet, “Liz” always talked with investors so matter-of-factly about “her” wholly imaginary industrial realm that they willingly visualized everything within their hopeful minds, where it took on a vivid life of its own.
An intellectual swindle rivaling this is the wholly imaginary fabrication called convergent evolution—the idea that the same traits evolved independently in completely different organisms. Like “Liz’s” investment pitch, evolutionists also write about it so matter-of-factly that it has taken on a genuine life of its own in all their willing minds. Why do they embrace convergent evolution so eagerly? Because it serves as a rescuing device for an important dogma of evolutionary theory. (A rescuing device is a completely fabricated conjecture devised to save someone’s theory from contrary evidence.)
Evolutionary theory holds that physical features shared by different creatures are strong evidence for evolution. To evolutionists, common traits are best explained by their descent from a common ancestor—not by a shared common design. Darwin taught:
All the…difficulties with classification are explained, if I do not greatly deceive myself, on the view that the natural system is founded in descent with modification: that the characters which the naturalists consider as showing true affinity between any two or more species, are those which have been inherited from a common parent…that community of descent is the hidden bond which naturalists have been unconsciously seeking, and not some unknown plan of creation.1
However, this highly revered tenet greatly needs rescuing because so many nonhereditary similarities contradict it. Convergent evolution is the fabricated conjecture evolutionists invoke to explain very similar characteristics between creatures that could not have been inherited from a common ancestor and that evolutionists will never accept as having been produced by an intelligently designed internal programming that is specified for common purposes.
Evolutionary literature often contracts convergent evolution down to its central idea and simply calls it convergence.
The Basic Notion of Convergence Is Imaginary
It is tempting to start an evaluation of convergent evolution by identifying all its problems. This is where a word of caution is necessary. Like other key elements of evolutionary theory, convergence is not an observable process but is rather “observed” only in someone’s mind as imaginary visualization. Convergence is another evolutionary mystical, mental construct.
We should not naively proceed into matter-of-fact discussions of convergence without questioning the basic premise that such a Darwinian process truly happened. If we don’t question it, we give convergence a life of its own—just like “Liz” got her investors to hand over their money for an imaginary product and thus perpetuated the misleading of other people. It is better to begin by rejecting the idea that convergence accurately explains any historical realities and then show that fanciful narratives about convergence amount to ad hoc, just-so stories.
A Magical Story Substitutes for Purposeful Internal Programming
In Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne explains convergence by describing two similar-looking but unrelated cacti: “I have both types growing on my windowsill, and visitors can’t tell them apart without reading their tags.”2 He knows that common ancestry cannot explain their similarity, so he focuses on eliminating the explanation that their shared traits result from designed internal programming for common purposes. Switching from science to theology, Coyne asks:
Why would a creator put plants that are fundamentally different, but look so similar, in diverse areas of the world that seem ecologically identical? Wouldn’t it make more sense to put the same species of plants in areas with the same type of soil and climate?2
By answering his own question with a “I wouldn’t do it that way” reply, Coyne dismisses any consideration of design—a classic evolutionary tactic. He thus dodges thoughtful discussion of possible design-based explanations.
Coyne also substitutes what he believes is a “well-known”—i.e., matter-of-fact—scientific alternative in lieu of designed internal programming. Yet, he merely invokes a simple magical story that is not based on fact but only exists in his mind.
Again one must ask: If animals were specially created, why would the creator produce on different continents fundamentally different animals that nevertheless look and act so much alike?...No creationist, whether of the Noah’s Ark variety or otherwise, has offered a credible explanation for why different types of animals have similar forms in different places. All they can do is invoke the inscrutable whims of the creator. But evolution does explain the pattern by invoking a well-known process called convergent evolution. It’s really quite simple. Species that live in similar habitats will experience similar selection pressures from their environment, so they may evolve similar adaptations, or converge, coming to look and behave very much alike even though they are unrelated.2
Another evolutionary authority, the late Ernst Mayr of Harvard, claimed convergence illustrates how evolution functions as a substitute “engineer”: “Convergence illustrates beautifully how selection is able to make use of the intrinsic variability of organisms to engineer adapted types for almost any kind of environmental niche.”3 Evolution is thus the “intrinsic variability,” or a creature’s normal heterozygosity, coupled with the natural process of struggling to live that fractionates the diverse alleles into various populations.
Casually Invoking Convergent Evolution Everywhere
Evolutionary literature projects engineering prowess and God-like volition onto unconscious nature and weaves an active nature-agent into its narratives.4 This helps the incredible accomplishments claimed for evolution appear more believable. Ascribing the ability for nature to repeatedly “converge” on the same trait in very diverse organisms—sometimes separated by many millions of years, even to identical genes—gives convergent evolution a seemingly omnipotent capability.
For evolutionists, convergence’s supreme power is both implicit and pervasive. A belief expressed in a study published in Nature “hints that evolution may be finding the same genetic solutions to a problem more often than previously thought” and “that convergent molecular evolution is much more widespread than previously recognized.”5
The litany of incredibly complicated biological traits to which convergent evolution is casually appended as the explanation is enormous. A few examples from evolutionary literature will highlight some of the capabilities ascribed to convergence.
For instance, the power of convergence is projected in extinct wildebeest-like mammals that had trumpet-like nasal passages remarkably like the nasal crests of hadrosaur dinosaurs—even though both were allegedly separated by millions of years. By casually explaining this anatomical similarity by convergence, evolutionists morph it into wondrous evidence for evolution.
The fossil record provides tangible, historical evidence for the mode and operation of evolution across deep time. Striking patterns of convergence are some of the strongest examples of these operations, whereby, over time, similar environmental and/or behavioral pressures precipitate similarity in form and function between disparately related taxa.6
The precision of convergence is seen in finding out that 59 swimming or flying animal species ranging from mollusks to insects, birds, bats, whales, and fish all use the same fluid motion mechanics. The tips of their wings, fins, etc. all bend at essentially the same point and flex 26 degrees. The research team pondered, “What factor(s) drive natural selection to converge on highly constrained bending kinematics across such a wide range of animal groups?”7 They speculated that nature molded these diverse organisms as it drove them independently through time in the quest for energy efficiency.
The scope of convergence is seen in multitudes of organisms evolving eyes. Evolutionists claim that similar environments constrained creatures to converge on comparably complex eyes—independently at least 40 times, and probably as many as 65 times.8
But even if claims of Darwinian convergence were not ad hoc stories, the concept still has serious problems.
Problem 1: Imagining Coincidence upon Coincidence
Developmental biologist Sean Carroll reports that a similar gene, Pax-6, “has been found to be associated with eye formation in animals with all sorts of eyes.” Convergence is normally the explanation of choice for these similarities. But Carroll rejects convergence as implausible since that account simply invokes “a remarkable coincidence in that the Pax-6 gene was called upon repeatedly to build eyes from scratch in these different groups of animals.”9 Instead of convergence, he embraces another imaginary account that is equally implausible. He believes these genes were remarkably “conserved” unchanged for 600 million years in organisms as diverse as flies and elephants—while other genes became so intensely mutated they caused the evolution of flies and elephants.
Carroll’s “remarkable coincidence” is exceedingly restrained. Similarities of marsupial and placental mammals are presented as another showpiece of convergence. Evolutionists believe that on Australia and the Americas, nearly identical environmental conditions—drought, flood, heat wave, Ice Age, famine, disease, food types, predators—were occurring over vast ages in nearly identical intensity, timing, sequence, and other factors to mold not just a gene but whole suites of physiological and anatomical features to coincidently arrive at remarkably similar body types for dogs, wolves, cats, anteaters, moles, mice, Coyne’s cacti, etc. Two intelligent design researchers sum up, “Without some form of design or teleological guidance, convergent evolution requires a piling of coincidences upon coincidences that strains credulity.”10
Problem 2: Convergent Evolution versus Darwin’s “Community of Descent”
Every occasion in which evolutionists must invoke convergence argues against similar features being strong evidence for evolution. When looking at similar features, which evolutionary explanation is legitimate—convergence or common descent? Or should both be taken as imaginary scenarios? Consider a report on unexpected genetic similarities for genes enabling echolocation in whales and bats.
The discovery represents an unprecedented example of adaptive sequence convergence between two highly divergent groups….[Study author Stephen Rossiter said,] “It is generally assumed that most of these so-called convergent traits have arisen by different genes or different mutations. Our study shows that a complex trait—echolocation—has in fact evolved by identical genetic changes in bats and dolphins….We were surprised by…the sheer number of convergent changes in the coding DNA.”11
The same report stated:
If you draw a phylogenetic [relationship] tree of bats, whales, and a few other mammals based on similarities in the prestin [a hearing gene] sequence alone, the echolocating bats and whales come out together rather than with their rightful evolutionary cousins.11
Addressing this specific contradiction, Lee Spetner perceptively observes:
Convergent evolution is…an invention. It was invented solely to avoid addressing the failure of the phylogenetic tree to support Common Descent. There is no theoretical support for convergence, and whatever evidence has been given for it is the product of a circular argument.12
The blunder of evolutionary theory is that similar features are evidence for evolution…except when they aren’t.
Problem 3: Convergent Evolution Was “Stunningly” Wrong
What about the teaching of 40 independent evolutionary developments of various eyes? That manifested into another incredible evolutionary blunder. “This view was entirely incorrect,” Sean Carroll notes after citing genes called Hox genes that control eye development in sighted creatures. “The late Stephen Jay Gould…saw the discovery of Hox clusters…as overturning a major view of the Modern Synthesis [natural selection fractioning out genetic variability].” Carroll candidly continues, “Natural selection has not forged many eyes completely from scratch; there is a common genetic ingredient to making each eye type, as well as to the many types of appendages, hearts, etc.”13
A Better Organism-Focused, Design-Based Explanation
The general evolutionary view—that nature acts as an exercising agency to mold passive organisms into unlimited forms over time as they are docilely driven by environmental challenges called selective pressures—is bankrupt. No scientific paper has ever quantified a “selective pressure.” “Converged,” “conserved,” or other evolutionary words that project volition onto nature serve as rescuing devices. Convergence is not an observation demonstrated to flow from objectively discernible causes but is a declaration based on mental pictures—a metaphysical conjecture that substitutes for a total absence of explanation.
However, creationists have long explained similar traits in very diverse creatures as functioning toward similar purposes. They expected to find shared genetic programming to guide the traits’ development, an expectation confirmed in Hox genes, gene networks, and other mechanisms.14
In a recent rebuff to convergence, ICR geneticist Dr. Jeffrey Tomkins discussed how pythons and boas can each express—evidently quite quickly—some highly similar yet environmentally specific traits that enable them to fit and fill different niches.15
These findings tend to confirm design-based creationist theory that emphasizes active, problem-solving organisms that are capable of extraordinary self-adjustments to fill dynamic environments. Future research will likely confirm more details of how creatures can detect signals during development (and also afterward) and make self-adjustments to their own traits per internal algorithms. Sensors, algorithms, and other internal system elements enable them to actively and continuously track environmental changes—not be passively driven and molded by them.
Such extreme bioengineering magnifies the profound wisdom of nature’s true creative Agent, the Lord Jesus Christ (Psalm 104:24).
- Darwin, C. 1872. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 6th ed. London: John Murray, 369.
- Coyne, J. 2009. Why Evolution Is True. New York: Viking, 91-94. Emphasis in original.
- Mayr, E. 2001. What Evolution Is. New York: Basic Books, 223.
- Biello, D. Was Darwin a Punk? Scientific American. Posted on scientificamerican.com September 28, 2010, accessed January 3, 2017. See also Guliuzza, R. 2014. A Response to “Does Natural Selection Exist?” Answers Research Journal. 7: 403-420.
- Hayden, E. C. Convergent evolution seen in hundreds of genes. Nature News. Posted on nature.com September 4, 2013, accessed January 1, 2017.
- O’Brien, H. D. et al. 2016. Unexpected Convergent Evolution of Nasal Domes between Pleistocene Bovids and Cretaceous Hadrosaur Dinosaurs. Current Biology. 26 (4): 503-508.
- Lucas, K. N. et al. 2014. Bending rules for animal propulsion. Nature Communications. 5: 3293.
- Land, M. F. and R. D. Fernald. 1992. The Evolution of Eyes. Annual Review of Neuroscience. 15: 1-29, referencing Salvini-Plawen, L. V. and E. Mayr. 1977. On the evolution of photoreceptors and eyes. Evolutionary Biology. 10: 207-263.
- Carroll, S. B. 2005. Endless Forms Most Beautiful. New York: W. W. Norton, 68-69.
- Dembski, W. A. and J. Wells. 2008. The Design of Life. Dallas: The Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 116.
- Cell Press. In bats and whales, convergence in echolocation ability runs deep. ScienceDaily. Posted on sciencedaily.com January 27, 2010, accessed January 1, 2017.
- Spetner, L. M. 2014. The Evolution Revolution: Why Thinking People Are Rethinking the Theory of Evolution. New York: Judaica Press, Kindle Locations 1229-1231.
- Carroll, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, 72.
- Guliuzza, R. J. 2015. Major Evolutionary Blunders: Evolutionary Predictions Fail the Reality Test. Acts & Facts. 44 (9): 17-19.
- Tomkins, J. P. Convergent Evolution or Design-Based Adaptation? Creation Science Update. Posted on ICR.org July 7, 2016, accessed January 2, 2017.
Image credit: Hemmings Motor News. Copyright American City Business Journals. Adapted for use in accordance with federal copyright (fair use doctrine) law. Usage by ICR does not imply endorsement of copyright holder.
* Dr. Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative. He earned his M.D. from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Public Health from Harvard University, and served in the U.S. Air Force as 28th Bomb Wing Flight Surgeon and Chief of Aerospace Medicine. Dr. Guliuzza is also a registered Professional Engineer.
Cite this article: Randy J. Guliuzza, P.E., M.D. 2017. Major Evolutionary Blunders: Convergent Evolution Is a Seductive Intellectual Swindle. Acts & Facts. 46 (3).