Long-necks from Short-necks?

As I was checking out some links in an e-mail update I received from the ABR, I came across an article entitled "Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis?" by David Buckna on a website entitled Revolution Against Evolution. In this article, I found the following statement that I found rather interesting:

One popular biology textbook used in public schools is "Inquiry Into Life" by Sylvia Mader, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. On page 529 (eighth edition) are diagrams of giraffes which compare Lamarck's theory and Darwin's theory. According to Darwin, "Early giraffes probably had necks of various lengths. Natural selection due to competition led to survival of the longer-necked giraffes and their offspring. Eventually, only long-necked giraffes survived the competition."

Regarding giraffes, shouldn't students be taught to distinguish between fact and speculation? No fossil evidence has ever been unearthed showing giraffes with shorter necks.

Even ardent evolutionists such as Gould have commented on the "indefensible" and "entirely speculative" use of the giraffe to show students how Darwin's theory is better than Lamarck's earlier view. "No data from giraffes then existed to support one theory of causes over another, and none exist now, " said Gould. "...the spotty evidence gives no insight into how the long-necked modern species arose. ... The standard story, in fact, is both fatuous and unsupported" (Stephen Jay Gould, May 1996, "The Tallest Tale," Natural History, Vol. 105 No. 5, pp. 18-23, 54-57).

Critical thinkers should be asking, "Why are these diagrams included in Mader's book, if the empirical evidence doesn't support a Lamarckian or Darwinian view of giraffes? Is this good science?"

The claim of evolutionists that there are fossil *ancestors* for giraffes is story telling. There's not a single transitional form between the so-called short-necked "giraffe" and the modern long-necked giraffe. For example, calling the fossil Palaeotragus a "giraffe" certainly doesn't make it a "giraffe" or the ancestor of giraffes, any more than calling Hyracotherium a "horse" makes it a "horse" or the ancestor of horses. Of course, evolutionists maintain the okapi is a "living example" of one of these short-necked "giraffes".

I've not read all the literature on giraffes, but what I've found in my brief search is that Colbert and Morales (5th edition) devote two paragraphs to giraffes, Robert Carroll -- one paragraph, Romer -- two paragraphs, and Barbara Stahl -- one paragraph.

Concerning the okapi, Stahl writes: "The only other extant giraffe is the rare okapi. This lone form, in which the lengthening of the neck and forelegs is far less pronounced than in Giraffa, seems to be a relic derived with little change from Palaeotragus or a close ally". She repeats an often-told error--that the forelimbs of the giraffe are longer than the hind limbs. As Gould points out in his article on giraffes (Natural History May 1990, p. 22) both pairs of legs of the giraffe are equally tall. It would seem that if some ancient "giraffes" evolved into the modern giraffes, evolutionists would have more than a paragraph or two to tell about this incredible transition, and could give examples of fossils showing the transition of the short necks into the long necks of modern giraffes.

It's certainly easy enough for evolutionists to pick out something and call it a "giraffe" and thus generate an ancestor for giraffes. Carroll illustrates a marvelous example of how other ancestors are generated: He suggested that the wolf-like Mesonychus (which he believes was the terrestrial ancestor of whales) should be placed in the Order Cetacea. Since the Order Cetacea is reserved for whales, presto! Mesonychids are whales!

But with regard to the evolution of giraffes, what is required is a compelling gradual series of intermediate-length neck giraffes in the sedimentary rocks -- 10 to 20 would do nicely. But where are they?

It seems to me that if the giraffe is used as an example of evolution, there should be some evidence that the giraffe actually evolved from a shorter necked creature to a longer necked creature in the form of some medium-necked giraffes (or proto-giraffes), shouldn't there? After all, if there isn't then what we really have here is an assumption that giraffes evolved (without any real evidence) from a precommitment to evolutionary theory which is being used to prove evolution. (And Christians are accused of using circular arguments?)

Before I go any farther, I think that the first question that needs to be answered is whether the giraffe is still being used as an illustration for evolution. Fear not, a quick Internet search found a couple examples by the peddlers of evolutionary theory that giraffes are an excellent example of evolution. For example, on a page called "Evolution Happens" there is a photograph of giraffes with the following caption: "The long neck of the giraffe contains only the seven vertebrae typical of most mammals. This is an excellent example of how the evolutionary process tends to modify existing structures, rather than creating new ones." (Emphasis in the original).

Okay, so if the evolution of giraffes is still being cited as a good example of evolution, what does the fossil record show? The best on-line description of the evolution of the giraffe is found in one paragraph of an article found on talkorigins.com entitled "Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ: Part 2C", which reads:

Giraffes: Branched off from the deer just after Eumeryx. The first giraffids were Climacoceras (very earliest Miocene) and then Canthumeryx (also very early Miocene), then Paleomeryx (early Miocene), then Palaeotragus (early Miocene) a short-necked giraffid complete with short skin-covered horns. From here the giraffe lineage goes through Samotherium (late Miocene), another short-necked giraffe, and then split into Okapia (one species is still alive, the okapi, essentially a living Miocene short-necked giraffe), and Giraffa (Pliocene), the modern long-necked giraffe.

Now, I am no expert here, but let's assume for a moment that this is the correct description of the present line of descent. Notice the progression:

a. Eumeryx to
b. Climacoceras (short-necked) to
c. Canthumeryx (no illustration available) to
d. Paleomeryx (short-necked) to
e. Palaeotragus (short-necked) to
f. Samotherium (short-necked) to
g. Okapia (short-necked) and Giraffa (long-necked).

Okay, so the best that we have is a series of short necked "giraffes" that remain short-necked until the appearance of the modern giraffe which is suddenly long-necked. So, where is the fossil record for the lengthening of the neck? Each of these proto-giraffes are described by the author of the talkorigins article as short-necked. If this progression is to be believed, there is no slow lengthening of the neck occuring over time. Rather, all of the animals are short-necked (including the sole surviving relative of the line -- the okapi) until the long-necked modern giraffe. Could it be that there is no medium necked transitional form?

The standard reason for the evolution of the giraffe's elongated neck (that it helped the giraffe to feed from tall trees) has been questioned as well. Consider the following from the The Neck of the Giraffe from Access Research Network:

In their article, "Winning by a Neck," zoologists Robert Simmons (Uppsala University) and Lue Scheepers (Ministry of Environment, Namibia) agree with Gould that the standard account "may be no more than a tall story" (784). According to the competition hypothesis, giraffes use their long necks to advantage during dry seasons, when food is scarce; but, in fact, the opposite is observed in the field. "In the Serengeti," Simmons and Scheepers note, "giraffe spend almost all of the dry season feeding from low Grewia bushes, while only in the wet season do they turn to tall Acacia tortillis trees, when new leaves are ...plentiful ...and no competition is expected. This behavior is contrary to the prediction that giraffe should use their feeding height to advantage at times of food scarcity" (775; emphasis added). Moreover, they report, "females spend over 50% of their time feeding with their necks horizontal [a behavior so common it is used to determine the sex of animals at a distance]" and "both sexes feed faster and most often with their necks bent" (771). These observations, they conclude, suggest "that long necks did not evolve specifically for feeding at higher levels."

Simmons and Scheepers thus reject the competition hypothesis in favor of their own sexual selection scenario. Male giraffes "fight for dominance and access to females in a unique way: by clubbing opponents with well-armored heads on long necks" (771), and thus "the extraordinary length of the giraffe's neck arises from its use as a weapon during intrasexual combat" between males. Responding to the obvious objection that this scenario does not explain female long necks, Simmons and Scheepers suggest that female necks "arose as neutral by-products of genetic correlation between the sexes" (783). While allowing that this by-product explanation "is often treated as one of 'last resort' and unsatisfactory," they argue that other species exhibit similar correlations between sexes.

So, it appears that the assumption that giraffes grew longer necks to reach higher food sources is problematic to the scientists. Of course, the idea that the neck should evolve to reach higher and higher food sources has its own problems. For example, Dr. Robert W. Brehme, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Wake Forest University, in a whimsical piece entitled "The Giraffe's Long Neck" raises a question that I have always wondered about the typical explanation:

My biology teacher told me long ago (and I think biology teachers are saying just about the same thing today), that the neck of the giraffe grew longer and longer over many generations because to do so was an advantage in obtaining food from the tops of trees. It was an example of "survival of the fittest" and evolution through "natural selection." Even my child's brain wondered if such were so, why all leaf eating animals didn't have long necks. And, since there are still a lot of herbivores around with short necks, why are there not giraffes with short necks? After all, it is obvious that it is not so much the survival of the fittest as it is the survival of the fit. Even a lot of unfit creatures manage to struggle along, reproducing their own just in time and in just enough numbers to avoid extinction, but only barely so. Along that line, have you ever seen a giraffe drink from a stream? Talk about leg splits. So ungainly. I'd hardly call that an advantage. It seems to me that it's far more likely that giraffe has to eat leaves from the tops of trees because its neck is so long, rather than its neck grew long just so that it could eat from the tops of trees.

This is a question that I have always wondered, too. If something is an evolutionary advantage, why doesn't every creature develop the advantage? Birds supposedly evolved into flight as an evolutionary advantage, so why among all of the other non-insect species is the only other non-bird flyer a bat? Why don't we have flying dogs and cats and frogs and salamanders? And why are so few birds still flightless? After all, if it was such a disadvantage to remain on the ground, how come there are any ground animals left at all?

Oh well, guess these are all questions that will just have to remain unanswered while they dream up the answers. In the meantime, I suggest that evolutionists stop using the giraffe as an example of evolution until we find at least one transitional fossil of a medium-necked giraffe, otherwise they are assuming that the giraffe evolved and then using that assumption as proof of evolution.

Perhaps the evolutionists have had a few long-necks too many.


Layman said…
Is anyone else thirsty?

Macht said…
You may want to check out this article by Craig Holdrege. He wonders why people never ask why the giraffe's neck is so short. See this picture. That is a common sight amongst giraffes and looking at it, it is a good question "Why isn't the giraffe's neck longer so that it can drink without having to do the splits?" Holdrege says,

" Whether the neck is long or short depends on our perspective and on the behavioral or anatomical context we are focusing on. We only understand the giraffe when we view it from various perspectives and let the giraffe show different aspects of its being. The moment we focus solely on the "long neck"—and on it solely in terms of a food-gathering or some other strategy—we've lost the reality of the giraffe.


In sum: the whole project of explaining the evolution of an animal by abstracting from the whole leads to unsatisfying, speculative ideas on the one hand, and to conceptual dissolution of the unity of the organism on the other. A more adequate understanding requires that we first investigate the organism as a whole and how its members interrelate and interact within the context of the whole organism and its environment. This holistic understanding can then form the starting point for thinking about the evolution of the animal. The evolutionary biologist Dobzhansky's famous statement that "nothing in biology can be understood except in light of evolution" is a grand claim, which I believe is, in the end, true. But we have a lot of work to do before we get there, and we should not be satisfied with short-cut evolutionary "explanations.""
Anonymous said…
The answer to the question of whether a giraffe's forelegs are longer than it's hindlegs will depend on whether you measure from the point the legs meet the body or whether you measure from the top of the hip or shoulder joint. If you use the latter method, the giraffe's shoulders are clearly higher than its hips. Look at the picture in your link. By either method, the legs are long enough to reach the ground.


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