Aristotle Couldn’t Have Said it Better
Electric organs in fish have challenged evolution ever since Darwin and a new study published today peered even deeper into the problem, down to the genetic level. First let’s see what Darwin had to say (from the section entitled “Special Difficulties of the Theory of Natural Selection,” pages 150-1 of the Sixth Edition of the Origin of Species):
Although we must be extremely cautious in concluding that any organ could not have been produced by successive, small, transitional gradations, yet undoubtedly serious cases of difficulty occur.
Notice how Darwin has subtly shifted the burden of proof to those who aren’t so sure the species spontaneously arose. They must prove that an organ could not have evolved. And when evolutionists call for such proofs, they set the bar very high. Even vague speculation must somehow be falsified. Don’t believe me? Read on and see how Darwin defends his shifting of the burden of proof:
The electric organs of fishes offer another case of special difficulty; for it is impossible to conceive by what steps these wondrous organs have been produced. But this is not surprising, for we do not even know of what use they are. In the Gymnotus and Torpedo they no doubt serve as powerful means of defence, and perhaps for securing prey; yet in the Ray, as observed by Matteucci, an analogous organ in the tail manifests but little electricity, even when the animal is greatly irritated; so little, that it can hardly be of any use for the above purposes. Moreover, in the Ray, besides the organ just referred to, there is, as Dr. R. M'Donnell has shown, another organ near the head, not known to be electrical, but which appears to be the real homologue of the electric battery in the Torpedo. It is generally admitted that there exists between these organs and ordinary muscle a close analogy, in intimate structure, in the distribution of the nerves, and in the manner in which they are acted on by various reagents. It should, also, be especially observed that muscular contraction is accompanied by an electrical discharge; and, as Dr. Radcliffe insists, "in the electrical apparatus of the torpedo during rest, there would seem to be a charge in every respect like that which is met with in muscle and nerve during rest, and the discharge of the torpedo, instead of being peculiar, may be only another form of the discharge which attends upon the action of muscle and motor nerve." Beyond this we cannot at present go in the way of explanation; but as we know so little about the uses of these organs, and as we know nothing about the habits and structure of the progenitors of the existing electric fishes, it would be extremely bold to maintain that no serviceable transitions are possible by which these organs might have been gradually developed.
So we shouldn’t conclude that complex organs could not evolve because very little was understood about them. In other words, it is an argument from ignorance. We don’t understand them, therefore we can’t doubt that they could have evolved. Never mind that, beyond hand waving, Darwin had no idea how such organs could possibly have spontaneously arisen, let alone even how such organs worked or much of anything else about them.
But there was another problem. These electric organs appeared in a wide variety of fish, not following the expected common descent pattern:
These organs appear at first to offer another and far more serious difficulty; for they occur in about a dozen kinds of fish, of which several are widely remote in their affinities. When the same organ is found in several members of the same class, especially if in members having very different habits of life, we may generally attribute its presence to inheritance from a common ancestor; and its absence in some of the members to loss through disuse or natural selection. So that, if the electric organs had been inherited from some one ancient progenitor, we might have expected that all electric fishes would have been specially related to each other; but this is far from the case. Nor does geology at all lead to the belief that most fishes formerly possessed electric organs, which their modified descendants have now lost.
Darwin argues the problem disappears because the electric organs in the different fish are not very similar, and so are not homologous (i.e., deriving from a common ancestor):
But when we look at the subject more closely, we find in the several fishes provided with electric organs, that these are situated in different parts of the body,—that they differ in construction, as in the arrangement of the plates, and, according to Pacini, in the process or means by which the electricity is excited—and lastly, in being supplied with nerves proceeding from different sources, and this is perhaps the most important of all the differences. Hence in the several fishes furnished with electric organs, these cannot be considered as homologous, but only as analogous in function. Consequently there is no reason to suppose that they have been inherited from a common progenitor; for had this been the case they would have closely resembled each other in all respects. Thus the difficulty of an organ, apparently the same, arising in several remotely allied species, disappears, leaving only the lesser yet still great difficulty; namely, by what graduated steps these organs have been developed in each separate group of fishes.
So to summarize Darwin argued that while he couldn’t provide an explanation for how these electric organs could have evolved, their evolution could not be disproven because we don’t know anything about them. And furthermore, the fact that the organs did not appear according to the common descent pattern was not a problem because they were not homologous and therefore arose independently rather than from a common ancestor.
Aside from the obvious fallacy in Darwin’s argument (lack of falsification means little and in any case Darwin had set the bar so high it was impossible anyway), he apparently was unaware that he had just shot himself in the foot. For his second argument, that the failure to fulfill a common descent pattern was not a problem because the organs arose independently, meant his first problem was that much more difficult. For now Darwin needed to explain not merely how an electric organ could have spontaneously arisen, but how this could have occurred many times over, in different ways. One miracle would not be enough.
That was then and this is now. How have the past century and a half dealt with Darwin’s defense of the evolution of electric organs?
One might think that given all this time, and the enormous mountain of data scientists have since gathered on electric organs in fish, that by now evolutionists would have a fairly detailed and convincing, step-by-step, explanation of how these incredible devices arose by themselves. How can evolution provide the capability for a fish to generate a 600 Volt pulse to stun its prey? How can evolution provide the capability for a fish passively to track tiny prey using an array of ultra sensitive electromagnetic sensors and neural processing?
Amazingly, for a theory that is supposed to be a fact beyond all reasonable doubt, held in question only by the lowly, the ignorant and the biased, there are no answers to these questions. Evolutionists still do not have detailed and convincing, step-by-step, explanation of how these incredible devices arose by themselves. In fact, beyond Darwin-like speculation, evolutionists do not have any explanation, period.
So Darwin’s first argument, that the theory is saved by our ignorance, no longer holds. We now understand these organs in far more detail than even Darwin could have imagined. And it hasn’t helped. We can no longer hide behind our ignorance.
Now, today’s study nullifies Darwin’s second argument. As we saw above, Darwin argued that the designs of the different electric organs were sufficiently different that they must have arisen independently, and so they would not form a common descent pattern.
But the new study, which peers deeper into the data, down to the genetic level, finds no such differences. As one report explained, the new study “provides evidence to support the idea that the six electric fish lineages, all of which evolved independently, used essentially the same genes and developmental and cellular pathways to make an electric organ.” Here is how one evolutionist described the first problem:
What is amazing is that the electric organ arose independently six times in the course of evolutionary history.
And as another evolutionist explained, “The surprising result of our study is that electric fish seem to use the same ‘genetic toolbox’ to build their electric organ,” despite the fact that they evolved independently.
A genetic toolbox? This is a common teleological phrase evolutionists use to refer to regulatory DNA. The idea that fish would use a genetic toolbox hides the absurdity of the evolutionary narrative. There is a reason why Aristotelianism persisted for almost two thousand years.