Coyne & Armstrong on Evolution


My son and I found this hole (on the right) in a tree behind our house.  The wiki-pic (photoshopped on the left) is of the type of pecker that did it !  The sound of his handiwork graces our 3 acres often — busy little fellow.  This find reminded me of a section in Jerry Coyne’s excellent book “Why Evolution is True” (2009).

The woodpecker is a biological jackhammer.  This poses a problem: how can a delicate creature drill through hard wood without hurting itself? (Think of the force it takes to drive a nail into a plank.)  The punishment that a pileated woodpecker’s skull takes is astounding–the bird can strike up to fifteen blows per second when it’s “Drumming” for communication, each blow generating a force equivalent to banging your head into a wall at sixteen miles per hour.  This is a speed that can crumple your car.  there is a real danger of the woodpecker injuring its brain, or even having its eyes pop out of its skull under the extreme force.

To prevent brain damage, the woodpecker’s skull is specially shaped and reinforced with extra bone.  The beak rests on a cushion of cartilage, and the muscles around the beak contract an instant before each impact to divert the force of the blow away from the brain and into the reinforced basd of the skull.  During each strike, the bird’s eyelids close to keep its eyes from popping out.  There is also a fan of delicate feathers covering the nostrils so that the bird doesn’t inhale the sawdust or wood chips when hammering.  It uses a set of very stiff tail feathers to prop itself against the tree, and has an X-shaped, four-toed foot (two forward, two back)) to securely grip the trunk.

Everywhere we look in nature, we see animals that seem beautifully designed to fit their environment, whether that environment be the physical circumstances of life, like temperature and humidity, or the other organisms–competitors, predators, and prey–that every species mus deal with.  It is no surprise that early naturalists believed that animals were the product of celestial design, created by God to do their jobs.

Jerry A. Coyne — “Why Evolution is True”, pg 115

Coyne’s book then reminded me of a good Wall Street Journal article I just read concerning the new books by Karen Armstrong and Richard Dawkins — both of which I intend to read.  Below is a paragraph from Karen Armstrong.

Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course—at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived. It tells us that there is no Intelligence controlling the cosmos, and that life itself is the result of a blind process of natural selection, in which innumerable species failed to survive. The fossil record reveals a natural history of pain, death and racial extinction, so if there was a divine plan, it was cruel, callously prodigal and wasteful. Human beings were not the pinnacle of a purposeful creation; like everything else, they evolved by trial and error and God had no direct hand in their making. No wonder so many fundamentalist Christians find their faith shaken to the core.

Karen Armstrong,  Wall Street Journal article


Filed under Science

6 responses to “Coyne & Armstrong on Evolution

  1. The woodpecker is a biological jackhammer.

    And whoever came up with the Flinstones comic was a genius. No wonder it was the only TV show I watched as a geeky, picky child. Everything else gave me a headache.

    On other issues, the words of Karen Armstrong are powerful. Is she an atheist by now? I thought she was still a deist. But she could still be, I guess.

  2. Ms. Armstrong has had a complex, rich life, full of integrity — from what I have seen. I have only met her once in a Coffee Shop in DC.
    But Lorena, you know I weigh the heart heavier than the mind !

  3. Temaskian

    I’m delighted to see Karen Armstrong agreeing with Richard Dawkins. The evidence for evolution is getting too overwhelming for people to stay on the fence.

  4. Temaskian

    The evidence for evolution is getting too overwhelming for people to stay on the fence.

    The other day I saw an article on Foxnews (extreme right), where evolution was not argued against but taken as a fact , and I had to laugh.


    You’ve met Karen Armstrong? Lucky you. Did you get her autograph?

    I don’t care if she is an atheist either. Like you, I like honest people. I was just surprised to read she was endorsing Richard Dawkins. Good for her!

    You will write a review when you read her latest book, right?

  5. @ Lorena
    — Sure I will write a review, when I read her book.
    — Concerning autographs from Karen Armstrong — coincidentally enough, I’ve got a post coming up on that topic. Stay tuned ! (please)

  6. Temaskian

    “The other day I saw an article on Foxnews (extreme right), where evolution was not argued against but taken as a fact , and I had to laugh.”

    A slip-up on their part, surely. Or maybe they only display their doubts on evolution when people are watching. Privately, they all believe in evolution.

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