The case of the shrinking elephant tusks

elephantLast year I spent some time reading through Richard Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution with a friend. As Dawkins explains in his preface, while he has written a number of books about evolution, “I realized that the evidence for evolution itself was nowhere explicitly set out, and this is a serious gap that I needed to close.” So in this book he sets forth his best case for evolution, making it an intriguing book to contend with.

Some of his arguments have ready answers, and some do not, and my hope in sharing both the answered and the unanswered is that readers may be better prepared to contend with evolution, neither overestimating nor underestimating the challenge it presents.

At some point I hope to include a chapter by chapter response, but I’m going to begin with Chapter 5, because it is one of the most interesting. Dawkins titled this chapter “Before our very eyes,” and it is here that he shares what he sees as examples of evolution that occurred “so fast…we can see evolution happening with our own eyes during one human lifetime.”

Today we’ll take a look at the first example he gives, about elephant’s tusks.

Chapter 5: Example #1 – THE CASE OF THE SHRINKING ELEPHANT TUSK

Dawkins believes the African elephant may have “evolved” a smaller tusk size in the space of 33 years. From 1925-1958 the Uganda Games Department monitored tusk size and noticed a decrease in size that was “highly statistically significant, which means that it is almost certainly a real trend, not a random chance effect.”

Why are elephant tusks shrinking? Dawkins proposes that, because “hunters tend to pick on the individuals with the largest tusks” this “means that, at least in theory, smaller-tusked individuals will be at a selective advantage.”

While acknowledging this is merely a plausible explanation, and there may be others unrelated to natural selection he concludes “I am inclined to take seriously the possibility that this is a true evolutionary trend.”

Response

Dawkins repeatedly speaks of creationists in his book – Greatest Show on Earth is supposed to be an answer to them – but this example left me wondering just how familiar he was with creationists and their arguments.

Why?

Because this example of “evolution in action” is one creationists could use to support our position. Creationists don’t find natural selection controversial. We believe change does happen, and quickly – after all, we’re the folks who believe that the vast variety of dogs we see today came from just a few kinds present on the ark!

So if elephant tusks are trending smaller over the course of a generation or two, that fits in well with the creationist model.

What it doesn’t do is offer any sort of evidence for the molecule-to-man form of evolution Dawkins supports. A smaller average for tusk-size is a horizontal change – no new information is needed, just selection from what’s already present. But for evolution of the sort Dawkins defends we need an explanation for a vertical change – how beings can grow in complexity, evolving from that single-celled creature to something elephant-size.

Either Dawkins is unaware of that fact creationists also believe in natural selection – which would mean he really needs to do his homework! – or he is knowingly and deliberately pulling a bait and switch here, presenting one form “evolution” in which the word means little more than “change” and offering that up as if it were proof for the very different sort of “molecule-to-man” evolution.

For more on this point see:

DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: Incredible Creatures that defy Evolution I

creatures2bthat2bdefy2bevolutionDocumentary
47 min / 2006
Rating: 8/10

As narrator Dr. Jobe Martin explains to us, he was once an evolutionist. He became a creationist when, as a professor at a dental college, he gave a lecture on the evolution of the tooth – teaching that fish scales eventually migrated into the mouth and became teeth – and was challenged by a couple of his students to investigate creation science. He’d never heard of it, but was willing to take a look. And the closer he looked the more he realized that much of the evolution he believed in was based on assumptions.

His study led him to investigate animals and other creatures, and in this short documentary he shares with us some of the most incredible features of some pretty incredible creatures that forced him to acknowledge that there was a Master Designer behind all this. For example, did you know:

  • …the bombardier beetle repels attackers by shooting a fiery liquid out of its rear end?
  • …the giraffe’s heart is strong enough to pump blood all the way up to its head? But what happens when it lowers that head to take a drink? The same strong stream of oxygenated blood will now be traveling with enough pressure to blow out its brain…except for the shut off valves in its neck that kick in when it dips its head.
  • …the woodpecker has a barbed gluey tongue that sticks to bugs but doesn’t stick to its own beak? And it has a skull that is designed to do the work of a jackhammer without giving the poor fellow a headache.

Dr. Martin shows us why we should be amazed by many other creatures including: the beaver, the Australian incubator bird, the platypus, the chicken egg, the chuckwalla lizard, the gecko, and us humans.

My preschool daughters were amazed, and while this is a video primarily intended for children, my wife and I were also engaged. We were floored by just how creative God is. It is good family viewing, with enough pictures and film footage to keep the attention of the very young, and for parents, a narrative that highlights just God’s sense of fun and genius.

This might not be a good one to hand to any hardened evolution-believing folk you might know. It is just a children’s video – it isn’t meant to offer an overly detailed or complete argument against evolution, and hardened critics will seize on that lack of depth to dismiss it entirely.

So get it for your own family, or your Christian school. And if you know someone dead-set on evolution, then consider Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels and its more adult anti-evolutionary argument. I review it here.

I should add that there are two more films in this series, all of them quite good, and this one the very best of the bunch. You can buy it by clicking here or rent it online by clicking here. And for a four minute peek, check out the trailer below.

This review originally appeared on ReelConservative.com.