The Laryngeal Nerve of the Giraffe is Proof of Natural Selection

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This was previously posted in 2010 on rd.net. It’s discussed in detail in both The Greatest Show on Earth and in Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True and is certainly worth watching – or watching again.


This video, including comments by Richard Dawkins, documents a necropsy (an autopsy on an animal other than a human) carried out in a classroom on a giraffe. In this video, we follow the pathway of the recurrent (inferior) laryngeal nerve, an important nerve that is a branch of the Vagus nerve (tenth cranial nerve). The recurrent (inferior) laryngeal nerve, which branches off the Vagus nerve at the base of the brain, travels down the neck, around the arteries of the heart and travels back up the neck to ennervate the larynx, or voice box, thereby providing motor function. The purpose of doing this exercise is to show that there is no so-called “intelligent designer” because the pathway of this nerve is completely illogical — unless, of course, you accept that evolution is the reason for this nerve’s convoluted pathway through the body.

 

 

Original link to this video and others on the Channel 4 website (note: only viewable in the UK)

Written By: Channel 4 (via GrrlScientist 2010)
continue to source article at scienceblogs.com

27 COMMENTS

  1.  Why is evolution something that still needs to be proven to anyone? The only thing that needs to be proven now is how something can come from nothing. How does that somehow not go down any infinite regressions just as who created the creator? Just to be clear here, I am not arguing against evolution by natural selection. But i do think that people who believe that evolution itself is an ingenious way of moving life onwards and upwards by some intelligence that we can not even begin to fathom any more than we are able to fathom infinity or 4.5 billion years of time, have a point.

    And lest i be misunderstood or unjustly attacked for putting such a notion forward here, this ” intelligence” does not refer to any “God” ever referred to by man. There are not only two choices here: either you believe in the Judeo Christian like concept of a personal God or there is no such thing as anything that surpasses our own intelligence. Why does it have to be either/or??

    I’d prefer Richard Dawkins himself answer this one, if he just so happens to be reading the comment section here. I won’t respond to anyone’s typical hateful, dismissive, insults.

  2. i don’t think it has to be either/or. at the end of the day, no one knows all the answers. 

    i agree with you on the inescapable infinite regress problem. the only way out of that quandary would be if the multiverse were proven to be a “real” thing. infinite universes would smear the infinity out into something that just “is”. 

  3. and infinity is comprehensible? If so, then why can’t there be an infinite regression of a creator? Why can’t there be that just “is”? Is there ever an effect without cause?

    Still waiting for Richard to answer this. He does speak, yes? Oh, to consider possibilities, eh? Have to run for now. Will check back.

  4. i’m not sure if he replies on here or not. i just signed up today.

    infinity certainly isn’t comprehensible. there could very well be an infinite regress of creators. or there could be an infinite regress of physical causes. i don’t think either is a satisfying answer.

    part of me thinks that the need for a cause is something just build into our humanity. on the scale of our lives, every effect has a very specific cause. but when we go way beyond that scale (quantum mechanics, multiverse, etc.) things don’t seem to operate that way.  maybe there is no first cause at all, and our brains just can’t fathom that. or perhaps there is a creator that we can equally not fathom.

  5. With regard to your opening question, “Why is evolution something that still needs to be proven to anyone?”, that is surely self-evident? Around the world, fundementalist groups of all faiths deny that evolution happens. It’s a particular problem in the US where politicians, even for the very highest offices, will state their belief that evolution is bunk. The overwhelming evidence for evolution (and against “intelligent design”) needs to be rammed home at every opportunity.

    As to the rest of your post, Professor Dawkins does occasionally participate in discussions but whether he’ll be likely to respond to being “called out” in this fashion is  another matter, especially since the topic of this thread is evolution and your question is about something else entirely. Furthermore, he is a biologist, not a physicist. The beginnings of the universe are not his area of expertise and, in my experience, he generally defers to those who ARE experts.      

  6. “i’m not sure if he replies on here or not. i just signed up today.”
    He does, but like everyone here…not to every question by every Tom, Dick or Harry. Can you imagine how busy it must be for one Richard Dawkins…a man in his seventies. This is not a blogg, it’s a discussion forum.

  7. I would suggest additional reading and personal contemplation on your part for the answers you seek.

    Revisiting your understanding of what constitutes nothing would also be an enormous aid.

  8. Here is a beautiful lecture by Professor Lawrence Krauss which begins addressing the very complicated answer to what seems like a simple question, “how can something come from nothing?” His most recent book, “A Universe from Nothing” addresses this theme in more detail. If you’re really interested in answers, this may be a good place to start.

    As for the rest of your comment, I think your pre-emptive beligerence is a bit misplaced. Apologies if I misread your tone.

    From my point of view, you seem to be erecting a strawman. No one claims that “there is no such thing as anything that surpasses our own intelligence.”

    The bottom line is that positing an “intelligence” does absolutely nothing to answer questions of ultimate origin. It merely introduces another “entity” into the equation without explaining anything. Occam’s principal would urge you not to introduce such a concept unless it explains something.
     
    Here is an example of what I consider to be wrong with your approach:

    But i do think that people who believe that evolution itself is an ingenious way of moving life onwards and upwards by some intelligence that we can not even begin to fathom any more than we are able to fathom infinity or 4.5 billion years of time, have a point

    If this…whatever it is…you propose is something “we can not even begin to fathom” then what is your justification for calling it an “intelligence”? Are you not making assumptions, or at least implications about the nature of this thing? This is one way we project ourselves into the universe, seeing human characteristics wherever there is a mystery. Real “arrogance” is assuming that the ultimate answer behind our universe must somehow resemble the slab of meat between our ears. Our language is full of such traps. Evolution, as far as we have ever seen in our millions of observations, is a completely mindless, unguided process. It takes a mind to be “ingenious,” and we really shouldn’t assume such a mind until some specific observation leaves us no other choice. 

    BTW, so far as we have ever observed, evolution – as the term is commonly used, i.e. the evolution of life – did not occur in our universe until several billion years after the big bang set matter mindlessly unfolding. There is a vast gulf separating your thoughts about evolution from your question about origins.

    And the idea that evolution “mov[es] life onwards and upwards” is a fundamental misunderstanding of the entire concept. In fact, for the vast majority of species that have ever lived, evolution is a very bad deal indeed. If some vast super-intelligence had a certain kind of life in mind, evolution by natural selection would be one of the most wasteful and inefficient means imaginable to bring that life about.

    [edited for typos]

  9. In fact, he very seldom does. I have only observed him to make such statements when he is confronted in an interview, and then only to briefly relay his best (qualified) understanding of the field and then to defer to experts. You seem here to be conflating the field of evolutionary biology with the COMPLETELY separate field(s) of origins research.

    Are there some specific statements by Richard to which you take exception?

  10. Well my understanding of people in their 70′s is that of selectively engaging subjects that to which they expend effort. Silly questions don’t count.

    I’m curious to know how you know that RD’s favourite subject is cosmology. It’s news to me. Citation please.

    As for presuming he doesn’t respond to any Ignorant Amos…you really should do some research before commenting.

  11. I have seen the dissection of a whale too, more impressing because of it´s size, how awsome it was.
    And have seen the foot fingers of a baby holding a stick (showing that we were monkeys,and rudiments of being arboreal, with tail too, it seems).

  12. Did I not make myself clear? He makes the statement continuously that there is no creator ( anything that could possibly be beyond our comprehension) and that everything has a natural ( unintelligent ) cause. This is the jist of his argument.

  13. Read “A Universe From Nothing” by Lawrence Krauss.  Richard Dawkins is not a cosmologist and so isn’t a leading authority on why there is something rather than nothing.  

    Summed up as best as I can, it goes something like this: There exists a state of “nothingness” in which exist the laws of quantum physics.  This quantum vacuum has no boundaries, no beginning and no end.  Given this “nothingness” and the laws that govern it, a universe is inevitable.  The sum total energy of the universe is zero.  It sprang from nothing all on its own, as an infinite number of other universes might and must.

    The trouble is this “nothing” is not what theists or deists like to call Nothing.  They conceive of some Empty Void where there are no rules about quantum fluctuations and from which no universe could ever explode on its own.  Unfortunately, there is no such thing as this Empty Void they’re imagining.  There never has been.  It’s a physical impossibility.  If you take away all the matter and energy from a unit of space, to the point where there is nothing measurably there, you’ll have a quantum vacuum.  If you leave that vacuum for long enough (though inside that nothingness time doesn’t mean much) a universe will inevitably form, no deity required.

    The more thoughtful question would be “why are the laws of quantum mechanics what they are instead of something else?”  The unfortunate answer may simply be “they are also every other possibly permutation, but we don’t live in those universes.”

  14. Actually he doesn’t state that there is no creator. He says something along the lines of “There is almost certainly no creator.”  Like many of us, he sees no evidence that a creator either exists or is required and part of that lack of evidence is the work of the physicists and cosmologists who are expanding our understanding of the start of the universe. As others have suggested, you would be best placed posing your question to those experts (or perhaps just reading their work). If you insist on getting Professor Dawkins’ take on it, you can always go to YouTube. There are plenty of debates posted on there in which he has been challenged in exactly the way you have challenged, and responded accordingly.   

  15.  With respect Annececilia, you are making the mistake that not knowing the answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one.  The universe is what it is no matter what we think of it. The difference with science is that effectively they are saying we don’t know the answer let’s try to find out.  Given that any un-testable ‘belief’ are equally unproductive, scientist just try to find out a bit more.  And those little bits have added up over the centuries to quite a lot.  So its possible that some Deity is directing the action, but where’s your evidence.  The video you just watched would count as evidence against that as this is clearly poor design.  So at least for the laryngeal nerve he/she/it wasn’t directing that.  So what you are suggesting is a designer that interferes poorly?  When there is a perfectly good mechanism that can do it without him?  Why is he needed at all?  I’m fairly confident that plausible chemical explanations will be found for the origin of the first self replicating chemistry (which led to life), but I’m not certain and am okay with that.

    As for does Richard reply to posts, yes occasionally he does, but he is a very busy man.  If you are really interested in what he thinks, well he has been kind enough to write a number of best sellers.  Buy one and read it or borrow one from a library.

    As for peoples typical, hateful, dismissive insults.  Well, most Christians do think we deserve to be burnt in hell for all time.  I personally find that a little offensive, so how about a show of good faith and distance yourself from that particular piece of dogma before you accuse us of insensitivity and we can have a nice debate.

  16. The laryngeal nerve is one of the most fascinating aspects of the clumsy results of evolution.  However, after a brief search I can find many creation websites that attempt to refute it.  Not being a biologist, I am unable to find fault with (some of) their arguments.  Perhaps a biologist would be able to help me out?
    Some of their arguments are obviously pathetic but the main one appears to be that the laryngeal nerve has additional functions that proponents of evolution ‘conveniently’ ignore.
    Have a look at this site:
    http://creation.com/recurrent-

    or the conclusions at the end of this site:
    http://www.icr.org/article/551

  17. What I am saying is that it is no more probable that there might be an infinite regression of natural ( unintelligent) beginnings than there be an infinite regression of an intelligent cause. Neither are within our comprehension. I think evolution might be like an intelligent plan from a hands off type of creator.

    annececilia

  18. I’m curious, is the conclusion that you seem to have reached about the plan being “intelligent” at all based on your observations of the intellect or achievements of human kind?  If so, I would offer a counter argument in the form of a thought-experiment:

    Imagine the universe four billion years ago, before life arose on our planet (and let’s say other planets as well).  The universe is entirely astronomical, governed by the laws of physics and chemistry, it acts and reacts to itself rather predictably (if with enormous complexity) like balls bouncing around a billiard table.  Is this entirely lifeless universe also indicative of an intelligently laid out plan in your mind, given that there are no creative and intelligent creatures living in it?

    Now cast your mind a few billions years further ahead, to just before primates made the leap down from the trees and into the Savannah.  From this vantage point in history, humans and all their accomplishments do not appear to be an inevitable outcome.  Indeed, there is no rule in evolution requiring that a sentient species eventually arise.  Were it not for a series of convenient accidents (littered among many very inconvenient ones) humans would not have developed as we did, and the world and the universe would have continued on much as it had for the previous several billion years, full of animals solely concerned with their next meal, mating and avoiding predation.  Does this human-less but perfectly valid universe also suggest to you an intelligent plan?

    Now cast your mind a few billion years into the future.  Humans have long since gone extinct and our sun has expanded to utterly destroy what remaining animal life existed on earth.  Our solar system is now as devoid of life as it was prior to earth’s formation.  Yet the universe will continue on without us, obeying physical and chemical laws in relatively simple and predictable ways.  Does this universe conjure up the notion of an intelligent plan in your mind?

    I would suggest that you are at least somewhat influenced by what appears to be an epic “climbing of the evolutionary ladder” made unconsciously by our lone little species, when instead what’s been accomplished is the blind wandering through a maze filled with hazards, with one species of primates managing to find the exit.  Now out of the maze of evolution, we can look back on it as an epic journey and maybe suggest we were “meant” to escape, but in reality we could just as easily have joined the other 99.9 percent of species who have so far gone extinct.

  19. 1) Did you change your user name or are you commenting using two separate accounts? It confused me for a bit to suddenly see a new name appear in the middle of a conversation.

    2)

    “…it is no more probable that there might be an infinite regression of natural ( unintelligent) beginnings than there be an infinite regression of an intelligent cause.” [emphasis added]

    Probability is actually a very good way of approaching this problem, but your evaluation of probablility here is simply incorrect.

    “We don’t know the answer” can never be the same as “all possible answers are equally probable.” There are ways of weighing the relative probabilities of even purely speculative answers to difficult questions. Here’s just one.

    Occam’s Razor is a philosophical principle you should really think about. It explains why “infinite regress with unknown cause” is necessarily more probable than “infinite regress PLUS intelligent cause.” In this case actually, the first instance is vastly - possibly even infinitely - more probable, depending on the size of the following set: “speculative substitutions for the word “unknown” which do not pre-suppose intelligence.” Even assuming we had absoulutely no observable evidence to work with, any specific hypothesis (i.e. maybe “intelligence” is the cause) is automatically less probable than a less specific hypothesis (maybe the cause is…literally anything other than “intelligence”.) [Note, my formulation here also makes the assumption that "cause" is a useful term when thinking about the problem of infinite regress. This assumption is not necessarily warranted, but serves for the present point.]

    Basically, you need to have a good reason to introduce an assumption into your hypothesis. “It’s beyond our comprehension – so anything’s possible” does not qualify as a good reason. If anything is possible, we should begin with what we know and ask, “Okay, so given this, what is probable?” Occam’s principle tells us that simple explanations (i.e. explanations which require the fewest number of “entities” [basically assumptions or variables] are always more probable than complex explanations. We are only justified in adding an entity to our hypothesis when that addition makes the hypothesis fit better to the observable facts. Unfortunately adding the idea of “intelligence” to the problem of infinite regress does not make the hypothesis a better fit to the problem. We are left with more explaining to do instead of less.

    The probablility needle moves even further away from “intelligent cause” when we consider that we do have some evidence to consider when weighing your two options. For example, we have lots of experience with, and can observe features of “intelligences” all around us. So far as we have ever observed, “intelligence” is a feature of pysical brains. It may be possible for “intelligences” to build brains which can in turn become intelligent (AI researchers ar trying all the time.) Nevertheless, from all our actual observations it appears that “brain” always comes before “intelligence.” We have never – in all of human history – made a credible observation of an “intelligence” that did not arise from a physical brain. Now, even if I were to grant – contrary to everything we know about “intelligence” – that it is somehow possible to coherently imagine some “incomprehensible” form of an intelligence existing before any form of physical brain, you would still have to concede that an explanation requiring such an imagined concept is less likely than an explanation which does not require us to take such a leap.

    [Multiple edits for typos and attempted clarity. Sorry.]

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