Monday, April 23, 2012

The Ice-Cream-Headache that is Ursus maritimus

This article from last week is interesting for several reasons, all exposing the limitations and assumptions of dogmatic science.

You may recall that there was a big stir surrounding polar bear populations and the plight of the species as a result of man-made global warming a few years ago. The whole thing turned out to be an exaggeration fueled by doctored pictures and evidence. The truth is that populations are doing fine; they are even thriving in parts of their range. Here, however, the article tries to continue to capitalize on the old information counting on people to only remember or hear bad news.

Another interesting aspect of this article is what it says about taxonomy and evolution. For a long time, polar bears were considered an adaptation—a descendant of the brown bear. The implication here that they diverged a lot earlier is a bit of a blow to the theory. If you ever take a look at a taxonomy chart—sort of an evolutionary family tree—you will notice that not a single species is ever diagramed as leading to another. Every single species will be on a branch terminus. There is no and never has been a species that can be shown to be on a node leading to one or more branches. This article implies that scientists used to think of the brown bear—polar bear relationship as having been that sort of an example; but no more.

Of course the real problem for taxonomists and evolution is that we really have no good handle on what constitutes a species. Polar bears and brown bears are classified as two distinct species because the look different and don’t live in the same areas. However, they are capable of breeding and producing fruitful offspring. Are they even two species? Consider the case of dog breeds, many of which are very diverse in appearance and adaptations. Yet they are all the same species and even a mere subspecies of the gray wolf.

Is the transition from an early bear to polar bears and brown bears an example of new species produced by evolution, or merely an example of natural selection preserving a species in the form of two “breeds”?

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