Sunday, September 20, 2009

Orchids, Evolution and a "Creation Confirmation"

My son Marcus goes to a private Christian school that, while having a great curriculum in history, languages, grammar, mathematics and Bible, uses creationism as its basis for science. To that end, each year they learn about a different topic from a slightly peculiar point of view. This year it is botany. We tootle along in the book, explaining monocots, dicots, carnivorous plants and so on. Interspersed among these safe topics are these "Creation Confirmation" sections. The book is from Apologia Education Ministries and is written by Jeannie K. Fulbright. Apologia's page has this to say about her:
Following graduation and marriage, her writing and speaking focused on building up the Christian community, teaching marriage and parenting classes, in addition to writing articles and Bible studies. After her homeschool journey began, Jeannie discerned an immense need for Creation-based, scientifically sound, engaging, easy-to-use science curricula.
In other words, she doesn't have any education in palaeontology or biology. Is this what they mean by "scientifically sound?" One of these passages focuses on orchids, long a controversial issue among palaeobotanists, only in the sense that it is not clear when they evolved. She writes:
Orchids give us further evidence against evolution. Flowers don't use nectar for themselves. They only use it to attract animals to help them in pollination. Flowers spend a lot of energy making nectar that just gets eaten by the animals. Since orchids like the bee orchid get pollination without actually feeding the animals, survival is easier for them. They don't have to keep making food for animals. Evolution would say that since these orchids have an easier time surviving than orchids that actually feed animals, they should be the main kind of orchids in creation. Why, then are they rare compared to other orchids? Only a few orchids attract animals by imitation. Most of them use a lot of energy making food for animals in order to attrack them. The fact that most orchids (and flowers in general) produce nectar for animals to eat shows that God intended flowers and animals to work together to survive. 1
Where to start. She manages to write about orchids without ever mentioning the pollinarium, a key feature of these plants. As Johnson and Edwards (1999) write:
The packaging of pollen into a compact unit known as the pollinium, which together with accessory structures for attachment to pollinators comprises a pollinarium, was undoubtedly a key innovation in the evolutionary history of the Orchidaceae, and may have played a role in promoting the tremendous radiation of the group, which numbers at least 19 500 species (Dressier 1993).2
But, of course, this doesn't explain why the Bee Orchid is less prolific than other orchids. Why would this be the case? Subsequent to the publishing of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Darwin wrote about, you guessed it, orchids. In the work of Darwin on the Orchid family is an explanation for why this is. As Johnson and Edwards put it:
The majority of orchid species (and most flowering plants) are hermaphroditic: each individual possesses both male and female reproductive organs. Hermaphrodism might seem like a good way of ensuring reproductive success and hence evolutionary persistence. But Darwin was convinced that self-crossing—and even mating between relatives—decreased the survival and reproductive abilities (the "vigor and fertility") of the offspring produced (e.g., 1859, 96-97; Darwin worried about how bad it might have been for his own children that he had married his first cousin, Emma; see Desmond and Moore 1991, 575). The more hermaphroditic plants he studied, the more mechanisms he found for the promotion of intercrossing. Among orchids, self-crossing was exceedingly rare. Darwin knew of only one case, the bee orchid, Ophrys apifera (which he predicted would go extinct, and he confided that he wished he could live a thousand years in order to see the last one go; see Desmond and Moore 1991, 511-512).3
Myriad examples exist in nature of the means of increasing genetic variability in any given offspring generation. Even among humans, not only is there a mixing of the genetic traits of the mother and father, but there is crossing over of homologous chromosomes to further increase genetic variation. Darwin's lament is the lament that is echoed by most societies in the world, who have taboos against inbreeding. Inbreeding does two things: it restricts the amount of potential genetic variation in the next generation and it also results in the expression of recessive deleterious traits that might otherwise be hidden in the next generation.

The point behind the above is that this is classic Mendelian inheritance, something that is taught in high school biology classes. It took me very little time to run down the reason for the comparative lack of heartiness of the Bee Orchid, something Ms. Fulbright couldn't be bothered to do. Consequently, the question she asks is very easily answered within an evolutionary framework and constitutes no evidence against evolution whatsoever.

1Fulbright, Jeannie K. (2004) Exploring Creation with Botany. Anderson, Indiana: Apologia Education Ministries, Inc. p.54

2Johnson, S.D. and Edwards, T.J. (2000) The structure and function of orchid pollinaria. Plant Systematics and Evolution 222: 243

3Beatty, John (2006) Chance variation: Charles Darwin on Orchids. Philosophy of Science. 73: 629-641.
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  1. Anonymous1:51 PM

    "Creation-based, Scientifically sound,. . ." Now there's an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

  2. Heh. I think I saw some of her materials as a homeschooling conference. In one of the "creation confirmations," she pointed out that evolutionists believe that all life evolved from simple, one-celled organisms. Then she noted just how complex modern one-celled organisms are; far too complex to have "just happened." Apparently she's not clear on the notion that modern one-celled organisms have also been evolving for hundreds of millions of years, so we expect them to be pretty complex by now, too. It's the ancient ones that are supposed to have been simple.

    Oh, the humanity!

  3. Yah, evolution as a concept just seems to get past your average creationist. It is like they just can't seem to grasp the concepts.

  4. Ouch. Nice rebuttal of the usual creationist babble...

  5. Thank you for confirming my decision not to use Apologia materials with my children. Sonlight uses them for the high school level (written by Dr Wile) but does not use them for the lower levels.

    In the beginning of our homeschool journey, I was looking forward to using those high school Apologia books. But something happened along the way and when my children reached that level, I went with something else.

    1. Glad I could be of assistance.