Mallee fowl are certainly an oddity; building "nests" or mounds comprising soil, twigs, leaves, sand and organic matter. The mounds can grow to 17metres in diameter and several metres in height. All of these fowl build mounds for the females to lay up to 35 eggs per season. The purpose of the mounds is to provide safety for the eggs from predators, whether dingoes, snakes or any of the other predators which occupied Australia thousands to millions of years earlier.
The various species of megapod span from Australia to the Philippines. This covers climates contrasting from the hot, arid deserts of central Australia to the wet, rainforests of Indonesia. The author marvels at the sameness of the species despite the different conditions, and yet the factors are essentially the same. The mound size is likely the same because the birds are the same size, or their feet are the same.
The fowl uses its large feet to flick dirt or sand into or out of the centre of the mound in order to control the temperature of the eggs buried within. The author asks:
Which came first, incidentally, the big feet, or the big mounds?The answer is – look at the historical ‘fossil’ record. The author conveniently ignores the fossil record. This species of fowl has existed for millions of years, and its far larger relatives have since died out. They likely died out because of the drying out of the climate, which made food scarce. Such processes happen slowly, so it’s apparent that climatic change favoured smaller animals with smaller appetites in a drier climate.
A researcher of megapodes remarks:
I find it remarkable that a bird is able to estimate the amount of organic matter it must add to a heap of soil so that the heat generated by fermentation is just enough to bridge the gap between the soil temperature and the temperature necessary for incubation.This is not the thinking of a mallee fowl. This is the thinking of a human with a human researcher. For the fowl, it’s likely they have sensors in their beak or feet to estimate the temperature. Extra-sensory capacities in animals are commonplace. There are no ‘complex formulas’. Having conjured up some ‘complexity’ the author asks “Could they [the megapodes] have evolved all this through blind natural selection?”. The answer is yes, though it’s not so miraculous if you consider that the need to gauge temperature was probably always there, even if temperatures have changed. No doubt the success of the methodology has proved itself over the changes in climate.
The Australian mallee fowl of arid inland Australia has a more difficult task because in dry climates there is less moisture for leaf little to decompose. For this reason, the mallee fowl has to rely on the sun for heat rather than the heat released from decomposing plant matter. Stabilising temperatures in these climatic extremes sounds impressive, yet whilst outback Australia is hot, it is also very dry, so any shade from cloud or leaf litter substantially reduces the heat. Below the surface it is surprisingly cool. This is why Australia’s arid regions are rich in life. The surface temperature might range from 20-110ºF, however the subsoil temperature is far more consistent.
The author repudiates the evolutionist arguments for the development of the mallee fowl. The reality of species research is that such issues often are speculative, as there are millions of species, and the fossil record is not complete or fully understood for each species. Rest assured recent developments with the Genome Project will advance evolution a great deal, allowing us to make the hereditary path of each species.
It seems probable that the mallee fowl came to incubate its eggs to conceal the eggs from predatory animals. This explains why the fowl disperses its eggs among several mounds. It is its insurance policy. He simply stays in range of all the mounds to adjust their temperature as conditions demand.
The fowl starts building the mounds in May, and spends winter searching for leaf litter, before piling (i.e. flicking) on soil in August. The wetter winter can allow leaf litter to remain moist under the shade of added soil. The temperature in the mound begins to rise until mid-September when the female lays her first eggs. The eggs will hatch in early November, before the extreme heat of summer. During the entire incubation period, the male must regulate the temperature. The fowl keeps the temperature between 90-95ºF by altering the amount and type of mound cover. Heat is produced both by decomposition and the sun. If the eggs overheat, the mallee fowl simply piles more soil on the mound to insulates the eggs from the sun's heat. If the mound cools too much, the fowl can scatter the soil in the cool early morning air, only to collect it after the sun has reheated it. In arid regions, mostly the sun is shining. Any moisture helps to retain heat in the mound.
Mr. H. J. Frith, an expert on the mallee fowl, said:
"We thought it possible that all this temperature - control work could be merely part of a fixed behaviour pattern evolved by natural selection to suit the seasons".The author equates this canny behaviour with ‘intelligence’, which it simply is not. It is simply an example of an animal correlating learning behaviour over thousands of years. It is probably that early eggs did not require heating (in a tropical climate), and were simply buried for protection from shelter as the parents searched for food during droughts. During climate extremes they likely made a correlation between dead eggs and colder weather. When climate change occurred, they simply adapted their behaviour to keep the eggs cool, and in the process developed a simply means of keeping the egg temperature stable.
The implication is that no GREAT INTELLIGENT GOD is required to explain the origin of fowls; just a critical and educated individual. Christians and other mystics have always relied on the ignorance and fear to spread their nonsense. This is no exception. The other tool of manipulation for various churches and cults is of course the practice of ‘love bombing’. Anyone who lacks confidence in their judgement, has been abused, neglected, i.e. denied validation, is vulnerable to a torrent of religious recruitment. Many get sucked in, and used as pawns for recruitment drives if not direct contributions.
The author asks “Why, if evolution is a fact, do birds of any given species build identical nests? And, if one type of nest supposedly evolved in-to another, why do we have such extreme diversity among different species?”
The answer is that only species which need to change have to change. If no advantage is rendered, no variant has a preference. Mounds are the same because the fowls critical features are the same. Also diurnal temperature variations in tropical climates is less extreme because of higher humidity; whilst the dry temperate climates render more extreme temperatures less harsh in the shade or underground.
The author asks:
“If one group of birds can survive with a "primitive" nest, why take the trouble to evolve into another kind? It doesn't make any sense”.
Hmmm...science doesn’t make sense but Christian assertion, which does not make sense, should be accepted without question. The reality is, if you lack knowledge, nothing makes sense. It’s amazing how many senseless topics become meaningful if you learn more material, adopt a critical mind and repudiate any unintelligible concepts like religion.
The question of whether fowls learn, are trained or have instincts is really a separate question from evolution, so it will be addressed elsewhere. How do animals attain the genes to adapt to new environments, like the drying out of the climate? According to the theory of natural selection, they slowly change in response to small genetic variations which give a certain variant natural advantages which are reinforced through reproduction if they are indeed critical to the survival of the species. The author highlights several theories for evolution; “some of them quite contradictory” apparently. In fact there is no need for any of them to be compatible as they are discrete ideas. These theories are:
1. The "Highly Specialized" Theory draws attention to the "highly specialized" habit of the mallee fowl, arguing that it is a legacy of the birds' reptilian ancestors. The author refuses to accept this. No explanation is given. The more explanation is that “ancestors of the present-day megapodes were ground-nesting birds that developed the habit of covering their eggs with sand or leaves when leaving the nest, as a protection against predators. Several present-day birds, in fact, do this ...” while the Australian climate and flora are gradually changing over thousands of years. The author is sceptical, but offers no contradictory evidence or justification for his pet theory – Creationism; which of course contradicts the fossil record.
2. The "Degenerate Bird" Theory proposed by George A. Clark, an ornithologist at Yale University, asserts that the fowl reverted to a more degenerate reptilian habits, much like the whales and porpoises, which are mammals, returned to the habits of their fish ancestors”. This theory may in fact arise simply because of an incomplete fossil record so should be discounted somewhat.
3. The "Primitive Bird" Theory proposes that modern birds might display some residual habits of the ancient birds from which they evolved, thus providing a trace of their ancestral lineage. We might therefore expect modern birds to retain some behaviours of ancient birds because their practical benefit has been retained over evolutionary time. Allen (1925) suggested that the megapodes might therefore be linked to the alligator on such a basis.
The author implies that these theories are contradictory, and ‘confusing’. But in fact they are entirely realistic and compatible. They conflict only with the theory of Creationism, which conflicts with all human knowledge since ‘faith’ is acceptance of assertions without evidence. Christianity requires its believers to renounce their minds, and to trust in cunning manipulators who want their money. Christianity rests on the willingness of a person to renounce their mind. Ask yourself why facts are scarier than some arbitrary assertions. Because these churches promise ‘unconditional love’. This is why people are ultimately drawn to it. It’s not a better argument. Its a philosophical need to evade facts because they result in value judgements the ‘believer’ cannot accept. There is no convincing them unless they can confront their psychological flaw. That is not to say that all are flawed. If they are young and have not yet challenged Christian arguments, they might well grow out of their ambivalence.
The author goes on to say that evolution is only a theory, or ‘speculation’. The only reason evolution is a theory is because humanity has no direct ability to observe it in action. We can model the concept by grafting plant species and alter the genetic code to achieve new species, but we cannot directly prove evolution. But actually that is no obstacle because we have an immense body of indirect evidence which integrates into knowledge.
The author states: “Attempts to explain design without a Designer, creation without a Creator, intelligence without an Intelligent Being bestowing that intelligence. It can't be done! The notion that the earth requires a designer simply displaces the burden of proof. Firstly it presupposes a ‘starting point’ for the universe, and hence that a designer was required. As previously indicated, isn’t it less miraculous when things actually act according to their nature? If we were the centre of God’s plan, why would he wait 20 billion years for universe to mature after the Big Bang? Why not just conjure up a world where the illogical is possible? That would be a miracle; not cause and effect.
The author even challenges ‘God’s work’. “Why evolve such a largely difficult method? Why lay 35 eggs in different places at different times?” Firstly I’m glad he asked the question. But I am equally concerned that he never sought to answer it. Is his plot self-delusion or manipulation? I did finally get my answer when I went looking for the ‘Plain Truth’ Magazine. Here are the answers:
1. Truth is not asymmetrical – if you are prepared to challenge science, also be prepared to challenge the alternative hypothesis – which is God, using the same scientific vigour.
2. Difficult habits – It does seem unfathomable for a bird to invest so much energy to keep the nest warm, and attend to so many nests, but consider the environmental conditions and the historical context. The bird is vulnerable to attack from predators, so the bird manages as many nets as he can. I would suggest the animal derives a sense of efficacy by doing this. Only a single nest can be attacked, and it one is threatened he can still attend to the others. The nests are far enough apart to elude the predator, but not so far that the fowl cannot reasonably attend to them. Fortunately most predators will hunt during the ‘cool’ of the day. Remember that there are two ‘parent’ fowls.
3. Universal context – consider the context in which this author is arguing the point. He focuses on an animal which is special or controversial in order to cast doubt over all science. That is what you might call an ‘asymmetrical perspective’ whether its nature is delusion or deceit.
It is amazing how solutions come to mind if you take pride in solving questions, as raising them. This is the nature of such asymmetrical thinking. So what came first? His mental ambivalence or his scepticism. I would suggest normally they ‘evolved’ together, though this document is written by a person who should have known better, so I have another more tragic explanation.
Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com