Emerling: Evolution for Skeptics

@Joel_Duff linked to this blog today. I was previously unaware of it. It has great info on it!

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Chris Emerling, the author of the blog, really knows his stuff and has an interest in these area. Could be a good resource at some point since he is adept at whole genome and phylogenetic analyses. I’m not sure what he is up to at the moment. He was at Berkeley and on the job market so I expect his time might be limited at this junction in his career.

@John_Harshman there is an excellent article here on avian phylogenetic. Can you tell us about hummingbirds and owls?


Well, first, the article has nothing to do with owls. There was, long ago, a suggestion that owls might be related to caprimulgiforms. But that’s all it was, a suggestion, not the result of any rigorous analysis.

Second, most of the stuff they talk about was no surprise. It had previously been accepted, based on morphological data, that hummingbirds and swifts were closest relatives, and it had also been supposed, though not so universally, that caprimulgiforms were also related to them. The surprise from molecular data (and this was long ago, in 2001 if I recall) was that swifts and hummingbirds were actually within Caprimulgiformes, i.e. that Caprimulgiformes was paraphyletic. And this was established because, as they say, owlet-nightjars are more closely related to swifts and hummingbirds than to other traditional caprimulgiforms. So yes, that does imply that hummingbirds are descended from crepuscular (look it up) insect-eaters.

Finally, I don’t like it that they constantly use “more similar” as the index of phylogeny. As you know, that isn’t necessarily true, and that’s now how phylogenetic analysis works.

But it’s definitely a problem for creationists, or would be if you could get any of them to commit to what “kinds” are.


Owl’s have fairly amazing eyes. Can you tell us about them?

I couldn’t tell you any more than you might get from Wikipedia. Of course they’re very good in low light. They have a reflective layer in the retina, the tapetum lucidum, which they convergently share with caprimulgiforms. Their eyes are huge and non-spherical. Barn owl eyes are shaped more like vases, with a big, wide retina and a narrower, elongated lens. Owls’ eyes are also fixed within their heads.

Incidentally, this big deal about owls being able to turn their heads around arises purely because they look as if they have no necks, instead having rotating turrets like R2D2. But that’s just because their feathers cover the area. Other birds, whose necks you can see, are just as flexible. How often have you seen a duck napping with its head tucked into its back between the wings?


I didn’t know that. I thought owls did have a superior ability to turn their. heads. it seems nature shows have said this but maybe i remember wrong or they were wrong.
YEC would not conclude owls were created with great big eyes because there was no death before the fall and so no hunting. So big eyes would be convergent but not from selection on mutations.