Wet Wrinkled Fingers and Teleodarwinism


Just how far teleodarwinists will go in creating seemingly logical reasons for every human characteristic is illustrated by the recent buzz, both on PBS’ Science Friday and in the pages of the New York Times, about wrinkled fingers.  As anyone who has soaked in a tub has observed, when our fingers have been immersed in water for some time, they get all wrinkly.  Well, some English scientists recently conducted experiments that purportedly show that wrinkly fingers get a better grip on wet objects (marbles) than dry fingers do.  On this basis, Dr. Tom Smulders and colleagues opine that wrinkly fingers “may have evolved to give early humans an advantage in wet conditions.”  And since our toes also get wrinkled when soaked, he says that “’The actual origin of this may have been to help us move on all fours.’” 

Notice that all Dr. Smulders et al have to go on is a lab experiment in which some of the participants soaked their hands in warm water “for quite a long time,” as the Science Friday host put it, and then competed with dry-fingered participants to see how quickly they could transfer marbles from one container to another; the wrinkly-fingered won.  On this basis, he hazards selective advantages, not for humans today, but for hundreds of thousands of years ago, if not millions (going back to some supposed ancestor who routinely moved on all fours?). 

A selective advantage means that those few individuals who first exhibited this trait, as the result of a mutation of some kind, must have had a considerable survival advantage over their more numerous relatives who did not have the mutation.  But a new trait or feature has to be advantageous in an environment where it makes a difference.  So the question is, was wrinkled-when-wet sufficiently advantageous under natural, not laboratory, conditions, way back when it first appeared, to warrant being selectively favored?  Did those ancestors live in a sufficiently wet environment to make it likely that sticky wrinkled-when-wet fingers would prove to be useful?  If there is no evidence of human evolution in such an environment, then this experiment provides us with no explanation of the phenomenon.  We can go further and say that the musings of the good professor are mere fantasies, without any basis other than a habit of wishful thinking among teleodarwinists who believe that evolution is logical, and worse, that it is designed.  Look again at the wording:  “evolved to give,” “to help us move,” and “for what purpose.”  Purpose!  The reason something is done; intention.  Unless teleodarwinists are positing a god or an intelligent designer or panpsychism or pantheism or some other form of intentionality to the universe, there is no purpose.  Wrinkly fingers may have no selective advantage at all.  There must, in the living world, be room for non-purposive, non-selective traits, to explain the immense variability of organisms.  Iron-clad selectivism (teleodarwinism) is a strait-jacket.  It is also nonsense.

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