Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguins swimmingEmperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) are the largest, and perhaps most famous, species of penguin. Thomas’ latest article is called Scientists Discover Secret to Fast Swimming Penguins. The article is fairly long, but the important parts are quite brief – which is good, because I have a Turtledove novel to read and I already wrote something today.

The executive summary is that the “secret” consists of air bubbles used as lubricant. Thomas points us to a 2011 paper on the subject, along with a somewhat more recent National Geographic article. He adds:

The study authors admitted that without a “control” penguin that does not release air bubbles, they cannot scientifically prove the hypothesis that emperor penguins, and by extension other penguins with similar capabilities, use tiny air bubbles to accelerate underwater. However, they found plenty of evidence to favor the idea.

This appears to come from the following in the paper:

How much does air lubrication enhance speed in fast ascents? This question cannot be answered with precision from our observations since all penguins produced bubble clouds when ascending (i.e. none was without the air lubrication, so there were no ‘controls’).

Or, more likely:

The lack of ‘controls’ for the observed bubbly wake ascents means that our air-lubrication hypothesis for attainment of maximal emperor penguin speeds can only be considered as highly viable at this stage.

Thomas’ mention of this is likely a tacit nod to the creationist dichotomy of “observational” vs “experimental” science. But B.T. isn’t about to throw out the findings because of this – something he would be more than likely to do if he perceived them a threat to creationism – and instead he builds upon this “unique and remarkable design” to try to show that penguin swimming is irreducibly complex. He says:

How do the penguins manage their air jackets? They must first have the instinctive know-how for preening. They also require a streamlined body formed to permit their beaks to reach plenty of body feathers when preening. Plus, “Penguin plumage is unlike that of other birds.” Their feathers are spread uniformly over their whole body in a tiny mesh of fine strands. They look like they were intentionally designed to trap air. Penguins also need to manufacture the proper oil to condition and waterproof those feathers.

And “emperor penguins need to have considerable control over their plumage.” With muscles attached to each feather, it is reasonable to believe that penguins have just such feather control. The interconnected parts all fit, and all are required.

You can imagine, I hope, a semi-aquatic bird evolving all of these features even one-by-one, becoming better at swimming at each step – Brian apparently cannot. It is a good thing that Thomas never explicitly makes the “irreducibly complex” claim, because it sure isn’t true.

He concludes:

Hughes and his co-authors could empirically test their idea by building model penguins, but “this would be a technically difficult task as the complexity of penguin plumage would be difficult to replicate in a man-made porous membrane or mesh.” And what is technically difficult for intelligent man to construct is utterly impossible for mere natural forces. But it is no problem for the Lord Jesus Christ, for “by him all things consist”— even penguin feathers.

Artist's rendering of a QuasarIn the farthest reaches of the cosmos – generally considered to mean that they existed a long time ago, but as we saw yesterday Thomas disagrees with such patent evolutionary nonsense – there are strange galaxies known as quasars. These galaxies are special because they contain an active black hole, and the magnetic fields that surround it are blasting out huge quantities of light, often in a long jet. Needless to say, calling the construction of such an object with present human technology “technically difficult” would be an understatement taken to the extreme. But it’s formation and operation via “mere natural forces” is perfectly feasible and is indeed what happens (unless something really weird is going on). Mr Thomas’ claim that “what is technically difficult for intelligent man to construct is utterly impossible for mere natural forces” is a complete non sequitur.

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