Evolution and the Soviet Bureaucrat

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night worrying that there may be a big hole in evolutionary theory. I don’t mean that the Christians were right, but that evolutionists may have overlooked something big. Here’s the problem. Ever since I was a child I have loved looking at brightly coloured fish, frogs, salamanders and insects. As an adult, I am similarly fascinated by brightly coloured marine invertebrates and the bizarre world of fluorescent deep sea creatures. I ask evolutionists how does evolution works to create such beauty? I ask why are deep sea creatures so elaborately shaped? Why do deep sea creatures fluoresce? There seems to be no practical purpose for the riot of invention and artistic ingenuity. I would have expected such a mindless, non-planning process, (as evolution is advertised) totally obsessed with survival, to produce grim featureless creatures, the sort you might have expected to arise from the imagination of a Soviet bureaucrat.

The evolutionist give two answers:

  1. Sexual selection. The colours, patterns and elaborate shapes appeal to potential partners.
  2. The colours warn potential predators of defensive weapons. They warn off predators.

My main objection to sexual selection as the explanation is that species which do no sexual selection are often also brightly coloured. Consider the corals. My other objection is, the theory of sexual selection does no prediction. It is an after-the-fact rationalisation. It does not help me figure out why one species would embark on some particular bizarre competition in a body part and other species do not. Insects have gone madly off in all directions. Is there any pattern about which unique direction of sexual beauty each species heads off? The theory does not tell me under what conditions which body part will become sexualised. (Then again, maybe it does and I have simply not been exposed to it in the popular press.)

The use of bright colours can work, even when the wearer has no defensive weapons. The bluff works even better if there is exists a similar-looking species that is poisonous or foul-tasting. With bright colours being so ubiquitous, I would think the bluff would no longer work. I would expect they would become a net disadvantage, making it easier for predators to detect the prey species.

Are there any other explanations? Why do you find the standard answers satisfying?

~ Roedy (1948-02-04 age:70)