Snakes unexplained

In theory, science exists in order to provide rational explanations based on observable physical phenomenon.  But what do you do when the scientific explanations themselves don’t seem entirely rational?

I was doing a bit of research on snakes (not a bad idea if you’re thinking of tramping through the woods, even in suburbia) and came across a few facts that I hadn’t realized.  First is the fact that scientists believe that snakes descended from lizards–that is, lizards came first; then some of them lost their legs and became snakes.  In fact some snakes even have pelvises.

The idea is striking, not least because of the parallel to the Garden of Eden story in Genesis 3.  But it would be interesting to know how scientists reached this conclusion.  After all, if animals are becoming more complex and specialized (as evolution claims), wouldn’t it be just as logical to conclude that the more specialized lizards evolved from snakes?  Surely crawling is a more progressive transportation mode than slithering.

Scientists claim the first snakes were burrowing snakes, so getting rid of the legs was an adaptation to that environment.  I’m still not sure how that would improve matters.  Granted, earthworms don’t have legs, and they do quite well; but then they don’t have a spine for legs to attach to, so legs wouldn’t be much good.  In any case, by this logic it seems like we should expect to see legless moles and prairie dogs; or else we should expect the non-burrowing snakes to start growing legs again.

Item number two comes from the world of taxonomy, the study of labeling animals (and plants and protozoa) according to, supposedly, their evolutionary relationship to other animals (or plants, or protozoa, etc.).  The system originated with Carolus Linnaeus, whose groupings were made on the basis of physical similarities rather than evolutionary theory.

The Loxocemidae family of snakes was created to provide a taxonomical home for the Mexican python, which resembles other pythons in several respects.  Why not just group it with the other pythons?  Because pythons aren’t found naturally in the western hemisphere; therefore the Mexican pythons can’t really be related to the rest of the pythons.

Even if you accept evolution, this seems premature.  First, what evidence do we have to indicate that there wasn’t some common ancestor to both sets?  Second, if similar species can evolve separately in multiple locations (which seems to be what they’re saying with this classification), doesn’t this cast doubt on the whole common-ancestor game–not just for humans, but for life in general?

With logic like this, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that “natural selection” these days refers not so much to the question of which species will survive to produce offspring, but rather to the problem of selecting which facts best support evolutionary theory and suppressing the ones that don’t.   No wonder we’re discovering thousands of new species around every corner.  Linneus must be spinning in his grave.

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