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Who Designed Woodpeckers?

Posted by Mats on 17/12/2008

Answers to my Evolutionist Friends
Who Designed Woodpeckers?
by Thomas F. Heinze

Dr. Luther Sunderland, a scientist who is an expert in design engineering, was fascinated by the skeleton of a woodpecker that he found which had recently died out in the woods. Its bones had been perfectly cleaned off by insects. As he examined the skeleton, he noticed a very strange thing: Small flexible bones exited from the woodpecker’s right nostril, circled around behind its head and neck, and went into its beak on the other side of its head. What were these strange bones? Quite a number of animals have bones that that stiffen the base of the tongue, and this is essentially the purpose of these bones in the woodpecker’s tongue (called hyoid bones). In the woodpecker, however, the fact that the tongue starts out backward and circles around behind the head is exceptional!
    The Woodpecker’s Tongue

The woodpecker catches its food with its tongue which has barbs and a bit of glue on the end, so it can pick up grubs hiding in their little tunnels inside a tree. Circling around behind the head and neck under the loose skin gives the tongue enough extra length so it can shoot out about six inches into Mr. grub’s burrow inside a tree trunk!

Something or somebody gave the woodpecker’s tongue a unique design. It is long, but instead of dangling down and getting tangled around branches when it flies, the slack is kept under the loose skin behind its neck. Back there, the tiny bones divide into essentially two tongues, coming back together before entering the beak. This design detail no doubt gives greater accuracy as the woodpecker guides its tongue toward a target grub.

A woodpecker’s skull (to the right)
showing the bones of the tongue
There are five bones, thin and flexible with tiny joints.1 What made them exit through the right nostril and attach their sheath there, 2 circle behind the head and neck 3, and come back into the hollow between the two halves of the beak? 4


According to the theory of evolution, every step up from a single cell has been caused by gradually accumulating small changes which have come about through errors in copying the information that directs the construction of living things. These errors, called mutations, are claimed by evolutionists to have come about by accident, that is, with no intelligent direction by God. Errors in copying information don’t make better instructions for making more complex beings. That is why technicians who work with X-rays protect themselves with lead shields or aprons.

Evolutionists, however, have faith that mutations have gradually made biologists out of bacteria, or Adam from an amoeba. They believe that over millions of years, natural selection has selected the organisms with mutations that add a little to the creature’s ability to survive and leave offspring, while those with harmful mutations die. The reason they believe these changes take lots of time is that most mutations represent chance changes in the commands to make proteins which are the main ingredients of cells. The tiny proteins are long strings of even smaller amino acids. Almost all mutations are harmful, so the organisms which survive are generally those with mutations that just change one amino acid in one protein.

Since even a simple organ like a tongue is made up of many many proteins, nerve cells, blood vessels, etc. which must be quite perfectly coordinated, it is very difficult to imagine changes of one amino acid in one protein bringing any organ into existence. Why not claim that a big cluster of mutations affected the bone, muscle, nerves, etc. all at once? Because almost all mutations are harmful. If you got a cluster of a thousand mutations, and one of them was helpful, hundreds of them would cause genetic diseases, that would wipe out the organism. In insisting that God did nothing, and that accidental mutations have produced everything, evolutionists have painted themselves into a corner, with no decent way to account for the origin of any complex organ.

Evolutionists surmise that the woodpecker must have evolved from some other bird with a normal tongue that went straight out of the beak. The mutation scenario, however, could never have evolved a normal bird’s tongue into woodpecker’s tongue. Why? After a normal bird’s tongue had turned around and started growing under the skin toward the back of its head, the tongue would have been completely useless until it had completed the entire circle. Only the last step in the evolution of the woodpecker’s tongue, when it came back out of the front of the beak again would have had survival value.

After a tongue came out through the nostril and headed backwards behind the head it would have given the bird a great survival disadvantage until the moment the tongue and its bones had grown long enough to go all the way around the neck, back into the base of its beak, and extend far enough out the end to reach food. Since this involved bone, joints, blood vessels, and nerves as well as flesh, it would have required many mutations, presumably spread out over millions of years. Its tongue could not help it catch any food at all for the millions of years that it would take to complete the circle around the back of the head, by changing one amino acid in one protein at a time. Loosing the tongue’s contribution to gathering food would have put the woodpecker at a great disadvantage compared to normal birds in the struggle to survive. Adding two joints and an inch in length, for example, would have added no survival advantage at all as long as it was growing in the wrong direction. Therefore, this kind of mutations would never have been preserved.

The woodpecker’s tongue must have come all at once, a product of complex design. This would have required an intelligent creator. If the woodpecker’s tongue were not designed, but had formed by chance mutations, only the first mutations which moved its tongue into its right nostril and pointed it backward could have happened. After that it would have starved to death.

Evolutionists tell us that an organ which goes unused for generation after generation will be eliminated, even if the animals continue to live. If, by some miracle, the woodpeckers themselves had not been eliminated, a tongue which had been useless for many generations, would itself have been eliminated. The woodpecker’s tongue gives strong evidence of being the product of intelligent design and creation, rather than of evolution. Some evolutionists have realized this, and have thought up another story of how it might have evolved. When I was first told about it in an email, it seemed such an impossible suggestion that I was sure that I had not understood, so I kept on asking until it was absolutely clear that it really was what he was saying.

This evolutionary speculation claims that the woodpecker’s tongue evolved from that of a normal bird: rooted back in its throat and extending straight out through the beak like that of other birds. Then, not the point end of the tongue, but the root end little by little uprooted itself from its normal attachment in the back of the throat, gradually rerooting itself step by tiny step out through the back of the opening of the bill, and taking root ever farther around the back of the head. In this way, according to the story, each little movement was favored by natural selection because the tongues length increased, and the longer the tongue was, the farther it could stretch out into the passageways the grubs had dug in the tree trunks. This would, of course requited two completely different types of mutations which were more or less perfectly coordinated: The mutations which moved the root around the head, would have to have been coordinated with those which increased the length of the tongue. Otherwise, as the tongue moved farther back, less and less of the tongue would have even reached the end of the beak, much less extended out of it. This would have given a survival disadvantage. The fact that more or less coordinated mutations would have been necessary makes this whole story much less likely.

However, when I had gotten used to this strange scenario, I could see how it might sound possible to an evolutionist who had so much faith in the theory of evolution that he had to believe that everything had come into being by natural selection acting on accidental mutations. After all, if a tongue did extend farther and farther out of the beak, it really could reach farther into the grub’s burrow, and the more grubs it could catch, the more offspring it could bring to maturity.

Then it hit me! This theory neglects to mention that for the first inch or so the tongues root had to move in the wrong direction! Evolutionists state that the woodpecker’s tongue started out rooted back in the throat, just like other birds because they claim that it evolved from some ordinary bird. The only way the tongue’s root could get to where it could exit from the side of the beak was to move foreword from its spot in the back of the throat. Its first inch or so was moving foreword, not backward! Since, in the scenario they have made up, moving the tongues root backward increases its probability of being chosen by natural selection, then moving forward from back in the throat up to the point at which it could exit through the opening of the back part of the beak would decrease its chance of being chosen.

If, on the other hand, moving forward put more of the tongue out of the beak and increased its chance of survival, then moving backward would have decreased its chance of survival. The evidence free argument that the woodpecker’s tongue became what it is today by migrating root first around the head is self contradictory and logically unsound.

It gets worse. After working its way around the neck according to this theory the root jammed itself back into the bill through the nostril. Why would it do that? If lengthening the tongue increased the bird’s chance of survival, the birds with tongues which continued to lengthen by moving under the skin down to the bird’s tummy, tail, or foot, would have been chosen by natural selection. The birds whose tongue evolution stopped half way and jammed the root back into the bill through the nostril would have been eliminated.

Both the forward and the backward evolutionary scenario lead to absurdities and to elimination by natural selection. The woodpecker’s tongue gives strong evidence of design.

    Other Systems

The woodpecker’s bill works like a specialized chisel, capable of slicing right into a tree. By hammering on a steel chisel, men can cut into trees like the woodpecker does with his bill. However, as we chisel, our steel blade becomes dull. After we chisel a certain number of holes, we must sharpen our chisels. Otherwise they get more and more dull until they are unusable. God made woodpecker beaks self sharpening. If it were a simple thing that could happen by small accidental changes, some blacksmith, or metallurgical scientist would have figured out how to make self sharpening steel chisels.

If a man were trying to catch grubs like a woodpecker, no matter how sharp he kept his chisel, he would not know which direction to go to connect with the tunnels which have grubs in them. Until the woodpecker had obtained the complex mechanism for locating and hitting a tiny grub inside a tiny tunnel inside a great big tree, its specialized tongue would have been of no value. Neither would the bug location mechanism been of any value without a tongue long enough to reach the grub. In fact, neither the long tongue nor the location mechanism would have been of any use if the tongue were not equipped to stick to or into the grub to bring it back out of the hole. If any of the three had evolved much before the others it would have been of no use, and would not have been selected.

If all of the above systems came into place in an ordinary bird, the impact with the tree would kill it; something like taking driving a steel chisel into a tree with the end of your nose. Had it survived the first blow, it would probably have quit trying. The woodpecker, however, not only comes equipped with a strong self sharpening beak and a grub detector, but also a marvelous shock absorbing system that protects its head from damage. The first woodpecker to evolve the equipment for drilling holes in trees would have quit pounding or died young if the shock absorbers were not already in place.

In addition, compared to other birds: “The tail feathers (especially the central one or two pairs) are stronger in woodpeckers, resisting the wear caused by their use in propping up the bird’s body as it hammers with the bill. The toe structure and associated arrangement of tendons and leg muscles form a functional complex of features enabling the woodpecker to climb tree trunks and to maintain its position while pecking the tree.” (Encyclopedia Britannica CD 98, “Birds: Major Bird Orders: Piciformes, Form and Function”). What good would the stiff tail feathers, the specialized toe structure, the grub detector and the grub puller have been even with the wrap around tongue and the shock absorber if after drilling a few holes the beak had gotten dull and wouldn’t cut any more? When a number of systems must be in place all at once before a thing will work, it is called irreducible complexity and it is an evidence of intelligent design.


According to evolutionary theory, any system without a function will be eliminated by natural selection. If one of the woodpecker’s systems evolved much before the other systems that had to be there for it to function, it would have been eliminated. The evidence is strongly against the woodpecker’s special systems having been developed by chance mutations because a number of different systems had to work together. The fact that they are all present and functioning indicates that these various systems were designed and created to work together.

Since the evidence indicates that woodpeckers could not have been developed by random mutations, why should mutations be considered the universal builders of every part of every living being as most evolutionists insist? It is OK to believe that things were caused by mutations when there is good evidence leads to this conclusion. Most genetic diseases are examples. A slight change in the order of the amino acids in a protein will often change a functioning protein into a disease. But let the evidence be a guide also in cases such as that of the woodpecker where the evidence so strongly indicates intelligent design. Why jump to the conclusion that if mutations cause diabetes, they must also have formed the pancreas, the liver, the fish, the monkey and us? If you see someone knocking down a building with a crane equipped with a wrecking ball, you don’t assume that all of the world’s buildings were constructed by cranes with wrecking balls.

Unfortunately, for many the evolutionary faith is a part of a total religious structure into which everything must be jammed whether it fits or not.

Dr. Sunderland, the owner of the skull in the picture, writes, “The woodpecker’s skull has been more effective in convincing scientists of the inadequacies of the evolution theory than perhaps any book in the author’s library. Other birds have hyoid bones also, but it would seem obvious that some sort of miracle would be needed to get them rooted in the right nostril. One prominent evolutionist on the staff of a prestigious scientific magazine confided after examining it ‘There are certain anatomical features which just cannot be explained by gradual mutations over millions of years. Just between you and me, I have to get God into the act too sometimes.'”

Another scientist, while examining the woodpecker’s tongue bones under a microscope commented, “It is very easy to tell the difference between man-made and God-made objects. The more you magnify man-made objects, the cruder they look, but the more you magnify God-made objects, the more precise and intricate they appear.” (Luther D. Sunderland, Creation Research Society Quarterly, vol. 12, March 1976, p. 183)

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