Praise for Genius Reptiles

The Journal of Experimental Biology has a short summary of a technical paper (PDF file) on the way a limbless reptile, the amphisbaenian, is able to burrow so effectively in the ground. This rarely studied Brazilian creature is able to dig extensive tunnels using only its head, a feat that is quite difficult to explain.

In the study of these thin creatures (3 cm or less in diameter), it was found that their heads could produce large forces, enough to life over 2 kilograms of mass (over 4 pounds), allowing them to compress earth upwards to create a tunnel as they advance. The scientists assumed that they must be using powerful anaerobic muscles rather than weaker aerobic muscle tissue, but then it would be difficult to explain how they can continue digging for so long. Upon dissecting some of the creatures, they found that there were several times of aerobic muscle fibers but no anaerobic fibers that participated in digging. That explained the stamina, but the mystery then became how these creatures could exert such remarkable forces with aerobic muscles:

Navas and his team began investigating the muscle’s structure, and found that the amphisbaenian’s muscle fibres were incredibly long, angled at up to 35°, and curved around the reptile’s body, increasing the muscle’s effective cross sectional area and power output. Amphisbaenians have found a way of increasing aerobic muscle’s force production while maintaining stamina to keep the slender reptile burrowing for hours.

Amphisbaenians found the solution? Just a minor nit to pick here, but why is it that when a genius-level solution to a problem is found in nature, there is often praise for the creature (so bright, these limbless critters), and praise for the scientists who figure out what the solution is, but little praise for Anybody Else?

Note of Anticipation: Hey, I’m not saying that scientific articles need to introduce religion themes. I actually have no trouble with the scientific article itself, which doesn’t praise the amphisbaenian’s for finding anything, and while maintaining the accepted evolutionary viewpoint, does use the responsible word “designed”:

In conclusion, to build underground galleries, the digging muscles of Leposternon microcephalum must be designed to produce forceful, powerful and repeated contractions of the head.

That’s fine. Let the reader decide who gets congratulated for the brilliant design. Praise the critters, praise Darwin, praise the authors, or praise the Designer who may have lent a helping hand to some limbless diggers somewhere along the way. Your call.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

8 thoughts on “Praise for Genius Reptiles

  1. Amazing little animals, definitely And you’re right, the Guy who thought that up must be pretty amazing too.

  2. Yes, this topic (ascribing design or evolutionary actions or rather “decisions” to the creatures themselves instead of the creator) has always bothered me. PBS science shows have done this for decades, as long as I can remember.

  3. I know it was just a nit-pick, but I don’t think the author was speaking of any particular animal. Rather, he was speaking of the species as a whole which represents a particular niche in design space which was arrived at by way of a Darwinian process of searching. He is simply commenting on the ingenuity of that particular design niche, or solution to the problem.

    Of course, I doubt Jeff will see this comment as directly contradicting anything he says in his post.

  4. Jeff G:
    I think you’re right in that the author was talking about the species as a whole.

    But the point still stands, one that has also irritated me every time I hear it…

    “The (insert species here) evolved a (insert feature here) in order to (insert benefit here.)”

    Even a species as a whole does not posess the intelligence or decision-making capability, or the ability to design itself.

    Even though the phraseology may be intended as a short-cut for a “Darwinian process of searching”, it assumes as a given something that is only a theory, and creates the wrong impressions in those unfamilar with scientific method and evolution. I’m amazed at how many people think the evolution of one species into another more complex species is a fact.

    Of course a species can vary and can mutate, and beneficial variations and mutations have a tendency to become predominant. As I understand things, I think that is well established among both evolutionists and creationists.

    But the whole “in order to” phraseology implies something that is not there, neither in the individual animal, or in a collective species, nor in the whole process put forth as described by evolutionary theory.

    In my opinion, the “in order to” phraseology is a cheat in the bigger picture to help perpetuate the unproven notion that one species can evolve into a higher species, or that two very different species evolved from a common ancestor.

    I look forward to the day(s) when “all mysteries will be revealed” and the full history of the earth, perhaps even a pre-Genesis history, and all its living inhabitants will be made known by the Designer.

    Personally, I don’t think the Designer started with raw atoms or even raw molecules at the point of Genesis 1:1.

    “In the beginning” may refer merely to our beginning, or our turn on this ball of mud, since in the eternities, there is no absolute beginning.

    I have a suspicion that this ball of mud served other purposes prior to Genesis 1:1 (or Abraham 3:24). I think it could be possible that the fossil record was laid down when this planet served as a platform for many worlds prior to ours.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if the various pre-historic eras, separated by planetary cataclysms, were the gods, or the sons of God, practicing and preparing for a future creation that would be their crowning achievement?

    I think it possible that the earth has been “recycled” by the Designer/Creator, and probaby more than once. Joseph Smith even hinted at this, though he did not state it explicitly. (Though he was firm that God did not create things “ex nihilo”.

    So yes, the fossil record may indeed be millions of years old, but in my hypothetical, that would still not rule out the Genesis story, or Adam and Eve living in approximately 4000 BC.

    I think we’ll all (both evolutionists and creationists) be sorely amazed at how much truth is in the other party’s theories.

  5. Bookslinger,

    You mention a very interesting debate within the evolutionist camp regarding adaptationism. While it might be argued that the adaptationism implied by such language is misguided, I fail to see how either side of the debate amounts to anything in favor of creationism.

    I might also point out that your use of the term “unproven” is just as misleading, if not more so, than the author’s language. Science confirms and disconfirms, it does not prove or disprove. As for Genesis as literal history, that has been about as disconfirmed as we can ever hope any theory to be. But so what, right? The whole idea that evolution is anti-religious in any way is complete hokum.

    As for waiting until all things are revealed, who says today is not that day? What makes biology so special that we get to wait until the “real” answers come out when we gladly accept the answers science gives us in every other realm?

  6. And, didn’t one of the prophets–John Taylor comes to mind, but I don’t think it was him–I could look it up) say that it is the light of Christ which is called ‘instinct’ in animals. I love that it is the light of Christ which guides hummingbirds across the Gulf of Mexico to South America, that encourages the squirrels to stack away acorns and pine nuts for the winter, that lures the bear into his winter cave, etc.

    Truly awesome!

  7. Jeff G: thanks for pointing out “confirm” and “disconfirm”. But that supports the use of the word “unproven”.

    I also think it needful to separate out the adaptation parts of evolution from other parts concerning one species evolving into another more complex species.

    My reading leads me to believe that the average person-on-the-street thinks that the universe came into existance via the “Big Bang” (again, just a theory), and that the myriad species of life on this planet evolved from some kind of primordial soup.

    Even many who believe in God as the Creator try to shoehorn things together such as “Maybe God used a Big Bang and evolution to create man.”

    We just don’t know the details.

    Joseph Smith really threw a monkey wrench into religious Creationism by putting forth the idea of endless generations of gods, each with untold numbers of spirit children who also have the ability to become gods and creators.

    I ask “How is the universe divvied up between such beings?” Does each godhead get a galaxy? Does each get their own universe in a bigger overall “multi-verse”? (ala Stephen Hawking)

    I guess the bottom line is that science and faith do not disprove each other. I was reminded of this when meeting some scientists at a recent visit to a Hindu temple.

    Those who would insult Christians for their faith in a Creator, are also insulting intelligent and faithful members of all religions.

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