A Willowbrook Story, Part 2, with Geraldo Rivera
The New International Version and the Tetragrammaton

Cabinets of Curiosities, Solomon, and the Bombardier Beetle

If you threw a party back in Bible times, there was one person you just had to invite: Solomon. He was absolutely essential. You only have to read what 1 Kings 4:33 says about him:

And he would speak about the trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that is coming forth on the wall; and he would speak about the beasts and about the flying creatures and about the moving things and about the fishes.

I mean, could this guy liven up things, or what? What more can you ask for at your party than someone who tells you all there is to know about warthogs?

Tempting though it may be to write Solomon off as a insufferable bore, upon inspection it is clear that most generations throughout history would consider his remarks fascinating. It’s only in the last hundred years or so that we’ve come to substitute football, horsepower, entertainment, and babes as talking points. Well, probably “babes” has always been around, but before our modern age of soft porn TV and hard porn internet, even they could hardly have been the obsession they are today. Just like Solomon, the average Joe of the nineteenth century figured you could do no better than rattle on about the trees and beasts and flying creatures and moving things and fishes.

There used to be a permanent exhibit at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, first floor, entitled Cabinets of Curiosities. Alas, it has been replaced with wiz-bang Jurassic Park dinosaurs. I mean, dinosaurs are okay, but who doesn’t have them? Cabinets, though much more modest in scale, offered unique insight. The exhibit was a vast collection of stuffed birds, insects, mammals, shells, minerals, plants, leaves, rocks, and so forth. Explaining it all was a sign:

“Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, Nature was seen as evidence of God’s work and people believed that studying it would bring them closer to the Creator. Darwin’s evolutionary theory, which replaced God’s role in creating species with natural selection, shook society to it’s foundations.”

So people collected these things….showed them off….studied them. They were part of the Book of Nature; they revealed things about God. Prominent scientists of the age: Newton and Kepler, Faraday and Hertz, thought of their work in much the same light. But people gradually adjusted to Darwinian thinking…..and little by little….natural things lost their appeal. One might as well collect hub caps.

So Solomon’s cherished topics of conversation and those of the nineteenth century are pretty much the same. It is we who can’t imagine what people could possibly find intriguing about “trees and beasts and flying creatures and fishes.“ Our times are the aberration, not those of Solomon.

Lately, though, the Awake! magazine has started talking up trees and beasts and flying creatures and moving things and fishes, highlighting one brief (too brief) example every issue. There’s more to these creatures than most people know.

For example, the bombardier beetle (December 2008) defends itself by spraying boiling, stinking liquid from its rear, sending spiders, birds and frogs running for cover. I mean, the liquid is actually boiling, it’s 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Built-in reactive chambers and release mechanism are potent enough to change speed, direction, and consistency of its toxic spray. Scientists try to learn from it, try to adapt it to various modern gadgets. “Andy McIntosh of the University of Leeds, England, says ‘Nobody had studied the beetle from a physics and engineering perspective as we did - and we didn’t appreciate how much we would learn from it.’”

The article concludes (as they always do) with “What do you think? Did (whatever the subject under consideration) develop by chance? Or was it designed?”

I can picture modern day devotees of reason and logic….the ones who idolize science as even scientists themselves do not….frothing livid at the question. You can‘t just ask that question point blank, they fume, first you must explain the ground rules concerning admissible evidence and the scientific method, otherwise people may come to conclusions you don’t want them to come to. But I see nothing wrong with the question. In fact, it seems foolish not to ask it.

The impetus behind the evolution model today applied to all living things is mutation, an “error” in replicating of this or that gene. The driver of the theory is natural selection. Errors, just like when you screw up something at home or in your workplace, are almost always bad. But every once in a while your bungling improves matters….we all know that can happen. And so it is with gene replication. There’s zillions of bad errors, and because they are bad they die out or get lost in the shuffle. But the one good error gives its recipient a leg up in the “fight for survival.“ Thus, natural selection sees to it that the good error is preserved for succeeding generations, while the bad ones disappear.

Now, nobody here has any problem applying this theory to the things Darwin observed in finches: changes of shape, color, beaks, feet, and so forth. Essentially it is animal husbandry. It’s been around forever. Everyone knows about it. But do you really, really expect us to believe that the same theory is enough to explain the bombardier beetle’s blasting butt? Just how many billions of these happy errors have to accumulate….each one nurtured by natural selection before being built upon….to equip the beetle this way?

The more successive coincidences you need, the more astronomical is the time required. If it takes you so long to flip a penny heads five times in a row, it will not take you twice as long to flip it so ten times in a row. Probability doesn’t work that way. The time required does not increase lineally, it increases geometrically. With enough needed permutations, you exceed the quantity of time supplied by even the boldest of physicists, for even time is not thought to be inexhaustible.

They are short articles, those Awake! snippets, thus frustrating those who confuse wisdom with tonnage. But Solomon would be pleased. You’d book him for after-dinner remarks and he’d regale one and all with tales of beetle flatulence.

Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News But Plenty of Hogwash

 

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Comments

Victrix

I really enjoy reading these articles. It really shows the wonderful design built into creation, stuff that evolutionists don't een touch upon.

I just ran across a news article tody that runs across the lines of this article. The discovery of new speices in what is called "Greater Mekong" a wilderness that encompasses Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China. Included in the new spieces discovered is a milipede that produces cyanide to protect itself, and a spider as big as a china plate:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/3761269/Spider-as-big-as-a-plate-among-scores-of-new-species-found-in-Greater-Mekong.html

Tom Sheepandgoats Harley

A china plate spider! That's good news for when they make the next installment of Indiana Jones.

Awake In Rochester

I'm crazy busy. I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas.

The roads are already bad. Please be careful driving if you go out. Stay home if you can. ;o)

Ragoth

Hey Tom, a few quick comments. I've noticed both your posts on my blog, and I will respond as soon as I am able. I'm at home at the moment and busy with a great deal of things that are a bit more important to me than the blog, so...I'll get back to you probably sometime after I get back to school.

First, I find it mildly ironic that you say that as Darwin's theory has taken hold, the interest in the natural world has waned. Now, for one, I think there are several major confounding variables here. First, there's a main effect of interest - how many people, even during those time periods, were seriously interested in studying nature in all of its complexity? You mention some quite illustrious scientists, but I'm willing to bet that back then, as now, unless you can present people with a practical application for your research, the majority of people just aren't interested (For example, Mr. Newton...what is the use of this "theory of gravity?" "Um...well...I can now accurately plot cannon trajectories, leading to greater victories?" "...Great Scott!" Or, as actually happened to Faraday, "This electricity is all very well, but of what use is it?" "I have no idea, sir, but I am sure you will find a way to tax it.") Likewise, before the Industrial age and the rise of modern agriculture, people HAD to pay attention to the land around them, and to the stars, and to all manner of events in the natural world. Some of this led down ridiculous paths (astrology, for example...), but people did have a good working knowledge of the natural cycles in the world and what plants are good to eat. Less industrially-developed cultures retain this, so, really, I think it's a symptom of living in a modern, urbanized, and industrialized society. We get much better disease resistance, we lose a lot of knowledge about the seasons and how to provide for ourselves, but we also don't have to spend the majority of our time working for our own survival...it's a complicated balance, and I can see how people would come down in favor for different points along that continuum.

Likewise, I find it ironic that you neglect to mention the field of say, biology, or astronomy, or physics, or all those other scientific endeavors after the rise of Darwin's theory who make it their life work to study, in detail, all the workings of the natural world. Part of the problem is all the "easy" problems have probably been solved...you know, all those really hard-to-work-out things like "the harder you shove something the faster it moves," i.e., F=ma, i.e., one of the principle laws of physics. At this point, with some rare exceptions, the big discoveries are not going to be made by "natural philosophers" (who, by the way, were the product of an increasingly industrialized and stratified society, which allowed them the luxury of free time to study plants and stars instead of merely living by them) sitting alone in their well-decorated studies and thinking. The discoveries of today are more likely made by teams of scientists working together, often internationally, on some quite non-obvious questions, like, what is the exact shape of space-time? What if all of observable matter is merely 4% of the universe? How can we vaccinate against the AIDS virus? Etc., etc...It's not at all that the natural world has lost its appeal for study, it's just that now people study it for its own sake, for its own beauty, and yes, for much more practical applications. (The biggest problem scientists have right now is getting grants for basic research, because the money-holders don't see any value in it...and most basic research at this point is so complicated it does take some funds to accomplish.)

Now, as for the bombardier beetle...They are quite lovely creatures, in a lot of ways. However, the term refers to about 500 species, with some quite different "explosive" mechanisms. Some species of the beetle can control some of the aspects that you list, most can't, and many don't actually produce a spray of liquid. In fact, distributed among these species, you can see the development of different applications and slight modifications of different organs which lead to radically different results. They are tiny (quite literally) changes that have a huge impact on development of each beetle species.

Now, the question that's presented at the end of each of these articles...I do have a problem with it, but it's not what you think. My problem is that it's a false dichotomy. I'd answer it quite readily as "neither," and you do a fair job of answering it the same way in the surrounding paragraphs...it's not entirely chance, there is an element of "design," but I would really have to question the notion of design that Awake! magazine, and I assume you as well, would argue for.

Let's take the short view of the differences in the various species of bombardier beetles. Nearly all of the beetles of the Carabidae family, of which the bombardier beetle tribes are a part, have little sacs in their carapace that store hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone (the main chemical reactants in the beetle's blast). Why do they have these? Well, hydrogen peroxide is a normal byproduct of metabolism in insects, and various quinones (including hydroquinone) are produced by all sorts of insects - they harden the cuticle of insects, and some, such as hydroquinone, have the added benefit of tasting very, very bad to many animals (it is also the chemical that makes stink bugs stink...the stink bug is also in an entirely different order than bombardier beetles, so, that should give you some sense of the wide range of these chemicals...they're quite common in insects in general and beetles in specific).

Now, interestingly, in the range of bombardier beetle species, you see lots of little variations on this basic Carabidae design. Some have larger storage sacs, some have smaller, some have separate sacs for different chemicals and reactants. Some have little muscles and valves for these sacs, some don't. Some have separate sacs that allow for the controlled, or semi-controlled, mixture of reactants, some don't. Some produce merely a bad-tasting foam, some produce an undirected spray, some produce a very hot spray, some produce a very hot spray that can be aimed. And all of this in a group of beetles that, for many, you'd actually have to sequence their DNA to tell them apart.

I think that bears repeating. The fundamental difference between these species is the difference in their DNA (I mean, that's basically by definition), and for many of them, the differences are vanishingly small. But, differences in genetic sequences can have a huge impact on development.

And not all mutations have to be actually "beneficial" to be accumulated (a better question might actually be "beneficial for whom?" Dawkins' "Selfish Gene" insight was that as long as it does not significantly reduce the fitness of the host, genes are the actual point of selection for evolution - whole genetic sequences can accumulate whose only function is to replicate themselves. And we do find this, along with regions which serve regulatory functions (they regulate the rate of use of coding sections, but do not code themselves)).

Lastly, I think the problem with your probability analogy is assuming there is a model you are working towards. Indeed, if we were to take a box of nucleotides and begin placing them at random, trying to replicate the DNA of a bombardier beetle, the chances of getting that first nucleotide in the correct place are astronomically low. But, consider also - what if we took a crystal. You know, simple, garden-variety crystal. These are some of the most ordered, structured, and "perfect" objects that we know about. If I handed you a box of atoms, and told you this represented the crystal, and asked you to begin placing them at random, we could wait the age of the universe before you got probably even the first one in the right place. The actual configuration of atoms, no matter what it is, is incredibly improbably because the possible space (i.e., all possible configurations) is nigh infinite. However, we do not concede that crystals are impossible, or even improbable. Part of this is because the atoms "must" have a configuration. That it is this one specific one is improbable, but, ultimately, they must fall into some configuration, governed by the laws of physics and chemistry. Likewise, we know some of the laws governing the mutation, replication, and survival of DNA, and we're learning more all the time. At this point, the picture is clear enough, and the theory works well enough, and has survived every attempt to disprove it so far, for anyone working in the field...actually trying to figure stuff out...accepts it for now. If anyone had compelling evidence otherwise, it'd definitely be worth a Nobel Prize or two. Of course, it'd also mean that whatever "designer" is floating out there was purposefully designing new diseases all the time and producing organisms that are bound to failure due to changes in the environment. You can take your pick there with the moral issues, but, for me, I'm still going with what evidence is available to us, and evaluating it as critically as possible. Do we have an iron-clad description of the evolution of all the bombardier beetle species, with fossils or surviving remnants of each and every ancestor and DNA sequences of each to mark each mutation? No, but we don't require of historians that they have a detailed second-by-second account of everything that has ever happened to anyone anywhere or the whole field is biased and prejudiced and bound to fail.

And I'm sorry if part of that is fairly incoherent, it's late and I've been distracted and probably rambling too much.

Well wishes for the New Year,
-Ragoth

Ed Hughes

Tom, of Sheep and Goats,

If more folks nearly two thousand or so years ago would have paid more attention to what Solomon was saying about the trees, animals, flying things and fishes we would probably be a whole lot better off today. The forests of the world are still being clear cut and they produce part of the oxygen we as humans need in order to live. It is truly in our best interest to see to it that the tree and all species of animal, fish, bird, and plant are preserved for all time. We are intertwined with all the things of nature and I feel it is our duty to protect them.

Ragoth did not sound very incoherent to me and he did express some points very clearly from a scientific point of view, I believe everything he stated, he sounds credible to me.

I must disagree a little when you say “It is we who can’t imagine what people could possibly find intriguing about “trees and beasts and flying creatures and fishes.“ Our times are the aberration, not those of Solomon.” There are still many of us that spend time studying and caring for the creatures and other things of nature.

Respectfully,
WMM

tom sheepandgoats

There are indeed. I tend to like those people.

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