Biology and the Watchtower Society
by Alan Feuerbacher
| The Design
Adaption and Evolution
Animals at Peace
The Design of Life
The argument is often made that the design of life requires a Designer. The Societys articles on this subject in the October 8, 1982 Awake! do a nice job of explaining the idea. One point of the article is that Genesis 1:29, 30 shows vegetation was the only food of man and animals at the time of mans creation. The scripture says:
When the design argument is considered, we are compelled to conclude that some animals have always eaten meat. (Does a tiger seem designed to graze on grass?) This in turn means either the Awake! articles interpretation of Genesis is wrong or the scripture itself is wrong.
Awake! answered this point in a reply to a letter from a reader in the January 8, 1983 issue, which reply said with reference to Genesis 1:29, 30:
Let us now assume that the design-equals-a-Designer argument stands unrefuted 18 and examine some of its consequences.
But this reply skirts the readers question. It says existing features were put to a different use.... but neither the reply nor the October 8th articles mention how that could possibly be done with poison or any other ingenious instruments. Twice the reply mentions we believe.... That belief is, of course, based on the Bible, but as no proof is offered, or even evidence, it must remain merely a belief. Finally the reply says we will have to wait and see.... But the October 8th articles were written mainly to convince non-believers of the Bibles truth, whereas the reply relies on the Bible itself and the Societys belief in it as the ultimate authorities. This is like saying the Bible is true because it says it is true and we believe it hardly an argument to convince a non-believer. The articles could not have been written to convince believers, as they are already convinced.
Lets pursue further the idea that existing features were put to a different use. The articles point out several examples of things designed for good that could be used for bad: a kitchen knife that can be used for cutting vegetables or killing people, a jet aircraft that transports people or bombs, the human hand that can hold a baby or strangle one. But the articles avoid mentioning anything that was specifically designed for killing, such as a sword, or a jet fighter complete with machine guns, guided missiles and bombs. There are things that have been designed for killing and only for killing; they have not been adapted from some other use. By not mentioning them, the articles give the impression no such things originally existed in the animal kingdom, and they also imply this by stating animals were not designed to hurt, maim, or kill each other. Finally the articles give up trying to explain these points by saying that in some vague, unspecified manner, 20 as man turned toward lawlessness, the earthly creation, too, became chaotic. Man lost his loving dominion over the animals. Since humans could not control themselves peacefully, it is no surprise that the animals are in the same condition.... The animals.... began to live off one another.
How did all these things happen? What connection is there between mans turning to lawlessness and a lions turning to eating gazelle? Or to a snakes eating rodents instead of fruit? Or to a spiders eating insects? What could possibly cause a sperm whale, which has no obvious connection with the goings on of the land, to begin eating giant squid instead of giant kelp? What specifically caused the animals to begin to live off one another? What specifically is the connection between men not being able to control themselves peacefully and the same condition in animals? How could animals have adapted themselves to eating flesh? Let the Society answer these questions, and not try to hide behind broad generalities.
There are countless cases where animals were designed to kill, or just as important, to defend themselves from being killed. Consider poisonous snakes. Their poisons are either highly effective nerve toxins or muscle relaxants. They have complete physical systems to deliver the poison, including specialized poison glands, fangs, body muscles and nervous systems. Vipers have heat sensitive organs to detect their warm-blooded prey. Snakes have the temperament stealth and patience to use their weapons effectively to capture prey. Of what use are nerve toxins or stealth or heat detection in capturing a banana? Threaten a poisonous snake, and with what will he threaten you back? His fangs. He instinctively knows how to use them. Snakes have been genetically programmed and designed to capture prey. They have not turned their eating equipment from vegetation to animals the equipment was superbly configured to eat animals to begin with. There is no conceivable use to which nerve toxins, muscle relaxants, fangs, the instinctive ability of constrictor snakes to suffocate prey, or any of the above mechanisms, could be put in consuming vegetation.
How about spiders? There are probably no more efficient predators in existence. Many are poisonous and many build webs. All eat other animals; none eat vegetation. An article in Technology Review, in discussing the application of natural toxins to medical treatment, mentioned how spider poison works:
How did these toxins come to be except by Gods creating them? Why do spiders, and snakes, possess such efficient nerve toxins? Do they need them to paralyze seeds or fruit? Do they build webs to catch seeds blowing in the wind? Throw a seed into a spiders web and youll see. Hell ignore it. But throw in an ant, and see how quickly he dispatches it. Web building spiders respond only to disturbances of their web that appear to be from a struggling creature. And spiders dont eat just insects some tropical varieties are big enough to regularly prey on small birds and bats. From what uses could spiders have turned webs and poison to catching other animals? Could spiders have genetically reprogrammed themselves to eat other animals? Why are all spiders predators? The exquisite design of spiders as predators could no more have come about by their changing themselves than it could have come about by evolution.
The nudibranch, or sea-slug, is an amazing example of the design of predators. Certain kinds of nudibranchs eat sea anemones, which are covered with stinging cells. Normally whenever an animal touches the stinging cells trigger mechanism, the cell shoots out a barb and injects poison that paralyzes the animal. But when the nudibranch eats the anemone, for some reason the stinging cells are not triggered. Furthermore, the cells are not even digested along with the rest of the anemone, but are transported through the digestive system to the skin, where they are emplaced and perform a protective function for the nudibranch. There is no way this mechanism could have come about by evolution. No more so could it have come about by adapting some sort of apparatus originally used for eating vegetation.
Then there is the desert scorpion of the American Southwest. It senses the location of its favorite prey, the desert roach, buried under the sand, by two sets of vibration sensors in its feet. What sort of vegetation scrabbles about under the sand, so that a scorpion would need such sensors? And like the spider and snake, is its behavior not instinctive?
A Scientific American article on a predatory fish, the frogfish, made some interesting observations.22
The frogfish is an efficient predator. It blends in with its background; it uses a lure that resembles other animals; it has feeding structures that let it suck in prey faster than any other fish; and it has other exclusively predatory features. There is no way all these complex and interrelated mechanisms can be due to some sort of subverting of apparatus originally designed for eating vegetation any more than they could have evolved.
There are many other examples of animals that are designed for predation: frogs and toads have tongues designed to catch insects; the oceanic food chain is generally such that larger animals eat smaller ones, and only the smallest eat plants; whales have balleen designed as strainers to filter out plankton, which includes animals up to medium sized fish, and often includes larger fish. When you see an eagle gracefully swoop down and scoop a fish out of the water, who do you conclude taught it to do so? When you read that an owls wings have special feathers on the trailing edge to enable it to silently swoop down on its prey in the dark, who do you conclude created this ability?
What about parasites? One marvelously designed parasite is the virus. It comes in a bewildering variety of forms, all parasitic, that show strong evidence of design. Viruses take over the genetic machinery of cells and reprogram it for their own use. How could such things have come about on their own? How can their design be reconciled with a loving creator?
There do exist animals which, it can be plausibly argued, were originally vegetarians rather than meat eaters. The bear and gorilla are cases in point. But there is strong evidence against this argument in the fundamental genetic programming instinct that causes most predators to seek prey. The ratio of the number of different animals that are predators and have big teeth, claws, etc., to the number that are not predators but have big teeth, claws, etc., is large. This large ratio is evidence against a switch in eating habits. How many animals do you know of that have the equipment of a predator, but dont act like one? How many animals do you know of that dont have typical predator equipment, but eat other animals anyway? Bears, gorillas, monkeys and man are the exception, not the rule. Most people assume that, because of their teeth, gorillas are fierce predators. They are surprised to learn that gorillas are vegetarians, and are rather peaceful creatures. Why are they surprised? Because most animals fit the usual pattern and gorillas do not. Some bears are nearly exclusively vegetarians, while others such as the polar bear are exclusively predators. Many bears seem to learn their feeding behavior from their parents, so arguing that at least some animals learn their predatory behavior is correct. But the polar bear is superbly designed to live on the Arctic ice cap, where there are no plants at all. The polar bear has special physical structures allowing it to survive in extreme cold. Is it reasonable to believe that the creator designed the polar bear to live in a place where there was no food? Who taught the first polar bears how to find seals under the ice?
Then too, look at the design of the digestive systems of certain predators, such as the cat family. Animals such as cats have a difficult time even chewing vegetation, even though they do occasionally eat it. Their intestines are short, compared to those of grazing animals, indicating they were designed to extract nutrition from meat rather than bulk vegetation. Cat digestive systems dont even extract all the food value from meat, because their intestines are so short. Some predators, such as hyenas, will eat the feces of lions because there is a lot of food value left in it, while they will not eat the feces of other predators such as jackals or other hyenas because these animals extract most of the nutritive value from what they eat. Again, is it reasonable to argue that the creator changed the design of many creatures after the Flood?
Most predators, like spiders, scorpions, snakes, and fish, instinctively prey on other animals. They do not learn their behavior from their parents. Some animals do learn part of their predatory behavior from their parents, but these are in the minority. The instinct is present from birth, as can be attested by anyone who has raised a dog as a house pet, and seen it instinctively shake a rag in a violent manner, just as it would if it were killing another animal. The instinct had to have been put there by a designer.
I dont think anyone would want to argue that God changed animal instincts after mankinds fall, since God would still be the designer of the new instincts. Even less would anyone argue that God changed the physical structure of predators so as to enable them to capture and eat prey. Spiders preserved in amber millions of years ago show they have the same basic structure today. The remains of lions, wolves, and many other predators preserved for tens of thousands of years in the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles show that those ancient animals were virtually the same as ones living today.
There is also fossil evidence that animals ate one another in the long-distant past. A photograph of a middle Eocene perch (Mioplosus) swallowing the herring Knightia, from Wyomings Green River Formation 23 shows that ancient fish ate one another, just as they do today. Two more similar photographs appear on pages 190-191 of National Geographic magazine, August, 1985. One shows the fossil of an adult fish in the act of swallowing a juvenile of the same species. The other photograph shows the 25-million-year-old remains of two saber-toothed cats locked in combat. One had bitten deep into the leg bone of the other, a thrust that trapped both in a common fate. The cause of the death of the two cats is as clear as the causes of the extinction of their species are obscure.
There is evidence that predators have existed since the earliest animals came into existence. Much fossil evidence recording the explosion of life at the beginning of the Cambrian era has been found. There are many fossils of types of animals that do not exist in later periods of the fossil record. Concerning this life, a Scientific American article said 24
The caption for two photographs in this article made a similar point:
Virtually any book on fossils shows photographs of or refers to similar events. Direct evidence for predation comes from a description in National Geographic of fossil evidence.25 In 1964, John H. Ostrom of Yale Universitys Peabody Museum of Natural History discovered an unusual fossil in Montana badlands,
Another article said with regard to the conclusion the above mentioned theropod dinosaurs were predaceous: 26
In India were found complete skeletons of two ancient crocodilelike reptiles, and curled within their stomach cavities, the remains of their lunch two smaller fossil reptiles. 27 A skeleton of the small dinosaur Coelophysis was found containing a devoured baby of its own species, and in 1987 the 15 foot skeleton of a theropod dinosaur was found interlocked with a larger herbivore. Apparently they died in combat, possibly sinking into the sandy bottom of a shallow lake.28
This evidence dramatically shows animals did not live in peace with one another prior to mankinds fall. Awake!s contention that animals ate only vegetation and lived in peace with one another before mankinds fall is at odds with the evidence.
Refer back to Awake!s reply to the reader I mentioned earlier, where it says As for the many predators being suited for the chase and kill, what about humans? True, mans efficiency in killing man and animals does not argue for his being designed that way from the beginning, but this has nothing to do with any animal. Man is designed in a general way. Most animals are designed to be efficient in only one area. And the above information shows that predators were specifically designed to be good at catching and killing other animals. To disprove this, the Awake article would have to consider information like the above, detail by detail, and show how each mechanism had been subverted from some other function. The statement in the October 8, 1982 Awake! that animals have adapted themselves to eating flesh is presented without any evidence. It is remarkably similar to an early attempt to explain evolution (proposed by Lamarck), which said that, for example, giraffes adapted themselves to eating high vegetation by growing long necks (acquired characteristics).
I do not believe it is possible for the Society to show specifically how any structures were adapted to eating flesh. Predatory animals mechanisms for catching and killing prey are too well designed for that purpose. By analogy, an intelligent man can deduce that a jet fighter is designed to kill people, not transport them. If Genesis 1:29, 30 truly means all animals were designed to be vegetarians, then that scripture must be false. Predators can not credibly be said to have been designed as vegetarians.
The October 8, 1982 Awake! articles raised the significant moral issue wrapped up in the design-equals-a-Designer argument. Keep in mind the above discussion when reading the following summation from these articles:
Now, remember what was said about the frogfish:
The Awake! agrees the frogfishs equipment was designed:
Humans may have free will but animals do not. Their behavior is governed almost entirely by instinct.
The assertion that animals lived in peace with one another is flatly contradicted by the fossil evidence.
Since the scripture makes no specific exceptions, it must include insects and fish.
What does all this have to do with why predators exist?
Now note how incisively Awake! gets to the heart of the matter.
Why is it no surprise? What is the connection? Also note, Adam did not expect or choose independence from God when he sinned. He expected to die since that was what God told him would happen.
Which ones? Some examples might be helpful.
For instance of what? Of adapting to a new situation? Why would some animals continue to eat vegetation and some change their eating habits?
Why? How? Do animals have free will or control over their genetic makeup or heredity? How did bears and lions develop the instinctive habit of killing young of their own kind?
The Awake! articles on design do not answer the moral question they raise, namely, how a loving Designer could design instruments of cruelty and death. Instead they speak in sweeping generalities and assiduously avoid specifics.
The September 15, 1990 Watchtower said on page 15:
How then, may we view Jehovah when we see a cheetah bounding after the gazelle and ripping open the abdomen of the still living and gasping animal? The evidence seems to leave but one conclusion based on the design-equals-a-Designer theme: life may have a Designer, but not the one described in the Bible.
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