Where Did Predators Come From?
Dr. Gordon Wilson’s presentations at Creation Weekend 2018 were extremely well received. The first lecture dealt with natural evil. Mankind has long pondered why our beautiful creation is so full of cruelty and death. Indeed our ecology as it is now, runs on death. And many creatures survive entirely by consuming other creatures. The big question, Dr. Gordon Wilson declared, is how this situation came to be since God created everything in an unfallen state, all of it very good. Moreover, Scripture tells us that there was no physical death, animal or human, before the fall. All animals were vegetarian.
Dr. Wilson pointed out that Darwin distanced himself from the idea of a good creation because he did not think that what we see in nature can be reconciled with a benevolent deity. So what should our response be to this situation? In order to fully inform our minds of the situation, Dr. Wilson described for us some of the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world. All of these examples come from living creatures. So how come God’s very good creation now contains such horrible designs? The examples Dr. Wilson chose include jellyfish, cone snails, pit vipers, parasitoid wasps and the bacterium that causes Bubonic plague.
The jellyfish (and sea anemones and freshwater hydra) are supplied with tentacles with which they catch their prey. If a victim (like a small fish or crustacean) comes in contact with a tentacle, tiny cells in the tentacle skin explosively erupt, sending a very sharp harpoon-like structure into the victim. This tiny harpoon system delivers a sophisticated fast-acting nerve toxin into the victim. The jellyfish or other similar creature, then pulls the tentacle toward a central mouth and stuffs the victim into it.
The amazing design features of this all or nothing system are the specially designed cells in the skin with harpoon structures coiled inside, a trigger system to which the cell can respond explosively ejecting the harpoon with barbs to keep it from pulling out of the victim, a sophisticated nerve toxin (requires very precise and elaborate chemistry) and the ability of the tentacles to then shove the victim through the mouth and into the stomach-like cavity. This is obviously a designed system, not something that developed by chance. All the features have to be present for the system to function at all.
Dr. Wilson then described the distressing capacity of cone snails to shoot a hollow “tooth/harpoon” into the mouths of fishes. The tooth is hollow and injects a nerve toxin into the prey. And interestingly the chemical design of the nerve poison is specific for maximum impact on the preferred victim.
Next on his list of horrible creatures, Dr. Wilson described pit vipers. They are equipped with a pit organ (infrared eye) below and between the eye and the nostril, which helps this creature locate victims through their body heat. The hollow fangs fold into the mouth for convenient storage, but they snap outward in order to inject nasty enzymes which digest the victim’s flesh.
Parasitoid wasps seem even more creepy. Some species lay their eggs in the body of a caterpillar. The eggs hatch and larvae consume the caterpillar’s insides. At the same time, they are careful not to munch on the vital organs so that their food source (the caterpillar) will continue to live and to grow. In the end the wasp larvae burrow out and spin cocoons on the surface of the caterpillar. The victim dies as new wasps fly away to find more victims. Darwin found this example particularly distressing and an argument against a God who created everything good.
For his last example Dr. Wilson chose the Bubonic plague bacterium Yersinia pestis. This tiny germ has been responsible for more than 200 million deaths in the world and it changed the course of world history, certainly in Europe. Why is it so deadly?
Obviously the bacterium is specially designed. Its critical feature is a syringe-like molecular machine called the type three secretory system (T3SS). If the bacterium is living in insects like fleas, these cells are quite harmless. Once the bacteria find themselves in people or other mammals, these tiny cells arm themselves with injector systems which project from the outer surface of the cell. These tiny machines are embedded in the bacteria’s cell membrane. The needles project out into the warm-blooded environment. Once a needle touches the surface of a host cell, nasty proteins are manufactured in the bacterium and these are pumped through the hollow needle into the victim’s cell. The very specific injected compounds now disrupt the cell’s immune response. Each bacterium then multiplies causing more disastrous symptoms in the victim.
There is no doubt that these phenomena are not what Genesis describes as “very good.” Dr. Wilson outlined four possible explanations for how disease and death appeared. One idea, suggested by some, is that Satan retrofitted creation. But why should we assume that Satan had this capacity? Moreover, the Bible describes situations where God has ordained negative features in creatures. For example, God speaks of His Leviathan thus, “Who dares open the doors of its mouth, ringed about with fearsome teeth?” (Job 41: 14). And in Isaiah 45 we read “I make well-being and create calamity.” (v. 7) God controls it all.
Another suggestion is that spontaneous processes led to degeneration of the ecosystem. This would be too gradual to fit the Biblical account. The third idea is that God transformed the biology after the fall. Some would call this divine retrofitting! Many people support this view. A last explanation is that in their original design, creatures contained both benign and latent malignant features. After the fall there was a shift in how the overall design of a creature was expressed. For example, frogs are plant eaters as tadpoles, but entirely carnivorous (mostly insects) as adults. These two seemingly opposite designs co-exist in one organism and are expressed sequentially. Similarly, Dr. Wilson suggested that the latent weapons systems were woven into the genetic constitution of creatures and these were not expressed until after the fall.
There is so much to learn about the creation, but the response of Darwin to reject God on account of natural evil is sad. Our best response is to continue to reflect on these things in the light of God’s Word.
In the next issue Dr. Wilson’s later two lectures will be reported.
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