Recently my children have been studying the solar system and we have spent more than a few lessons studying the vastness of the universe. It is almost unbelievable how massive our universe is, it extends so far beyond what most of us even attempt to comprehend. However, while we have been studying this vast universe my sons have also developed a budding fascination in the micro-universe that we stumble upon almost every day; the world of insects. As we have been exploring this world together I had a particular book brought to my attention that quickly became a must read. God & the World of Insects written by a vast array of contributors and edited by Josh Shoemaker & Gary Braness. You can do yourself a favor and pick it up here. As usual my reviews tend to be atypical in favor of trying to give you something useful for your time. So what follows is both review and thoughts.
But I Don’t Even Like Bugs
So I know far to many people who shy away from any discussion on bugs, it’s just not their cup of tea. Ok, no big deal. But in missing out on learning about the insect world people also miss a powerful apologetic for the Christian worldview. So admittedly when going into this I expected a design argument that would give me some fun facts but I didn’t anticipate much beyond this. What I got instead was extremely academic work that took me down scientific and philosophical roads I had never considered, not to mention a practical encyclopedia of “Biblical bug issues”. From the outset this book handled one thing very very well, it set aside the origin models that so often become a point of disagreement for Christians. The book makes clear that no matter where one falls on the age of the earth or even the particular method of creation there is useful information to be found here. Not only did I quickly get sucked into many of the topics within but I found myself caught up in a sense of wonder that shows like “planet earth” tend to bring on. The beauty of it all though is that while I am being sucked into topic after topic I was being equipped with new information that shook many of my misunderstandings about the world of entomology (the study of insects). For Christians I think this book is an excellent resource to tap into information that provides a new and unique defense for the Christian view of reality. For those still on the fence there are some powerful findings that lay significant doubts on any unguided understanding of the evolutionary process. In short its a great read that has to be mentally digested at multiple levels.
Things to Consider
I would like to take a few minutes and cover a couple of the things that really caught me off guard. For the sake of brevity I want to touch on just one chapter of the book and the compelling case it makes regarding the improbability of metamorphosis as an evolutionary development. The thesis of this chapter is summed up simply on page 71 by contributors Dr. Nelson and Dr. Gauger; “we shall evaluate how strictly following the evidential requirements and functional logic of natural selection places metamorphosis (as a phenomenon) beyond selection’s explanatory reach”. After setting up this simple but challenging proposal they proceed with putting pieces of evidence on the table for your consideration.
First, they lay out some of the significant historical and fossil evidence that needs consideration. For example the insect forms we find present during the Cambrian explosion already feature metamorphic forms. What does this mean? It means that our earliest known insect great great grandfathers already had this process in place so we really have no hard evidence to say that it was a process developed through evolution. However, no evidence hardly means it isn’t possible. This problem becomes vastly more difficult though when we realize that 85 percent of modern insects have a “holometabolous – literally, ‘all changing’ -development”. And as many as 65 percent of all animal species go through some form of metamorphosis. What this means is that we could have anticipated some transitional fossils but so far, no luck.
So the lack of historical evidence leaves us in a position where we have to try and understand just what we should be looking for and what we know is probable. This is compared largely to finding the path from A to Z but without knowing where exactly you will end up. My take on all the analogies are rather crude since I am a novice in the field of biology. However, the authors of this article lay out their case rather impressively in a way that even a layman like myself can understand the basic difficulties of this problem.
Taking a Blind Trip
Now up until this point we have some fun facts but why does this all turn out to be a problem for evolution? The Darwinian model of evolution is a blind unguided process. This means that in all the independent steps of natural selection no individual step has foreknowledge of what next steps in the process may be. The problem is that for insect metamorphosis foresight is almost certainly required. Let me let Nelson and Gauger explain;
A caterpillar-like species would never evolve in the direction of forming a chrysalis, dissolving its vital tissues in the process, unless–somehow–the variations were also occurring, and being preserved by natural selection, which would also enable that species to make it out of the chrysalis stage. And to leave offspring, condition 3 of natural selection, heritability, requires that variations be transmitted to one’s progeny.
My simple brained explanation in a nutshell is that the process of metamorphosis requires multiple steps that could not independently develop through simple unguided variation and natural selection. This process often actually requires a complete “meltdown” of the original organism in order for it to reform in its full adult status with the ability to reproduce. Think about that for a minute. Natural selection involves small changes generation by generation. Instead what we are looking at in this situation is like a blind trip from South America to Europe knowing nothing about the final location but the necessity for success and knowing absolutely nothing about the methods of transportation or navigation to try and get there. In other words this is not probable in any sense of the word because all the navigation through this process would have to be present before the process began. Or as the book puts it; “In order for programmed cell death to take place where it should, and nowhere else, these elements would have to be present in advance in the appropriate larval tissues”
I found it hard to believe that there was such a significant problem with natural selection that I had not stumbled on before so I proceeded with some research of my own and sure enough everything I found supported the claims of the difficulties explaining this problem. The claims to the contrary do a good job presenting evidence that shows that some common features are present both before and after metamorphosis thus supporting that the whole process is “programmed” before hand. However, they fail to present compelling theories for the simple generation by generation development of this process.
Where to Go Next
You may have reached the end of this article and be thinking….but wait…if millions of species go through almost complete changes in there life cycle doesn’t this actually support evolution and make the theory more plausible since this could essentially help speed up the process? Sure. But that vastly misses the point. Even if all the support of evolution holds up, metamorphosis still presents a significant problem…all the information cannot be explained without pre-programming being present in the organism. As we all know…programming requires a programmer not blind indifference. As for long term next steps I know I will be watching with anticipation for research that focuses on this topic in the future. As for you I highly recommend you go out and pick up God & the World of Insects for yourself so you can formulate your own well informed thoughts on the topic here as well as the many more mentioned in the book.
God & the World of Insects edited by Josh Shoemaker and Gary Braness found here Quotes taken from The Enduring Puzzle of Metamorphosis by Paul A. Nelson PhD & Ann Gauger, PhD starts on page 71.