Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Uninvited Guests

Just as a part of a random conversation, I reference the astounding lifecycle of the loathsome liver fluke, a sheep parasite. That got me to thinking about the matter, and I've decided to excerpt here a section from my book on the evidence and arguments of Evolutionism, Idols of the Cave. The following comes from Chapter 17, Such a Wretched Height: microbes and parasites. I must have my little jokes, you know, so each of the chapters and chapter sections has some relevant quotation from Alice (Wonderland or Looking Glass) or Winnie the Pooh. Thus Chapter 17 opens with the following:

“Well, I should like to be a little larger, Sir, if you wouldn't mind,” said Alice: “three inches is such a wretched height to be.”

“It is a very good height indeed!” said the Caterpillar angrily, rearing itself upright as it spoke...

— Alice in Wonderland, ch. 5

Everything is surreal, when you think deeply enough about it. Maybe afterwards it becomes normal again, the way a mountain is a mountain, then not a mountain, and then a mountain again, to those seeking and finally attaining enlightenment. The idea that Evolutionism is not a creation myth astounds me. That countless people suppose that their arguments about their evidence amount to proof is amazing. I discern no difference whatsoever between such doctrinaire approaches, and those of religionists of any school, who suppose that their faith is convincing. Maybe it is. It isn't, however, valid evidence of the truth of their propositions.

But I suppose I need to interrupt myself. Evolutionism. Not everyone understands what is meant by the term. There is big E Evolution, and little e evolution. Get it? MacroEvolution, and microevolution. Macro: change from one species to another, to another, until we get to another genus, and eventually another family, and order and class and phylum and kingdom. And all of that, out of inanimate minerals. Seems like magic to me, this invention of information out of randomness. More specifically, seems like alchemy.

On the other hand, no one can doubt the reality of microevolution. We see it all the time. You probably have an example of it in your home. Your dog. All those different breeds? -- chijuajuas and wienerdogs and boxers and great danes -- they're all changes within a single species. Of course it's real. There is, alas, no NEW information, in all this selecting from preexisting genes. Merely coaxing out of the existing gene pool information that is present but unexpressed. See? Microevolution.

Likewise with antibiotic-resistant bacteria: an example of mithradiatism -- acquired immunity to poisons, save through generations rather than in a single individual. Take DDT-resistant insects. Evolution, right? Well, uh, evolution, anyway. Y'see, when the toxin leaves the environment, the insects revert back to the original genotype. Giddit? Or the peppered moths, in old-time Industrial Revolution England. They got darker to match the coal-smoked trees. Then, when coal became outré, darling, they got lighter again. Environmental adaptation is not, NOT, the same as changing from one species to another. Good lord. Why is there confusion over this?

Evolutionism is religious. I'm fine with that. It has no concrete examples. It is a fanciful tale, based on what no one has ever observed, and it is believed to be true without direct evidence. It posits an explanation of the unobserved and unreproducible origin of life. It advances an untestable mechanism as miraculous as that advanced by any snake-charmer, only we can see the charming of the snake -- Evolution always takes place somewhere else, if at all. It asserts conclusions about the origin of life and the meaning of existence, by implication if not directly, as dogmatic as something carved into stone. I'm fine with that too. Who am I to argue about someone's religion? But for all its scientific trappings, it is a creation myth. Be honest about it, and I'll agree that the Bible also has its creation "myth", of sorts. Why argue, when we can agree?

So. Let's look at some evidence.


Uninvited Guests:
parasites as evidence of Evolution

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it. ‘No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. ‘There's plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

— Alice in Wonderland, ch. 7

The Encyclopaedia Britannica gives the fact that parasites exist as evidence of Evolution. If species simply appeared, fully formed, as the record indicates, then (Britannica presumes) they must have appeared complete with parasites — which is supposed to be unlikely. This is a theological objection which perhaps unconsciously assumes that creatures as useless and evil as parasites could not have been created by a good and kind God. To this I will reply only that theology teaches that there is a curse on creation (scientifically, we could call it ‘entropy’), and although everything was once pronounced to be "good," it is good no longer. From a former free-living state, the creatures which are now parasitic could have degenerated (not evolved) under that curse into what they are now. Information is lost from the system. Entropy.

There are pairs of species which live in a symbiotic relationship, with each species equally dependent on the other species. The African honey guide, a small bird, will lead a baboon, a honey badger, or even a human, to bee hives. After the mammal is done eating the honey, the honey guide will eat the waxy comb, digesting it with the aid of microbes. Without the aid of mammals, the honey guide cannot live up to its name. The Bull's Horn Acacia tree will die within two to fifteen months if the fierce ants which live in it, eat its sap and protect it, are removed. The ants not only attack any insects, birds or animals which threaten the tree, but they also prune away plants or vines which encroach. The ant / acacia symbiosis is hardly unique: bees and pollinating plants, yucca trees and the pronuba moth, fig trees and the fig gall wasp — each is virtually dependent on the other. Some of all this may be learned behavior, transmitted through imitation through the generations. Could be -- although that would be a sort of Lemarckism.

Predatory fish allow small cleaner fish to actually swim into their mouths, and while the cleaning must be annoying, the predators do not eat the cleaners during cleaning, although they will at other times. Specifically, the yellow-tailed goat fish, normally white, turns bright red to signal cleaner fish that it is ready to be cleaned, and the cleaner comes out from hiding in a reef to eat parasites. Other signals include the parasite-ridden fish adopting a relaxed position with fins and gills flared, or floating vertically with fins flapping and head up. If cleaner shrimp are removed, predators are observed to get ulcerated sores and frayed fins within a few weeks. We can suppose different origins for such complex and mutually beneficial behavior. But there is certainly a point at which each species became irreversibly dependent upon the other. This is Evolution only in the sense that it is change over time -- no actual mutation added information that resulted in these behaviors.

Another sort of symbiotic relationship is between the Portuguese man-of-war and the Nomeus, a small blue and silver colored fish which lives among the man-of-war's sixty-foot-long dangling venomous tentacles. The man-of-war catches fish in its tentacles, and reels them up into its body; the Nomeus lives off orts, grabbing bits of fish and crustacea from the tentacles; at the same time, the small fish will act as bait, luring predators into the deadly tentacles by swimming in widening circles around the jelly fish. The Nomeus is immune to the toxin of its host. Lucky thing, huh? — that both should just happen to complement each other with such complex perfection, arising through blind and random chance.

Sexuality is a variant of symbiosis: two structurally separate types (genders) are totally dependent upon each other for genetic survival. Darwin spilled considerable ink in trying to deal with this precise embarrassment, and failed to explain it. Symbiosis is another evolutionary mystery. If parasites are a theological objection to intelligent design, symbionts would be a theological endorsement of it.

I would not accuse evolutionary theoreticians of lacking, in a general sense, imagination — indeed, they manifest the trait in superabundance. But is it not possible that what are now parasites once lived in a symbiotic relationship with their hosts, the benefit of which the hosts have somehow lost through degeneration? Or is it possible that parasites' original symbiotic hosts became extinct, and the bereft symbiots migrated to another host, which could gain no benefit from its presence? Of course this is mere speculation, but it is also a reasonable answer to a philosophical objection.

It is possible that some parasites degenerated into their present dependence. If there is some advantage to offspring who have smaller organs, natural selection could account for parasites being dependent. Natural selection is not a cause, however, but an effect of the genetic code -- environment selects from a preexisting menu of genes. If a creature were, through mutation, to be conceived without, say, digestive organs (as male aphids are born without mouths), and if it were to find its way as an egg into a host which would do the digesting for it, this is neither Evolution nor adaptation, but mere dumb luck for that creature. And if its healthy relatives were to become extinct, this sickly mutant would appear to be the healthy representative of its species, rather than the degenerate freak which it is. I am weaving a fanciful tale, but it is fair enough logic, based on what we ourselves can observe and know to be true about the way the world works.

A species of angler fish is characterized by parasitic males. The female is 20 or 30 pounds, while the male is under 4 inches long; upon hatching, the male attaches itself to the back of a female, and stops growing. Blood vessels in his head allow him to draw nutrients directly from her blood: the point is, the male's teeth and intestinal track are rudimentary, either through atrophy or from genetic causes. Here we have a concrete example of how parasites could arise through degeneration, not evolution — we know teeth and intestines are in this fish's genetic structure, but the information is unexpressed in the males.

There are parasites whose life cycles are so complex they are mind-boggling. The crustacean Sacculina lives parasitically on crabs. Its egg is a free swimming larva, which then grows a bivalve shell, coming to resemble a water flea. Next, it produces an organ for piercing and entering the crab, and when it enters, it gradually loses all of its internal organs and structure, become an amorphous blob of goo which sends out fibrous ‘roots’ that absorb nutrients from the crabs tissues. These nutrients feed the mass of cells, now little more than a sac of eggs, which become free swimming larva — and on it goes. Well, that's not mind-boggling, but it's very odd indeed.

A more convoluted story is of the liver fluke, which as an adult lives in sheep intestines. Their eggs pass in feces to the ground, which hatch as ciliated (‘legged’), aquatic larvae. These must find their way into the lungs of pond snails, where they become sporocysts, losing their cilia and gaining size. In the lungs, they bud off germinal cells which become another type of larvae, called rediae; these propel themselves about inside the body cavity of the sporocysts (how many individuals is each individual?). The radiae leave the sporocyst and develop within the snail's tissue into still another, tadpole-like, larval form, called the cercariae. These eventually swim out of the snail and find their way to grass, which is eaten by sheep. Now the larva find the sheep's liver and there develop into adult shape and reproductivity. Finally they leave the liver for the intestines, mate, and so complete their life-cycle.

Fanciful though I or any evolutionist may be, ingenuity balks at formulating a naturalistic explanation for this complexity. First, the liver fluke is an egg, then a larva, then a sporocyst, then a number of germinal buds which become radiae, which become cercariae, which become adult flukes. Asa Chandler, a parasitologist, confesses that “It would be difficult, if not impossible, to explain, step by step, the details of the process of evolution by which some of the highly specialized parasites reached their present condition.” It's mind-boggling.

The fact that a certain virus attacks only man and monkeys — or that similar kinds of lice feed only on man and chimps, or another kind on only pigeons and parrots — this is given as proof that the original, ancient host creature evolved into different species, while the protected parasite had no need to evolve and so remained (unevolving) on its various (evolving) hosts. The argument seems labored and naive. I think perhaps a simpler one would be that similar species have similar parasites, which infest whatever host species they can survive on; these hosts would tend to be similar to one another.

Why are some species so similar, so "related"? We might as well ask why all species are not similar -- why there is not an endless continuum clearly linking all lifeforms, as Darwin so fervently wished. That embarrassment is explained away be assuming mass and endless extinctions of missing-link species, the evidence for which is non-existent save for the demands of theory. Why, however, are there related species? -- an apparent embarrassment to non-Evolutionists? Well, artists have styles, and themes. Engineers seek out the most effective system designs. Philosophy aside, though, we can objectively conclude not that interspecies disease or parasites or cladistic commonalities are evidence of Evolution, but rather that they simply manifest the fact of similarity. Thus, no one is saying that the HIV virus has been in the human population for millions of years, unevolving: somehow, it leaped over from ape to man, a suitable host.

Evolutionists sing the glory of natural selection, the magnificence of violence, the creativity of brutality. But we do not find a chaos of competition in nature. Rather we find an economy, a vital balance which has bloody activity, but is notable more for its elegance. We find Darwin's survival of the fittest to be a simplistic caricature of the true complexity of all living things, which work not against each other, but in partnership. Survival of the fittest occurs only during hard times, which are times of extinction, not of diversity.

This whole parasitical argument for Evolutionism is a classic case of the logical fallacy of the faulty dilemma: two cases are presented as the only possibilities (either God created parasites as they are, or they evolved). I have already suggested other possibilities, of adaptation, or degeneration, or obsolescent symbioses. Frankly, it is a curious and weak line of ‘proof,’ and just a little thought on the part of those who adduce it should have prevented them from mentioning it at all.


That should be enough, right? No need to beat it to death.



Will C. said...

mmm, mmm, good reading. How are you able to write with such quality and diversity on a daily basis?

(***warning*** Jack's head reaching critical mass) ;)

On a separate but similar subject. If you get a chance, watch "Living with Tigers". One of the coolest man-in-nature documentaries I've seen. This sort of came to mind... "and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. "

Jack H said...

Ah. Do you smell that? It is the sweet Rose of Truth, so rare, so fragrant. Would that there were more of it, on this stark and barren orb. We find it where we may, most reliably, here, burgeoning out of the effervescent wisdom of my saintly soul. It is commendable that you recognize this fact, although it would become you more if you mentioned it more frequently.

Why do you bore me with incidentals? What care have *I* with such mundain trivialities as tigers and other people?

Will they never learn? Sometimes the burden becomes too much, much too much. But I soldier on. What choice have I? It is my destiny.


will c. said...

Sure, mr. JH exudes confidence and cockyness and airs of royalty, but with a mention of, say, Victor Davis Hanson's genius, JH will be begging for WC's attention!


Now watch that tiger show!

Jack H said...

And who pray is this Vincent Daniel Harris? Some teen idol from the '80s? A porn star you're enamored of? Pathetic. Please refrain from polluting these pristine pages with your sick fetishes. Well might you mention the WC, for mention of your twisted personal life fills Jack H with nausea.

Hahahahahaha!!! Zing!!!!

we'll c said...

As Dilbert once quiped, "your jealousy is so transparent"...

Jack H said...

Oh, are you still here? Did you miss your bus? You should have your mommy pin your ticket to your sweater.