Our Amazing World

Getting Tricky With the Other Guys

by Joe Selzler

Some of the most amazing and colorful places on our planet are probably the coral reefs. They are full of creatures that exude color. However, the purpose of color in the reefs is less for show and more for defence and deception, or for communication. A recent article in the National Geographic includes dozens of images of brightly colored creatures. For some of the occupants of the reefs color is a means of camouflage to fool a predator. Conversely, for the predator colour is used to deceive its prey into thinking that it is something else. But I was surprised to find that color is also a means for some creatures to advertise their business: some colors signify that a certain species will remove unwanted pests clinging to the scales. However, one intriguing little fish is the crabeye goby. This variety of gobies has two fins on the top of its body with spots that resemble huge eyes. These spots, called double eyespots, closely match the size and spacing of the eyes of groupers, which eat the fish that eat gobies. If you look at the two images shown you can easily see the resemblance and why, underwater, a predator could be fooled.

Crabeye Goby


I was left asking myself how this happened and so I searched around on the Web for more information on the goby and pigmentation. I know that pigmentation is responsible for coloring in all creatures and I wanted to know how it could produce something so accurate as these eyes spots. One recent line of thought is that something called Self-Organization is responsible for patterns in nature such as the stripes on the zebra or the eyespots of the goby. What this means it that without the help of an outside master plan or designer things in nature can take on form. And although it may seem like design it is really down to the physical properties of the melanin in pigmentation when color patterns are achieved. Apparently melanin will naturally form into patterns because its molecules tend to attract each other. I have seen websites that show how random patterns can be formed in this way. But random patterns are not eyespots that match the eyes of another fish to provide protection.

So then is it really possible or likely that the great varieties of color we see in the coral reefs are the result of the random effects of a physical property of one type of molecule? It has been suggested that it is Natural Selection1 working in conjunction with physical laws that account for color patterns such as that seen in the crab eyed goby. That is because the creature that is best adapted to its environment is more likely to survive and will live longer and produce more offspring. Therefore, as the random ordering of the melanin produces pigmentation in the goby the closer it gets to the coloring and positioning of the eyes of the grouper -- and the more likely are the goby and its offspring to survive. Eventually we have the goby we see today.

A Fatal Mistake

When inventors test a new apparatus they always risk the total destruction of their invention. If something goes wrong there is a chance that it will be unrecoverable and the apparatus will have to be totally rebuilt. Fortunately the inventor is outside of his apparatus and can study what went wrong and make the necessary corrections. If he had been part of the apparatus he would have been destroyed with it. This is logical and no one would argue about it. But with biological systems the designer of the organism, DNA, is not on the outside, it is on the inside. Therefore, if something goes wrong it is hard to see how it can be corrected. The writer and columnist Bryan Appleyard, in commenting on Francis Crick's "central dogma" of molecular biology as the one-way flow of information from gene to organism, says that this dogma would stop evolution in its tracks. Appleyard says that information has to flow back to the DNA from the organism, most obviously by its death, to tell the DNA it got something wrong2. But how would this work? Obviously the DNA in the organism ceases to exist along with the organism. And a dead organism cannot pass on its DNA once it has died.

The eyespots of the goby are passed on from generation to generation. That is easy to see. We can also see how the process of natural selection will eventually lead to gobies that have eyespots closely resembling the grouper. Evolution, however, requires the random or chance ordering of genes via mutations to progress, and this takes time. Indeed it takes quite a lot of time. One of the problems this writer sees with how evolution creates a goby is that over time most creatures will be subject to random mutations and therefore the eyespots as a defence has a shortcoming. If the grouper develops bigger eyes or the position of the eyes change the goby loses his advantage. One may answer that such a change is no problem for evolution because it can create a goby with eyespots adapted for the new grouper, or it can make a whole new goby. But because evolution involves random mutations there is no guarantee it will. And the goby is just one of millions of creatures that are well adapted to their environment. All of the creatures of the coral reefs are well adapted to their environment and most of them depend on color in some way for their survival. That is an awful lot of chance mutations needed to develop something that seems so ordered.

Trying to Escape From Design

For many years science has taught that our world came about by a random shuffling of the inorganic molecules of matter, albeit with some help from certain physical rules. For the most part the ordinary man or woman has accepted this as fact. Now, however, some scientists are beginning to suspect that our world is more ordered than any random chance process could bring about. As we examine our world more carefully we see that even the most basic living molecule is unlikely to form randomly. So some are turning to the idea of Intelligent Design (ID) to explain our universe. Proponents don't only include fundamentalist Christians but many secular scientists. Even some respected universities are studying and developing ID. The main problem with evolution is that the very laws by which our universe operates negates it. This quote from the Times magazine says, ` ... a basic physical law lies waiting to be discovered, a law defining the circumstances under which systems infused with energy become more complexly structured. This law would carve out local exceptions to the general tendency of things to become more chaotic and bland—higher in entropy—as dictated by the famously depressing second law of Thermodynamics. Charles H. Bennett, of IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center, who has deeply shaped the modern understanding of the second law, suspects there is indeed a law that, if known, would make life's origin less baffling. Such a law, he has said, would play a role "formerly assigned to God".' 3

Mankind seems determined to refuse to believe that a creator is behind the world we see. So it keeps looking for some way to account for our world that doesn't require one. And as one theory begins to run into insurmountable obstacles (such as famously depressing laws) they think up a new one to replace it. It was at one time thought that life on our planet started by a bolt of lightning striking a primordial soup triggering a replicative system. However, a famous experiment in 1952 tried to create life in just such a way. A soup of chemicals was bombarded with lightning and Amino acids appeared. It was thought to be a breakthrough. As it turns out Amino acids, the chemicals that make protein, are thermodynamically speaking, easily made. But the chances of a stable replicative system establishing itself in a soup by chance are overwhelming. That's why the British Astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle, theorized that life must have come to this planet from elsewhere. (He once said the chance of even one protein developing by chance was like a tornado going through a garbage dump and assembling a Boeing 747.) The problem for Sir Fred is he never had the answer for how life started anywhere else either.

Design is a More Plausible Reason For Our World

Perhaps as humans we need a new way of looking at the world we live in. The more we look at the world around us the more we see that it is a place of infinite variety and imagination. Did you know that when researchers wanted to study the types of beetles that lived in the trees of the rain forest they discovered over 4000 different varieties? That was just beetles! Did you know that the human eye, according to some estimates, can distinguish around 10 million colors? And that is not even the actual number of colors that exist, because there are actually an infinite number of wavelengths between 380 and 740 nanometers, the visible spectrum of light. Do you know how many stars there are? Estimates are in the trillions, but no one really knows for sure. How many varieties and colors of fish are there in the coral reefs we talked about earlier? There are probably millions of varieties. Have you ever gone to a scary movie, such as "Aliens", and been frightened by the strange and horrible creatures? Believe it or not, you can find creatures just as horrible looking in nature. Indeed, the makers of the films probably get many of their ideas from nature itself.

However, the creatures of this world are not the way they are just for the fun of it. Many, such as our little goby, are highly specialized and adapted to their environments. We may stick an eye here or a foot there when we draw creatures for fun, but our world has not been made that way. What this seemingly infinite variety in nature suggests is a Creator of infinite intelligence and creativity. Perhaps we need to look at nature and view it as a way to get to know the one who has made it. Perhaps we have been made just like the first two chapters of Genesis suggest—to have dominion over our earth and to subdue it and keep it. Not as its owners, but as creatures that are responsible to their maker for how we do keep it.

1) What is Natural Selection:

a. Natural Selection by John Creeper http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v6/i4/naturalselection.asp

b. Muddy Waters: Clarifying the confusion about Natural Selection, by Carl Wieland


2) Bryan Appleyard, George Bush and the Meaning of Life, The London Times, 28 August, 2005.

3) Evolutionary Faith and the Cosmic Zoo, by Carl Wieland http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v15/i4/evolution.asp

4) Fred Hoyle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoyle's_fallacy

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