Missing links, mantis shrimp and koalas at sea

Missing links, mantis shrimp and koalas at sea June 12, 2012

RJS at Jesus Creed reminds us that anyone who wants to know what the Bible says about creation can’t just stick with Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 (or with some half-baked attempt to harmonize Genesis 1 and Genesis 2).

Citing William P. Brown’s book The Seven Pillars of Creation, RJS notes that there are many more creation passages in the Hebrew scriptures, including Job 38-41, Psalm 104, Proverbs 8:22-31, Ecclesiastes 1:2-11 and 12:1-7, and bits of Isaiah 40-55.

That section of Job in particular, RJS says, offers quite a bit to balance out the conclusions one might be tempted to leap to based on an exclusive reliance on a “literal” reading of Genesis.

I’ve made this case before regarding Job and Psalm 104, but hadn’t ever considered those other passages Brown cites as “creation” texts. That seems like a bit of a stretch for those passages from Ecclesiastes, but it’s a really interesting stretch.

* * * * * * * * *

Ed Brayton’s rant against the “Evolution Article Template” expresses his frustration with the way new finds that fill out our understanding of the fossil record are always trumpeted as “missing links.”

The “missing link” idea has become a mug’s game. It’s a trap, based on Zeno’s dichotomy paradox — a way for science-denying “skeptics” to pretend that the fossil record can never be meaningful.

They’re like Thelonius Monk, demanding “the notes between the notes.” There’s a link missing, they say, between C and D. Well, here’s C# — the missing link between C and D. Not good enough, they say, there’s still a link missing between C and C# — the piano is still incomplete and meaningless. And viewed this way it can never be regarded as complete or meaningful. It’s a mug’s game.

I learned this trick from earnest creationists who did not themselves realize that it was a trick — a sleight-of-hand device designed to avoid knowledge or to deny it. It’s one of many such devices young-earth creationists employ in order to live in this world without ever looking at it.

* * * * * * * * *

The Sensuous Curmudgeon takes a look at what Answers in Genesis has to say about the “Post-Flood Dispersal of Animals.”

That’s a more inclusive term for what I’ve referred to as “The Long March of the Koalas.”

(Basically, if you’re a Genesis-Is-Journalism illiteralist, then you believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and that every creature on the planet is descended from those on a historical Noah’s Ark. Mount Ararat is in eastern Turkey or Kurdistan, so this requires young-earth creationists to explain how Australian kangaroos, koalas and echidnae managed to trek across all of Asia and then swim or paddle their way to their island home.)

* * * * * * * * *

Remember the mantis shrimp — the lobsterlike sea creature we talked about recently, with sixteen cones and a perception of color we can’t even imagine?

Ed Yong reports on another remarkable fact about these colorful creatures: “How mantis shrimps deliver armor-shattering punches without breaking their fists.”

Mantis shrimps — neither mantises nor shrimps — are pugilistic relatives of crabs and lobsters. [David] Kisailus says that they look like “heavily armoured caterpillars.” They kill other animals with a pair of hinged arms held under their heads. In the “spearer” species, the arms end in an impaling spike, while the “smashers” wield crushing clubs.

The smashers deliver the fastest punch of any animal. As the club unfurls, its acceleration is 10,000 times greater than gravity. Moving through water, it reaches a top speed of 50 miles per hour. It creates a pressure wave that boils the water in front of it, creating flashes of light (shrimpoluminescene — no, really) and immensely destructive bubbles. The club reaches its target in just three thousandths of a second, and strikes with the force of a rifle bullet.

Read the whole, fascinating, link-filled post to learn why mantis shrimps are able to punch so hard without shattering their own fists.

For me, this is one more reason to re-read the immensely reassuring words from Sidney Perkowitz’s Hollywood Science:

Imagine you make an ant twice as big while keeping its bodily constitution the same. According to the mathematics of scaling, the bigger insect would weigh eight times more, but its legs would have strengthened only by a factor of four. The legs would carry twice the relative load for which nature had designed them. Every further increase in size would make the weight to strength ratio that much worse. At some point, the ant couldn’t even stand up.

I meditate on that passage every time I watch the Shelob’s Lair scenes in The Lord of the Rings. Giant invertebrates aren’t scientifically possible. Phew.

Still, though, an Attack of the Giant Mantis Shrimp B-movie might be kind of awesome. SyFy call your office.

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  • Bradw8

    Billy Friday looked at the figure of Stupendo, the Simian Supreme, and complained: “A giant ape is impossible! The inverse square ratio means he’d be unable to life his own weight! Such a creature couldn’t exist!”

    To which Supreme said, “Well, I’m sorry, but he did.”

  • Mystick359

    Just what is the conservative answer to the Problem of Evil? If God is omniscient and omnibenevolent, why is there suffering in the world?

  • Hawker40

    “Just what is the conservative answer to the Problem of Evil? If God is omniscient and omnibenevolent, why is there suffering in the world?”

    It’s because humanity sucks.  It is not in any way a design flaw by God that humanity sucks, it is humanity’s own fault that it sucks.

    Or something like that.

  • Mark Z.

    Well, if by “conservative” you mean “fundamentalist”, the answer will be “humanity sucks”, or possibly “Satan”.

    If you mean “Calvinist”, the answer is “God allows suffering to happen for his own reasons, and this is good by definition, even if you don’t like it.” My early religious education was at the hands of Calvinists, and we spent about three months studying all the standard answers to the Problem of Evil including the Calvinist answer and discussing why none of them are really sufficient. At the time I didn’t realize the profound humility of teaching the subject that way.

    Conservative evangelicals tend to fall between those two poles, and will give any of those answers according to what makes them feel better about the situation. There isn’t a coherent theology behind it.

  • arcseconds

    There’s a great, and much-neglected corollary of the ‘can’t scale up an arthropod’  theorem: scale down a human to insect size, and you get a friggin’ superhero.  Scale down the linear scale by a factor of a hundred, so that a 2m human becomes a 2cm mini-human,  and the strength of the bones is proportional to the cross-sectional surface area, so it gets 100^2 = ten thousand times weaker, but the mass is proportional to the volume, so 100^3 = a millionfold lighter.  So the power-to-mass ratio goes up by a 100!

    Forget the incredible shrinking man being frightened of the giant spider – one punch from him would splatter its head and send it flying!

    Unfortunately, as you radiate energy proportionally to your surface area, you’d also lose heat at roughly 100 times the rate you do now, so not dying of hypothermia would be a problem.

  • Caravelle

    The funniest thing in the “missing link” mug’s game was watching some creationists react when those paleontologists suggested we should reclassify Archeopteryx as closer to velociraptors than birds or whatever it was.

    It was like “Evolution in crisis ! Archaeopteryx was a dinosaur all along, there’s nothing transitional about it whatsoever ! What, feathers ? Haven’t you heard about all those feathered dinosaurs ? Dinosaurs had feathers, and therefore feathers have nothing to do with being similar to birds at all !”

    Positively Orwellian.

  • GDwarf

     Indeed, I’ve always liked poking holes in plots where the protagonists shrink/grow:

    Giants should overheat very easily, while tiny people should freeze.

    The smaller you are, the higher energy of light your eyes will see. So you’ll be able to see into the ultraviolet, but might not be able to see the visible spectrum.

    Something similar applies to sounds: No one normal size will be able to hear you speak, since your voice will be so high-pitched, and you probably won’t be able to understand what they’re saying since it’ll be too low.

    Falls wouldn’t matter. Every movie with shrunk protagonists has at least one scene where they have to be very careful they don’t fall off a table, or whatever, but once you’re small enough your terminal velocity will be so low that you could drop from orbit without any harm from the landing.

    Climbing and jumping would be trivial. Forget hours-long attempts to scale chair legs, you should be able to jump the same height you can now* and you’ll be able to lift a hundred times your own bodyweight with ease.

    Combining the above: Flight becomes trivial! Just make some wings out of paper and flap your arms. You’ll be so light and the force of your movements so strong that you’ll take off without issue.

    The amount of force/area exerted by your punches/kicks will be the same as it is now, so you can still shatter ceramics and dent walls with ease.

    Really, if you find yourself shrunk down to a tiny size then all you need is to find some arctic-gear in your new size and then you can become the bane of all creepy-crawlies.

    *This is also why a giant spider isn’t that much of a problem. Even if their body can support them, if you take a spider that can jump two inches (three times it’s body-length, say) and scale it up to a hundred times it’s current length (million times its current volume) it’ll still only be able to jump two inches. We assume that such things scale with body size, but they don’t. At all.

  • Caravelle

     In fact if I understand correctly, the smallest birds and mammals (shrews and hummingbirds and I think) are literally as small as an animal with a mammalian or bird metabolism can afford to get, and their metabolic rates are off the charts. So no insect-sized human for you, I don’t think.

  •  You will also have to get used to eating your own body weight in food every day or something similar like the smaller mammals do. And at your new size, opening the refrigerator will be very difficult. All those calories you’re radiating have to come from somewhere, after all.

  • Tricksterson

    Um, Antman.

  • Antonio Rodriguez

     And Genesis 1-11 has to be the account that was relied upon to write Job 38-39; otherwise, it allows for multiple creation stories (apostate! blasphemer! 8-P ).

  • arcseconds


    Um, Antman

    Explain thy cryptic utterance.

    Antman is a shrinking superhero, I know that much. 

  • arcseconds

    There was a Warner Brothers cartoon that featured an elephant about 15cm tall, wandering through a town and frightening all the residents.  A talking head on the telly claimed that such a thing was possible if it could get enough calories, which basically meant drinking whisky all the time (which lead to scenes of it sauntering along the tops of bars, sticking its trunk in people’s whisky  glasses).

    So maybe I can have my insect humans after all — they’d just be drunk the whole time.

  • Tricksterson

    Thought you were calling for an ant size superhero. 

  • arcseconds

    Not quite!  There are a lot of examples of shrinking humans in the literature, and there’s at least 5 superheroes that do this.  What I’m pointing out is that no attention is paid to the physics.

    Or rather, what I’m really pointing out is that I’ve seen people talk about the infeasibility of giant insects quite often, but much less often have I seen the awesomeness of miniature humans commented on.

    One of the shrinking supermen, The Atom (the Ray Plamer version), can ‘control his mass’ so that he can punch with his normal human strength while being 10cm high or whatever.   Thing is, if you could punch with the same impetus over such a small surface area, the punches would be like little bullets – same kinetic energy as a regular punch, but focused over a much smaller surface area (the kinetic energy of a punch is not too different to that of a bullet – a bullet is concentrated over a much smaller surface area (there are other factors that make bullets worse, of course)).  More superficial than an actual bullet, as you’re not going to get stuck more than a mini-arms-length, but your opponent is going to be bleeding from lots of little holes and have cracks in bones close to their skin that you hit before too long.

  • RobW

    Any who, for those of you planning a monster movie, let me direct you away from the Arthropod family to catfish. Ahem. That movie’s been done, (The Host, 2006) and it was all kinds of awesome.http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468492/“A monster emerges from Seoul’s Han River and focuses its attention on attacking people. One victim’s loving family does what it can to rescue her from its clutches.”

  • Tricksterson

    Ah.  Anty also retains his human density and strength IIRC, at leas in some versions.

  • mud man

    Unfair to Thelonious, who didn’t demand the notes between the notes from others, he figured out how to play them on a piano, whereas the naive would only find the fixed 88. Since I am not such a genius, I like to play the violin; being fretless means you can set your finger down wherever you like, and even slide it around. Also there’s congregational singing, where you can here a lot of notes unknown to the philharmonic using same as Monk’s technique of playing a tight cluster of closely related but different notes together.

    It’s also interesting to note (ha!) that there are more numbers that can be expressed as decimal sequences than that can be expressed as a fraction. And there is no limit to the numbers that can be expressed as a fraction. Something significant about transcendence here: just because something is full doesn’t mean you can’t put more in.


    What paleontologists do. There are links as the species descend, parent to child, child to grandchild. The thing many don’t realize is how many generations there have been, how many parent-to-child links between some random velociraptor and the raven I can hear down the hill. Most of them  are missing because they were ground up for compost shortly after death, and even if not a museum containing all of them would be unmanageable if not unimaginable. And of course it’s way worse than that, since there are a lot of bird individuals and no doubt there were many velociraptors. Not a line like kindergartners on the way to the playground but a tangled web.

    One message here is that most of us will be ground up for compost also. Only a remnant will be saved, even as dry bones.

  • In defense of Thelonius Monk:  Yes he said that about the notes between the notes, but he was a jazz musician (and a damn good one!).  If you consider what jazz musicians as a class have said about music, this is one of the more coherent statements.  Here’s a link to ” Misterioso.

  • OK that link doesn’t seem to have made it.  Lots of Monk on YouTube or the internet radio or whatever, if you are interested.