Posted by: paulgarner | March 14, 2011

Predators, Parasites and Pathogens

As my readers may know, Dr Gordon Wilson is currently visiting the UK and on Saturday I chaired a meeting in Coventry at which he gave the Spring lecture for The Genesis Agendum. Courtesy of the Biblical Creation Ministries website, here’s my report of that meeting:

SDC10976.jpgOne of the major research areas in creation biology concerns “natural evil” or the origin of such things as predators, parasites and pathogens. This was the theme of Dr Gordon Wilson’s lecture to The Genesis Agendum held at Lower Ford Street Baptist Church in Coventry on Saturday 12 March. Dr Wilson is Senior Fellow of Natural History at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, and an active member of the Creation Biology Society. His lecture was subtitled “A creationist’s perspective on biological bad guys” and offered an insightful introduction to this area of creationist research.

The lecture began by setting out some biblical boundaries to guide our thinking: the goodness of the original creation, the absence of human and animal death before the Fall of Genesis 3, and the completion of the creation after the sixth day. With this framework in mind, how can creationists explain the origin of natural evil?

Dr Wilson presented some striking examples of what needs to be explained. He began with predators. Cnidarians such as jellyfish have ingeniously constructed stinging cells (nematocysts) in order to inject prey organisms with toxins, the gastropod Conus has an extendible proboscis that thrusts venom-bearing, dart-like teeth into its prey, and the pit viper has a remarkable skull designed to deliver a potent cocktail of haemotoxins when it strikes. Then there are parasites, illustrated by the nematode worm Myrmecoma neotropicum, which transforms the abdomen of its host, the gliding ant Cephalotes atratus, into a bright red “berry”. This tricks birds into eating the infected ants, thus allowing the parasite to be spread in the bird faeces. Finally, the talk considered pathogens, represented by the bubonic plague bacterium, Yersinia pestis, which has been responsible for three recorded pandemics and more than 200 million deaths. Every one of these examples involves extraordinary design features that are not easily explained by simple degeneration or co-option of otherwise benign structures.

SDC10983.jpgDr Wilson then set out a number of possible scenarios for the origin of natural evil, discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each one, and sought to rank them in terms of personal preference. His favourite explanation involves the “genetic frontloading” of organisms at the time of creation. According to this scenario, organisms were equipped with a set of genes for benign structures, functions and behaviours and a set of genes for malign structures, functions and behaviours. Originally, only the benign genes were expressed, and the malignant set was “switched on” at the time of the Fall or subsequent to it. Such a scenario is potentially verifiable and could be supported by the discovery of latent genes that, if repaired and expressed, would restore benign structures, functions and behaviours.

The evening concluded with a time of open discussion and questions from the floor. These ranged widely over a variety of related theological and scientific issues. Those attending expressed their appreciation for such a fascinating talk and we hope that it won’t be too long before Dr Wilson is able to lecture in the UK again.

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