Creation vs Evolution: The Bombardier Beetle Challenge
Bombardier beetles made the news again this week. Creation scientists have long used them to challenge evolutionary theory. Can the Darwinians fight back?
Watch a funny video on National Geographic of a barfing toad. The toad made the mistake of sneaking up on a bombardier beetle and snatching it with its tongue before the beetle could fire its weapons. It’s not hard to imagine what happened inside the toad’s stomach, because a few minutes later, the toad gags and vomits out the beetle, practically turning its stomach inside out to get rid of the pest which, though sticky with gastric juices, is none the worse for wear and crawls away.
The amazing bombardier beetle is the “dinner date from hell,” the article quips. New Scientist says these beetles can survive for almost two hours before being spit out by any predator unlucky enough to gulp them down. Japanese scientists proved it was the bug’s cannons that forced the vomit response, because beetles that had already fired their weapons were not regurgitated.
Creationists have long used the bombardier beetle as a challenge to evolution since the days of Duane Gish and Robert Kofahl in the 1960s and 1970s. Jobe Martin talked about them in his films, Incredible Creatures that Defy Evolution. How could such a system evolve by a Darwinian process? Unless the entire mechanism were in place, the bug would blow itself to bits. The secular articles admit that it’s a remarkable “shock and awe” defense mechanism. National Geographic explains,
Bombardier beetles aren’t especially rare; more than 500 species live on every continent except Antarctica, and all of them create a toxic brew of chemicals in a special chamber at the bottom of their abdomen.
The molecules are mixed together at the last minute and react to form hydrogen peroxide and another class of compounds called benzoquinones, along with huge amounts of heat and pressure. Both chemicals are irritants and can damage skin and lungs.
Thanks to the shape of the chamber, this boiling foul mixture is ejected with a huge force.
Luc Bussiere at The Conversation is similarly intrigued by these bugs. He includes slow-motion video of the beetle firing its weapons. You can see that the eruption comes out well-aimed and in spurts. The explosion actually creates smoke. Could this evolve?
This amazing insect uses two separate chambers in its abdomen, one for the explosive (hydrogen peroxide) and one for the detonator (hydroquinone). These chemicals must be kept separate and in a deactivated state. When they are mixed in the combustion chamber, they must be activated at just the right time, in the right amounts, and in the right way, or else the bug will be a victim of its own weapon, unable to reproduce. How could such a system evolve? Everything had to work right from the beginning, or no offspring would see the light of day to pass along the lucky discovery.
He quotes Lyell Rader’s 1998 book for additional details:
All of these systems have to be in flawless working conditions for the beetle to survive. The cannons without the explosives would be meaningless. One chemical without the other would not explode. Both chemicals, without the inhibitor, would blow the beetle to bits. Without the anti-inhibitor, the beetle would be unable to trigger the explosion at all. Without the storage chambers, it wouldn’t have the chemicals on hand when needed. Without strongly reinforced, heat-proof combustion tubes and cannons, the heat generated by the explosion would cook the beetle.
But most amazing of all is the hair trigger communications system. The beetle identifies a potential enemy; waits until the enemy gets its mouth open; pulls the anti-inhibitor like a firing pin on a rifle; aims its cannons; and sends a scalding blast of noxious gas from its tail into the mouth of the aggressor, curbing its appetite for any more beetles. These five functions must be perfectly timed to a fraction of a second.
Richter adds more detail illustrating the irreducible complexity of this creature:
There’s more to this story. High speed cameras have shown that the beetle fires a rapid series of shots rather than one explosive burst. This gives the bug finer control over the explosion, preventing the recoil that would send it flying. The beetle can also aim its heat weapon precisely over a wide range of angles. All these controls require additional ‘brain software’ for their use.
It’s no wonder, Richter says (pp 79-80), that creationists have enjoyed pointing to the bombardier beetle as a challenge to evolution. (As for the evolutionist quibble that the chemicals are not explosive, see Gish’s response quoted here.)
The Darwinian Response
Evolutionists must certainly be aware that creationists have long used the bombardier beetle as evidence against evolution. Let’s look in the three pro-evolution articles for their comeback arguments:
- National Geographic: “bombardier beetle species may have evolved the ability to survive toads’ digestive system…”
- New Scientist: “In another experiment, the researchers found bombardier beetles are more likely to survive after 20 minutes in a toad stomach than 14 other beetle species. This suggests they have evolved a tolerance for toad digestive juices.”
- The Conversation: “The diverse getaway tactics of animals are a testament to the fascinating creativity of evolution…. we should be mindful that evolutionary innovation can produce remarkable adaptations.“
That’s it. Readers may now submit their votes for the winners of this debate.