... and God Created Squid ...

For some years, some biologists have argued that the Biblical Creation story ends too soon: There was a 7th day of creation, during which God thought about his prototypes and finally made the crowning glory of his creation here on Earth: the giant squid.

A basic problem with the idea that we humans are the peak of His creation was pointed out by none other than Charles Darwin. The problem is explaining the evolution of the vertebrate eye. He gave this as a serious problem, because this organ doesn't fossilize at all, and it is difficult to explain how all the intermediate forms could have been sufficiently functional for Natural Selection to have selected them.

In recent years, creationists have used Darwin's problem (generally without giving him credit) as part of their challenge to the entire evolutionary paradigm. Some biologists have given serious thought to their criticisms, especially Darwin's issue of the eye. Some have suggested the thought experiment: Suppose that the creationists are right, and the world was built by some sort of Cosmic Engineer (which we may call "God" for short). What can we learn by studying the artifacts of this creation process?

One thing that we learn when we study the vertebrate eye is that it has a rather strange structure. The blood vessels and the nerves pass through the surface in a bundle (the "blind spot"), and spread out on the inside of the retina. This is a rather bizarre way to lay out the "wiring". Why would any sensible engineer do it this way, rather than the much more sensible way of running the wiring along the back surface?

We might hypothesize that there is some obscure benefit to doing it this way, and we just aren't clever enough to figure it out. But this is disproved by a simple fact. The "camera" type of eye seems to have evolved (or been created, if you prefer) more than once. The cephalopods are a group of animals that include octopi, squid, and nautilus. They have eyes that are superficially similar to our eye, but on close examination, we find that all the details are different. In particular, they have the "wiring" on the back of their retina, as you'd expect. There is no blind spot, and the entire retina is fully functional.

So, if there is a Creator, He seems to have done the job twice, once poorly (with vertebrates), and once well (with the cephalopods). It's unreasonable to consider the poor design as the final one. It seems clear that the vertebrate eye must have been a prototype, and the cephalopod eye is the improved design.

This by itself is suspicious, but it's not the whole story. Consider that, while we humans claim that the planet was built for us, it is roughly 3/4 salt water. If you measure the areas that we humans actually inhabit in any significant numbers, we are talking about maybe 5% of the globe. The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) is at the top of the food chain over roughly 70% of the globe. When you consider the actual volume of the inhabited space, the giant squid has a home range many thousands of times greater than ours.

So the evidence appears to be that humans were one of the experiments, good enough to let live but not good enough to be given a large range (or to redesign things like the eyes so that they works better).

If this isn't convincing enough, consider also that humans have a good record of wiping out large predators, on both land and at sea. Wolves, bears, tigers, and crocodiles have been reduced to tiny remnant populations in a few preserves. We have devastated the cetacea and are busy wiping out the large sharks, tunas, swordfish, and other major marine predators. There is one exception: Humans show little interest in the giant squid. Sure, we catch the little ones and eat them. But as for the biggest species, the giant squid, we almost totally ignore it, although it is a major predator in all the oceans. And if you are like most humans, you are probably thinking that this is silly. Who cares about a bunch of big squid?

This attitude is itself very suspicious. We seem to have a glaring mental blind spot here. Other large predators drive us crazy. We are terrified of wolves, tigers, bears, and sharks. Although few humans have ever been injured by any of them, we hunt them down and kill them on sight, because they terrify us. But a squid that weighs a ton and eats large sharks? That is a creature that we just can't seem to take seriously. Why would we ignore such a large, dangerous predator? Could it be that we were designed ("programmed") to ignore just this one species?

And note that, while other large sea creatures frequently get tangled in our nets and die; by some mysterious process, those nets don't seem to catch giant squid. Nothing we do seems to affect this one major predator. But we are wiping out the other large predators that prey on the giant squid.

Very, very suspicious. Invoking Occams's razor together with our Creation hypothesis leaves us with only one reasonable explanation. The world was created as a habitat for the giant squid. Humans were put here to control the large predators that would otherwise bother the giant squid. Our habitat is on land, so that our interference with the squids' lifestyle is minimal. We build boats that use only the upper surface of the oceans. We hunt and kill all but one of the large marine predators. We are programmed to ignore the giant squid, and to not take actions that would harm them.

Can anyone think of any evidence to the contrary?

... and on the eighth day, God rested ...

Come to think of it, seven days is a bizarre unit of time. Wouldn't eight be much more likely for a Cosmic Engineer?

-- John Chambers (Jul 1997)

Reply-to: John Chambers <jc%trillian.mit.edu>. John Chambers <jc%ecf-guest.mit.edu>.

Some squid references: