Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Vegetarian Mosquitoes and Other Theological Absurdities

In my battles against the tiny bloodsucking beasties in my backyard, I've followed that ancient adage: Know thy enemy.

My enemy, as I blogged yesterday, is the Aedes Albopictus. She, for the men are mellow flower children, exists for one purpose. She wants to get a snack for her children, and that snack involves my protein-rich vital bodily fluids. She's very, very well designed for that purpose.

Unlike the mosquitoes who were native to ol' Virginny, Ms. Tiger is a strong and nimble flyer. She does not emit a tell-tale whine as she swoops by my ear, because stealth means you don't get squashed. What is most astounding about mosquitoes is how elegantly they do what they do. Their penetrating proboscis is sharper than any doctor's needle, and is a complex array of razor-sharp microneedles around a central tube. It causes no pain, which, again, means Ms. Tiger doesn't become a bloody splotch on your palm.

But yesterday, as I was musing over my marvelous opponent, I found myself wondering about how Ken Ham explains all of this. Ken Ham is the director of the Creation Museum, the place where fundamentalist Christianity goes to reassure itself of its own sanity. You might ask, why is the mosquito a problem for Creationists? If you're just making the argument for complexity in design as evidence of a Creator, the mosquito is not necessarily a bad place to start. Yeah, it's annoying. But when you look at it deeply, it becomes marvelously annoying.

The problem for literal Creationists is that they argue that every creature in Eden was a vegetarian. They have to. It's right there in Genesis, clear as day. It ain't just animals, neither. It's everything that has life and breath.

As a vegetarian Christian, I enjoy this immensely, because it adds to my natural vegetarian smugness. Seriously, though, I do think it speaks to what it means to live together in peace, and to our ultimate purpose in Creation. The lion cannot lay down with the lamb if mint jelly is in that lamb's immediate future.

The Creation Museum folks make this case about pretty much every major carnivore. They all have to be originally intended as vegetarians. Lions? Bears? Those big teeth are actually designed used for...um...coconuts. Or opening bags of Doritos. Even Velociraptors, who they argue lived in peace with Adam and Eve, have those huge slashing claws so they can...um...dig for radishes, which then require razor sharp fangs to eat.

But the mosquito? They do try to make the argument that mosquitos were supposed to be vegetarian. According the Creationist narrative, God, as part of the curse of the Fall, made a few minor tweaks in existing creatures. But...err...that's pretty much a total change from what a mosquito exists to do.

It's proboscis exists to painlessly penetrate the living flesh of a target. A particularly persistent creationist would assert that this could also penetrate a banana. And you don't want that banana to feel anything. Problem is, the mosquito also injects an organic anticoagulant into it's prey. This substance serves one purpose: to prevent blood from clotting as it is consumed by the mosquito. Bananas and pomegranates do not clot. They just don't. That's a nontrivial part of mosquito design. It's their entire reproductive cycle.

Quite frankly, it's not coherently explicable even within the Creationist mindset. That ain't gonna stop 'em from trying. They live for vast, convoluted and ultimately unbiblical hypotheses in defense of their pointless and unnecessary literalism.

I confess to be amazed at the intricacy of a mosquito, and that amazement translates into a wonder at the vastness and complexity of God's creation. I am also give God thanks that as a sentient being, I can use what I know about the little buggers to take 'em down.

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