The first thing we thought when we read this article at PhysOrg, Functioning ‘mechanical gears’ seen in nature for the first time, was that the creationists would be running wild when they saw it. According to PhysOrg:
[Issus] — a plant-hopping insect found in gardens across Europe — has hind-leg joints with curved cog-like strips of opposing ‘teeth’ that intermesh, rotating like mechanical gears to synchronise the animal’s legs when it launches into a jump. The finding demonstrates that gear mechanisms previously thought to be solely man-made have an evolutionary precedent. Scientists say this is the “first observation of mechanical gearing in a biological structure”.
They have a close-up picture of the “gears.” We would have posted it here, but it’s probably not in the public domain. For now, let’s learn a bit more about this insect:
Each gear tooth has a rounded corner at the point it connects to the gear strip; a feature identical to man-made gears such as bike gears – essentially a shock-absorbing mechanism to stop teeth from shearing off.
“This precise synchronisation would be impossible to achieve through a nervous system, as neural impulses would take far too long for the extraordinarily tight coordination required,” said lead author Professor Malcolm Burrows, from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology. “By developing mechanical gears, the Issus can just send nerve signals to its muscles to produce roughly the same amount of force – then if one leg starts to propel the jump the gears will interlock, creating absolute synchronicity.
An ingenious solution. Maybe better for jumping than our knee joints. But if it’s as good as it sounds, why don’t we see this in a lot more insect species, and in other organisms too? PhysOrg continues:
Interestingly, the mechanistic gears are only found in the insect’s juvenile – or ‘nymph’ – stages, and are lost in the final transition to adulthood. These transitions, called ‘molts’, are when animals cast off rigid skin at key points in their development in order to grow.
It’s not yet known why the Issus loses its hind-leg gears on reaching adulthood. The scientists point out that a problem with any gear system is that if one tooth on the gear breaks, the effectiveness of the whole mechanism is damaged. While gear-teeth breakage in nymphs could be repaired in the next molt, any damage in adulthood remains permanent.
That makes sense — the “gears” are fragile, so that’s why this feature is a biological oddity rather than being ubiquitous.
Since the news came out a week ago, we’ve been waiting for the creationists to claim this as evidence of Oogity Boogity. The first such reaction we found is from the Discoveroids. They just posted this at their blog: Mechanical Gears Discovered on Planthopper Insects Provide an Opportunity to Recognize, or Deny, Design. It’s by Casey Luskin, our favorite creationist.
If you bother to click over there, the first thing you’ll notice is the picture at the top of Casey’s post. It’s not the “gears” from the insect, which you can see in the PhysOrg article. Casey has posted a photo of two metallic gear wheels from some machine, and the Discoveroids’ picture doesn’t resemble the biological feature at all. Putting it delicately, Casey’s picture is a tad misleading. We’re not surprised.
Anyway, you already know about the insect, so we’ll just select a few excerpts from the Discoveroid article that show their — shall we say — unique approach to things. Casey says, with bold font added by us:
Whether natural selection or intelligent agency deserves the credit may be up for dispute, but mechanical gears have recently been discovered in the biological realm. Ladies and gentleman, meet the planthopper insect Issus.
That “up for dispute” statement may strike you as surprising, coming from a Discoveroid. Like all mystics, they claim that everything — including the whole universe — is designed. But here, Casey seems to be admitting that it’s disputable whether this thing evolved or was designed.
Wait — hold on a minute! How much of a concession is that? Think about it. The design scenario wouldn’t even occur to anyone but a creationist. So it’s not a concession for Casey to acknowledge that design is debatable. It’s a totally unjustified, off-the-wall assertion that comes from nowhere — except maybe the Seventh Planet. This is just like the Discoveroids’ demand that their “theory” should be included in school textbooks.
If the insect’s oddball joint arrangement were actually designed, then what was the designer thinking at the time? Why did he design this strange system for only one insect — and not even for its adult stage? If this is an example of intelligent design, what was its intelligent purpose?
Casey runs through a few other publications that discuss Issus and some other gear-type biological structures (that aren’t used for locomotion). As he does so, he points out — with obvious annoyance — where they say things like: “These gears are not designed; they are evolved — representing high speed and precision machinery evolved for synchronisation in the animal world.” Then he wraps it all up with this:
How do we know these gears evolved, as opposed to having been designed? Because we know that everything in biology evolved. And how do we know that everything evolved? Because we know that nothing was designed. Right. But how do we know that nothing was designed? Because we know everything evolved. Ah, got it now. Everyone clear?
Aaaargh!! That’s not how it works, Casey. What we know, from observing all the available evidence, is that organisms do indeed evolve. We have no evidence — none! — of any organism that was literally designed (aside from some genetically modified organisms that were deliberately altered by genetic engineering). So until you Discoveroids can clearly and unambiguously demonstrate the existence of an actual, artificial design found in nature, there is no reason — none at all — for treating design (or miracle, or UFO meddling, or astrological influence) as a possibility that any rational mind needs to consider.
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