AIG: Behold the Parasitoid Wasp

This is about an especially creepy post from Answers in Genesis (AIG) — the creationist ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the Australian entrepreneur who has become the ayatollah of Appalachia. It’s titled Parasitoid Wasps Shed Light on the Origin of Venom.

According to Wikipedia, the term Parasitoid wasp:

… refers to a large evolutionary grade of hymenopteran superfamilies, mainly in the Apocrita. The parasitic or parasitoid Apocrita are divided into some dozens of families. They are parasitoids of various animals, mainly other arthropods. Many of them are considered beneficial to humans because they control populations of agricultural pests. A few are unwelcome because they attack other beneficial insects.

[…]

Adult female wasps of most species oviposit into their hosts’ bodies or eggs. The females of some species also inject secretory products that paralyze the host or protect the egg from the immune system of the host. … The larva feeds on the host’s tissues until ready to pupate; by then the host is generally either dead or moribund. … Depending on its species, the parasitoid then may eat its way out of the host or remain in the more or less empty skin. In either case it then generally spins a cocoon and pupates.

Charming critters. One wonders what creationists could possibly have to say about them. The author of AIG’s article is Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, a creationist gynecologist. This is AIG’s bio page for her. She retired from gynecology in 1995 to devote her time to homeschooling her three children — and of course she writes for AIG. Here are some excerpts from her post, with bold font added by us for emphasis:

Parasitoid wasps’ venoms transform their victims into zombies inside and out. Providing food for one’s younglings is perhaps a mother’s most basic job, even for a mother wasp. Parasitoid wasps do this in a rather gruesome way. They lay their eggs in or on another arthropod, like a caterpillar, cockroach, or spider. When the eggs hatch, their parasitic larvae slowly consume the victim’s body, deriving nourishment and protection until they are ready to go forth into the world as adult wasps.

Okay, but where’s the creationism? She says:

Many parasitoid wasps optimize the reception for their larvae by injecting venom that disables the host insect’s immune system or changes its behavior.

[…]

Evolutionary biologists have long thought that venoms evolved primarily through the mutation and repurposing of duplicated genes. This model developed after the discovery that many components of snake venom are encoded by genes that appear to be altered copies of genes that produce nontoxic physiologically active compounds used elsewhere in the animal’s body. This discovery was no surprise from a biblical creationist’s perspective.

Huh? Why weren’t creationists surprised? She tells us:

When God created all kinds of animals and plants in a perfect world about 6,000 years ago, he created them to reproduce after their kinds and provided them with the genetic diversity and potential to vary. After Adam’s sin brought death’s curse upon all of creation, many defensive and offensive traits developed. In the case of snake venom, the discovery that analogs of physiologically important substances could be expressed in toxic roles demonstrated that new genetic information was not needed in order for these animals to develop venomous adaptations after Adam’s Fall and its Curse upon the world.

Dr. Mitchell devotes several paragraphs to discussing venom, which we’ll skip. She finally gets around to some heavy-duty creationism:

Charles Darwin was troubled by the specter of parasitoid wasps setting up their young to cannibalize living caterpillars. In an 1860 letter to his friend Asa Gray, Darwin wrote, “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [a family of parasitoid wasps] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.”

Indeed. But Dr. Mitchell isn’t troubled at all. She explains:

We too might be tempted to question God’s goodness if we thought he created parasitoid wasps from the beginning to cannibalize unsuspecting caterpillars — at least if we are squeamish or personify the insects surrounding us. But God has left us a historical record that tells the truth about the origin of suffering and death. He isn’t to blame at all. He created all things perfect in the beginning, a world devoid of animal and human death and its attendant suffering.

If it isn’t God’s fault, than whose fault is it? She continues:

Here’s a bulletin, right from the pages of God’s Word. We did it. Humans, that is. In our modern world it has become popular among some groups to blame all sorts of problems on the humans “infesting” earth. But the fact is that the earth was created by God, from the beginning, to be happily occupied by humans, beginning with Adam and Eve, who were charged with its care, not its corruption. Alas, Adam and Eve thought they had a better idea and rebelled against the loving rule of the Creator God. … The results were catastrophic. Nature became “red in tooth and claw.” Because of humanity’s fall into sin, both animals and humans suffer and die.

Ah, that explains everything! This is from her final paragraph:

Yet even in the sin-cursed world that surrounds us, we can see the marvels of God’s design. That includes the delicate balance that has equipped these parasitoid wasps with the genetic information and adaptive mechanisms to specifically target, envenom, utilize, and destroy many of the varmints consuming our valuable food supplies.

We’re trying to think of some clever way to end this post on a happy note, but we can’t. Maybe you can find some humor in this mess, dear reader. If so, it would certainly be welcome.

Copyright © 2017. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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41 responses to “AIG: Behold the Parasitoid Wasp

  1. “Knock-knock.”

    “Who’s there?”

    “Yet even in the sin-cursed world that surrounds us –”

    “Yet even in the sin-cursed world that surrounds us, who?”

    “Yet even in the sin-cursed world that surrounds us, we can see the marvels of God’s design.”

  2. Michael Fugate

    I thought there was no death until Adam and Eve sinned?

  3. Ross Cameron

    ‘After Adam’s sin brought death’s curse upon all of creation, many defensive and offensive traits developed’ Let me get this straight as my mind is boggled. Adam`s curse was laid on every living thing? Sounds fair (turn off the irony generator) but how did wasps ( or any other predator) reproduce before the curse was laid on them? Just when you think you have reached an understanding of the mind-set of a creationist, they bob up with another example of a delusional brainfart.

  4. Steven Thompson

    I thought that the most striking part of Dr. Mitchell’s argument was the assertion that precisely because the wasp’s venom arose from gene duplication and subsequent mutation of the duplicate genes — giving the wasp new genes with wildly different functions from its ancestors’ genes — no “new information” was needed or had been added by these mutations.

    This of course is what she meant when she said the findings were no surprise to creationists: by vigorously handwriting when asked to explain what creationists mean by “information,” she can insist both that the original creation was wholly benevolent (nothing with enough of a mind to care suffered or died), and that the changeover to a world of poisonsome and predation did not involve “real” evolution.

  5. Many plants when attacked by voracious caterpillars emit signal molecules that attract parasitoid wasps who then do their thing as Elizabeth describes. It’s a well known plant defense mechanism: get somebody to eat who’s eating you. I guess before Adam and Eve’s snack, plants didn’t defend themselves against all those animals who must have eaten them, because if there was no death they weren’t eating each other. But wait, doesn’t eating a plant kill it? My head hurts.

  6. This wasp behaviour is not simply an “offensive trait”. It’s an intrinsic part of the animal’s life cycle. Why is that genetic information all there if God didn’t plan for death and predation?

    As an aside, I suggest a new nickname for Ken Ham: “Ark” Ham, after his infamous creation. And since you have to be a bit crazy to work for Ham’s organization, I suggest we call it the Ark Ham Asylum.

  7. Michael Fugate

    And God knew that Adam and Eve would sin and cause all living things to die so God pre-programmed the DNA of all living things to account for this? Really, that’s her argument?

  8. If Ham got bitten by a rattlesnake, would he take the antivenin, or would he let nature take its course? If God redesigned some snakes to be venomous as a result of human sin, it seems disrespectful to thwart the divine intention. I think I need to point that out to Ham. And to warn him not to use mosquito repellent.

  9. And this complicated story about pre-programmed DNA for a new life cycle dependent on death: One finds this in the Bible! It isn’t a construction of fallible human thinking? It is part of the divine eyewitness in the Bible, and to doubt it is to doubt the word of God?

  10. Charles Deetz ;)

    The argument that death and evil were unleashed by humans, who were sinful, as that was their created nature is mind numbing the more you think about it. Articles like this have to break the confidence in creationism of some Hambo fans. It is horrid and illogical and unfair and contrary to our understanding of the world that these creatures are simply a bi-product of sin. Even if we believe in god, why should we do anything special to follow his rules?

  11. It’s funny because I kinda skip/scanned the first part of the article, and when I started reading the article quotes, I said to myself… “This sounds like our old friend Dr. Mitchell”.

    Indeed, she always follows the same pattern. From talking about nature, straight to a leap of faith making assertions about creation, with no supporting evidence or reasoning in between.

    You see, she has this book…..

  12. But God has left us a historical record that tells the truth about the origin of suffering and death. He isn’t to blame at all.

    That’s a lie. God is completely to blame.

    Being God, he could have reacted to offense of Adam and Eve eating a fruit in any number of ways. He could have vaporized them and made a new Adam and Eve, and see if the next ones were more compliant and obedient. Repeat until he gets a pair he likes. He could have penalized Adam and Eve and left the rest of creation alone. He could even have killed Eve as he did Job’s wife, to torment Adam and make a point (or win a bet with the serpent.)

    The options are endless, but God chose to punish the universe as a whole, as though the rest of creation was somehow complicit in the act. It was God’s choice to do what he did.

  13. Charles Deetz ;)

    This continues to frustrate me. Yes, humans needed (and need) some way to deal with and accept evil and death. The story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel satisfy that, as well as the story of Jesus. But clinging to the details and and trying to justify God in everything only takes the power out of the stories.

  14. There are parasitoid wasps that lay their eggs in the larvae of other parasitoid wasps that were laid in a different host. It’s not turtles but larvae, all the way down. My entomologist buddy will be here later this week and I can get the exact details if anyone cares

  15. When God created all kinds of animals and plants in a perfect world about 6,000 years ago, he created them to reproduce after their kinds and provided them with the genetic diversity and potential to vary. After Adam’s sin brought death’s curse upon all of creation, many defensive and offensive traits developed. In the case of snake venom, the discovery that analogs of physiologically important substances could be expressed in toxic roles demonstrated that new genetic information was not needed in order for these animals to develop venomous adaptations after Adam’s Fall and its Curse upon the world.

    Rubbish. If snake venoms developed as a result of gene duplication and subsequent mutation of the duplicated genes, then new genetic information has been added.

    Babbling about how even before Adam disobeyed God the Lord provided His creatures with “with the genetic diversity and potential to vary” is just a backdoor way of saying “All right, evolution happened after all” without actually admitting it, unless creationists want to claim that all “kinds” came equipped from the very beginning–which, since the Flood supposedly wiped out nearly all life on the planet, was closer to four thousand years ago than to six–with every single variation of every single gene. That would have to mean that the survivors of the Flood emerged from the Ark with huge genomes which slowly split up to create the more modest DNA endowments of modern species. And that would be a desperate bit of hand-waving indeed, especially since there’s not a shred of evidence for any such thing.

  16. It looks like nobody above gets it, while it’s simple.

    Something is good? Praise the Lord.
    Something is evil? Blame Homo Sapiens.

    Pity the children of Lizzy, I say.

  17. Even if I were somehow persuaded by the gothic fairytales put out by AIG, ICR and their ilk, I would still have to conclude: such a God is a psychopathic monster, to be reviled and resisted at all costs rather than worshipped.

    And if the AIG, ICR and their ilk were able to bring about the theocratic nightmare for which they strive and I were forced at gunpoint into one of their churches every day (three times on Sundays), I would ‘take the knee’ rather than bow my head…

  18. Once again I point out that this line of argument also means that there is no reason to believe anything that God tells us. He is not lying to us, it is our fault.

  19. It is utter moral corruption to blame the caterpillar’s torment on an act over which, even in AiG’s fevered imagination, caterpillars could have had no influence.

    But wait! Maybe Eve was tempted by the forbidden fruit because it was uniquely caterpillar-free. An interesting line of research for creationists to explore. Does AiG accept grant proposals?

  20. What about the drowning of countless animals in Noah’s flood?

  21. Mark Germano

    The insectarium on Noah’s Ark must have been a site to behold. I’m sure Ken Ham’s Ark replicates it faithfully.

  22. Some creationists just give up when it comes to insects on the Ark. The Bible is interpreted as saying that the Ark only takes air-breathing vertebrates. Insects could float on plant debris.

  23. @Mark Germano: Plenty of maggots, anyway.

  24. TomS thinks he asks a difficult question:

    “What about the drowning of countless animals in Noah’s flood?”
    Your fault. Because you’re a sinner. Because Original Sin. Because Adam and Eve, who are your direct ancestors.

    How many times I have to repeat it? Creacrap is unbeatable.

  25. TomS notes

    Insects could float on plant debris.

    And seeds of some varieties of plant remained capable of germination if by chance they washed ashore, as Darwin himself famously demonstrated.

    Darwin could only conjecture, however, that reptiles had reached the Galápagos by such undesigned means–but the phenomenon has since been repeatedly observed.

    I seem to recall (perhaps in error) that the DI disputed that such reptilian rafting was possible, but am unable to find that post amongst all their prolific blather. Anyone else recall that one, or have I finally descended into senility?

  26. Random, the first commenter above, commented previously on another one of SC’s posts concerning Ken Ham. His comment then was also cryptically religious in nature.

    Ken Ham has been known to post here before using various pseudonyms. I wonder if “Random” is his latest. Sounds like something Ken Ham might say.

  27. Megalonyx asks: “I seem to recall (perhaps in error) that the DI disputed that such reptilian rafting was possible, but am unable to find that post amongst all their prolific blather.”

    You could be thinking of Klinghoffer and Rafting Monkeys.

  28. @Scientist, I can answer that: according to John Morris (“Morris Minor”), plants don’t live so they can’t die. Easy!

  29. @mnbo
    I am aware that God can do no wrong. If there is something which God does, which we would call bad if a human did it, it is a mistake to say that about God’s deed.
    If a human designed something, it will have mistakes. But if God makes something which seems to have design mistakes, we don’t understand the way God made it.
    If a human kills another human, we may call it murder. But if God kills, that is not murder.
    If a human punishes another human, even under the law, there is a limit to what is permitted. But God is just when he dooms a person to eternal torture.

    What I don’t understand is the idea that what what God says is an exception.
    After all, we know that there are cases where even humans are allowed to say things which are not lies. If a man is asking for help in committing a mass murder, it is a good thing to mislead him. We , all of us, are ever guilty of sin, and therefore we have no reason to expect God to tell us the truth. God cannot lie, but that does not mean that he tells us the truth.

    What I don’t understand is why people say that because God cannot lie, that that means that he speaks the truth.

  30. @Gnaf, by sheer coincidence, just before SC wrote this post, I was re-watching Life in the Undergrowth episode 4, which is shows a variety of parasitoid wasps. The one you’re thinking of is the Crypt Keeper wasp which finds a gall on an oak tree, drills through the hardened shell and precisely into the small wasp larva to lay its own egg in it.

    Yahweh’s spent more time concocting the Curse than he ever used for Creation itself.

  31. Michael Fugate

    Parasitism doesn’t always cause death – could have been around in some forms before the fall, no?

  32. @rsg: “Sounds like something Ken Ham might say.”
    I think not. It’s pretty weak, but still probably beyond Ham.

  33. @retiredsciguy: “Sounds like something Ken Ham might say.”

    Hahahahahahaha. I tell ya, I don’t get no respect.

    Our Beneficent Curmudgeon (long may He reign), in his ultimate paragraph, lamented that he could find nothing humorous in the article he had cited, and invited all and sundry to take their shots.

    I heard and heeded that call to duty, and in the penultimate paragraph divined what I interpreted as a killer Knock-Knock joke.

    Some may disagree. See @jimroberts for a valid critical analysis (“It’s pretty weak . . . “).

    Hahaha.

    Anyway, you say that I had “commented previously on another one of SC’s posts concerning Ken Ham. His comment then was also cryptically religious in nature.”

    I HAVE commented previously on Ken Ham, mostly to tediously try to figure the gazintas of the Ark’s ticket prices, commissary sales, sales tax rebates, other tax breaks, etc, etc. Not from any approving or condoning perspective, I assure you.

    Oh, and once, I accurately predicted about a week beforehand that Ham would pull some kind of shenanigan to get out of paying the safety tax. Which he did. So I was right.

    I challenge you to produce a link to any Comment I might have made that could in any way be construed as “cryptically religious in nature”.

    But don’t go to any trouble — I may be curious, but I really don’t care.

    (See what I did with that Indo-European root, there?)

    Hahahahaha!

    I can at least rest secure in the knowledge that Our Munificent Curmudgeon has pre-emptively pre-approved my little joke as “certainly welcome”.

    PS: No, I’m not Ken Ham. Or his son-in-law Bobo. Or anyone with any kind of connection to AIG. (Except, my sister took her church youth group to the Creation Museum a few years ago, and a year ago I ALMOST paid for me and my wife to get into the Ark Encounter, but . . . well, it’s a long story.)

  34. Am I the only bothered by her use of the term cannibalism to describe the larva of a species of wasp consuming spiders and caterpillars? Or are all bugs a “kind” which in her mind warrants the description of cannibalism?

  35. TomB. Cannibalism is indeed the wrong word, but what do you expect from the ignorant? She should have written “carnivore”, unless, as you suggest, she thinks all of these are the same “kind”, still ignorant.

    Draken. Thanks for the link! It’s nice to know plants aren’t alive and therefore don’t die when steamed, boiled, fried or eaten raw. But just because the bible doesn’t mention them as alive, doesn’t negate the facts that they have sex, consume energy, make ATP, communicate, etc. In short, they do pretty much what animals and all other living things do. Some even eat animals, which are biblically alive.

  36. Michael Fugate

    I wonder if John Morris PhD ever read John 12:24?
    Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and DIE, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

  37. The Bible does not recognize the majority of life, the microbes. I don’t think that fungi are recognized as living, if they are mentioned at all.

  38. @ our Curmudgeon: Thanks for the link; Klingy’s original is even sillier than I recalled. I had misremembered Klinghefner’s rafting piece, substituting iguanas for monkeys.

    But hey, that’s what we evil Darwinists do: change species into other species with reckless abandon….

  39. Dave Luckett

    The Bible doesn’t say that plants aren’t alive. It says that they are not “nephesh chayyah”, a Hebrew phrase that means literally “living breather”. What it figuratively means, and what exactly the writer of that part of Genesis meant by it is the subject of (ahem!) scholarly debate. It appears to require that the individual inhale and exhale. The writer appears to be aware that fish and insects are “nephesh chayyah”, but plants are not.

    Some Christians appear to believe that it means “(possessed of) a living spirit”. If so, animals also have one, for the very same words are used at Genesis 1:24 to describe all land animals created on the sixth day and at Genesis 2:7 to describe Man. Well, all I can say is that my deceased poodle Morgan was far more fit for Heaven than I am. Perhaps I will see her again. I suppose it is ridiculous to say, but I hope so.

  40. @Random: I stand corrected. Please accept my apology.

  41. @retiredsciguy

    No apology needed. I got a kick out of it.